The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Here's to You, Mr. Robinson

After attending the Chelsea Flower Show,  I took the train to see Gravetye Manor and Garden, the West Sussex home of garden writer William Robinson. Robinson lived there from 1884 until his death in 1935. He wrote The English Flower Garden and The Wild Garden, both remain relevant to today's gardeners. The Wild Garden was recently re-issued in 2009 with chapters added by the American garden writer, Rick Darke. Robinson was noted for challenging the Victorian fashion of using bedding-out plantings in rigid geometrically-shaped beds. Robinson advocated using native and exotic plants used in a natural way that reflected where they were found in nature. He was inspired by seeing plants in their natural habitats in North America and throughout Europe. The house has been a luxury hotel and restaurant for many years. The gardens are currently being refurbished by Dixter-trained Head Gardener, Tom Coward.

The house looking from the Wildflower Meadow

The entrance to the Flower Garden

                                     A view from across the garden to the same entrance

The opposite veiw from the entance

The Azalea Bank was still in bloom in mid-May

Steps in the Azalea Bank

The Croquet Lawn above the House; the top of the Azalea bank can be seen at the left

A path in the Wild Garden

A handkerchief tree, Davidia involucrata, was in full flower in the Wild Garden.

Camassia in the Wild Garden

The artfully arranged Kitchen Garden was huge

A seat with William Robinson's initials in the Kitchen Garden

This garden, along a wall at the top of the Wild Flower Meadow,  had some of the best combinations of plants I saw that day

I am uncertain of the name of the yellow spire in front of the ornamental rhubarb. I am sure it would not be hardy in New Hampshire but it was beautiful.

A pair of cardoons, with a purple-leafed fennel tucked beneath their broad grey foliage, were planted with a grass and the crimson flowers of Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’

I have no idea what this plant is (I would welcome an ID) but I thought it had a magnificent presence

The Wildflower Meadow

The bouquet on my table where I had tea

Visiting Gravetye was a sort of  pilgrimage for me in my gardening education. There was much that inspired me for my own garden in Peterborough. I was thrilled to finally see it in person. Wave Hill, the public garden in the Bronx, has several gardens (most notably, their "Wild Garden") which are planted in a style reminiscent of Robinson. I think their "Flower Garden" may have also been inspired by the Gravetye Flower Garden. I have studied those gardens for many years. Now I finally see how they were informed by Robinson.

In my own garden, I am interested in both strong design and interesting plantings. Gravetye has both. Gardens worth preserving need a strong and coherent design first and foremost. When the bones are good and well-executed, an old garden almost calls for renewal. This garden has literal bones, i.e. walls, steps, pergolas, and spiritual bones, i.e. the writings of Robinson. It is a garden I hope to revisit on foot and by the fireplace with a book in hand.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pettifers in May

Last month, The Passionate Gardener Tour visited Pettifers Garden in Oxfordshire. I had checked out the garden last spring and I was pleased to be able to take my group this year. The owner, Gina Price, showed us around the garden pointing out interesting plant combinations and discussing changes in the garden.The formal Parterre at the heart of the garden looks good from every angle. 

Even the driveway has a handsome topiary planting.

Iris lactea, above, is new to me and is on my list of plants I want to add to my garden. It is a common wild iris from China, Afghanistan and Korea. I liked the light blue flower matched with the thin foliage of this sweet-looking iris.

I loved the combination above last year and I couldn't resist photographing it again.

Every year, there seems to be a plant that I discover in multiple gardens. This year, it was Valeriana pyrenaica. It is a native of the Pyrenees Mountains. It is a self-seeding perennial with small lilac-colored flowers. I also saw it used to nice effect at Great Dixter. Ed Bowen of Opus Plants has carried it in the past. I am hoping to get a plant from him the next time he has it available.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Planting and Arranging in the Blue Garden at Great Dixter

Last month, while we visited Great Dixter, we got to see firsthand the process of succession planting that the late Christopher Lloyd and Head Gardener Fergus Garrett wrote about in their book titled Succession Planting for Year-round Pleasure. Immediately after our tour, our guide Rachael Dodd, got back to work arranging pots with students on the landing of the Lutyens Steps in the Blue Garden. Meanwhile, another group of students was working on making a planting shift in the garden.

Rachael, in the blue-checked shirt, was collaborating with two students on the best arrangement of pots. They were debating/discussing the best combinations of color, and more importantly texture, in the combinations of plants. I'm sure the size and shape of the pots also contributed to the equation. Several of the gardens, most notably the House Entrance, have elaborate pot plantings. It is an excellent way to experiment with combinations of plants because the pots are easily rearranged without disturbing the plants.

In the Blue Garden, another group of students was planting out annuals and shrubs into the garden itself. A series of planks was used to protect the lawn and to prevent the soil in the garden from becoming compacted. Lessons learned in pot arranging translate well into planting a mixed border.

Yet another gardener was working in Orchard Garden while were we at Great Dixter.

The Long Border is the best example of succession planting at Great Dixter. It is a long and very deep mixed border containing trees, shrubs, perennials, biennials, bulbs and tender annuals. The bones that Edwin Lutyens created around 1910-1913 are the perfect backdrop for the vibrant and ever-changing planting scheme for which Great Dixter is known. Below is the arrangement of pots at the Front Entrance to the house that were on display when we visited last month.

For me, the best part about Great Dixter is the energy of learning and experimentation that has been palpable during every visit I have made to Great Dixter. Fergus Garrett has carried on and enhanced Christopher Lloyd's legacy for education. The Great Dixter website says it best:

"Christopher Lloyd established the garden at Great Dixter as a place where young and old gardeners would meet and share their excitement for plants. His writing in both books and the press stimulated gardeners all around the world. Students come to Dixter to learn practical skills and develop a deeper understanding of the craft of traditional flower gardening. Fergus Garrett, Christopher’s friend and head gardener, continues his legacy, both in the borders at Great Dixter and through his work with students."

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Upgrades at Barnsley House

The Laburnum Walk at Barnsley House has been rehabilitated by the head gardener, Richard Gatenby. The picture above was taken while I was visiting in May 2014. During that trip, Richard told us that the iconic allee of laburnum and wisteria under-planted with alliums needed renovation and the best long-term solution was to remove the trees and begin again. 

In April 2015, Richard removed the laburnums. On his blog, The Gardens at Barnsley House, he wrote "Cutting the Laburnums was upsetting; but it had to be done and I wanted to be the one wielding the blade, I didn't want contractors professionally and clinically laying it low. It was important that the gardeners of Barnsley House invested in the garden and did their bit for it's future; not only the routine important tasks of brush and dust pan, sowing and planting but the hard bit too."

I didn't visit Barnsley House last year, so I was delighted to see the progress of the Laburnum Walk which Richard hopes will mature to its earlier glory in 5 years time. The new metal arch was made by a blacksmith named Michael Clifford. Richard was pleased with the way Clifford removed the galvanized shine on the metal to create a weathered patina. The increased light revitalized the under-planting beneath the arches. I am confident Richard's five year goal will be achieved.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Best in Show at Chelsea

Andy Sturgeon's modern Jurassic Garden for the Telegraph won Best in Show at Chelsea last week. His intention for the garden was quite ambitious. He explained "Fundamentally, I was making a simple connection between colossal geological events that shape our planet, vast timescales and man’s relatively fleeting and insignificant time on Earth." He used 17 "bony plates' made of bronze to represent the spine of a stegosaurus. For hardscape, he also used smooth oatmeal-colored limestone, complete with Jurassic fossils for the paths, and contrasted it with ancient boulders quarried from the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset.

To my eye, the garden was a bit visually jarring. Although this garden was beautifully executed, I don't believe it will stand the test of time the way the last two winners, Dan Pearson or Luciano Giubbilei, will. It came across as trendy, but not timeless.

The Husqvarna Garden by Australian designer Charlie Albone, which won a Silver-Gilt award, was one of the few show gardens conceived along traditional formal lines. Perhaps the design erred on the side of being too safe and traditional, but I thought the way the plants were put together was beautiful.


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