Archive for the ‘Iford Manor’ Category

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


Topiary times

August 31, 2009

We don’t have enough topiary in the U.S.—not that I’m about to start clipping, but I always admire the work of others when we visit gardens in England. My favorite was the row of yew elephants that head gardener Ed Cross created at Hazelbury, near the village of Box in Wiltshire. The row of mature yew grown into arches

elephants in Wiltshire

elephants in Wiltshire

was already there, so Ed just couldn’t resist the temptation. The first time we saw them in 2004, he had just started and sent me a photo of his template. I took another picture during second visit two years ago, and you can see the beginning of the elephant form. Too bad the owners got wind of what he was doing and made him shear the elephants back into plain yew.

elephants appear

elephants appear

Of course, we all love the topiary at Hidcote and at Great Dixter.

Great Dixter

Great Dixter

You know, come to think of it, I could get just a small yew in a pot and start clipping. What would it be—a chicken? A teapot? A sofa? We saw an entire living room set clipped out of boxwood at Iford Manor; our guide Stuart decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

Iford furniture

Iford furniture

It may not be as easy as it sounds—Matthew Appleby at the Telegraph writes that gardeners are taking a new interest in the art, but his attempt at a simple shape met with mixed results.

Pieces of the puzzle

August 25, 2008

Putting together a garden tour is like fitting the pieces of a jigsaw together.  I found this out when I arranged a tour of Seattle-area gardens for a group from out of town, and I’m going through it again now as we finalize the draft itinerary of next May’s England trip.  It isn’t just how long we’ll be sitting on our small coach to get to the garden, it’s our experience when we get there, and making sure there’s a good mix of landscapes.

I could just slap together a list of names — all the most popular tourist stops — but our tours have never been the kind of trips that Chevy Chase’s character in the Vacation movies would enjoy (“Don’t you want to see the Grand Canyon?”).  All of the big, famous gardens are big and famous for a reason — Kew, Wisley, Sissinghurst are all fabulous — but you never get to sit down and have a cup of tea with the gardener.  I like personal gardens mixed in with the big and famous.  It’s seeing the Lutyens/Jekyll design and plantings at Hestercombe, but it’s also hearing Judy Pearce talk about how she turned Lady Farm from a muddy dairy farm into the incredible garden it is today — and then having tea in her summer house.

Of course, getting the good stories about the big gardens makes those visits more personal, too.  Mrs. Cartwright Hignett talks about keeping up appearances at Iford Manor so that Harold Peto’s creation doesn’t go sliding down the hill into the Frome.  Mike Beeston, property manager at Hidcote Manor Garden, tells quite a tale of just why it’s taken 60 years to find out what Lawrence Johnston had intended.  It’s a story that I love to pass along, and will do so when I herd our small flock of gardeners through next May.


Get on the bus

August 20, 2008

Excuse me, that’s “coach.”  We’re ironing out details for next May’s England tour, and I’m reminded that your group’s mode of transportation can make a great deal of difference to how you are perceived and where you fit.

            Our first garden tour in England, Stuart drove a purple coach, hired from some firm that had plastered a Euro Disney ad on the side.  This wasn’t a large coach, seating only about 30 or so, but it didn’t have to be to get attention.  Wherever we went, someone would come up and ask Stuart if he had a brochure on the Euro Disney trip.

            After that, Stuart bought his own small coach, this one white with no advert.  It could hold about 22; two seats on one side of the aisle, one seat on the other.  It was a puzzle to fit all the luggage in the back — and we never had more than 16 people, so that’s a small bags compartment for a coach.

            What’s important to me on a coach tour, is that there are loads of windows and comfortable seats.  An overhead bin for small bags is good, too.  Toilets on board are only for large coaches, and I’m not interested in that.  I’ll be sure find the loo at each stop.

            A friend recently visited Iford Manor in Wiltshire, one of my favorite gardens.  He asked how in the world we got our bus down the little lane.  See, that’s one of the best things about a small coach — you can go places that others can’t. 

            Big buses have their virtues.  I’ve heard that Sue Buckles’s famous England tours for the Northwest Perennial Alliance always used a big bus.  Every person got a window and there was plenty of room for all the plants they bought at nurseries.  Our tours are different — even when it was easy to bring plants back to the U.S., I’d rather spend my evenings in the pub than washing soil off roots.

And large coaches just scream “TOURIST”.  I won’t be on one of those behemoth buses, the kind that have enormous side mirrors that look like insect feelers.  How could you possibly get down a tiny lane or through a small village?  I don’t want to stick out that much.  It suits our touring style to be more modest; we feel comfortable stopping at private gardens and having tea with the owner.  It’s all a matter of what you’re looking for in a tour.

How many gardeners do you have?

June 16, 2008

We visit gardens large and small, public and private, tidy and wild — and always ask the same question: “How many gardeners do you have?”

I was reminded of this last Friday, as I weeded the parking strip in preparation for a group of about 20 coming over on Saturday afternoon.  It was a reunion for our Charleston and Savannah trip at the end of March; the last time these folks had seen the garden it was February at our planning meeting — surely it could look better than that?

One gardener (me), that’s my answer to the question, although, of course, Leighton helps wherever he can and wherever I’ll let him.  That’s sometimes the answer we get in private gardens we visit, but if we ask another way (“You do all this work yourself?”) then often we’ll hear that there’s a man half-day a week or something.

My favorite answer to the question was from Mrs. Cartwright-Hignett at Iford Manor.  When we asked her how many gardeners she had to maintain the landscape, which was designed and built by Harold Peto in the early part of the 20th century, she said “We have two gardeners and a husband.”  And that’s quite a feat, because the garden is fabulous, even though they have had to shore up the hillside and rebuilt a long gravel walk so that the whole thing doesn’t slide into the Frome River.

Next month, I’ll be leading a garden tour in my own backyard, so to speak.  I’m taking a group from the Ladew Topiary Gardens around to Seattle-area gardens.  We’ll visit Tina Dixon’s garden, which is a real treat.  Beautifully landscaped beds, funky artwork and a surprise around every turn.  Tina owns Plants a la Cart, a container gardening business.  To help keep her own garden in top shape, she employs a gardener.  I love this:  a gardener with a gardener.  I guess that’s my goal.