What is not to love about this hut at Bryan’s Ground? What you can’t see from this picture is that it overlooks a lake. And inside, it has loads of pretty pictures stuck to the wall – thank you notes, birthday cards, postcards etc – things that are nice to keep, but often hidden away. I have a box of exactly the same things at home, and I’ve stuck some of them on the wall in my study so that I can look at them every day – a little homage to this hut.
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…
Last weekend I went garden visiting with a fellow gardening anorak, Naomi over at Out of My Shed. It was great to be able to visit gardens for two whole days, without worrying about my companion getting fidgety and bored. Plus, Naomi has a van, which meant I didn’t have to hold back on buying plants – or heed concerns over a lack of room in the boot or getting the car dirty.
We went to some great gardens, more of which in future posts. I was blown away by how immaculate Hidcote was, and how beautiful. I was also blown away by the crowds. I was expecting it to be busy, but the garden was so packed that it was sometimes impossible to progress through it. I’ve heard Troy Scott-Smith, the head gardener at Sissinghurst, talk about the challenges of working in a garden that attracts such high visitor numbers – it must be a similar case for the team here.
I was also blown away by the behaviour of the visitors. There was no escaping a woman in mustard-coloured trousers who alternated between marching around the garden and standing abruptly still, talking very loudly on her mobile. With her free hand, she was waving her SLR randomly about, snapping photos without looking at what she was doing. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her.
People were also manhandling the plants with gay abandon, and in one case, filching plant material. At neighbouring Kiftsgate, I witnessed a group of people speculating about the depth of the pool, then lowering their golfing umbrellas into the water to measure it (in case you’re wondering, it’s a couple of feet deep). They then walked off, umbrellas dripping everywhere, looking very pleased with themselves. (Also at Kiftsgate, a group of Germans were having a conversation about black stockings: ‘Black Stockings? Ja, Black Stockings! Black Stockings! I can only assume they were talking about a plant variety.)
But I digress. Hidcote was truly lovely, and if there hadn’t have been so many people there, I might have taken some nice photos. Here are two that I did manage to take.
When I was a language student in the early Nineties, I lived in Nice for a year and worked as an ‘assistante’ in a secondary school. I drank a lot of café au lait and cheap rosé, learned how to eat better food and live well, and marvelled that I was living in a place that was almost permanently sunny.
I haven’t been back for many years, and I wondered how the place might have changed. The answer, to my surprise, was: not that much. It’s like the Nice I remember, but better. The population seems younger and more cosmopolitan (it was mostly old ladies in fur coats when I was there), and the dog of choice is no longer the poodle but the pug. The skateboards on the Promenade des Anglais have been replaced by Segways, restaurant menus are in Russian, and they’ve gone in for sushi and organic food in a big way. But the sea is still as blue and sparkling as ever, and the Old Town is still vibrant. The ubiquitous dog poo that blighted every street has long gone, the buses are fast, frequent and ridiculously cheap, and there’s a snazzy new tram system that’s still expanding.
There was one major addition, on the site of the old bus station and a multi-storey car park: La Promenade du Paillon. This new 1.2km ‘coulee verte’ (green corridor) opened in 2013. It was designed by the landscape architect Michel Pena, and cost 40 million euro. That’s a hell of a lot of money, but I’d say it was worth every euro.
The park stands on the course of the river Paillon, which still trickles beneath. Everything has a subtle watery theme, from the water jets to the giant wooden sea animal sculptures for children to play on. It is home to 1,600 trees, 6,000 shrubs and 50,000 plants.
The planting is planted in waves, in a contemporary prairie style, and themed by areas of the world. There is very little bedding – something that’s echoed in the rest of the town. The planting is much more sustainable these days, and no pesticides are used, either.
Interestingly, there is no cafe – a British park would definitely have one – but in a town that is brimming with them, I guess it doesn’t need it. We didn’t see a scrap of litter, and there are lots of park guardians, sadly lacking these days in Britain. Apparently it’s forbidden to sit on the grass (common in French parks) but we saw plenty of people doing it.
Nice doesn’t have much in the way of parks, despite having a very green feel – there is planting everywhere, and lots of trees. It’s something I didn’t notice that when I lived there – life is lived outside, on pavement cafes, and at the beach and promenade. But what is abundantly clear is that this park was needed. Locals and tourists sit on the many benches, watching the world go by, couples take an evening stroll, kids play in the play areas, and teenagers snog. If you wanted to create the perfect public space, it would be hard to do better than this.
Is it just me, or have hydrangeas looked especially good this year? They must have enjoyed the wet weather. I liked this line of them along a shady bank in the Bishop’s Palace garden in Wells.
I have a Hydrangea paniculata in my garden, which has flowered its socks off for weeks. The white flowers are now turning pink and I’m dead pleased I got it.
My soggy holiday in Cornwall wasn’t all bad, and one of the highlights was Tremeheere Sculpture Garden. Set in a sheltered valley just outside Penzance, it has stunning views of St Michael’s Mount. The garden (which is more like a park, really – it’s pretty huge) it is home to ponds, bogs, woodland, sunny and arid areas and native woodland areas. Some of the planting is quite immature in places as it has only been open to the public since 2012, but it is definitely one to watch.
There were two standout pieces of sculpture: firstly, the ‘Restless Temple’ (above) by Penny Saunders, which is one of the first things you see as you approach. The columns have pendulums beneath them, allowing the pillars sway in the wind, like a giant wind chime.
The piece de resistance, though, has to be James Turrell’s ‘Skyspace’. An underground corridor leads to an elliptical chamber, whose ceiling frames the sky. We’d read nothing about it beforehand, and were totally blown away by it.
The Skyspace will also be joined by another impressive piece of work. As we left, I spotted some huge columns, each made of thousands of pieces of slate, lying on the grass. I thought they looked familar and have since confirmed that they are from Darren Hawkes’ gold-medal winning Brewin Dolphin garden at Chelsea 2015. They are being installed at Tremenheere, which seems like the ideal home for them – and will make the garden even more exciting.
Last week, we went for fish and chips at the pub in the pretty village of Combe Hay, near Bath. On the edge of the village, there were poppies and foxgloves by the roadside, mixed with some purple irises. Further into the village, another verge was lined with poppies and foxgloves, plus irises, roses and sisirynchium. It made a gorgeous village look even more idyllic, and I’d love to know how this planting came about.
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.
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.
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.
I really liked how the pinky branches of this shrub/tree contrast with the reddish brick of the church beyond. But what is the shrub? Is it a dogwood?