So Hidcote was lovely, but Bryan’s Ground was on another level entirely. The moment I clapped eyes on the first part of the garden – topiary with interspersed with lilies, lupins, foxgloves and tons of giant fennel, I knew it was something special. Naomi felt exactly the same.
This is a very personal garden, created by Simon Wheeler and Simon Dorrell over many years. It feels intimate, personal and wildly imaginative. Maybe a good way to describe it would be ‘controlled chaos’ – the layout of the garden is carefully thought out, with perfectly framed vistas at every turn, but it’s flamboyant, overgrown and heavily reliant on self-seeders. Even the topiary cones on the main lawn have hardy geraniums sprouting out of them them. There’s a real sense that the owners cherish it, nurture it – and let it do it’s own thing.
It’s shot straight into my mental list of my ‘Top 10 favourite gardens of all time’ – I must do a post on that someday…
Much excitement has been surrounding Piet Oudolf’s new garden at the new Hauser + Wirth Gallery in Somerset. I was one of the people who was excited about it, so I was very pleased to get the chance to visit.
The gallery and restaurant is extremely swanky – some challenging art, neon lights spelling ‘Everything Will Be OK’ on one of the building walls, throbbing music in the exceedingly cool bar area and lots of trendy people. It’s what you’d expect to find in a capital city, which isn’t surprising as the other Hauser + Wirth galleries are in New York, London and Zurich. To be honest, it made me feel a bit uneasy – it just didn’t seem to sit comfortably in deepest Somerset.
As for the garden, there are some beautiful planting combinations (my favourite is below), and quite a few plants that I didn’t recognise, which is always interesting. The place was positively buzzing with bees and butterflies.
Interestingly, the non-gardeners in our group didn’t ‘get’ the garden at all. I tried to explain the naturalistic style, the planting in drifts, the fact that it’s all very new and will take a while to establish. But they still didn’t get it, or even like it very much. And I must admit it didn’t quite do it for me, either. Maybe it was the simple fact that the garden isn’t established – the perennials are dominating at the moment, and the grasses need to mature to give more structure. Or maybe it was the clock sculpture, which dominates somewhat (and ticks annoyingly). Maybe it was the bright green grass paths which look a bit odd, the lack of structure, or the lack of a sense of enclosure. I’ve been wowed by Piet Oudolf’s planting in the past, especially at Pensthorpe a few years ago, but this time I was surprised to find myself thinking that I’ve seen it all before.
It’s well worth taking a wander around Mells after visiting the Walled Garden. St Andrew’s Church has an interesting history, and Siegfried Sassoon is buried in the churchyard. Edwin Lutyens had an association with the village, and his work (including a war memorial) is dotted about.
In Cornwall recently, I spotted a handwritten sign to a ‘wild garden’. The morning’s plans were immediately ditched and we swerved down a narrow country lane in search of it.
I’m glad we did. The garden is called Tanglewood, and the first part of it is woodland. We were immediately charmed by the miniature door at the base of a tree, complete with miniature axe and logs, as if the inhabitants of the Magic Faraway Tree weren’t far away. There are chainsaw wood carvings dotted throughout the garden, made from trees that have fallen, all with a humorous touch.
After the woodland bit, the garden opens out and becomes a series of large ponds, all dug out by the owners. A pair of wooden legs dive into one pond, and a kingfisher (complete with crown) is doing a spot of fishing in another.
This is not a manicured garden – there are many native trees and flowers, and brambles, nettles, grass and weeds are allowed to flourish in order to benefit wildlife.
The owners’ humour is in evidence everywhere (I know how the chap below feels…).
As we were walking around, we bumped into the owner. He told us that he and his partner bought the site in 2001 and have gradually been developing it. At the end of our chat I said that I particularly liked the miniature door at the base of the tree. He looked at me, completely deadpan, and said, ‘That was already here – it nothing to do with me.’
I’ve cycled past the big, ornate gate of Belcombe Court several times, and never really given much thought to what might lie beyond it. But the other day I spotted a sign that said that the garden was going to be open for one day only, as part of the Bradford-on-Avon Secret Gardens Festival. It listed the all the delights that visitors would be able to see, including a walled garden designed by Arne Maynard. I knew I had to go.
As we strolled up to the house after visiting some other gardens, we soon noticed that there were a lot of people milling about. Parking had spilled into the field opposite and lots of folk were making their way through the gates. The place must, I realised, must be quite a big deal.
… And it is. The grounds cover 65 acres and are simply stunning. They’re a mix of parkland, sweeping lawns, woodland, wilder areas and garden rooms. It’s got an octagonal pavilion, a tennis court, a grotto and a cloud-pruned hedge (from Arne Maynard’s Chelsea 2000 garden). In fact I can’t think of a garden feature it hasn’t got.
My favourite part was definitely Arne Maynard’s walled garden. I loved the six tiers of lawn (that lots of kids were happily rolling down), the clipped box and yew, and the ebullient planting in the borders – lots of roses and perennials. I especially liked the cordon apples against the walls, and I’m now convinced that I want a Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ in my own garden.
As we wandered around, I observed that it was a bit odd that the place didn’t have a swimming pool. ‘Nah,’ muttered my boyfriend, ‘There’s definitely a pool.’ And of course there was – an infinity number that the great unwashed could just get a glimpse of, over the hedge.
By the end of the afternoon, I felt quite inspired by the garden’s awesomeness. My boyfriend, however, felt envious and inadequate. When we got home, we Googled the owner. It turns out he’s a director who has worked on a Mr Bean film and lots of adverts. And Belcombe Court is just his weekend residence! That left me feeling rather envious and inadequate too.
I went to Naomi’s house after the Chelsea Flower Show press day. It was good to see a real, lived-in garden that is free of fancy hard landscaping and manicured lawns (and to drink a beer outside on an amazingly warm evening). The magenta of the rose, gladiolus and Geranium psilostemon looked great against the acid yellow of the euphorbia.
Architects, eh? You can rely on them to come up with a triangle while mere mortals would have created a rectangle. Christian says he used three posts for his seating area instead of four because that’s all he could fit in his car. But I don’t believe him.
This isn’t the first architect’s garden I’ve seen that uses triangles – remember this garden, one of my all-time favourites?
‘If people don’t gasp when they turn the corner and see the border, I’m not doing my job properly,’ says Waterperry’s horticultural manager, Rob Jacobs. He needn’t worry – you couldn’t fail to emit all kinds of superlatives when you clap eyes on it for the first time, especially at the moment. Dozens of asters in shades of blue, purple and pink are at their peak, and several large Solidago ‘Golden Wings’ provide contrasting splashes of yellow. The colour palette reminded me of a bunch of statice.
The traditional herbaceous border was originally used for teaching – Waterperry started life as a horticultural college for women, under the stewardship of the formidable Beatrix Havergal. Each student took care of a section. The border was later unified by the legendary Pam Schwertdt (latterly the head gardener at Sissinghurst). It’s designed to have a long season of interest: lupins are the highlight in late May/early June, followed by delphiniums in late June/July, phlox in August and Michaelmas daisies (asters) in September. It looks so full and abundant that you can’t help wondering where the early flowerers have gone (a visitor once asked if the plants are removed and replaced for every season). Actually, it’s all down to careful positioning (and staking) – tall, early plants are situated at the back, and any plant that keeps its leaves nicely after flowering, or flowers late, is at the front.
The border needs a lot of work to keep it looking good. There’s a lot of staking and deadheading to be done, and in the first two weeks of November it’s all cut down to the ground. Rob and head gardener Pat are at pains to point out a couple of holes in the border and say that they’re never quite satisfied with it. But to anyone else, it looks pretty much perfect.
Every year, the Inner Temple Garden’s head gardener Andrea experiments with different dahlias. Here are a few that I especially loved.
‘Wigo Super’ glows in the border, and looks great against the backdrop of purple cleomes. Andrea’s so impressed with it that she’s thinking of dumping ‘David Howard’ next year and replacing him with this charmer.
‘Edwin’s Sunset’ positively pulsates with colour and takes over from a red rose that has finished flowering.
In the War of the Roses border, ‘Purpur Konigin’ is stealing the show. It’s small but perfectly formed and would make a fantastic cut flower.
Late summer/early autumn is always the peak season for the High Border at the Inner Temple Garden, and head gardener Andrea Brunsendorf thinks that this year, it’s looking the best it’s ever looked. I agree.
Almost every colour can be found in it – orange, yellow, red, magenta, purple, pink and blue – and yet it doesn’t look garish. It just glows in the mellow autumn light. It should power on for a few weeks yet, so if you’re in London, take the time to go and see it.