Tag Archives: wall trained figs

TO SISSINGHURST – IN JANUARY – TO ADMIRE THE ROSES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rosa mulliganii in flower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_8467 img_3367The transformation of a taller shrub rose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_8488                                     Yew hedges guide the eye firmly into the distance.

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

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

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

img_3317The Herb Garden.

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

img_3310The serene Orchard path.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_3323The Lime Walk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_8564Mahonia and Helleborus foetidus against the entrance to South Cottage.

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

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Astelia chathamica anchoring the entrance border.

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

15094Rosa ‘Meg’.

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

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

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

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

 

SUFFOLK PINK AT WYKEN HALL, A SHEET OF RARE NARCISSUS AT FULLERS MILL

MY TWO FAVOURITE SUFFOLK GARDENS READY FOR SPRING

maryMilky blue painted seat with Madonna and Child at Wyken Hall Gardens

We have just returned from a week of extraordinary snow in our favourite mountain village of Gargellen, Austria:

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Arthur and a fruit tree under heavy snow in Gargellen, Austria

At times the only way to track down a faint whiff of spring was to indulge in a little medicinal yet subtly fragrant Gentian root schnapps:

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Enzian or Gentian root schnapps

Back in Suffolk for an Easter holiday weekend and things are beginning to warm up.  I grab the chance to sneak off to my two favourite Suffolk gardens, Wyken Hall and Fullers Mill.

I head first to our near neighbours at Wyken Hall.  Here Sir Kenneth and Lady Carla Carlisle have created a richly coloured, welcoming homestead. They have developed a wonderful garden around their intensely copper-red limewashed Elizabethan Manor house, planted a productive vineyard and converted elegant barns into The Leaping Hare restaurant and stores – they also host a first class farmers’ market every Saturday morning. This is a place where careful thought, dextrous – sometimes daring – use of colour, and great style infuse every garden path, view and would-be naked gable end. Even the sign to the car park is richly painted with a velvety palette of plants to match:

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parking close up

The garden itself can be visited every afternoon except for Saturday until the autumn.  IMG_9563

From the moment you approach the house, the deep ‘Suffolk Pink’ of its walls and the series of blue painted rocking chairs under espaliered crab apples – the rocking chairs an echo of the verandahs of the Southern States of America where Carla Carlisle was brought up – create a wonderful sense of welcome.

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rocking establish

I love the almost dangerous choice of bright red Chaenomoles (ornamental quince) against the red limewash and the way the strong colour of the house enables even the dusty winter-pruned lavender to work a sort of silvery magic at this spare time of year.

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Red Chaenomeles and pruned lavender against rich Suffolk Pink walls

By early summer no tricks will have been missed – electric blue ceanothus will be adding another layer of colour:

ceonothusElectric blue Ceanothus adding another layer of colour, Wyken Hall, May 2010

As you make your way around the garden you pass through a small courtyard with a beautiful old copper container at its centre.  Every element of this space is suffused with the same rich, moody palette.  The aged verdigris container contrasts with yellow and royal purple of Viola tricolor which sings out between the tulip leaves.  In the border, the pale blue of forget-me-nots and the clear pinks of Cyclamen coum act as exquisite highlights to the soft red and darkest purple-black of the hellebores, and on the wall leading to the orchard sits a peacock, a swoop of rich green and blue.

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close up viola tricolorViola tricolor amongst tulips in copper urn

paletteHellebores, forget-me-nots and Cyclamen coumpeacockPeacock contemplating the orchard, Wyken Hall

As you enter the Hot Border – there is just a small taste of the outrageous colour to come – neighbouring stands of brilliant ‘Orange Emperor’ tulips and even deeper orange crown imperials – Fritillaria imperialis  – brilliant against the smooth dark green of the clipped yew hedge.

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‘Orange Emperor’ tulips and Fritillara imperialis against a clipped yew hedge

Looking back an the house the acid green of Euphorbia characias contrasts almost as vividly with the more demure planes of yew and box:

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Euphorbia characias with box and yew hedging

In every direction the views are strongly framed:

viewYew and box frame the view to the woodland beyond

Or there is a strong simple idea – such as these espaliered pear trees against a brick and flint wall underplanted with a stretch of iris…

pear tree iris allumEspaliered pear underplanted with Iris 

…and one more example of a wonderful, inventive gate – I love this simply made, Art Deco inspired stepped wooden gate revealing the life of the field beyond:

great gatePGWooden gate, Wyken

Around the house is a series of intricately laid out rooms – originally designed with the help of Arabella Lennox Boyd.  A pair of impressive standard white wistera with fattening buds provide substance and energy amongst the clipped topiary of the Knot garden, even this early in the season:

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wisteria budPair of standard white wisteria and fattening wisteria buds

It won’t be long before this garden room is alive with both white and mauve wisteria:

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Vintage Wisteria at Wyken Hall – May 2010courtyard

As the afternoon begins to cool off,  the next garden room, with four standard viburnum as centre pieces, is looking sober and beautifully ordered.  Even the lichen on the brick is an extra, gently decorative layer:

lichen tilelichen on diamond- pattern brick terrace

The garden at Wyken Hall is a masterclass in creating a sense of comfortable enclosure and  making sure that every place to sit feels inviting. This bench nestles between generous shapes of topiaried box and a pair of neatly pruned weeping silver pear, Pyrus salicifolia pendula.

IMG_9614Painted bench looking settled between topiaried box and weeping silver pear trees

Another old – rather pink-tinged! – photograph this time from 2004,  gives an idea of how bright and full this scene becomes later in the year:

BENCH SUMMER

In the cottage garden a friendly bench is placed invitingly beneath a window and at the end of the central path which leads through the front garden which is about to become a sea of colour:IMG_9567

Centrally placed bench, cottage garden

At another point around the main house, a table and pair of chairs look settled – where they might have felt a little lost and wrong in scale – positioned with the neat rectangle of clipped yew and wavy, bright gree hedge of Hebe as a backdrop and further anchoring device:

hebe taxusPGTable and chairs with yew and hebe as backdrop

There is a celebratory quality to much of the garden – a very pretty pergola of trained fruit trees is underplanted with starry blue Chionodoxa – I think Chionodoxa luciliae  –

pergolachionodoxaPergola underplanted with chionodoxa

There is a double gate leading invitingly to the pond just beyond the rose garden with its welcoming Adirondack chairs and framed pontoon.  Rummaging again through my boxes of garden photographs I smiled when I found this image of ten year younger husband, Nick, (funnily enough, mid very long work phone call …),  sitting on the pontoon in all its gorgeous full summer splendour.

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Pontoon and pond at Wyken in April 2015 and below in August 2004

Walking back to the front gate the garden opens out onto a quite splendid oak tree with a sea of cheerful narcissus lighting up the scene

oak tree and narcissusOak tree with narcissus

A path cut through this spring flowering meadow takes you to a half hidden glade with an arched seat painted in the same milky blue as much of the other garden furniture – this time with an inset panel of Madonna and child.

mown path spring meadowPath through spring flowering meadow

maryArched seat with Madonna and Child panel

The entrance to the glade is formed entirely and unashamedly of intensely scented winter/early spring flowering trees and shrubs – Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty, Sarcococca confusa and a pink flowered Viburnum – (surely ‘x Bodnantense’ which would be entirely fitting as Kenneth was born and brought up in the wonderful house and famous garden at Bodnant in Conwy, North Wales).  I love the way the artfully broken path leading to the seat is scattered with jewel-like, navy blue muscari, more chionodoxa and delicate sheaves of pale narcissus.

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The entrance to glade is framed by scented shrubs

close up narcissus and chionodoxa

The broken path is strewn with sheaves of pale Narcissus

The garden at Wyken is a modern country garden with a now mature structure which acts as a fine backdrop to seasonal planting as it emerges throughout the year.

Beyond the garden, the shop and farmers’ market provide equally tempting seasonal delights and a chance to admire the most magnificent stretch of immaculately pruned and wall-trained figs.

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figWall trained figs at Wyken

pumpkinsAutumn pumpkin display at Wyken

I visit my other favourite, old friend of a Suffolk garden, Fullers Mill, the following morning.

IMG_3620Path through The King’s Forest, leading to Fullers Mill Garden

Fullers Mill near Bury St Edmunds is only about twelve miles away from Wyken. It is a completely different style of gardening and inspiring for its passion for nature and for its fascination with each individual plant.

You approach this extraordinary 7 acre garden along a track through the King’s Forest.  If you hit the right moment in June this part of the forest is waist high in shocking pink and purple foxgloves – and that is before you even arrive at Fullers Mill:

foxgloves fullers millThe forest path waist-high in foxgloves

Hidden away at the end of the path is an incredibly peaceful and very personal garden which has been carved out of not always hospitable soil around a mill house for over fifty years by Bernard Tickner. Bernard, nearly 91, has now given the garden to the charity Perennial but still lives there and with their help is still caring for –  indeed still extending and improving  – the garden.bernartd

Bernard Tickner on his almost daily round of Fullers Mill Garden

A passionate plantsman, Bernard still exchanges plants annually with his long-standing and much revered friend, Beth Chatto and over the years devoted as much time as he could away from his job as Head Brewer for Greene King to travel to Crete and the Pyrenees to seek out plants in their natural habitat. Years ago, renowned botanist John Raven – father of Sarah Raven – offered guidance as to the cleverest places to visit. Bernard has a Pyrenean fritillary named for him and in the shelter of a small private courtyard by the mill house itself is a tiny Cretan Iris named for his late wife, Bess.

On this early April morning, the garden is looking immaculate and fresh, with swathes of gentle red hellebores threading their way through the softly mulched space and the the acid yellow-green of Euphorbias catching the cool spring light:

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Bernard and I set off around the garden together. We stop first at a sheet of naturalised Narcissus bulbocodium :

IMG_9693IMG_9694Narcissus bulbocodium, Fullers Mill

Bernard is proud of his ever expanding display which started of as four or five small pots – this six by six metre patch has been encouraged by sowing yellow rattle to weaken the grass.

One of my favourite things about the way the garden at Fullers Mill has developed is that there is real space for plants to spread and be themselves. There is magnificent witchhazel for January and February, as elegant as a movie star in a cool skirt of snow and later flowering at full blast:

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Spreading Witchhazel at Fullers Mill

Today a mature Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ lights up the woodland with its pale pink starry flowers. Under the magnolia, a large pool of the woodland dicentra, Dicentra formosa, is given space to thrive.IMG_9710

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Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ underplanted with Dicentra formosa

Everywhere there are treasures to discover. Here a text-book healthy clump of Arum creticum with clear yellow spathes and long yellow spadices:

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Arum creticum

Close by there is a patch of lovely, pointyflowered Tulipa sylvestris :

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Tulipa sylvestris

and not far away a patch of the creamy yellow fritillary, Fritillaria pallidaflora:

IMG_9709Fritillaria pallidaflora

There is a wonderful specimen of the tree heather, Erica arborea var. alpina whose long, fragrant candle-like panicles make softly energetic patterns:

IMG_9712IMG_9717Erica arborea var. alpina

We pass under an enormous, tunnel-forming Cornus mas.  Even now, as its flowers lose the intensity of their yellow, the branches look fresh and pretty as they hang over the millpond in the spring sunshine:

IMG_9727IMG_9730Cornus mas 

And the still tiny leaves of the Cercidiphyllum japonicum – which will smell of toasted sugar in autumn – catch the light like hundreds of coins.

IMG_9739Cercidiphyllum japonicum

There is a lovely area of Fritillaria meleagris too:

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” I don’t know why they call it the snakeshead fritillary’ remarks Bernard “‘meleagris means spotted like a guinea fowl”.  A fair point.

By midsummer, today’s clump of exquisitely pleated leaves of Veratrum nigrum will be the base of statuesque flowerheads:IMG_9746veratrumpg

Veratrum nigrum leaves then flower

And the garden will be shoulder-high with a dazzling collection of lilies.  “They are not as difficult to grow as people might think”, sighs Bernard. As always with him it is a question of growing the right plant in the right place. “What they should shout from the rooftops is ‘good drainage!’ ” he cries out in his inimitable part deadly serious, part playful manner.

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Fullers Mill

Bernard Tickner amongst lilies, and lilies and campanula at Fullers Mill

Before I leave, I photograph Bernard next to the stand of plants for sale.  There is a new polytunnel in the garden and an exciting new commitment to propagate and sell as many plants as possible from the garden.  Fullers Mill is open to the public on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, 2 – 5pm until the end of September. The quality of the coffee and walnut and lemon drizzle cakes goes without saying.IMG_9695

Bernard Tickner with plants for sale from the garden.