Tag Archives: Bernard Tickner



maryMilky blue painted seat with Madonna and Child at Wyken Hall Gardens

We have just returned from a week of extraordinary snow in our favourite mountain village of Gargellen, Austria:


Arthur and a fruit tree under heavy snow in Gargellen, Austria

At times the only way to track down a faint whiff of spring was to indulge in a little medicinal yet subtly fragrant Gentian root schnapps:


Enzian or Gentian root schnapps

Back in Suffolk for an Easter holiday weekend and things are beginning to warm up.  I grab the chance to sneak off to my two favourite Suffolk gardens, Wyken Hall and Fullers Mill.

I head first to our near neighbours at Wyken Hall.  Here Sir Kenneth and Lady Carla Carlisle have created a richly coloured, welcoming homestead. They have developed a wonderful garden around their intensely copper-red limewashed Elizabethan Manor house, planted a productive vineyard and converted elegant barns into The Leaping Hare restaurant and stores – they also host a first class farmers’ market every Saturday morning. This is a place where careful thought, dextrous – sometimes daring – use of colour, and great style infuse every garden path, view and would-be naked gable end. Even the sign to the car park is richly painted with a velvety palette of plants to match:


parking close up

The garden itself can be visited every afternoon except for Saturday until the autumn.  IMG_9563

From the moment you approach the house, the deep ‘Suffolk Pink’ of its walls and the series of blue painted rocking chairs under espaliered crab apples – the rocking chairs an echo of the verandahs of the Southern States of America where Carla Carlisle was brought up – create a wonderful sense of welcome.


rocking establish

I love the almost dangerous choice of bright red Chaenomoles (ornamental quince) against the red limewash and the way the strong colour of the house enables even the dusty winter-pruned lavender to work a sort of silvery magic at this spare time of year.

3 rockers

Red Chaenomeles and pruned lavender against rich Suffolk Pink walls

By early summer no tricks will have been missed – electric blue ceanothus will be adding another layer of colour:

ceonothusElectric blue Ceanothus adding another layer of colour, Wyken Hall, May 2010

As you make your way around the garden you pass through a small courtyard with a beautiful old copper container at its centre.  Every element of this space is suffused with the same rich, moody palette.  The aged verdigris container contrasts with yellow and royal purple of Viola tricolor which sings out between the tulip leaves.  In the border, the pale blue of forget-me-nots and the clear pinks of Cyclamen coum act as exquisite highlights to the soft red and darkest purple-black of the hellebores, and on the wall leading to the orchard sits a peacock, a swoop of rich green and blue.


close up viola tricolorViola tricolor amongst tulips in copper urn

paletteHellebores, forget-me-nots and Cyclamen coumpeacockPeacock contemplating the orchard, Wyken Hall

As you enter the Hot Border – there is just a small taste of the outrageous colour to come – neighbouring stands of brilliant ‘Orange Emperor’ tulips and even deeper orange crown imperials – Fritillaria imperialis  – brilliant against the smooth dark green of the clipped yew hedge.

orange green

‘Orange Emperor’ tulips and Fritillara imperialis against a clipped yew hedge

Looking back an the house the acid green of Euphorbia characias contrasts almost as vividly with the more demure planes of yew and box:

euphorbia against red

Euphorbia characias with box and yew hedging

In every direction the views are strongly framed:

viewYew and box frame the view to the woodland beyond

Or there is a strong simple idea – such as these espaliered pear trees against a brick and flint wall underplanted with a stretch of iris…

pear tree iris allumEspaliered pear underplanted with Iris 

…and one more example of a wonderful, inventive gate – I love this simply made, Art Deco inspired stepped wooden gate revealing the life of the field beyond:

great gatePGWooden gate, Wyken

Around the house is a series of intricately laid out rooms – originally designed with the help of Arabella Lennox Boyd.  A pair of impressive standard white wistera with fattening buds provide substance and energy amongst the clipped topiary of the Knot garden, even this early in the season:

new wisteria

wisteria budPair of standard white wisteria and fattening wisteria buds

It won’t be long before this garden room is alive with both white and mauve wisteria:


Vintage Wisteria at Wyken Hall – May 2010courtyard

As the afternoon begins to cool off,  the next garden room, with four standard viburnum as centre pieces, is looking sober and beautifully ordered.  Even the lichen on the brick is an extra, gently decorative layer:

lichen tilelichen on diamond- pattern brick terrace

The garden at Wyken Hall is a masterclass in creating a sense of comfortable enclosure and  making sure that every place to sit feels inviting. This bench nestles between generous shapes of topiaried box and a pair of neatly pruned weeping silver pear, Pyrus salicifolia pendula.

IMG_9614Painted bench looking settled between topiaried box and weeping silver pear trees

Another old – rather pink-tinged! – photograph this time from 2004,  gives an idea of how bright and full this scene becomes later in the year:


In the cottage garden a friendly bench is placed invitingly beneath a window and at the end of the central path which leads through the front garden which is about to become a sea of colour:IMG_9567

Centrally placed bench, cottage garden

At another point around the main house, a table and pair of chairs look settled – where they might have felt a little lost and wrong in scale – positioned with the neat rectangle of clipped yew and wavy, bright gree hedge of Hebe as a backdrop and further anchoring device:

hebe taxusPGTable and chairs with yew and hebe as backdrop

There is a celebratory quality to much of the garden – a very pretty pergola of trained fruit trees is underplanted with starry blue Chionodoxa – I think Chionodoxa luciliae  –

pergolachionodoxaPergola underplanted with chionodoxa

There is a double gate leading invitingly to the pond just beyond the rose garden with its welcoming Adirondack chairs and framed pontoon.  Rummaging again through my boxes of garden photographs I smiled when I found this image of ten year younger husband, Nick, (funnily enough, mid very long work phone call …),  sitting on the pontoon in all its gorgeous full summer splendour.


Pontoon and pond at Wyken in April 2015 and below in August 2004

Walking back to the front gate the garden opens out onto a quite splendid oak tree with a sea of cheerful narcissus lighting up the scene

oak tree and narcissusOak tree with narcissus

A path cut through this spring flowering meadow takes you to a half hidden glade with an arched seat painted in the same milky blue as much of the other garden furniture – this time with an inset panel of Madonna and child.

mown path spring meadowPath through spring flowering meadow

maryArched seat with Madonna and Child panel

The entrance to the glade is formed entirely and unashamedly of intensely scented winter/early spring flowering trees and shrubs – Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty, Sarcococca confusa and a pink flowered Viburnum – (surely ‘x Bodnantense’ which would be entirely fitting as Kenneth was born and brought up in the wonderful house and famous garden at Bodnant in Conwy, North Wales).  I love the way the artfully broken path leading to the seat is scattered with jewel-like, navy blue muscari, more chionodoxa and delicate sheaves of pale narcissus.

wyken glade

The entrance to glade is framed by scented shrubs

close up narcissus and chionodoxa

The broken path is strewn with sheaves of pale Narcissus

The garden at Wyken is a modern country garden with a now mature structure which acts as a fine backdrop to seasonal planting as it emerges throughout the year.

Beyond the garden, the shop and farmers’ market provide equally tempting seasonal delights and a chance to admire the most magnificent stretch of immaculately pruned and wall-trained figs.

fig long viewplant stand

figWall trained figs at Wyken

pumpkinsAutumn pumpkin display at Wyken

I visit my other favourite, old friend of a Suffolk garden, Fullers Mill, the following morning.

IMG_3620Path through The King’s Forest, leading to Fullers Mill Garden

Fullers Mill near Bury St Edmunds is only about twelve miles away from Wyken. It is a completely different style of gardening and inspiring for its passion for nature and for its fascination with each individual plant.

You approach this extraordinary 7 acre garden along a track through the King’s Forest.  If you hit the right moment in June this part of the forest is waist high in shocking pink and purple foxgloves – and that is before you even arrive at Fullers Mill:

foxgloves fullers millThe forest path waist-high in foxgloves

Hidden away at the end of the path is an incredibly peaceful and very personal garden which has been carved out of not always hospitable soil around a mill house for over fifty years by Bernard Tickner. Bernard, nearly 91, has now given the garden to the charity Perennial but still lives there and with their help is still caring for –  indeed still extending and improving  – the garden.bernartd

Bernard Tickner on his almost daily round of Fullers Mill Garden

A passionate plantsman, Bernard still exchanges plants annually with his long-standing and much revered friend, Beth Chatto and over the years devoted as much time as he could away from his job as Head Brewer for Greene King to travel to Crete and the Pyrenees to seek out plants in their natural habitat. Years ago, renowned botanist John Raven – father of Sarah Raven – offered guidance as to the cleverest places to visit. Bernard has a Pyrenean fritillary named for him and in the shelter of a small private courtyard by the mill house itself is a tiny Cretan Iris named for his late wife, Bess.

On this early April morning, the garden is looking immaculate and fresh, with swathes of gentle red hellebores threading their way through the softly mulched space and the the acid yellow-green of Euphorbias catching the cool spring light:




Bernard and I set off around the garden together. We stop first at a sheet of naturalised Narcissus bulbocodium :

IMG_9693IMG_9694Narcissus bulbocodium, Fullers Mill

Bernard is proud of his ever expanding display which started of as four or five small pots – this six by six metre patch has been encouraged by sowing yellow rattle to weaken the grass.

One of my favourite things about the way the garden at Fullers Mill has developed is that there is real space for plants to spread and be themselves. There is magnificent witchhazel for January and February, as elegant as a movie star in a cool skirt of snow and later flowering at full blast:

fullers mill snow

fullers mill sun

Spreading Witchhazel at Fullers Mill

Today a mature Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ lights up the woodland with its pale pink starry flowers. Under the magnolia, a large pool of the woodland dicentra, Dicentra formosa, is given space to thrive.IMG_9710


Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ underplanted with Dicentra formosa

Everywhere there are treasures to discover. Here a text-book healthy clump of Arum creticum with clear yellow spathes and long yellow spadices:


Arum creticum

Close by there is a patch of lovely, pointyflowered Tulipa sylvestris :


Tulipa sylvestris

and not far away a patch of the creamy yellow fritillary, Fritillaria pallidaflora:

IMG_9709Fritillaria pallidaflora

There is a wonderful specimen of the tree heather, Erica arborea var. alpina whose long, fragrant candle-like panicles make softly energetic patterns:

IMG_9712IMG_9717Erica arborea var. alpina

We pass under an enormous, tunnel-forming Cornus mas.  Even now, as its flowers lose the intensity of their yellow, the branches look fresh and pretty as they hang over the millpond in the spring sunshine:

IMG_9727IMG_9730Cornus mas 

And the still tiny leaves of the Cercidiphyllum japonicum – which will smell of toasted sugar in autumn – catch the light like hundreds of coins.

IMG_9739Cercidiphyllum japonicum

There is a lovely area of Fritillaria meleagris too:


” I don’t know why they call it the snakeshead fritillary’ remarks Bernard “‘meleagris means spotted like a guinea fowl”.  A fair point.

By midsummer, today’s clump of exquisitely pleated leaves of Veratrum nigrum will be the base of statuesque flowerheads:IMG_9746veratrumpg

Veratrum nigrum leaves then flower

And the garden will be shoulder-high with a dazzling collection of lilies.  “They are not as difficult to grow as people might think”, sighs Bernard. As always with him it is a question of growing the right plant in the right place. “What they should shout from the rooftops is ‘good drainage!’ ” he cries out in his inimitable part deadly serious, part playful manner.

Non Summer 2010 207

Fullers Mill

Bernard Tickner amongst lilies, and lilies and campanula at Fullers Mill

Before I leave, I photograph Bernard next to the stand of plants for sale.  There is a new polytunnel in the garden and an exciting new commitment to propagate and sell as many plants as possible from the garden.  Fullers Mill is open to the public on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, 2 – 5pm until the end of September. The quality of the coffee and walnut and lemon drizzle cakes goes without saying.IMG_9695

Bernard Tickner with plants for sale from the garden.




We are excited in our Camberwell kitchen – one of my twin sons has spotted that a movie of Sondheim’s wonderful, funny and of course ultimately dark musical, ‘Into the Woods’ opens – with Meryl Streep! – on Christmas Day. We are all fans and both twins know that singing the hilarious Princes’ song ‘Agony’ (when the two Princes moan about not being able to secure the hands of Rapunzel and Cindarella respectively despite their undoubted marvellousness) will be obligatory (from my point of view, anyway) at some significant party or other in the future.


Still from Disney’s 2014 “Into the Woods”

Outside the days are getting shorter and the world is turning rust and gold. Fired up by dreams of woodland adventures I am keen to put on my coat and get a blast of it.  But like all journeys into the woods, the path to the magical world in my head is not always an easy one.

A week ago today I am chauffering the same twin through the Essex countryside, agonisingly, (yes indeed), late for an audition.  As we finally leave the A road, the mist thickens and starts to rise softly about us. At the same time the red-rust of the black limbed oaks and the yellow-gold chainmail of stands of mature beech seem to loom more richly from the swirling gloom. Old fashioned wooden signposts emerge from the haze, directing us to ‘Flatford Mill’ and ‘East Bergholt’.  I have unexpectedly found myself in Constable country! I am surrounded by exquisite, lacy, rust coloured woodland against the dreamy palour of a fading November afternoon.  My camera is in the car, my heart is racing … but so is my son’s and nervous snatches of a Handel aria remind me that we need to press on to his appointment in a chilly school hall a few miles further on.

Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds by  John Constable

Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds by John Constable

I mark out a day the following week to try again.  I remember a trip to the Valley Gardens near Windsor, years ago, when I was studying Plants and Plantsmanship at the English Gardening School.  I have a vivid image of  a rather wonderful basin like parkland with groups of fantastic orange berried Sorbus trees and crab apples with jewel coloured fruit …

I decide to visit the neighbouring Savill Garden first – a serious and richly planted garden – famous for its Magnolias and rhododendrons in the spring and early summer – at its most ideal, a testament to plant hunters past and present.  I will not bore you for too long with the layers of my disappointment: the grim lunch – a  chilly tuna roll on its huge porcelain tray of a plate with a little mound of garnish – lost and lonely – at one end, the aggressive entry and exit procedure which makes you feel as if you are in a heavily bureacratic airport and not about to enter a world of natural wonder:

intercom line engaged

The non stop retail opportunities and bland ‘garden guide’ with attractive seasonal photos and not enough excitement about what is currently happening in the garden and important plants not to miss.


By the time you get into the garden the tightly manicured paths make even the stands of fine birches look like props for an expensive railway set. Ihorrid rubbber treeThe extremely tidy Savill Garden

But like a teenager who has just managed to reach the peak of annoyance, the garden suddenly produces moments that make my heart melt.  As I look back up to the main building, a proud swathe of majestic Fagus syvatica ‘Dawyck Gold’ glint and cast elegant shadows in the winter sun:

Dawyk gold x 5A majestic stand Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Gold’

Then a glade ofJapanese maples in the smallish Autumn garden begins to make me smile.  I love the open spreading form of this pair of yellow leaved Acer palmatum. Although a newly planted tree may take many years to grow to this size, it is so worth leaving space around it.  Planting in pairs  – and in turn giving the pair space –  can be very beautiful too.

acer establishA pair of yellow leaved Japanese Maples

Close up I get a satisfying whiff of fairy tale as I admire the cinnamon tinge of the neat, star-shaped leaves.

anna's ginger ginger thin 2 I am reminded of the delicious spiced biscuits which my boys loved as children – and still do now, when I happen to buy some – ‘Anna’s Ginger Swedish Thins’


Nearby, a wonderful Acer palmatum ‘Elegans’ has brilliant pink petioles and pink veins in contrast to the butter yellow of the leaf:

IMG_8245Acer palmatum ‘Elegans’

And a little further into the woods I am startled by the depth of red against black of straight Acer palmatum. For a near guarantee of such a brilliant red, tree specialists Bluebell Nursery recommend Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’.

acer palmatum how red is redAcer palmatum

For me Japanese Acers have always been like high heeled shoes – something too tricky to bother with, to be enjoyed by other people but probably never by me.  Bluebell Nursery has comforting advice, however, clearly explaining on their website some things l already knew – that Japanese maples “prefer a situation sheltered from the most severe wind, that they are more sun tolerant than some maples but appreciate a little shade if possible” – and then reminding me of the magic trick required to enjoy their rich colours wherever you garden: “The autumn colours of many maples, especially selections of Acer palmatum, is very dependent on the pH (acidity / alkalinity) of the soil. They prefer lime free soil, so here (in Ashby de la Zouch, Derbyshire), on our almost neutral ground, we are applying an annual dressing of sulphur granules round our maples at the rate of 1 or 2 oz per square yard, to make the soil more acid, and year by year the intensity of the autumn colour increases”. Aha!

One last treat before I make my way out of here – the blazing red-orange foliage of Sorbus sargentiana. Sorbus – or Mountain Ash – are arguably much fussier about growing conditions than Acers.  They are happiest on fertile, well-drained soil – indeed think mountain slope – with moist summers (as drying out is hopeless) and yet damp soil around roots in winter is not appreciated either. If you have the right conditions this small, slow-growing tree, famous for its plump, sticky, crimson buds in spring, is a wonderful choice.

saville sorbus against sky

Sorbus sargentiana

Once in the Valley Gardens itself, I feel freer but again it is hard to feel immersed in the hugely spacious parkland or find particular specimens as the emphasis is on jolly not-very-well-labelled pram trails (well I think the best person to be when visiting this garden may be young parent pushing a buggy) rather than inspiring or well thought out directions to some of the wonderful trees.


The irritating and often illusive trail signs, Valley Gardens

But again it does not take me long to forget my crossness and no sooner have I left behind the rather splendid Obelisk – erected by King George II following the death of the Duke of Cumberland in 1765 who had contributed much to the landscaping here – I am quickly enchanted.

IMG_2336The Obelisk, The Valley Gardens

As I follow the path into the gardens, an avenue of fine columnar trees lures me forward.  The route is magnificently lined with enormous tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera – a majestic North American import, for very large scale gardens only.  They are called tulip trees for the yellow and green tulip shaped flower it bears in early summer – although do bear in mind that if you plant one tomorrow you may have to wait 20 -25 years until it flowers.

monumental tulipA curving avenue of tulip trees

single tulipA handsome tulip tree specimen

Tuliptree_flowerFlower of Liriodendron tulipifera

I love the way the now-golden, spade-shaped leaves flash and flap slowly and calmly in the light, as if they are on a very fine, magical hinges:

single winking tulipTulip tree leaf, November, Valley Gardens

A little later, one of my favourite Sorbus trees, Sorbus huphehensis catches my eye – I love its dull, rounded,metallic bronze foliage against the sky:

sorbus huphehensis gold blueSorbus huphehensis autumn foliage

And the handsome clusters of porcelain berries on dark pink stems:

sorbus huphensis fruit

Sorbus huphehensis fruits

Elsewhere there is a lovely young crab apple, Malus yunnanensis, with glowing foliage and red blushed yellow fruit:

malus yunnanensis establsihMalus yunnanensis

malus yunnanensisMalus yunnanensis fruit

But the trees really worth coming for today are again the acers – they are here in every shade from palest yellow tinged with pink and brown:IMG_8444to deeper yellows and oranges:IMG_8493To rich salmon:IMG_8481and soft crimson:

IMG_8459I love the colour contrasts between the swooping branches of two neighbouring, contrasting acers:

sweeping red and yellow acersweeping yellow with red burstThe contrast continues when the leaves have fallen to the ground:

Back in the Savill Garden there was a wonderful red leaved Acer palmatum next to a magnificent ballgown of a yellow leaved Parrotia persica and again the two sets of intertwined foliage (once you got right in underneath the branches) made for a dizzyingly beautiful pairing:

parrotia persica portriatRed leaves of Acer palmatum and the autumn yellow of Parrotia persica growing into each other

parrotia persica establishParrotia persica

Stepping back for a moment from the magnificent girth of the Parrotia – or Persian Ironwood  tree – I remember the wisdom of great planstman, Bernard Tickner who at 90 still gardens at the lovely Fullers Mill in the middle of the King’s Forest in Suffolk.   His advice to a young gardener is never to plant a Parrotia too close to a path.  In his sixty years of gardening he has never known a gardener who has not ended up having to move a path to accommodate his ever burgeoning specimen tree.

As I leave the Valley Gardens feeling better about, but not quite sated with, the autumn woodland, I soften one last time at the sight of huge bundles of mistletoe in a network of bare branches making great eerie patterns against the sky. IMmistletoe establsh

IMG_8511 Huge bundles of mistletoe amongst bare branches scratching out glowering monochrome patterns against the sky

Back in Camberwell for the weekend and the wettest Sunday anyone can believe.  It is my birthday and our house is excellently full of boys who have travelled home from both ends of the country.  The only solution is to stay inside,  light the fire, curl up and dream about trees from the comfort of my chair.

I wonder first at the the extraordinary way trees have entered our minds and have been used for centuries as a fundamental way to explain ideas and organise our thoughts.  Manuel Lima has found exquisite , often staggeringly inventive examples of this kind of thought mapping in his new book: ‘The Book of Trees, Visualising Branches of Knowledge’.Lima

One of the most memorable and beautiful examples is this delicate ‘visualisation of the words used in eight hundred of US president Barack Obama’s speeches from January 2009 to November 2011… words were sized according to the number of times they appeared and were plotted in an arboreal layout, with less frequently used words placed farther from the main trunk in a succession of increasingly smaller branches:

obama 2
But when I am tired of being fascinated by the agility of minds that can for example represent ‘the organisational structure of a company with roughly four thousand employees’ in a graphic, ‘hyperbolic tree format’ –  I turn back to my favourite of all books on trees, Roger Deakin’s’Wildwood’.
WildwoodIf you have not already read this wonderful, free, quite beautifully written book – it was published in 2007 so you may well have done so –  I would beg you to add it to your Christmas list, or if you have read it already, do as I did and read it again.  This is the real thing.  Here is a man who can explain better than anybody the wonder of sleeping outside under a tree, Roger Deakin is the warmest, most modest, open-eyed companion to take you with him to find the original apple trees in Kazakhstan and the most observant, respectful guide to the way the sculptor John Nash approaches his work with wood.  Anyone who can get you excited about the walnut veneer found on the finest Jaguar cars “Burrs are found only on large, old trees, perhaps one in a thousand. They are like pearls in oysters. The veneer used in Jaguars comes from the old walnut orchards of the valley of the Sacramento River in California …” is a true magician.

All too soon it is time for one of the boys to head off back up North to St Andrews where he is at University.  I remember the rather ethereal walk we took – and the eerily lit wild-looking tree we saw – the night before we dropped him off for the first time in early September.  Now this is the kind of tree I have been searching for all week. This is the kind of tree that draws you in and I am sure it is the kind of tree that has many a story to tell.


Windswept tree, Stirling, Scotland