Tag Archives: English gardens

Gardeners (and Gardens) to Remember

June 7th, 2017 | 14 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.

Ascott: A Garden Review

October 25th, 2016 | 11 Comments »
The hours are shown in Roman numerals, the text in block letters circling behind.
Note: Recently I became aware of a technical glitz that was causing problems with the delivery of this blog. It has now been resolved. To those of you reading a blog post for the first time, even if you subscribed many months ago -- my apologies for the delay and welcome to the Site and Insight blog! I welcome your comments.   "It is magnificent. It is what God would have done if he had the money."   I don't know whose garden Noel Coward was describing when he penned those words, but you

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Prospect Cottage: A Garden Review

October 12th, 2016 | 12 Comments »
The cottage retains its original strongly contrasting paint colours.
  The garden at Prospect Cottage, located in Kent on England's east coast, was created by the late Derek Jarmon, a filmmaker, diarist and early advocate of gay rights. It is a garden that sits lightly on the land while simultaneously conveying a powerful sense of place. It is also one that elicits a strong response from visitors. Either they like it or they don't, are intrigued by it or walk through quickly, dismissing what they see as a collection of rubbish with some flowers thrown in.   [caption id="attachment_4107" align="aligncenter" width="1200"]

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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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A Year of Visiting Gardens

December 20th, 2015 | 13 Comments »
This bridge is one of the most photographed features at Magnolia Plantation. To me the ovals reflected in the black water look like elongated eyes.
2015 was a bumper year for garden visits. I'm almost overwhelmed when I realize how many gardens I visited -- well over 100 by a quick count. Some days, I found the experience exhausting; every day it was fun. My year of visiting gardens started in February when I saw two outstanding gardens in South Carolina. Middleton Place lived up to its reputation as one of America's premier historic gardens. Begun by Henry Middleton in 1741,  the garden follows the principles of André Le Nôtre -- which means that order, balance and focal points enlivened by

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Doing the Unexpected

November 15th, 2015 | 12 Comments »
Colour and shape smack you in the face.
Does your garden suffer from the blahs? You know, that late season feeling when everything looks past its best before date and a walk around the garden drags you down? That's how my garden has been looking recently, and that's how I've been feeling. But I may have found a remedy. To prepare for a short talk I gave last week, I flipped through my photographs of gardens in Scotland and the north of England. Some photos I passed by quickly, others made me stop for a second look. Why?

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Througham Court: A Garden of Ideas

January 13th, 2015 | 7 Comments »
Througham Court 2013-116
Are gardens intellectual endeavours or places to soothe the spirits? If a garden is intended to be a conceptual work of art, does it succeed if it has to be explained? And what responsibility rests on the person viewing the garden to understand the ideas that shaped it? Make the questions personal: should I have to work to understand what a garden is about or is it enough merely to enjoy what I see? If I don't understand the ideas, on what basis do I judge the garden? Visiting Througham Court in

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Is Mosaiculture topiary?

September 22nd, 2013 | 2 Comments »
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Strictly speaking, the answer is -- no. Both are living sculptures, but they are made in different ways. Mosaiculture is also a contemporary form of plant display, while topiary has a long and distinguished history, dating back to  Roman times.So, what are the differences? The most obvious one is that topiary uses a single plant to create architectural and sculptural shapes while mosaiculture creates forms by combining a variety of plants with different colours and textures. Traditionally, creating a topiary took a long time; a plant, tree or shrub was clipped and shaped

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Rills and Why I Like Them

June 26th, 2013 | 6 Comments »
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Water features are an important element in many gardens. Understandably so. Water can reflect the sky, enlarging the space to infinity; it can reflect surrounding buildings or trees, adding stimulating contrasts. It is an ideal environment for certain decorative plants. It cools the air and its movement over rocks or cascades adds a refreshing note. A garden rill is an artificial channel that carries water from one place to another. Historically rills developed from the religious ideas of Persian paradise gardens. They appeared later in Europe, in Moorish gardens like

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Borrowing a View

June 18th, 2013 | 2 Comments »
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In England, the idea of enlarging the view beyond a garden wall -- whether the wall is real or metaphoric -- dates back to the 18th century. The furniture and landscape designer William Kent is said to be the first to recognize that land outside a garden's designed space could appear to be part of it. He understood that someone else's fields or farmlands could be 'borrowed' visually to make one's own lands seem larger. At Rousham House in Oxfordshire. Kent "leapt the wall and saw that all nature was a

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