Showing posts from August, 2012

UK suffers from wettest summer in 100 years! Where did the drought go for British gardeners?

We all know that the British are good at queuing and talking about the weather, but as August draws to a close, it's official. It's been the wettest summer (June, July and August) since records began in 1912. No wonder our roses are looking battered and our gardens are looking sad. And as for the queues - they simply haven't been there this year - not in the gardens, nor at the NGS openings, nor at the numerous flower shows around the country. Most of us saw a little sunshine at RHS Chelsea, but got soaked at Hampton Court and perhaps the Best Show Garden should have been called "Bridge over Rising Water" if we'd known what was to come! Events were cancelled all over the country because of the rain and local councils nationwide stopped cutting the verges, although I'm assured that this was part of the cutback plans during the recession, rather than anything to do with the weather. Reports state that both umbrella and wellington boot sales are up, and wet w…

Villandry - is this the world's most perfect potager? When vegetables are an art form and food provokes thought!

Once you've been to Villandry, you'll understand the meaning of potager and parterre extraordinaire and all others will pale into insignificance! This amazing chateau near Tours in France has set worldwide standards for others to follow and given a whole new meaning to the concept of potager, or ornamental kitchen garden. It's made up of nine squares of different geometric designs marked out by dwarf box hedges, filled with colour-coordinated vegetables. But these are no ordinary vegetables - they're a work of art - changed twice a year to make sure that the show never dwindles. Home of the Carvallo family since 1906, the man who purchased the chateau - Dr Joachim Carvallo - spent nearly 20 years creating his Renaissance-style garden in 12 acres of grounds, using existing canals and terraces around the ancient chateau. The result is nothing short of remarkable and Villandry draws hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Yet Joachim had actually recreated the very sty…

Great topiary gardens of the Dordogne - Eyrignac and Marqueyssac

If you're travelling to the Dordogne in France this summer, there are two very special gardens you shouldn't miss, within a stone's throw of each other - the beautifully manicured garden at the Manoir d'Eyrignac, which has been there for 500 years, and the recently restored gardens at Chateau Marqueyssac, which have been there for more than three centuries, but were nearly lost at the end of the 20th century. With views over some of the most impressive scenery of the Perigord Noir, work is still ongoing there, but when you realise what's already been achieved, you'll be amazed. Eyrignac has been in the same family for 22 generations. The present manor house was rebuilt in the 17th century after its destruction in the Princes' Revolt and although it has always been surrounded by formal gardens, what you see there today is the work of the current owner's father, Gilles Sermadiras, who completely redesigned them in the 1960s. He had no experience in garden …

Almost Tuesday topiary preview .... Eyrignac and Marqueyssac

I've been a little slow to post recently, but it's nearly 40C here in France and viewing gardens isn't easy in this heat! But I did get out today to see the gardens at Eyrignac (above) and the amazing gardens of Marqueyssac (below). As I write, the temperatures are still well up over 30C, so I'm going to leave a full post on both these extraordinary topiary gardens until it's a little cooler.

"Exotic Sezincote! Stately and strange ..."

We’d drive to Sunday lunch at Sezincote  First steps in learning how to be a guest  First wood-smoke-scented luxury of life  In the large ambience of a country house...exotic Sezincote!  Stately and strange it stood, the Nabob’s house  Indian without and coolest Greek within...
This is how Sir John Betjeman described the unique property near Cheltenham in his verse autobiography "Summoned by Bells". He used to come here for lunch during his time as an undergraduate at Oxford. And it's certainly one of the most unusual gardens I've visited - with its striking Moghal-style architecture and lovely gardens, well worth making the effort to get to, despite it's restricted opening hours - just two afternoons a week. The house (top) - with its onion domes, minarets and peacock-tail arches - and the pavilion were designed by Samuel Pepys Cockerell for his brother Sir Charles, who worked for the East India Company. Completed in 1805, it was the inspiration for the famous Brighton…

Coughton Court - ancient house with glorious walled gardens

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Coughton Court (pronounced 'Coaton') was a small castle, when you approach this Tudor property in the heart of Shakespeare country in Warwickshire. Your first view is the one above - a honey-coloured house, with towers and castellations, which has been home of the same family since the 15th century. And it's the current resident - Clare Throckmorton - who, with the help of her daughter, Christina Williams, has created the garden here in the last two decades. Before they started work here in 1991, there was a rather flat and uninteresting landscape around an important listed property. Christina is no newcomer to garden design and was an RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner in 2010. The landscape she's created at her family home is a tribute to her talents, but more importantly, has turned Coughton Court into one of the great Midlands gardens, attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually. The house is managed by the National …

Kiftsgate Court - a credit to three generations of gardening women in Gloucestershire

Gloucestershire has more than its fair share of glorious gardens and if you're making the pilgrimage to Hidcote Manor, you must also visit Kiftsgate Court. It's a very different garden, but shares wonderful views over the Vale of Evesham, and is a tribute to the three generations of women gardeners who've made it what it is today. And it's right opposite Hidcote Manor, so a must see if you've made the effort to see Lawrence Johnston's garden, which has received of a £3.5 million makeover in the last decade. Kiftsgate was built at the end of the 19th century and provides a magnificent backdrop for the gardens created there in the last 90 years. It has a Georgian front with a high portico, which can be seen from various parts of the garden and is still used as a family home, but unlike so many other properties where the house dominates the landscape, it's the gardens here at Kiftsgate that will make you gasp.  And at this time of year, most of the garden is in…

A taste of the unexpected at Coleton Fishacre, Devon

Coleton Fishacre is a secluded, but spectacular garden in Devon, hidden away down winding country lanes. This year marks the 30th anniversary of its acquisition by the National Trust - originally as part of the Enterprise Neptune campaign to link up the South Devon coastal path. The house at the heart of the 30-acre estate (above) was commissioned for the flamboyant and wealthy owner - Rupert D'Oyly Carte, son of the impresario behind the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas - who used the house and grounds for entertaining.  All the main rooms in the house face south, and Art Deco enthusiasts will enjoy the furnishings and textiles. But garden lovers will love the grounds, filled with rare and unusual plants, including many exotics, which thrive in the microclimate created by the unique position of the property, at the end of a promontory with the River Dart to the west and the sea at Pudcombe Cove. Access to Coleton Fishacre is along tiny Devon lanes, so it has not  been ravaged by gar…

Little Sparta - Scotland's "modern, mythological garden"

Little Sparta, near Edinburgh in Scotland has been described as both “a modern, mythological garden” (Jonathan Jones) and “the most important new garden in Britain since 1945" (Sir Roy Strong).It’s certainly one of the most intriguing landscapes I’ve visited yet on my travels, although it won’t appeal to those in search of borders or beautiful horticultural symmetry.“Garden” in the traditional sense, is a misleading word for this extraordinary site, because although you’ll find plenty of greenery, in reality it's an open-air museum showcasing the talents of poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay.  Located in a secluded part of Lanarkshire, with views over the Pentland Hills, everything about Little Sparta hints of allegory and illusion, from the warships in the garden, to the references cut into stone and wood detailing his battles with the council about the use of his home as a museum. Hamilton Finlay acquired the five-acre property - originally a farmstead called Stonypath - in…