The last time I went to the Courts Garden it was my birthday, high summer and sunny. This time, six months later, the weather was grey and freezing, and we could only manage a few minutes in the garden before taking refuge in the tea room.
There was still plenty to enjoy, though – this little known National Trust garden deserves to be better known. The display of hellebores and snowdrops along the approach to the house at this time of year is a real sight for sore eyes. And I loved the little square of cyclamen in gravel.
I spotted these winter aconites in the grounds of Cheltenham College yesterday, and made a mental note to plant some soon, so that I have something to look at next January. I planted loads of bulbs last year, many of them early flowerers as I can’t stand winter. But nothing has really appeared yet. My forced indoor paperwhites peaked way too early and the early Iris reticulata and crocuses are only just peeping through. The garden is looking a bit… brown (as opposed to white in much of the country).
To avoid the problem of nothing to look at in January next year, I’m going to order some aconites (Eranthis cilicica as opposed to Eranthis hyemalis, as it is said to do better in clay soil), Cyclamen coum and snowdrops, to plant in the green. I shall plant them at the back of the border and under shrubs, as they do at Great Dixter.
January is the worst month for this blog. It’s too early for most early bulbs like aconites and iris reticulata (and you don’t tend to see them in the average garden anyway) so if I’m lucky I see a few cyclamen or pansies in a windowbox. So thank heavens for evergreens.
The planting in the grounds of Cheltenham College is mostly evergreen – euonymus, lavender, santolina, box, choisya, viburnum. Coupled with the well tended lawns and giant cedar, it must look immaculate all year round – if pretty much the same in every season. I enjoy walking past it, as it’s such a hit of green. I’ll be interested to see if any spring bulbs appear, or whether they embellish it with summer bedding.
The last few days in the West Country have been cold but beautifully sunny and yesterday it felt almost spring-like. To blow some cobwebs away, we walked up Glastonbury Tor and on the way back, popped into the Chalice Well Garden.
What a lovely place. It’s very tranquil, largely due to the water from the Chalice Well that flows throughout – into pools, rills and the main Vesica Pool (above). The iron-rich waters stain the stone red. Birds were tweeting furiously, and the garden was awash with strong scents from sarcococca, mahonia and viburnum. I’ve never seen so many seats in a garden, for quiet contemplation – one has a lovely view of the Tor (below).
As we sat and stared at the Vesica Pool, I was reminded of a story that a hippy friend told me recently. He took his new girlfriend to the garden last year, at a point when they hadn’t really talked about how their relationship was going. As they sat side by side at the edge of the pool, he thought he’d ask her: ‘Would you like to be my girlfriend?’. To which she replied: ‘I thought I already was.’ They’re now living together.
I work in Cheltenham a couple of days a week, and the last leg of my long journey takes me through a park called Imperial Gardens. I love walking through it, and often have the place to myself. It’s laid out in the traditional Victorian style, with thousands of bedding plants, and always looks always immaculate. Come the evening, when I do my journey in reverse, the park is full, with groups of people lounging on the grass.
The planting around the statue of Gustav Holst is a complete contrast to the bedding displays – it’s mostly grasses, predominantly (I think) Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’, with some Stipa tenuissima in there too. They’ve been steadily getting better and better since early summer, and are really coming in to their own now.
The park is currently one of the venues of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and much of it is covered by festival marquees. I don’t think the lawns will look quite as immaculate when the festival has finished.
It’s impossible not to fall for the charms of St Michael’s Mount – it looks atmospheric from afar, and romantic from within. The garden is ever so pretty, filled with exotic plants (the granite rock acts as a giant heat store) that can withstand salt-laden winds. Succulents abounded,which made me very happy – my favourites are below.
The garden is a tad precarious – the garden was crowded when we visited, and when there was a bottleneck on the paths, it wasn’t hard to imagine someone toppling off one of the terraces. While we were visiting, a woman had to be airlifted off the castle path by a Royal Navy helicopter – a private drama made public. Her rescue seemed to take ages, the helicopter whirring rather menacingly above our heads. It made me feel fortunate to be eating ice cream, admiring succulents and enjoying my holiday. I hope she was ok.
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.