Tag Archives: English gardens

Malverleys: A Garden of Contrasts

November 27th, 2017 | 17 Comments »

Winter is almost here in Quebec, which means that not much is going on in the garden at Glen Villa. So instead of moaning about that, I’m remembering one of the gardens I visited in England last May.

Malverleys is a large private estate, rarely open to the public, so the small group of gardeners who were on the tour I was hosting was fortunate to be able to visit. We were doubly fortunate to tour the garden in the company of Mat Reese, the head gardener. Anyone who subscribes to Gardens Illustrated, or reads it regularly, may recognize his name — Mat writes ‘Plantsman’s Favourites’, several pages near the front of each issue in which he recommends special plants for each season.

The garden he is in charge of uses contrast as its central idea. Understandably, because Malverleys is a garden of extremes. Old trees tower over a new garden, and recently created views frame a countryside that seems to have existed forever.

Malverleys also shows what can be accomplished when talent combines with wealth.  Working in conjunction with the owners, in a few short years Mat has created a garden that celebrates traditional Jekyll-inspired plantings, a style  he believes best suits the English countryside. But not content with imitating the past, he is constantly experimenting, and the results of his experimentation show what can happen when contrasts are pushed to the limit.

Easiest to identify (and to photograph) in the ten intensely gardened acres are the contrasts in colour. These range from sharp contrasts within a single border …

 

Vivid colours appear in the hot border. Contrasts are more subtle in the cool-toned border but are still dynamic and inventive.
Vivid colours appear in the hot border. Contrasts are more subtle in the cool-toned border but are still dynamic and inventive.

 

… to contrasts within a single plant.

 

A splendid rose -- I wish I could remember the name.
A splendid rose — ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

 

Less obvious but equally effective are contrasts in texture and size.

 

Smooth and delicate white is set off by the big rough leaves in the pool garden.
Smooth and delicate white is set off by rough and pointed green in the pool garden.

 

When the owner acquired the property, none of the current gardens existed. Now open spaces are carefully balanced against closed ones, light against dark.

 

A sculpture by Mark Quinn provides a focal point to the open lawn and the fields beyond.
A sculpture by Mark Quinn provides a focal point for the open lawn and the fields beyond.

 

In contrast to open fields and a sunny lawn is a dark stumpery, full of mystery and ferns. Some forms are delicate …

 

I have no idea what kind of fern this is but I like it.
I have no idea what kind of fern this is but I like the sharp green frills of new growth.

 

…others bold.

 

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Tree trunks, tree roots and tree ferns line the crunchy gravel path.

 

Water is handled with equal care.  A large pot of water sits in a shallow pool, surrounded by beds thickly planted in cool colours.

 

A urn adds a focal point at the end of the path, one of four that centre on the circular pool.
A urn adds a focal point at the end of the path, one of four that centre on the circular pool.

 

A larger pool surrounded by more vibrant tones reflects the sky.

 

Reflections add another layer of enjoyment in the pool garden.
Reflections add another layer of enjoyment in the pool garden. Contrasts in colour, form and texture can’t be missed.

 

In a section of the garden still being constructed, water arcs from the sides of a rill to form circular patterns, while the sound of the splash adds a new note to the symphony of birds.

 

The temperature dropped noticeably once the water began to rise and fall.
The temperature dropped noticeably once the water began to rise and fall.

 

Throughout the garden, formality is contrasted with informality.  Beside the house a recently planted parterre combines yew, boxwood and hydrangea …

 

Annabelle hydrangeas will grow beside the yew columns that eventually will fill the boxwood circles.
Annabelle hydrangeas will grow beside the yew columns that eventually will fill the boxwood circles.

 

while in the walled garden there is a meadowy abundance.

 

A wonderfully informal planting in the white garden.
I liked this wonderfully informal planting in forms and tones of white.

 

Classically influenced statuary at the top of a low set of stairs sets one tone …

 

This pair of statues were typical of statuary that appeared in different garden rooms.
This pair of statues were typical of statuary that appeared in different garden rooms.

 

while designer chickens wandering through the garden set quite another.

 

King of the roost?
Whose garden is this anyway? The King of the Walk knows, and doesn’t mind telling visitors who’s the boss.

 

Mat Rees’s title is Director of Horticulture. This isn’t the title used in most gardens of this type, but at Malverleys, a title isn’t the only convention that has been given a twist. Topiary in a flowery meadow, for example. Christopher Lloyd’s garden Great Dixter famously had one, and Rees may well have worked on it when he was there. At Malverleys, the meadow combines the standard wildflowers with perennials and shrubs, and a topiary statue twists its way up amid the yews.

 

I failed to note the name of the sculptor. If anyone who recognizes the work, I'd like to know.
I failed to note the name of the sculptor. If anyone recognizes the work, I’d like to know.

 

A double border lining a bit of green lawn is a standard feature, a cliché too often made worse by unimaginative planting. Not so here.

 

Contrasts are everywhere.
The lawn is wider than most, and longer than many. The pool garden is at the far end.

 

An old stone path where cracks burst with thyme and self-sown plants is a commonplace that Rees has freshened, both with the variety and combination of plants he has chosen and with the broken pattern inserted in the walk.

 

This path looks as if it has been here forever but it was put in place only a few years ago.
The path may look as if it has been here forever but it was put in place only a few years ago.

 

And what self-respecting garden of this type excludes a white garden? The very name conjures romance in the moonlight, perfumed yet coolly restrained.

At Malverleys, the white garden is wild, unrestrained, punctuated with touches of colour, on the verge of tipping over into confusion.

 

White isn't the only colour that appears in the white garden but it dominates most beautifully.
White isn’t the only colour that appears in the white garden but it dominates most beautifully.

 

Can the same be said of the garden as a whole? Malverleys is a garden built on contrasts — between convention and experimentation, between restraint and lack thereof — and with contrasts as strong as these, finding a balance is essential. Establishing that balance isn’t easy; maintaining it is even harder. And I’m afraid that with the addition of one more thing, one more garden room, one more feature, the balance will be lost. A studied garden will fall over the top.

I hope I’m wrong, for the plans that Rees outlined for the future are exciting: a lake, an arboretum, a series of courses for those wanting to learn more. A few more years will tell the tale.

Gardeners (and Gardens) to Remember

June 7th, 2017 | 14 Comments »
This garden by James Alexander Sinclair showed the relationship between sound and motion. Water gurgled and spouted in response to sound waves. Very ingenious.
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

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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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