Monday, August 14, 2017

Happy memories - Great Dixter

Although now back under the blue skies and searing Californian sunshine, my memories of a lovely month spent back in the UK are still vivid. My husband Philip asked me what was the highlight and without hesitation, I had to say that my visit to Great Dixter Gardens was top of the list! Great Dixter was owned by the garden writer Christopher Lloyd, who died in 2006. The gardens and house are now maintained under a trust and open to the public. The Head Gardener, Fergus Garrett worked with Christopher Lloyd for some years before he died, so the ethos of the garden is still very much that of its creator. It has to be said that this must be one of the top UK gardens.

I met Christopher Lloyd a couple of times, once when visiting his garden many years ago and also when he came to visit my 'patch', when I was Superintendent of Grounds at Reading University. I was pleased to show him our beautiful landscape, lakes and many trees. Some days after his visit I received a hand-written postcard, thanking me but suggesting that it would be better if I spent more time outside with my pruners and less time behind my desk! Maybe he was right!


The garden at Great Dixter was his experimental ground and many of his plantings may originally have seemed ambitious or even outrageous but time has shown that his eye and imagination rarely failed. Some years ago he cleared his mother's historic rose garden and to cries of shock and horror, planted with a dazzling mix of exotic plants. It worked and this little tropical oasis is undoubtedly one of the best exotic gardens in the UK. The bones of the garden and the design of parts of the house are by  Lutyens but everywhere the garden is filled with wonderful plants.

I once asked Christopher how he planned his color schemes. He replied that he never did but put any old colors together. I think this was partly true in that he tried all sorts of color combinations but I am sure he repeated those that worked. His book 'Colour for Adventurous Gardeners' is a classic! I was also thrilled to find one of my own books on a shelf in Christopher Lloyd's library. Opening it, I found that I had signed it with a little message and sent to him personally. It was a 'thank you' for a purple banana he gave me!

Monday, July 31, 2017

UK reminiscences - University of Nottingham - my big garden!

A month ago I posted about my little garden on my arrival in the UK. The four since then there were a whirlwind, visiting friends, catching up with family and several trips to gardens and art galleries. I'm now back sweltering in the Californian heat! In the next few posts I'll tell you about the University of Nottingham gardens where I used to work, Great Dixter, Sissinghurst and the Tatton Park Flower Show! Keep reading! A week after I arrived I was delighted to find that the Friends of University Park were scheduling a 'Picnic in the Park'. This was an event I started some 12 or more years ago.  The public were invited into the gardens, we had the Newstead Band playing, an artist painting and activities for kids. I was delighted to find the event still running and popular as ever. It was great to see crowds of people enjoying the gardens I had created back in 2000 and once again hear the band playing! 

When we first ran this event local residents visited and the most frequent comment was 'We didn't know we were allowed in here and didn't think there was anything to see but its wonderful!' Such an encouraging comment. And the Millennium garden was still looking spectacular. 

I did also wander around the grounds for an hour or so and was delighted to see how well maintained it still is and how shrubs have developed and trees grown! My favorite place, the Walled Garden looked fantastic. The rock garden is looking a bit overgrown - hope it doesn't disappear back into the jungle it was when I discover it 15 years ago.  Sad to see the prairie garden has been cleared - I guess a new building is due.  Bedding at the north entrance looks great - pleased that this tradition has been continued. Sorry - no pic of this.

The Botanic Garden

Hugh Stewart Hall of residence

The rock garden

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A jungle welcome!

After a horrendous 22 hour journey with two delayed flights and a missed train, I arrived back at our little UK house. I say house, as Palm Springs is really 'home' these days! The front garden greeted me - all lush and colorful - not many flowers but still lots of wonderful foliage. The biggest surprise was the Cercis 'Hearts of Gold'' which was a frail small tree when I left and is now quite established and covered in lush gilded foliage. Biggest disappointment in the front is the dead Schizophragma 'Moonlight' - just a woody skeleton still clinging to the brickwork. Wonder why? Tetrapanax towers above everything and the pretty little Gymnocladus dioica 'Variegata'  grows slowly and steadily but still a miniature tree. (There is a story behind this little tree and you can read it here!)

The front garden
The front again

Tetrapanax 'Rex' and Leycesteria 'Magic lanterns'
Impatiens omeiana - surprised this survived

Gymnocladus dioica 'Variegata'
Cercis 'Hearts of Gold'

To my relief the front door key - unused for two years, worked! Quick look round - house clean and tidy - thanks to Mike, my wonderful tenant! Next stop - must see the back garden - oh WOW! The back is an amazing jungle of foliage.
From the patio doors

The Cercis 'Forest Pansy' is huge and overshadows the kitchen window but rather lovely.  Arundo donax must be 10ft + towering over everything.  Somewhere I have a tiny bubbling fountain that erupts from a bed of cobbles but that is all lost beneath a soft purple leaved Cotinus  - I believe the cultivar is 'Grace'. A plant of Acanthus 'Hollard's Gold' is producing lovely lush foliage but its not very gold! And the 'Fire Island' hostas have been eaten by slugs! Next to the patio doors, an Abutilon megapotanicum has almost covered the fence and is in full bloom but the Clianthus has died. Never mind - it had a short flowering season! A small Schefflera taiwanense is still surviving, protected by the surrounding lushness.

Arundo donax

Cotinus - probably 'Grace'with Hakonecloa and a leaf or two of golden Catalpa

Acanthus 'Hollard's Gold'
Abutilon megapotanicum
On the shady side, hidden under the Cercis is a fine Fatsia 'Spiders Web' and Brunnera 'Jack Frost'. My tiny greenhouse is almost hidden behind a variegated Pittosporum 'รrene Patterson', planted only 3 years ago. Towering above all this is a chunky Trachycarpus fortunei, now a small tree, although it came to me many years ago in  a small pot from a Cornish gardener.  When we erected the greenhouse, a Paulownia had to be removed but I see there are now 6ft suckers competing with everything else. 

Cercis 'Forest Pansy' and Pittosporum 'Irene Patterson'

Fatsia 'Spiders Web' - was never sure of this initially - looks decidedly like a bad attack or red spider mite !

Top of the Trachycarpus

Up on the bank at the end of the garden the Aralia elata 'Argenteo Marginata' is now a striking specimen. This was the most expensive plant ever when I bought it! The nearby variegated bamboo is making attempts to escape in every direction - a planting mistake I think but still rather lovely! The rest of the bank is a lovely jumble of foliage, flower and sadly mares tail!
The bank!

Elaeagnus 'Coastal Gold'  - Correction Olearia 'Moondance' - thanks Chad!

Now despite my lifetime abhorrence of excess pruning I had to do some jungle busting so out came the long arm pruners and the bow saw. After a couple of hours judicious pruning, there is now sunlight back in the kitchen and I can get to the trash bins. The garden waste bin is full so any more pruning will have to wait. Not a bad start and it still looks good and lush! Finally - MANY thanks to Pauline Mordue who has looks after my garden and plant collection lovingly for the last two years!

The yard after an hour or so pruning!