Tag Archives: Relais & Châteaux

HOW TO GET AN A* FOR YOUR GARDEN

EASTER REVISION TIPS FROM THE GARDEN AT GRAVETYE MANORmag close up

Revision is heavily in the air at home in Camberwell – our identical twins working away for their A level exams in June.

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(a somewhat inaccurate representation of the chaps you will find today stewing over the use of harmony and tonality in the 4th movement of Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony …)

Visiting one of my favourite gardens a few days ago,  I was reminded that we are never too old to get out our notebooks, really try to work out what makes a good garden great and try to put our learning into practice.

Gravetye Manor, in Sussex – the former home of Victorian writer and gardener, William Robinison, who pioneered the idea of creating an abundant natural atmosphere in a garden, – is now once again gardened with energy and and exciting flair by Head Gardener, Tom Coward.

gravetye take 2For those without acres of land spilling down to their own private lake to fill with naturalised narcissus and wood anemone there are great ideas to be noted down and tried on a smaller scale.

luecojum close upLeucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ AGM

Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ is a particularly good selection of summer snowflake – made by William Robinson –  which contrary to its common name is in flower in late March to early April.  It is a strong bulb with tall stems holding nodding white flowers – brilliant planted generously as it is at Gravetye, wonderful to illuminate lightly shaded areas under trees and excellent value as the bulbs are reliably perennial.

light up take 2

framed leucojum take twoAs well as the abundant woodland drifts, Leucojum is used nearer the house to add a lower layer brightness to the planting.  Here the beautiful early flowering Stachyrus praecox is a wonderful choice for its position near the front door:

stachyrus and leucojumpg

I love the draped order of the neat tassels of pale greeny-yellow bells.

stachyrus closeup

It is a shrub that has its moment of real elegance only briefly before the arrival of its leaves – so here in a prominent position against the moss-softened stone of the house is an example of perfect positioning.
styrax against stone

Another example of a brilliant pairing of architecture and planting is this monumental magnolia tree towering upwards against the sky and the hill top gabled roof of the manor house:

momumental mag

There is another sensational Magnolia planted so that its branches tumble invitingly at a gateway through to another section of the garden:

position mag gravetyeAgain this is an important idea worth remembering for any size of garden – as well as providing gorgeous decorative frame for the gateway, it means that the voluptuous flowers are brilliantly close to the eye.mag close up

Another clever planting idea is to take a simple deciduous shrub and to repeat it throughout a  garden or a section of a garden. At Gravetye, a white ornamental quince – I think it is Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’  – is planted several times along the drive to provide a cloud after cloud of white blossom .

quince take 2

This inexpensive, low growing, early flowering shrub has clear, single flowers with a restrained Japanese quality – again they look particularly elegant here against the soft hazy green of the moss covered walls:

close up chaenomeles

In the woodland garden a single brilliant orange-red coloured Chaenomeles – a similar quince would be Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Sargentii’ – is used in a completely different way, to add a intense splash of colour to a gentle underplanting of pale yellow narcissus:

ornamental quince use 1

At the entrance to the kitchen garden there is a great example of a how to maximize the potential of a tough, often underrated evergreen shrub, Viburnum davidii:

viburnum davidii

It is an excellent, resilient, structural plant which grows in a naturally soft mounding way – worth remembering to soften an entrance or help anchor a garden bench.

I was interested to see one of my favourite tough ground cover plants for wilder areas – Trachystemon orientalis – used to add a pool of bold lime green foliage under a tree in a comparatively formal area of the garden.  
trachestemon gravetye

Trachystemon orientalis is completely unfussy and provides bold, handsome foliage and starry blue flowers quickly and generously  – we have used it successfully to provide substantial coverage to the planting around a new lake in Sussex.  Here, I suppose, is an example of a rule which is there to be broken.  This bed at Gravetye is already coming alive with its vibrant colour.  It will be interesting to revisit at exam time in June to see if this has been a stroke of genius or a risky move …

trachestemon close up

The last of my revision notes from Gravetye is a photograph of this perfectly trained and pruned rose against a potting shed:

rose pruning

If you want an outbuilding roof to be romantically smothered in roses next summer this is the disciplined backbone required…

Gravetye Manor is now run as a Relais and Chateau Hotel. What is so rare about it, however, is that as well as being fantastically elegant and spoiling it manages to maintain the feel of a cherished home both inside and out.  My husband brought me here for the first night of our honeymoon and it has become our absolute favourite place for ‘end of term’ rewards – a day out together when our twins had just turned one, a special birthday weekend, a blissful 24 hours at the end of a particularly challenging few months.

moody woodland

We arrived on a brooding Saturday lunchtime and had lunch in front of the fire , a white table cloth on the small table in front of our sofa and the most delicious salad or roast jerusalem artichokes, artichoke puree, slices of apple, slivers of crispy fried onion and bitter leaves…

For me the garden is the thing and I love the way that even inside the hotel there are bowls of home grown flowers everywhere and the way the history and the future of the garden are being looked after in equal measure.

One last thought – if you really want to guarantee that A*, do make sure that when friends come to stay they open their curtains the next morning onto something like this:

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THE PRIEURÉ D’ORSAN, FRANCE

MAGICAL GARDEN AND RENOVATED MEDIEVAL MONASTERY, BERRY, FRANCE

I have just returned, exhilarated, from a visit to a brilliant French garden, Le Prieuré d’Orsan  (http://www.prieuredorsan.com ), which happens to be made around an idyllic small hotel in the middle of the province of Berry, about 300km South of Paris. I was there to find out more about the garden for Gardens Illustrated (http://www.gardensillustrated.com). The garden was looking ethereal and very beautiful in the low winter light.view through arch entrance

The soft mottled roof tiles, quilted with lichen and moss have the same gentle, enduring rust-and-pale-grey softness as the ever leaner skeletons of the hornbeam cloister which architect and owner, Patrice Taravella has created as the heart of the garden.

roof tiles

general soft viewgeneral soft view rigth

I first visited Le Prieuré D’Orsan a year ago, at the height of summer. Only a garden as well structured as this can look as as elegant in late November

new soft screen

as it did in August.

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Here the approach to gardening is serious.  There is nothing that cannot be eaten or that does not serve a practical or symbolic purpose. But the energy, inventiveness and attention to detail that go into every aspect of its creation and its maintenance add a magical layer that is harder to define.

The immaculately clipped ivy around the storybook tower leading to the bedrooms is a perfect example of this.ivy tower

If you look down for a moment, even the cobbled path has been perfectly judged and beautifully laid.

cobblesThere are some deliciously mad ideas – like training the vigorous ornamental vine, Vitis coignetiae, into particularly finite rectangular wall panels above a series of almost impossibly narrow-shouldered cordon pears.  But the mad idea works of course because the vine will always be perfectly trained and never left for a moment to get slightly out of hand. Vitis coignetaie is usually left to festoon itself rampantly into a huge tree. I have seen its’ extravagant leaves with their luminous autumn colour grow in perfect scalloped rows – almost like roof tiles – over a garden shed, but this is the first time I have seen anyone try to harness this contradictory neatness in such a high profile position in the garden.

vitis coignet

Again the composition looks as strong in winter as it does in its more lush summer form:
vitis summerIt is extraordinary to visit the new rose garden n a freezing November day before any of the roses has had a chance to flower, and find that the confidence and exuberance of the structure alone has the power takes your breath away.

IMG_1412IMG_1423rosarie windowAs with the garden’s many other structures, the towers and panels of the rose garden are built by Patrice’s  Head Gardener of twenty years,  Gilles Guillot.  Coppiced chestnut,  often cut in half lengthways –  intended for straps around wine barrels  – is used as the principal material. The working relationship between the two men is now so close that they find it hard to separate out whose idea was whose – one will take up the idea of the other and a trellis panel, arch or exuberant tree seat will find itself simply emerging.

Railway sleepers are used particularly cleverly as a subtle, robust and often surprisingly elegant decking.  This is the central terrace of the ‘Rosarie’

rosarie parquet

This is an older path which has almost taken on the quality of stone as it has aged.old parquet

And here is one of the neat terraces of the ground floor bedrooms which have their own small garden:
new little wodden terraceI have seen sleepers used even more simply to make tactile and handsome decking at a vineyard in Bordeaux (below).  The sleeper paths and terraces are pressure washed in early spring and  work brilliantly as a gentle but elegant hard landscaping material.

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Elsewhere at Orsan the delicate chestnut structures are used to screen and partially reveal, always offering tantalising glimpses of the next section of the garden. I love the way the cool grey main gates are only revealed if you take the trouble to go and find them.

front gate arch screen

front gate summergate

Lacy tunnels of hornbeam filter the sunlight to create an atmosphere of secrecy and surprise.

lovely leafy arch

Hornbeam pillars support exuberant pyramid-shaped ‘gloriettes’ – or pergolas – which keep the levels playful and unexpected

gloriette

and mark out brilliant shapes against the sky.
gloriette skyWalking around the garden is a kind of game – even before you get to the espaliered fruit maze where Patrice put to use information culled from a job building a huge supermarket when he was a young architect (“I learned that on entering a supermarket, 95% of customers turn right – this is of course where I have put my dead ends …” ).

There are views through arches

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and through windows cut into hedgesround windowand there are dead ends so handsome and lush

yew panel

or so fine and delicate …
IMG_1420that you are happy to just enjoy the moment, knowing that there is another delight just around the corner.

Here in the potager the medlar fruit glow on their spreading branches against the sky.

IMG_1430The training of the soft fruit and fruit trees at Orsan is extraordinary and humbling in its perfection – I will be writing about this and about the structure of the garden in greater detail in the  February 2014 editon of http://gardensillustrated.com

Strictly following the mantra “we must always break the sap”,  every plant is immaculately trained to produce as much fruit as possible.  I am enchanted by the screen of arched panels glittering with golden gooseberry leaves catching the light.

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The idea with this ‘cradle’ for raspberries is to train one year’s canes up one side of the structure only leaving the opposite side for the following year’s growth.

raspberry cradle

Rhubarb is grown long and straight nurtured by handsome willow baskets.

IMG_1435This is a garden where it takes a week to built structures around the two olive trees to fill with fleece and protect them in the -20˚ temperatures to come.IMG_1279But it is also a garden of dreamily timeless abundance in summer.two climbers

A place that lifts the spirits whenever you visit.
having a lovely time The benches make me happyfab bench Even the outside taps make me smile.tapLast year we celebrated my husband’s birthday sitting under the vines on the terrace.
festoon lights

Patrice made the most delicious birthday cake – a strawberry mille feuille with a vase of chocolate filled with flowers from the cutting garden.

nick's birthday cake

Pretty perfect. Go there.