In the post-war years, when the owners of many stately homes gifted their houses and gardens to the National Trust, no longer able to afford the upkeep, a new breed of garden-makers emerged. Among them, Walter and Margery Fish at East Lambrook Manor Gardens and Lionel and Katharine Fortescue at The Garden House.
Yesterday, I broke my return journey from Cornwall to see for myself this little corner of heaven. The Garden House is located near the village of Buckland Monachorum, to the west of Dartmoor ‘in a small valley running west down to the Tavy’*. Known as ‘the Lion’, Lionel Fortescue bought the former vicarage and 10 acres of land in 1945. He retired as head of languages at Eton and proceeded to create what has become ‘one of the finest gardens in Britain’, according to the garden’s website. A bold claim but a fair one: I was bowled over by the place.
The garden is made up of three distinct sections: walled garden, arboretum and, in the western and largest section, six acres planted in the ‘New Naturalism’ style. I confess to having been ignorant of the importance of this garden until now, but reading the very informative The Garden House Story’ booklet has introduced me to the work of Keith Wiley**, Head Gardener at The Garden House from 1978 to 2003. He helped pioneer the New Naturalism where trees, shrubs, perennials and seeds are blended to make it appear they have developed together naturally.
I’m going to let my photographs speak for themselves, starting with a map of the gardens. As a guide, my route was to walk down into the Walled Garden via the Bowling Green and Lower Terraces, enjoyed the view from the tower (!), meandered through the Arboretum, then along to the unique raised beds of The Ovals. From there I entered the Bulb Meadow and was delighted to find a Wisteria Bridge which is going to be laden with flowers in a week or so, given some warmer temperatures. I followed the Jungle Path towards the Cottage Garden and Wildflower Meadow, returning to the excellent plant sales area via the Quarry and Summer Gardens.
I’d vowed not to buy any plants on this holiday, but I succumbed to an almost black and very reasonably priced (£3) Auricula, and a small vintage terracotta pot which I was told came from a store of pots used at the property! Perhaps handled by the Lion himself?
The Arboretum. Opened in 2013, it contains over 100 new trees.
Return to The Walled Garden
Kew Gardens, 30 April 2023
** Keith Wiley published ‘On the Wild Side, Experiments in New Naturalism’ in 2004.
In Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca, the mansion Manderley stands at the head of a Cornish valley leading down to a beach where the first Mrs de Winter, the Rebecca of the title, meets her lover in secret. Whether Manderley’s valley was planted with rare and exotic species of tree and shrub I cannot recall, but in my mind’s eye the terrain resembled that of the two gardens I visited today: Trebah and the National Trust’s Glendurgan.
Remarkably, the gardens occupy neighbouring valleys on the north bank of the Helford River south of Falmouth. Both run down to beaches and boast lavish plantings of tree ferns (Dicksonia Antarctica) and giant rhubarb (Gunneramaniculata) as well as magnificent rhododendrons and camellias, and some remarkable trees. Rare plants abound in each garden and my plant identifier app was working hard today to keep up with the array of plants I didn’t recognise.
Trebah and Glendurgan were created in the 1820s by brothers Charles and Alfred Fox respectively. Handsome white stucco mansions, neither of which is open to the public, occupy the highest points of the gardens. It was very cold today for late April, but it meant that neither garden was heaving with visitors. Birdsong dominated the soundscape for much of the walks downhill to the coast, with trickling water sounds from the streams at the foot of each valley gradually giving way to the unmistakeable sound of waves crashing onto a beach. Until about a third of the way down, the sound of the sea is the only hint of what is to be found at the foot of the valley, until the slopes bottom out and you catch sight of a yacht in the distance, framed between two headlands.
The tiny fishing village of Durgan stands between the garden and the beach at Glendurgan whilst Trebah garden merges with the beach. I learnt that the beach (then called Polgwidden) was used during WW2 to launch the landing craft and men of the 29th US Infantry Division six days before they disembarked onto Omaha Beach in Normandy on 6 June 1944, D Day.
The Trebah water gardens host candelabra primulas, hostas and Persicaria Red Dragon. White skunk cabbage, Lysichitoncamtschatcensis, stands along the edge of one of the pools interrupting the downward flow of the central stream to either side of which the garden’s main paths lie. I enjoyed standing in ‘Gunnera Passage’ which links the paths, with the spiky stalks and glowing green leaves towering over me.
The final section of the valley, before the Monet-inspired Mallard Bridge, is planted with hundreds of Hydrangeas. I’d not come across Hydrangea with variegated leaves before. I also noticed one named for the garden.
A large handkerchief tree is laden with the white bracts which give them their name, set off with an under storey of bluebells.
Rather earlier than in the south east, Camassias are beginning to flower. So too, the Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus, which completely cloaks the long wall behind the stone seat facing the lawn at the head of the valley. Libertiagrandiflora, an iris from New Zealand liked by garden designers for its architectural spears of leaves and pure white flowers, sits at the foot of the seat in places. As if to illustrate how mild Cornwall is compared to the rest of the country, and how tender specimens can survive which would have to be protected from frost at home can thrivehere, Geraniummaderense or giant herb Robert, is already in full flower in a border near the visitor centre.
At Glendurgan, alongside the exotic plantings, wild flowers abound, with bluebells being the stars at the moment, creating blue hazes beneath trees and across a breathtakingly beautiful meadow area planted with cherry trees and a pair of handkerchief trees (Davidiainvolucrata). Early purple orchids pop up amidst the bluebells. Stone walls drip with ferns and primroses.
Amongst the plants I identified at Glendurgan using the plant identifier app were:
The Chatham Island forget-me-not (Myosotidiumhortensia)
Dusty Daisybush (OleariaLyrata)
Mexican Lily (Beschorneria)
But there were a couple that it didn’t recognise:
fuchsia? echium? rush?
Thankfully there was a label for this exotic, the Chilean fire tree: Embothriumcoccineum.
Where the valley widens, in the upper part of the garden at Glendurgan, there are more open spaces than at Trebah and paths have been mown through the grass, with bluebells spreading to either side.
A cherry laurel maze with a conical thatched roof at its centre occupies the middle part of the garden.
Tom Stuart-Smith has put his mark as a landscape architect on numerous gardens across the country. I’ve seen his planting at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire and in July 2021 was fortunate to go to the inspiring garden at his home, Serge Hill at Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire. This last weekend gave me the opportunity to compare two more of his creations: the new Royal Horticultural Society garden, Bridgewater, south of Manchester and the Italian Garden at Trentham Gardens, Staffordshire.
Steady rain fell throughout the afternoon at RHS Bridgewater but it meant that the gardens were very quiet enabling us to see the structure of the garden for which Tom Stuart-Smith created the masterplan for the development of the site as a centre of excellence for horticulture in the north-west. He also designed the layout and planting of the Paradise Garden which forms one half of the restored 11 acre Weston Walled Garden, a major feature of the new garden, as well as the Worsley Welcome Garden located close to the Welcome Building.
The joy of a RHS garden (like RBG Kew and other botanical gardens) is that all plants are labelled, so you start learning as soon as you step outside into the garden. A perennial honesty (Lunaria rediviva) soon caught my eye. In borders between the outer and inner walls of the walled garden, massed plantings of tulips and daffodils lit up the gloom of the rainy afternoon. Terracotta rhubarb forcers nestle amongst the bulbs, a clue to the presence at Bridgewater of the National Collection of rhubarb, with 100 cultivars having recently been moved from RHS Wisley. I also liked the gnarly branches (driftwood?) which accent the border every so often, resembling abstract sculptures.
I love to see show gardens from flower shows re-purposed, and the high brick wall of the Weston Walled Garden provided a perfect backdrop for Windrush Garden from RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, 2021, designed by Dawn Evans.
The Weston Walled Garden is divided into two equal halves: the Paradise Garden and the Kitchen Garden. High metal obelisks, designed to resemble the chimney of the original boiler room which heated the glasshouses which served Worsley New Hall, punctuate the enormous Kitchen Garden which contains more than 100 planting beds! Unobtrusive strainer wires are fitted along the walls. to support an impressive collection of wall-trained fruit, including heritage pears.
The heart of the Paradise Garden is a very large body of water, the Lily Pond, fed by two rills which intersect the garden. Partially covered by a decorative grill in a geometric design, the rills are just one example of the wonderful attention to detail manifest throughout Bridgewater. At this time of year and on a wet afternoon, the colours were muted: greens and the reddish brown of the beech columns planted around the Lily Pond. From photographs in the guide book and having seen Serge Hill* in high summer, I can imagine just how colourful the Paradise Garden must be later in the season. One of the features of Serge Hill which impressed me was the Plant Library, trial beds laid out in a numbered grid, designed as an open resource for garden design students to see how plants behave and move, featuring many drought tolerant plants. I’m imagining that some of the species in the Plant Library are also planted into some of the Paradise Garden’s 80 planting beds.
Two new glasshouses in Victorian style have been built along the southern wall of the Paradise Garden, to house tender specimens such as Aeonium. On the opposite side of this wall stands the Old Frameyard, home to the boiler room and its chimney, as well as potting sheds (now an exhibition space), a brand new Propagation House, and beds laid out for plant trials. Near here we spotted another show garden, the Blue Peter Discover Soil Garden designed by Juliet Sargent for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2022.
Just beyond the walled garden stands the restored Garden Cottage, once home to the the head gardener of Worsley New Hall. The cottage is surrounded by an immaculately mowed, semi-circular lawn.
Heading into the wooded area of Bridgewater we found a friendly ent, and in the fields beyond the woodland, the Pig Pen for the black Berkshire pigs which have been used throughout the creation of Bridgewater to act as ‘biological ploughs’ and clear the ground in various parts of the garden before planting. Here and there in the woodland, are remnants of the original gardens and to the north of Ellesmere Lake, the remains of the terraces which stood in front of Worsley New Hall, the large Victorian House which was demolished after the Second World War.
Flowing from Ellesmere Lake down the hill to Moon Bridge Water, the new body of water next to the Welcome Building, is the Chinese Streamside Garden, which is intersected with a series of small pools and crossed by a series of wooden bridges. The planting is designed to reflect the numerous Chinese native plants which are now favourite shrubs and trees in the west: acers, magnolias, primulas included.
Thankfully the weather improved for the second garden visit of the weekend: Trentham Gardens near Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire. Here three eminent contemporary garden designers have made their mark on a garden which has its origins as an eighteenth century landscape garden (the lake around which the garden and parkland are located was designed by Capability Brown). Piet Oudolf designed the Floral Labyrinth which stands beside the River Trent at the eastern end of the garden, near the ruins of the Italianate Victorian house: 32 beds of herbaceous perennials in the Dutch designer’s trademark prairie style. The beds were just beginning to spring to life, with tantalising crowns of greenery promising a lush summer display. Snakeshead fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) nodded gracefully in several beds.
The Perennial Meadow Garden along the edges of the lake was designed by Professor Nigel Dunnett (Tower of London Superbloom, Gold Meadows London Olympic Park and the Barbican). The third of the designers to shape this garden in the 21st century is Tom Stuart-Smith. When she showed us around her own garden at Serge Hill in July 2021, his sister Kate Stuart-Smith told us her brother’s nickname in the family was GAT, Great Arbiter of Taste! The Italian Garden at Trentham is certainly a class act. Like Bridgewater’s Paradise Garden, it is on a grand scale, a formal parterre style layout of symmetrical beds, some edged with low hedges arranged around low walled formal pools, centred with fountains. The Italian theme is reinforced with classical statuary, monumental urns and slim columns of Irish yew standing in for cypresses. The simplicity of the planting prevents the space from seeming unduly elaborate. One set of beds is planted with white flowers and silver-leaved plants: tulips, narcissus and a white-flowered Brunnera with silver-veined leaves, possibly B. macrophylla Mr Morse.
Low evergreen domes and similarly scaled stands of grasses planted into lawned areas echo the yew domes dotted on the lawn alongside the Worsley Welcome Garden at Bridgewater.
The Italian Garden is divided from the Floral Labyrinth by an arched pergola running its entire length, entwined with climbing roses and Wisteria, yet to bloom. Running alongside the pergola is the David Austin Rose Border, designed by Michael Marriott. I can only imagine how fragrant and beautiful this must be when in flower. The roses were certainly looking wonderfully healthy last Saturday.
Whilst brief, my 36 hour trip to the north west was enormously satisfying, and it was a joy to see Tom Stuart-Smith’s work in both gardens.
20 April 2023, Kew
*Here are some of my images of Tom Stuart-Smith’s garden at Serge Hill, taken in July 2021.
In my last blog post I featured an image of an unusual bell-shaped snowdrop, Galanthus Phil Cornish. I took the photograph in February on a Sunday afternoon visit to East Lambrook Manor Gardens, near South Petherton in Somerset, the creation of garden writer Margery Fish. I first went to this fascinating garden in May 2021 and vowed to return during another season. In winter you can see the bones of a garden without the distraction of abundant foliage and flowers.
In this case the skeleton consists of narrow paths between cottage garden borders, a mini avenue of curvaceous yews and the ditch which Margery Fish cleverly incorporated into the heart of the garden. In the winter months these elements are embellished with a splendid display of snowdrops: in pots lining the paths, in borders and on the banks of the ditch. This Festival of Snowdrops takes place every February.
Naturally snowdrops were the main attraction in the plant nursery which adjoins the garden. Here they were set out on tables for sale with some of the price tags reflecting the rarity of the specimens displayed. Examples of each of the cultivars grown at East Lambrook were arrayed on the long stone shelves which on my last visit featured the hardy geraniums loved by the garden’s creator.
I chatted to the gentleman operating the till at the nursery who told me that he had worked with several members of staff who had known Margery Fish until her death in 1969. He told me a story which summed up her passion for her garden. During a trip away from home, a fire broke out and badly damaged the Malthouse (which now houses a cafe and gallery). When she was called to be told the bad news, Margery Fish’s first reaction was to ask if the garden had been damaged in any way. It had not, she expressed her relief and only then enquired about the state of the smouldering building.
Here are some of my photos of the garden in February, which as I write this on a very chilly April evening, doesn’t seem so very far away.
Part 2 Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians
At the south-eastern corner of The Regent’s Park stands a building quite unlike its elegant Regency neighbours. Designed in 1964 in modernist style by Denys Lasdun, architect of The National Theatre, this is The Royal College of Physicians. Its quarter acre garden is home to a large living collection of medicinal plants. My first visit was for a guided tour on 14 September, arranged by the WGFA, and when I returned with a friend in early November for a tour of the building and its collections of art and medical artefacts, we also strolled around the garden.
The September tour was led by a retired consultant dermatologist, Sue Burge, assisted by Anthony Dayan, Emeritus Professor of Toxicology at the University of London, both of whom shared a wealth of fascinating stories about the plants in the College’s garden. We learnt that nearly all plants have evolved to be poisonous to protect against animal predators, but that many poisons have been found to make useful medicines. This unique garden tells the story of plants once commonly used in the treatment of disease, those used in contemporary medicine and those with names commemorating early physicians. There are about 1,100 species represented, all of which are documented in a database. Each plant is clearly labelled, with those named after physicians having a brief biography on a blue label, and green labels denoting those used to produce modern medicines.
Tours start in the car park, where the raised bed opposite the main entrance is planted with specimens from the Americas and the three raised beds alongside the Outer Circle of the park form the World medicine area of the garden. In the small front gardens of the eight terraced buildings of St Andrew’s Place, opposite the College, the head gardener, Jane Knowles has incorporated plants whose flowers (house 1), roots (house 2), barks, fruits, leaves, seeds, sap, gums or resins were referred to by the College of Physicians in its Pharmacopoeia Londinensis of 1618. Low box hedges in knot garden style frame much of the planting, evoking seventeenth century garden fashion.
You enter the main garden through gates at the end of St Andrew’s Place, near William Harvey House, with its classically inspired facade, a Grade I listed building designed and built in 1826 by the architect of much of Regency London, John Nash.
Plants from classical antiquity and arid zones are represented in beds alongside the house. The lawn of the main garden is dominated by an oriental plane tree, Platanus orientalis, grafted from the plane tree on the Aegean island of Cos under which the ‘Father of Medicine’ Hippocrates is said to have taught his students. The borders surrounding the lawn contain medicinal plants from the orient and southern hemisphere, Europe and the Middle East. A shady courtyard tucked into a corner of the college building shelters a pot garden of tender plants including a fine lemon tree, Citrus x limon. From 1795 lemons and later limes were used to prevent scurvy in the British navy. Nearby is a a handsome memorial the Latin inscription on which translates: Remembering the doctors who died while working in the COVID-19 pandemic. It had been unveiled by Sir Christopher Whitty only a week before my first visit to the college.
Here I’ve picked out here just a few of the numerous plants which our guides, Sue and Anthony highlighted during the tour.
Arnica chamissonis. Used for bruises by Native Americans.
Taxus baccata, the European yew, source of paclitaxel (‘Taxol’) which is used both as an anti-cancer drug and to prevent clogging up in the stents used to open up blocked coronary arteries.
Rheum palmatum, Chinese rhubarb. Used in traditional Chinese medicine as a laxative. See photo above.
Ricinus communis, the castor oil plant. The coating of its seed capsules contain an extraordinary powerful poison, Ricin, which was used in the murder on Waterloo Bridge in 1978 of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, where the KGB is alleged to have fired a pellet of the poison into his leg from the tip of an umbrella.
Pelargonium sidoides. This one intrigued me because it’s a plant I’ve grown for the last several years in a container, having been given a cutting at Osterley. In South African native medicine its tubers have been used in the treatment of acute bronchitis, coughs and colds.
Artemisia annua. Annual mugwort. The 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to a female Chinese professor Tu Youyou ‘for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria’. She detected artemisinin in the plant and proved its antimalarial properties.
There can be few gardens which concentrate so many extraordinary stories into so small an area. The garden can be visited between 9am and 5pm on weekdays and from April to October tours of the Medicinal Garden are given by senior physicians from the RCP on the first Wednesday of the month at 2pm.
An aerial view of London shows plenty of green space amidst the urban layout of streets, shops and offices. The expansive royal parks account for much of those spaces- Hyde Park, The Green Park, St James’s Park and The Regent’s Park- as do squares (both public and private), churchyards, private gardens and the gardens attached to some professional bodies. In this and my next post I explore two of the latter: the Inner Temple (commonly known as The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple) and The Royal College of Physicians.
Occupying a site beside the River Thames, from which it is separated by the Victoria Embankment, the three acres of the Inner Temple Garden are surrounded to the west, north and east by the buildings of the Inn, housing barristers’ chambers, judges’ lodgings as well as Inner Temple Hall and the offices of this ancient Inn of Court, one of the four located in this area of London, between the theatres and shops of the West End and the banks and financial institutions of the City of London.
In early September, a kind friend who works for the Inn arranged for me to meet Sean Harkin, the Inn’s head gardener. During lockdown I had watched Sean give an online lecture to the Kew Mutual Improvement Society about Inner Temple Garden and was struck by his enthusiasm for plants and for his work in this unique sanctuary in the heart of the busy city. Sean’s CV is impressive: RHS Wisley, the National Trust’s gardener in residence for the city of Manchester and head gardener at Kensington Palace where he created the white garden in memory of Princess Diana. My friend and Sean took time out of their busy schedules to meet me on a rather overcast and damp day, a contrast to the extreme heat of only a week or so before. Sean explained that over the last couple of years, he and his small team of three gardeners had created a new meadow on part of the lawn in the centre of the garden. Now mown, I can imagine that the meadow added a very natural and contemporary aspect to what might otherwise be expected to be a rather conventional space. But Sean’s vision is for bold planting in scale, form and colour. And this is most evident in the deep herbaceous border along the garden’s northern side where tall grasses and cardoon seedheads jostle alongside blowsy pink dahlias, Salvia Amistad, giant fennel and rudbeckias. A broad-leaved plant I didn’t recognise (resembling a very tall canna lily or a banana) added an exotic accent. It reminded me of the long border at Great Dixter where what at first glance seems informal planting is in fact a carefully woven tapestry of textures and hues. Sean told me the garden is at its best in April and May, and I shall certainly return then, but I loved the late summer colour scheme of pink and gold and was impressed at how well the plants had fared in the recent drought.
Sean reminded me that until 1911, the Royal Horticultural society staged its annual spring show in the garden, before moving to its current venue, the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. The border I have just described was turned over to allotments in WW2 and blitz spoil lies beneath much of the soil of upper part of the garden. A magnificent avenue of London plane trees (Platanus x hispanica) runs parallel with the Victoria Embankment, screening the Inn from traffic and filtering the fumes. In a peaceful spot alongside the avenue stands a large circular lily pond, raised above ground and screened from the surrounding lawn by a recently planted hedge.
Elsewhere pillowy yew topiary forms settle plumply at the corners of a shady lawn. Silvery hued plants such as Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) and a Euphorbia echo the pale stone of an elaborate pillar supporting a sundial.
Tucked to the east of the garden are steps lined with pots containing tender plants including a flamboyant Brugmansia and Cobaea scandens, the cup and saucer vine. A nearby lean-to greenhouse is full of succulents and cacti.
As well as the planes, the garden is home to some other beautiful trees including a Magnolia soulangeana and a dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). And to some wonderful roses: tall China rose shrubs smothered in loose-petalled blooms.
Inner Temple Garden might be located in the heart of an ancient institution but thanks to the head gardener’s vision and flair, it’s a garden for the twenty first century.
The Inner Temple Garden is usually open to the public on weekdays (excluding bank holidays) from 12.30-3pm. Access is via the main gate opposite the Treasury Office on Crown Office Row, London EC4Y 7HL.
Little did I know on 1 September, as I walked with a friend along The Long Walk in Windsor Great Park, that a few weeks later Queen Elizabeth’s funeral cortege would cover the same ground en route to St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Our destination was Frogmore House and garden, open for charity (in this case Guide Dogs) on one of its three or so fundraising occasions of the year.
Extending to 35 acres, the garden at Frogmore is less than a quarter of the size of Kew Gardens, the other estate influenced by the horticultural enthusiasm of Queen Charlotte, consort to George III. Apart from Frogmore House itself, another major landmark in the grounds is the Royal Mausoleum where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are buried. The site of this Byzantine style edifice was identified by Victoria within days of her husband’s premature death in December 1861. The Royal Mausoleum has been described as one of the finest Victorian buildings in the country. The imposing building stands across the Frogmore Lake from a smaller mausoleum, built to accommodate the mortal remains of Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent.
The Frogmore estate also features several smaller buildings and follies, all of which combine to create a fascinating landscape from both a historical and garden design point of view. An elegant iron bridge, reminiscent of a bridge across the lake in St James’s Park, crosses Frogmore Lake which twines across the centre of the garden, its sinuous outline emulating a river. Looking back from the promontory to which the bridge leads, there’s a fine prospect of the south western facade of the house. A short walk from the bridge and one can see the Duchess of Kent’s Mausoleum and, nestled at the lake’s edge, the ‘Swiss Seat’, a timber hut dating from around 1833 which the guide book describes as ‘faced with split trunks arranged as gothic blind tracery’.