Tag Archives: Hidcote Manor

THE SWEET INTENSITY OF SHAKESPEARE’S GARDENS

INTOXICATING SPRING GARDENS FROM STRATFORD-UPON-AVON TO SOUTH LONDON  

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage Garden – a sculptural philadelphus ‘tree’, a sweet-scented riot of tulips and new perennial foliage

Charles Rutherfoord’s headily fragrant South London garden – a sculptural laburnum tree, a border of stepover apples and brilliantly coloured tulips

I have badly wanted to visit the houses and gardens of Stratford-upon-Avon since reading Frank Lawley’s inspirational book on the making of his exquisite Northumberland garden, Herterton (see my October 2015 blog post).

For Frank and his wife Marjorie, the gardens at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage  and Mary Arden’s Farm triggered an understanding, a recognition even, that a relaxed, abundant style of planting, anchored by architectural trees and shrubs, was just the kind of intimate, uplifting garden they wanted to create. (Anne Hathaway became Shakespeare’s wife, and Mary Arden was his mother).

‘Perhaps our greatest discovery was in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was not the river nor the theatre but the entrancing group of places belonging to the  Shakespeare Birthplace Trust . Following signs through the suburban edges of the town, dodging traffic, a long stretch of clipped hawthorn hedge … confronted us. Along the pavement beside it, a crocodile of Japanese visitors was approaching this English shrine that is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage … the garden planting was unsophisticated: here were the daisies, thrift and pinks we knew.  The house border had clipped yews and ivy and the profuse white rose, Rosa alba.  

And three miles away another long old farm, Mary Arden’s House, stood closely beside its lane. Just inside its low wall, warmly furnished with red valerian, there was just space for a very organic thin parterre. The box was well cut, but it had long forgotten any concept of horizontal tops and matching vertical sides. It bulged and spread, denying any entry by path. An odd delphinium was trapped inside. The very narrow house border had topiaries shrubs, this time with clouds of the old pink and purple ‘everlasting’ sweet pea.’

Herterton House Garden – bulging hedges and tousled planting

At last, dreaming of bulging hedges and tousled native flowers, I head off to Stratford at the end of April. It is a bit of a jolt to arrive at Shakespeare’s New Place and be greeted by immaculate stretches of hard landscaping, a glittering ‘Tempest’ themed galleon, and shiny bronze raised beds with primary coloured pennants representing all thirty-eight of Shakespeare’s plays.

       The Golden Garden, Shakespeare’s New Place, with pennants representing Shakespeare’s                                                           thirty-eight plays

But this is just the beginning. I am nearly down with one blow at the sight of the monumental bronze tree ‘bent under the force of Shakespeare’s power of imagination’, with its tortured branches hovering over a potent looking ‘celestial sphere’.

The bronze tree ‘bent under the force of Shakespeare’s imagination’

But then I listen more attentively to the historian from the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust and realise that I have made the same mistake as many visitors. Shakespeare’s New Place is the site of the extensive house and grounds Shakespeare bought for his family and lived in from 1597 until his death in 1616, but the house itself no longer exists. The building we take to be Shakespeare’s house is in fact Nash’s House, the home of Thomas Nash who married Shakespeare’s granddaughter. New Place was, rather astoundingly, demolished by a Rev. Francis Gastrell who, on buying the house in 1753, became so infuriated by visitors asking to see the mulberry tree reputed to be planted by the bard that he cut the tree down in 1758 and knocked the house down the following year, much to the fury of locals and worldwide admirers alike.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust was established in 1847, following a campaign with vigorous support from luminaries such as Charles Dickens, to save Shakespeare’s home for the nation and is now custodian of an enormous world class collection and archive. To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death the garden at New Place has been given a substantial and – despite my initial sense of surprise – deeply thoughtful overhaul. Archeological investigations have established  for the first time the footprint of Shakespeare’s house and outbuildings and these are discreetly marked out in elegantly engraved bronze strips. Every element is a tool for story telling to make the past come alive. I loved discovering that the feisty Anne Hathaway ran her own successful malting business from buildings in what is now the Great Garden.

Engraved bronze strips embedded in the paving mark the footprint of Shakespeare’s house, barns and outbuildings

A circle of pleached English Hornbeam marks the position of the house, offering a fitting structure and the feeling of shelter for a set of magnificent curved oak benches – space to sit for some of the 825,000 visitors each year to the Trust’s properties. The benches were made with the help of local students by Warwickshire cabinet maker Armando Magnino.

A circle of pleached hornbeam offers structure and shelter to a set of magnificent locally made curved oak benches

Glyn Jones – whose immaculate pedigree includes working alongside Penelope Hobhouse at the seventeenth century Tintinhull and many years as Head Gardener at Hidcote – has been appointed as Head of Gardens. He has five Stratford Gardens in his care: Shakespeare’s Birthplace, New Place, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Mary Arden’s Farm and Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter, Susannah, and her husband Dr John Hall which is to have a newly designed physic garden. He admits that the gardens have become a little too uniform over the years and he has plans to develop their individuality and to encourage creativity and experimentation.

Wisteria against the soft red brick walls of Nash House

Despite the demanding scale of his brief, you cannot fail to have faith in a man who looks with fatherly tenderness at the imposing elegance of the pleached hornbeam and describes his relief that each tree has come happily into leaf this spring as they were seed grown and as such there were ‘no guarantees’. He offers a similar almost wistful concern for the long established mauve wisteria trained in a happy tangle against the soft red brick of Nash’s House.  ‘That’s Chinese Wisteria,  Wisteria sinensis.  Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) would have been a better choice – it is more fragrant and comes into flower later and so is less likely to be hit by frost’.

For me, the New Place garden gets really interesting in the next section where a newly renovated Sunken Knot Garden lures the visitor on with its subtle order and soft tapestry of santolina, hyssop, thyme, standard roses and dusky Tulip ‘Queen of Night’.

The Sunken Knot Garden at Shakespeare’s New Place

Paths have been unobtrusively widened for full disability access and the original arched ‘bower’ which runs down one side – a sort of rounded pergola – has been lovingly rebuilt in oak and the old crab apples (some 100 years old) carefully repositioned over their new frame.

The fine new oak Bower with openings for benches from which to look onto the Knot Garden

The walls and fences on the other three sides of the Knot Garden are clothed, as befits the archetypal knot garden, in productive plants and every detail is beautifully arranged. I love the way the spreading wall-trained fig is lushly underplanted with a simple combination of silvery-blue iris and inky tulips.

The Knot Garden wall clothed in a fan trained fig underplanted with iris and tulips

Euonymous japonicus ‘Green Rocket’ has been used with great success instead of box to mark out the shapes and edges of the knot garden. ‘It is not as tight as box’ admits Glyn ‘but it looks very good’. Garden designers have become reluctant to specify box for new gardens because of the blight which has ravaged so many European and now New Zealand and US gardens, and long established gardens such as Sissinghurst are growing stocks of this kind of Euonymous as a back up should the worst happen. However, the cheerful neatness of this ‘Green Rocket’ encourages me to suggest a knot garden – or at least formal evergreen edging – the next time an opportunity arises.

Euonymous japonicus ‘Green Rocket’ (with thyme above) providing a smart bright green edging to the Sunken Knot Garden, New Place

As I am mulling over elaborate possibilities for creating my own intricate Elizabethan knot garden, I have the rug pulled again from under my feet when I learn that the original Sunken Knot Garden at New Place was only installed in 1922. It is clear that Shakespeare was familiar with knot gardens – there is a ‘curious knotted garden’ in Love’s Labours Lost and in Richard II the whole of England is described as a garden in a state of neglect: ‘the whole land/Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up/Her fruit trees all unpruned, /Her knots disordered, and her wholesome herbs/ Swarming with caterpillars’…  But it was an eminent Edwardian garden historian, Ernest Law who set about designing ‘a sunken parterre’ for New Place, convinced that the addition of a historically accurate garden of the kind  Shakespeare would have known would be an important and illuminating addition. The Trust has in its collection an original copy of Thomas Hill’s ‘The Gardener’s Labyrinth’, regarded as the first English gardening book, which has detailed guidance and templates for the shapes of knot gardens Law could have used. But, as Roy Strong sets out in his 2016 book ‘The Quest for Shakespeare’s Garden’ (which I have to tell you, includes a well observed and very funny chapter on Lucia’s ‘Shakespeare’s Garden in E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia), Ernest Law was  ambitious for something special.  As well as drawing inspiration for ‘balustrades of Warwickshire elm’ and a  ‘dwarf wall, of old fashioned bricks – hand-made, sun-dried, sand-finished’ from Thomas Hill’s work, he sourced his four knot designs from ‘Mountaine’, ‘Gervase Markham’s ‘Country Housewife Garden’ (1613) and William Lawson’s ‘New Orchard and Garden (1618). Donations for the Knot Garden included plants from major UK botanic gardens plus four standard roses from different members of the Royal Family to stand at the centre of each square. The garden is notable as the first attempt at recreating a historic garden and opened the door to Garden History as a rich and revelatory subject.

An illustration from Thomas Hill’s The Gardener’s Labyrinth showing a hand pump for watering

Roy Strong’s ‘The Quest for Shakespeare’s Garden’ published for the 400th year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death

Finally to the Great Garden – an acre and a half of lawn, spreading mulberry trees (more stories – for another time perhaps) and 295 feet of tremendous bulging yew hedges!

Tremendous bulging yew hedges and buttresses at New Place

Unsurprisingly perhaps, these hedges are another test for the lens through which we view historic gardens. Despite the great age suggested by the uneven, spreading bulk of these glorious stretches of yew, with their substantial buttresses marking out broad beds for herbaceous plants, they were in fact only planted in the 1920’s, and the shape of the borders was developed with advice from the great Edwardian plantswoman Ellen Willmott. The hedges were also crucial in Ernest Law’s eyes to hide the formal  Victorian cast iron railings that ran the length of the garden and were doing nothing to help bring a Tudor garden to life. Head of Gardens, Glyn Jones eyes up the hedges and explains that they would have first lost their crisp, ordered shape during the Second World War when the gardeners went off to fight. He wonders for a moment (with a Hidcotian glint in his eye?) if the correct thing to do would be to restore them to their original 1920’s proportions. Horror! For me – and clearly for the rest of the group – the hedges as they are now are a key pleasure of New Place and help the gardens feel anchored and settled despite the great bustle that goes on all around them.

The garden is suddenly flooded by a group of French school children. I smile at the proprietorial way a girl stands before the hedge they call ‘The Elephant’ to photograph her friends in the cave-like inside. The garden – with its fine hedges – is robust enough to take it.

The garden is suddenly flooded by school children

Taking a photograph of The Elephant

It is a twenty minute walk from New Place to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage at Shottery.  In Shakespeare’s time Shottery was a separate hamlet to which the young eighteen year old would head (Macron-style) to woo Anne who was twenty six. But now it is situated just at the edge of town. You follow a path up to the Cottage with a just- seen Shottery Brook on your left screened by a rather beautiful, unashamedly Ophelia-resonant, living willow fence.
                                      The living willow fence which screens Shottery Brook

It feels rather surreal to be finally arriving at such an iconic place, not least as I realise again that the thing to grasp is the complex layering of time. What we are about to see is a house that would have stood in Shakespeare’s day and a garden that is our 21st Century interpretation of a late Victorian/Edwardian notion of a cottage garden. A more natural look and a celebration of simple native plants had been made popular by the persuasive words of William Robinson in books such as ‘The English Flower Garden’ (1883) and so, when drainage improvements were made to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in the early 1920’s, Ellen Willmott was asked to redesign the garden. You are likely to have heard of ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’ – the silvery sea holly (Eryngium giganteum) named for the imposing plantswoman’s supposed habit of scattering seeds secretly in other peoples’ gardens. How stories turn into other stories: I was rather taken aback to see the entry for Eryngium giganteum on the Chiltern Seed website with the advice that as it is a ghostly coloured plant  ‘grow it and scare your friends!’ …                                             Eryngium giganticum – Miss Willmott’s Ghost

The approach to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Glyn Jones has many plans afoot to invigorate and further sweeten the garden at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. His first idea is to slow down the visitor’s arrival so that instead of seeing the house straight away over the garden hedge, they approach it more slowly – and more romantically – through the orchard. He and his team are already hard at work trying to relax the orchard – the grass has been over-fertilised and needs to be stripped of nutrients and sown with yellow rattle to achieve the mown-paths-through-long-grass look that is as desirable today as it was a hundred years ago. He is letting the surrounding hedges grow loose for the next three years with a view to laying them properly when there is enough new growth.

The Orchard in the grounds of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

There is already a successful programme of vegetable growing using varieties that would have been available in Edwardian times. Nestling into the low hawthorn hedges, they help anchor the cottage in a timeless seasonal pattern.

Traditional vegetables at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

When our group is finally standing before the perfectly thatched cottage with its three broad borders of jewel-coloured tulips emerging from the luxuriant new foliage of herbaceous perennials,  it has just stopped raining and we are all grinning from ear to ear to be amongst this sea of fresh and fragrant colour. Glyn Jones tells us that his team has been taking cuttings from the now tree-like Philadelphus (mock orange) by Ellen Willmott near the house and how they will be echoing her method of blending the ornamental into the wild. She used to plant ornamental shrubs into the hedgerows, at first one shrub every few yards and, as you got further from the house, perhaps one shrub every twenty yards, so that the transition was barely noticeable.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage borders filled with tulips, a tree like Philadelphus now almost as tall as the house

He explains how the Willmott-designed borders are going to be meticulously cleared and replanted one at a time:

The first of three borders lying fallow as it is cleared of weeds before replanting

Glyn wraps up by airing his worry about the tulips: surely they are too much of a muddle, not of the period, too garish? …. There is an outcry!

The riot of tulips and fresh foliage in one of the borders in front of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

My group all love the technicolour buzz of the place and cannot bear the idea of a filter of perfect taste being applied to future plantings.  But caring for this kind of iconic garden, considering what might be historically accurate, respecting the input of other passionate gardeners over the years and leaving room for some contemporary creativity is a demanding balancing act .  I will definitely be back to see the gardens as they are guided into the future by such a fine and thoughtful gardener.

The borders at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage remind me – almost uncannily – of the wonderfully intense garden I have just visited in London.

Charles Rutherfoord’s Garden – an exhilarating, scented kaleidoscope of tulips and step-over apple trees.

Charles Rutherfoord’s and Rupert Tyler’s Clapham garden had an almost identical, giddying impact on the 250 or so  NGS visitors on a late April afternoon. In a private garden, of course, a sense of excitement of entering a different world can be created and enjoyed with utter freedom. I love the way that Charles and Rupert just go for it. This is a celebratory garden where thousands of tulips, voluptuous tree peonies and velvety iris blaze away with abandonment at the back of their sleekly elegant house. The peonies alone make you want to hit the Kelways website to order the voluptuous, rich pink Japanese tree peony ‘Cardinal Vaughan’ as soon as you get home.

Paeonia ‘Cardinal Vaughan’ amongst tulips and irises

I am riveted to discover that – as well as the glowing pink tulip ‘Mariette’ which Charles has planted for the first time and the dark foil of tulip ‘Queen of Night’ – the red and yellow flamed tulips which light up the display are in fact tulips which have just emerged this way – older tulips with a virus. ‘It’s so exciting. Last year there were one or two, now the whole space is filled with them’.

This is a garden that is gardened intuitively by a passionate and knowledgeable plantsman. ‘I only really think about the garden when I am working in it. I move plants around and put them where they feel right. He does not remember consciously arranging the three groups of rich purple iris, but enjoys the fact that they have found perfect places –  two clumps flanking the step-over apple border to the tulip bed and a third clump in a slightly different part of the garden, serving as a comfortable echo.

Paths to take you round the garden are developed in a similar hands-on, organic way with a section of sun-warmed path made from raised sleepers forming a central axis under the yellow glow of a laburnum tree, a handsome path of stone and brick flanked by the stepover apples and mounds of rosemary and new curving path of reclaimed yellow brick lighting up a shady tunnel under the weeping branches of Acacia pravissima.

Hand built paths of railway sleeper, stone and brick paths flanked by apple trees and rosemary  and a curved brick path through a shadier part of the garden

I love the contrast of the painterly feel of the garden with the restrained perfection of the house interior and the way that the garden fills the windows with such generosity.

Painterly view from the top floor of the house – the sculptural, weeping branches of Acacia pravissima in the foreground. The grey leaved tree behind it is Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea’The rear of the garden with a delightful tapestry of Cercis canadensis, Cotinus ‘Grace’ and more flamed tulips

The immaculate, elegant interior of Charles Rutherfoord and Robert Tyler’s house with views through to the abundant garden. House & Garden May 2017 edition, photographs by Michael Sinclair

Euphorbia mellifera is used wonderfully throughout the garden as a relaxed, deliciously honey-scented architectural plant – here with its bronze flowers providing delightful contrast to the ceanothus and borrowed wisteria behind:

And here with the canopy of large specimens lifted so that you can walk underneath and enjoy the light shining through:

There are mounds of acanthus and huge-leaved rosettes of Echium pininana all over the garden which will provide soaring structure later in the season. And everywhere, there is the refreshing use of yellow!  An inherited laburnum tree has been flat-topped so as not to restrict the view from the house and has become is a sunny, sculptural presence at the heart of the garden.

The flat topped Laburnum tree at the heart of the garden

The laburnum lights up the comparatively austere back of the house – and its flat top provides a cheerful tiered staging effect for the theatrical row of dancing tulips on the balcony above.

Laburnum and dancing tulips against the house

Mounds of deliciously scented, paler yellow Coranilla valentina subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’ flank the sleeper path. This is my new favourite must-have plant (after the tree peonies) for its structure as well as its early colour and fragrance:

                       Coranilla valentina subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’ flank the sleeper path (with an already surging echium front right)

And in delightful, shadier spaces, the curving stems and rich yellow lantern-like bells of Brugmansia suaveolens (Angel’s Trumpets) light up the shadows:

Brugmansia suaveolens Angels Trumpets

There is a fine yellow tree peony (Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii ) also just opening in the shade – a less showy tree peony to be remembered for its fine architectural leaves – and a rare yellow, wonderfully fragrant honeysuckle Lonicera ‘Anne Fletcher’ draped over a clever screen made of sleepers which divides the garden and creates a discreet place for a table and chairs:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paeonia lutea var. ludlowii

Lonicera ‘Anne Fletcher’

The clever screen – tall enough to really feel hidden away but light enough to see through – made of railway sleepers

The glass table is the first piece of furniture Charles designed.  He has made many pieces of indoor furniture: it would be fantastic if he would consider making outdoor furniture too. I love this curved oak slatted seat and footstool. Next step a bench in the same elegant, rustic/industrial style?

Oak seat and foot stool designed by Charles Rutherfoord

The garden is full of much loved individual touches. There are exquisite plants Charles has fallen for which intrigue close-up but have a surprisingly easy going presence within the garden as a whole. This finely veined pink camellia for example (which I think is Camellia japonica ‘Lady Vansittart’) or the white-edged purple lilac ‘Sensation’ which billows in soft clouds in one corner of the garden.

Camellia japonica ‘Lady Vansittart’

Lilac ‘Sensation’

And there are covetable pieces of sculpture, my favourite are a pair of stone finials of shooting flames which Charles has placed to frame the view of the garden from the balcony.  I love the simplicity and strength of the flames and their robust stands – they could almost be contemporary but they are Italian Baroque – from a church or bishop’s palace perhaps.

One of a pair of baroque stone finials which frame the view down to the garden

Fascinatingly – and fitting for a story about gardens which have many layers – these finials were used by Cleve West in his 2012 Chelsea Garden and bought by Rupert for the garden when the show garden was dismantled. Cleve West had used them brilliantly at the top of Arts and Crafts influenced gate posts – so when the flames arrived in Clapham the bulbous stands were an added bonus.

Cleve West’s 2012 Chelsea Garden for Brewin Dolphin

Nestled at the end of the tulip border is a rather space age Solardome greenhouse. Inside, on beautiful hardwood shelving (of course), are succulents, pelargoniums and a happy lemon tree with impossibly fat lemons. The centre of the greenhouse is filled with huge containers of dahlias just coming into leaf –  ‘purples and oranges, mostly cactus varieties’. These will replace the tulips for the summer. There is something magical about looking out onto the exuberant garden through the misty geometric panes.
Succulents and a lemon tree in the greenhouse with glimpses of the exuberant garden beyond

How extraordinary to have seen so many centuries of intense English spring garden in the space of just a few days. I could not have done more even with my own time travel machine.

Charles Rutherfoord’s and Rupert Tyler’s Solardome Greenhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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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:

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View through to The Pillar Garden

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

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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.

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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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