Archive for the ‘England’ Category

In search of Inspector Lewis

April 25, 2011

Looking for Inspector Lewis? Or perhaps Morse – I confess I never watched much of Morse, he was just so depressing. At least Lewis has that cute Hathaway as contrast. Whichever detective is on your list of favorites, you can find him around almost any corner in Oxford.

It’s easy to spend a day in Oxford on your way to the Cotswolds, but it’s just as easy to take the train out from London for a day. The journey from Paddington station is not quite an hour – be sure to get a train that doesn’t stop, otherwise you’ll have to change at Reading. Trains are frequent – every 15 minutes or so – which always astounds those of us from the West coast, where people are just discovering that public transportation might be a good thing. You can search times and fares on the National Rail site.

Take a bus from the station into the city center, and head for a morning stroll through the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, designed and planted by 1633 – a yew tree, more than 360 years old, is still there. We visited on a hot midsummer day, so appreciated the cooling effect of a garden, but really, a garden is good to visit any time.

Additional hot spots in the city: any Tolkien fan will want to stop by the Eagle and Child pub – a local review gives it good marks. And you can always look up film locations for Inspector Lewis and Morse, plus Harry Potter and loads more movies television.

Scads of walking tours satisfy almost anyone’s interest, but you don’t have to join someone’s group to tour, you can do it yourself. We picked up a brochure at the information office on Broad Street, and, as we walked around the streets I read off the interesting bits.

We’d stopped on Merton Street – still covered in streamers and not a few beer bottles from graduation parties the night before – and as I read the entry about Corpus Christi College, a man stopped and listened. Then he said, “That’s my college – would you like to see it?” So, Sir Tim Lankester, President of Corpus Christi College (recently retired) took us through the college, including the 16th-century library (we almost lost Leighton there) and into the college’s gardens where no tourist goes.

And, as an example of never really being far from home, when he found out we were from Seattle, he mentioned he’d been there in the 1960s. He wanted to know if we still had that “awful great raised freeway” above the waterfront. Fifty years later, we still haven’t escaped from the Alaskan Way Viaduct.


Gardening with a sense of place

September 21, 2010

Do you feel that a garden should reflect its surroundings? Apart from the house around which it is situated, should a garden be a part of the greater natural landscape?


Some garden design ties itself closely with place – Japanese gardens reflect, on a small scale, the mountains, valleys and lakes around them. Regional native plant gardens in incorporate trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs exclusive to the surrounding environment.

And yet there are Japanese gardens around the world, and a native plant garden in a city is decidedly unattached to its surroundings. Ilnacullin, on Garinish Island in Bantry Bay, Ireland, carries Harold Peto’s signature Italianate look.

We borrow whole designs, elements of design, and small design devices to make gardens that we love, so I thought it entirely appropriate to find a house in the Preston Hollow area of Dallas, Texas that you looked like it was lifted out of Hobbiton. The effect of stone (these are the hobbits that took to building houses not burrowed into the hills, but still reflecting a hobbit-hole sort of design) and round windows and a round door suited the woodsy surroundings.

Although some gardens I can’t imagine elsewhere – Lawrence Johnston’s Arts and Crafts style at Hidcote is perfect – I’m all for using elements of those gardens elsewhere. If only someone would build me a double gazebo.

Hidcote Manor, of course

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, part 2

July 19, 2010

Proving there’s nothing new under the sun – but perhaps always a new way to convey your message – the gardens at Hampton Court this year displayed the essentials: small landscapes, water features, flowers (yes, yes, and vegetables) and sustainable practices. (My friend and colleague Virginia Hand, says responsible designers have always been sustainable.)

NealeRichards Ltd

Water remains a huge draw. Designer David Neale used “floating York steppingstones” across a formal pool and Arthur Northcott and John Gutteridge, in the Fire Pit Garden, included a burbling feature. The latter garden and

The Plant Co

It’s Only Natural by The Plant Company delighted in showing casual reseeders making a splash,causing us all think that we probably spend too much time rogueing out volunteers.

A Lost Loved Garden by Linda and Ralph Gardening brought lots of sighs with the display of those ornamentals that hang on after a garden is no longer tended. A ramshackle gate and abandoned bicycle added to the atmosphere. It reminded me of the gardens that John and Toni Christianson created for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

A Lost Loved Garden

No visit to Hampton Court should begin without first getting a Pimm’s Cup for the journey around the grounds.

Look out for the wheelie box! Notes on Hampton Court

July 9, 2010

They were everywhere – “wheelie boxes” being pulled along the metal pathways at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Their plastic wheels grated on the washboard walking surface, making a constant “grrrrrring” as gardeners made their way around the show.

No need to worry about gardening being dead. Yes, there were plenty of veg displays, but those wheelie boxes were filled to the brim with all sorts of plants – Helenium, Phlox, Veronica, ornamental grasses and … was that a Cercis?

It was warm and muggy; some of the display tents were like saunas. A blast of hot air hit us as we neared the entrance to the Country Living marquee, causing us to veer at the last moment. “There were lovely things in there,” a woman commented in the queue for the train. I’m sure there were, but I couldn’t have stood it. I did, however, put up with the heat to see the floral marquee – who could resist those flamboyant displays awash in chrysanthemums, sweet peas, bougainvilleas, fuchsias and pelargoniums.

I’m a terrible eavesdropper and so I report with relish the comments I hear at shows and nurseries. For starters, here’s one Hampton Court attendee as she passed one of the “conceptual gardens” (a pile of sand with some plants coming out of it):

“I’m sure it’s supposed to mean something.”

More Hampton Court in part 2.

I Get Around – London

May 25, 2010

The Chelsea Flower Show started today – Monday. It isn’t open to the public, it’s the day the Queen and other notables attend – and part of the build-up on the Daily

Chelsea, 2005

Telegraph’s Web site was “How to get to the Chelsea Flower Show.” That is, of course, if you already have tickets, because it’s sold out. Limiting the number of tickets reduces the crowd; yikes, I can’t imagine more people there than already go.

Anyone who has traveled around London knows there are all sorts of ways to go – bus, tax, the tube. So, to get to the Royal Hospital, take the District or Circle line and get off at Sloane Square. It’s only a 10 minutes walk – you’ll be there before you know it.

Find the lines and stops on the iconic tube map, and when you’re in London, don’t forget the accompanying tourist paraphernalia including “Mind the Gap” t-shirts and refrigerator magnets.

As convenient as it is to get to Chelsea on the tube, at the end of the day, I’d much rather walk out the Bullring Gate and take a cab back to the hotel. It’s exhausting looking at all those gardens, especially after a Pimm’s or two.

This summer we’ll take to the water for the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, on

Hampton Court, 2007

the Thames River Boat from Westminster – the entire three-hour trip, instead of getting on at Richmond. We saw the boats arriving last time we went to Hampton Court, and thought it would be a great way to see an entirely different view of London. After the show (and a Pimm’s or two), we’ll get on the train that takes us back to Waterloo. The train station is a 10-minute walk from Hampton Court; not everything is a 10-minute walk in London, but these really are easy journeys.

The potted garden

March 2, 2010

holly & ivy, Whichford

This summer, I must stop in at Whichford Pottery for a visit and to admire more of their fabulous work in terra cotta. I have several Whichford pots – Country Garden Antiques in Wapato carries them, and they usually have a booth at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show (where were they this year?). Whichford pots are sturdy, do not succumb to frost or feeze damage, and come in wonderfully traditional shapes (long toms, auricula pots) and many sizes. They are worth every penny.

Smith College had a wonderful exhibition on the pot. Much of the information is still online. Guy Wolff, an American potter – I have some of his pots, too – was part of the exhibition.

The baggallini brigade

February 16, 2010

I didn’t know that baggallini bags were such a cult item. While signing books at the University Bookstore author’s table at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, someone noticed my baggallini Around Town Bagg (color: espresso/tomato) and pointed to her own baggallini. We’re our own underground group.

I promised that this bag would be for travel, but I can’t stop using it for everyday, because it’s so darn handy. The pockets! One for business cards, one for sunglasses (safely stowed through most of the Seattle winter), one for thin stuff, one for big stuff, another one for big stuff, a little one inside that one. Whew. And a wide strap that doesn’t kill my shoulders. Coming up, the travel test as I head to Philadelphia to speak at the flower show, Chicago to check out their show, then later in March to Texas to check out the bluebonnets. This summer, Ireland, England. Fall, Italy. This is what comes of not going anywhere in the awful year 2009, I’m ready to burst at the seams. But my baggallini will be intact.

Gifts for the Garden Traveler

December 14, 2009

Gardeners’ stockings are soon to be filled with Atlas gloves, trowels, sisal twine and bird netting, but those of us who also enjoy traveling to garden may have a few other items on our minds.

The garden traveler’s holiday wish list is a hybrid of sorts – somewhere between a normal tourist and a gardener.

A tour – Cough up the bucks and send your garden traveler (or yourself) on a specialty tour with like-minded people, who want to discuss the merits ofCrinodendron hookerianum and where it will grow. Our Ireland tour for 2010 may be just the ticket.

A digital camera – And not just any cheap or any expensive model. We take pictures outside and so we need more than a 2.5- or 3-inch LCD screen on the back of the camera: We need a viewfinder. Call it old-fashioned, but in bright daylight those screens are useless. Canon has some reasonably priced models that all include viewfinders; check out the SD780IS. Yes, we do need that image stabilizer – this isn’t a professional photographers tour, and we won’t wait around while you set up your fancy equipment. Anyway, many gardens have a “no tripod” rule, and so we must be our own tripods.

Something to write on – Garden travelers take notes. We may need to jot down the name of a plant or something funny that our local guide says (“The crowd will be heaving.”) And occasionally, we may need to write that down in middle of a light mist. So, a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook comes in handy. They come in all

Leighton's beer notebook

sizes and have yellow covers. Leighton has a small one that he uses as his beer notebook; you never know when a splash of a best bitter might land on an important comment. Rite-in-the-Rain also carries pencils for wet-weather use.

A raincoat, not an umbrella – See previous entry on my biases.

A travel purse – I’ve found mine, it’s a Baggalini. Wide strap to go over my shoulder, enough but not too many zipper pockets and loads of room even though it looks small. Waterproof for those less-than-perfect weather days.

Really good walking shoes – We are not hikers; or at least, this is not a hiking trip. Shoes are too personal to recommend, but I’ll tell you I love my new Clarks Unstructured. Take two pairs so that they can get a rest every other day.

Books about the gardens you want to see – Patrick Taylor’s book The Gardens of Britain and Ireland will give you a good overview. The Good Gardens Guide by Peter King usually comes out every year. Is there a particular place you want to read about? Ask me for a recommendation.

And, for those lovers of English ale, Leighton recommends The Good Beer Guide – which brews are the best and where to find them. To get the 2010 edition, you must go to the amazon UK site.

See you in the garden. Or the pub.

Dreaming of Damsons

November 25, 2009

It’s dark and rainy, but I’m dreaming of Damson jam from a little tea shop in Hawkshead in the Lake District. Maybe it’s on my mind even more, because some parts of England have had terrible flooding in the week. The Telegraph describes the destruction, much of which was centered near Cockermouth, just northwest of Hawkshead. Part of what was damaged was William Wordsworth’s childhood home, now part of the National Trust (the school he attended is in Hawkshead), as reported here.

The devestation looks terrible. Bridges are closed all over the area, including near Hawkshead. It’s difficult to think of such a beautiful area – one of our favorite places to visit – so damaged. All this is near Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s home.

At the University Bookstore last week, I saw an endcap display of Beatrix Potter, which of course brought the Lake District to mind, too. The book, Beatrix Potter: At Home in the Lake District (Susan Denyer, Frances Lincoln, 2004), has wonderful photos of Hill Top and shows lots of Beatrix’s artwork. Hill Top is just up the road from us when we stay at Sawrey House Hotel, and so I can’t help but feel it’s in “our” neighborhood.” In one photo in the book, you can see the Tower Bank Arms, now a fine pub and B&B. We had a couple of pints there (Leighton says he drank Barnsgate Tag Lag and York Final Whistle, among other fine ales).

Let’s hope for a speedy recovery for all there. I look forward to a return trip.

Hidcote Manor – a great story

October 22, 2009

Hidcote Manor GardensWhen you love a garden, you want to know everything about it. Not just about the garden itself, its plants, pathways and ornament, but also about the garden maker, his history, his inspiration, his life. Or hers.  If you love Dumbarton Oaks, then you want to know about Beatrix Farrand; if you love Barnsley House, then it’s Rosemary Verey (and just where is that biography?). For me, it’s Hidcote Manor Gardens and its maker Lawrence Johnston. And so I’m delighted to have been sent a review copy of Ethne Clarke’s new edition of her book first published in 1989.

Hidcote: The Making of a Garden (Revised Edition) Ethne Clarke; forward by Roy Strong. W.W. Norton, New York, 2009. 184 pages. $45

What moves us to create gardens? In the new edition of her book Hidcote: The Making of a Garden, Ethne Clarke explores the influences of family, friends and the atmosphere of early 20th-century England on Lawrence Johnston that led him to create Hidcote Manor Gardens, one of the most influential landscapes of the 20th century.

Americans Johnston and his mother, moved to the Cotwold village of Hidcote Bartrim in 1907, and Johnston (at first with his mother) began what he would not finish until 1948, the year he signed a deed of trust that handed over Hidcote to the National Trust—the first garden it acquired and which it still maintains today.

Information unearthed in the last few years led to Clarke’s new edition, which delves more deeply into Johnston’s life and times. It’s an enjoyable and fascinating read, sort of a gossipy tell-all but with actual facts and a good bit of garden design theory thrown in. Johnston brought together two warring schools of thought at the time—formal garden design versus the naturalistic approach. He used both, with a formal landscape near the house segueing into the wild further out.

Clarke traces the influence of Johnston’s family and friends, the effects of World War I and the social influences of the times had on him. The account, personable and fascinating, tells a lively story and brings Johnston and Hidcote, the first garden to be acquired by the National Trust, to life. We’ve taken two groups through Hidcote, and each time property manager Mike Beeston has told us great behind-the-scenes stories; my favorite was the rumor that Norah Lindsay’s daughter Nancy burned all of Johnston’s papers because she was so upset not to have inherited Hidcote. I’ve not seen that story anywhere else until I read Clarke’s book.

Johnston’s garden design, from the round bathing pool to the tapestry hedges to the Pillar Garden was borrowed again and again and we are fortunate to have the original as a standard as well as a continuing model.