Tag Archives: Cornus Mas



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.



cornelian plus gravesCornus mas – or the Cornelian Cherry – at the perfectly groomed Dulwich Old Burial Ground in South London.

stevens-levens-hall-garden-25113‘Levens Hall Garden’ screen print,  1985 Norman Stevens ARA

Friends who visit Dulwich Village from Islington perhaps or Kent are always amazed to find a small section of picture-perfect Connecticut in South London, ten minutes from Victoria station.  Saturday was a morning of glowering sunshine and the long dead inhabitants of the 400 year old cemetery were making earnest attempts to kick start the spring. The velvety day-glow green and yellow grass was erupting all over with silvery crocus buds and dense stooks of deep green narcissus foliage.


I was in Dulwich to pay homage to my favourite specimen of Cornus mas – the Cornelian Cherry – which is the centrepiece of a beautifully groomed burial ground in the middle of the village. The burial ground is home to a dozen Grade II listed eighteenth and nineteenth century tombs of wealthy locals, the graves of 35 victims of the plague in 1665 and where Old Bridget the Queen of the Norwood Gypsies was buried in 1768.

Cornus mas is a densely branched, deciduous, large shrub or small tree with small umbels of brilliant yellow flowers in late February and early March.  It can be a rather unassuming tree but when given space – as it is here, the absolute queen amongst pale stone and open lawn – it can offer a sensational cloud of light and colour on the darkest of February days.

cornelian wholeclose up against white

The advantage of giving the tree this sort of space is that it will have a much greater impact later in the year too, when it is in leaf.  The potential for Cornus mas to be a really handsome specimen tree year round has now been realised by nurseries selling mature trees and if you have the room and the funds you could source a really handsome, spreading, semi mature “umbrella multi-stem’ from a nursery such as Deepdale Trees which supplies trees for many of the Chelsea Flower Show gardens.


At the other end of the scale, a young Cornus mas can be a brilliant addition to a softer, more natural style of gardening too.  It was much favoured as a very tough, hardy tree by revolutionary Victorian gardener, William Robinson, and is currently lighting up a patch of open woodland in the Wild Garden at Gravetye Manor in Sussex,  see the Gravetye Garden Blog 

Tree and shrub specialists Bluebell Arboretum and Nursery recommend Cornus mas ‘Golden Glory’ AGM for its particular abundance of yellow flowers. After a hot summer,  ‘Golden Glory’ may produce a small crop of small, shiny, edible red cherry-like fruits in autumn. If, however, you’re after a jar of the elusive – and let’s face it, ultimate weekend gift –  homemade Cornelian Cherry Jam -the one to go for is Cornus mas ‘Jolico’ which the nursery describes as a ‘charming German form’ first selected to be used for commercial fruit production and which produces vivid red berries up to three times larger than those of a classic cornus mas.

3868599763_09c8859d20Shiny red fruit of Cornus mas – like miniature scarlet plums.

The fruits of the Cornelian cherry are always bitter and need vast amounts of sugar to make them palatable but the idea is very romantic. Try Almost Turkish Recipes for a reliable recipe.  Whilst waiting for your ‘Jolico’ to mature, maybe practise making the jam after a trip to the market on your next Mediterranean holiday?

In the meantime I am back in the UK on a stormy Saturday, on my way to the Royal Academy.  I have been seeing posters all over town for a small exhibition of prints by Norman Stevens. I can’t get the luminous, sculptural, bonnet-like image of the Topiary Gardens at Levens Hall – a gorgeous fourteenth Century Manor House in the Lake District  – out of my head.  There is something about the quality of the light and the rigid laciness of the foliage against the blue of the sky that makes me uncertain at first as to whether it is even a photograph or a print.


In Piccadilly, on my way to the exhibition, I am caught by the glinting, shadowy, greys and blacks of the windows of St James’s Church with the candle-like, palest pink, buds of just-about-to-open Magnolia in front of them.  This promise of voluptuous flower is my favourite moment in a Magnolia’s cycle:

IMG_0718St James’s Church, Piccadilly.

At the Norman Stevens exhibition the first print I encounter is an uncanny echo of the scene outside the church  – exquisite patterns of foliage against a building – shadows and highlights and shades of grey:


‘Clapboard House with Fronds and Architectural French Curve’, 1974, Etching and aquatint, Norman Stevens ARA

Norman Stevens (1937-88) studied painting at Bradford College of Art along with a particularly talented group of artists included David Hockney.  Originally a painter, he began printmaking in the early seventies and is now regarded as one of the foremost printmakers of his generation, revered for the way he always pushed boundaries with laboriously achieved effects of aquatint and mezzotint – and later screen prints -to create tone and texture,  soft grain effects and even the appearance of water colour washes.

There is a beautiful print called The Darkling Thrush made in 1976 to illustrate a volume of poems by Thomas Hardy.  A wonderful,  tunnel of a path formed from tangled scratchy black branches with grey-white blossom against a salmony, metallic-pink twilight sky. There is a Japanese quality of restraint and delicacy to this atmospheric work.

RF 080

‘The Darkling Thrush’, 1976, Norman Steven ARA Etching, aquatint

One of Norman Stevens’ latest prints is less comfortable but entirely memorable : the bright jauntiness of its colouring a poignant contrast to the sad subject matter – a pile of dismembered limbs of a favourite black walnut tree at Kew Gardens which fell in the storm of 1987.  Stevens’ eye for colour when working on a screenprint was legendary.  In the days before computer generated imagery he was brilliant at separating out the colours and predicting the results when they were printed one on top of the other – as fellow artist and print maker, Brad Faine writes in the exhibition catalogue ‘no mean feat when one uses ten to fifteen hand-made stencil separations.’

RF 089

‘Black Walnut Tree’ 1987, Norman Stevens ARA, Screenprint

But what I have really come for is Stevens’ etchings of topiary in great English country gardens – a dream world away from his crisp, California-inspired earlier work, with paintings and prints of white louvred windows, clapboard buildings and the foliage of tropical plants.

Porch 1971 by Norman Stevens 1937-1988

Porch, 1971, Norman Stevens ARA, aqua-tec on canvas, Tate

The Royal Academy exhibition features work inspired by the Victorian country house, Knightshayes Court in Devon, Painswick Rococo Garden in Gloucestershire and of course, Levenshall Topiary Gardens in Cumbria.

RF 077

‘Painswick, Moonlight’ 1979, Norman Stevens ARA, etching and aquatint

I am entranced by ‘Painswick Moonlight’  a finely worked, almost stippled, image of an impossibly perfect, dark, moonlit world of ranked monumental trees and mesmerisingly stripey shadows.

By Sunday evening I am walking through the cloisters of Canterbury Cathedral with one of my sons on the way to Evensong.  I love the way the freeform yew mound peers, monster-like over the finely carved decorative roof.  I think Norman Stevens would have enjoyed the rhythmic archctecture and the shadowy presence of plantlife.

IMG_0725enhancedCanterbury Cathedral cloisters, evening.