Posts Tagged ‘England’

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.

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.

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.

What IS that plant?

October 18, 2008

I was just out dismantling an elderberry – it’s Sambucus nigra ‘Guincho Purple’, now starting to get that apricot look to the foliage before it drops.  It’s not that I don’t like the plant, I love elderberries, but I have a fabulous buckthorn to put there: Rhamnus alaternus ‘Argenteovariegata’.  It’ll be a brighter look to the corner, and it’s not like I’ll be without the European elderberry.  I have f. lacinata in back, and its marketed purple-leaf selection ‘Black Lace’ in a pot; I also have a weak-growing variegated selection whose name escapes me at the moment.

Elderberries are wonderful shrubs and so forgiving of being whacked back (I expect ‘Guincho Purple’ to come back, and I’ll probably keep it a 3-foot shrub size instead of the 15 feet it has reached).  Working on the elderberry at this time of year inevitably made me think of when we usually see it in its native habitat:  May in England.  The hedgerows are full of white blooms, from the plate-shaped elderberry to bunches of hawthorn to the lacecap look of Viburnum opulus.  It’s a beautiful site, even alongside A roads, which can be quite freewaylike, although not as much as M roads.

I’d be able to pick out an elderberry at almost any time of year, but some plants can get me stumped if I’ve only seen them, for example, on late-spring tours of England or Ireland.  The first time I saw Luma apiculata, I was amazed.  We were in a private garden in County Wexford that is no longer open.  It was June.  A small tree with multiple trunks (such an elegant look) caught our eye; the bark was patchy and fuzzy – like a staghorn sumac.  It was gorgeous.

Fast-forward to a visit to Dan Hinkley’s garden Windcliff last July.  I was taking the Ladew folks around, and as we walked down the drive, there was a lovely shrub that had small sparkly white flowers.  Of course people wanted to know what it was; I stared at it and thought “I know what you are…what are you?”

Fast-forward again to about a month ago, when suddenly, unbidden, it came to me:  I had seen a small Luma apiculata without its fuzzy bark (it actually goes through a period where it sheds its bark) and in bloom.  I’m so proud of myself.  If I had a Luma apiculata, I could see each and every one of its seasons.  I wonder where I’d plant it.

How’s the weather

September 16, 2008

Fair skies today in Seattle, but it won’t be long before the gray creeps in — our rainy season officially begins in October.  We hope for a peaceful fall and winter, both here and in other gardens, especially those we’ll visit in the spring in Charleston and Savannah and then in England.

            With hurricanes rolling through on a regular basis, it’s a wonder there’s still so much to see in Charleston.  It’s an old city, as is Savannah, both founded in the mid-18th century.  I arrange for local garden designers to take our group around, and of course the stories of the gardens are always entwined with the stories of the town and the people. 

            That’s the great thing about our small-group tours, whether we are taking with Frances Parker in Beaufort, South Carolina (where we stop on our way to Savannah) and admiring the 200-year-old bay laurel hedge or at Hestercombe in Somerset, hearing how Edwin Lutyens designed the garden so that you would never have to look at the house (no one has anything nice to say about the house) we always get the gardener’s eye view of the landscape.  It’s something we can understand — it’s our own version of lands across the water.


*An update on the bundle packing from  I chickened out when I packed for Spokane in August.  It occurred to me that if I had been one of the chosen ones, and got my bag searched, that there would be no more bundle left.  Isn’t that right?  Wouldn’t they take apart the whole thing?  So, maybe I’ll try it out when I pack for Portland, because this time I’m on the train.  I’m off to the Garden Writers Association’s national symposium (go ahead and say it “There’s a whole association for garden writers?”).

A good read

September 2, 2008

            Gardens, gardeners and plants figure sporadically into novels.  Several years ago when I was still volunteering at the Miller Library (a fabulous gardening library at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture), I helped librarian Brian Thompson create a list of mostly fictional books where gardening was at least a part of the story.  It ranged from Nero Wolfe’s orchids to Miss Marple, who wisely said: “Gardening is the best disguise”.

            Gardening is often woven into English writing, showing it’s more ingrained in the lives of the English than it is ours in the U.S.  You can’t turn a page in the Harry Potter series without Jo Rowling mentioning plants and gardens, from someone tripping over an aspidistra to a description of the rhododendrons in the Weasley garden (let alone what goes on in the greenhouses at Hogwarts).

            So, it’s no wonder it was a Brit who came up with the English Garden Mystery series.  Our friends and fellow anglophiles Holly and Gerry Wilson told us about the books.  The author, Anthony Eglin (who now lives in California) has three books out with a fourth expected next spring.  I’m reading them in order, just in case I need to know something about protagonist/gardener Lawrence Kingston (there’s a good physical description of Kingston in the first book, The Blue Rose, but if you need a visual aid, check out the author’s photo on the inside back cover).

            What fun to see Hidcote Manor Garden featured so prominently in The Lost Gardens (as well as a good short history of Heligan).  Plants, gardens and garden history take center stage here, and the author, a rose specialist, takes great pleasure in making the plot turn on some horticultural aspect.  (Just this one small misstep:  In The Blue Rose, the author mentions “clematis tendrils.”  Clematis don’t have tendrils — grapes have tendrils, sweet peas have tendrils, clematis climb by twining their petioles — leaf stems — around a support.)

            I’m about halfway through The Lost Gardens, which takes place in Somerset (as did The Blue Rose); I await my afternoon cup of tea to find out what will happen next at Wickersham.