Tag Archives: Vitis coignetiae



IMG_2818Cercidiphyllum japonicum, brilliant and toffee-scented at the entrance to the Walled Garden on the Cambo Estate, Fife


Crocosmia x crocosmiiliflora ‘George Davison’ with Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’, Herterton House, Northumberland

It is early October and we are finally travelling up the M1 to deposit one son at Durham University and visit his twin brother at St. Andrews, another long 175 miles further North.

IMG_2643The road North, October 4th 2015

We pass Hatfield House, where only the day before at the Garden Museum Literary Festival I had fallen for the avenue of glowing storybook medlar trees laden with fat yellow quince:

IMG_2638IMG_2629IMG_2640                                Medlar and Quince trees, laden with fruit, Hatfield House

Deep in the car boot, under duvets and trumpets and carrier bags of cereal and chocolate bars, I have not forgotten the book that has recently taken over my life, my study, my entire approach to making a garden, (and indeed a home): Frank Lawley’s inspiring ‘Herterton House and a New Country Garden’ newly published by Pimpernell Press.


Frank and his wife, Marjorie have spent forty years steadfastly creating a personal, multi-layered garden and a deeply comfortable home out of an acre of Northumberland and a dilapidated stone barn – the whole of which is rented from the National Trust. Frank’s story of the evolution of Herterton is a book to be read in so many different ways – it is a rare and intoxicatingly honest autobiography of a life stretched to great things by industry and imagination, it is an illuminating history of gardening covering the still rather veiled period of Post War Britain and the second half of the Twentieth Century, and it is a precious practical guidebook, manual even, taking the reader with extraordinary thoughtfulness and generosity through every step of the creation of the garden and house.

I am inspired by the couple’s decades of hard work. ‘It is remarkable to discover what can be done if it has to be done and how absorbing it is to do it’ writes Frank, describing his approach to their disciplined year-round approach to developing the house and garden. ‘Holidays have not featured’: there is outdoor work when it is light and needlework, seed sorting or researching until nine ‘oclock at night. But the hard work is always driven by an enormous sense of satisfaction and pleasure in what has been created. The couple met as art students in Newcastle –  ‘while Newcastle had many Chinese restuarants there was only one Jazz club – and there was Marjorie!’ – and they spent their first few years together in Marjorie’s home territory of the Wallington Estate, which had been the vibrant, generous home of the socialist MP, Charles Trevelyan, where learning about design, plants, furniture, porcelain was to be had if you opened your eyes to it.

As Frank Lawley describes the avid way the pair went about scanning the world around them, trying to work out what sort of world they might want to create for themselves, you cannot help learning too. They fall almost accidentally into a love of gardening – knowing that there must be something beyond a strip of lawn and a straight border for flowering plants, but genuinely not being sure what. They hitchhiked their way around Britain – Frank points out that Post War Britain was a perfect time for free travel, the generosity of drivers an enduring legacy of a system that evolved for off-duty soldiers to find their way home – and they read books on garden and architectural history painstakingly ordered from the mobile library. As they visit Great Dixter and Sissinghurst, they look hard and take notes (of Dixter: ‘when we looked inside the house …the furnishing was perfect and masterly’). Alongside the once in a lifetime visits, they drink in the wisdom of books by Nathaniel Lloyd (‘The History of the English House’ (1931) and ‘Topiary, Garden Craftsmanship in Yew and Box’ (1925)) and Ralph Dutton (‘The English Garden’ (1937) and ‘The English English Country House’ (1936)). As I read about Herterton, a small pile of wonderful second hand books forms on my own study table in an attempt to keep up with the Lawleys:LLOYDIMG_0001

81LWsdyE02LOn visits to local churches and to Ely and Durham Cathedrals, Frank and Marjorie Lawley observe that church gardens ‘offered hollies and yews, sometimes beautifully clipped … and that they were often ‘surrounded by reassuring stone walls.’  The great step forward –  ‘perhaps our greatest discovery’ came when they visited the Elizabethan Anne Hathaways’ Cottage and Gardens and Mary Arden’s House at Stratford-upon-Avon. At 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 …glorious  furniture inside …pieces of vernacular character’ which ‘all looked so comfortably at home.’ At Mary Arden’s house they were delighted to see how the box hedge ‘bulged and spread, denying any entry by path’ and the interior of the house struck them both deeply ‘you could have toasted toes there’. Crucially they had discovered that ‘making small houses and gardens come to life seemed important’ and, despite the huge challenges of money, labour, exposed situation, this discovery, as well as a joint life-long love of the notion of home expressed in WInd in the Willows, propelled them forwards.

I will leave you to read the step-by-step account for yourself and to enjoy Marjorie’s beautiful, utterly idiosyncratic, garden plans, as well as the garden itself when it is open again next spring. (The house is not open to the public, but the garden is open daily, 1.30 -5.30 pm, except Tuesday and Thursday, from April to September).


Two of the Marjorie Lawley’s hand drawn plans for the garden at Herterton

The slow pace with which this garden has evolved is extraordinary a world which is speeding along ever faster. Except for a number of more mature shrubs acquired in the 70’s from Matheson’s nursery which was sadly closing down, Marjorie has propagated everything for the garden herself. Who else will you find just beginning a garden of this this size and ambition, noting happily that ‘Marjorie had now a good collection of yew and holly seedlings, already six inches high’? Equally, when Frank very generously walks us around the garden on our pilgrimage forty years later, who else is likely to look at the roof of the yew ‘Sitouterie’, which is not yet joined at the top, and calmly advise that ‘it’s about to happen’ – meaning, on closer questioning, that the yew will join in two or three year’s time! (A ‘Sitouterie’, if you do not know, as I did not, is a sheltered place, usually created from a single shrub, with a space carved out at the base to ‘sit’ ‘out’ ‘in’).


The ‘nearly finished’ yew Sitouterie

It is so wet during our walk around the garden that all photos are, I am afraid, rather dank-looking iphone images, but you will, I hope, get the idea.

We enter the garden via a luminous arch of golden yew supported by a simple, beautifully clipped hedge of Euonymous – possibly ‘Silver Queen’ – with a stretch of the handsome male fern Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Cristata’ below and a pair of Spanish stone urns flanking the gate:



IMG_2667The entrance to the Flower Garden – Golden Yew arch, Euonymus ‘Silver Queen’ and Dryopteris filix-mas ‘Cristata’ below

You know from this simple beginning that you are in safe hands, that everything has indeed been carefully thought through and immaculately implemented.  As Frank writes with such fond assurance in his book, ‘Marjorie has cooled everyone down before they walk under the golden yew arch into the flower garden’. But there is another layer to this simple combination – when the ferns are cut to the ground in midwinter they reveal a dense swathe of snowdrops to light up the entrance until the new fern leaves unfurl again.

The Flower Garden itself, even on this miserable day, is an extraordinarily deft, three dimensional tapestry of a garden which delights whichever way you look:


IMG_2754IMG_2751IMG_2728The Flower Garden at Herterton, offering colour and texture , pattern and detail in every direction

From the outset the Lawleys’ plan was to use different forms of the ‘four native evergreen, yew, box, ivy and holly’ to ‘create different effects of colour and light’. The use of golden yew, is especially effective in their year-round mission to ‘create our own sunshine’. In most of the garden the use of different shades of green adds depth and subtle layerings, but occasionally the volume is turned right up. Here a flamboyant swathe of the yellow and green variegated ivy Hedera canariensis ‘Gloire de Marengo’ drapes itself against the house, contrasting dynamically with the exuberant fiery bronze autumn fronds of the Royal Fern, Osmunda regalis:

IMG_2740                              Hedera canariensis ‘Gloire de Marengo’ and Osmunda regalis

But despite the years of preparation and careful planning, this assured combination of shape and form, colour and texture was not instantly achieved. As well as the Lawley’s determination to use clipped evergreens and beautiful stone paths and walls, they were keen to learn as much as they could about flowering plants and to work with colour in the garden in a painterly way. They had been inspired by the work of the gardener and writer about gardens, Margery Fish, and they had visited her and her home and nursery at East Lambrook Manor  in Somerset, bringing back with them as many plants as they could carry.


But although Marjorie Lawley had found the way plants were used together in the garden at East Lambrook Manor ‘incomprehensible’ and ‘unkempt’, Frank was shocked when visitors who arrived as a result of the garden’s entry in the influential 1981 book, ‘The Englishman’s Garden’, also described Herterton as a ‘riot of colour’  The pair resolved ‘urgently’ to ‘compose in terms of colour too’: ‘you needed to have clearly defined sections with separate policies, and you should not have any repeat planting’. The revised Flower Garden found its natural – and brilliant – balance and their feeling that a relatively ‘tight’ formal structure might still leave ‘scope … for an element of frivolity to fit in’ has lived on successfully ever since.61D-MQHcOcL._SX392_BO1,204,203,200_

I am completely resolved to return to Herterton in midsummer to see Marjorie’s carefully graded Impressionist-inspired colour schemes in full flow, but for now, at the beginning of autumn, the balance between strong shape and brilliant colour, solid velvety background and fine texture is exhilarating enough.

IMG_2732IMG_2731IMG_2763 (3)
IMG_2721IMG_2724The Flower Garden, Herterton, with tightly clipped hedges a foil for late summer colour and a close up of the brilliant blue willow gentian, Gentiana asclepiadea 

As well as the overall feel of the gardens, one of the many details I would love to witness in June is the trough and plinth pictured below which, densely planted with clipped ivy and two different kind of London Pride (the tiny Saxifrage cuneifolia within the urn and Saxifrage x urbium forming a mat below), have a subtle sculptural presence in autumn but will soften into a foam of pink in early summer:
IMG_2749IMG_2747IMG_2745                          Trough and urn with clipped ivy and two forms of London Pride

We walk through to The Physic Garden which is dominated by  ‘one of the garden’s largest topiaries’ – a splendid storybook version of a weeping silver pear, Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’. This is the ‘only topiary’ says Frank, calmly, ‘that needs to be cut twice a year – in early July and early October.’

IMG_2674Topiaried weeping silver pear at the centre of The Physic Garden

In this scented garden each bed is edged with soft, sculptural planting – thrift, Armeria maritima has a particularly successful plump, velvety quality – to contrast with the soft grey-pink ‘river sand’ underfoot.

IMG_2686                                                           View of the Physic Garden

IMG_2682Close up of Armeria maritima used to edge some of the beds

The house wall forms one of the sides of this courtyard garden and around the front door is a magnificent ‘Romanesque’ arch of the tiny ivy, Hedera helix ‘Spetchley’.

IMG_2678The romanesque arch of Hedera helix ‘Spetchley’ around the front door

Here again Frank and Marjorie Lawley have been inspiring beacons of patience – the ivy is so tiny and so slow growing that the arch has taken over thirty years to complete – the top edge was only joined up for the first time in 2013!

An open-sided stone barn forms another side of the Physic Garden. Here simple, silvered oak benches and salvaged medieval figures are joined by a rill of mounding wild ivy. The Lawley’s tried to grow ferns here but the position was too dark – the exuberant ivy is a clever solution.

IMG_2668A wave of wild ivy softens the stone arches

A favourite lichen-encrusted witch-hazel guards the exit of the Physic Garden. Frank Lawley writes beautiful about why it was chosen for this position – ‘for its mass of yellow flowers … a winter delight, always catching the sun or making it.’

IMG_2684                                                       Lichen encrusted witchhazel

We visit the Formal Garden at the front of the house next. Again Frank writes beautifully of his original hope for the way this vibrant topiary garden might function – ‘a gesture of respectful hospitality…splashes of yellow may be the first indication to the traveller that there is a garden ahead.’

IMG_2694IMG_2810 (2)The Formal Garden, Herterton

I am completely smitten by the mounded ‘bee skeps’ (based on the traditional domed basket-style bee hive). Frank says they are of ‘japanese box’ – perhaps Ilex crenata ‘Golden Gem’?

Beyond the field wall the landscape is ‘flamboyantly informal’ – I admire the way the wall is so thickly draped in ivy that the stone itself has disappeared and I love the view through the tightly clipped topiary and wooden gate to the soft grasses beyond:

IMG_2710Views through to the wilder landscape beyond the garden

As we return to the house, Frank points out the bright-leaved thyme at the foot of the box hedge. In the book he captures the way ‘the luminous colour’ of this ‘ribbon of lemon-yellow, citrus-smelling, non-flowering thyme (Thymus pulegioides ‘Aureus)’… ‘is a pleasure in all seasons.’  It would be excellent to return in early spring to see the thousands of Crocus tommasinianus planted here, followed by a display of crown imperials in April and May ‘yellow and one end, red at the other, with the best a fine orange in the centre section.’IMG_2707                        border edged with Thymus pulegioides ‘Aureus’, The Formal Garden

Finally, with the rain now soaking into us, we reach The Fancy Garden – a formal box parterre only planted in 1999 with a gazebo on the boundary. The idea was to have a garden with less colour (‘now we must return to green again’, writes Frank), as the garden meets the landscape. I had not understood before that the original function of a gazebo is to offer a view onto the surrounding countryside on one side and back into the garden on the other. The Lawleys learnt about this from Ralph Dutton and I am now learning from them.  Frank Lawley’s design for the gazebo – as an echo to a slim elevation of the house – came to him in a ‘eureka moment’. The stone lavabo at the centre of the garden was hard won – you will have to read the book – and it is now believed to be Roman.

IMG_2767                                             View to the gazebo and Fancy Garden
IMG_1115                                       The box parterre in The Fancy Garden
IMG_2771                                                     The stone lavabo, Fancy Garden

But again, the idea of simple and green is not quite accurate. Frank explains that in the spring, the darkly serene yew ‘Sitouterie’ is invaded by hosts of aquilegia, then white martagon lilies and finally Campanula lactiflora. Now at the beginning of autumn, it is the end of the garden that gets the sun for longest, and Frank and Marjorie Lawley have naturally made the most of this late opportunity with vibrant combinations of apricot, salmon pink, magenta and lilac flanking the gazebo:


IMG_2778      Crocosmia crocosmilliflora ‘George Davison’ with Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’, ferns and pinks


Tritonia disticha subsp. rubroluce with another Colchicum,  possibly byzantinum and Nerine bowdenii

IMG_2774Nerine bowdenii

Just occasionally, even Frank and Marjorie Lawley will take a few minutes off to sit on the covered bench in the open ground floor of the gazebo and enjoy a cup of coffee in this immaculate stone chamber:


Bench within the open ground floor of the gazebo

Through the lovely stone gateway there are the nursery beds where you will find ‘our last group of topiaries, mostly variations upon pyramids in yew and domes in silver holy which conceal our wooden sheds and a heap of sand.’ I would expect nothing less than a beautiful and ordered working area from this amazing garden. IMG_2785

                                        Stone doorway through to the nursery beds

 We say a fond goodbye to Frank and I remember a line from his book which makes me smile because of its almost outrageous modesty: ‘one acre has been perfectly sufficient, for we have a very intensive style.’IMG_2794


Frank Lawley, Herterton, October 2015

We drive further North and arrive at St Andrews on the East coast of Scotland at dusk. The rain has faded away and the handsome stepped roof of the St Andrews Castle is silhouetted against a clear evening sky.

IMG_2805 (1)St Andrews Castle

The Chariots-of-fire-famous West Sands is pale and silvery in the evening light and stretches out before us, simple and open: 
IMG_2807                                                            West Sands, St Andrews

Our no. 1 mission for the next couple of days is naturally to bring (rather genteel) supplies to our student son – mattress topper, decanter, fine olive oil etc. – but we do manage to fit in a blustery rust-coloured walk along the coastal path picnicking on delicious smoked salmon and oat cakes from the East Pier Smokehouse in St Monans.
IMG_2854IMG_2855                                       The Coastal Path between St Monans and Elie

IMG_2866The East Pier Smokehouse

As the rain returns we call in to the Victorian walled garden on the Cambo Estate. The approach is traditional and formal with an enormous, heavily draped, Vitis coignetiae turning a brilliant shade of crimson.

IMG_2908Vitis coignetiae, The entrance to the gardens on the Cambo Estate

For me, Cambo is synonymous with snowdrops – the estate has a National Collection of Galanthus and is well known for sending out high quality snowdrops ‘in the green’ in the spring.  I have no idea, as we walk into the garden past a fantastically burnt-sugar scented Cercidiphyllum japonicum, that I am about to enter an end of season garden of such atmosphere and faded romance.

IMG_2818Cercidiphyllum japonicum in the woodland garden en route to the Victorian Walled Garden, Cambo Estate

As we peer in tentatively beyond the potting shed, we come upon a pair of gravel rectangles planted with elegant restraint – mauve Tulbaghia violacea, the white Galtonia candicans, and Gladiolus ‘Ruby’ (Papillo Hybrid) sing out in the low misty light.  It is an idea that could be lifted from this faded two and a half acre Scottish garden and transplanted successfully in a much smaller domestic space.
IMG_1150            Gravel beds with Tulbaghia violacea, Galtonia candicans and Gladiolus ‘Ruby’
IMG_2821                                                         Gladiolus ‘Ruby’ (papilio hybrid)

Only later do I find out more about the history of the garden, how it is perhaps in the last fifteen years, when Lady Catherine Erskine hired the current Head Gardener, Elliott Forsyth, that the garden began to evolve from its former guise of productive rows of vegetables, dahlias – and even Christmas trees –  into this hazy grass and colour-filled haven.

For now I enjoy the surprise and the simple intensity of the experience. This rich combination of scarlet-fruited apple tree underplanted with pale pink japanese anemone and the toad lily, Triscyrtris formosana:
IMG_2907IMG_2843                    Apple tree underplanted with pink japanese anemone and toad lily

Rosy apples are met with the fading wands of Lysimachia ephemerum and crisp green apples look wonderful with the clean white of japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’:

                                       Apple tree with Lysimachia ephemerumIMG_2832                                 Apple tree with Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’

A huge stand of the brightest orange red hot pokers glows in the water-filled gloom:

IMG_2829                                                                   Red hot poker and yellow achillea

IMG_2827Red hot pokers taking centre stage.

You cross the burn that runs through the garden via a beautiful, lichen encrusted ironwork bridge:

IMG_2915Victorian iron bridge, Cambo Walled Garden

Everywhere you turn there is something to catch the eye: rusty teasels soaring skywards from a sheet of yellow-green grass, the firework-white of Actea against the crumbling red brick walls and the rich dark red of rodgersia, its leaves edged in fast-moving claret.

IMG_1127IMG_2917IMG_1133Teasel, actea and rodgersia in the Walled Garden, Cambo

There are grasses everywhere, softly mound-forming or stormily turbulent in the pelting rain:IMG_1142IMG_1140IMG_2884                                     Turbulent grasses, The Walled Garden, Cambo

The lilac-purple of Verbena bonariensis, the orange of the Kniphofia and the lavender-blue of the asters are electric in the low light:
IMG_1146IMG_1145IMG_2889                                  Electric colours of Verbena bonariensis, kniphophia, asters and salvia amongst grasses, The Walled Garden, Cambo

As we turn to leave the garden there is a brilliant combination of spiky palm tree, orange poker and ruby-pink Persicaria amplexicaulis against a backdrop of an ageing greenhouse and darkening sky.
IMG_2890IMG_1149   Palm tree, red hot poker and persicaria against darkening sky, The Walled Garden, Cambo

In the shelter of the courtyard, the lights are burning brightly and there are tables laden with little piles of just-dug-up already rooting snowdrops ready to be packed in moss and newspaper and sent out in the post now, in October, to flower in the coming spring.
IMG_2920IMG_2919IMG_2813Piles of just-dug-up snowdrops, bowl of fresh moss, snowdrops wrapped in newspaper, ready to be posted out, Cambo

It is a cheering activity for a glowering day.

We call back briefly to see Frank Lawley at Herterton on our way home. It is still raining but lunch is over – and therefore it is time for work. Frank invites us to join a smilingly serious debate. ‘I almost got involved in making marmalade’ he tells us, ‘we live almost entirely on marmalade and we are facing something of a marmalade crisis. Do you think it is a marmalade day? No it’s a sowing day, I think.’

And off he goes to sow.IMG_2893

The road home



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

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.


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:


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.


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

folly farm

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: 

‘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:


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.

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’





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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.