Aug 022016
 
Gloucestershire

Gloucestershire

When I did a garden design course years ago, we all had to do a project on a designer/plantsperson of our choice. For some reason I chose Rosemary Verey, who wasn’t strictly a garden designer – rather an extremely well connected ‘owner-gardener’. But I was fascinated by the idea of potagers and knew that she had created one in the garden at her home, Barnsley House.

The house is now a hotel but you can still see the garden by either going for lunch or tea, taking a pre-booked group tour, or by paying £10 (including a coffee and a petit four), which is the option we went for. It’s a pretty classy establishment and we weren’t exactly dressed for it, but the staff couldn’t have been friendlier – they urged us to make ourselves comfortable in the armchairs near the log fire (yes, in July – the weather was terrible) while we sipped our coffees.

Afterwards, we pretty much had the garden to ourselves. It is famous for its Laburnum Walk, which had gone over by the time of our visit, of course, and the Lime Walk. I’ve seen a couple of lime walks recently, and have to say that I’ve found them rather dark and oppressive. I’m sure they’re lovely in spring when they’re just coming into leaf, with spring planting underneath, though.

But of course, we made a beeline for the potager. It’s huge – bigger than most people’s gardens – but there were plenty of ideas that could be scaled down for a smaller garden. It’s intricately laid out to a design that is not dissimilar to a knot garden, and is full of structure – topiary, trained fruit trees, box edging, arches, attractive plant supports and so on. Interestingly, some veg, such as courgettes, squashes etc  aren’t grown in the potager, presumably because they take up too much room and don’t look as attractive – they’re grown in a nearby veg patch. The potager is saved for the prettier crops – globe artichokes, tree fruit, alpine strawberries and herbs. Plus flowers of course – opium poppies added splashes of colour everywhere. I loved the living willow supports for sweet peas.

Of course, my own veg patch looks woeful in comparison. I did manage to divide it up with loose brick paths earlier in the year, and was full of good intentions, but I took my eye off the ball just when the plot needed attention. The runner beans and courgettes got eaten by slugs, so I had to buy plants from the garden centre (a very expensive way of doing things) and my autumn-fruiting raspberries went down with a virus. Many of my flowers for cutting just haven’t got going. I have resolved that there are going to be some changes next year…

Verey-willow-support

Sweet peas climbing up a living willow support at Barnsley House

Apr 102015
 
Coleton-fishacre-house

Devon

The weekend before the gloriously warm Easter was spent in Devon, on two of the foulest days imaginable. It was so cold, wet and windy that it was a real effort to do anything, and in desperation we turned to the National Trust handbook. Happily, we found that we were near Coleton Fishacre.

I loved it. The house is built in the Arts & Crafts style, with an Art Deco interior, and was the country retreat of the D’Oyly Carte family (Gilbert & Sullivan impresarios). Going around the beautifully proportioned house, you have a real sense of going back in time, and of the fun that the family must have had there – tennis rackets, fishing rods and hammocks are left lying about, and there are elegant cigarette dispensers, cocktail cabinets and record players at every turn. The servants’ rooms and kitchens (complete with an old soda stream, about six foot tall) are on display too, and there’s even a flower arranging room, filled with vases of all kinds, a sink and a work surface – the lady of the house enjoyed arranging flowers from the garden.

Coleton-Fishacre-terrace

There’s a huge dining terrace on the side of the house, which has a window to one side to stop the wind coming in. It continues outside (see above) to keep out the draughts – a nifty idea.

Coleton-magnolia

The RHS-accredited garden is filled with rare and exotic plants that thrive in the (usually) mild climate, and spills down a valley towards the sea. Apparently the family used to ask their weekend guests to help with the weeding. It was a too soggy to walk around for long, but it was good to see the magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias in bloom. By the time we left, we had big smiles on our faces – I would love to go back in summer, and explore it more.

Coleton-Fishacre

 

 

 

 

Sep 012014
 
Pelargonium-house, Stourhead

Stourhead

When I spotted a sign pointing the way to the Pelargonium House at Stourhead, I made an immediate beeline for it. It’s a beautiful old glasshouse that contains around 100 varieties of pelargonium, some of which look nothing like a pelargonium. The smell in there is divine.

Several of the varieties are sold in the shop, and I brought home three with me. The most successful plants in my conservatory this year* have been pelargoniums, so I’m going to turn it into a mini pelargonium house.

*More on this in a future post.

Aug 052014
 

 

 

Forde Abbey, Somerset

Somerset

When I was a child, my family spent many summer holidays on a farm that was once part of the Forde Abbey estate. It was a working dairy farm, and we all loved it. We used to visit Forde Abbey a lot, and nearby Cricket St Thomas too. We also picked soft fruit on Forde Abbey’s PYO fruit farm, just down the road, and ate raspberries and cream for tea every day. When the day came to leave, my sister and I were inconsolable for several hours, crying in the back seat of the car. I’m sure those holidays played a big part in why I love the West Country so much.

Now, of course, I’m living quite near Forde Abbey, so when my parents came to stay recently, we went back there. As luck would have it, it was Sweet Pea Fortnight –  the lady of the house grows 70 varieties and rates them on various factors. I’ve been really chuffed with my sweet peas this year but they were all rather at the blue/purple end of the spectrum (I grew a lot of ‘Cupani’ and ‘Robert Uvedale’) and I want to expand my repertoire next year. So it was brilliant to see so many varieties in one place – this is just some of them.

Forde-Abbey-sweet-peas

Forde Abbey has several additions since we were last there. For a start, it’s got Britain’s highest fountain, which is pretty impressive – just don’t stand down-wind of it.

Forde-Abbey-fountain

It also has a beautiful new bog garden –  possibly my favourite part of the garden (sweet peas aside).

Forde-Abbey-bog-garden

And last but not least, there is 48-year-old Twiglet, who would would have been around when we visited all those years ago and makes me feel positively youthful.

Forde-Abbey-horse
On the way back, we picked some raspberries for tea at the PYO farm, which is still there, then called in at the farm. It had recently changed hands and is being developed as holiday cottages. All the animals have gone, the farmyard is no more, and the stables that used to house the calves have become holiday lets. Despite all of that, it still seemed so familiar. The new owners showed us around and were very interested to hear our holiday tales – gathering around a grainy black and white TV in the cowman’s cottage to watch the Royal Wedding, the hand-reared sheep that thought it was a dog and liked to be taken for walks…). The place seems like it is in good hands.

I wouldn’t say I was inconsolable on the back seat as we left, but I certainly had a lump in my throat. That corner of Dorset/Somerset/Devon will always be my favourite place on earth.

Jul 232013
 
Hampshire

Hampshire

My recent blog posts may suggest that I have been spending my time touring stately homes in southern England, like a character in a Jane Austen novel. First Gravetye Manor, and now Mottisfont Abbey. Rest assured that despatches from the gritty streets of London will return soon.

Mottisfont is perhaps best known for the walled rose garden planted by Graham Stuart Thomas. It’s impressive, and the roses are underplanted with lots of perennials. But there were things I liked more about Mottisfont. It’s home to lots of great art (and art exhibitions), has a racy past thanks to notorious Bloomsbury Set parties and some amazing trompe l’oeil in the drawing room. Oh, and it has a 1950s ice cream parlour, trout leaping from the river and a secondhand book shop.

It was the busiest, hottest weekend of the year when we visited but it didn’t feel overrun (although panic did ripple through the ice cream queue when rumours of a shortage circulated). The National Trust is all about being accessible and giving kids freedom to roam these days, and they’ve certainly got it right at Mottisfont. Families were picknicking, lying under trees, rolling down grassy banks and dozing in the sun. And best of all: dangling their feet in the stream. I half expected a health and safety official in a tabard tell us all to move on, but no one came. It was truly lovely.

Mottisfontstream

Mar 082012
 

Paris

A friend of mine once spent some time at a monastery in southern France where the monks lived in silence. They were allowed to speak when it was their turn to welcome passing travellers – and when it was their turn, they couldn’t stop talking. By the end of his stay Gérard was desperate for some peace and quiet.

I was reminded of this story at La Musée de la Vie Romantique in Paris last weekend. It’s free to get in and was virtually deserted, so the receptionist had very little to do. She checked we had the right leaflets, fretted over some audio guides, described in detail where the toilets were and talked us through every item for sale in the tiny shop.

Needless to say what I was most interested in was the sign saying ‘Thés dans le jardin’, but the receptionist didn’t have anything to say about that. There were no teas in the garden – they don’t start until early summer. This was a shame because the newly renovated Winter Garden, attached to the house, would have been the perfect setting in which to nibble cake, sip tea and shelter from the cold. I can’t imagine a ‘refreshments in summer only’ rule going down very well with in England – a historic house without a tearoom is like a ship without a sail.

But I digress. I’ve always loved the idea of a winter garden, or a conservatory, or a room like Andie McDowell’s in Green Card – a place to go for light, warmth and greenery when it’s cold outside. I love the design of this one, with its sloping roof and green paint – it manages to look classic yet contemporary. I wouldn’t have a grotto in mine, though, and I’d pack it with a hell of a lot more plants.

Sep 292011
 

Hatfield House

I can’t read maps and now I know where I get it from: my mum. She’s kept this under wraps until now as my dad does all the navigating in our house and actually asks for maps for Christmas. If he ever doesn’t know where he’s going, he pretends he does.

Mum’s cover was blown on Sunday, though, when she and I were left to our own devices at the Henry Moore exhibition at Hatfield House. My Dad had dropped us off, having taken an unusual route through a housing estate about which he chose to make no comment.

The various sculptures were dotted around the garden and woodland, and a handy map showed where they were. Most of them were called something along the lines of ‘Figure, Reclining’ and they did all look like, well, figures reclining.

Then we arrived at a sculpture that was we were expecting to be called ‘Torso’ but was indisputably a ‘Mother and Child’. And that’s when we realised that something was amiss.

Turns out we’d oriented ourselves wrongly from the off, mistaking the huge (and unmissable) knot garden on the map for a tiny fountain in a garden room. But never mind. It was great to get up close and personal with the sculptures, which looked very much at home in their temporary setting.

Aug 052011
 

Enfield

I think I may have found my ideal man. Too bad he died 54 years ago.

I’ve never really known much about E. A. Bowles, the legendary plantsman, except that he used to garden at Myddelton House in Enfield and has 40 varieties named after him.

Turns out there was much more to him than that. He held ‘tulip teas’ for the community and friends on his birthday in May, was a talented artist, taught literacy to local children and was a mean ice skater. If a member of staff was having family troubles he’d slip an extra ten shillings into their pay packet.

You get a real sense of the man at Myddelton House, thanks to the swish new visitor centre and helpful signposting around the garden. This isn’t a place with manicured herbaceous borders and neat rows of bedding – it all feels on the verge of being slightly out of control. Mr Bowles wasn’t an aesthete – he was more interested in acquiring plants and giving them the right conditions in which to grow. Many of those plants are familiar to us now but they must have been very unusual at the time. I saw quite a few things that I didn’t recognise.

It’s a really nice place to spend a couple of hours. Be sure to see the clump of Japanese knotweed, its leaves as big as dinner plates and stems as thick as bamboo, now contained by an iron ring to stop it spreading. Edward Augustus planted it for its architectural qualities, not knowing then, as we do now, that this plant is horribly invasive. But nobody’s perfect.