Thursday, 31 March 2011

Garden legacy of a great US philanthropist - Bok Tower, Florida

Swans on the reflecting pool in front of Bok Tower
I've visited Bok Tower Gardens twice in the last couple of years, but have always been confronted with the most appalling weather - the first time it rained so hard that we had to take shelter (although the sun did eventually come out from behind the black clouds) and again yesterday, when the whole of this part of Florida was shrouded in a thick fog! But the gardens here are so outstanding that it's easy to forget the weather and appreciate them in all their glory.
Colorful herbaceous borders near the Singing Tower in March
Edward Bok was a Dutch immigrant, who made his fortune as an author and publisher. He once said: "Make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it". And Bok Tower Gardens are proof that he took his own advice. Conceived in the early 1920s, the 130-acre gardens are very "beautiful", and give enormous pleasure to visitors from all over the world. They sit atop the highest elevation in Florida at nearly 300 feet, and provide a refuge for wildlife and visitors alike.
Giant lily pads on the reflecting pond in front of the Singing Tower in September
The gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who is generally considered to be the founding father of American landscape architecture, and Milton Medary was employed to design the Singing Tower (pictured below), which rises to a height of 205 feet and has been described as "America's Taj Mahal". In the tower there are 57 bronze, carillon bells, which ring out during the day. The largest bell weighs over 11 tons, while the smallest weighs in at just 17 pounds.
English-style herbaceous borders - an unusual sight in Florida!
When the gardens and Tower were completed in 1929, Edward Bok gave them to the American people and President Calvin Coolidge came to Florida with his wife to perform the dedication ceremony. They planted several of the cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto) - Florida's state tree - which are still there today. In 1993 the gardens were designated a National Historic Landmark.

The gardens are really remarkable and include large areas of open space as well as densely planted, wooded glades where azaleas, camellias and magnolias thrive at this time of year, giving wonderful colour displays. There is also an impressive collection of palm trees, cycads, ferns and herbaceous border areas, which are reminiscent of British garden design. 

There is also a nature observatory, called the Window by the Pond, which overlooks a stretch of water where visitors can sit hidden in a hut and observe the numerous birds, fish and small mammals in and around the pond, but remain undetected by the wildlife.

Adjacent to Bok Tower is the Pinewood Estate - a Mediterranean-style home, which is open to the public in the afternoons. Sadly, I couldn't stay to see the house or gardens because it doesn't open until midday. It is also closed on Sundays.

These gardens are really unusual for Florida, and it's not surprising that they attract nearly 200,000 visitors a year. John Burroughs, the great American naturalist and essayist, who played a role in the evolution of the US conservation movement, summarised his feelings about Bok when he said: "I come here to find myself. It is so easy to get lost in the world". I certainly agree with him. This is a far cry from the frenetic pace of nearby Orlando with all its major tourist attractions.
For more Florida gardens, see Vizcaya, Edison and Ford Winter Estates and Galloping Garden Walks © in Sarasota. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Monday, 28 March 2011

Visions of Venice at Vizcaya, Florida

The gardens at Vizcaya, south of Miami, bear little resemblance to any other gardens I've seen in the "Sunshine State". It's not just the yew topiary (above), but the ornate design of the formal gardens that set this property apart from all others in Florida. This unique Italianate garden was designed to complement the winter home of Chicago industrialist, James Deering, who built an amazing Renaissance -style villa overlooking Biscayne Bay, nearly 100 years ago.
Deering purchased 120 acres of swampy land back in 1914 and set to work clearing the ground for his dream home, which has often been described as a "Mediterranean Xanadu". Diego Suarez was employed to design the gardens; F. Burrell Hoffman designed the house; and Paul Chalfin, curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was enlisted to find all the statues, fountains, decorative urns, balustrades and other architectural fragments that adorn the garden today. By 1916 building work on the mansion was complete, although work on the garden continued until the early 1920s.
Indeed, part of the charm of this garden is its formal layout and the fine architectural features that you find as you wander through the various garden rooms. But sadly, Deering did not have the chance to enjoy his Xanadu for long, because he died within 10 years of the property being completed, and just one year later - in 1926 - a devastating hurricane caused immense damage to this ocean-facing property. So its future remained uncertain until 1952, when Dade County acquired it and started a restoration programme. Today Vizcaya is a National Historic Landmark - still owned and operated by Dade.
The main gardens are arranged on a cross axis, and cover 10 acres. They include water displays, flanked with architectural features; ornate staircases and balustraded sections; topiary, shrubs and parterre-style, low-level clipped hedges. There is also a Sensory Garden, filled with aromatic herbs, a Fountain Garden, so called because of the 17th century Italian fountain at its centre, a Maze Garden, filled with hedges of  orange jasmine (Murraya paniculata), a Theatre Garden, and Secret Garden.
It doesn't really matter where you wander in the gardens here, because you'll be amazed by everything you see. This is an extraordinary property, reminiscent of the grand Italian country gardens. Every corner you turn reveals something new, interesting and different. And of course, you've got many other wonderful gardens nearby including the Fairchild Tropical Garden and The Kampong.
Front view of the Italian mansion - Vizcaya -overlooking Biscayne Bay

Friday, 25 March 2011

Galloping Gardener Walks © Dalliance with Dorset - Athelhampton, Forde Abbey and Mapperton

The Italianate garden at Mapperton House, which sits in a valley
It's easy to have a dalliance with Dorset now that spring has arrived - home to some of the most unusual gardens in England and a majestic coastline that has earned it the nickname the "Jurassic Coast" - you could happily spend a week in this county and still see only a few of the great gardens here! Start with Mapperton House, with its incredible sunken Italianate garden which features a magnificent pergola.
Glorious topiary and views over the surrounding countryside at Mapperton
The stunning Elizabethan house is hidden deep in the Dorset countryside, approached by a long driveway and the garden appears at first to be just a small cottage plot at the front of the property, with a large lawn at the back. But walk to the end of the lawn and a magical world opens before your eyes, because the main garden is in a valley below the house. There's a series of pools and magnificent topiary. Definitely one of my favourite gardens in Britain.
Athelhampton's famous Great Court with its yew pyramids 
Move on to Athelhampton House, on the banks of the River Piddle, which has one of the finest architectural gardens in Britain, designed by Reginald Blomfield. The Great Court (above) has 12 impressive yew pyramids and two summerhouses, which flank the impressive herbaceous borders. Elsewhere in the garden you will find eight more garden courts (or rooms) - each one very different, but perhaps the most impressive is the Corona (below), with its sculpted stone walls, backed with immaculately trimmed hedging.
The Corona at Athelhampton - surrounded by tall hedges
Forde Abbey (below) is another impressive property, with its 30 acres of gardens, including a series of ponds and its famous Centenary Fountain - the highest powered fountain in Britain - installed to celebrate 100 years of the Roper family at the property. There is also a bog garden, rock garden, and one of the finest kitchen gardens in the country, which supplies most of the salad and vegetables to the restaurant here. Many fine trees in the arboretum and lovely walks.
Forde Abbey has 30 acres of gardens and many places to sit and admire the views
You may find it hard to see all three gardens in a day, but there are so many glorious Dorset gardens and so many fine places to stay in this beautiful part of the country, that it's worth staying in the area for several days.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Galloping Gardener Walks © Glorious Oxford gardens - Rousham House, Waterperry, Oxford Botanic and Waddesdon Manor

Rousham House, built for Sir Robert Dormer in 1635
Rousham House (above) - just a short drive from the centre of Oxford - was built in the 17th century for Sir Robert Dormer. The same family own it today, but it's the landscape garden that draws visitors from all over the world - designed by William Kent - and filled with fine statues and incredible views over the surrounding countryside. This is a garden on a grand scale, with a fine walled garden. Great for walks and ideal for children because there is plenty of space for them to run around. 
The walled garden at Waterperry Gardens - founded to "educate women in horticulture"
Waterperry Gardens, outside the city, were founded by a Miss Beatrix Havergal in the 1930's, to "educate women in horticulture". You will find more than eight acres of ornamental gardens here - and there's always something in bloom. Wonderful herbaceous beds are one of the finest features of this garden, providing inspiration to all gardeners, whether novice or expert and the very helpful nursery staff are always on hand to provide advice if you're purchasing plants for your garden at home. 
Hidden in the city of spires - you'll get wonderful views of them from the Oxford Botanic Garden
Head for the University of Oxford Botanic Garden if you're in the city and you'll have the chance to wander around 4.5 acres of tightly packed botanical glory! This is like a secret garden, nestling behind high walls and you'll see the city's spires all around, together with the punts on the River Cherwell. Wonderful glass houses packed with unusual plants and water lilies to die for in high summer. There are more than 8,000 plant species here, arranged in geographical beds. And if it's trees you're interested in, head for the Harcourt Arboretum outside the city, which is all part of the Botanic Garden.
Waddesden - a French chateau built for the de Rothschild family - has one of the best parterres in Britain
Waddesdon Manor, just 20 miles outside Oxford is also one to put on your Wish List. This French chateau-style property was built for the de Rothschild family and has one of the finest parterres in the country - soon to be in full bloom - with it's annual tulip festival starting in mid-April. But if you can't get there for the tulips, don't worry, because this garden stays in full bloom throughout the summer.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Galloping Gardener Walks © - Splendid Somerset - Lytes Cary, Montacute and Tintinhull

The impressive entrance to Lytes Cary, with its immaculate topiary
It really doesn't get much better than this, if you're interested in ancient houses and gardens! Today's picks are within a stone's throw of each other in Somerset and open for business in the next few weeks. First port of call is Lytes Cary (above) - a glorious six-acre Arts and Crafts garden, restored in Gertrude Jekyll style by the National Trust in the 1960s. 
Particularly lovely in high summer, with an abundance of blooms and outstanding topiary; there is also a large orchard (ideal for picnics!) and a good restaurant on site. Worth remembering though is that this property is closed on Thursdays. 
One of the two "pudding" houses at Montacute
Move on to Montacute House - one of the finest surviving Elizabethan houses in Britain - with its formal gardens. The pavilion (above) is one of two in the grounds, known as "pudding" houses, because, in days gone by, dinner guests would retire here after their main course to eat dessert! A stunning house and lovely gardens - much larger and grander than the other two properties featured today and definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.
Another impressive entrance at nearby Tintinhull, former home of Penelope Hobhouse, UK garden designer
Tintinhull, just over a mile away from Montacute, has two acres of gardens, attributed in part to Harold Peto of Iford Manor fame. The gardens here owe a lot to well-known British garden designer, Penelope Hobhouse, who lived here from 1980 to 1993 and put her own inimitable stamp on both the choice of plants and the layout of this lovely garden.
Three truly wonderful properties to visit in a day, but just to remind you again, the only days you can visit all three are Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each one has different closing days and if you try and visit on Monday, Tuesday or Thursday, you'll be disappointed. All three properties come under the umbrella of the National Trust, so members get in free.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Galloping Gardener Walks © - East Sussex - Bateman's, Merriments and Pashley Manor

Rudyard Kiplings "perfect" home, Bateman's, overlooks a tranquil English garden in East Sussex
The days are getting longer and there are many more gardens waking up for spring now. East Sussex has some of the most glorious gardens in England and many are clustered so close together that you are spoiled for choice for garden visits! Start off with Bateman's, one-time home of Rudyard Kipling, who bought the house in 1902 and remained here until his death in 1936. The 17th century house was his idea of a "perfect" home and he created a garden here that continues to draw visitors more than a century later. His wife Carrie survived him and she bequeathed the property to the National Trust in 1939.
The Water Garden at Merriments, East Sussex
Just around the corner, you'll find Merriments Garden - an absolute plantsman's paradise if you're seeking inspiration for your own garden. This four-acre garden has been developed over the last 20 years by the current owners and has some of the finest herbaceous borders in the country, organised by colour and theme. There's a Water Garden (above), a gravel garden, wild area, "hot" and "cold" borders, bridges, sheds and seating everywhere. This is a truly wonderful nursery showcase that you can enjoy at leisure, but be warned, you'll be hard-pressed to get out of here without a trunk load of plants!
Merriments is a nursery "showcase" that gives inspiration to gardeners all over the south of England
Move on from here to Pashley Manor - this garden is one of the finest in Britain, especially when the tulips are blooming, or indeed, the roses. The current owners have spent the last two decades developing this glorious garden, which sits on the East Sussex/Kent border. One of the first gardens to offer a Tulip Festival in Britain, this annual event, which takes place from 27th April - 8th May this year, draws thousands of visitors.
The ancient timber-framed Manor House at Pashley
For details of other English gardens holding Tulip Festivals this year, check their websites, but notable displays can be found at:
Abbey Gardens, Gloucestershire - mid-April to mid-May
Alnwick Garden, Northumberland - 30th April - 7th May
Chatsworth, Derbyshire - 6th - 10th May
Chenies Manor, Buckinghamshire - mid-April to mid-May
Dyhram Park, Gloucestershire - 1st - 30th April
Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall - 23rd April - 2nd May
Pashley Manor, East Sussex - 27th April - 8th May
Stourhead, Wiltshire - 25th April - 8th May
Waddesden Manor, Buckinghamshire - 16th April - 2nd May
This is the first of several Galloping Gardener Walks © in East Sussex. You can also visit West Sussex spring gardens and find spectacular colour displays in Cornwall at this time of year.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Galloping Gardener Walks © - Catch those Cornish blooms - Caerhays, Pine Lodge and Trewithen

Caerhays Castle - open until the end of May
Now is the perfect time to visit Cornwall and see blooms that make you gasp! The magnolias and rhododendrons here seem to reach such monumental proportions that you'll be amazed; combine that with great swathes of daffodils and spring bulbs, as far as the eye can see, and you'll realise why Cornish gardens are so special in springtime.  
Trewithen - 30 acres of heaven!

Cornwall has many great gardens, but the three I've chosen here are all famous for their spring displays. Start at Caerhays Castle (top), which is home to the National Magnolia Collection - a glorious woodland garden with ocean views and lovely walks. 
     Many plants in the garden today are descended from seeds brought home by intrepid plant hunters - E.H. Wilson and George Forrest - who braved far-flung parts of China on frequent trips in the early 20th century. But remember, this garden is only open until the end of May, so you need to visit in the next few weeks. Caerhays is free to HHA members.
     Burncoose Nursery - one of the best UK suppliers of magnolias and rhododendrons - is also owned by the Caerhays Estate and the garden there is open throughout the summer, so if you miss the castle you can still see the nursery gardens, located near Redruth.

Move onto Trewithen, glorious at any time of year, but particularly now with daffodils, magnolias and rhododendrons in bloom. This 30-acre garden has a fine collection of Champion trees, including several magnolias and acers that make the grade because of their height or width. 
Thousands of daffodils line the entrance drive to Trewithen .. just a taster of what's to come
Trewithen means "House of the Trees" - an appropriate name for this wonderful property, with its fine tree collection. And one of the highlights of this garden is the raised viewing platform that takes you closer to the branches, so you can see the fantastic blooms up close. George Johnstone inherited this estate in 1905 and like his neighbours at Caerhays, planted many seeds that had originated in the Far East - hence the splendid collection of plants in evidence today.
Move on from here to Pine Lodge (which seems to have changed its name to Pinetum Park and Pine Lodge Gardens) - a property that's changed considerably since I first visited back in the early 1990s, when my son was a baby and we lived in Cornwall. This 30-acre garden has gone from strength to strength under the stewardship of its present owners, who have created a Japanese garden, a Pinetum and a wonderful winter garden (above).
Both Trewithen and Pine Lodge remain open throughout the summer season and both are worth visiting later in the year, as they don their summer foliage. And of course, Cornwall is famous for its cream teas!
For more Galloping Gardener Walks © visit the Days Out page under the header.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

On the road through Rajasthan - India's garden of Eden!

View from the tented camp across Pangarh Lake
There are some places on this earth that are so beautiful, they don't need to qualify as gardens! In our last few days in Rajasthan we found one such place - way off the beaten track and with virtually no track to it! And although it's not a garden as such, the whole area is like the garden of Eden - acres of unspoilt countryside; opium poppies everywhere; and magnificent vistas across crop-filled fields and full lakes after last year's bumper monsoon.
Walking through the opium fields in Rajasthan
India is among the top three opium producing nations of the world, alongside Afghanistan and Pakistan, and production here is strictly controlled by the Government. The white opium poppy is grown in just three of India's states - Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh - but production is sufficient to supply 50% of the opium utilised by the world's pharmaceutical industry to produce codeine, morphine and other medicinal products.
Approach to the tented camp on the shores of Pangarh Lake ... I got out of the car and walked!
We were lucky enough to spend a whole day driving through this idyllic countryside, on our journey from Jodhpur to Bijaipur Castle, and then on to the tented camp operated by the owners of Bijaipur on the shores of Pangarh Lake.  It has to be said that the road down to the camp left us all with our hearts in our mouths (above) and although I've referred constantly to Prakash's driving skills during my recent India visit, this descent was too much for me and I got out and walked (much to the amusement of my fellow travellers). 
Another glorious flower garden - in front of the tented camp - planted by the owners of Castle Bijaipur
But it was worth the heart-stopping journey and when we finally arrived at the edge of the lake, it was yet another sight to behold. Castle Bijaipur's tented camp is another flowery paradise, even if the tented accommodation lacks the luxury of an African safari camp! I suggest you read Paul and Pauline's description to get the full flavour of our night on the lake, because they sum it up extremely well. 
First light on the lake - why I love India so much!
The location is absolutely fabulous, but even I have to confess that I might think twice about staying here again, if only because I was woken to the sound of howling animals in the early hours of the morning - a haunting sound that reminded me just how insignificant humanity is when pitched against the forces of nature! But as dawn arrived (above), I soon forgot the darkness doubts I'd suffered, and remembered why I love India so much. 

Friday, 11 March 2011

From Rajasthan to Rousham - two walled gardens a world apart!

From Rajasthan to Rousham - it was Born (aka Plant Chaser) who put this idea in my head - thank you! When I read his comment on my last entry, even I began to realise how extraordinary it is that one week I could be way off the beaten track in India, but return to the UK and then write about English gardens in springtime just a few days later. And reflecting further on his comment, I realised there were similarities between two of the great gardens I've visited in the last two weeks - Bijaipur Palace and Rousham House - despite the 5,000 miles that separates them.
The garden at Bijaipur Palace, Rajasthan - filled with English flowers in February and March
The garden at Bijaipur Palace is filled with English flowers, thanks to a former palace resident and passionate garden lover who brought her seeds back from Britain - and is in full bloom throughout our English winter. I was there in February and the garden looked quite glorious - a real surprise when you consider that most of Rajasthan is an arid desert. I've yet to write about the Bijaipur tented camp on Pangarh Lake, but promise to do so in the next couple of weeks. (You can read more about this in Paul and Pauline's Sussex Prairies in the "Blogs I Love" list on the right).
The garden at Rousham House - filled with English flowers throughout our summer (May-September)
Rousham House is open throughout the year and is remarkably similar to Bijaipur in terms of its grandeur. Hailed as one of the greatest gardens of the world by Monty Don in his popular television series, I have to agree that this is one of my favourite gardens too, with its sheer sense of scale. I was there last weekend and on a grey, wintery day, this sense of space - so rarely available in modern gardens - is even more evident.
Superimpose the two properties on one another and you come out with the image above - great facades filled with windows, overlooking vast tracts of land and with water nearby. But of course, Rousham was designed by celebrated English landscape gardener, William Kent, while the origins of Bijaipur are unknown - it is just one more of many great palaces in Rajasthan - but one worth making a detour for.
I'll be returning to review Rousham in winter soon, but if you've got the chance, go and visit - it's as spectacular now as at any time in the summer and while the branches are still bare, you get a real sense of the drama of this garden. 

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Glimpses of Oxford's glory on a sunny March Sunday

With all the wonderful weather we had in the week I was in England, it seemed like a good idea to walk around the streets of Oxford at the weekend and see what was in bloom, en route to the Botanical Garden near Magdalen Bridge. Many of the Oxford colleges have wonderful gardens, and open their doors to prying eyes once the gardens start to bloom.
Beautiful, clear blue skies do a lot to enhance the way the plants look in the glasshouses here at the University's Botanic Garden - just look at this jungly scene in the cactus house. There's not much on show in the garden right now because the beds are being prepared for spring, but it's a lovely place to wander around and I have to confess that I sneaked in right before closing, so was treated to the wonderful watery light that you find at the end of a wintery March day.
I'm a fan of glasshouses at any time of year - just to lurk and look at what's inside is  a real pleasure for me, even if there aren't any lilies in the winter. This is the oldest botanical garden in England and is home to over 8,000 species of plants - all found within a 4.5 acre plot in the middle of the city and bounded by the River Cherwell.
And of course, if the glasshouses don't appeal, you've always got the option of taking a punt on the River Cherwell (above), although I'm told by my son who's a student in the city, that this is not a sport students can afford on their grants - they definitely need their parents to foot the bill! Wander round the city and you'll be treated to architectural gems wherever you look, like Hertford Bridge (below), which is also known as the Bridge of Sighs after its famous counterpart in Venice, although in reality it looks more like the Rialto Bridge.
I visited Waddesden en route to Oxford last weekend, and Rousham - which I'll be reviewing later this week. And for my continuing India travels, why not see what I got up to in the Thar Desert a couple of weeks back??