HOW TO GET AN A* FOR YOUR GARDEN

EASTER REVISION TIPS FROM THE GARDEN AT GRAVETYE MANORmag close up

Revision is heavily in the air at home in Camberwell – our identical twins working away for their A level exams in June.

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(a somewhat inaccurate representation of the chaps you will find today stewing over the use of harmony and tonality in the 4th movement of Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony …)

Visiting one of my favourite gardens a few days ago,  I was reminded that we are never too old to get out our notebooks, really try to work out what makes a good garden great and try to put our learning into practice.

Gravetye Manor, in Sussex – the former home of Victorian writer and gardener, William Robinison, who pioneered the idea of creating an abundant natural atmosphere in a garden, – is now once again gardened with energy and and exciting flair by Head Gardener, Tom Coward.

gravetye take 2For those without acres of land spilling down to their own private lake to fill with naturalised narcissus and wood anemone there are great ideas to be noted down and tried on a smaller scale.

luecojum close upLeucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ AGM

Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ is a particularly good selection of summer snowflake – made by William Robinson –  which contrary to its common name is in flower in late March to early April.  It is a strong bulb with tall stems holding nodding white flowers – brilliant planted generously as it is at Gravetye, wonderful to illuminate lightly shaded areas under trees and excellent value as the bulbs are reliably perennial.

light up take 2

framed leucojum take twoAs well as the abundant woodland drifts, Leucojum is used nearer the house to add a lower layer brightness to the planting.  Here the beautiful early flowering Stachyrus praecox is a wonderful choice for its position near the front door:

stachyrus and leucojumpg

I love the draped order of the neat tassels of pale greeny-yellow bells.

stachyrus closeup

It is a shrub that has its moment of real elegance only briefly before the arrival of its leaves – so here in a prominent position against the moss-softened stone of the house is an example of perfect positioning.
styrax against stone

Another example of a brilliant pairing of architecture and planting is this monumental magnolia tree towering upwards against the sky and the hill top gabled roof of the manor house:

momumental mag

There is another sensational Magnolia planted so that its branches tumble invitingly at a gateway through to another section of the garden:

position mag gravetyeAgain this is an important idea worth remembering for any size of garden – as well as providing gorgeous decorative frame for the gateway, it means that the voluptuous flowers are brilliantly close to the eye.mag close up

Another clever planting idea is to take a simple deciduous shrub and to repeat it throughout a  garden or a section of a garden. At Gravetye, a white ornamental quince – I think it is Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’  – is planted several times along the drive to provide a cloud after cloud of white blossom .

quince take 2

This inexpensive, low growing, early flowering shrub has clear, single flowers with a restrained Japanese quality – again they look particularly elegant here against the soft hazy green of the moss covered walls:

close up chaenomeles

In the woodland garden a single brilliant orange-red coloured Chaenomeles – a similar quince would be Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Sargentii’ – is used in a completely different way, to add a intense splash of colour to a gentle underplanting of pale yellow narcissus:

ornamental quince use 1

At the entrance to the kitchen garden there is a great example of a how to maximize the potential of a tough, often underrated evergreen shrub, Viburnum davidii:

viburnum davidii

It is an excellent, resilient, structural plant which grows in a naturally soft mounding way – worth remembering to soften an entrance or help anchor a garden bench.

I was interested to see one of my favourite tough ground cover plants for wilder areas – Trachystemon orientalis – used to add a pool of bold lime green foliage under a tree in a comparatively formal area of the garden.  
trachestemon gravetye

Trachystemon orientalis is completely unfussy and provides bold, handsome foliage and starry blue flowers quickly and generously  – we have used it successfully to provide substantial coverage to the planting around a new lake in Sussex.  Here, I suppose, is an example of a rule which is there to be broken.  This bed at Gravetye is already coming alive with its vibrant colour.  It will be interesting to revisit at exam time in June to see if this has been a stroke of genius or a risky move …

trachestemon close up

The last of my revision notes from Gravetye is a photograph of this perfectly trained and pruned rose against a potting shed:

rose pruning

If you want an outbuilding roof to be romantically smothered in roses next summer this is the disciplined backbone required…

Gravetye Manor is now run as a Relais and Chateau Hotel. What is so rare about it, however, is that as well as being fantastically elegant and spoiling it manages to maintain the feel of a cherished home both inside and out.  My husband brought me here for the first night of our honeymoon and it has become our absolute favourite place for ‘end of term’ rewards – a day out together when our twins had just turned one, a special birthday weekend, a blissful 24 hours at the end of a particularly challenging few months.

moody woodland

We arrived on a brooding Saturday lunchtime and had lunch in front of the fire , a white table cloth on the small table in front of our sofa and the most delicious salad or roast jerusalem artichokes, artichoke puree, slices of apple, slivers of crispy fried onion and bitter leaves…

For me the garden is the thing and I love the way that even inside the hotel there are bowls of home grown flowers everywhere and the way the history and the future of the garden are being looked after in equal measure.

One last thought – if you really want to guarantee that A*, do make sure that when friends come to stay they open their curtains the next morning onto something like this:

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