Tag Archives: Dan Pearson

TO SISSINGHURST – IN JANUARY – TO ADMIRE THE ROSES

BALLETIC ROSE PRUNING, CRISP STRUCTURAL PLANTING, PREPARING FOR ‘THE EXTRAVAGANCE OF SPRING’img_3305

Immaculately choreographed, pruned stems of Rosa mulliganii against the sky, The White Garden, Sissinghurst.

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Effervescent – also beautifully choreographed, obviously –  Burns Night Haggis Dinner in Peckham given by Jake TilsonJeff Lee and their daughter Hannah Tlison (above).

img_3377The Top Courtyard, Sissinghurst Castle, the walls laced with the curving stems of pruned roses.

I am standing at the entrance to Sissinghurst Castle barely able to keep myself away from leaping over the box hedge and forensically examining the wall ahead of me. It is almost the last day of January. The glowing end-of-winter Burns night festivities are over and after a freezing couple of weeks – down to -7ºC here in Kent – the weather has become milder and there is a feeling that things in the garden are beginning to get on their way. I am with Sissinghurst Head Gardener, Troy Scott Smith, who bends down gently to point out the emerging shoots of peonies –  for now just tiny dashes of carmine red against velvet brown soil. He is describing how it feels to be in the garden at this time of year “There is something nice about a quiet spell.  I think gardens that are open to the public need it. There is something wholesome about that full cycle, the contrast with the extravagance of spring and summer”.

Troy has generously agreed to show me the garden in winter and knows I am dead keen to start with the roses.

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img_3370 img_3371                  The entrance to Sissinghurst Castle, Rosa ‘Alister Stella Gray’ against the brick wall.

To the right of a brick arch there is an eighty year old ‘Golden Rambler’, Rosa ‘Alister Stella Gray’. Peter Beales describes it as ‘ a repeat-flowering Noisette rose with cascading clusters of double, shapely flowers, yellow with ‘eggy’ centres paling to cream and eventually white at the edges. Highly perfumed and producing long, slightly spindly branches ideal for arches and trellises’. It is wonderful to see how carefully and cleverly the rose has been pruned for maximum coverage and softly-falling flowering. Long stems are retained and curved to form softly rounded steps and counter-steps against the wall. There are plenty of the horizontal stems (necessary for maximum flowering),  but the whole system is flowing rather than rigid, as so much rose-pruning tends to end up. These gentle shapes will be entirely achievable (I tell myself) if I look hard enough at these images and use them as a guide next time I head out into the garden with my secateurs ….

I feel a little pressurised to learn that rose-pruning at Sissinghurst is almost over – indeed pruning began on October 15th! The climbing roses against the walls go first – ‘for two reasons: first it is cold and windy high up, second we can clear the beds after pruning at the right time of year.’ Troy uses the classic Nutscene garden twine (in green) and was so frustrated with the flimsiness/garishness of modern vine eyes that he had a mould made of an old one and now a blacksmith keeps the garden supplied with these bespoke chunky vine eyes for the 2mm wires that stretch along the brick. ‘We tend to go twice round the wire and once round the stem of the rose’.img_8605                                                                  Nutscene garden twine.

img_8581             Troy Scott Smith’s handmade vine eyes based on an old example from the garden.

When the roses have been pruned they are given fertiliser (Sissinghurst has its own recipe: 2 parts Sulphate of Potash to 1 part Kieserite), and then a layer of compost – ‘compost is an underrated thing’ sighs Troy – is spread at the base of the plant. Once the buds have started to break in mid March, a fortnightly spraying regime begins – it takes two gardeners two hours to get round the extensive rose collection. There is a wisdom combined with an experimental curiosity in Troy’s approach which I will see again and again over the course of the morning. He will try out different combinations of traditional fungicides and Savona soap solution and regularly sprays with liquid seaweed feed or SB Plant Invigorator (which is new to me and looks impressive) too. ‘We pause for the main flowering period June, July. Last year we did a little bit of an experiment where we didn’t spray a number of roses for the last part of the summer’. The blackspot and rust came back with vigour but he is happy that he has tried.
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SB Plant Invigorator.

Against the entrance arch the octogenarian ‘Alistair Stella Gray’ is not as vigorous as it used to be so instead of trying to get it to stretch over the entire arch it has been ‘retreated’ to one side and a new ‘Alistair Stella Gray’ planted on the opposite side of the arch so that the two can meet.

Ageing plants provide a constant challenge for Troy and his team throughout the garden. In the White Garden there is a famous central arbour smothered in Rosa mulligani .

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Rosa mulliganii in flower.

 In fact, to maintain a spectacular display of this fragrant rose (believed to be the biggest of climbing rose available in the UK), there are now three roses, the original one, a second one planted by the previous Sissinghurst Head Gardener, Alexis Datta, and now Troy has added a third rose – all trained over the iron arbour designed by Nigel Nicholson, with assistance from rose expert Graham Stuart Thomas, when the original rose was at its most vigorous. The pruning regime of the three roses remains the same with the aim of producing spare, dancing ‘living lace’  that stops the heart on this cold winter day and will produce an incredible frothing canopy of white in midsummer.

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img_8408 img_8411 The Rosa muliganii arbour in The White Garden – the stems of the rose are pruned into heartstoppingly beautiful ‘Living Lace’.

Elsewhere in the garden the same looping pruning discipline prevails – against walls, next to a spur-pruned apple tree at the back of the shop, along strong wire to create a stand alone rose ‘fence’ and, looking particularly handsome on this grey January day, against the white clapboard building next to the café:

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The Sissinghurst ‘living lace’ style of rose pruning against walls and fences.

In the walled Rose Garden the shrub roses are supposed to be finished by the end of the week.  There is a rhythmic calm as the team (there are six full time gardeners, two part time gardeners and a number of invaluable volunteers) make their way through the space, pruning and clearing as they go, creating a low creeping world of supple crinolines and elegant towers. The crinolines are created by arching the new, flexible stems into semi-circles and training these onto hazel hoops or ‘benders’ in the ground.

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img_8469           img_3368Shrub roses, trained into Louise Bourgoi-like spider shapes, take over the Rose Garden.

The South facing Rose Garden walls are dizzy with fabulously tangled figs. It is fascinating to see, again, how crucial curves are to achieve the right sort of comfortable fullness when the figs come into leaf. Pruning the figs is a finely judged matter – it takes place as late as possible at Sissinghurst because of the tenderness of the figs. But in a warm spell the leaves break fast so when the moment comes the walls need to be tackled at speed.

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The fabulously tangled wall trained figs – pruning to take place as late as possible.

As we watch the steady transformation of the taller shrub roses from stands of impenetrable shagginess to clearly defined towers with neat scalloped frames, Troy explains his plans to reintroduce an avenue of cherry trees into the Rose Garden. Despite extensive research, it is not known which cherries Vita Sackville-West originally planted so he has decided on the winter flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtella autumnalis) which she is known to have liked and which crucially has a reasonably  light  canopy. Obviously the moment you plant trees in a border there will be a knock-on effect on the planting beneath it … …’The only problem with the winter flowering cherry is that visitors won’t really see it’ he adds with a slightly anxious laugh (giving me a glimpse for a moment of the incredible number of ingredients that must be juggled for every decision made in this world famous, historic garden), but then he is reassured by the fact that the Rose Garden can be seen from the Tower and glimpsed en route to the the newly open-to-the-public South Cottage, both of which are open throughout the winter.

img_8467 img_3367The transformation of a taller shrub rose.

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The compact boards which are used throughout the borders during pruning to protect the heavy clay soil.

As I walk to take in the famous view from the Tower I am reminded that there is one rose in the garden which will not, of course, be pruned until just after it has flowered. The thornless evergreen rambler, Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’, is one of the earliest roses to flower – it has clusters of pale lemon flowers in late spring – and at Sissinghurst it forms a delicate screen of foliage in the central arch which beckons you onwards and which will explode into a haze of yellow later in the year.

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Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ against the arch that separates the Top Courtyard from the Lower Courtyard.

Once at the top of the tower it is a complete pleasure to take in the clean-edged sculptural quality of the yew hedges and the quartet of Irish yews in the garden of South Cottage. If you are ever flagging in your faith in the power of structure in the garden, head to Sissinghurst as early in the year as you can (the entire garden will be open this year from March 11th).

img_3379 img_3381The clean lines of yew hedges especially seen from the Tower.

Within the garden the hedges play a shifting series of roles. Here, tight clipped yew provides ballast and guides the eye firmly into the distance:

img_8488                                     Yew hedges guide the eye firmly into the distance.

Elsewhere the velvet green planes provide a wonderful back-drop to red winter stems or the pale silvery buds of magnolia  :

img_3349img_8570Red winter stems and silvery magnolia buds against velvety green yew.

I love this glimpse of the Herb Garden with pea sticks leaning ready for action against the wooden bench which nestles so comfortably between buttresses of yew. The bleached-out, silvery-mauve aromatic plants remain soft and inviting against the vivid green backdrop.

img_3317The Herb Garden.

Not a hedge – obviously – but this mown path through the damp grass of the Orchard has a surprisingly powerful presence.

img_3310The serene Orchard path.

There is a considerable amount of important box hedging in the garden which carries the usual worries of box in the 21st century – plus particular stylistic concerns for this famous garden.   Troy is tackling the situation in his characteristic surefooted and gently experimental way. In the White Garden he wants to loosen up the low box edging for a more abundant, relaxed feel – ‘I think Sissinghurst became too tidy’ – but at the same time has to balance the more fitting, softer aesthetic with the level of irritation the narrower paths might bring forth from demanding visitors. He is relaxed about the way the expanding hedges are looking a bit rough around the edges as they are allowed to grow. If there is an ailing section of hedge he moves box plants from elsewhere in the garden to fill the gap (he would not consider introducing new box into the garden now) and, in case the worse happens – ‘I have the sad feeling we will have to take all our box out one day’ – he has just brought in a load of Euonymus japonicus ‘Microphyllus’ (the box leaved euonymus) to trial.

img_8416             Box edging in the White Garden – beginning to bulge satisfactorily.

Elsewhere in the garden the Lion Pond at the base of the old Elizabethan wall is brought alive in winter by the vibrant fresh green of some low box hedging.

img_8571The fresh green of a section of box hedging near the Lion Pond gives this area energy at the beginning of the year.

Yew and pleached lime trees are a vital and anchoring combination both at the front of the Castle and at the approach to the Lime Walk from South Cottage.

img_3385Yew hedge and pleached limes at the front of Sissinghurst Castle.

The four Irish yews in the Cottage Garden are incredibly beautiful at any time of year. In this photograph there is the wonderful extra layering of Irish yew with box drums behind and then a clipped yew hedge directly in front of a section of  pleached lime.img_3364              Rich layering of Irish yew, box, yew hedge and pleached lime in the Cottage Garden

The Lime Walk is famous for its immaculate avenue of trained lime trees underplanted with spring bulbs.

img_3323The Lime Walk.

But of course nothing about a garden can stand still and it takes a skilled and subtle gardener to tackle the challenges that the Lime Walk quietly but insistently poses. Troy has changed the pruning regime of the trees themselves – bringing the date forward from August to Midsummer’s Day. This brings more light into the walk itself during the summer and leads to a haze of wonderful ruby growth.

img_3325Deep red new growth on the lime trees a result of midsummer pruning.

He is fond of this effect, but at the back of his mind is a slight worry that this pruning regime may perhaps be weakening the trees. At the same time the branches are becoming altogether too long and a further experiment is taking place – luckily on a shorter stretch of lime trees elsewhere in the garden – to reduce the branches considerably .

Then there are the bulb beds underneath the trees. I can see hundreds of Crocus tommasinianus shoots, but my enthusiasm is quickly checked as Troy explains that the crocus has become ‘so aggressive and spread so well that it outcompetes some of the finer tulips and fritillaries’.  Sections of border are being taken up each year, cleared, sterilised and then the bulbs (which are planted in mixed groups in pots to create as natural an effect as possible as quickly as possible) are sunk into the beds.

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Hundreds of unwanted Crocus tommasinianus shoots in the beds of the Lime Walk.

Then there are questions of opening up the area immediately beyond the Lime Walk so that visitors can stroll down unimpeded to the lake – and how best to do this of course – and beyond the Lime Walk is the Nuttery where the underplanting is also getting out of balance (Troy remembers a lighter, more dancing tapestry of planting when he was here before in 1992-97 ). Added to this, the mostly yellow azalea border across the path is about to be replaced with a much richer palette of azaleas underplanted with brightly coloured polyanthus (which Vita had until 1973) and glamorous peonies and lilies ‘It might be a bit bold in places but you don’t want to be too tasteful’ muses the Head Gardener with a grin.
img_8443                                                   Silhouette of pleached lime against the sky.
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img_8433The Nuttery – the underplanting is under review so that the epimedium seen here for example does become too dominant.

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The Azalea Bank left – about to undergo a 1970’s polaroid transformation.

As well as a host of venerable garden advisors and historians, Dan Pearson comes on a voluntary basis twice a year to act as an advisor and sounding board. I can imagine that these are productive and hugely enjoyable days much appreciated even by the most thoughtful of Head Gardeners..

Before I leave the garden I make a note of the straightforward plants which are looking good even at this time of the year. The blue-grey leaved Euphorbia characias is as always looking fresh and strong – such a great architectural plant that always helps an area of the garden look well furnished and happy.

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Euphorbia characias adding fullness to the spare winter border against the Elizabethan Wall.

At the entrance to South Cottage Mahonia and Helleborus foetidus look bright and fresh, especially perhaps because they are each given a good amount of space in which to shine.

img_8564Mahonia and Helleborus foetidus against the entrance to South Cottage.

One of my surprise favourites is this fine, spikey pair of Astelia chathamica which I admit to never having used, but which looks wonderfully at home with box and rosemary at the base of this aged red wall.

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Astelia chathamica anchoring the entrance border.

One sneaky inclusion in this list is Rosa ‘Meg’ which is also growing at the entrance. It is a rose I have not grown – and which was obviously not in flower! –  but which has, I discover, large, almost single, beautifully waved flowers and a delicate pink-apricot colour, with red-gold stamens. It would look wonderful in a garden with my favourite Rosa mutabilis whose flowers pass through shades of apricot yellow to coppery pink.

15094Rosa ‘Meg’.

Another new discovery is the rare evergreen shrub Distylium racemosum, or Winter-hazel, which is sunning itself on the left of the central Courtyard archway with some Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Sissinghurst Blue’ bursting out at its feet. I have tracked it down to the wonderful Bluebell Nursery where it has a rave review ‘a slow growing attractive evergreen tree from Japan… in spring attractive, small, red Hamamelis-like flowers with lurid purple stakes appear on the older branches’. One for the shopping list.
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Distylium racemosum growing to the left of the Courtyard arch.

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The red witch hazel like flowers of Distylium racemosum. (Photograph courtesy of Bluebell Nursery).

The oldest rose in the garden is the ‘Mme Alfred Carrière’ that covers the front of South Cottage. This was the first thing planted by Vita Sackville West in the entire garden and it is this rose that gets ceremoniously pruned first in the middle of October. I was charmed to discover that Vita had determinedly planted the rose before the couple had actually signed the Title Deeds for the Castle, a sort of guarantee to herself that she was going to make a garden here.

It is a move I might employ myself in some lonely country plot in the coming years. Husband, be warned.
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Rosa ‘Mme Alfred Carriere’ against South Cottage – the oldest plant in the garden.

 

SMITTEN BY THE GARDEN OF THE PETIT PALAIS

SURPRISING GARDENS IN MUSEUM & GALLERIES IN PARIS AND LONDON

IMG_4060 (1)               Petit Palais garden with pool, palm trees and golden swags.

I was so surprised by the iridescent energy of the garden of the Petit Palais when I visited this month that I stayed out much too long taking in the different views, framed here by a pair of heavy leaved palm trees…

IMG_4056Petit Palais Garden  – pool and palm trees

…and here, guided by the upward-sweeping branches of the cherry trees with their copper-brown trunks and rosy haze of grasses behind and electric green eyes of just-opening Euphorbia characias in front.
IMG_4106Petit Palais garden – grasses, cherry tree, euphorbia

It is a freezing, clear-skied January morning in Paris. The vistas are open and enticing, huge expanses of pale grey and blue laced with gold:

IMG_4021              Pont Alexandre III, Paris.

A glimpse through a side-door into the empty cavern of a between-exhibitions Grand Palais gets my heart thumping – I am always happily seduced by the heady potential of a rough studio-like space:
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                                               Side entrance to the Grand Palais. 

Up the steps and through the imposing arch of the gilded Beaux- Arts doorway – The Petit Palais art museum was built in 1900 for the Exhibition Universelle and then completely renovated over four years from 2001-2005 –

IMG_4022Petit Palais entrance.

and then into the sweep of sunlit corridors of this entirely circular building, with towering glass doors and windows in every direction.

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A series of windows overlooking the Seine.

The floors are entirely of mosaic in subtle shades of rust, green, black and mustard against soft white:

IMG_4126Mosiac floor, entrance hall, Petit Palais.

The spacious exhibition halls glide seamlessly into a curved outdoor loggia, with a pair of deep blue and white Sèvres porcelain pots on plinths coaxing you on. The swirling mosaic of the floor is punctuated with lovely circular frosted aqua glass sky lights.

IMG_4035IMG_4043 (2)External loggia, Petit Palais, with a pair of Sèvres porcelain pots on plinths.

Even the curving ceiling of the loggia is decorated with a brown-on-gold trellis festooned with powder blue clematis and pink roses:

IMG_4098The Loggia ceiling, Petit Palais.

Looking back against the interior wall of the loggia, the delicate, punched metal chairs and deep green marble tables add just another layer to the subtle grandeur.

IMG_4050Perfectly judged café chairs and table, Petit Palais.

And then, between the soaring scale of the grey-brown Vosges granite columns, you get your first proper look at the garden.

IMG_4053The Petit Palais garden, framed by Vosges granite columns.

If you look up you see the pale gold swags silhouetted against the sky:IMG_4055

 

 

 

Decorative gold swags silhouetted against the sky

If you look across, out into the garden, you begin to get an idea of the intoxicating lushness of the place.

IMG_4048The lush planting of the Petit Palais garden

This interior courtyard was always intended to provide a breathing place for visitors to the gallery itself. It is a grand but inviting framework for a garden – a deftly designed space with curves and columns of the palest mustard, grey and pink stone, with the deeper tones of the roof tiles and the uplifting gleam of decorative gold.  IMG_4083                                  View along the central axis of the Petit Palais garden.

IMG_4105Curves and columns of the Petit Palais garden.

IMG_4103Close up swirly marble table top and skinny milk-green café chair against strong shapes in pale stone.

It has a fundamental dynamism which invites you in to explore and – enriched by simply brilliant  planting – every view is different.
IMG_4060Palm trees adding structure, gloss and glamour.

I love the mix of tropical plants with grasses and evergreen shrubs and perennials. Palm trees add structure, gloss, glamour and a constant sense of surprise. I have never seen the delicate scattered flowers of the winter flowering cherry Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ against the weighty arching branches of a banana tree, but here the combination works brilliantly, not least perhaps because of the glint of gold peeping through.

IMG_4059Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ against banana leaves.

Tough stalwarts of the shadier garden are employed with confidence and energy. Here the waxy dark green leaves and perky just opening flower buds of Fatsia japonica look fresh and handsome against the golden stone:
IMG_4111                                                        Fatsia japonica, Petit Palais garden.

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Euphorbia characias, Acanthus, Fatsia japonica and Bergenia provide an understory for the deciduous trees.

Elsewhere Euphorbia, Acanthus, Bergenia and Yucca plants combine to make a strong rich green understory for the deciduous trees. I have seen photographs of these cherry trees in spring when their vase-shaped branches are covered in deep pink. This is their moment to swan around outrageously like dancers from the Folies Bergères and I would love to catch the sight for myself.

The other surprising element of the garden is the extensive use of grasses. Here is the most elegant use of pampas grass I know, and the Miscanthus sinensis look graceful and distinguished with their pale fragile heads and rosy winter foliage.

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IMG_4109Grasses, including Pampas grass Cortaderia selloana & Miscanthus sinensis, Petit Palais garden.

On either side of the main steps into the garden there are two magnificent fleets of strapping white-painted Versailles planters filled with handsome specimens of palm tree and Magnolia grandiflora:

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Versailles planters with specimens of palm and Magnolia grandiflora, Petit Palais garden.

I go into the café to warm up and eat an elegant slice of lemon cake with my coffee. “Bon appétit, Madame” says a guard, who is also taking a break. “You must have become very cold out there”. I can barely feel my fingers, but I have had a brilliant half hour. The guard leaves,  bows slightly and wishes me a ‘bonne journée’. I am indeed having a very good day, I think, as I gaze for one more time at the banana leaves and the dancing Miscanthus heads catching the winter light:
IMG_4119Winter heads of Miscanthus sinensis and banana leaves catching the winter sunlight, Petit  Palais garden.

Back in London, I am at the Royal Academy on a glowering January day, a week or so before the opening of its ravishing Painting the Modern Garden exhibition. I am still musing about what it takes to make a successful garden within the walls of a gallery or museum.

IMG_4266Royal Academy, Painting the Modern Garden, 30 January – 20 April 2016.

Clearly one of the main challenges is to create a garden that will look good all year round, often within a very limited space. I head for the Keeper’s House, now a restaurant, café and bar, open to RA friends until 4pm and after that to everyone. Tom Stuart-Smith created a garden here in 2013 in what he describes as ‘one of those curious architectural left over spaces’ with almost no natural light. His aim was to make the garden feel as if it has been dug out of the space with an ‘almost archaeological’ quality.

First glimpses of the garden from the windows of the sophisticated mohair velvet sofas of the Belle Shenkman room are as vibrant and seductive today as they would be in midsummer.

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Views from the Belle Shenkman Room at the Royal Academy onto Tom Stuart-Smith’s garden.

The green of the spreading arms of the 250 year old Australian tree ferns brought into the UK under license is dazzling, and Stuart-Smith is superbly vindicated in his use of his favourite  grass, Hakonechloa macra. In its winter form it is a fiery, eye catching streak which lights up the garden further.

You have to go down a flight of stairs to start climbing back into the garden which is elegantly tiered and tiled throughout in dark brick so that the ground and walls are of the same deep earthy tones. The exuberant tree ferns are accompanied only by the hakonecholoa, the low-growing evergreen shrub Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’, with just two climbers, Trachelospernum jasminoides and Virginia Creeper for the walls and railings. Here, restraining the planting palette is key.

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IMG_4294Ground level views of the Keeper’s House garden, Royal Academy.

When you look up, the energy of the tree ferns is celebratory and infectious.
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IMG_4285Looking upwards, Keeper’s House garden, Royal Academy.

I go back into the gallery and start climbing the stairs. What Tom Stuart-Smith has achieved so cleverly is a garden that delivers from any level in the building. I look down through huge panes of glass from the second floor onto David Nash’s blackened wood sculpture, ‘King and Queen’.  The tree ferns and egg-yolk yellow grass are a wonderful foil for these dark figures. This is a fine platform for art and the Academicians must enjoy selecting work for this space.

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IMG_4297IMG_4299IMG_4296View onto the Keeper’s House garden, Royal Academy, with ‘King and Queen’ by David Nash.

In 2010 my design partner, Helen Fraser, and I were asked to develop a planting scheme for a new garden at the South London Gallery on the busy Peckham Road.  IMG_4258IMG_4261Exterior of the South London Gallery with and without bus

The Fox Garden was a new space that emerged as part of the 6a architects‘ extension of this constantly innovative contemporary art gallery.

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The garden would link the ncafé, NO. 67, with a new building, The Clore Studio, and was flanked on one side by the enormous exterior wall of the main 1891 gallery, and on the other by a tall garden wall.  A much simpler proposition than the Petit Palais or Keeper’s House gardens, but nonetheless a rather unevenly lit garden with the need to look good all year round and to offer change throughout the seasons. The noise and grime of the road outside would increase the sense of surprise when the visitor came across the garden for the first time.slg before 1slg before 2Framework of The Fox Garden – the towering gallery wall with elegant new buildings by 6a architects at either end and a wonderful, sinuous brick path.

Our solution was use tough, hard-working plants which could create an impact for as long a season as possible. The star plant has perhaps been Nandina domestica – or heavenly bamboo – which has thrived here and provides an almost constant succession of white flower sprays followed by red berries:

IMG_4255IMG_4243IMG_4253IMG_4256IMG_4250IMG_1463Nandina domestica – or heavenly bamboo – creating a lush and welcoming atmosphere in The Fox Garden, South London Gallery on a January day.

We have used three flowering dogwoods – Cornus kousa var Chinensis – including a fabulous almost outsize specimen directly outside the café. These illuminate the garden in June, matching the glamour of Paul Morrison’s covetable gilded wall painting in the café atrium, and provide a period of rich autumn colour.

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IMG_5568Cornus kousa var Chinensis – with a close up of the beautiful white bracts which surround the tiny flowerhead.

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Views through to the flowering dogwood from the No. 67 dining room with its exhilarating  Paul Morrison gold mural.

IMG_2229Claret red autumn colour of the Cornus kousa var Chinensis with Lawrence Weiner’s swooping ‘wall sculture’ on the gallery wall, part of his 2014 ‘All in Due Course’ exhibition.

Other repeated plants are Euphorbia characias with its long lasting lime green bracts…IMG_2179                                      Euphorbia characias with its lime green bracts.

…and Libertia grandiflora which we love for its white flowers in May, long lasting seedheads, and year round architectural presence:

IMG_5567IMG_5555Libertia grandiflora which makes everyone smile the garden in May.

The Libertia even makes Heidi smile – Heidi, gardener of The Fox Garden, is of course the secret ingredient:IMG_5543                                        Heidi – The Fox Garden’s secret ingredient.

Happily it seems that gardens within museums and cafés are providing so much enjoyment that there are new gardens in development wherever you look. Right here in the South London Gallery a new garden by artist Gabriel Orozco is slowly emerging to be unveiled in the autumn of 2016.

A couple of miles away at the Garden Museum, next to Lambeth Bridge, Dan Pearson is designing a completely new garden within a substantial extension by Dow Jones Architects.

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 Tradescant Knot Garden, Garden Museum – image thanks to www.culture24.org.uk.

The design has been a challenge, not least because a decision had to be made to lose the knot garden of the existing Tradescant Garden, but Garden Museum director Christopher Woodward tells me ‘Dan has designed a new garden which will try to startle the visitor with unusual shapes and beauties and surprise you with unfamiliar plants … I hope the space with have something of that atmosphere of the Zumpthor-Oudolf pavilion at the Serpentine a few years ago’.

ImageProposed garden café within the new Dow Jones Architects’ pavilions. Garden to be designed by Dan Pearson. Visualisation by Forbes Massie, image courtesy of The Garden Museum.

The Garden Museum is in the safest possible hands with the thoughtful and often magical input of Dan Pearson. The reference to my absolute favourite of the Serpentine Gallery‘s annual summer Pavilions – the 2011 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion designed by architect Peter Zumthor with planting by master plantsman Piet Oudolf  – makes the new garden a tantalising prospect.

I look through my photographs and find only a few hazy images of my visit to this blackened, open-roofed, box-like cloistered garden that landed for a few summer months next to the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. I remember being surprised and deeply cheered by the almost physical pull this hidden garden had on passers-by on a completely beautiful day in an already completely beautiful green space. The contrast between the plain, rather severe building and the planting (which became taller and blousier and more relaxed as the summer wore on) was compelling, and the impact of sunlight and shadows on the space was exciting and dynamic.
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IMG_4521Images of the Piet Oudolf planting within the Peter Zumthor Serptentine Gallery Pavilion, September 2011.

I hope that when it is warm again I will have the chance to return to Paris to visit a museum garden that fell off my list on my recent trip.  The Musée de la Vie Romantique is housed in a green shuttered villa in Montmartre which belonged to the 19th Century artist, Ary Sheffer. It is said to have a lovely garden and outdoor café with poppies, foxgloves and fragrant roses. I read somewhere that it is the perfect place to sit amongst the roses sipping tea and pretend to be Georges Sand who famously lived nearby. Now this is a whole new angle on museum garden visiting.

A piece I have written for The Daily Telegraph on other gardens to visit in Paris will be published in the Spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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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