Saturday, 24 November 2012

The dream is dead

Greetings one and all! It is with a heavy heart that I must now bring this blog to a close. I would like to offer heartfelt thanks to all of the good eggs who have read, commented or emailed along the way, you genuinely made it all worthwhile! My time at Hidcote is now over; the dream is dead. The three years I spent there were amongst the best of my life and I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to share some of the glory with you through this blog! I’m now employed at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew so I now bid you my warmest and most cordial cheerio! Please click here for more of my Wodehousian horticultural adventures, as I make an attempt to rekindle the dream, phoenix-like, from the ashes.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Gravetye Manor Pt. 2

William Robinson died in 1935, bequeathing his home and estate to the Forestry Commission. They rented it out and allowed it to lay derelict for many years, before in 1958 Gravetye Manor became one of the first country house hotels in England when it was purchased by hotelier Peter Herbert. He opened the place up as a private country club, but thankfully followed Robinson’s work and ideas studiously in his restoration and maintenance of the garden. Many happy years passed by until the place was sold to two members of the hotel and restaurant staff, but in 2010 having stretched out too far on a financial limb these courageous coves were sunk by the money men and forced into administration! Happily, this small blip was quickly recovered when a bigwig capitalist chappie from London acquired the property; credentials firmly in order having previously been a guest at the hotel for some thirty-odd years. He has set out a five year restoration plan to return the place to Wild Garden glory, but not keep it as a museum piece. With this in mind he employed a gardener and plantsman called Tom Coward to run the garden and head the restoration. Tom, once a student of the Kew Diploma, was in his previous role the deputy to Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter, who the new owners sought as a consultant after their purchase. All historically important restoration projects are a challenge, but particularly so when you are following in the footsteps of such a great pioneer!

Two years into the project the planting inevitably shows strong influences from Great Dixter, but does already seem to be developing its own unique character out of this style. The sheer quality of this planting makes it a worthy starting point, and out of the modern styles in use today this clearly embodies the experimental and naturalistic nature of William Robinson’s work. The one obvious issue in the Flower Garden is the high proportion of tender plants that make up the current display, but although the great man was apparently resolute on this point he did make some rather interesting comments! Quite early on in The Wild Garden Robinson makes it clear that the garden in his mind is formed of two distinct parts, the flower beds by the house and the wild edges around and beyond. This sensibly sees the flimsy, delicate eggs being mothered and kept an eye on near to the house, while a ragtag bunch of hooligans that like to creep and elbow each other around are turned loose into the surrounding copses and meadows. Confusion arises in this template with rants about carpet bedding, ‘wretched winter-nursed flowers.. set out in their patterns’, in the same paragraph during which he actually encourages the use of tender plants; ‘Wild gardening should go hand in hand with the thorough cultivation of the essential beds of the flower-garden around the house, and to their being filled with plants quite different from those we entrust to the crowded chances of turf or hedgerow:- to rare or tender plants or choice garden flowers like the Tea Rose and Carnation – plants which often depend for their beauty on their double states, and for which rich soil and care and often protection are essential.’ One can only presume that the old scoundrel sought to put the considerable hothouse skills of the day to better use, releasing these exciting exotics from the staleness of the bedding arrangements. What would Robinson be up to at Gravetye if he were alive today, I think it is impossible to say, but to my mind the current display is an absolutely splendid interpretation of the ‘wild garden’!

At the centre of the Flower Garden panels of lawn provide a breathing space amongst the mayhem of the planting. Originally, Robinson had his rose bushes here underplanted with saxifrage

Inevitably there is a case to be made for putting the roses back and restoring the space to how Robinson had it, but with the needs of the property having now changed this area is a well-used seating area and sun trap for hotel guests

Verbascum olympicum leads the eye up the banks that slope from the Flower Garden

The stone paths in the Flower Garden were completely overgrown in the 1950s when the hoteliers moved in!

The wonderful Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, bridging the terrace between Flower Garden and Alpine Meadow

The seed heads of Angelica archangelica, with Erigeron annua and the crisp blue of Salvia uliginosa

The froth of Ammi visnaga mingling through the hazy wands of Pennisetum macrourum

A glorious evening to enjoy one of the many meadow areas that surround the garden

Quite probably my favourite Salvia, the red S. confertiflora, with a spent head of Allium christophii and more of the Foenicium vulgare behind

The arresting Echinacea purpurea ‘Fatal Attraction’ and a charming annual known as the Jamaican Forget-me-not, Browallia americana

Achillea sibirica and the glowing embers of the Foenicium vulgare foliage

More heads of Ammi majus, the tassels of Persicaria orientalis and Eryngium yuccifolium

Bidens aurea ‘Hannay's Lemon Drop’, this plant likes to run and is planted right on the outskirts of the Flower Garden

The recently reclassified Digitalis canariensis, the fading blue of my favourite Echium vulgare, and the fuzzy Foxtail Barely, Hordeum jubatum

Two ancient yews provide a shady corner in the Flower Garden

More cut flowers in the sloping Kitchen Garden, with a streak of mixed Antirrhinum majus

And more startling colour for cutting, Gladiolus ‘Amsterdam’ and G. ‘Black Jack’

That is all from Gravetye!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Gravetye Manor

Last week I completed a placement at Gravetye Manor, the home and garden of William Robinson near to East Grinstead in West Sussex. William Robinson was an incorrigible old stickler infamous for starting trouble and ranting on about his specific tastes and interests, such as with the pruning of holly trees; ‘Men who trim with shears or knife so fine a tree as holly are dead to beauty of form, and cannot surely have seen how fine in form old holly trees are’, he once trumpeted! This kind of passion for the wild, natural form typified an outspoken man who lived by a personal motto to ‘love flowers and everything that grows’, and who was rallying against the dreary and contrived system of Victorian bedding. Robinson peered into the pool of Victorian gardening and recognised that nothing worthwhile could possibly be landed in such stagnant waters; he pooh-poohed the system of bedding out tender plants and pursued his target with a revolutionary zeal! One of his most legendary and well-known tales occurred when Robinson was 22 and working as foreman at the Ballykilcavan estate in Ireland. Our hero was distinctly unhappy working at this garden, and the situation climaxed one winter’s day with a quarrel between himself and his gaffer. Legend has it that Robinson resigned his position that same evening by fleeing on foot to Dublin, but not before letting out the fires of the hothouse boilers to allow bench after bench of tender plants to perish in the frost! Bedding plants were his rallying cry but Robinson was against all of the vulgarities of Victorian gardening. He fought desperately to bring about a shift to a more natural approach, taking the cottage garden as his muse; ‘there is nothing prettier than the English cottage garden, and they often teach lessons that ‘great’ gardeners should learn’. Robinson’s ideas were radical for the time, but he established them through his books and through the gardening periodicals and journals he founded and edited; experimenting with those same ideas in his garden at Gravetye. Alpine gardening, the herbaceous border, the shrub garden and woodland gardens all owe their popularisation to Robinson. The idea of ‘wild’ gardening was pioneered by him, using natural groupings of plants and hardy perennials in place of carpet bedding. ‘Have no patience with bare ground’, he once said, and he filled the ground at Gravetye with hardy bulbs, perennials and climbers; both native and non-native. Robinson’s activities and perseverance at the end of the 1800s opened the door for a new style of gardening that still prevails today, with practitioners such as Major Johnston at Hidcote taking up the mantle at the turn of the century. Lawrence was celebrated by the likes of Vita Sackville-West and others that followed him for mastering a style of natural and informal planting, but this was a method of gardening made possible and acceptable by the work of W. Robinson.

The original entrance to the house peers out over the Alpine Meadow, which slopes away to the south and provides a haven for insects and grass snakes

Scenes of abundance to behold in the Flower Garden! The whole garden slopes to the south, so here where it has been levelled the garden ends with a terrace and a ten foot drop to where the Alpine Meadow begins

‘Have no patience with bare ground!’ The wooden arbour to the rear was recently restored, and will eventually be clothed in Wisteria

Some detail in the Flower Garden, with the pink fluff of Sanguisorba obtusa, the Larkspur; Consolida ‘Sublime Azure Blue’ and floating above the heads of Cynara cardunculus

By the manor the golden spray of Stipa gigantea and the glorious ivory white spires of Verbascum ‘Spica’

Massed planting, with the umbel and foliage plant Selinum wallichianum, the shocking pink of Lychnis coronaria and more spires of Verbascum ‘Spica’

The prominence of long grass areas in the garden mean all of the meadow butterflies come crashing in, such as this here Gatekeeper catching the last of the evening rays on a Cardoon leaf

Frothy umbels of Ammi majus, the familiar beauty of Verbena bonariensis, and splashes of pink and white from Nicotiana mutabilis

Echinacea purpurea ‘Prairie Splendor’

Plectranthus argentatus, a salvia-looking blighter that is definitely worthy of further investigation

Several good Dahlias were on show; this is D. ‘Magenta Star’

The green patch at the centre is newly planted (August) Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Candy Stripe’ which has been utilised to revive an area that had ‘gone over’, and will now flower until the frosts in late-October or possibly November. This method of replanting is applied freely throughout the Flower Garden, ensuring consistent colour and an ever-changing display

Umbellifers play a large role in the planting, from the flat-heads of the Fennel, Foenicium vulgare, to the more rounded flowers of the large Angelica archangelica

Clambering upon Robinson’s porch, the magnificent Clematis ‘Alba Luxurians’

An important climber in this garden; Clematis texensis ‘Gravetye Beauty’, named by Old Bill himself in 1914

A pleasing stand of Helenium ‘Sahin's Early Flowerer’, with the white speckles of Erigeron annua behind. The white wispy chap to the left is in the pea family but currently unknown (familiar to anybody? calling all cars), but the umbellifer surrounding it is more of the Selinum wallichianum

In the Kitchen Garden one of the greatest sights of the summer; Verbascum olympicum (smothered in honey bees)

A one acre walled Kitchen Garden provides food and flowers for the house, and naturally the cut flower patch is a thing of great beauty! Lupinus regalis ‘Morello Cherry’ has been dead-headed rigorously so continues in full flower all the way to August. The edging is provided by the herb Pot Marjoram, Origanum vulgare, which extends for several metres and was covered in insect friends
More from Gravetye to follow!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Butterflies at Hidcote

As has been well documented in the press, this year the old butterflies have been dealt a rather rough hand! The relentless wet weather is simply not to their taste, with heavy downpours disrupting their life cycle and in extreme cases killing them. In spite of this my butterfly project is back on this year, raising native species for release into the garden. Some details of last year’s antics and the miraculous transformation that the caterpillars undergo can be found here! Let us all just hope that the chaps we launch this summer will find a break in the clouds to go on and boost the failing populations. This year I am raising Comma, Brimstone and Peacock butterflies, and also branching out with Vapourer and Elephant-Hawk moths! The latter are still quite small, but I will be sure to provide photographic proof of them later on. Quite a spectacle, I must say!
The Elephant Hawk Moth eggs are competitively rather large, indicative of the caterpillars that follow!

Vapourer Moth eggs are laid by the female who will not travel much farther than the leaf she hatches on. The male locates her position by the pheromones she emits, and after mating she immediately lays eggs and dies. A brief, but one might say crucial contribution

The distinctively attired Comma larva

Peacock caterpillars are a rowdy bunch, often seen feeding prominently en masse

The pupae of the Peacock is considerably less conspicuous

The wings of the new butterfly are still wet after pupation, so these dramatic splashes of dye can often be seen on leaves beneath the pupa

First the caterpillar finds a suitable position in which to settle, and anchors itself to the surroundings with delicate webbing. This is a Brimstone here, notable for being incredibly well camouflaged amongst the leaves of the Buckthorn

Then the caterpillar transforms into a pupa to complete the miracle that is metamorphosis!

Netting protects the larvae from merciless devils such as birds, wasps and parasitic flies!  It also stops them sneaking off unannounced, as these caterpillar blighters are nomadic so-and-so’s and you have to keep an eye on them

A freshly emerged Brimstone!
A brief interlude here, as I am just leaving to complete a placement at Gravetye Manor in East Sussex. Cheerio!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Fish are jumping

The rain? Good heavens no, you must have misheard me. The heat! I was complaining about the heat! Somewhat stifling, I must say. Excuse me a moment while I fish out my sun hat and pour a large gin & tonic! In the meantime, here are some recent images of dear old Hidcote in all of its summer glory. It is such a joy to be free from the burden of college assignments, and to be able to enjoy the garden to the full in these final days. The rain ends, the sun comes out, and the butterflies return; can it get much better than this?
Early morning in the Old Garden, where the old Lebanon cedar provides a shifting shade

The roses have had a torrid time of it this year, poor things, battered from pillar to post. Actaea simplex though has revelled in the moist conditions, and has been looking utterly marvellous!

Rosa ‘Juno’ is one such specimen to have pulled through the earlier heavy downpours, and is flowering now up the Rose Walk

The Rose Walk, soon to be the ‘Long Borders’ as they were named by Major Johnston

Detail of the planting in these borders, with Eryngium giganteum, Anthemis tinctoria ‘Sauce Hollandaise’ and Eremurus stenophyllus

The spikes of Linaria purpurea (the lighter form is the hybrid ‘Canon J. Went’) screening the sumptuous trumpets of Lilium regale

Mixed pot display on the Red Border steps, with Cuphea cyanea and the light-green foliage of Fuchsia boliviana

Late-afternoon rays light up Ligularia przewalskii in the Pine Circle, with the glorious annual Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ down in front

More Ligularia in the Stream Garden, with L. ‘Skyrocket’ combining wonderfully with Astilbe arendsii ‘Gloria Purpurea’

In the Old Garden, Molopospermum peloponnesiacum has been a most curious point of interest for almost two months now. Light, ferny foliage combines with these glorious angelica-like seed heads

Also in the Old Garden, this huge specimen of Philadelphus flowers later and more profusely than any other Mock Orange in the garden. The variety is currently unknown, and it was quite probably planted by Major Johnston

A beautiful Speckled Wood enjoying the shelter of the Long Walk hedges

Mrs Winthrop’s Garden, with the old favourite Hypericum ‘Hidcote’ shimmering in the corner

In the Orchard, the long grass and wildflowers provide an excellent habitat for wildlife! Here is Leucanthemum vulgare and the Field Scabious, Knautia arvensis

Although this might look like a dreadful pest, it is in fact a ladybird larva! Do not squish, simply move to an aphid infested stem and enjoy the spectacle of them munching away on those dreadful sap-suckers!

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