Tag Archives: loggia



Lush woodland path, Plas-yn-Rhiw estate

It has already been a frantic summer with non-stop gatherings and celebratory toasts. It is the end of school for our youngest son (and the end of an era for us),  our twins have turned 21 and there has been the happiest Gloucestershire wedding – my sister to the learned doctor – who took time out from his gruelling hospital shifts to bake these tiny wedding cakes:

Tiny wedding cakes from my sister’s wedding to the learned doctor

Not surprisingly I am in a somewhat fragile state by the time I find myself on a radiant July evening sitting on a remote grassy slope at the end of the Llŷn Peninsula – known by some as Snowdon’s Arm – in North West Wales.  Accompanied as I am by marvellous and ever patient husband, Nick, I am ready for a little romance myself.

Just stopping for a while to take in the quiet and the view of Porth Neigwl (Hell’s Mouth), Llŷn Peninsula

The garden we have come to see, Plas-yn-Rhiw, has closed for the day moments before we arrive. But although this is frustrating, there is something very sweet – when you are very tired – about converting to a simpler agenda, just raising your face to the evening sunshine and taking in the blue curve of the bay below.

The next morning is heavy with an almost tropical grey sky:

Almost tropical grey sky with view across Hell’s Mouth

But I am excited by the lushness of the ferns in the surrounding woodland  –  I have never seen hart’s tongue fern ( Asplenium scolopendrium) with such long, exuberant fingers – and, by the house entrance, the crocosmia glows neon orange in the eleven o’clock gloom.

Lush ferns – extra-exuberant hart’s tongue ferns below

Crocosmia glow neon-orange in the morning gloom

Plas-yn-Rhiw is a small 17th Century stone manor house built onto a hillside ledge with wonderful views of the sea, entirely surrounded and protected by woodland. In 1816  the house was extended and elegantly glamorised. The roof was raised to add an extra floor, french windows leading onto the garden were cut into the sturdy walls and a slim-limbed Regency veranda was constructed along the facade. But having remained in one family for nearly three hundred years, the house was sold in 1874 and then abandoned in 1922 by the son who inherited it and left to decay.

The rarity of the house and the exquisite nature of its position was noted by the architect  Clough Williams-Ellis who designed the Italianate coastal village of Portmerion (about 50 miles away) and whose own imaginative and stylish garden at nearby  Plas Brondanw is absolutely worth visiting.

Williams-Ellis had tried to get a friend to buy it in the early twenties and wrote passionately about the property as an important example of Welsh rural architecture that needed saving. “To those sailing bleakly across Hell’s Mouth bound may be for the last hospitality of Aberdaron or northwards around North Wales’ land’s end through Bardsey Sound – there is just one spot where the eye may gratefully rest on relative ‘snugness’ and that is where the wooded policies of Plas-yn-Rhiw meet the sea in a little bay. Here, sheltered by the shoulder of its protecting mountain from the tempestuous west, crouches an ancient manor house …its French windows and verandah look out across the wide expanse of Cardigan Bay between its trees and over fuchsias, figs, rhododendrons and azaleas that here flourish so famously that, when I first reconnoitred the (abandoned) place some twenty years ago… the house was buried in a blossoming jungle which also obscured all view of the sea as well as most of the sunlight”.

But, it was in the end three unmarried sisters, Eileen, Lorna and Honora Keating, who, having holidayed on the Llŷn Peninsula since 1919, managed to buy the house and a reduced estate of 58 acres in 1939.

Eileen, Lorna and Honora Keating with thanks to the National Trust Plas-Yn-Rhiw website

There are stories of the garden being so overgrown that the women had to clamber in through a first floor window to view the house. Once it was theirs, the sisters set about restoring the building (a slow process during wartime especially), creating a wonderfully deft and welcoming garden and caring for the surrounding land.

The green and welcoming garden at Plas-yn-Rhiw

As time went by they bought up every available parcel until they had restored the estate to about 400 acres so that it could be protected from development and conserved for wildlife.  They donated the land to the National Trust in 1946 and donated the house itself in 1952.  The youngest sister, Lorna, lived in the house until she died in 1981, but the sisters had opened the house to the public long before. During the restoration process they were keen to unveil the original stonework and the house is filled with (covetable!) old Welsh oak furniture. It looks as if the sisters have just popped out –  there is a fur jacket hanging behind a door, a bottle of lavender scent on the dressing table and a small but serious office where business was clearly attended to with wisdom and thoroughness.

Best of all there are brilliant views – and indeed doors – out of the rooms to the garden. Seeing the garden through the French windows of the main living rooms feels comfortable and completely modern, but every glimpse is tantalising, not least from this small kitchen window out to the ruined and romantically planted outbuildings:

View to ruined outbuildings, Plas-yn-Rhiw

The Keating sisters restored some of the early 19th century outbuildings – there had been stables, a dairy, a threshing shed, coach house and a stone dog kennel – but also, with almost visionary grace, they left many of the buildings as ruins, there to enjoy for the contrast of stone form against living green. There are archways and rough hewn walls brilliantly energised with voluptuous green ferns and the tiny creeping soleirolia soleirolii (the super invasive ‘baby’s tears’) becomes a delicious verdant foil for the handsome cobbles of the courtyard floor.

The handsome cobbled courtyard and ruined outbuildings energised with green

Soleirolia soleirolii weaving its way between rhythmical courtyard cobbles

As always in this kind of mild, watery, West coast terrain, I love the way that green starfishes of Maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) dart across the walls.

Maidenhair spleenwort – Asplenium trichomanes growing happily on the stone walls

There is running water mirrored by prostrate rosemary flowing almost endlessly to the ground.

Prostrate rosemary flowing down the wall like water, Plas-yn-Rhiw

And there are magical views through glassless window openings:

Here the upright forms of Pennywort stand like candles in the window, Plas-yn-Rhiw

There is so much luxuriant green. The ferns that line the walls of The Gardener’s Cottage (which is in the middle of the garden – you can rent it for a holiday from the National Trust see the Plas-yn-Rhiw website) are as big as a medium-sized shrub.

The ferns that line the wall of The Gardener’s Cottage are shrub size

Gentle corridors of dynamic ferns make way for healthy, bulging corridors of deep green box:

Ferns and box line the paths at Plas-yn-Rhiw

A home-made, age-old sort of layering makes walking through the garden a deeply charming experience:

Bulging, layered box hedging surrounds the Kitchen Garden

An apple tree leans into position against cushioning box hedges

The occasional steely mauve of acanthus, pale pink hydrangea and velvety blue of aconitum sing out against the contented sea of green:

Every so often steely mauve acanthus, pale pink hydrangea and rich blue aconitum sing out against the waves of green.

At the top of a box-lined path, a former outbuilding has become an inviting chalky white place to sit:

An inviting loggia has been created from an empty outbuilding

At the front of the garden, cheerily uneven compartments of box hold fiery red crocosmia, steely acanthus and royal blue agapanthus against the milky grey sky and matching sea.

Cheerily uneven compartments of box hold acanthus, crocosmia and agapanthus against the milky sky and matching sea

Finally, round to the elegantly groomed front of the house with its veranda and scalloped beds filled with delicate heads of nicotiana and fuchsia:

The front of the house with Regency veranda. The Gardener’s Cottage is at right-angles

In a corner a Hydrangea aspera in bud falls elegantly over a stone trough. The acanthus to its left and purple sage at its feet share the same silvery-purple tones. You get a glimpse here too of the towering trees that rise above the lower level planting. I failed to photograph these but there are gorgeous, lushly growing specimens of magnolia and bay amongst other often slightly unlikely species, many donated to the Keating sisters from other National Trust gardens at their request  when they were first renovating the garden and needed anything they could get hold of to fill the space.

Hydrangea aspera falls elegantly over a stone trough.  Acanthus mollis and Salvia officinalis    ‘Purpurascens’ are excellent companions

I am completely smitten by both house and garden at Plas-yn-Rhiw. The chance to sit on an old stone bench and relish the green and the spreading view and the occasional electric dash of orange or palest pink. I love the plump, guiding corridors of box and – everywhere – the energy of the ferns.

An old stone bench, Plas-yn-Rhiw

Throughout the garden old stone walls are an enticingly rough contrast to jewel coloured fuchsias, bright orange crocosmia and, under the elegant Regency veranda, this deep raspberry abutilon which twines its way along the front of the house.  A hard place to leave.

Abutilon against the stone facade of Plas-yn-Rhiw





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

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

Iamelanchier avenue

The Amelanchier lamarkii lined drive – in its quietest phase

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


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


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

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


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

Entrance into the front garden at Bryan’s Ground

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

view sulking house

The Dovecote

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

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

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

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


The Sunk Garden

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

side 3 sulking houseThe Dovecote with roses and Campanula

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


Self seeded teasel and foxgloves against topiary hawthorn

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

sulking house in sea fennel

The Dovecote nestling in a haze of topiary and fennel


fennel, teasel and lavender

stchys daisy and fennelGreen Fennel, Stachys byzantina and daisies

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


Green fennel dancing between structural forms of hebe and yew

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

lightness of quicksilver

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


Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’

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

fab monster head opening

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

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


Bench under gorgeous headily scented pineapple broom

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

lime avenue

Lime Alley

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

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


Geranium psilostemon and astrantia

IMG_4271knautia macedonica and pink geranium

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


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

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

Aconitum and Cotinus amongst the pinks


Angelica gigas and Cotinus

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

home made arch

Archway of recycled materials

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


Acanthus and clematisIMG_4287

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

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

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


Pond glimpsed through hedge opening

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

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

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


carpet of Aquilegia seedlings under stilted hornbeam hedge

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

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

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


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


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


a gorgeous Cornus kousa var. chinensis:


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


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

IMG_4427The Bird Cherry ‘Mezquita’


 ripening fruit of the Bird Cherry

IMG_4440An enchanting place to sit

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


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

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


The Cabin at Strongacre Lake

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



It’s cold outside in London. Although I can sometimes enjoy a dreamy morning like this, as I set off  around my local park…


…and sometimes foggy days in London town do indeed have the ability to turn into mornings like this…


…what I am really dreaming of, as the rain begins again and every stretch of green turns into a murky expanse of brown, is THIS – soaring palm trees and walls heavily, exuberantly cloaked with billowing Plumbago, Bougainvillea and Jasmine:

palm trees

The Casa de Pilatos in Seville is one of my favourite gardens in the world. A wonderful series of elegant, slightly faded gardens, courtyards and loggias, exquisitely and abundantly decorated – with five hundred year old Cuenca tiles (Casa de Pilatos holds one of the largest collections in the world):

more tiling

detail tiling

and richly pigmented paint:IMG_0001

It is above all a masterclass in thinking about the garden from the interior of a building, with the different garden rooms, framing the view , luring the visitor from one part of the space to another.

entrance gate

yellow chamber doorgreen beyond the corridor

I could be lured there again anytime.  Seville in Southern Spain is a great place to visit in the cooler months of the year.  The last few days of January 2014 will apparently be sunny, with day time temperatures of between 15 – 20°C.

I start to smile when I am in a part of the world where the windows are bordered in yellow

entrance cleaner

and where you can stop for a moment to  enjoy the muscly elegance of its doors. Here is  a wonderful glossy green paint and brass door in the nearby hilltop town of Carmona:

palace of justice door detail And here is the kind of soft geometric wall pattern that you find a burst of everywhere:

painted wall cordoba

It would be great to try something like this in a London garden:

close up painted wall

Cool, verdant courtyards are crucial here to provide somewhere to sit and calm the spirit when temperatures rise.  And there are lessons everywhere we could take away for urban back gardens anywhere.

The rusty orange awnings that can be drawn to completely enclose a courtyard

orange blind close up

are clean and elegant and cast a brilliant glow on the patio below.  IMG_0007

Casa de Pilatos itself, in the Santa Cruz district of Seville, is the ultimate courtyard garden.  Created within the exquisite walls of an innovative and influential Andalusian palace, it was built in several phases in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for a wealthy Aristocratic family.  The first ambitious phase built by the Chief Governor of Andalusia, Don Pedro Enriquez, and his hugely wealthy wife, Dona Catalina de Ribera in 1482.

Behind the simple, gothic facade (with excellently riveted double doors):

IMG_0005 IMG_0006is an elegant cloud- coloured mansion built around a spacious central patio in the lacy, Mudejar style :


During the sixteenth century, successive generations of the family travelled to Italy and returned inspired by Renaissance ideas  – and loaded up with classical sculpture.   Remodelling – to include ideas found in Italian architecture – took place between 1526 and 1539 and again in 1568 when Neopolitan architect, Benvenuto Tortello was commissioned to build a ‘new palace’ within the gardens of the Casa, the main purpose of which was to house the now extensive collection of classical art.

In particular, Tortello adapted the Italian notion of the Loggia – traditionally an open-sided building with views over the countryside – to suit the Casa de Pilatos’ position amongst a dense urban network of Seville streets, and of course the Aristocratic desire to be screened from public view. Two loggias and an arcaded corridor were built opening instead onto the enclosed gardens – creating an intimate and yet monumental setting for the extraordinary family collection.


Here, the combination of deep ochre yellow walls, perfectly placed sculptures and fragments of classical architecture and a soft green fringe of lingering foliage is seductive and feels entirely personal.

tablets yellow wall green fringecentral stone

Everywhere, the extent of the detailing is breathtaking. If you look down, the chalky terracotta floor is embedded with jewel-like coats of arms:

detail floorIf you look up, an iron gate may be framed with a gorgeous corrugated roof of jade-coloured tiles:

green roof tileEven the steps up to a working area of the palace are densely lined with pots of impressively lush spider plants IMG_3825

A tactile mannerist grotto – turbulant papier-mâché style pebble work against a crumbling Venetian red wall – houses a sixteenth century marble ‘Sleeping Venus’

pink grotto–  it is a delicious surprise after the cool, intricate elegance of the Mudejar plasterwork. lacy wall and tiles

The planting itself is a slightly ramshackle version of formal, with fading Acanthus casting laddered shadows against the walls,

IMG_0002mounds of suckering but sweetly scented Clerodendrum bungei,

IMG_0003and trees of rather mismatching scales amongst ranks of Aganpanthus.


But it is this relaxed, comfortable imperfection, combined with the quality of the architecture and decorative elements that make it such a pleasure to visit.

I love the rugged, hairy  palm tree trunks and their stiff strings of fat pea-like seeds –IMG_0009

in such close proximity to the fine, Mudejar, marquetry doors and shutters:


and the intense, sometimes incredibly freely-patterned, tiling.

IMG_0004I love the way the trees are allowed to close over sculptures to form a bright green canopy:

verdant towerand the way shadows form new patterns of their own against the rich backdrop of colour and tile.pot shadow tile

I love the way a bench can be merely another curving line of green against an intense, multicoloured tapestry of tiling:

tile benchor it can provide a perfectly judged balance of red against yellow in a neighbouring room.

yellow chamber with benchCasa de Pilatos has the eclectic charm and multi-layered beauty of a house and garden which have been cherished and invested in by generations of passionate owners.  It has a romantic, timeless atmosphere that could perhaps be the starting point for lifting an interior or an exterior design simply by painting a wall in a rich yellow geometric pattern:

IMG_0002Or it could be the trigger to a hundred stories and daydreams.  It is not surprising to discover that David Lean used the Casa de Pilatos along with other locations in Seville to represent Cairo in his film, Lawrence of Arabia – Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence meets Jack Hawkins’ General Allenby in the main patio:

3620131502184552w lawrence-of-arabia-1962I am very tempted to jump on a plane …IMG_0008