Tag Archives: Crocosmia

SUMMER ALBUM, 2015

EXPLORING A SENSE OF PLACE – FROM HARTLAND POINT TO HIDCOTE

IMG_1749Brooding cloud, blue sky and yew hedge, Devon

It has been a happy itinerant summer. We have been lurching around the countryside with kind invitations to stay with friends and family at home and an escape to the sun on the island of Zakynthos in Greece. As I look back at photographs taken over the last few weeks I feel dazed by the strength of atmosphere offered by each new and contrasting place. This is an album of the way I have been looking at plants and gardens this summer.

Our arrival at Hartland Point in North Devon, late on a Saturday afternoon at the beginning of July, feels like the true beginning of summer. After a steamy last week of term, 35°C and rising for every concert and prize giving event, it is an intense pleasure to step quietly out of the car and feel the fresh cardigan-cool of this lush coastal spot.

IMG_1730View to the sea, Hartland Point

A high-hedged path, made narrow by skyrockets of pink foxgloves and sprawling drapes of dog rose, draws us towards the sea:


IMG_1733IMG_1731Footpath and hedgerow foxgloves, Hartland Point

We cannot help smiling because the sky is so blue and clean and everything around us bright and vigorous. The insects sound away gently and only the occasional papery circling of a pair of butterflies causes a ripple on this sweet English calm:

IMG_1743Smiling on a brilliant summer evening

It is Sunday morning and we enter our friends’ beautiful old walled kitchen garden armed with trugs and old ice cream cartons. It has been raining but layers of heavy black cloud sit playfully above the slice of blue sky that heralds an imminent change in the constantly switching weather.

It is a crumpled shorts and old waterproof kind of day. My husband Nick and our old friend Mark are as happy as five year olds plunging their way into the dripping foliage to dig up the first of this year’s Charlotte potatoes.


IMG_1744IMG_1745Mark proudly showing off his first Charlotte potato

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His assistant Nick professionally waterproofed and ready for action

There is an intoxicating sense of home and tireless productive order – clipped yew hedges, a pair of abundant classic herbaceous borders about to erupt with flame red crocosmia, and sweet multi-generational conversations in the fruit cage as we pick fruit to provide for an enormous bowlfull of lunchtime raspberries and redcurrants.

IMG_1747Classic herbaceous borders about to erupt with flame red crocosmia

Our walk along the beach at Peppercombe that afternoon is a radiant stride across livid black and brilliant green seaweed over red stone.

IMG_1755IMG_1756Livid black and brilliant green seaweed over red stone at Peppercombe Beach, North Devon

Back in South London I head out to Ruskin Park the following day for some Monday morning exercise. Ruskin Park is a practical sloping piece of London park nestling next to King’s College hospital. It is threaded through, as usual, with lose chains of commuters and dog walkers. I turn a well worn corner and am quite amazed to find myself in a completely wonderful garden at the centre of the park:


IMG_1626IMG_1624IMG_1625Uplifting planting at the centre of Ruskin Park, July 2015

My mood switches from Monday morning list-making to a technicolor daze. This is powerful exuberant planting with perfectly judged structural pockets of deep purple salvias, gorgeous uplifting stands of rich orange Eremerus (foxtail lily), and airy golden and dusky red grasses punctuated by heads of dancing scarlet poppies.

IMG_1639Deep purple Salvia with Stipa tenuissima and poppies

IMG_1629Stands of orange foxtail lilies amongst the planting at Ruskin Park

The garden does not, it has to be said, relate to anything else in the park, but as a stand alone enterprise it is a generous, beautiful, heartwarming surprise and makes my week.

We spend the weekend on an almost hidden stretch of North Norfolk coast. Here, beyond the doughnut stands and caravans, a tiny town of charming timber-clad houses, some of them extensions of wooden boats, nestles behind the dunes.

I love the salty pebbly simplicity of this place. Earlier in the year there is sea holly and horned poppy to admire, but by high summer I am happy just to watch our lengthening evening shadows stretch across the beach.

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Shadows on the beach at Heacham, North Norfolk

The next day, walking inwards from the coast, I am smitten by a row of neat mature oaks marking the boundary of a wavering sheet of ripening wheat.IMG_1899

Oak trees and ripening wheat, Heacham, North Norfolk

A four hour flight on Monday morning and we are transplanted to the island of Zakynthos, Greece. A happy diet follows: rich blue sky, glittering sea, fresh orange juice, wine, olives, bread and honey …

IMG_1998IMG_1976On holiday on ZakynthosIMG_2019Decorative carving on a Venetian look out tower

A ritual visit to a nearby monastery with flowing branches of wild caper plant (Capparis spinosa ) growing out of the stony walls.
IMG_0481tower caper

Wild caper plants growing out of the monastery walls

I remember again that the capers we buy in tiny jars, salted or in brine, are unopened flowerbuds rather than fruits.

caper close up

Caper leaves and buds

I love the neatness of the leaf arrangement of the caper plant and the inky shadows the leaves cast on the dusty ground. I love too the delicate groups of self seeding umbels, a naturally elegant soft white against the stone coloured paint:


caper shadowShadow cast by caper leaves

IMG_0488Wild umbellifer flowers against a monastery wall.

Walking up into the hills, the scent of sun warmed wild fennel and wild thyme is intoxicating.

I am entranced by the luminous yellow-green of the pine needles in the clear sunshine:

hut with greenIMG_0534The distinctive yellow-green of pine needles, Zakynthos

Delicate papery wildflowers and grasses grow amongst the olive groves and become more beautiful as the day progresses.

white grass olive treesgreek meadowIMG_0566IMG_0568

Grasses and wild fennel amongst the olive groves

The effect of the changing light is powerful. The early evening sunlight backlights the ragged seedheads of grasses and weeds and transforms them into moments of delicate loveliness:


IMG_0558IMG_0556IMG_0546IMG_2048Backlit grasses, seedheads and mounds of wild thyme in the lowering sunlight.

Later still, as we walk out to supper, the grasses by our path are a quietly fluttering field of ivory dashes in the dusk.


IMG_0583Pale ivory grasses, evening

Sitting at a café catching the sunset, the stripy pale blue and pinky-orange light transforms everything – power cables, pot plant foliage, a rusty pergola – into elegant silhouetted patterns. Even the formica café tables become gorgeous glassy pools of reflected light.

IMG_1987IMG_2108IMG_1985The sunset transforms even the formica café table

And before bed the moon is perfectly framed by a pair of palm leaves:

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The moon framed by palm leaves, Zakynthos

It is mid August and I head to the 18th Century country house-turned-gallery, Compton Verney in Warwickshire.  I am keen to see ‘The Arts and Crafts House: Then and Now’: an exhibition which explores the creation of the ideal home in the Arts and Crafts movement, the link between house and garden, and how the garden and nature were an important source of inspiration.

As part of the exhibition, the gallery has commissioned eminent landscape and garden designer Dan Pearson to create a wild flower meadow on the West Lawn of the house taking William Morris’s iconic Trellis wallpaper as his starting point.

2006AV2110William Morris’s ‘Trellis’ Wallpaper – part of the V&A Museum Collection

Carrying further images of William Morris’s outstanding rhythmic sense of colour and design in my head, I am excited to know how Dan Pearson – who has recently overseen a dreamy reinterpretation of a famous Gertrude Jekyll garden at the Lutyens designed Folly Farm in Berkshire – will have approached the commission.

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Tiles and stained glass created for one of William Morris’s homes, The Red House

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Part of the newly planted garden at Folly Farm, Berkshire. Visits to the garden can be booked via the NGS. Photograph from the NGS website

It is a dull grey English day and after a long drive up the M40, I am rather perplexed at the sight of three small circles of rather sickly-sweet coloured annuals looking uncomfortable and insignificant amidst a generous expanse of brass coloured grasses.

very isolated circle



isolated circleIMG_0617IMG_0619Dan Pearson’s Wild Flower Meadow at Compton Verney – the circles of brightly coloured annuals not quite working yet in tone or scale

The grass has been organised into a network of neatly mown paths which echo the pattern of Morris’s Trellis design. Taking my eye away from the smartie coloured circles, this device is clearly effective and there are glimmers here of a much more subtle palette.

IMG_0625IMG_0624not enuff to seeSoft grasses with wild flowers and one of the network of mown paths, Dan Pearson’s wildflower meadow, Compton Verney

I must have greater faith. Pearson is one of the most thoughtful designers of our generation and I remind myself that the carefully selected seed mix is expected to change in character every year until, after seven years or so, the meadow planting reaches a point of equilibrium. It is an honest idea and a worthy reflection of the Arts and Crafts reverence for nature. I leave to go inside the house, still wondering if the ‘Trellis’ meadow might not have a greater chance of success with some key structural planting in addition to the grass and seed mix – but I will be fascinated to see how it develops.

The ‘Arts and Crafts House’ exhibition is more easily uplifting. It is excellent to see the surprisingly chunky quality of a William Morris tapestry in the flesh – to see original Phillip Webb drawings for his Bexley home, The Red House, and to follow the connections between Morris and those inspired by him. For Lutyens and Jekyll (who was also much influenced by William Robinson’s ‘The Wild Garden’), there are contemporary and recent photographs of the garden at Folly Farm and a series of beautifully reprinted photographs by Gertrude Jekyll, including a covetable, delicate still life with white dahlias and white clematis which has a haunted Japanese quality.

I am introduced to ‘wandering architect’ Alfred Powell and his wife Louise. Alfred Powell made much of his living creating decorative designs for Josiah Wedgwood and Sons. The exhibition begins with his beautiful painted blue and white punch bowl and closes with a lovely gently quirky screen painted by Louise Powell which was originally made for a 1916 Arts and Crafts exhibition at Rodmarton Manor near Cirencester.

IMG_2292Punch Bowl decorated by Alfred Powell
IMG_2296Painted Screen, Louise Powell, 1916

Alfred Powell’s enthusiasm for his life and work is infectious and typical of many of the artists and craftspeople featured in this exhibition. He loved painting but was constantly pulled by the temptation to be outside: “I only wish I could do it running about instead of sitting like a monkey eating nuts”. The couple developed the perfect Arts and Crafts lifestyle, leading a simple but sociable life in the Cotswolds with annual summer camps and musical entertainments which attracted other artists, designers and craftspeople to the area.

I find out about Stoneywell, the idyllic storybook of a summer cottage designed by Ernest Gibson for his brother Sydney. There is a buzz amongst the gallery visitors about Stoneywell – visiting slots for the house now owned by the National Trust are apparently like gold dust and have to be booked months in advance …

395%2F217%2FBeloved-Stoneywell-July-1908_thumb_460x0%2C01908 Photograph of Stoneywell, Photograph © Leicestershire City Council

I also learn much more about the architect CFA Voysey whose design aesthetic would be at home in the picture books of my childhood. He designed solid, simple houses with white rendered walls, low grey slate roofs, bright green external paintwork and metalwork for doors and furniture with a distinctive heart-shaped motif and believed in ‘a world where nature carrie(s) a therapeutic message to society’. In an essay of 1909 he wrote ‘Let every bit of ornament speak to us of bright and healthy thought’. One of my favourite exhibits is a charming, brightly coloured design for a nursery chintz, 1929 – featuring a cottage, oak tree, hip-laden roses and animals: 
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‘The House That Jack Built’ design for nursery chintz, CFA Voysey, 1929

Although the afternoon is rushing past, I suddenly realize that I am only a few miles away from some wonderful Arts and Crafts houses and gardens.  It is going to be a whistle stop visit but I decide to make a twenty minute dash over to Hidcote Manor. Hidcote is perhaps the ultimate Arts and Crafts garden – Edith Wharton described it as ‘tormently perfect’ – and I have not seen it for nearly twenty years.

The car park and approach to the house are, of course, overflowing with coaches, buggies and vendors of artisan ice cream – but as soon as I am inside the front courtyard I remember why the garden is so revered. Despite the crowds and the armies of National Trust gardeners, the visitor can still feel the excitement of a garden created 100 years ago by passionate plantsmen and inventive designer, Lawrence Johnstone. It is a garden that has had an enormous influence on the way we make gardens still, and everywhere you look there are some fundamentally good ideas to take on board.

One of Johnstone’s first steps was to make sure that the buildings which make up the Courtyard were welcoming and well clothed with handsome planting. The now classic combinations of Magnolia delavayi, spreading pink and pale pink hydrangeas, architectural ferns, fuchsias and my favourite late flowering Begonia grandis subsp. evansiana with its heart-shaped leaves and pale pink flowers to come, look strong and handsome against the golden Cotswold stone.


courtyard 2hydrangea cornercourtyardbegonia evansiana closeThe entrance Courtyard, Hidcote Manor, with hydrangeas, ferns, Magnolia Delavayi and fuchsias with Begonia grandis subsp. Evansiana

The original courtyard was apparently of a rather severe stone but Johnstone softened the entrance by using mostly gravel – but adding this lovely narrow brick detailing to mark the edges of the borders:

lovely skinny brick edge

Brick detailing marking the edges of the entrance borders

Elsewhere in the garden there are some other fine examples of hard landscaping – a path made with broad circular flagstones, a very fine set of curved steps and a lovely winding path made of rough square cobbles.

path of circlesPath with circular flagstonesarts and crafts stepsFIne curved Arts and Crafts steps
hydrangea villlosa and pathWInding path made of rough, square cobbles

There is huge pleasure taken throughout the garden in the colour green. In the Bathing Pool Garden, the brilliant pea green of the pool water is set against the velvety green of the immaculately clipped yew hedge and archway:

yew and pondgClipped yew and brilliant green pool in The Bathing Pool Garden

At the base of the yew hedge there are soft contrasting greens of ferns, hostas and aruncus:

hosta and fern
Ferns, hostas and aruncus

There is a completely calm ‘Green Circle’, empty but for more clipped yew, overspilling Vitis coignetiae – which will turn a vivid claret – and a blue green bench:

bench yew vitis coignetieaThe Green Circle

A beautifully grown wall of the unsurpassable evergreen, shade-loving climber Pileostegia viburnoides:

IMG_0655Pileostegia viburnoides

A deep green ‘Pillar Garden’ – pillar after pillar of yew glimpsed here through the brown-green fringe of a hornbeam gateway:

columns

View through to The Pillar Garden

And my favourite moment in the garden, a pair of electric green tree peonies against another yew arch:

tree peony against yewIMG_0649

Electric green tree peonies against a yew arch – the parallel beds in front are filled with the powerfully vanilla scented Heliotropium ‘Lord Roberts’ .

Elsewhere the garden is filled to the brim with colour. The Old Garden – banked up high with hydrangeas and phlox reminds me of the exuberant relaxed sense of plenty at Gravetye Manor (see also my April 2014 post, ‘How to Get and A* for Your Garden’).

exuberancegVibrant colour in The Old Garden

Everywhere you look there is an energy and an invitation to explore further. There are buddleja flowers sprouting over rooftops, winding paths leading you on, delectable carmine and white lilies against lime green ferns, and entire borders of orange lilies, lipsitck pink phlox and salmony pink diascia.

IMG_0652
rich pathwaycolumn rowlily and fern establishlily and fernpink and orangeIMG_0694Vibrant colour at Hidcote

The renowned Red Border – although rather formally fenced off when I visit – looks subtle and inviting:

long red avenueday lily and cotinus

The Red Border: a detail of brick red day lilies, a dark red Cotinus and Stipa gigantia

The famous Gazebos, built by Johnstone in 1917, are a brilliant structural device, and the quality of materials, from the soft roof tiles to the antique Delft tiles in the interior, are timelessly covetable:

roofIMG_0720tilesRoof and interior details of one of the Gazebos

As I leave – neglecting whole sections of the garden, including The Wilderness, the Beech Allée, Lime Arbour and the unique Alpine Terrace – a stand of brilliant blue Aganthus against a yellow stone wall makes me smile with its sheer midsummer enthusiasm.

agapanthusAgapanthus against yellow wall

Just beyond the garden gates I walk under the heavily laden branches of a magnificent yellow-berried Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’. A cheery foreshadowing of the Autumn that is just around the corner and one last addition to my Hidcote inspired wish list.

xanthocarpumViburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’








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RETURN TO BRYAN’S GROUND

REVISITING A FAVOURITE ROMANTIC GARDEN IN MIDSUMMER  – HAVE WE MISSED THE LATE SPRING MAGIC?

APPLWE TREE AVENUWI have just returned from a works outing (well an end of project trip with my garden design partner, Helen ) to the Welsh Marches.   Top of our list of gardens to visit was a return to Bryan’s Ground near Presteigne in Herefordshire – three acres of intimate garden rooms and arboretum around a yellow painted 1912 Arts and Crafts House. The garden at Bryan’s Ground has been developed for the last twenty years by David Wheeler (publisher of the distinguished gardening quarterly, Hortus ) and artist and garden designer, Simon Dorrell.

The approach to Bryan’s Ground is elegant but initially subdued – a slightly after the party feeling.  The Amelanchier leading to the ‘Parking for Motors’ is in its most restrained phase – post blossom and bronze leaf and pre autumn fire:

Iamelanchier avenue

The Amelanchier lamarkii lined drive – in its quietest phase

The front of the house, cloaked in Hydrangia petiolaris, and protected by solemn heavyweight sentries of giant, shaggy Prunus lusitanica, is looking shadowy and ripe almost for a the opening of a darker fairy tale:

LUSH LUSITANICA

And the famous grid of 25 different apple tree which emerge from mown paths, each tree surrounded by a private sea of blue anemone, followed by Pheasant’s Eye narcissus, followed by  show-stoppingly dense planting of the slender, pale blue Iris sibirica ‘Perry’s Blue’  – is now quietly lush.

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Drifts of Iris sibirica ‘Papillon’ – image from patient gardener.wordpress.com

apple tee grassBut it does not take long to warm us up. Looking more closely, the planting around the apple trees is now laced with pale pink field geraniums and softly fluttering tall grasses are now taking over as quieter, paler stars amongst the stiffer stems of the flowered iris.

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There is a handsome new entrance archway to frame the arrival to the house via the orchard :IMG_4343

Entrance into the front garden at Bryan’s Ground

The archway has been built, beautifully, sturdily in the same handsome Dutch/Herefordshire vernacular as the ‘dovecote’ which lures you to enter the main part of the garden.

view sulking house

The Dovecote

The Dovecote has it all – which is when you remember why this is a garden of inspirational confidence and charm. It is a focal point from and axis into three sides of the garden  – each with its own flavour – and what is most covetable, perhaps, is that on the first floor there is a small dining room with idyllic views onto the Welsh Marches beyond.

The dovecote takes you through to a parade of formal topiary (albeit sweetly coexistng with leggy pink geraniums which lounge about freely throughout the garden) and acts as a handsome backdrop to the dense green of the yew and the softly planted steps – about to be set ablaze by Crocosmia

longer view side 2side two sulking houseThe steps here are about to be set ablaze by Crocosmia

And then you are finally let loose into the principal ‘Sunk Garden’

BEST TEASEL AND MAIN TERRACE

The Sunk Garden

For a moment I look back to see the dovecote nestling happily in stands of campanula and draped in roses.  No need to worry about missing the iris moment – which is brilliant and absolutely worth making a pilgrimage to see – the new midsummer fairy tale version of Bryan’s Ground is just unfolding.

side 3 sulking houseThe Dovecote with roses and Campanula

And I have two new loves in my life: the statuesque pointiness of fresh green teasel (Dipsacus fullonum):

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Self seeded teasel and foxgloves against topiary hawthorn

– and the endlessly forgiving romantic haze of quantities of green fennel:

sulking house in sea fennel

The Dovecote nestling in a haze of topiary and fennel

TEASEL LAVENDAR FENNEL

fennel, teasel and lavender

stchys daisy and fennelGreen Fennel, Stachys byzantina and daisies

The wild self-seeding generosity of these two plants works so well, of course, because of the the dark solidity of the topiary it is dancing between:

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Green fennel dancing between structural forms of hebe and yew

Every so often there are joyous rockets of super high foxgloves in the mix:

lightness of quicksilver

And throughout the garden the silvery, deliciously scented shrub Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ is planted to add contrast and a shimmering brightness to the palette of greens:

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Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’

In one corner of the Sunk Garden there is a wonderful rather medieval monster-head wall of yew with a wonky sliver of an entrance to tempt you furhter in:

fab monster head opening

Above all this is the generous loggia where you can sit and eat spiced apple cake and idly imagine for a moment that this is your own. The path back to the Dovecote is splendidly narrow with overspilling plants:longer view side 3

 Or you might choose to have your tea under a voluptuous swoop of pineapple broom (Cytisus battandieri) whose vivid yellow flowers are almost intoxicatingly pineapple scented:

PINEAPPLE AND BENCH

Bench under gorgeous headily scented pineapple broom

And then the garden is calm again. Lime Alley on June 23rd 2014 is a shaded walk flanked by a quietly frothing carpet of Alchemilla mollis:

lime avenue

Lime Alley

In the spring, Lime Alley is singing with orange tulips, acid yellow Euphorbia polychrome and rich yellow azaleas but now it is calm and ordered, a perfectly judged break between the exhilarating Sunk Garden and the other midsummer rooms to come.

What really impresses me as I move around the garden is the simplicity of the planting – large quantities of astrantia and Geranium psilostemon:

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Geranium psilostemon and astrantia

IMG_4271knautia macedonica and pink geranium

There are lovely walks through shades of pink with classic columns of yew for structure:long view psilostemon yew

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–  And yet there is a constant supply of surprise and invention too.

There are sudden bursts of a new colour to keep you on your toes:SURPRISE BLUE AND CLARET

Aconitum and Cotinus amongst the pinks

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Angelica gigas and Cotinus

A gently shabby archway of recycled materials adds a layer of quirky grandeur to the cottage garden planting:

home made arch

Archway of recycled materials

And then as you turn the corner, the palette changes completely.  FIrst to rich dusky blues and purples:

ACANTHUS AND CLEMATIS

Acanthus and clematisIMG_4287

And round again to a corridor of pale yellows and silver
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Phlomis russeliana a key plant in this corridor of yellow and silver

There is the cool quiet of the Canal:
dog canalThe Canal

and the wonderful formal garden with pool – first glimpsed tantalisingly, of course, through an opening in a hedge:

ARCH TO POND

Pond glimpsed through hedge opening

Again we have missed the further swathes of Iris sibirica and what must have been a delicate knee-high forest of aquilegia in May. But the scene, here immaculately framed by a stilted hornbeam hedge and viewed from a perfectly place bench, is wonderfully restful.

POND THRU STILITSThe pond seen through the elegant limbs of a stilted hornbeam hedge

I love the license a plant has to self seed in this garden:

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carpet of Aquilegia seedlings under stilted hornbeam hedge

As we move away from the garden and enter the Cricket Wood – a still growing collection of specimen trees and shrubs started in 2000 – we are aware again of the intensity of a particular moment in an area of planting. In early spring there are hundreds of bulbs in the woodland, later scented walks of viburnums and the fragrant yellow azalea, Rhododendron luteum and many of the trees are specially selected for the strength of their autumn colour. But for now the palette is subtle and beginning to fade and bleach into high summer.

The transition from garden to woodland is marked by a lovely tree-fringed area dominated by a stunningly beautiful Cornus tree – I think it is ‘Norman Hadden – with pink tinged white bracts. The Cornus is underplanted with swathes of palest pink astrantia and dashes of richer pink Martagon lily:CLOSE UP MARTAGON COTONEASTER CORNUS CLOSE UP

Cornus – probably  ‘Norman Hadden’ HELENGenerous swathes of palest pink astrantia in dappled shade

CLOSE UP ASTRANTAIA MARTAGONAstrantia and Martagon Lily

Within the wood itself there is a perfect tin-roofed house which looks increasingly fit for a fairytale the further you wander away from it and deeper into the woods:IMG_4414

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The long softly planted avenues will take you to treasures such as a fine crumple-leaved medlar:

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a gorgeous Cornus kousa var. chinensis:

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and a cloud of light-catching bronze cotinus amongst its towering silvery neighbours:

COTONEASTER IN WOOD

Much grown since the last time we visited is The Mezquita  – a grid of bird cherry trees (Prunus avium) inspired by the onyx and marble columns of the the Mezquita in Cordoba. This had looked rather stiff and organised when we visited a few years ago but it is now a wonderful sturdy forest of slim-trunked trees which frame the view in every direction and offers a delightful place to sit:

IMG_4427The Bird Cherry ‘Mezquita’

CLOSE UP CHERRIES

 ripening fruit of the Bird Cherry

IMG_4440An enchanting place to sit

The planting around Strongacre Pool at the edge of the Cricket Wood is particularly lovely.  Papery pale and delicate with a boathouse to add to your dreams.

BOAT HOUSE POND VIEW

The Cabin at Strongacre LakeSOFT PALETTE BY PNDThe delicate palette of plants at the water’s edge

As you walk away from the boat house the little building seems to be floating in a sea of dusky pink grass.

BOAT HOUSE

The Cabin at Strongacre Lake

I should not have worried for a moment that missing the irises would mean missing the magic of Bryan’s Ground.IMG_4433









MATISSE: THE CUT OUTS AND THE GARDEN AT PETERSHAM

HENRI MATISSE AT TATE MODERN AND A JOYOUS LATE SPRING BORDER AT PETERSHAM HOUSE

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Matisse in his studio working on his Cut-Outs – from Issue 31 Tate Etc Magazine.

What would you wear if you were a beautiful young woman, already living with Picasso, and about to be introduced to the older artist, Henri Matisse, who you regard as ‘God’?

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Françoise Gilot holding a red gladiolus, photographed by Gjon Mili, 1948.

There is a wonderful series of interviews in the latest edition of Tate Etc magazine which celebrates the uplifting Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition at Tate Modern. I loved discovering that the young woman in question, Françoise Gilot, decided on her outfit with knowing precision: “I remember very clearly that I dressed in almond silk trousers and a mauve silk top, because I knew he liked those colours”.

The choice hit the spot and during the course of their subsequent friendship Matisse drew and corresponded with Gilot, relishing the disconcerting impact his attention had on the the ten year junior, Picasso.   In the same interview Gillot gives a riveting description of watching Matisse make an abstract portrait of her in 1947.

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Henri Matisse’s gouache cut-out Abstract Portrait of Françoise Gilot (1947).

“He got hold of a sheet of paper, painted bright green and a piece of magenta paper and considered the shocking clash of these two colours and the sobering effect that would be achieved by the addition of a black shape”.  Initially Matisse was frustrated with the black shape he had made for the bottom right of the piece. “The whole composition looked too even, a bit dull …with his gigantic scissors he began to reduce it mercilessly until it became quite small and sharp edged.  All the prettiness had been eliminated but in the process of miniaturisation, the energy had been maximised … it was perfect”.

And so to gardens.  Even if they are never able to come near the perfection of one of these masterful works on paper or in glass – and the stability of a completed artwork will always elude the gardener – the best plantsmen are forever thinking deeply about the elements they work with. The challenge is constant: how best to balance shape and colour, form and texture and the impact of a small amount or large amount of one colour on a small amount or large amount of another.

establishing shot double border

The 150 foot long double border at Petersham House, Petersham.

The garden at Petersham House, reached via the delectable Petersham Nurseries, was open for the National Gardens Scheme one Sunday at the end of April and will be open again on June 1st as part of the Petersham Village Open Gardens, as well as on Sunday 20th July for the NGS. The double borders were originally designed by landscape architect Helen Dooley and have been gently adjusted over the years by the Head Gardener, Rosie Bines. They  are a wonderful example of exuberant spring planting and a skillful and inspiring approach to colour, form and texture.

The long borders at Petersham House lie beyond the slightly severe lawned garden with its handsome topiary chess piece like shapes emerging from columns of yew:

unfinished topiary

Unfinished topiary shape
finished topiary

and a complete topiary shape.

The shapes work best when viewed together with Petersham Church beyond – balancing its handsome curves and domes:
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Petersham Church and the garden of Petersham House.

For a moment I am distracted by piece after piece of covetable antique garden furniture which is beginning to feel at home amongst bowers of rambling roses and enclosures of clipped yew – and one cannot fail to be distracted of course by the watchful Anthony Gormley sculpture standing quietly on the grass.

gormley

Serpent bench in bower with Anthony Gormley sculpture.more gorgeous benchesone of a pair of covetable curvaceous dining benches in a yew enclosure.

But your heart really starts to race when you step through the gates beyond which the borders have been doggedly trying to catch your attention from the moment you arrive. The colours are rich and gorgeous against a classic framework of tightly clipped dark yew hedges and wonderful bold buttresses of rounded yew – and the balance changes constantly:

IMG_3208 (5)Fiery orange heads of Euphorbia grifitthii ‘Fireglow’ glow against the acid yellow of a different Euphorbia.

IMG_3196Dark tulips, pointed buds of Nectaroscordum siculum and subdued foliage of Macleaya Cordata.

Using yew as a dark background in a garden has the same ‘sobering effect’ on bright colours as black does for Matisse – it both subdues and energises:

thalictrum against yew

Fluffy, pale pink Thalictrum aquilegiifolium against yew.crocosima against yewSword shaped leaves of Crocosmia and Tellima grandiflora against yew.rheum characias yew

A spectacular combination of Rheum palmatum, bluebells, red tulips and Euphorbia against yew.

In another Tate Etc interview, Jacqueline Duhême, Matisse’s assistant from 1947-49, described how Matisse, worked on the design for the stained-glass windows for the Chapel of the Rosarie in Vence: he would lay down piece after piece of coloured paper until he had obtained the right “density that still let the light shine through.”

IMG_0003Jaqueline Duhême standing in front of designs for the Tree of Life stained-glass window for the Chapel of the Rosary, Vence.

imagesDisplay from ‘Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs’ showing the range of colours Matisse was using.

Of course, working with plants, it is only in the more theatrical – and ultimately artificial – context of a flower show that this sort of immediate creation of an entire picture can take place. Visiting the RHS Chelsea Flower Show during the build stage last week, we chatted with wonderful plantswoman Chris Marchant of Orchard Dene Nursery about whether or not Cleve West would add a scattering of orange poppies to his already beautiful M&G garden.  A delicate sugar pink annual poppy was working brilliantly amongst the shimmering green-blond stems of Stipa gigantea, purple honesty and pale yellow evening primrose:

pink poppy

How would the richer note of the orange poppies, still in their trays at the side of the garden affect the whole picture?

I am finishing this blog after spending the day at Chelsea and the answer is that, in the end, the decision was to go for both pale pink and orange-red poppies.  The deep orange poppies offer a dash of fire which has a powerful, intensifying effect on the gentler tones of the surrounding plants.

orange poppy 2

Part of Cleve West’s M&G Garden, RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014 – with orange-red poppies at the centre.

Away from the show garden most plant choices have to be made months or years before they will be required to work together. Here at Petersham the planning and weighing up of possibilities is bearing fantastic fruit.

The parallel idea of using a flash of crimson as a source of contrasting energy has worked brilliantly:

Tulip and RheumRed tulip against giant Rheum palmatum foliage.
the red tulipA single red tulip glows like a light bulb against blues and claret.

Elsewhere the pale green bell-like flowers of Tellima grandiflora add light and grace to the planting throughout the border.

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Tellima grandiflora 
tellima amongst camssaia
Tellima grandiflora adding a lightness to Camassia.

And the clever use of the diminutive rusty flowered Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’ adds depth and a deft subtlety to the planting:

dark euphorbia

Euphorbia dulcis  ‘Chameleon’ adding depth to lilac honesty and tulips.

The swathes of vivid blue Camassia have a surprisingly powerful effect on the surrounding colours – the coolness of the blue somehow makes the contrasting colours sing more loudly:

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I am reminded again of Jacqueline Duhême’s recollection of her time assisting Matisse: “there was always one colour that would make the others come to light and for Matisse it was usually blue that made the yellows, oranges and reds brighter”.

At Petersham this late spring border is full of signs of the way the garden is about to change. This rounded oriental poppy bud is on the verge of bursting open into a ball of colour:

IMG_3211_2 Bud of oriental poppy.

Torch-like shrubs of alternating claret and bright green Cotinus parade up the borders – their leaves growing daily and the pool of colour they provide getting bigger and having more influence day by day:torches of cotinusCotinus shrubs parade up the borders.

And the lush green leaves of Crambe cordfolia, which for now sit so demurely at the feet of the handsome yew acorns, will soon spin out into such huge airy clouds of white flower that for a while you will barely be able to squeeze past. The picture is about to change completely.
crambe

Crambe cordifolia leaves (left) at the base of a topiary yew acorn.

I make my way back from this private garden to the public Petersham Nurseries – back through a lovely ornamental potager with pale wigwams of papery silver birch:

kitchen garden 1Silver birch plant supports underplanted with herbs and narcissus.

I pass a wonderful small fleet of fat terracotta pots each housing a greedy artichoke plant.

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It is a delight to see a young chef darting around the kitchen garden collecting flowers of borage, thyme and chives to use in the cafe and restaurant:IMG_3257 And I love the way that tulips and cow parsley are growing together with the culinary herbs:IMG_3262Purple sage with tulips and cow parsley.

Next to the garden gate is a luscious patch of blousy peach coloured tulips, Tulipa ‘La Belle Epoque’. I absolutely want some of these to plant next September.

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Tulipa ‘La Belle Époque’

I chat on the way out to Rosie Bines.  I tell her how much I admire her work and she tells me that she likes my favourite, ancient, tomato-soup coloured gardening mac.  I am glad, obviously, that I had worn something that more or less suited the garden …

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My tomato-soup coloured gardening mac.

On the pin board above my desk I have a beautiful Matisse touchstone: a postcard of a black cut-out leaf against mint green from the Royal Academy Matisse exhibition of 2005:

matisse leaf

Next to it is a photograph of my idea of the ultimate swimming pool –  the pool at the hotel, La Colombe D’Or in St Paul de Vence in the South of France.  It is, of course, the perfect place to stay if you want to visit Matisse’s Vence Chapel in person.

Everything comes together: the blocky deep green of tightly clipped Cypress – sobering, balancing –  and the exuberant yellow of the mimosa which is made made more heady and electric by the richness of the blue sky.

pool

The swimming pool at La Colombe d’Or.