Tag Archives: Broadleigh Bulbs

AN ENGLISH GARDENER IN NEW YORK: PART I

THE A-Z OF A SPRING WEEKEND IN MANHATTAN shadow cericis arainbowCercis canadensis in silhouette against a rainbow painted building – a view from the High Line

IMG_3791Ready for scones and raspberry jam, looking onto Abbie Zabar’s rooftop garden

IMG_0271Non – in Brooklyn – the freezing wind overwhelming the lure of the Japanese Cherry trees in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

I have just returned from probably the last truly chilly spring weekend in New York. The temperatures this week are in the high 20’s, but ten days ago the skies were still a cold, hard blue (or grey) and there was a gasp of surprise that trees, especially, were getting on with their spring unfolding against all odds in this extended winter.

love pic cercis amelCercis canadensis and Amelanchier, wonderful companionson the High Line

But Spring was relentlessly trying to make itself felt. In Central Park, magnolias and azaleas presented sudden ballgown sweeps of pink against the familiar buildings towering at the park edges:

central park azalaeacentral magnoliaAzaleas (above) and magnolia trees in Central Park

Walking the streets – which often felt tougher and grittier than I remember – the wonderful, free-limbed Gingko trees were lighting up the darkest redbrick with brilliant, fresh green leaves. Individual branches caught the light like a streak of liquid metal.

IMG_3939Ginko trees in a Manhattan street

gingko like goldGinko leaves catching the light 

Our first morning began at the wonderful Frick Collection.  I have always loved the pale, formal elegance of the three dome-pruned, 1930’s planted, magnolias in the Fifth Avenue Garden, a flurry of restrained pale pink against the extensive grey of the museum and simple topiary planting below. It is rare to prune magnolias – you are generally advised not to do so unless you have to – but these trees have become distinguished sculptural shapes and look great all through the year, especially wonderful when covered in snow.

mags oneMagnolias, Fifth Avenue Garden, Frick Collection – images courtesy of the vivacious NYC blog, Tales of a Madcap Heiress

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Magnolia in snow – image from The Frick Collection archive

After our happy pilgrimage to Piero della Francesca, Vermeer and Holbein we wandered down to the Seaport area on our way to Brooklyn. We made a beeline for Emily Thompson Flowers on Beekman Street who has a reputation for creating extraordinary floral decorations.

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IMG_3673Emily Thompson Flowers, Beekman Street, New York

Emily is an accomplished sculptress, trained at the University of Pennsylvania and UCLA who has become know for exquisite, unconventional flower arrangements which aim to combine ‘the uncultivated organic world and the delicacy of classical ornamental design’.  The girls taking a lunch break in the shop were incredibly welcoming and invited us to look around.   The colour palette in the studio was vibrant yet subtle – burnt oranges, pale pinks, dusky mauves. I loved the delicacy of garden plants such as hellebores and fritillaries – graceful plants which usually stay firmly in the border and are not generally used as cutting flowers. There was an atmosphere of rich potential everywhere you looked: in the intriguing selection of foliage plants, the towering shelves of tarnished brass vessels, the hanging rows of black and natural candles and the collection of natural props such as wasps nests.

Now back in the UK I look back at this palette and think how wonderful it would be to design a planting scheme using the same balance of brilliant and muted shades as a starting point …

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IMG_3672IMG_3656IMG_3669The exquisite palette at Emily Thompson Flowers candles etc IMG_3657 IMG_3658Towering shelves of vases and candles at Emily Thompson Flowers IMG_3671 orchidsBrilliant foliage against geometric floor tiles and a silver tray at Emily Thompson Flowers

In the evening, after Evensong at Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue where our son, Llewelyn is singing with the wonderful choir, we went to our new favourite Italian restaurant, Il Buco on Bond Street, just off The Bowery.IMG_3631

How did they know that ‘roasted gnocchi with morels and English peas’ would be my new favourite supper and that placing a gorgeous vase of blown peach coloured peonies on our table would make me smile from the moment I arrived?IMG_3965 (2)

The further advantage of the relaxed and delicious Il Buco is that there is a relaxed and delicious sister deli/restaurant Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria in the next street. Obviously this means that each day in the city can begin with a perfect breakfast of fresh orange juice, imaginative homemade bread, ‘red-eye coffee’, and homemade ricotta with olive oil:bucoIMG_3972

IMG_3638Our daily breakfast at Il Buco Alimentari&Vineria

On our second morning I head up to The Cloisters  – an extraordinary museum of medieval art, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, situated way up on 190th Street in Fort Tryon Park which overlooks the Hudson River.  As you emerge from the subway it is disorientating to be in Northern Manhattan, but to feel so far away from the hub of the city:

HUDSONView of the Hudson River as you emerge from 190th Street Subway Station

CLOISTER TOWERView of The Cloisters through early spring trees at Fort Tryon Park

It takes me a while to get my head around the very premise of this museum which is a dazzling collection of important cloisters, chapels, stained glass, sculptures and tapestries, mostly French, mostly from the 12th to 15th Centuries, which are incorporated into a single purpose built museum funded by John D Rockerfeller and which opened to the public in 1938.  But I am soon wooed by the staggering beauty of the collection and by the feeling that everything is so well loved and so intelligently cared for.

I head first for the Cuxa Cloister – a salmon pink marble cloister from the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa near Perpignan, France, dating from around 1130-1140.

CLOISTER THRU ARCHES

CLOISTER AGAIN

IMG_3715The Cuxa Cloister, The Cloisters Museum, New York

The monastery was sacked in the 17th Century and had fallen into ruin by the 19th Century.  As reconstructed here, it is about a quarter of its original size, but the proportions remain the same and additional stone required for the reconstruction was painstakingly sourced from the original quarry. It is bizarre to find yourself peering through stone arches at a twelfth century stone fountain having been on the A train from Columbus Circus only moments before – but I am quickly enjoying the intriguing early spring planting in the beds under the four expertly pollarded crab apple trees. I am enchanted by the tall spires of Fritillaria persica – both the greenish white form and the very dark bruised purple form.   NARCISSUS FRITILLARIAFritillaria persica alba and Narcissus poeticus in the Cuxa Cloister

BLACK FRITILLARY

Two forms of Fritillaria Persica with Narcissus poeticus above and a small white Narcissus  – possibly ‘Jenny’ or ‘Thalia’ – below

They look rare and elegant amongst sheaves of neat white Narcissus  –  and the jewel-like mood is extended by flashes of sharp pink from low-growing species tulips (for example Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’) and touches of delicate rose from pink muscari. This is a satisfying and contemporary interpretation of planting inspired by medieval treatises, herbals and works of art. It would be exciting to try out a similar scheme at home: Fritillaria ‘Ivory Bells, an excellent new selection of the greenish white flowered form, and Fritillaria persica ‘Adiyaman’, with dusky purple flowers, are available from Broadleigh Bulbs, and Kevock Garden Plants offers ‘Ivory Bells’ and Fritillaria persica ‘Midnight Bells’. Both nurseries offer the pale pink grape hyacinth, Muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’.

PINK MUSCARI

Muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’ with white Narcisssus in the Cuxa Cloister

I drink in the endless gorgeous candelabra, perfect orange trees in terracotta pots and the vaulted halls of exquisite stained glass until I have to stop and linger again in front of the Unicorn Tapestries – a series of seven beautiful and complex story-telling tapestries from the South Netherlands (1495 -1505) woven in fine wool and silk with silver and gilded threads.

ORANGE TREE

IMG_9782 IMG_3687Potted orange tree and medieval candelabra, The Cloisters Museum

The iconic ‘Unicorn in Captivity’ may have been created as a single image and is rich in imagery of love, fertility and marriage:

UNICORNThe Unicorn in Captivity part of The Unicorn Tapestries, The Cloisters Museum

The unicorn sits under a tree laden symbolically with ripe pomegranates, and the tapestry is wonderfully and intensely decorated throughout with delicate, mostly botanically accurate, representations of flowering plants offering layers of symbolism on the theme of love and sex. Of the 101 plants featured, 80% have been identified by the New York Botanical Society.

IMG_3750The sweet smelling white stock – Mathiola incana – symbolising love and purity

IMG_3751The Madonna Lily – Lilium candicum – with its symbolism of purity and the Virgin birth

IMG_3753The blue of the  Iris – often associated with the blue of the Virgin Mary

In the next room, I fall completely for a single, earlier – 1400-1415 – South Netherlandish tapestry, ‘The Falcon’s Bath’.

IMG_3758Here courtly figures are persuading a trained falcon to take a bath against a richly clothed rose trellis and a perky flowering turf bench. It is the vibrant, celebratory, highly stylised traditional ‘millefleurs’ background that draws me in.  Such strong shapes, sureness of touch and wonderful use of colour – milky pastel pinks and oranges against an inky blue-green:

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IMG_3761IMG_3766Details of ‘The Falcon’s Bath’ tapestry, The Cloisters Museum – at the bottom my favourite detail complete with excellent red stockinged foot

And so I tear myself away from the 15th Century and rattle back on the A train and then up to the fourteenth floor of an Upper East Side apartment block to meet artist, writer, designer and gardener, Abbie Zabar, and find out about the passionate way she gardens on a tiny Penthouse rooftop.  It was Abbie who had warmly recommended The Cloisters to me.  I had not met her before but we had corresponded via The Dahlia Papers and she had very kindly invited me to visit. I knew (not least when she announced that her great friend, Chris, CEO of a major not for profit organisation, was managing to find time to make me her ‘special scones’ !) that the visit would be a brilliant treat.

From the moment I emerge and step directly into her rooftop garden, the collection of olive oil jars which house a refreshingly free-growing collection of boxwood, create a sense of shelter and intimacy away from the blasting wind and industrial feel of the roof tops beyond:

ZABAR OLIVE POTSOlive oil jars with a collection of boxwood, Abbie Zabar’s garden, New York

IMG_3844Looking beyond the intimate grouping of wooden bench, boxwood and terracotta

The elegant apartment paved with smooth limestone flags and discreet, perfectly proportioned cupboards, is orientated always to the rooftop terrace at its perimeter. From the neatest stainless steel kitchen – where lemon verbena tea is simmering away in the covetable vintage pyrex coffee pots she has been collecting for years – a single slim window frames the now famous hawthorn terrace ( see New York Times feature) and an 18th Century gilded Italian mirror above her caramel leather sofa holds an image of the terrace which greets you as soon as you arrive:

IMG_3841Lemon verbena tea in vintage Pyrex coffee pots ZABAR KITCHEN VIEWAbbie Zabar’s roof terrace framed by the kitchen window

IREFLECTION GARDEN

The terrace is tiny, but Abbie – who has written books about container gardening, topiary and is a herb and alpine plant specialist – had the brave idea 12 years ago to plant three hawthorn trees (Crataegus pyracantha) in containers to see if she could harness their long season and fantastic toughness to create a natural shade canopy fourteen floors up in a position which is battered by wind and harsh winter conditions and then overwhelmed by sun and heat in the summer. The project is a continued labour of love – Abbie, who as a matter of extreme good fortune ‘loves to prune ‘, is a petite woman of a certain age, but she gets up on a seven foot ladder with goggles and protective clothing throughout the winter to remove the staggeringly long thorns from the trees. She has just repotted them into newly made oak Versailles tubs –  which took serious man power and the risk of a slightly slower start to the season, as the trees adjust to their new homes.

IMG_9932Thorns collected from Abbie Zabar’s Crataegus pyracantha

ZABAR HAWTHORNZABAR CHIMNEYThe winter framework of Abbie’s hawthorn trees against sky and chimneys

Abbie loves the trees for the shape of their leaves, their flowers, their vibrant orange berries and rich autumn colour, and most of all she loves them for the shelter they provide once the temperatures begin to rise which allows her to enjoy being outside despite the heat and to grow a host of other plants in the gentler climate the trees create at their base. The new oak containers and the immaculate trellis (which includes a cunning sliding trellis section to screen a working area of hose pipe and garden tools) are all painted in an excellent demure milky brown which will be a perfect foil for the rich greens and reds to come:

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IMGZABAR TABLEVersailles tub and trellis painted in the same demure milky brown – with the beginning of a summer collection of pots.

Abbie is a passionate and inspiring collector of beautifully made objects. As well as 1950’s Murano glass and rare Shaker baskets, she has collected these ‘Jailbird’ nesting boxes made by prisoners in the 30’s and has arranged them in a soaring pattern on her dusky brick wall:

ZABAR BIRD HOUSE‘Jailbird’ nesting boxes, Abbie Zabar’s roof top garden

Abbie’s spirited approach to making the most of every possible opportunity to garden in this limited and often hostile space is uplifting. Away from the main terrace, at the end of a skinny external passageway between terrace wall and the interior solarium, I am led to a specialist rock garden – a tiny dynamic city of terracotta and stone containing an expertly nurtured collection of low-growing alpine plants. I love the way the pots hold their own against the sky scrapers beyond.

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ROCK PLANTS AND SKY SCRAPERS

IMG_3814Abbie Zabar’s brilliant roof-top Alpine rock garden

Here she nurtures rather battered young olive and fig trees with impressive faith:

OLIVE TREES Two young olive trees hoping to make it through

And yet the Boston Ivy beginning to make its presence felt against the brick suggests that this is a garden which will blow your breath away for its lushness – and sheer audacity – in a couple of months time:

IMG_3831Boston Ivy beginning to make its presence felt

I am taken along a further black painted passage, passing two elegant green-painted wooden benches, hooked up efficiently ship-cabin style, on the way:

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Vintage wooden benches, folded away and hooked up ship-cabin style

Here, in the toughest, darkest section of rooftop is a background of dark paint, mirrors, green glass pebbles and softening elements of terracotta and wood ready to be clothed in green as the summer progresses:

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IMG_3824Abbie Zabar’s rooftop garden, continued

Buffeted by the wind we are relieved to get back inside where Abbie serves me a quite wonderful feast of the scones, homemade jam and cream delivered to her, wrapped in a cloth  – for me! – earlier that morning:

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Chris’s special half moon scones IMG_3791 Abbie’s hand monogrammed napkins – she sources antique napkins to embroider in the annual ‘Christmas rummage sale’ at St Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue.

There is too much to talk about, but we manage to cover the beautifully, solid orchid pots in fine Italian terracotta she has just designed for Seibert and Rice. I naturally bought one to bring home in my hand luggage. The orchid pots are reviewed in detail on Matt Mattus in his excellent blog GROWING WITH PLANTS.

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abbie4Abbie Zabar’s Seibert and Rice Orchid Pot photographed by Matt Mattus

Abbie also told me about her exhibition which begins in June 2015: Abbie Zabar: Ten Years of Flowers at Wave Hill, the public garden and cultural centre just outside the City. This is a woman who managed to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art every week for ten years to make an unbroken record of the famously extravagant floral arrangements in its entrance hall …

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A taste of Abbie Zabar’s works on paper or board for her Wave Hill Exhibition, Summer 2015.

I wish I could be back in New York for the exhibition and to revisit this garden when it has fully sprung to life. Instead I go on my way back to street level and down to the Lower East Side.

That evening we discover the serene underground Japanese restaurant, Kyo Ya.  I am charmed and calmed by the wooden interior with beautiful iron screens, the opportunity to taste different ‘Spring sake’ from tiny pottery vessels, and completely delicious food.

IMG_3867Elegant, geometric iron screens at Kyo Ya

Each slice of pressed sushi with marinaded mackerel was decorated with tiny flowers and delicate piles of wasabi or pickled ginger:

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Pressed sushi of marinaded mackerel with flowers at Kyo Ya

We sit against a perfect screen of almost luminous Honesty (lunaria annua) seed heads pressed within panes of glass.

IMG_3861 (3)Glass screen with honesty seed heads, Kyo Ya Japanese Restaurant

Part II of An English Gardener in New York, From the High Line to Ground Zero, to follow shortly.

ANTIQUE CAMELLIAS AT CHISWICK HOUSE AND WOODLAND CAMELLIAS AT GREAT DIXTER

CONSIDERING THE CAMELLIA IN A SPRING GARDEN

It is a teasing time of year – gorgeous one minute and miserable the next.  If the skies are glowering and the temperature still demands a bobble hat, a clever move is to head off to one of the RHS shows in Vincent Square for a fix of Spring.   This photograph of a camellia judging table from an Early Spring Show is permanently pinned to my notice board and has sustained me with its intense rainbow of pinks since 2004…

rhsCamellia judging table, RHS VIncent Square 2004

And this image of the elegant, dancing Narcissus ‘Snipe’ on the delightful Broadleigh Bulbs stand was taken on a gloomy Sunday afternoon this February. Now firmly on my bulb order list for next September, the photograph will cheer me until early 2016 when I hope to find it flowering in my own garden.

IMG_2964Narcissus ‘Snipe’, Broadleigh Bulbs, The London Plant and Potato Fair 2015

We have had some staggeringly beautiful early Spring days and the whole season seems to be moving rather fast, although farmers tell me that we are two weeks behind last year. As I set out a few days ago to visit the camellia collection at Chiswick House in West London, the view from my kitchen is hazy with promise:

camberweelBrilliant March sunshine, Camberwell

I have been planning a trip to New York and feel slightly guilty as New York friends continue to endure deep winter…

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Image 3Scenes from New York, March 2015

… whilst I’m padding about the newly restored glasshouse at Chiswick House, my jacket under my arm, admiring the ranked antiquity of its camellias, some of which have been grown here for 160 years:

IMG_3205View of the Chiswick House Camellia Collection

The sunlight casts exhilaratingly crisp shadows on the walls and floor:

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IMG_3172Camellia japonica ‘Betty Fox Saunders’ and Coade stone vase laced with shadows in the conservatory at Chiswick House

And it is easy to delight in the voluptuous flamenco frills of Camellia japonica ‘Rubra Plena’

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IMG_9192Camellia japonica ‘Rubra Plena’

the intense red and white marbling of ‘Coralina’:

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Camellia japonica ‘Coralina’

and the cool, palest pink of Camellia ‘Gray’s Invincible’ – my favourite of this important collection, a camellia that was bred by a London head gardener in 1824:

IMG_9172IMG_9173Camellia japonica ‘Gray’s Invincible’

The collection at Chiswick has had an extraordinary history. Some of the twelve foot high specimens survived bomb damage to the glasshouse during the Second World War and despite periods of considerable neglect they have managed to keep going – whereas a once similar collection at Chatsworth no longer exists.

But as a gardener, I find myself wondering how I apply the immaculate sight of an entire neatly clipped tree in perfect candy-pink bloom to a real garden situation :

IMG_9200IMG_9202 (2)IMG_9203Camellia japonica ‘Incarnata’

 I am distracted for a moment by the handsome pots of young Camellia Japonica ‘Lily Pons’ planted with the fern, Dryopteris affinis:

IMG_9216lily pons from in forntlily pons from behind

Camellia japonica ‘Lily Pons’

I have always liked this elegant, white-flowered camellia which has glossy dark green leaves, translucent white petals and a relaxed, upright habit.  It is known as an excellent camellia for training along a shady fence.  I would love to try it, but can’t quite imagine how effective it would be in the flesh –  perhaps this image of an immaculately trained red camellia, found on the seductive website Gardenista, will tempt someone to give it a go?

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An immaculate wall trained camellia

It is a relief to step outside the conservatory and find a further enormous tree of a camellia planted jauntily in the open air, taking charge of the glass house. This is no longer a beauty parade – it is just a wonderful specimen tree, with good space around it, welcoming you into the handsome white painted glass house.

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 Red camellia at the Conservatory Entrance, Chiswick House

The key with camellias in a garden situation is to think hard about how they will work in context before being seduced by the enticing brilliance of a particular flower. There are too many camellias out there, chosen for the perkiness of their flower, but looking brash and lonely in the middle of a front garden or wintery border.

One of the cleverest ways to grow camellias is to celebrate their well-groomed neatness and plant them as a formal hedge.  A neighbour’s extremely pretty front garden in Camberwell has a hedge of Camellia japonica ‘Forest Green’ which forms a year-round glossy screen of emerald green against the shiny black Victorian railings:

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Camellia japonica ‘Forest Green’ against black railings, Camberwell

‘Forest Green’ is late to flower but when it does the hedge is lit up by dashes of brilliant carmine, and for the rest of the year it is a handsome foil to an immaculate knot garden.IMG_9558 (8)

Knot garden – Camberwell

Another way to go to with camellias is to find a gentler form which will work with, and not against, a planting scheme.  My absolute favourite camellia is Camellia ‘Cornish show’.  This is a compact camellia with a relaxed, slightly arching habit and very pretty single white, fragrant flowers, tinged pink on the reverse of the petals. There is a wonderful specimen of this in a woodland edge planting at the Chelsea Physic Garden.

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Camellia ‘Cornish Snow’ just coming into flower at the Chelsea Physic Garden, March 2015

As with all camellias, ‘Cornish Snow’ prefers acidic conditions, but I plan to follow Monty Don’s example – he planted a Camellia  ‘Cornish Snow’ a few years ago in neutral soil in the Gardener’s World garden and has been successfully using composted bracken around the plant to reduce the pH of the soil.

It is worth visiting the Chelsea Physic Garden just to see this very lovely camellia covered in white flowers – it is planted next to the fantastic Rosa x odorata ‘Bengal Crimson’, famous for being in flower every day of the year, and it was indeed blooming gently all over earlier this month.

IMG_9105Rosa x odorata ‘Bengal Crimson’, Chelsea Physic Garden

Elsewhere in the garden was a perfect, rounded specimen of the lemony-scented Daphne odora and wonderful shoots of Iris orientalis catching the cool spring sunshine.

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Daphne odora, Chelsea Physic Garden

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Iris orientalis, Chelsea Physic Garden

Where there is space of course, and the right soil, camellias provide a vital early radiance to the spring woodland garden.  Here at RHS Wisley camellias have the chance to become substantial plants and look great because they are nestled amongst shrubs and trees of similar scale.
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Camellias amongst woodland, Battleston Hill, RHS Wisley

At Great DIxter camellias are used predictably well too.  When I visited this month, a lovely pale pink camellia provided a shot of soft colour in this beautifully balanced garden, poised for another electric spring:
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Palest pink camellia, Great Dixter, March 2015

IMG_9243Pink Azalea and clipped topiary, Great Dixter, March 2015IMG_9231

The Peacock Garden with canes marking ‘stockbed’ planting areas, Great Dixter, March 2015aucubaLush Aucuba japonica f. longifolia and hellebores, Great Dixter, March 2015

By April a deep crimson camellia will be flowering amongst pale and richer pinks of magnolia – a perfect example of the kind of heady delight that the garden provides so much of:
great dixter camellia magnolia

Camellia and magnolias, Great Dixter, April 2013

New York yesterday was back to this:

ImageBut in London the sun is – amazingly – still shining. There remains another week to wander up and down the aisle of brilliant champion camellias at Chiswick House (the Camellia Show runs until March 29th) or you could slip into the Chelsea Physic Garden any week day to admire Camellia ‘Cornish Show’. If you want a wonderful fix of spring garden plus the chance to buy rare and gorgeous plants of every kind, head to the unusual and generous  Great Dixter Spring Plant Fair next weekend.

Dixter fair