There’s more to Somerset than Glasto

3 Somerset Gardens 1 and 2 June 2022

In late July a ginger kitten called Seamus, born 7 May, will be taking up residence chez Weeds Roots & Leaves. Knowing that trips away will be limited for a few months while he settles in, I’ve been cramming in some garden visits. Four weeks ago, I made a three-day road-trip to Hampshire and Somerset, taking in four glorious gardens and a horticultural gem of a nursery.  

The first day I made two visits in Hampshire arranged by the Garden Media Guild, to Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants in the morning and then on to the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. The Guild asked me to write an account of the visit for the next edition of GMG News which I’ve done. I’ll publish my blog post about the visits later in the summer and concentrate in this post on the Somerset leg of my trip when, incidentally, I met Seamus for the second time. 

I stayed with a very old friend (by which I mean we’ve known each other a very long time, not that she’s very old!) in the New Forest after the Guild visits. Her garden is a delight and includes a beautiful rose garden which was looking stunning. She has planted the raised bed either side of the steps leading down to the rose garden with David Austin rose Harlow Carr and it’s the perfect scale for such a position. Several weeks earlier, a deer had got into the garden and nibbled dozens of buds off the roses, but there was no sign of this when I was there and the roses had revived, healthier than ever. 

The next morning, we drove north west across Cranbourne Chase towards Somerset, our destination Durslade on the outskirts of Bruton. Cranbourne Chase is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I cannot better the Chase’s website https://cranbornechase.org.uk/about-us/the-aonb/ which describes it as ‘a diverse landscape offering areas of rolling chalk grassland, ancient woodlands, chalk escarpments, downland hillsides and chalk river valleys each with a distinct and recognisable character’. What struck me in particular was how few villages there are and how remote and unspoilt it is. 

In Durslade, we met another old friend at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, the impressive arts centre which is, remarkably, free. The current exhibition ‘Henry Moore Sharing Form’ is housed in the converted farm buildings with some pieces displayed outside.

I’ve been wanting to visit the centre for a number of years, attracted by Oudolf Field, the perennial meadow designed by Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf. The date was 2 June and the prairie effect less obvious than I imagine it to be further into summer when the members of the daisy family with warm colours and distinctive seedheads will dominate the planting. For now, the overall impression is of cooler blues and mauves, with Siberian irises, alliums and foxtail lilies adding height and grasses movement.

The site rises gently towards the squat white Cilic Pavilion with grassy paths winding around the metal-edged island beds. There is a broad central gravelled path interrupted by low grassy mounds which have been closely mowed and resemble smooth green pebbles. 

The pale blue flowers of what I’ve since learnt is called bluestar (Amsonia– see more below) matched the blue of the sky and toned with the slate roofs of the gallery buildings. I noticed that the starry flowers were an attraction for bumblebees. Its needle-like leaves will, I have been reading, turn yellow in autumn. Like so many of the plants here, it has been chosen to extend the period of interest in the garden beyond spring and summer. I want to see this fascinating place in the winter when I anticipate that Oudolf’s signature seedheads and grasses will dominate the site. 

Another unusual plant that caught my eye on the margins of the wildlife pond was the flowering rush, Butomus umbellatus. The planting combinations throughout are so clever: for example here are the flat umbels of a pale pink Achillea alongside the leaves of the chunky but also horizontally inclined Darmara peltata. 

I have read that the garden resembles a giant artist’s palette, an appropriate description for a garden in such a location.

Photo: Alex Delfanne

In a location to the edge of the ‘field’, stands a piece of land art by Richard Long, Stone Circle 1980, made from Swedish Granite. Our lunch at Hauser & Wirth was delicious, sitting in the large courtyard café and enjoying being together in the sunshine. 

Oudolf Field was created in 2014. Our next stop, The Newt, is even younger. The garden in its present form opened to the public in 2019. I say present form, because there has been a garden here since the C18, namely the grounds of Hadspen House, now a luxury hotel. An English landscape garden with a parabola shaped walled garden, was transformed in the 1960s and 1970s into a C20 arts and crafts garden by designer Penelope Hobhouse, whose family owned the house. The estate was bought in 2013 by South Africans Karen Roos and her billionaire husband Koos Bekker who have created a visitor attraction in the mould of the garden attached to their South African winery, Babylonstoren. 

This was my second visit and like my first, merely scratched the surface of the place. On both occasions, I have had limited time to explore and shall do so on another occasion. But what I have seen each time has made a huge impression on me. The sloping parabola planted with apple varieties from all the apple growing counties in the country, intersected by rills and pools, was a magnet for my great nephews when we were there on a hot July day after the first lockdown two years ago. Fantastical birds feature in topiary fashioned atop hedging alongside the brick wall surrounding the parabola. Beyond the huge kitchen garden, are the Colour Gardens, a series of rooms each dedicated to red, blue and white. An interpretation panel explained that the gardens pay tribute to Sandra and Nori Pope who created colour gardens when they leased the gardens in the 1990s. The gardens are separated by wattle screens, into which oval ‘windows’ have been fitted, offering tantalising glimpses into the garden next door. 

I was excited to see that Amsonia featured in the Blue Garden, and thanks to another panel, that it was the same species as that I’d seen that morning at Oudolf Field, Amsonia tabernaemontana. Retreating to the shade of the Cottage Garden for ice-cream, we didn’t explore any further and I’m saving that treat for another occasion. I was anxious by then to drive the dozen or so miles to my niece’s house where I was taking over cat-sitting duties for a day or so. I had in fact met Seamus the previous week when he was only three weeks old and I was struck by how much the four kittens had grown in a week. Their eyes now open, they were beginning to explore a little beyond the warm security of mum, though not venturing far and still a little unsteady on their legs.

In the Cottage Garden

The next morning, having made sure all was well with the cats and kittens, I headed to a delightful National Trust property, Lytes Cary Manor, a short drive away. With origins as a mediaeval manor house, the house was extended in the C16 and restored in the early C20 by Sir Walter and Lady Flora Jenner. I enjoyed the tour of the house very much. Its scale is modest in comparison to many historic houses, and does still retain the air of a home, thanks to its being fully furnished and lovingly tended by the Trust. A late C16 occupant of the house, Henry Lyte I (c.1529-1607) was a botany scholar and translated a Flemish herbal illustrated with 870 woodcuts of plants. The book is on display in a glass case, protected from light by a leather covering when not being scrutinised by visitors. It was open at a page featuring thyme and pennywort. In a mirror frame dating from the C17, the stumpwork embroidery had been added to by Sir Walter’s sister in law with a panel depicting the house and part of the garden.

The present garden layout dates from 1907 when the Jenners began to create a garden in the Arts and Crafts style so fashionable in Edwardian times. Three sides of the house are surrounded by a series of ‘garden rooms’ divided by yew hedges and stone walls. The main entrance to the house is on the east front, reached by a stone path flanked by 12 yew bushes, each topiarised into an immaculately clipped half sphere topped by a cone. This is the Apostle Garden. I hope the photos capture a flavour of the gardens with their formal  topiary, stone walls and gateways and exquisite planting. 

‘. 

And finally, Seamus the kitten!

Kew

2 July 2022

From River to Green

65-73 Kew Green, NGS openings 22 & 29 May 2022

Imagine a 300 foot long garden behind an elegant Georgian house, running down to the towpath along the southern bank of the River Thames. Now imagine five such gardens, each divided into a series of ‘rooms’, rambling roses and Clematis softening the boundaries between each garden.

These five gardens, 65 to 73 Kew Green, open for the National Gardens Scheme on two Sundays every May, raising funds for charities including Marie Curie and MacMillan Cancer Support. I enjoyed my first visit on the afternoon of 22 May so much that I returned with another friend on the evening of 29 May.

Entered via gates along the towpath, each garden boasts an impressive compost area and some have leaf mould piles as well. Next come the kitchen gardens, ranging from rectangular box-edged beds to a potager blending vegetables and ornamentals. Planting styles and colour schemes vary from one garden to the next.

One garden, the narrowest, adheres to a restrained palette of greens and whites, the borders punctuated with carefully trimmed box balls and yew pyramids. A soft cottagey style of planting predominates elsewhere, borders billowing with roses, peonies and irises. Euphorbias introduce a lime green accent here and there.

Each garden includes a woodland garden, exploiting the shade provided by the very mature trees planted along the towpath, the perfect environment for shade-loving plants like Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum x hybridum). In one, variegated ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’) lightened what might otherwise have been a gloomy spot.

There were some stylish garden pavilions and studios, one of them spanning the width of the garden, and a few well-placed sculptures.

Lawns are immaculate, but sizeable areas had been left unmowed in the spirit of ‘No Mow May’. The lawns tend to be closer to the houses, and surrounded by generous shrub borders. I was impressed by the variety of trees: including the maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba), contorted willow (Salix Tortuosa) and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). Pot gardens occupy some of the paved areas adjoining the houses.

73 Kew Green is I believe, the widest of the gardens, and features a small orchard, the trees set amidst a meadow through which inviting paths have been mown. In at least two of the gardens, sympathetic hard landscaping has been used to create ponds and water features, tranquil focal points in already peaceful spaces.

I succumbed to the temptation to buy a couple of plants at the plant sale set up at no 73, both relative rarities. Here are the descriptions provided by the donor of these plants:

  1. Malvastrum lateritium. In full sun and well drained soil this little mallow gives many flowers of a soft orange with a red eye. Its stems sometimes root as they creep about. Its perfume was once described by a friend as like a ‘high class talc’. From N. Argentina, S. Brazil.
  2. Lychnis ‘Hill Grounds’. A chance hybrid from Janet Cropley’s garden, Hill Grounds, Northants. Lychnis flos-jovis x L coronaria. A sterile hybrid, therefore grows plenty of bright pink flowers over a long period.

In my garden this afternoon I reduced two large clumps of Michaelmas daisies beside the trellis which supports climbing rose ‘Blush Noisette’ with a view to revamping that part of the flower bed and shall plant these new acquisitions, as well as Anthriscus sylvestris Ravenswing, which I bought last Wednesday morning at Hardy’s Plants after a marvellous tour of the nursery led by Rosie and Rob Hardy: the subject of my next blog.

Before finishing, I want to thank the owners of the Kew Green gardens for their generosity in opening their gardens for the NGS and their patience with visitors like me asking lots of questions.

Kew, 5 June 2022

Mills, Moats & Monets

What links a grand house on the Strand, a textile town in Essex and a mansion in south east London? Answer: the Courtauld family. The weaving dynasty has left its mark on Somerset House, Halstead and Eltham Palace.

Halstead

In the 1820s Samuel Courtauld established Townsford Mill on the river Colne in Halstead, in north Essex, for the manufacture of silk crepe. Throughout the C19 and much of the C20, further textile factories were built in the town, but with manufacturing costs soaring, production moved abroad and those buildings have been re-purposed to accommodate, for example, the Co-op supermarket. When a friend and I visited Beth Chatto’s Garden and Hyde Hall last October, we stayed at a pub in Halstead. The names displayed on the front of the 1920s houses opposite the pub piqued our interest: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park. Spotting a pattern, we soon found Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Emma. Each house also bore the initials, SAC. A spot of googling revealed that these were built by Samuel Augustine Courtauld as homes for his workforce. Apparently, elsewhere in the town there are houses bearing the names of novels by Fanny Burney. I can find nothing to explain why the Arts and Crafts style houses were named after novels in this way. Unlike the Cadburys who built an entire community (Bournville) to accommodate their workers, the Courtaulds seem to have preferred building such homes throughout the town.

Townsford Mill with the River Colne in the foreground
‘Pride’
‘Prejudice’
‘Emma’

Eltham Palace

The Courtauld name reminded me of a of visit three years ago to Eltham Palace, the unique property now run by English Heritage. In 1933 Stephen Courtauld (1883 – 1967), younger brother of SAC, took out a 99 year lease of the site of the childhood home of Henry VIII. All that remained of the palace was the huge Great Hall built by Edward IV. Stephen and his wife Virginia built a luxurious home in the then fashionable Art Deco style, incorporating the hall into the design. The palace is surrounded by a moat which is an integral part of the garden. The moat is partly dry but this aerial view illustrates the extent of the water-filled section of the moat.

Much of this garden on two levels was laid out by Stephen and Virginia in the 1930s, and more recently English Heritage has developed it further. For example in 2000 they commissioned garden designer Isabelle van Groeningen to re-design the planting in the monumental herbaceous borders. When I was there in late August, these deep borders between brick buttresses were billowing with drifts of golden Achillea, bronze grasses, succulent Sedum (now Telephium) with their burgundy stems and leaves and pink flowers. Elsewhere a mass planting of creamy petalled roses made an impact. Irish yews fashioned into columns stood sentinel at each corner of a rectangular pond in the centre of the rose garden. A charming carving on the wall of the palace depicts Virginia ‘Ginny’ Courtauld in her wide-brimmed gardening hat, surrounded with a garland of flowers and leaves, a basket of fruit, the handle of a border fork and a long-spouted watering can completing the picture.

The Courtauld Gallery

When I began work in a small law practice in the City of London in 1980, there was a weekly run to the Stamp Office at Somerset House on the Strand, where, upon payment of the duty (with a banker’s draft: remember them?) the relevant deed was stamped using an archaic looking machine where the clerk operated a lever to press down on the document to emboss the stamp. I loved this weekly ritual which was a great opportunity to get out of the office for an hour or so and exchange the traffic on the Strand for the C18 elegance of Somerset House*. Now that stamp duty is paid electronically the practice of stamping a document with evidence of payment is no longer necessary. The Revenue (now HM Revenue & Customs) moved out of Somerset House in 2013. Gone are the black and gold stamp machines, to be replaced by a number of organisations associated with the arts including the Courtauld Gallery. This houses the world-famous art collection of Samuel Courtauld (1876 – 1947). The collection has recently been re-hung and I went to see it a week ago, my last visit having been about ten years ago. I concentrated on the top floor of the gallery where the Impressionist and Post-Impressionists are located.

La Montagne Sainte Victoire
Renoir: Spring, Chatou
Monet

Many of these paintings feel like old friends, the images are so familiar from reproductions. I’d forgotten how many of the paintings depict gardens and plants.

If the artworks are impressive, so is the room in which most of them are displayed. The Great Room as it is called hosted the annual Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy from 1780 to 1837.

It’s quite an arc isn’t it, from a silk mill on a riverbank in Essex, via a medieval palace meets Art Deco mansion to a priceless art collection in one of the grandest buildings in London? I’ve enjoyed my visits to all three of these places associated with the formidable Courtaulds.

*There’s a connection here with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: the principal architect of Somerset House, from 1775, was Sir William Chambers, designer of the Pagoda in the southern section of the Gardens.

Sculptures and Serpents

Featured

In the garden at Chatsworth House: Part 2

Since visiting Chatsworth almost five weeks ago I have discovered the Channel 4 documentary Chatsworth House: A Great British Year. I’m glad not to have come across it before as it’s fun to see the house and garden again and learn how such a vast enterprise works. The kitchen garden featured in one of the shows and like everything at Chatsworth it is beautifully designed and cultivated. Even at the end of November when most of the crops had been harvested, there was plenty to see and interesting details to examine.

The kitchen garden occupies a sloping west-facing site of about three acres. A relatively new addition to the gardens, it was created in the early 1990s. As in the wider garden, water has been channelled from parkland behind the garden to feed rills and ponds. I was interested to see tulips being planted in handsome terracotta pots, tucked into a nook beside the cold frames. The lower boundary of the garden is formed by a tightly clipped beech hedge. Large golden stalks adorn a trio of metal frames fashioned into apples and a pear, each housing a yew shrub which in the years to come will fill out the frames to form topiary fruits at the entrance of the garden. Rhubarb forcers from Whichford Pottery in Warwickshire stand to attention like terracotta warriors. A couple of stone plaques caught my eye: a quirky mission statement for creativity from dress designer Paul Smith and a heart-shaped memorial to the late Duchess Deborah. Straight rows of chard and brassicas appear to radiate from the corner of the large plots in which they are planted.

Unmistakeable for their charred finish, David Nash’s sculptures look entirely at home in the Arboretum which occupies the upper slopes of the gardens. The gardens are separated from the surrounding parkland by a ha-ha, the eighteenth century innovation which enables a garden to blend seamlessly with the landscape beyond. Here the ha-ha is a stone retaining wall. I noticed that a meshwork fence has also been fitted near the top of the wall, presumably to deter deer from entering the garden and munching the rare specimen trees. On the subject of dry stone walling, an installation called ‘Emergence’ demonstrates the evolution of this ancient craft, fundamental to the rural landscape of not only Derbyshire but so many other areas of the country. It contains one giant rock, a reference to the practice of using naturally occurring boulders in field walls. The transition from the older random style of limestone dry stone walling to the more modern sandstone wall of shaped stones is marked by a giant pane of glass. The interpretation panel informed me that the glass also represents Joseph Paxton’s pioneering work on the Great Stove at Chatsworth which led to him designing the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition in 1851. Giant redwoods tower above the other conifers in the Pinetum, an echo for me of the area of Kew Gardens devoted to these majestic trees.

More nineteenth century technology features in much of the seating around the gardens at Chatsworth. Cast iron benches with a plant inspired designs are placed around the remains of the Great Stove and in the terrace beside the 3rd Duke’s greenhouse. I found nasturtiums, passionflowers and lilies of the valley, as well as a design showing gardeners sowing, raking, harvesting and scything.

The Serpentine Hedge separates the Maze from the woodland area beside the Canal Pond. A double row of symmetrically planted beech which curves in and out, this dates from 1953 and was inspired by the ‘crinkle-crankle’ walls found in many old gardens, the alternating concave and convex planes providing stability. Seeing the north face of the house reflected in the Canal Pond, the Emperor Fountain rising skywards in the centre, has to be one of my highlights of 2021. This end of the garden also contains more remarkable sculpture: a horse’s head by Nic Fiddian-Green

and Allen Jones’s Dejeuner sur L’Herbe, a 3D take on Edouard Manet’s famous painting. If asked to name a favourite work from the garden, I would choose Cornwall Slate Line by land artist Richard Long, which runs parallel with the Canal Pond. Not far away Dame Elisabeth Frink’s Walking Madonna strides through a grove of trees.

The family’s dogs appear in several sculptures nearer the house, faithful hounds keeping watch or assembling on the steps leading to the north front with its Ionic capitalised pilasters and windows framed in gold leaf. A frieze above the windows features coiled serpents, part of the Cavendish family crest. This motif is picked out in a pebble mosaic on the terrace near the 3rd Duke’s greenhouse, reminding me of the two dachshunds, Canna and Dahlia, immortalised in similar fashion in the Walled Garden at Great Dixter.

Classical statuary also abounds in the gardens, reminding me that this place has been a treasure house of art for many centuries. More mundane perhaps, but elegant in its own way, is the weather station on the Salisbury Lawns near the Broad Walk where temperature, rainfall and hours of sunshine are recorded and reported to the Met Office.

I shall leave you here with a final image from my memorable visit to Chatsworth, Flora’s Temple decorated for Christmas.

Well, not quite the last image. The finger post pointing the way to Chatsworth marked my exit in the early evening dark from the park into the village of Baslow where I was staying. It’s also inviting me back one spring or summer to explore further and to see Dan Pearson’s Trout Stream planting and Tom Stuart-Smith’s Arcadia in their full glory.

Kew, 29 December 2021

From Chiswick to Chatsworth

In the garden at Chatsworth House: Part 1

A garden in winter reveals its skeleton, shed of most of its green surface layer, enabling you to see the physical structure of the space. Happily heavy overnight rain washed away the blanket of snow which I’d encountered when visiting Chatsworth House the day before. The 100 acre site seems bigger, perhaps because of the terrain: wooded slopes rising from more formal areas either side of the Broad Walk, running parallel with the eastern elevation of the house. According to the health App. on my phone on the evening of my visit, I had climbed the equivalent of 35 storeys!

As you enter the garden, you see a series of garden buildings. I hesitate to call them glasshouses, because the grandest of them is more in the style of an orangery, and is called the 3rd Duke’s Greenhouse. Consisting of two growing spaces, separated by a columned loggia, it houses a collection of camellias, considered too tender for growing in the Derbyshire climate. It immediately reminded me of the Conservatory at Chiswick House (currently closed for renovation) but home to camellias first planted in the nineteenth century. It is perhaps no coincidence that comparisons can be drawn between Chatsworth and Chiswick.

First a little history: when the 4th Duke of Devonshire (1720 – 1764) married Lady Charlotte Boyle, the Cavendish family estates increased considerably for she was the only surviving child of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington. As well as an Irish castle (Lismore), two estates in Yorkshire and a house in London (Burlington House, now the home of the Royal Academy), the Earl’s legacy included Chiswick House, a couple of miles from where I sit typing this blog post. William Kent (1685-1748) (who with the Earl of Burlington transformed the gardens at Chiswick House and indeed the house itself) produced designs for remodelling the cascade at Chatsworth and is thought to have influenced the naturalisation of the garden.

As well as camellias, this greenhouse shelters tender climbers such as Lapageria rosea with its elongated bell-shaped flowers. In my last post I mentioned the influence of the late Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire (1920-2014), on the property. Amongst the many famous faces of the twentieth century she knew, was the 35th president of the USA, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Indeed they were related by marriage as Jack Kennedy’s sister Kathleen (known as ‘Kick’) married her husband, Andrew Cavendish’s elder brother Billy Hartington in 1944. Billy was killed in Belgium later that year during the Allied advance after D-Day making Andrew heir to the Dukedom. Tragically Kick died in 1948 when the plane in which she was flying to the south of France from Paris crashed. Intrigued by two curvaceous silver chairs in the loggia between the two sections of the greenhouse, on closer inspection I found they were constructed from hundreds of half dollar pieces, all bearing the profile of JFK.

There are three other ‘glasshouses’ near the garden entrance, none of which was open on the day of my visit:

The Vinery and the Case were both designed by Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) who became head gardener at Chatsworth in 1826. As well as the surviving buildings, in 1836 he also built what was at the time the largest glass structure in the world, the Great Stove. His innovations at Chatsworth informed what was to become his masterpiece, the Crystal Palace, centrepiece of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park of 1851. Sadly, Chatsworth’s Great Stove was demolished in the 1920s, but its stone perimeter wall remains, forming the boundary of a yew maze created in 1962. In the tradition of employing the most influential garden designers of the day, the planting in the borders of the Maze has been updated by Tom Stuart-Smith, the variety of grasses being particularly noteworthy on the day of my visit.

The perimeter wall of Paxton’s Conservatory (The Great Stove)

I chatted to a group of gardeners planting bulbs on the slope to the east of the Maze and learned they were planting Narcissus Mount Hood.

A climb of a hundred steps leads to the Arboretum, from which there is a spectacular view back to the Maze and the parkland beyond. The colours and textures of the planting either side of the steps are beautiful.

Garden designers at the top of their game, one from the 19th century and another from the 21st century, have created one of the central features of the gardens at Chatsworth. Joseph Paxton built the three acre Rock Garden starting in 1842, using stone from elsewhere on the Chatsworth estate. The rock formations are monumental and can seem overpowering, particularly in dull weather. Since 2018 Tom Stuart-Smith has been introducing naturalistic and ecologically inspired planting so as to

redefine the Rock Garden as a fantasy domain, full of variety, spontaneous naturalness and picturesque diversion; quite separate from the rest of the garden where openness, smoothness, and settled grandeur prevail.

Tom Stuart-Smith. Press release 9 December 2020.
Lunaria rediviva

Throughout the garden, as in the house, contemporary art is given equal weight with historic sculpture. In the Rock Garden, Emily Young’s Lion Woman blends perfectly with the surrounding rocks.

Tom Stuart-Smith is also transforming a a 15 acre site at the heart of the garden, Arcadia, by planting large trees and shrubs and extensive herbaceous perennials in a series of glades linked by woodland walks. Another eminent garden designer who is putting his stamp on Chatsworth is Dan Pearson who began to redevelop the Trout Stream in 2015. This narrow watercourse meanders close to the western boundary of the garden. The original concept for the new planting in this area was demonstrated in a garden created by the designer for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2015 which won Best in Show. A track runs alongside the stream, just wide enough for a couple of people, enabling you to see the plants at close quarters.

A few metres from the stream you can walk across to the pond which feeds the Cascade, and ultimately the Sea Horse Fountain in the south lawn beside the house. The original Cascade was completed in 1696 to a design by Louis IV’s hydraulics engineer, Grillet. Only a few years later, a steeper flight of steps was installed culminating in the Cascade House, from which the water dramatically gushes forth.

The Cascade

One of Barry Flanagan’s hare sculptures, Drummer, stands beside another body of water in the outer reaches of the garden, the Grotto Pond. The Grotto itself is a rustic timber building with a slate roof atop a mass of boulders.

One of my favourite spots in the garden for contemporary sculpture is the Angela Conner Grove, where various members of royalty as well as the artistic and literary worlds are portrayed. Chatsworth’s equivalent of the busts in William Kent’s Temple of British Worthies at Stowe in Buckinghamshire?

I can see that Chatsworth is a place that I could visit many times over and still find new aspects to enjoy. Next time: more Chatsworth sculptures feature and a very impressive Kitchen Garden.

Kew

4 December 2021

Scenes and Herds

The last thing I expected when I set off this morning to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy was to encounter herds of elephants in two of the Royal Parks. The installation of life-sized Asian elephants in St James’s Park and The Green Park highlights the work of conservation charity Elephant Family and forms part of Co-Existence, an environmental campaign inspired by the way in which the reduction in human activity last year, as a result of the pandemic, had a positive effect on wildlife. The campaign reminds us that we share the planet with animals and must coexist with them rather than removing their natural habitats by our activities. A parallel photographic exhibit showed images from 2020 of, for example, penguins crossing a deserted Cape Town street.

At this stage I imagine you’re thinking what has this to do with gardening, I thought Weeds Roots & Leaves was a blog about gardens, plants etc.? Bear with me: in one of the interpretation panels I read that the Elephant Family charity works with indigenous communities in the Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu in southern India to remove the plant Lantana camara as well as promoting peaceful human-elephant coexistence. Lantana camara? Isn’t that the rather pretty shrub you see in Spain with the two-tone yellow and red flowers? Indeed it is and to my surprise I have read this evening that it has spread around the globe from its origins in Central and South America to more than 50 countries and is classed as an invasive species.

The L. camara connection doesn’t end there. It is the material used to make the sculptures themselves. The 100 plus strong herds have been made over the last five years by the communities in Tamil Nadu as part of the initiative. On first inspection I thought the wonderful sculptures were made with bamboo but this material is clearly more pliable lending itself to the curves of the elephant’s forms. I can’t describe how uplifting this installation is. You can’t help smiling when you stand in the middle of the herd and sense the beauty and power of these graceful creatures.

One of the images in the photographic exhibition alongside the herd features a mother and very young (fuzzy still) calf walking alongside the road, (in a manner reminiscent of the New Forest ponies). They are on an ‘elephant corridor’ which connects the habitats of the Asian elephant. And Mum has the beginning of a small garden on her back: growing in the soil deposited during a cooling down trunk spray!

In St James’s Park a lone elephant heads to the lake!

Whilst the ‘anthropause’ brought wildlife into unexpected places in 2020, David Hockney was at his home in France creating a series of iPad images documenting the arrival of spring in his corner of Normandy. Occupying three of the main galleries on the first floor of the RA, these vivid images capture the transition from bare branched late winter trees, through the first chartreuse coloured flush of leaves to blossom heavy orchards. And whilst many of the images feature the wider landscape, a few show the area around the timber framed farmhouse, where clipped box doughnuts squat beside gravelled paths and an enormous tree shades a rustic table and chairs. In another a treehouse teeters: a far cry from that made for me by my father in the garden where I grew up, this one has a roof and a ladder! My favourite images are the night scenes, where trees are outlined by smudges of moonlight.

As I walked home from the station I noticed what I think might be a Kiftsgate rose emerging from Wisteria leaves atop a garden wall. A peaceful image to conclude a relaxing and happy summer’s day.

Of scythes and sails

The absence of posts to this blog for a month has been preying on my mind. Other tasks took precedence in the form of gardening work both on site and on the page. On site because it’s mulching season meaning that some gardens in TW9 have been generous covered with a 5cm layer of shredded horse manure from Woodland Horticulture delivered from Somerset. And when not mulching I’ve been pruning wisteria and roses and preparing two gardens for re-planting projects scheduled for completion in the next fortnight. On the page because I was fortunate to be asked to update some pages for a commercial gardening website, the subject matter being garden pests and diseases.

And as if those tasks weren’t enough to fill my time, I’m now at the halfway point in an online course on the history of the English landscape garden through Oxford Continuing Education. This week we’ve been looking at three of the key gardens of the earlier part of the C18, Stowe, Studley Royal and Stourhead. But in fact it was another garden of the period that no longer exists in its 1730s incarnation that I want to share with you, or more specifically three charming paintings of the garden. Hartwell House near Amersham is now a luxury hotel and the current layout of the grounds dates from a later period. The garden was made in the mid 1730s by Sir Thomas Lee. When the garden was complete he commissioned Balthasar Nebot, a little-known Spanish painter, based in Covent Garden, to record his estate and garden.  This he did, portraying the estate workers and gardeners in great detail.

How little and yet how much has changed in the work of a gardener. We still collect weeds and grass clippings in a container, my turquoise plastic trug being the equivalent of the C18 gardener’s basket. In non-lockdown winters we still manoeuvre a roller over the vegetable garden beds at Osterley after mulching them with leaf mould. And we still clip yew hedges by hand using shears. 300 years may have passed but these simple tasks and tools connect us to the gardeners who have gone before us.

And during a passionate talk this week by head gardener Ben Preston of York Gate outside Leeds, I learnt that the use of scythes is not confined to 300 year old landscape paintings and Ross Poldark. The meadow at York Gate is cut by hand by Ben and his team. He explained that by cutting it by hand they can identify the areas where the grass grows thickest. The hay is cut into windrows and sent to a local community farm. Apparently Eastern European visitors to the garden comment that the sight of the hay meadow being cut by scythes reminds them of seeing their grandparents working on the land in a similar way.

Meadow at York Gate

Another element of the garden at York Gate chimed with the Hartwell paintings where clipped yew is used to such dramatic effect. At York Gate a line of yew ‘sails’ cuts through the garden forming both a focal point and a boundary with one of the many ‘garden rooms’. The garden is owned and run by the gardening charity Perennial and a friend who until a couple of years ago also volunteered at Osterley now volunteers in the York Gate shop. I’ve added this special garden to a growing list of gardens to visit.

The yew sails at York Gate

I shall leave you here as I have some course reading to finish about the glorious landscape at Stourhead in Wiltshire, a garden I HAVE visited. I went on a beautiful autumn day in November 2019. Stourhead is only a short drive off the A303, my route to and from my niece and her family in Somerset. It was such a glorious day that I made a detour on the drive home and immersed myself in the tranquil atmosphere of Stourhead, where classical temples reflect into the lake and, on the day of my visit, the scene was all the more beautiful because of the leaves changing colour. A classic image of the garden follows.

Talking plants and gardens

Part 1

National lockdown in England has morphed into Tier 2 restrictions here in the London suburbs. During lockdown, because I work outside, I was fully occupied during in the daytime, tidying clients’ gardens, planting bulbs and creating winter themed containers. And thanks to a wealth of online talks and events I was busy in the evenings too, spending time in the virtual company of garden designers and plantsmen, touring a university botanic garden and a world famous garden in Kent and attending an awards ceremony celebrating the work of the garden media industry. Were it not for these webinars and films I doubt I’d have covered so much ground in such a short space of time. On a dreary late autumn evening I might have thought twice about venturing out to a Plant Heritage meeting in Cobham or a Garden Museum lecture in Lambeth and certainly not wearing my slippers and pyjama bottoms!

My horticulture vulture November began courtesy of the Garden Museum with a talk about gardens in the work of the painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) by his great nephew Richard Ormond. He described a career as a society portrait painter counterbalanced by summers spent painting in some of the great gardens of Europe: La Granja, outside Madrid; the Borghese Gardens in Rome; the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Many of these paintings featured Sargent’s favourite subjects of classical architecture, topiary, fountains and statuary.

Due weight was given to the atmospheric ‘Carnation Lily Lily Rose’ in which two young girls light Japanese lanterns at twilight amidst the flowers of the title. Although painted out of doors, the set-up we were told could hardly be described as spontaneous since the canvas was painted over the course of two seasons with the bought-in flowers being attached to wires.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885-6 John Singer Sargent

The myriad of slides we were treated to included sublime still-lives of roses and gentians as well as gourds and pomegranates growing in a garden in Mallorca.