Category Archives: Travel

Gardeners (and Gardens) to Remember

June 7th, 2017 | 12 Comments »

I’m home again at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, after touring gardens in England. In ten days, the small group I was hosting visited 17 gardens, each special in its own way. Add in the Chelsea Flower Show and pre-tour visits to three other gardens and you can imagine the result: more photos and memories than a dozen blog posts can handle.

Let me mention a few highlights. (More blog posts will come once I catch my breath and begin to assimilate all I saw.)

The Chelsea Flower Show was its normal madhouse of flowers, garden-related goods and people — even on a members only day, it is crowded. Like many others, I found this year’s show gardens a disappointment. Unlike many, I admired the garden chosen as Best in Show, a quarry garden designed by James Basson that highlighted Malta’s horticulturally rich yet threatened environment. My favourite gardens, though, were the smaller, fresher ones.

 

This garden by James Alexander Sinclair showed the relationship between sound and motion. Water gurgled and spouted in response to sound waves. Very ingenious.
This garden by James Alexander-Sinclair showed the relationship between sound and motion. Water gurgled and spouted in response to sound waves. Very ingenious.

 

Perhaps the strongest overall impression of the garden tour itself was the generosity shown by so many of the garden owners.  Our group of Canadian and American women was welcomed as if we were members of the family. We were treated to personal stories and gardening anecdotes as well as to tea and cakes — all delicious in their way. And instructive.

Spending time with Penelope Hobhouse at her newest garden, the Dairy Barn, provided a lesson in how many plants can be crammed successfully into a tiny space. Being asked by this expert for advice on how to treat an ailing plant was a lesson in humility: how could I possibly tell her anything she didn’t already know? Yet she listened, considered and even agreed.

 

This photo doesn't do justice to the rich plantings at the Dairy Barn. And while I could have used a photo of Penelope Hobhouse herself, this photo of her garden, mediocre as it is, shows her generosity of spirit.
This photo doesn’t do justice to the rich plantings at the Dairy Barn. And while I could have used a photo of Penelope Hobhouse herself, this photo of her garden, mediocre as it is, shows her generosity of spirit.

 

Alasdair Forbes at Plaz Metaxu was warm hospitality mixed with a degree of erudition that would be intimidating in a less open-hearted man. Over some 25 years he has created a landscape to capture the mind and the spirit. A landscape garden superficially in the 18th century tradition, this ‘place between,’ as the name translates, presented much more than beautiful views. It is a garden after my own spirit, a garden of significance, and one I could happily live in. At the same time its underpinnings are so complex that I would need multiple visits and hours of reading and research even to begin to understand what I saw.

 

A glimpse through an open door onto a mysterious landscape beyond: this was Plaz Metaxu.
A glimpse through an open door onto a mysterious landscape beyond: this was Plaz Metaxu.

 

Visiting Wildside and getting a glimpse into the extraordinary passion that drives owner Keith Wiley offered a balance to what I sometimes see as my own over the top obsessions. However much I do, I can’t hold a candle to this man who has, literally, reshaped his garden world. Nor can I ever match his knowledge of plants or provide the range of habitats that they need.

 

On a hot sunny day, the colours in the garden were even more vibrant than they appear here. Keith's passion for his work coloured every word.
On a hot sunny day, the colours in the garden were even more vibrant than they appear here. Keith’s passion for his work coloured every word.

 

John and Jennie Makepeace at their village garden Farrs not only led our group through the garden, they led us through their working lives. John is a distinguished furniture designer whose work takes furniture to a level rarely seen. Sitting at the dining room table in one of his chairs combined art and comfort; moving from one beautifully designed chair to the next, and the next, and the next, demonstrated how a change in the tiniest detail can alter the experience and the pleasure — a lesson that applies equally well to gardens.

 

What could be more appropriate for a furniture maker than topiary of a table and chair? John and Jennie Makepeace are only the second family to live in this gracious late 18th century house behind the hedge.
What could be more appropriate for a furniture maker than topiary of a table and chair? John and Jennie Makepeace are only the second family to live in the gracious late 18th century house seen behind the hedge.

 

At Iford Manor, our hosts were John Hignett, his son and daughter-in-law. This visit was my third to Iford Manor, a garden I like very much, and it was made more enjoyable by John’s warmth and knowledge. Hearing my sister sing an impromptu aria in the cloister where opera is performed was (literally and metaphorically) a high note.

 

John Hignett shows some of Harold Peto's original plant labels discovered in the garden during restoration work.
John Hignett shows some of Harold Peto’s original plant labels discovered in the garden during restoration work.

 

At Spilsbury Farm, Tania and Jamie Compton showed how informality combined with structure can make a country garden feel loved and lived in. These two know plants, and it shows. The plants looked as much at home as I felt.

 

Spilsbury Farm was another garden where I could live quite comfortably. The mown paths shaped the space without being rigidly symmetrical. I liked that.
Spilsbury Farm was another garden where I could live quite comfortably. The mown paths shaped the space without being rigidly symmetrical. I liked that.

 

At the more elaborate and intensively gardened estate Malverleys, Head of Horticulture Mat Reese shared his plant and design knowledge so generously that I felt I’d completed a course in design in a few short hours.

 

One of many lush plantings in the Jekyll style, updated for the 21st century.
One of many lush plantings in the Jekyll style, updated for the 21st century.

 

Philip White, founder and chief executive of the Hestercombe Gardens Trust, regaled our group over lunch with stories of the restoration of this important garden. Not all people can speak so fluently, informatively and entertainingly. Not all can hold the attention of a group of women as they pick away at their Sunday roast. But Philip White did this easily. Hestercombe’s garden covers three distinct periods of garden history — an 18th century landscape garden, a Victorian shrubbery and one of the first — and finest — gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens. Mr White has been responsible for bringing this garden to its present high level, and with the discovery of an Elizabethan water garden, the sweep of history will be even wider. We left not only well-fed but also shored up by his enthusiasm for a garden he so clearly loves.

 

Arriving at Hestercombe as it opened gave me the chance to sit alone in the Great Plat, the section of the garden designed by Jekyll and Lutyens.
Arriving at Hestercombe as it opened gave me the chance to sit alone in the Great Plat, the section of the garden designed by Jekyll and Lutyens.

 

Gardens are more than arrangements of plants. Even the most beautiful gardens can feel like lifeless, like well-dressed stage sets.  But not when they are full to bursting with the personality of the garden’s creator. My previous blog post was about Veddw, the garden of Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. I was lucky enough to spend a full 24 hours there, and my welcome could not have been warmer. Few gardens are more personal, or show more clearly what matters to the couple who’ve created it.

I’ve been hosting garden tours for the last five years and this tour was one of the best. It helped that we were a congenial group of travellers, visiting great gardens at a good time of year. But the best part was the personality, warmth and generosity of the gardeners themselves.

Veddw House Garden

May 22nd, 2017 | 18 Comments »
These hedges were tiny when planted. Very tiny --
 about ankle high. Getting the proportions right must have been a nightmare.
  I'm in England now, about to start on a ten-day garden tour. With my co-host Julia Guest of Travel Concepts in Vancouver, I will take a small group of women to the southwest of England.  But before hitting the road, let me whet your appetite with a review of an extraordinary garden I visited pre-tour. Veddw is the garden of Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes. Located in Wales, just across the border from England in an area of outstanding natural beauty, Veddw pays homage to its surroundings in ways that show respect

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Yin and Yang at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden

October 3rd, 2016 | 8 Comments »
Black and white, rough and smooth
Vancouver's Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is an  oasis in the middle of a busy city, a place to rest and reflect on a garden tradition that reached its peak in the Ming dynasty (1358-1644). In accord with the Taoist philosophy of yin and yang that guides the garden's design, the aim is to balance opposing forces and thereby to achieve the equilibrium that constitutes perfection.  Behind the walls that separate the garden from the city, contrasts of dark and light, flexible and immovable, rough and smooth, large and small combine to create a picture

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The Devil’s Arrows

September 13th, 2016 | 8 Comments »
The caption says something.
  For the last ten days I've been touring gardens in Scotland and the north of England.  A few days ago the group I'm hosting stopped to investigate two prehistoric standing stones. Their setting could not be more prosaic -- a hayfield close to a busy highway, not far from the city of York -- but the stones standing there were anything but.   [caption id="attachment_4395" align="aligncenter" width="1224"] Thankfully the hayfield had been cut, allowing us to cross the field without damaging the crop.[/caption]   The stones date from neolithic times, 3500-2500

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The Second Time Around

September 4th, 2016 | 11 Comments »
Who wouldn't want to relax in the sunshine at Little Sparta on a beautiful warm day?
  Yesterday I arrived in Edinburgh and tomorrow I begin a tour of gardens in southern Scotland and northern England. This tour is similar to one I hosted last September, which means I'll be taking this year's group to many of the same places I visited then. On the 2015 tour I was seeing some gardens for the first time; others I had been to before. So this year I'll be visiting some gardens for the second time, some for the third, some for the fourth or fifth. Like the song says, will I find

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The Gibberd Garden

June 6th, 2016 | 8 Comments »
A bust of Gibberd by Gerda Rubinstein site is viewed comfortably through a house window.
  Sir Frederick Gibberd was an English architect, landscape designer and town planner. His design for Harlow New Town, generally regarded as the most successful of Britain's post-WWII developments, is his greatest achievement. His garden is his most personal. Located in Essex on the outskirts of the town he designed, the garden is little known and little visited, despite being called by BBC Gardeners' World one of the most important post-war gardens in the country.   [caption id="attachment_4032" align="aligncenter" width="3888"] A bust of Gibberd by Gerda Rubinstein is viewed comfortably

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The Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede

May 30th, 2016 | 13 Comments »
A river of cobblestones surrounds an uneven, curving path.
Memorials are tricky things to get right. In the past, when heroes were celebrated and the power of rulers was exalted in monuments that forced ordinary people to crane their necks skywards, understanding a memorial was easy. A man on horseback was a triumphant military leader. A statue elevated on a Greek-style plinth was a politician, or perhaps a king or queen. When the statue was part of a fountain or surrounded by figures of reclining women in various stages of undress, the message was probably one that celebrated the achievements of a country

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A Change of (Ad)dress

May 23rd, 2016 | 14 Comments »
A froth of white dresses the fields and roadsides in Hertfordshire. What do you call this wildflower -- Queen's Anne's Lace, wild carrot or something else entirely?
  The weather at this time of year does strange things to the mind -- and to the wardrobe. One day is cold, the next is hot. Changing locations makes the uncertainties even worse. What do I pack? Summer dresses or winter woolies? I arrived in England a few days ago on a chilly morning that felt much like the mornings I'd left behind in Canada. But looking out at the countryside, it was obvious that summer was now dressing the fields.   [caption id="attachment_3982" align="aligncenter" width="3888"] A froth of white

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Open Garden Days, New Talks and Garden Tours

May 17th, 2016 | 4 Comments »
Screenshot 2016-05-15 14.07.48
  For a year or more I've been thinking about opening the garden to the public. Last week I bit the bullet and announced  that on August 4, I'll be holding an Open Garden Day. The Open Garden Day is a fundraiser for Fondation Massawippi Foundation, a community organization that supports land conservation and special projects in the communities that border Lake Massawippi. Visitors will be asked either to join the Foundation or to make a voluntary contribution. Will there be hundreds of people or only a handful? I have no idea. But I hope there will be

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Visiting Gardens: Nine Do’s and a Don’t

April 20th, 2016 | 10 Comments »
John Coke, owner of Bury Court in , has a wealth of knowledge about the plants in his garden which he freely shares.
Visiting gardens is one the joys of my life. For the last four years, I've been hosting small group tours to gardens in Britain and Italy, working alongside an outstanding professional travel agent based in Vancouver. Julia Guest at Travel Concepts does the detailed planning that is essential to ensure a good garden tour. Without her work, the tours couldn't happen. Without the cooperation of individual garden owners, the tours wouldn't be as inspirational. And without the companionship of the men and women who have been part of the tours, they

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