Tag Archives: garden reviews

Kiftsgate Court: A Garden Review

October 21st, 2019 | 17 Comments »

Kiftsgate Court is one of those English gardens included on many garden tours, in part because it is so conveniently located, just down the road from Hidcote, the iconic garden created by the Anglo-American Lawrence Johnston. The gardens at Kiftsgate were created over the last hundred years by three generations of women — grandmother, mother and daughter — each of whom made her own contribution to the garden as it is today.

Renowned for the Kiftsgate rose, the garden contains some wonderful areas and some fine plantings, with sumptuous flowers like this one that I photographed on a visit in 2012.

Oh, my. Luscious.
Oh, my. That is luscious flower power.


Flowers of all sorts along with rare and exotic plants enliven the garden in every season.

Asters and sedum: a nice colour contrast.
Asters and sedum: a nice colour contrast.


The handsome house is flanked by a four-square entry garden and terrace on one side,


The classic façade rears up above the entry garden.
The classic façade that rears up above the entry garden was actually brought in from a local village and erected here piece by piece.


and by a sunken courtyard with a white garden on the other.


Kiftsgate blue chairs provide a place to sit in this sunny courtyard.
Kiftsgate blue chairs match the colour of the sky on the day I took this photo.



The stand-out in this area is a gorgeous well head, carved according to the garden’s website with “bucolic activities” including harvesting, hunting and wine making.


Just look at detail of the carvings -- aren't they wonderful?
The lowest band of carving shows a bird piercing its own breast to feed its young. This symbol was commonly used in medieval times to suggest Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.


Some may argue that the blue chairs and other contrasts in colour in parts of the garden are a bit strong; others will find them exactly to their taste.


Too much contrast or just the right amount?
What do you think — is there too much colour contrast or just the right amount? Or maybe not enough?


The debate about this garden isn’t limited to contrasts of colour. Much about this garden comes down to questions of taste. Some people may like the art in the garden… this curvaceous lady at the end of a long path ….


Thumbs up or
This sculpture of a seated woman whose lap becomes a seat is by Simon Verity. It was commissioned by Diany Binny, the second of the three generations of women who designed the garden.


or this motherly figure who stands beside the path to the lower garden.


I'm not sure I'd want to sit on those curved steps. They look a bit damp to me.
A sculpture of mother and child fits into the real life story of this garden designed and gardened by grandmother, mother and daughter.


Pablo Picasso is widely quoted as having said that “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” The same can be said of gardeners. Inevitably, a stolen idea is transformed and becomes your own when you ‘steal’ it. This is certainly the case at Kiftsgate. Some years ago, the tennis court was converted to a water garden, using Geoffrey Jellicoe’s Jungian-inspired design  from Sutton Place in Surrey. I have no problem with that.


The design is calm and colours restrained -- green, white and black.
Using green, white and black only provides a strong contrast to the wide range of colours used in the rest of the garden.


But something significant was lost in the process. The stepping stones that cross the moat at Sutton Place carry a symbolic message — they are the first steps in an allegorical journey through time.  The steps at Kiftsgate lead to an island which goes nowhere; to get off the island you must retrace your steps.

This modification changes a meaningful element into something purely decorative. I wouldn’t necessarily quarrel with that change — the resulting design still conveys a sense of calm, reinforced by the restrained colour palette. But Sir Geoffrey’s design has been modified as well by the addition of gilded bronze leaves that stand above the water on thin rods that move in the breeze.


On one visit to Kiftsgate, water tinkled off the leaves into the water. Another time, the leaves were dry.
On one visit to Kiftsgate, water tinkled off the leaves into the water. Another time, the leaves were dry.


I greatly prefer both the clarity and originality of Jellicoe’s design and find the wobbly leaves a distraction. Others may disagree.

Opinions converge, though, when it comes to the latest addition to the garden at Kiftsgate. Everyone in the group I was with in 2018 disliked what they saw, as did everyone I spoke to in the garden at the time and later.


The curved benches are by Nicky Hodges.
The curved benches are by Nicky Hodges.


Creating the Jellicoe-inspired water garden involved removing nearly 1000 tons of soil.  That soil was then moulded into a horseshoe-shaped mound and a long allée of tulip trees was planted. But what to do with the area inside the horseshoe mound? Someone decided to fill it with grey gravel and to add a chevron pattern of coloured stones that points along the allée towards a sculpture in the distance.


Visitors get their first glance at the area from the mound above the benches.
Visitors walk through an orchard and climb steps on the outside of the mound. At the top, above the benches, they get their first glance at this newest addition to the garden.

Seeing this addition was a shock. Nothing about it appeals to me. The grey gravel and coloured stones feel very much out of keeping with a garden focused on colour and on rare and exotic plants. And why the potted olive trees? Combined with gravel they might be intended to suggest a Mediterranean garden but in this context they feel both extraneous and incongruous.


The olive trees are fine specimens but do they relate to anything in the larger garden or in this section of it?
The olive trees may be fine specimens but do they relate to anything in the larger garden or in this section of it? Or are they left-overs from someplace else?


I love a good allée of trees and tulip trees are a favourite. But for an allée like this one to be fully effective, the trees need to be planted on level ground, not on the side of a slope.


Notice the slope of the land. Not what I'd expect from this fine a garden.
The pronounced slope of the hill makes me feel off balance. I want to straighten it up!


I didn’t walk to the end of the allée so I can’t comment on the sculpture that is the allée’s focal point and destination. From a distance it feels insubstantial, not nearly strong enough to create the visual impact that is needed. Up close, it may be different.


The sculpture is by Pete Moorhouse.
I cropped a photo to show this semi-close up of the sculpture by Pete Moorhouse.


Somewhere I read that Diany Binny’s motto proclaimed that the “art of gardening is to notice.” I heartily agree. To notice is to admire the  ancient stone that ornaments the garden and reluctantly to accept the necessity for the artificial grass that now surrounds it, due to excessive foot traffic. To notice is to admire the self-seeded flowers whose colour contrasts so nicely with the rough stone wall…


The flowers shine like little light bulbs.
The yellow and orange petals shine like little light bulbs.


or the rosehip-like shape of a medlar, a fruit I’ve rarely seen and have never eaten.


These medlars are
The fruits of a medlar are hard and acidic, according to Wikipedia, but become edible after being softened by frost or if left long enough in storage. Apparently the inside is similar in taste and consistency to applesauce.


But to notice is also to remark on the uncomfortably harsh geometry of the chevron design. It is to acknowledge the discolouration on the white stones and the bare grass on the sides of the mound.


What do you think?
What do you think? Thumbs up or thumbs down?


It is to question whether the avenue, the mound and the sculpture are worthy of the garden as a whole.

In a world where garden critiques are far too often eschewed, I’m sticking my neck out by stating my opinion so clearly.  I welcome comments on the other side.

Haseley Court and Making History Visible

January 22nd, 2019 | 6 Comments »
My last blog post, about making history visible and listening to the land, struck a chord.  Many readers responded via the Site and Insight web page or commented on Facebook and on the blog itself, saying they were touched by the piece. Several described how experiences in their pasts affected their responses today, both to their own garden and to gardens they visited. I know that is true for me. I grew up in Virginia, in a house with a big back yard where I could hide under bushes and pretend to be an explorer


Garden Hits and Misses

September 30th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
At home after three marvellous weeks visiting gardens (and  friends) in England, I find much to criticize in my garden. After many years of travelling, I've come to expect this -- and to accept that a garden in Quebec's harsh weather conditions will never resemble an English garden, with its lush foliage and flowers, topiary and ancient walls. I've also come to expect that gardens other than my own will disappoint me. On every tour I've hosted, there has always been one garden I particularly looked forward to seeing. On


Garden Centres and Garden Reviews

September 24th, 2018 | 10 Comments »
Gardening in Canada can be frustrating. The range of plants available through nurseries or garden centres is minuscule compared with the number available in England. And seeing so many wonderful cultivars that won't survive in my Quebec garden makes me envious of England's more temperate climate. Still, for anyone who loves plants, a visit to a garden centre is always a treat. The group I was hosting on my final garden tour spent a few happy hours wandering around the Burford Garden Company, an Oxfordshire-based enterprise. At this time of year


Ascott: A Garden Review

October 25th, 2016 | 11 Comments »
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


Evaluating the Skating Pond

July 14th, 2015 | 12 Comments »
The Skating Pond was an accident. I didn't set out to make a pond, for skating or anything else. But that's what happened. The genesis for the project was an old covered bridge that played a part in my husband's boyhood. In 2001 vandals burned it down. Seeing the remains, my husband felt as if he'd lost a piece of his past. So we asked our friends, the sculptors Louise Doucet and Satoshi Saito, to resurrect the twisted pieces of steel that by that time were supporting the bridge. The result is


You Read it Here First!

February 27th, 2015 | 15 Comments »
I'm a big fan of ThinkinGardens, the British website edited by Anne Wareham. While the bulk of the posts relate to gardening and gardens in England, posts also cover topics of wider interest. As the website itself says, it's a website "for people who want more than gardening from gardens." ThinkinGardens isn't modest or retiring, and neither is its editor. Both aim at controversy, or at least at generating discussion about gardens, garden design, garden practices and philosophies. The website is a compendium of writing that challenges assumptions and makes readers


Middleton Place: An American Landscape Garden

February 16th, 2015 | 8 Comments »
Middleton Place is described as America's oldest landscaped garden. Laid out in 1741 with romantic additions dating from the 19th and 20th century, it is a fascinating example of international style with a southern accent.   [caption id="attachment_1826" align="aligncenter" width="850"] Camellias are now a mark of southern gardens. They were introduced to America in 1786, at Middleton Place.[/caption]     A bit of history: First settled in the late 17th century, Middleton Place was acquired by Henry Middleton through marriage. It was the family seat of four successive generations of Middletons


Evaluating Canada Blooms 2013

March 27th, 2013 | 3 Comments »
Flowers do not a garden make. Nor a garden show. Nonetheless, for me flower arrangements were the highlight of this year’s Canada Blooms. And I am not a flower arranger. Not any good at it, and not interested in becoming any better. But I do like art, and to see amazingly artful compositions made with plant material was a nice treat. Can you imagine the time and effort it took to create this gold ribbon winner? Nancy Wilson's gold ribbon winning painting reflects an amaryllis tucked into the arch behind.