I’ve been pondering what to plant around my front door, and had been thinking of one climber, maybe two. But then I saw this house and realised that I need to be more imaginative than that.
There are least three climbers here – a passionflower, a cup-and-saucer plant (Cobaea scandens) and a wisteria – all still looking good in early December. The dark-leaved plants complement the yellow grasses and the yellowing wisteria. The dark pots complement the black surround of the door. It’s all very well thought out.
As so often happens with this blog, the owner came home just as I was admiring her handiwork. I got the impression she was used to her house attracting attention and said it’s going to appear on the front of the 2014 Bradford-on-Avon calendar.
The house is part of three terraced streets on a hillside overlooking the town. They’re a mix of weavers’ cottages and merchants’ houses, built from the 17th century onwards. Each house has a small, south-facing garden on the other side of the pavement. It was practically dark when I visited but they all looked really different – everyone had dealt with the slope in a different way, and had come up with ways of creating privacy (lots of walkers and tourists use the path). As luck would have it, some of them will be open for Secret gardens festival in Bradford-on-Avon next year, which is a nosey blogger’s dream. I’ll be first in the queue.
While we’re on the subject of the Inner Temple Garden, here’s one of my favourite parts of it – the Peony Garden. It is home to peonies, obviously, but what I really like about it is its green-ness. There is colour, but it’s quite muted. The magnolia kicks off the show, then the wisteria takes over, followed by peonies, foxgloves, hardy geraniums and clematis.
During the Chelsea Fringe/Open Squares weekend, other Temple gardens were open too. If you get the chance to go, do – it’s fascinating to walk around a part of London that is rarely open to the public. There’s even a tiny shop that sells shirts and pommade. But it’s not all traditional, either – I liked this slightly unruly planting in a raised bed next to a very grand house.
I featured this wisteria last year (on 22 April, which shows how behind this spring has been), but I just had to share it again. This year it seems even more abundant and gorgeous – I must have caught it at its absolute peak.
While I was taking this picture quite a few people stopped and snapped away on their phones and cameras (they’re probably all blogging about it as we speak). We all had a chat about how amazing it was. One person wondered how it is pruned and another commented that it must be quite dark in the house. I reckon I could live with that – it must be pretty amazing to have violet racemes hanging in front of every window for a week or two.
I was running late, but I’d love to have gazed at this scene for a while. It was just so utterly perfect. This late spring has been incredible, and this is the icing on the cake.
I was going to take this picture of Steve’s pond from a completely different angle, but an incident worthy of a You’ve Been Framed appearance put paid to that.
Steve is a colleague, and we were in his garden to take some shots of his greenhouse. While we were waiting for the photographer we did a quick tour of the garden, coffee cups in hand.
The garden is deceptively large and cleverly laid out, and home to this very large pond, which pre-dates the house. It’s overlooked by a pergola-covered deck, framed by wisteria and lined with colourful begonias.
Just after the pergola is a short, decking slope that leads to a path around the pond. As we stepped onto it, Steve pointed out that the slope was a bit slippery. He cheerily added, ‘We haven’t lost anyone yet!’. And then I slipped, landed on my bum and started sliding at a rather alarming rate towards the pond.
Everything then went into slow motion. My first thought was: ‘I’m going to fall into the pond. This is going to be embarrassing’. My second was: ‘Even more embarrassing, I’m going to be the first person ever to fall into the pond’. My third was: ‘I must hang on to this coffee’ and my fourth was: ‘Oh no, I’m going to crash into Steve.’ And that’s exactly what I did. I took poor Steve’s legs clean out from under him, leaving us both in a slime- and coffee-covered heap. Strangely, we were both still clutching our empty coffee cups.
I didn’t dare venture down the slope again, so I took this pic from the safety of the pergola. It doesn’t quite convey the Giverny-style scene I was aiming for, but hopefully you can get an idea of how charming it is.
Last weekend Naomi and I hopped on the Eurostar for a garden nerds’ getaway. We went to Amsterdam for its open garden weekend (Open Tuinen Dagen), when around 30 gardens open to the public. There aren’t many people I could drag around 30 gardens, but Naomi is definitely one of them.
We managed to see around 25 of the gardens in two days, and it was fun. We got to snoop at some pretty impressive canal houses, galleries and museums (the Dutch seem shamelessly nosy, so we were too). We discovered streets we wouldn’t normally have walked down, stopped off in some nice cafes, and in true garden visiting tradition, ate a lot of cake.
Box is most definitely the dominant plant in Amsterdam, and many gardens, such as the one at the Museum Van Loon (above), are formal parterres. They’re found in even the smallest of gardens, filled with roses and bedding. They’re lovely, and a novelty at first, but we were soon hankering to see anything that wasn’t a box ball, hedge or block.
Fortunately around half of the gardens were virtually box-free. All of them had a design idea or planting combination to take inspiration from. Here are my favourites.
The garden at the swanky Canal House Hotel on Keizersgracht was designed by a couple of Brits, Rose Dale and Laura Heybrook of Dale and Heybrook. The contemporary black and white theme matched the interior of the hotel perfectly, and the abundant, lush planting and gentle water features made it a peaceful retreat. The hotel is pretty posh, but the staff were more than happy to let everyone lounge on the outdoor sofas, drinking free iced tea.
My prize for the most original garden went to the Canal House on Herengracht (above). In a bold take on the traditional parterre, oodles of box were confined within a grid of corten steel. The effect was loosened by blowsy, cow parsley-esque valerian (Valeriana officinalis).
And my favourite? The garden at La Cuisine Française. It didn’t have the wow factor of some of the other gardens, but it felt the most loved and lived in.
Its layout could be adapted to any long, thin garden and the planting was a happy mix of edible and ornamental – towering herbs including lovage and sweet cicely, standard gooseberries and wisteria, foxgloves, tons of salad and alliums – plus a huge dining table. Its English owner, Patricia, was on hand with plant advice and Dutch poffertjes. Many Amsterdam gardens have a garden house, and Patricia lives in hers.
I went to the Garden Museum the other night for a talk by the landscape architect Charles Jencks. I like what he does and he was a great speaker, but I didn’t really understand a word he said. I came away feeling a bit thick.
Anyway, on the way there I saw this wisteria. It’s been so wintry that I was surprised to see it out already. Isn’t it spectacular? I doubt I’ll see a better one this year. It like the orange watering can, too.
Wisteria is also trailing along the railings by the pavement – lovely idea.
This garden is tiny – no more than a couple of metres square – but it’s managed to squeeze in a silver birch, some evergreen shrubs (lavender and rosemary) and a wisteria. The colour palette is greens, whites, purple and greys (the white bark is going to look great in winter) and it’s low maintenance and drought tolerant too. Sometimes the simplest ideas really are the best.
In the course of doing this blog I’ve noticed that whenever I take pics of someone’s garden, there’s a pretty high chance that the owner will be around. Just as I had got my camera out to take pics of this garden, the man of the house came home. Far from being alarmed that someone was snapping his property, he invited me into the garden so that I could get a better view, and then went off to find his wife. Funnily enough a similar thing happened earlier in the year in the same road – clearly nothing fazes the residents here.
Anyway, the garden, which is packed with colourful pots and topiary, looked vaguely familiar, and the greenfingered lady of the house, Jan Morgan, told me that it’s been featured on TV and has won numerous awards. Jan is a property consultant by trade but designs gardens as a hobby. The front garden is a riot of colour but Jan said that not everything she plants turns out as expected – the purple wisteria against the house was supposed to be white, and the white hyacinths that she planted in the front bed turned out to be pink! Sadly some of the topiary has been stolen recently.
Jan also kindly took me into her kitchen to show me the view of the back garden. It makes clever use of the space, with a covered walkway down one side, an arbour at the back, lots of deep beds and a pond. And as you’d expect, it’s packed with plants, which create various colour themes throughout the year. Jan used to open the garden for the Yellow Book but is taking a break now, so I was unexpectedly lucky to glimpse it.