Archive for the ‘garden history’ 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.


Italian cypress, not so Italian after all

December 2, 2010

Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) evokes a sense of place more than many plants – those tall, slim, exclamation points in the landscape, whether planted in rows, dotted around or gathered together in small groups, have always spoken of Italy to me. Their contribution to the rolling hills of Tuscany is not overrated, as I saw on our first visit there, in October. From the garden of the villa where we stayed, we could look the cypresses throughout the valley and across to the next hill town. On day trips, we saw them lining driveways that criss-crossed hills up to a house. Close-up we could marvel at the blobby round cones with deep fissures in them. Two things became clear on our visit, one I knew but never appreciated, and the other a surprise.

San Domenico, Siena

Those tall slim cypresses that we see in the States are mostly from a single cultivar. Well, not really a cultivar, but a group. It’s the Stricta group, instead of ‘Stricta’, because over time many slim forms of the cypress occurred, some raised from seed instead of grown from cuttings – and only cuttings would ensure that each ‘Stricta’ was like the last. When raised from seed, they may have some variations in appearance, so all the generally exquisitely narrow forms are collected into the general label.

In Tuscany, we saw the variety that can occur with a straight species. Some tall and thin, some more plump, some extremely treelike, with a trunk showing at the bottom benearth the green coat above. OK, it isn’t as if some of them looked like Monterey cypress, with the wide, wild, windswept appearance that growing on the Northern California coast provides, but still, there was a good mix of Italian cypress forms.

La Foce

The surprise is that Italian cypress probably isn’t native to Italy. It is native to Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean region. Because it has been in cultivation for so long – and we’re talking thousands of years – it has naturalized in areas where it was planted. And one of those places is Italy.

Oh, some people scoff at those of us who call it Italian cypress – how could we be so dense? – and refer to it as the Mediterranean cypress; fine, do as you like. But I’ve been to Italy now and I’ve seen it. It is too securely fastened to my memory, and it won’t be anything else but Italian.


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.

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.

London squares, books and pubs

August 7, 2009

Around the corner from our favorite little hotel in London—the Harlingford Hotel in HarlingfordCartwright Gardens—and along our short walk to Russell Square and its fabulously restored gardens—we walk along Queen Square.  The first time we did this we saw a plaque at 3 Queen Square for Faber and Faber. We are Book People, and as such we were thrilled to see one of the offices of such a venerable publisher.  Now, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, Faber and Faber celebrates its 80th birthday.

The Telegraph’s article tells a wonderful story, not least of which is how the publishing company’s name came about.  Toby Clements reports that poet Walter de la Mare was the one who suggested that Geoffrey Faber add another Faber to the name.  “ … not because there was another Faber—there wasn’t—but because ‘you can’t have too much of a good thing.’ ”

In Queen Square is a statue of Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III; it’s a comfy place where loads of mothers and nannies take children to play.  Just on the corner is the Queen’s Larder, one of our favorite pubs, and where the Queen supposedly stayed while her husband was being treated by nearby doctors.  One summer day, we sat outside the pub with a pint and watched some Morris dancers who were practicing for a competition or show elsewhere.  You never know what you run into in London.

And Russell Square—it’s one of the best of the London squares.  When we arrive in London too early to check into the Harlingford, and we’re trying desperately to stay awake, we sit on a bench at the fountain and watch people.  The fountain is a recent addition to a square first designed by Humphry Repton in 1806.  The restoration of the gardens and installation of the fountain created a pleasant green space whether you’re walking through on the way to the British Museum or need to cool off in the fountain’s spray.RussellSquare

We’ll be back in the neighborhood—isn’t it odd how you can come to consider a holiday place home?—in October, and it’ll be interesting to see how London’s fall landscape.

Garden changes, big and small

April 9, 2009

Our own gardens change every year, but usually the changes are small, and we see the gradual shift every day, so it’s not noticeable.  We can look back in photos and think “how small that maple was when we first planted it, and look how it’s grown”, or “that’s right, we had grass there before the patio.”

When we’re absent from a garden for a year or more, the change seems sudden



 to us.  And sometimes the change was sudden and we see the results.  Last year, we took our Charleston tour group to Middleton Place, and I took a photo of their old live oak (Quercus virginiana).  This year, we visited again and saw the tree much changed. Still lots of Spanish moss



 dripping from its arms, but one huge branch had been lost, and the difference was remarkable.


In 2006, we visited Inverewe in Scotland, just a year after a huge wind storm had taken out many of the trees that Osgood Mackenzie planted soon after he acquired the land in 1863.  Inverewe remains an impressive garden, and we loved the woodland walk as much as the protected walled garden down by the sea.03

Those gardens changed because of cataclysmic events; although she isn’t a hurricane, Helen Dillon changes her Dublin garden almost as swiftly.

The first photos I ever saw of her garden showed a long grassy corridor with dense plantings all round.  By the time we took our tour group there in 2004, the grass was gone, replaced by a formal pool, which perfectly sets off the garden.04

I meet up with Helen occasionally where we are both speaking, and every time I see her, something has changed in the garden.  She ripped out the red border, and now she’s changed the front entrance terrace into a birch grove.

We’ll take our group to Helen’s garden on next summer’s tour, and who knows what we’ll find.  Change, for sure – change is the norm, in gardening.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

February 25, 2009

The Missouri Botanical Garden announced the spring installation of a floral clock to mark the garden’s 150th birthday and as a nod to the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904.  The flowers on the 20-foot-diameter display will be changed out seasonally from its debut in May until October, and each season’s arrangement will use up to 8,000 plants.Print

            Floral clocks tell time — since their popularity arose in the early 20th century this has been mechanical, although Linnaeus devised a clock that told time by the opening of flowers.  I can’t imagine trying to find the right mix of flowers to open at each hour of the day.  (A scientific look at Linnaeus and his floral clock can be found from the Linnean Society).

            At the Missouri Botanical Garden, ever mindful these days of our energy usage, a small solar panel will be set up to run the clock.  Even better than the hands turning, will be the electric cuckoo that will mark the quarter hours.  Emerging from its house will not be a cuckoo, though — it will be a bluebird.  Even better, in July, when St. Louis hosts the All-Star game, the bluebird will be replaced by a cardinal.  Go Cards!

            What a fine combination of horticulture, history and civic pride.  All this from a place that is already well known for its fabulous online plant database.  Good on you, Missouri Botanical Garden!