Monday 25 July 2016

Summer 2016

What would your definition be of the quintessential English summer?

Does a hot summer's day, in a garden, listening to a brass band, surrounded by the heady scents of flowers, come close?

A visit to Burton Agnes hall and gardens 

last Sunday provided all of that and more.

Admittedly there were only four instrumentalists, but the sound echoing round the courtyard was just wonderful and so atmospheric.

The gardens here are brilliant, especially the Walled Garden, which is another of my obsessions.

I really enjoy seeing how the original ethos of providing the big house with all year round fruit, flowers and vegetables has evolved and how the space is currently used.

Still with a large potager and lots of fruit in evidence, this walled garden is quite special. 

In addition to containing over 4000 different plant species it is also home to the National Collection of Campanulas and provides lots of family interest with giant board games; chess, hop scotch, hoopla and snakes and ladders

and draughts.

each within its own satellite colour themed and incredibly private garden.

This one goes all out for the family visitors, with sufficient horticultural interest for plant lovers and walks (The Woodland) and The Maze to keep everyone happy. 

Unless like my family (with several degrees between them) who could neither find the maze entry or having followed a small child in could not find their way out!

At least I had a quiet sit in the shade, listening to the music and smelling the wonderful heady scent of Paul's Himalayan Musk.

And again, surprise, surprise, tea and refreshments for the weary but safely returned adventurers.

Doesn't get any better than that.

Tuesday 12 July 2016

Gravetye Manor

I absolutely adore visiting gardens (as if you hadn't guessed!)

There's always so much to see, learn and admire (plus the odd cup of tea and cake!).

The English have been described as a nation of shopkeepers; I think it's more accurate to say we are a nation of gardeners.

Like Capability Brown, whose individual style was famously copied on the Continent and beyond, there existed a later Englishman whose huge contribution and influence to the evolution of English gardens has largely gone unrecognised; William Robinson. 

He lived at Gravetye Manor from 1884 and created the wonderful gardens which have been, after a period of neglect, maintained in his original concept.

He was a pioneer of the English natural garden style and influenced many of those, including Gertrude Jekyll, who followed. 

A gardener, botanist and writer, his ideas were, for that time, quite radical and innovative. 

"In this, as in other matters pertaining to fitness and beauty, each place is treated according to its own character. A garden should grow out of its own site if we are to have the best of it. One should think of the spot and what can best be done with it ..."
June 1918

Pretty much as garden design theory exits today; think genius loci, Beth Chatto "right plant, right place" and the more relaxed New Perennial movement.

The plan below shows the layout and scale of his gardens.

Map reproduced from

When other gardeners were attempting to subdue and control Robinson saw a different approach; a less formal and more naturalistic style.

The garden flows and ebbs beautifully on many different levels and I absolutely loved the unusual shape and design of the kitchen garden.

and the fabulous gate at the northern end: beautiful design.


Now part of the Relais & Chateaux group the garden is only accessible to hotel residents or diners. I have to own up and say I had more than a cup of tea or cake here - but the cost of a lunch is well worth it to be able to access the gardens.

It was both illuminating and enchanting. 

And the food's pretty good too!

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Capability Brown

This year sees the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown's birth and I like this portrait of the man which shows him, without wig, and smiling. 
He looks so approachable. 
Had I been a stately home owner back in the day, and could have afforded his fees and the cost of the re-vamp, I would certainly have hired him.

Image from

One of his accolades was to be nicknamed "England's greatest gardener".
I think nowadays he would more correctly be called a landscape architect, given the scale of his work.
But he was much more than that.

In the 18th century he was the designer of choice with an unparalled celebrity status and was responsible for the creation of landscapes around many stately homes, some of which were years in the making.

Blenheim Palace

His vision of the landscape was both monumental and original. 
He not only sculpted and planted the land, but built bridges and classical structures to enhance his creations.


A whole new environment was built, with artfully placed trees, water and buildings forming an harmonious whole.  


And his greatest gift of all was to make the whole look completely natural. 

"Such, however, was the effect of his genius that when he was the happiest man, he will be least remembered; so closely did he copy nature that his works will be mistaken". Anon.

What an epitaph.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Roof garden

It's amazing how many roof or above ground gardens can be found once you start looking.

In London recently I was treated to lunch at the most amazing place.

Image taken from Babylon roof garden site

I'm ashamed to admit I've been a regular visitor to London for more years than I care to mention but I never knew this was there.

The garden is on the sixth floor of the Derry and Toms building and has a soil depth of a mere 18ins.

This is difficult to believe when there are clearly some very mature trees, dating from the initial planting, in 1938, which are almost to the height of the seventh floor.

The planting elsewhere is lush and vibrant and the themed areas are a joy.

The Alhambra one is particularly well done, with lots of Moorish connotations both exotic and erotic. 

There's a romantic almost gothic inspired secluded walk.

The garden is free to visit, provided there is no private function being held, but for a bird's eye view - book into the restaurant on the seventh floor and have a really fab day.

Oh......and there are real live flamingoes!

Monday 18 April 2016

New building

There seems to be a sudden rush of gardens built, or to be built, above ground.

In many urban areas this makes a deal of sense since ground space is not only scarce but valuable.

Planning permission has been granted for the latest Maggie's Centre, in Leeds, within an already densely built environment.

Photo courtesy of Heatherwick studios

The design brief to the Heatherwick studios 

was to create a "positive environment to calm minds and foster a sense of well being" and to provide "qualities of a garden with shared and private spaces". 

Photo courtesy of Heatherwick studios

These centres offer free support to anyone affected by cancer. Often outside space is important to enable this to be delivered and can be difficult to provide given the physical constraints of the site.

Photo courtesy of Heatherwick studios

Internal spaces, both private and shared, are also important to facilitate year round usage and plants are of proven mental health benefits.

Looking at these images, there seems to be lots of little spaces, tucked away to give maximum privacy, but also larger areas which encourage socialising.

Photo courtesy of Heatherwick studios

The buildings themselves remind me of ancient Arabic dwellings found in dry and arid desert regions. 
But I think the abundant injections of greenery both compliment and soften these organic exteriors.

I hope the gardens will provide the oasis of support needed and can't wait to see the fully built project. What a lovely and worthwhile scheme to be involved with.

Good luck to all concerned.

Friday 1 April 2016

Peckham coal line

Not exactly a title to make you think of a garden, or even greenery and certainly not a green community space.

But how about this.

Following on the heels and success of the High Line comes a proposal to turn a disused elevated section of rail line in London - in Peckham to be precise - into a linear park. 

Image from

Perhaps not quite the same cachet and certainly not the same length or having as many opportunities as the New York one it is however commendable for a number of reasons. 

Not least that it will provide a desperately needed non concrete environment for locals to enjoy but that they are being involved right from the start. 

image from proposal

People have been encouraged to suggest uses and ideas for the project, volunteer practical skills and help and more importantly, to donate funds via crowd funding. 

Image from

Southwark council and the Mayor of London's fund have both promised £10k with Sustrans 
pitching in £7k but amazingly the project has already reached its funding target and is now moving forward.

Image from

So many congratulations to the initiators of the scheme. 

Let's hope it encourages other people around the country to look for similiar opportunities to provide city dwellers with green lungs.

Once completed I look forward to visiting, with real photos to show the line in all its glory. 
Until then conceptual computer generated images will have to suffice. 

Sunday 21 February 2016

A new begining?

Did you see the recent announcement about the plant experiment conducted in the International Space station where "the first ever plant flowered in space"?

How beautiful does this little Zinnia look - and what an achievement.

Some of the photos are just amazing.

photos taken from

How can a seed grow in zero gravity? 
How does it know to send the roots down and the flower up? Or does it not matter?

So many questions but such a brilliant result. 

Seems the astronauts also managed to grow red romaine lettuce which they ate. Doesn't this open new options for extended space flight?

Not about to pooh on their success but technically the accolade for the first flower grown in space belongs to Don Pettit who in 2012 produced a sunflower.

credit Nasa 

And if I'm being really picky we could go back to 1982 when the Soviet Salyut 7 crew grew some Arabidopsis (rockcress) which flowered and then produced seed.

Although edible I wonder if the Zinnia was grown primarily as an ornamental - on the grounds that food is not the only requirement to sustain a happy existence. 
Is this some acknowledgement that all things green nourish the soul and gladden the heart?
For whatever reason the Zinnia promises wonderful things in space which I can only commend.