Friday, August 31, 2012

'I do - we did' in the Big Apple

Still in New York  and what a city! Yesterday I visited Brooklyn Botanics and I'll blog about that beautiful garden separately. We are staying on the 31st floor of a small hotel in Manhattan with a view of the Empire State Building. Our friends paid for a posh hotel and got a view of the car  park - win some, lose some! We also visited the 9/11 memorial which was a moving experience. The two pools that mark the position of the twin towers and the surrounding landscape are spectacular in their impact and significance.

Ian and Philip with witnesses, Mark and Keith

However for us the highlight of our visit was our marriage two days ago. Philip and I were Civilly Partnered in the UK nearly seven years ago but it counts for nothing in the USA, hence my exile back to the UK for six months each year. Gay marriage is legal in six states in the USA including New York. Sadly it still won't allow me a full visa until the law changes at a federal level. We didn't do the grey suits, or the flowers and champagne but we both said 'I do!'

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Final Fix of Great British Gardens

In case you've been missing my regular scribblings of horticultural trivia and wonder why I've not posted for some days, I can explain. I've not been lazy - well actually I have - I've just spent six very lazy days on the Queen Mary 2 and what an experience! Not much horticulture, although there was a vegetable carving demonstration, artificial palms in the Winter Garden and a real orchid on the piano in the Commodore Bar! The internet was awful but it was mid Atlantic - anyway that's my excuse for not blogging! I will post later about the QM2 but for now I'll catch up on our time in Bournemouth.

The Italian Garden
Before we left dry land we just had to visit Compton Acres Gardens - actually and amazingly, it was Philip, the non-gardener, who suggested it. Had he heard of the rather fine tea rooms with cream cakes and chilled wine? Compton Acres is a very easy garden to enjoy - colourful and in easily digested bite sized chunks. Because of this I tend to feel it is a tourist garden rather than one for the serious horticulturalist, although I am sure that a careful study over the seasons would reveal an extensive plant collection and we certainly enjoyed it. Amazingly there seems to be very little documented about the garden. (Somebody enlighten me?) It seems to be a late example of the high Victorian style, but made in the 1920's. There are seven distinct gardens, including a Roman garden, an Italian garden, the palm court, a Japanese garden, the semi-tropical glen, an extensive rock garden, woodland walk and heather garden. And did I mention two tea rooms?

Cosmos Purity & Verbena bonariense

Hydrangea villosa

Waterlilies - not sure which one

Phyllostachys Aurea - is this right?

Colour in the sub-tropical link

Some great topiary in the Italian Garden

Rhododendron sino-grande - great foliage even without flowers.

During the early 20C, Gertrude Jekyll was at her most influential, designing gardens which moved away from Victorian formality towards looser co-ordinated planting. She often utilised themes borders or specific gardens.  Hidcote Manor Gardens were developed from around 1910 and Sissinghurst was made in the 1930's but both laid out as a series of garden 'rooms'. Both were innovative in their time and looked forward to new landscape styles but Compton Acres, although similar with its different themed compartments, seems to look back to the 19C.

A corner of the Japanese garden - rather too luxuriant for Japanese formality

The rock garden - great scale but needing over-hauling

The heather garden - needs some good summer cultivars

Over the years the gardens have exchanged ownership and passed through various phases of neglect and refurbishment. Currently the gardens are well maintained but there is little sign of ongoing development and major restoration. Some gardens such as the Japanese garden, rock garden and heather garden would benefit from major overhauls.The bedding in the Italian garden is very formal and traditional but rightly so and exhibits some good colour schemes and well grown plants. It would appear that more has been spent in recent years on the fine cafes and gift shops than the garden itself. The plant centre had a tantalizing array of plant, particularly frustrating as being en route to the USA, I could buy nothing. And I just have to have a colour co-ordinated designer wheelbarrow.

I just love the colour - do you think they'd ship to the USA?

Curiously the gardens were offered for sale in 2011 with an asking price of £5M. (Must remember to buy my lottery tickets!) Sadly the periphery of the garden is very built-up with tall blocks of flats and there is reference on-line to planning permission granted in 2009 for a hotel on some of Compton's land. Does one detect a financial problem? And yes the tea rooms were worth the visit - Philip started on the chilled Pinot Grigio whilst I took more photos, then I joined him for a glass of bubbly and a slice of raspberry roulade! By the way, this garden is open free for RHS members so remember your ticket if you visit - I hadn't!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Goodbye Garden - Hallo Philip!

This was actually started a couple of days ago. I'm now in sunny Bournemouth  and yes the sun has been shining - a lot! Philip has flown over from the USA and its good to be back together after five months apart. No -  we didn't have a huge argument! Our separate lifestyle is purely linked with my inability to get a full Visa - at least until same sex marriage is approved in the USA. Vote for Obama! Tomorrow we hop along to Southampton to embark on the Queen Mary 2, heading for New York and then six months in my second home in California - this half of the year with Philip! Yes - strange lifestyle!

But back to the garden in Nottingham. It seemed odd to be getting my garden ready for winter in the middle of August when it is at its peak. But as I will be away for the next six months, this is very much ' goodbye garden' until next year. Although I don't miss the UK winters as such, I do miss my little garden and the opportunities for winter work and winter flowering species. The back garden is only tiny but climbs up the steep bank at the far end. I undoubtedly have far too many variegated and coloured leaved plants for good taste (Maybe I should heed my own design book!) but I do love their reliable colour. This is what I'm leaving behind.

From the patio doors

Looking to the house - yes the garden is tiny!

Just love the way the light shines through Cercis 'Forest Pansy'

Free lilies from last year - wish I knew the cultivar.  This year I did win the battle against the lily beetles!
Hakonochloa 'Allgold' steels the show again

Ipomoea lobata disappointing this year but it did finally flower
Nicotiana sylvestris - the best is yet to come but I'll miss it!

I've given away my cannas which were just starting to flower and lodged three special new plants, Schefflera taiwanense, X Sinocalycanthus 'Hartlage Wine' and Acanthus 'Tasmanian Devil', with gardening friends for safekeeping. The lodger can look after the house but plants need TLC! (Sorry Rob if you read this!)

Young Schefflera - maybe risk planting it next year

Acanthus - see earlier post
Sinocalycanthus - this one doing well - check earlier post

The front garden has done well this summer despite or maybe because of the early summer's deluge. One side of the front garden was replanted in the spring and virtually everything has established well and this would've been a struggle if the predicted hosepipe bans and drought had continued from spring.

The bit the neighbours and the postman sees.
Rudbeckia 'Prairie Sun' - I wanted 'Cherry Brandy' but couldn't get it
After a poor start, the Ricinus 'New Zealand Purple' are doing well

I did finally removed the ailing Callistemon and replace with  Schizophragma 'Moonlight' which should be happy facing north. The small frail looking variegated tree has a story to tell. Some years back, Jim Waddick a plantsman friend from the USA told me me was in a race to get a plant of Gymnocladus dioica 'Variegated', a form of the Kentucky coffee tree - could I help. I tracked down a specimen at the Hillier Arboretum who offered scion wood if I could arrange grafting  which was done for me by Pershore College. A couple of years later I was able to send Jim two strong young plants and I kept one. Sadly by this time, Jim's opponent in the tree race had died. Sad ending but pretty little tree.

Gymnocladus dioica 'Variegata'

The new Schizophragma with the hairy-leaved  Bergenia ciliata
I wonder what it will all look like when I return in February 2013?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Down in the Jungle

Six hours in a crowded train with noisy children, broken air conditioning and no refreshments - not a pleasant experience! However the travel was broken up by three wonderful hours, visiting Will Giles' amazing exotic garden in Norwich. For those of you that have never visited Will's garden, this is undoubtedly one of the most exciting exotic gardens in the UK and all the more amazing because it is right in the middle of Norwich city centre. Will has now been developing the garden and his skills with exotic plants for 25 years, so this is no beginner's patch! The approach to the garden does nothing to prepare you for the jungle-like wonderland that opens up when you actually get there and find yourself surrounded by palms, waving bananas and a host of other exotic foliage and flower. I have known Will a number of years and visited his garden many times and once again this summer it was looking fantastic despite the summer's rains.

Colour and contrast in the main garden
Will's house - fight your way in with a machete!

Plants everywhere!

The approach to the garden is through a dense plantation, mainly of bamboos but including a number of other trees and evergreens. I remember seeing this area when it was first planted many years ago and the plants were small, the whole area looking very raw and bland. Although still predominantly green, there is much of interest in this area. The eucalyptus are now towering specimens and even the bamboos bend over the footpaths. Will has removed much of the lower foliage, displaying the colourful canes. In particular, yesterday I was impressed by a plant of  Liriodendron tulipiferae, the tulip tree which Will stools annually, pruning hard to the ground. Inevitably the result is a forest of vigorous growth with huge handsome green leaves. I also made a note to get myself a plant of Broussonetia papyrifera.

The garden entrance - pleasant enough but the surprise awaits!

Giant leaves of stooled Liriodendron
Naked stems of Phyllostachys Aurea

Juvenile foliage of Broussonetia papyrifera
 The main garden is an ecclectic mixture of colourful foliage and flowers. Although there are many tender plants and those with big foliage that most people would easily classify as having the exotic look, there are also many very ordinary but good garden plants that fit well within the ethos of exotic gardening. There is no lawn; this disappeared many years ago to make way for more plants and so the visitor walks on gravel paths with lush planting either side and often overhanging the walkways. There are shrubs, herbaceous perennials, huge specimen exotics, plus dahlias, cannas, many bedding plants and some we would think of as houseplants. The effect is voluptuous to say the least but so carefully contrived that the effect is electric.

Two giant plants of Tetrapanax papyrifera - one is 'Rex' - difficult to see much difference
Hemerocallis and Persicaria mingle with the exotics

Bromelliads, very much Will's favourites, thrive outside in the summer

A perennial black-eyed Susan (without a black eye!) Thunbergia gregorii - I think.

Mature Trachycarpus throughout the garden seed freely. Will says he's going to let them grow so that when he can no longer maintain the garden he will have a forest of palms to sit under!

The dahlia in this mixed border has been outside for years

The upper garden is an arid, Mediterranean style of garden, complete with small ruined logia, just the spot for a quiet glass of wine on a summer's evening. The planting includes the inevitable spikies, yuccas, phormiums, and a number of Agave. Amongst those are various cacti and succulents. Will tells me that although he takes some plants under cover for the winter, the majority of these stay outside all the year and many amazingly survived the tough winter of two years ago.

The arid garden and logia all built from local and recycled materials

I just love this huge dinner-plate version of Aeonium - forgotten its name

Typical arid planting
Throughout the garden there are examples of Will's building skills as well as his horticultural enterprise. Alongside the house there is a towering flint wall with a pond at the top and another at the bottom, the two being linked by a cascade that falls over the flint walls. Undoubtedly the most ambitious of the various constructions is the huge tree house which fills the crown of the huge oak tree which sits next to Will's house. Contrasted by the grander projects there is also great attention to detail with numerous small pieces of art tucked in amongst the planting.

The tree house - summer home for Jamie
One of the gardens sculptures with the top pond behind


So much to see

One welcome new construction this year is the huge new  polythene tunnel. Rather than have this sit empty during the summer, Will decided to plant it up with a variety of surplus exotics, which have not surprisingly performed better than some of those outside. After a very splendid lunch yesterday, which featured three types of potato and various vegetables grown by Jamie, one of Will's helpers, we sat and drank coffee in the sunshine in the polythene tunnel, surrounded by a mini rainforest! Reluctantly I set off to the station fortified for the second  three hours in a crowded train.

The new polytunnel
Caladiums - tricky to grow but thriving in the warmth of the tunnel

Colocasia esculenta 'Fontanesii'

Xanthosoma violaceum
Will Giles - exoticist extraordinaire!

Will's garden is open each weekend until mid October - DO go and visit if you possibly can! Full details on The Exotic Garden website or read Will's blog to learn more of the garden.