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.

Gravetyeborder2

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 192012
 

Buckinghamshire

I’ve been on quite a few work awaydays over the years, and one – a day trip to Ghent, Belgium, for the Floralies in 2010 – will be forever etched into the memory of those involved. Sadly I can’t divulge what happened (what happened in Ghent, stays in Ghent) but let’s just say that it’s strictly UK-only trips from now on.

This year we went to Buckinghamshire (nothing bad ever happens in Buckinghamshire) for a brainstorming session. We discussed the schedule for 2014 (that’s how far ahead gardening magazines work) and then we visited Mary Berry’s garden.


As you can see, it’s rather large. The highlight is most definitely the pond, designed with the help of the former head gardener at Longstock Park Water Garden (Mary has friends in all the right places). It also has a rose walk, tennis court, meadow, lots of herbaceous borders and, not surprisingly, a large kitchen garden. Mary is a knowledgeable gardener and highly recommends Rose ‘Chandos Beauty’ (below) for scent, disease-resistance and flowers until November. I had a sniff and wasn’t disappointed.


And yes, there was cake. Mary was going to give us tea in the conservatory but as it was so cold and wet, she invited us into her kitchen for a cup of tea and a chat. She’s got the biggest Aga I’ve ever seen and the biggest teapot, too.

Apart from us cleaning Mary out of lemon drizzle and chocolate cakes (both delicious, of course), I’m pleased to say that the afternoon passed without incident. Clearly the new awayday policy of venturing no further than 30 minutes from London with no need for foreign currency/a working knowledge of Flemish/valid passports/train tickets/tram tickets/timetables/maps/ash cloud diversions has paid off.