Chambers, Burton and the seven o’clock club

Taking a break for lunch whilst working on a front garden in Teddington last week, I explored the nearby park, Grove Gardens. A bowling green with an immaculate greensward occupies much of the space, surrounded by a waist height evergreen hedge. What struck me, apart from Teddington Bowling Club’s pavilion buildings, which would not have looked out of place in a 1950’s Ealing Comedy, was the scale of the mature conifers around the park’s perimeter. One cedar in particular towers above its neighbours and looks to be of a venerable age. When I read the London Borough of Richmond’s interpretation panel near the park’s entrance, I discovered I was standing in what was once the garden of a large house, Teddington Grove, built in the 1760’s for wealthy business man Moses Franks and demolished in 1920.

The architect of the house is not known, but it is understood that the gardens were designed by Sir William Chambers who built Somerset House and the Kew Pagoda. The grounds at Teddington Grove included flower gardens, parterres, glades and statues. I am intrigued by the fact that at the same time that Chambers was commissioned by new monarch George III to embellish his gardens at Kew, he was also being asked to design a garden a few miles to the south.


The 160 foot high Pagoda was only one of the fantasy buildings designed by Chambers in a variety of exotic styles to decorate the royal gardens. Several have long since disappeared such as the Alhambra, a mosque and a Temple of the Sun. But three classical temples survive (devoted to Aeolus, Bellona and Arethusa) and the Ruined Arch is a feature of the path leading south from Victoria Gate to Lion Gate, known as Camellia Walk. The elegant Orangery is now a self service restaurant but was originally designed to accommodate a collection of citrus trees.

In the summer of 2018 Historic Royal Palaces completed its renovation of the Kew Pagoda, including the 80 fierce gilded dragons which graced its eaves. A few months earlier I had the opportunity to see the restoration project at close quarters when I joined a tour for Kew staff shortly before I left RBG Kew. We were equipped with steel-capped boots, hard hats and heavy duty gloves for the ascent of the building, climbing ladders constructed in the scaffolding with which the Pagoda had been encased for the previous couple of years. As we climbed, we glimpsed the expanse of Kew Gardens unfolding beneath us: the two vistas radiating from the Pagoda to the Palm House and the lake and everywhere Kew’s living collection of trees, a few of which were beginning to display autumnal foliage. The scaffolding extended above the apex to a platform from which we looked down into the space where the gilded finial was to be reinstalled a few months later.


From my sometimes ‘Kew-centric’ perspective it is easy to forget that the eminent architects who designed its iconic buildings had careers which involved commissions other than for the royal gardens at Kew. I recently read that Decimus Burton (1800-1881), who designed Kew’s great glasshouses, the Palm House (1845) and the Temperate House (1860-1898), was the architect of the classical style Athenaeum Club in Pall Mall in 1824 when only 24 years of age. This discovery came about during a discussion with friends one of whom had recently been invited to dine at the club and another of whom had done so some years before. The latter recalled being shown the clock at the top of the imposing marble staircase where the Roman numeral VII appears twice: in its correct position and where one would normally expect to see VIII.


An internet search ensued to find an image of the clock and whilst we could not find an explanation for this orological phenomenon on the club’s website, it did refer to Decimus Burton as having been the architect of the club in which it hangs. In fact Burton’s influence on the layout and design of the West End of London extends well beyond a gentleman’s club in Pall Mall to the grand entrances to Hyde Park, the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner and the enclosure of the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. In Dublin he re-landscaped the magnificent Phoenix Park over the course of about 20 years.


After my stroll around the little park in Teddington last week, I returned to my more modest garden commission (about which more in a later post) delighted to have found an unexpected connection between a secluded park not far from the north bank of the Thames with a famous cousin on the south bank of the river a few miles downstream.

Teddington toad

I came across two of these handsome chaps when preparing the soil for planting a new scheme for a front garden in Teddington on Monday. I hope that they soon resumed their slumbers when I relocated them to the neighbouring flowerbed. Toads featured in my blog post of 7 December 2018.

IMG_6627The second image shows a corner of the garden featuring a multi-stemmed Himalayan Silver Birch, Betula utilis var. jacquemontii. I’ve underplanted it with foxgloves, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, Cyclamen coum and Geranium ‘Phillipe Vapelle’. The scheme also includes the Hard Shield Fern, Polystichum aculeatum,  Hebe ‘Garden Beauty’ Blue and Campanula persicifolia ‘Telham Beauty’ IMG_6636

Squills & Brash

For a few days this week mid February has felt more like early April. The daytime temperature reached 16ºC and the sky was an intense blue unpunctuated by clouds.

Two or three times a year the Osterley garden volunteers venture out into the wider parkland to clear brambles or, as we did on Friday, sort out and process hazel branches. The ranger team had already cleared a mass of material from the hazel wood which they had amassed into a large pile. Our job was to extract the felled trunks and branches and identify those suitable for fashioning into supports suitable for use in the garden as plant supports or stakes. As we dragged out each portion of wood we lopped off side branches and tested the slimmer, straightest wands for pliability. These will be used for supporting roses (see last Sunday’s post) or herbaceous perennials. The thickest trunks make good stakes for post and rope fencing. Those with a diameter of approximately 4-5cm are ideal for creating the tall wigwams in one of the quadrants in the Tudor Walled Garden. Once fully clothed with the annual climber, Spanish Flag, Mina lobata, these form red and yellow beacons, amidst the Dahlias, Mexican sunflowers, Amaranthus and Castor Oil Plants.

After one and a half hours of dragging, sawing and trimming we had produced three neat stacks of the useable material and an untidy heap of tangled discarded brushwood. Gardener Ed, who supervised our labours, calls this material ‘brash’, According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary brash is a ‘mass of fragments’. The brash will be collected by the rangers in a vehicle and taken to the work yard next to the gardeners’ bothy for shredding and composting. As we walked across the park in the warm sunshine, for lunch at the picnic table outside the bothy, we took care not to tread on the bluebell leaves already pushing through the turf. By 1.15pm we were back in the hazel wood where we cut suitable stems directly from the coppiced hazel stands which we added to the morning’s output.


Our route to the park passed the elegant and newly refurbished Garden House, the focal point of Mrs Child’s Flower Garden. Inside the house, against a backdrop of potted citrus trees, stands a colourful tableau of assorted spring bulbs. Terracotta pots contain glossy purple, mauve and yellow crocuses and mid blue irises with darker blue ‘falls’ centred with yellow. Here too are two containers of azure Siberian squill, Scilla sibirica. Close inspection reveals star-shaped flowers held on short stems, each waxy petal decorated with a darker blue stripe. The pollen atop each anther clustered in the heart of the flowers is a surprising shade of blue. After the subtle colours of the hellebores and the virginal white of the snowdrops which have so dominated the gardens in recent weeks, the intense blue of the squalls is a refreshing and uplifting sight.

Chiswick House camellias

In the second of a series of regular midweek posts with the emphasis on images rather than text, I’d like to share a few photos from a visit a week ago to the Conservatory at Chiswick House. Some of the collection of Camellia japonica housed in the Conservatory survive from specimens planted in 1813 when Samuel Ware completed a large glasshouse commissioned by the 6th Duke of Devonshire. From one end to the other of its two wings, spreading from a central dome, is a distance of 96 metres. Because of their sheltered location, the spectacular blooms do not display the frost damage evident on many camellias when planted outside. The cultivars in the collection include ‘Flore plena’ and ‘Pompone’.



Secateurs poised, we stood, two students per rose bush, listening carefully to our tutor Mac. We could hear the traffic six lanes deep just a few yards from where we were standing . Tutorial over, we tentatively began to prune the Queen’s roses. Tidying up the plants in your own garden is one thing, but cutting into Her Majesty’s specimens is another matter altogether.

This was on the last Friday in February three years ago, the first day of the RHS Level 2 Certificate in Practical Horticulture course at Capel Manor’s centre in the Regent’s Park. After a morning in the classroom we had been marched through the park to the Crown Estate garden which consists of two half moons, north and south of the Marylebone Road, linked by a tunnel above the platform at Regent’s Park Underground station. We began to work, inwardly reciting the 3Ds pruning mantra ‘Dead Diseased Damaged’. I don’t think I made more than five cuts in my rose that cold afternoon. What with identifying the potential direction of stem growth to prevent crossing (which can encourage powdery mildew) and searching for the outward facing buds over which to cut (to maintain an open shape) I concluded that pruning is as much about looking as cutting.

I was reminded of this lesson this week when I pruned a mature Cox’s Orange Pippin apple tree in the garden of clients. It’s a beautiful tree, gnarled and branching out from waist height, with numerous fruiting spurs. ‘Achieve a good mix of useful wood of different ages’ counsels the RHS ‘Pruning & Training’ manual. I pruned the weak growth hard and the stronger growth lightly, and cut out a couple of older branches which were growing out so far from the central trunk they were in danger of splitting under their own weight. Again I found that I spent more time scrutinising the stems, spurs and buds than applying blade to branch.


If the apple tree prune was conservative, that of its neighbour, a tall shaggy barked Deutzia, was definitely radical. The deciduous shrub needed renovation pruning to encourage it to produce its whitish pink flowers which I saw described on a label at a wholesale plant nursery I visited this week as resembling fairy’s dresses. Those juvenile specimens were a far cry from the much older plant I pruned on Tuesday. I thinned out older woody branches, cutting to as close to the base as possible, and lowered its height by a couple of feet so that the apple tree beyond it can now be seen from the house.

A day’s pruning was the perfect opportunity to try out the folding pruning saw a friend thoughtfully bought me for Christmas. It was ideal for taking out the medium sized branches. My sturdy Felco secateurs made light work of the slimmer stems. Coincidentally, the following morning, a friend demonstrated a very impressive long handled tree pruner made by Fiskars, with which he had recently pruned the magnificent Wisteria which clothes the house at ground floor level. He had not had to resort to using a ladder and was delighted with the by-pass pruner. I confess that when I tried to use it I found that I did not have adequate power in my arms to both hold the pole steady enough to make a cut and ‘pull the trigger’.

With perfect timing, the Osterley volunteers were treated this morning to a rose pruning refresher session with the head gardener, Andy Eddy. He ran through the basic principles of rose pruning before taking us to see the various roses throughout the garden most of which he has already pruned. Many of these are climbing roses and he showed us a beautiful Rosa ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ in the courtyard outside the Study Centre whose stems he has encouraged outwards in a gentle curve so as to encourage new stems to develop along its length.

IMG_6562In the seating area behind the cafe red flowered R.’Etoile d’Hollande’, a climbing hybrid tea rose, climbs several metres up and across, supported by a series of taut horizontal strainer wires, around which the rose’s stems are tied with a double loop of green horticultural twine.

IMG_6564In the Magnolia Bed, beside the Cutting Garden, Andy demonstrated a method of creating a beautiful rounded shape to a hybrid tea or floribunda rose by training it onto a framework of hooped hazel stems.

IMG_6567The  deep bed which backs onto the American Border sports two species rose, R.Banksiae and R. Glauca, both of which are left alone and not pruned. Until this morning I hadn’t appreciated the range of roses in Osterley’s collection and will enjoy seeing them clothed in blooms having studied them this morning in their naked winter state.


Edgeworthia chrysantha


Most flowers reward close examination and Edgeworthia chrysantha, the paperbush plant is no exception. Its often downward facing flowerhead are made up of a mass of small yellow flowers opening from a cluster of buds covered in a fine silky down. These images are of a specimen which grows near the building housing the Botanical Cafe at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and which I make a point of scrutinising at this time every year.

The shrub is named for Michael Pakenham Edgeworth, an Irish botanist, who whilst working in the Indian civil service in the mid C19,  collected plants, reporting upon his discoveries in scientific papers when he returned to London. The shrub which bears his name originates in China. The fibres from the bark of the plant are used for making ‘mitsumata’ a kind of Japanese tissue.