Tag Archives: William Robinson

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.

IMG

(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:

IMG_0777

 

 

 

 

STARRY AUTUMN DAYS

LOW LIGHT, RAINBOW LEAVES AND JEWEL-LIKE BERRIES IN AN ENGLISH GARDEN
FIG 2

At Great Dixter (http://greatdixter.co.uk) clusters of tight, unripened figs glow like little light bulbs on naked branches against the timber barn.  A brilliant, self contained symbol of autumn on a November day.

There is an uncertain edge to the mix of fresh full-colour plants and the fading crispy hues of others.

Here clumps of Nerine bowdenii provide bursts of bright pink against a more subdued palette – they work because the clumps are repeated regularly along the length of the path.

nerine

More Nerines, at the base of the lower terrace, loving their place in the sun with garlands of Erigeron karvinskianus.  This is November!

GARLANDS

It is a classic and brilliantly reliable combination.   The Nerines take over easily from the richer red of Centranthus ruber which billows over walls and steps in the early summer.

centranthus erigeron

The real stars of the autumn show are plants which triumph when back lit by the early winter light.  The common teasel (Dispascus fullonum) is a perfect example of this – an architectural plant which will grow happily from seed – and which will self seed happily when established.  It catches the light brilliantly.

TEASEL TWO

Here against the cherry-red seed capsules of the wonderful Euonymus europaeus, the teasels with their late afternoon haloes give the planting an intoxicating ethereal quality.

teasel and euonymys

And then there are the berries.  Worth taking note now and thinking of planting for hips or berries next year.

One of the greatest sources of wisdom on the best plant choices for autumn colour is John Massey of Ashwood Nurseries in the West Midlands (http://www.ashwoodnurseries.com). Massey is a self taught nurseryman who has been a plant collector, plant breeder and passionate gardener for forty years.  He gives specialist talks throughout the year – which include a visit to his private garden.  Absolutely a pilmrimage worth making

You know you are in the presence of the real thing when even his house is draped in a starry chain mail of yellow and orange foliage with the rainbow leaves of Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’ AGM falling so knowingly onto the deep green holly hedge.starry house

liquidamber on holly

And there is real golddust to come:  when John tells you that the best yellow crab apple is Malus ‘Comtesse de Paris’ -an elegant tree with pearl-like golden fruit which hang down from slender red stalks

comtesse yellow

and that the better known Malus ‘Golden Hornet’ is no contest because its fruits turn brown so fast, it is the sort of rare and generous advice that can transform a garden.  His other favourite crab apples are the long lasting ‘Red Sentinel’ and ‘Crittenden’, the larger red fruiting ‘Evereste’ – and ‘Sugar Time’ with really tiny berries.  Perhaps his favourite of all is ‘Indian Magic’ (below) which has dark pink blossom and deep red fruit on long stems which become brighter orange as the winter progresses.

indian magic

One of the prettiest crab apples we see in his garden is Malus ‘Toringo’ – the Japanese crab – a small, semi-weeping tree with fragrant flowers that are pink in bud but fade to white, and gorgeous butter yellow leaves in autumn and tiny blood red fruit.

malusAs we are guided round the garden the conversation dances from Parthenocissus quinquefolia ‘Red Wall’ – a Virginia Creeper with particularly shiny green leaves in summer which turn a sensational flaming red, Euonymus alata compacta – the most reliable spindle for bright crimson leaf colour in Autumn and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star’ which he was originally given by the late Princess Sturdza of the Jardin du Vasterival (http://vasterival.fr ) in Normandy and for whose support he feels indebted.  ‘Great Star’ is the opposite of the worryingly, almost permanent, plumpness of one of the new super breed of hydrangeas such as  Hydrangea arborescens ‘Incrediball’  – a wonderfully graceful hydrangea with clusters of fresh, white star-shaped flowers from late summer to autumn.

greatstar                  Photo by Ashwood Nurseries

I am smitten by the violet-blue Aster ‘Little Carlow’ – which I have previously classified as just too brash and intense for the autumn garden – here looking airy and elegant amongst the bleached sketchy sheaves of grasses.

aster and grassMy favourite moment of all is when John stops to pick a tall, soft bottle-brush stem of Actaea matsumura ‘Elstead Variety’ from an elegant dancing group in full flower. We are all surprised and delighted by the intensity of its perfume.  actaea group cropThe Actaea are growing in brilliant combination alongside Euonymus bugneamus ‘Fireflame’ – which has a seductive limp quality to its milky green leaves and gorgeous perky apricot coloured seed heads –

salmon euonymus bungeaanus fireflame and the sculptural, ruby-polished foliage of Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’ – one of the finest small dogwoods which will have rich pink flower bracts in early summerMISS SATOMI

Important to remember, of course,  that where acres of intricate planting are sadly not a possibility –   just a single source of brightly coloured berries or rich autumn leaf colour can spectacularly transform a space.

Here at the entrance to Gravetye Manor, (http://www.gravetyemanor.co.uk),  former home of eminent Victorian ‘wild’ gardener, William Robinson and now my favourite country house hotel – I love the rough simplicity of this planting of Rosa moyesii on either side of the entrance steps.rosa moyesii gravetyerosa moyesii close upBack in Camberwell a neighbour’s Cotinus ‘Grace’, has been pruned into a small tree which takes your breath away with the richness of its colour on a grey November day.cotinus camberwellclose up cotinus camberwellShifting down a scale, a Hosta sieboldiana var. elegans in a pot on my terrace suddenly hurtles – caramelises almost – into winter.  Don’t forget to stop and look.hosta 1hosta 2