Sep 032013
 
Summerhouse

West Sussex

If I wasn’t perfectly happy with my own parents I would declare myself available for adoption by Angela and John, if they’d have me. They have an amazing house that you can imagine being featured in a Richard Curtis film, thanks to its utter cosy Englishness.

I was very taken with their summerhouse the first time I saw it, and when I stayed at their house last week I sat in it a lot. I’m now thinking that I’ll forgo a shed in my garden and go for something like this instead. To hell with practicality – who needs somewhere to store a wheelbarrow when you can lounge in an armchair instead?

Aug 152013
 
Bath

Bath

I loved these stately hollyhocks, standing like sentinels in gravel. I presume they’ve self seeded there. They reminded me of some verbascums planted in a courtyard in the Temple by Andrea Brunsendorf, head gardener at the Inner Temple. I saw them back in June after the Inner Temple Dog Show, but in all the excitement I forgot to share them with you.

Verbascums

Temple, London

 

Jul 262013
 
Camden

Camden

After a hot and sweaty walk to the post office along a busy main road mostly devoid of plants, this white rose stopped me in my tracks. It was planted in the shady stairwell of a basement flat, and looked as cool as a cucumber. I don’t know if it’s because was against a cream wall, or because it was planted with the dark red dahlia, but its brilliant whiteness was dazzling.

As I was taking this pic, the owner came home. As with most people I’ve met via this blog, she was very nice and said that she can’t stop taking pictures of the dahlia. She’s a bit obsessed by them, and has lots more in pots around the back of her flat. She let me go and have a look.

Jul 172013
 
Sussex

Sussex

If I had to describe Gravetye Manor in one word, it would be: dreamy.

There’s something otherworldly about the place. In common with most grand houses (it’s now a hotel), the view is unencumbered by anything other than rolling countryside. On the day I visited, people were quietly eating lunch in the panelled restaurant rooms and sipping tea on the croquet lawn, much as they probably have done for centuries. It feels far removed from the world’s troubles.

The planting is pretty dreamy, too. Gravetye  is the former home of the legendary gardener William Robinson, who eschewed formal Victorian bedding schemes in favour of mixed borders and wilder, naturalisti planting. Tom Coward, the current head gardener, continues in the same spirit today. He formerly worked alongside Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter, and it shows – he’s not afraid to combine plants in interesting ways. I’ve never cared much for lupins or apricot foxgloves, but I loved how Tom uses them.

Even more impressively, the garden has been turned around in just three years – the previous owners of the hotel had financial difficulties and the garden became neglected. You wouldn’t know that parts of the garden are plagued by Japanese knotweed, which Tom has been working to eradicate. Other weeds, such as bracken, remain, and add to the charm – this isn’t a prim and proper garden.

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Like many grand houses, Gravetye has elements that we mere mortals can only dream of, such as a peach house and a circular walled garden that catches every last ray of sun. It supplies fruit and veg to the restaurant, as well as cut flowers for the house. Tom grows lots of ladybird poppies, which supply vivid splashes of red. They’re hopeless in a vase, which ensures that they don’t get picked.

Gravetyeveg

Meadows (and their loss) are big news at the moment, but William Robinson experimented with creating one 100 years ago. What goes around comes around, even in gardening – Gravetye is definitely having a moment.

Meadow

 

 

Jul 142013
 
HamptonCt

Athanasia Garden

After the refinement of Chelsea, the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is rather an assault on the senses. The sponsors’ messaging in the show gardens can be very in your face – a couple of years ago there was a giant pink tap to highlight the problem of weak bladders, and this year there was a giant washing up bottle lid and lots of bright recycled plastic in the (otherwise nice) Ecover garden. The planting often includes lots of clashing hot summer colours and it’s all too garish for me.

The Athanasia show garden was my favourite by a long chalk. It had really minimal hard landscaping (a big plus in my book), and a cool palette of shade-loving plants. It looked peaceful and inviting and like it had been there for a very long time.

I found out afterwards that the garden was inspired by the memory of Emma Peios, a garden photographer who died last year. I never knew Emma, but I know lots of people who did and were very saddened by her death. The garden was designed by Emma’s friend, David Sarton, and given her middle name, Athanasia. I’m sure this garden is a very fitting tribute to her.

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Jul 022013
 
Fitzrovia

Fitzrovia

Two years ago, my friend Vicky and I stumbled across Emma’s hairdressing emporium by way of the amazing pot display outside. We now both get our hair cut by Emma and agree she’s the best hairdresser we’ve ever had. She works from home nowadays and it didn’t take me long to find her new place – I could see her pots from halfway down the street. They look equally good from the inside – they’re like living shutters.

Emma has moved flats in London a lot, and wherever she’s lived, she’s created pot displays on steps, railings and windowsills. She’s living proof that you don’t need a garden to garden. She also proves that you can grow most things in a pot – outside her old shop she had potted hydrangeas, hollyhocks and foxgloves. Emma quite likes to talk about plants (novel when you’re getting your hair cut) but she doesn’t like talking about them that much. She’s not really interested in plant names or whether a plant needs sun or shade. She’s simply a creative person with very green fingers.

Jun 292013
 
Hertfordshire

Hertfordshire

There’s a new entry to my notional and ever-changing list of Top Ten Gardens That I’ve Ever Visited: Tom Stuart Smith’s garden in Hertfordshire. It was open for the Yellow Book a couple of weeks ago and a £7 donation to charity bought the opportunity to see the private garden of one of Britain’s best garden designers.

TSS4

And boy, it’s good. The setting is incredible – just off the M25, in one of the most densely populated areas of the country, yet surrounded by green fields. And of course there’s oodles of space – perfect for experimenting with different planting styles and indulging every design fantasy. But just like Tom’s gold medal-winning Chelsea Flower show creations, his own garden is not remotely showy, just perfectly executed.

The hard landscaping is classy, but not flash – it doesn’t detract from the plants. Part of the garden is more traditional, with deep, tall herbaceous borders against a backdrop of shaped but shaggy hedges. The more contemporary part of the garden is home to the water tanks that formed part of his Chelsea 2006 garden – one of my favourites ever at Chelsea. At the moment the dominant colours are acid greens, dark pinks and purples from astrantias, euphorbias, French lavender, grasses and sage.

TSS1

I’ve seen Tom do talks on his Chelsea gardens, and he’s very modest about his achievements. He makes the whole thing sound so effortless – like it’s really no big deal to create a Best in Show garden. On the open day, I heard him telling one visitor that he doesn’t do any particular lawn care and saying to another that many of the plants he uses are ‘bog standard’ – Geranium psilostemon, alliums and sweet rocket. I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse – most people have bog standard plants in their gardens and don’t bother much with lawn care, but their gardens don’t look like Tom’s. Not least because of their size, but also because it’s darn hard to put plants together well. Mum and I went back to her problem border (home to several of Tom’s ‘bog standard’ plants), and made a note to get hold of some sweet rocket pronto asap. Well, it’s a start.

TSS3

Jun 232013
 
Brixton

Brixton

Here’s one of the best gardens I’ve seen in a long time. It belongs to Deborah Nagan and Michael Johnson, and it was open during the Chelsea Fringe. Deborah and Michael are architects and landscape architects and not surprisingly, their own space is pretty special. It has a cunning layout, classy hard landscaping (including some metal-edged raised beds) and a rill that eventually falls into a pond in the basement garden below. Like all cleverly designed gardens, it looks effortless, and works brilliantly.

The planting is deft, too – a mix of the traditional (foxgloves, peonies) and the contemporary (dark foliage, acid green flowers, and grasses). Edibles are used to ornamental effect – the bolted rainbow chard has an architectural quality all of its own and a screen of raspberry canes conceals the rabbit hutch, potting bench and compost heap. It’s a garden to linger over – there is so much brilliant detail.

Deb Nagan's garden in Brixton

And if that wasn’t enough, the front garden is pretty amazing too. It has raised beds, with some suitably architectural supports. Not what you expect on the busy Brixton Road.

Deb Nagan's garden in Brixton

Jun 082013
 
Finsbury Park

Finsbury Park

If I could live anywhere in London, it would be Ambler Road. Who wouldn’t want to live on a street that is home to its very own topiary elephants (and a baby owl)? There’s also a shop around the corner that only sells naan breads. I just love that idea.

The street also has the perfect mix of ages and socio-ethnic groups, and thanks to Naomi Schillinger and her band of Blackstock Triangle Gardeners, some great front gardens and tree pits. The sense of community as a result of all this greenfingered activity is astounding and if I hadn’t witnessed it for myself many times, I don’t think I’d really believe it.

Ambler Road isn’t manicured in a Britain in Bloom way – you won’t find neat bedding displays or immaculate lawns. What you will find is a community veg patch, crops in dumpster bags and some small front gardens that are cleverly planted.

Robert’s garden (below) was tarted up thanks to an Islington Council grant – a few years back they were trying to encourage people to plant up, not pave over, their front gardens. Needless to say there’s no funding available nowadays, but quite a few gardens were tarted up as a result.

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Robert’s neighbours’ garden (below) is filled almost exclusively with veg in dumpster bags. I’ve always thought dumpster bags were a bit unsightly, but these are packed closely together. The rhubarb makes a great centrepiece.

P1040571b

But back to the topiary. The elephants came about because the formerly overgrown hedge was a magnet for antisocial behaviour – you can read the full story at Out of My Shed. The aptly named Tim Bushe created them – here’s more of his handiwork.