Oct 042013
Waterperry Gardens, Wheatley, Oxfordshire


‘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.



May 212013

An Alcove (Tokonoma) Garden

Every show garden at Chelsea tells a story – usually one that’s dictated by the sponsor. Often it reflects a landscape,  an environmental issue, or a charitable cause. There’s rarely a garden without an agenda of some kind, which is a shame. The best gardens manage to nod to the sponsor’s brief while basically sidestepping it – I’d never have guessed that Roger Platts’ M&G Centenary Garden was reflecting 100 years of gardening features, and it was all the better for it.

I never read the blurb that I’m handed about a garden. To be honest, I’m not interested in the story it’s trying to tell, or the ‘journey’ that it’s taking me on. Much as I care about some of the issues represented, I just want to look at a show garden and decide how it makes me feel. Do I love it? Does it inspire me? Could I wake up to it every day? Could I try some of those planting combinations at home? Are there elements of the design that I could emulate one day?

On that basis, here are my two favourites.

I’m never going to plant a Japanese garden, but I could happily wake up to An Alcove (Toknonoma) Garden by the Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory (above). It represents an alcove in a traditional Japanese tatami room, and in Japanese culture, people often meet with important people in such spaces. As I was taking pics, Cleve West was invited by the designer into the alcove – lucky (and important) chap.

The planting in Chris Beardshaw’s Arthritis Research UK Garden (below) stood out for being refreshingly different. There was an abundance of meadowy planting in many of the other gardens (I was cow parsleyed-out by the end of the day and think I might have gone off that style of planting a bit), but this garden had lots of zinging colour, and plants that weren’t found elsewhere (eg lupins, foxtail lilies and Echium pininana). I loved the splodges of Pittosporum tobira that acted like full stops at the end of the borders – a nice alternative to the ubiquitous box balls. I went back to look at the garden several times, and that’s always a good sign.

In other news, I went home with a red face. For once I hadn’t put my foot in it (or if I had, I hadn”t realised it) but had managed to get sunburn. Or was it windburn? Many other people said that their cheeks were also burning. How on earth did that happen on a chilly, cloudy and not-especially-windy day?

Arthritis Research UK Garden

Arthritis Research UK Garden