Daily Flower Candy: Colchicum ‘Waterlily’

Colchicum 'Waterlily', The Watch House, September 2014

These flowers may faintly resemble those of a Nymphaea, but here the resemblance of Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ to an aquatic plant ends. Like other colchicums, the flowers of C. ‘Waterlily’ emerge naked, buxom and blushing from fecund, cinnamon-coloured bulbs each autumn. They prefer a well-drained soil, which remains moist rather than wet in summer, and full sun or light shade. Introduced in 1928 C. ‘Waterlily’ is unusual in that it has fully double petals. This makes the flowers rather top-heavy, so it’s best to grow them through ground cover plants, such as vinca, so that the blooms don’t collapse onto the ground and get spoilt.

Growing Colchicum 'Waterlily' in pots helps to protect the blooms from slugs and rainsplashes

Growing Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ in pots helps to protect the blooms from slugs and rainsplashes

I like to grow these luscious beauties in a terracotta pot, which allows me to display them in a prominent position when flowering and hide them away in spring as soon as the ungainly leaves emerge. A top-dressing of horticultural grit gives a modicum of protection from slugs, and prevents any compost splashing onto the petals. Like other colchicums, a faint chequerboard pattern can be seen in the petals when the light is behind them. The freshness and vitality of C. ‘Waterlily’, at a time when all else is waning, is very welcome and provides a wonderful contrast to crisp, fallen, autumn leaves.

The generously double flowers of Colchicum 'Waterlily' resemble a dahlia more than a waterlily

The generously double flowers of Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ resemble a dahlia rather than a waterlily

Lost for words

Ipomea indica, The Watch House, September 2014

Rarely do I find myself lost for words but tonight, as I consider my return to work and the inevitability of autumn, I feel a little subdued. This is a far cry from my elation earlier today when Ipomoea indica AGM (blue dawn flower) finally deigned to produce a pair of its short-lived flowers on a day when we were in residence. This rampant tropical rambler has been producing enormous ultramarine trumpets for the last six weeks, unfurling from buds as tight as a gent’s umbrella, teasing us at weekends when we return home to find spent blooms littering the front doorstep. It was worth the wait …. the snapshots say it all.

Ipomea indica, The Watch House, September 2014

Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, Cornwall

Agave and Stipa, Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, Cornwall, September 2014

Cornwall’s great gardens are, by and large, gardens that were created over 100 years ago and that have developed organically ever since. A handful have been rescued from the edge of oblivion in recent years but, with the obvious exception of The Eden Project, newly imagined gardens are a rarity. This is surprising given Cornwall’s exceptional climate and incredible horticultural heritage. Tremenheere is one of those special exceptions, an emerging garden which offers visitors some insight into how those older gardens must have appeared in the early stages of their development, as well as providing a setting for its own specialism: modern sculpture.

Roaming in the gloaming, Tim Shaw's 'Minotaur'

Roaming in the gloaming, Tim Shaw’s ‘Minotaur’

The Sculpture Gardens at Tremenheere in West Cornwall have been open for just 2 years and are already making their mark in both garden design and art circles. They are the work of Penzance GP Dr Neil Armstrong, who bought the sloping site from a local farmer in 1997. Having cleared the scrubby woodland, brambles and wild rhododendrons which had taken possession of the main valley, the infant garden revealed its potential. Dr Armstrong, who’s mother was a landscape gardener, set out to combine his passions for contemporary art and ‘green exotics’ in a garden he describes as a ‘contemplative Arcadian retreat’. The site faces south / south-east with unrivalled views towards Mounts Bay and the mighty citadel of St Michael’s Mount itself. Frosts are extremely unusual in this part of the county, which is why, earlier in its history, this same location was used to cultivate grapes for the monastery on the mount, and strawberries for export to Newfoundland.

A summerhouse provides welcome shade at the top of the garden

A summerhouse provides welcome shade and fabulous views down the garden and out to sea

The open spaces that have been created in the upper part of the garden have been developed for plants that thrive in dry, exposed conditions. Here can be found curious Mexico natives the dasylirions, with narrow serrated leaves splayed like a 1970’s fibre-optic lamp. Tremenheere boasts no less than 6 species. Rarely have I seen restios looking better than here, added to which the ground has been prepared specially for leucadendrons and proteas which dislike the phosphates associated with agricultural fertilisers. Desirable South African Fynbos plants rise above wave after wave of golden Stipa tenuissima, like exotic flotsam and jetsam adrift in a sea of grasses.

Puyas and proteas, broken free from their granite mooring, emerge from foaming waves of Stipa tenuissima and Stipa gigantea

Puyas and proteas, broken free from their granite mooring, are tossed about in foaming waves of Stipa tenuissima and Stipa gigantea

It would be fair to say that the garden does not entirely hang together at this early stage in its development. There are some nice transitions between the sunny, arid slopes and shady exotic woodland, but other areas feel disconnected and immature. This is to be expected in a garden that’s in its infancy and it will be fascinating to see how it matures.

Beautifully crafted benches offer visitors the opportunity to rest a while and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the garden

Beautifully crafted benches offer visitors the opportunity to rest and contemplate the future of the garden

What’s for sure is that there is a fine range of plants to be seen, including a mouthwatering collection of tree ferns and Blechnum species. (A full list of all the garden’s plants can be found here.) Stand-outs for me were the Cyatheas (C. australis, C. brownii, C. cooperi, C. dealbata, C. lunulata, C. medullaris and C. smithii): hard to tell apart unless you’re a tree fern aficionado, but essential in creating the wonderfully Jurassic feel on the wooded stream-side. So balmy is the microclimate beneath the canopy of oaks, hollies and beeches that aspidistras and even some bromeliads can be found growing unprotected.

Tremenheere’s Top Plants:

  1. Cyathea medullaris (black tree fern)
  2. Blechnum magellanicum (costilla de vaca (Chilean Spanish for cow’s rib))
  3. Cannomois virgata (bell reed)
  4. Colocasia esculenta ‘Burgundy Stem’ (elephant’s ears)
  5. Dasylirion quadrangulatum (bear grass)
Tender cyatheas grow tall and luxuriant in the dappled shelter of Tremenheere's exotic woodland

Tender cyatheas grow tall and luxuriant in the dappled shelter of Tremenheere’s exotic woodland

And the sculpture? Well, like all art, its beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A polished stainless-steel skip by Ian Penna, entitled ‘Skip of Light’, elicited mixed emotions from me and my companions, but we were all suitably impressed with the garden’s piéce de rèsistance, ‘Twilight in Cornwall’ by James Turrell. Situated at the highest point in the garden this monumental, elliptical chamber is approached through a gladiatorial passage, conveying visitors into a space so white and ethereal one could almost imagine it were heaven’s waiting room. Perched on a bench seat which runs around the chamber, one can look up through an elliptical opening to see clouds scudding through the sky. As a sculpture ‘Twilight in Cornwall’ is wondrous and thought provoking, but in a garden that’s without a pivotal dwelling it’s also an important destination and anchor point.

James Turrell describes his piece 'Twilight in Cornwall' as a temple-like 'skyspace'

American sculptor James Turrell describes his piece ‘Twilight in Cornwall’ as a temple-like ‘skyspace’

Lurking menacingly in the natural woodland, Tim Shaw’s ‘Minotaur’ was full of force and presence, whilst I found the detail of David Nash’s ‘Black Mound’, a huddle of charred oak shapes, more pleasing in the detail than in the whole.

The detail remains in the charred oak pieces used by David Nash for his sculpture 'Black Mound'

All the detail remains in the charred oak pieces used by David Nash for his sculpture ‘Black Mound’

I love the way the light catches the ridged profile of the oak

I love the way the light catches the rough-sawn surface of the burned oak

Representing ‘repressed energy in a modern society’ (which is where, I am afraid, some of the pieces started to lose us), Kishio Suga’s scaffold cage enclosing a bouquet of giant bamboo stems was attractive, but left us unmoved. Suga’s work is inspired by a phenomenon in Japanese society where a million young men take to their bedrooms, finding modern society too daunting to venture out. Perhaps our lack of cultural empathy with this situation is why we didn’t find the piece more thought-provoking.

I regret not taking the time to contemplate Billy Wynter’s ‘Camera Obscura’ which, once accustomed to the low light, creates for the viewer a 360 degree moving view of the surrounding garden.

Symbolic of repressed energy, or asking to be used as a giant game of pick-up sticks? 'Untitled' by Kishio Suga

Symbolic of repressed energy, or asking to be used as a giant game of pick-up sticks? ‘Untitled’ by Kishio Suga

If neither gardens nor sculpture are your thing, Tremenheere is still worthy of a visit for its light, airy, modern restaurant, the Lime Tree Cafe, and shop selling carefully edited artworks, crafts, books and fresh local flowers. Adjacent to the carpark, Tremenheere Nursery offers a tempting range of succulents and other exotic, interesting plants. The roof of the sales office is planted up with a colourful tapestry of drought-tolerant plants, star of which is bulbine (Bulbine frutescens), an evergreen succulent with fleshy bright green leaves and spiky clusters of yellowy-orange flowers. Alas there were no bulbine plants for sale, which is just as well as I can’t offer them accommodation they’d find acceptable in either of our gardens.

Not just a green roof, but a pretty one, topping off the plant sales area at Tremenheere Nursery

Not just a green roof, but a pretty one, topping off the plant sales area at Tremenheere Nursery

Cornwall, with its highly favoured climate and significant tourist numbers deserves more innovative new gardens like Tremenheere. It’s to be hoped that Dr Armstrong’s vision and tenacity will inspire others to follow suit, creating modern, vibrant, stimulating gardens that will cement Cornwall’s position at the leading edge of adventurous garden making.

Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens are open 5 days a week, Wednesday to Saturday 10am-5pm / Sunday 10am-4pm. Parts of the sculpture garden are tricky to access if you are a wheelchair user or pushing a push chair. For more details, visit Tremenheere’s website

Friend Beth and Him Indoors make up their minds about David Nash's 'Black Mound'.

Friend Beth and Him Indoors make up their minds about David Nash’s ‘Black Mound’

Daily Flower Candy: Grevillea victoriae

Grevillea victoriae, Trebah, Cornwall, September 2014

Just when you think the plant world has no more surprises in store for you (a silly thing to suppose anyway), along comes a plant which you can’t believe you’ve never encountered before. In this case it’s Grevillea victoriae, the royal grevillea, which is endemic to Australia’s New South Wales and Victoria states. It was first described by botanist Ferdinand von Mueller in 1855 and was duly named after Australia’s Empress of the day, Queen Victoria.

Grevillea victoriae appreciates a well-drained position with exposure to the sun

Grevillea victoriae appreciates a well-drained position with exposure to the sun

My first discovery of this lovely, silver-leaved shrub was yesterday at Trebah Gardens in Cornwall. Here it forms part of the planting around the restaurant area, growing in a raised bed alongside Gaura lindheimeri, Erigeron karvinskianus, Schizostylis coccinea and agapanthus. It could easily be mistaken for Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’, which has similar, willowy leaves and branches, but for the grevillea’s flowers which mark it out as something quite special. From pendent clusters of velvety-brown buds, resembling little bunches of rusty tacks, emerge coral-orange blooms. These are full of nectar to attract pollinating birds and insects. As you can see from my photographs, they are borne in plentiful numbers, all the better for being at different stages of development at the same time.

Several bird species are known to feed on the nectar of Grevillea victoriae

In Australia and North America, several bird species are known to feed on the nectar of Grevillea victoriae

Grevillea victoriae is considered to be hardy in southern parts of the UK, especially in coastal areas. Forming a shrub up to 2m high it requires a well-drained spot with plenty of exposure to the sun. The shrub’s mountain origins mean it is tolerant of frost and snow, although I suspect its hardiness is incumbent on the sharp drainage it prefers. Mature plants benefit from regular pruning to maintain a compact shape and make an excellent screen or hedge. I imagine it planted with other sun-worshippers such as rosemary, kniphofia, and salvias in a Mediterranean-style border. A happy plant in a very favoured spot may flower all year round, otherwise you can expect those fire-cracker racemes throughout the summer and autumn months.

Quite why a shrub with so many garden-worthy attributes is not better known I don’t know, but as soon as I have the space to grow it, I’ll be sending off for seeds or plants. Do let me know if you grow Grevillea victoriae in your garden and how you get on with it.

Grevillea victoriae can be purchased from Burncoose Nurseries in Cornwall.

More on Trebah Gardens coming soon.

In coastal areas of the UK, Grevillea victoriae would make a very attractive hedge

In coastal areas of the UK, Grevillea victoriae would make a very attractive, informal hedge

Daily Flower Candy: Fuchsia magellanica var. gracilis AGM

Fuchsia magellanica var. gracilis, Saltford, September 2014

Few plants hold their flowers as gracefully as fuchsias. Whether large or small flowered, the blooms typically tremble at the end of fine wiry stems. How I enjoyed unceremoniously popping the balloon-like buds of the varieties we grew in our garden when I was a child. They deserved better treatment. I have always found fuchsias utterly captivating and easy to grow, although over the years my tastes have turned away from fat, ruffled doubles towards slender, elongated singles.

I have trifled with F. triphylla and F. speciosum and flirted with F. boliviana and F. arborescens, but when one encounters a well grown specimen of Fuchsia magellanica var. gracilis none of the exotics are a match for its sheer poise and elegance. A hardly species, Fuchsia magellanica var. gracilis is often overlooked because it is, in a word, common, especially so in the south and west of England near the coast. Here in moist, sunny climes, it forms floriferous hedges in gardens, occasionally making a foray into the wild. It’s a shrub that deserves more than a second glance, especially in September when the flowers, with all the poise of ballet dancer, fall so graciously from the tips of the arching branches.

Fuchsia magellanica var. gracilis produces an abundance of flowers through summer and autumn

Fuchsia magellanica var. gracilis produces an abundance of flowers through summer and autumn

Picturesque Perfect: Hotel Endsleigh, Devon

Hotel Endsleigh, Milton Abbot, Devon, September 2014

‘A Cottage’ is how Georgina, sixth Duchess of Bedford, described her country home at Endsleigh in Devon. Most visitors today, whether to the garden or elegant hotel, would describe it in somewhat grander tones, but after the formality of Woburn Abbey, the Duchess wished for something far more rustic. Endsleigh was her passion, created in the likeness of her ancestral holiday home in Scotland. She chose the spot for her West Country escape personally, on a loop in the River Tamar, with Devon on one side and Cornwall on the other. Then and now, all that can been seen from house’s terrace is a vast amphitheatre of forest and farmland without another dwelling in sight: two ancient counties interlocking as one sweep of trees after the next plunges towards the dividing water.

Viewed from the banks of the River Tamar, it's easy to understand the sixth Duchess of Bedford's passion for Endsleigh

Viewed from the banks of the River Tamar, it’s easy to understand the sixth Duchess of Bedford’s passion for Endsleigh

The first stone at Endsleigh was laid in 1810, following a design drawn up by architect Jeffry Wyatt, later Sir Jeffry Wyatville. (A prominent regency architect, Wyatt earned the suffix ‘ville’, and his knighthood, after remodelling Windsor Castle for George IV.) Wyatt collaborated with celebrated landscape designer Humphry Repton on the project after the Duchess expressed disappointment in the architect’s initial layout for the grounds. It was to be one of Repton’s last commissions (he died in 1818), but his great experience did not prevent him from embracing the growing fashion for the Picturesque style. If ever there was a site suited to this romantic genre, characterised by rustic buildings, craggy cliffs, plunging ravines and ‘heightened nature’ it was Endsleigh, and Repton went to town.

“My Lord, in delivering that opinion which Your Grace has done me the honour to require concerning the treatment of the scenery at Endsleigh, it is impossible to divest myself of the feeling, that the most picturesque subject on which I have ever been professionally consulted, should be reserved to so late a period in my life ….. in such a task I should joyfully dedicate every energy of body, limbs and mind, although of these, only the latter fully remains.”

 

Humphry Repton in the preface to his red book for Endsleigh Cottage, 1814.

As with his other commissions, Repton produced for the Duke and Duchess one of his sumptuous red books, describing in words and pictures his vision for the pleasure grounds. (A facsimile copy is displayed in the hotel’s hallway.) By the time of his four day visit in August 1814 Repton was already quite infirm and had to be carried around the grounds in a sedan chair. What he imagined was a landscape with “steepness of ground – abrupt rocks – and water in rapid motion” with pretty rather than grand formality closer to the house. For an estate occupied by the owners for just a few weeks each year, the plans were ambitious and ultimately prohibitive. The cost of creating Endsleigh left the sixth Duke in serious debt by the time of his death and it was never loved again as it was by his Duchess.

The long border is planted to give hotel guests enjoyment throughout the growing season

The long border is planted to give hotel guests enjoyment throughout the growing season

Fast forward exactly 200 years from when Repton’s proposals were made and Endsleigh remains almost intact, one of the finest surviving examples of his work. Happily, as a rather swish hotel, there is once again a clientele which values the peace and seclusion of this exceptional location. Financial considerations meant that not all the ideas in Repton’s red book were executed, but most of the work that was carried out by the Duke and Duchess can be seen and appreciated today. Head Gardener Simon was kind enough to take me on a guided tour, explaining the joys and challenges of maintaining such an historically important garden.

A view down the Dairy Dell from one of Repton's typically rustic bridges

A view down the Dairy Dell from one of Repton’s typically rustic bridges

We began our walk in the Dairy Dell, not all of which is accessible, but sufficient to appreciate the scale (and success) of Repton’s vision. The great landscape gardener discovered in this south-facing dingle the perfect ingredients for a picturesque scene. The Edgecumbe stream was dammed and diverted to create a system of streams, waterfalls, cascades and pools, most of which still function as intended. The crests of the ridges to either side were planted with tall trees, such as Douglas fir, Nordman fir, beech and sweet chestnut to actuate the height of the ravine. A mild, sheltered microclimate was created that suited giant rhubarb (Gunnera manicata), bamboos, rhododendrons and camellias, which were planted in clumps and groves to suggest they had arrived there of their own accord. One can imagine the Duke and Duchess’ guests in raptures over this emphatic landscape, seemingly natural but actually anything but. Simon described how he still manipulates the flow of water to create drama and excitement, even maintaining branches overhanging waterfalls so that icicles will form on them in winter. I can only think that Repton would have deeply approved.

The gardeners at Endsleigh constantly adjust the flow and direction of water to create picturesque effects

The gardeners at Endsleigh constantly adjust the flow and direction of water to create picturesque effects

All is not as idyllic as it seems, and Simon points out the difficulties in maintaining such a precipitous area. Rock faces need to be kept clear of brambles, Japanese knotweed and Rhododendron ponticum have to be kept at bay and heavy rain can destroy paths and topple trees. Clearing debris along narrow paths with no vehicular access can be hard and dangerous work. Simon’s approach is to maintain the dell as Repton would have envisioned it, maintaining a careful balance between naturalism and wilderness. It’s a garden he’s known and loved for many years and it shows. He points out a weeping beech, its branches swooping low and resting on boulders by the side of the central stream. The sunlight dances on the ground as it filters through the tree’s leaves. A more picturesque scene it’s hard to imagine.

The dell's central stream flows beneath the boughs of Endsleigh guests' favourite tree, a weeping beech

The dell’s central stream flows beneath the boughs of Simon’s favourite tree, a weeping beech

At the foot of the ravine Repton sited a thatched dairy building, in which the Duchess would ‘play’ at being a milk maid. The restored interior is remarkably fine, with sinks crafted from cool grey Ashburton marble and the walls adorned with Wedgwood tiles. From the veranda of the Dairy can be seen a large pond and Endsleigh’s most ancient feature, the Holy Well, a baptismal font originally sited at the hunting seat of the Abbots of Tavistock Abbey.

Apart from the tumbling stream, which was constructed further to the right of the dairy, this scene is recognisable today

Apart from the tumbling stream, which was constructed further to the right of the dairy, this bucolic scene is recognisable today

The Grade I listed rockery is approached via a steep flight of stone steps, which passes through a remarkable tunnel occupied by bats. The quality of the build is here much in evidence as the tunnel has not moved or failed at any time in its 200 year history. Repton’s vision of gnarled oaks and cedars perched on overhanging boulders has come to fruition, but occasionally results in calamities when limbs or trunks are severed by storms. Maintaining such a landscape requires more brute force and tenacity than delicacy, but Simon was keen to point out one of the garden’s finest trees, Halesia monticola, the mountain snowdrop tree, which carpets the slopes in spring with millions of tiny white blossoms.

The fabulously complex rockery is made up of stone from all over the country, barged up the Tamar to Endsleigh

The fabulously complex rockery is made up of stone from all over the country, barged up the Tamar to Endsleigh

Not much is known about the original planting of the rockery, but it is thought to have been occupied by ferns and is maintained as such. The Picturesque style required the garden to be aesthetically pleasing rather than pristine and so foxgloves and native ferns are encouraged to seed themselves about. Planted in the 1920s, Endsleigh has some exquisite mature acers, which must be just weeks away from being at their finest.

Repton's adjustments to Wyatt's parterre, which included a small boating pool, appear not to have been made.

Repton’s adjustments to Wyatt’s Parterre, which included a small boating pool, appear not to have been made.

The gardens around the house exhibit much greater formality than the dell, although Repton would have liked them to be more fanciful. A feature designed by Wyatt, which exists almost exactly as the architect would have imagined it, is the Parterre. This fan-shaped garden between the main cottage and the childrens’ wing, was designed with little ones in mind. The radiating beds, some composed of pebbles rather than plants, are bordered by a water-filled channel in which the Duchess’ thirteen children played with their sailing boats. Today the borders are filled with a simple colour mix of annual clary, Salvia viridis.

Endsleigh's parterre is currently filled with a simple mix of bedding and neutral pebbles

Endsleigh’s parterre is currently filled with a simple combination of bedding and neutral pebbles

Now that Endsleigh is run as an hotel, it’s important that the area at the front of the house affords as much year-round interest as possible. The centre of attention is undoubtedly the sloping long border, reputedly the longest, unbroken stretch of herbaceous planting in England. An image in Repton’s red book shows the long border backed by an elegant conservatory, fretwork arbours and incised hedges. These were never realised, although the pierced retaining wall was.

Repton hoped for a more imposing treatment to the long border and croquet lawn

Repton hoped for a more elaborate treatment to the long border and croquet lawn

In summer the planting basks in direct sunlight from 8am until dusk, perfect conditions for herbaceous perennials, although challenging for the gardeners in a dry spell. The border was restored in 1998 and looked absolutely splendid during our stay. Simon’s team plant thousands of mixed tulip bulbs in November to kick off the spring display before the perennials get going. Golden-leaved dogwoods, Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ AGM, are a masterstroke in the planting, lifting the purples, reds and pinks out of mediocrity. Getting the look is easy, as most of the plants in this border are widely available.

The early morning mist hovers above the herbaceous border, amongst the longest in England

The early morning mist hovers above the herbaceous border, amongst the longest in England

Essential Endsleigh Plants for Autumn colour:

  • Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ (stonecrop)
  • Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’
  • Kniphofia maybe ‘Ice Queen’ (red-hot poker)
  • Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ (golden dogwood)
  • Gaura lindheimerii (Lindheimer’s beeblossom)
  • Eupatorium purpureum (Joe-Pye weed)
  • Polygonum affine ‘Dimity’ (Himalayan fleece flower)
  • Lythrum salicaria ‘Feuerkerze’ (purple loosestrife)
  • Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’
Endsleigh's long border is cleverly planned to be colourful right through the autumn

Endsleigh’s long border is cleverly devised to be colourful right through the autumn

Any walk at Endsleigh should end at the Shell House, another Wyatt creation, designed as a summerhouse to display geological specimens and shells. A burbling well fills the gloaming with therapeutic sound, ‘a great gin and tonic spot’, says Simon.

The roof of the Shell House was once covered with climbers and is occasionally used for wedding ceremonies

The roof of the Shell House was once covered with climbers and is occasionally used for wedding ceremonies

From the terrace outside the grotto there are staggering views across the valley to a bend in the Tamar, the water rushing over stones around the black rock, a renowned salmon fishing spot. Simon plans to remove some seedling ash trees which are beginning to block the vista. Maintaining Repton and Wyatt’s plans for Endsleigh requires tenacity, vision and not just a little hard cash. Hopefully in the hands of Simon and the current owners, the Polizzis, the particular passion the Duchess of Bedford had for Endsleigh Cottage will endure.

One can only imagine that Repton and Wyatt would have approved of this picturesque scene on the Tamar, below Endsleigh Cottage

One can only imagine that Repton and Wyatt would have approved of this picturesque scene on the Tamar, below Endsleigh Cottage

With thanks to Hotel Endsleigh and Head Gardener Simon for his valuable time and amazing knowledge.

Divine Decay

Rambling Roses, Hotel Endsleigh, September 2014

On the whole I dislike decay. My inner perfectionist denies me the pleasure of anything less than pristine, fresh or new. I wish I could be more accepting of senescence, but perhaps this exposes my own fear of growing old. The moment a vase of flowers passes its best I have to be rid of it, so I surprised myself today by gravitating towards a clutch of tiny rambling roses growing along our balcony at Hotel Endsleigh. Whether palest pink, sullied white or sepia, the rose’s blooms are divinely romantic.

Rambling Roses, Hotel Endsleigh, September 2014

Top Tips: Preparing Your Garden for a Summer Holiday

Water generously the day before departing, allowing time for a good soak.

The school summer break is over and the kids are back for the autumn term, which means it must be time to take our holidays. I love September: the hazy light, the gentle warmth that seems to radiate from the ground and the ebullience of the garden. For me, this is my last hurrah before work becomes too chaotic to take time off. It’s an opportunity to reboot, recharge and start preparing for winter and the ‘C’ event (only 107 shopping days left!). Over the next two weeks we’ll be visiting some of our favourite places in Devon and Cornwall, reconnecting with family and meeting my favourite blogger Gill Heavens, author of Off The Edge Gardening. On a scrap of paper secreted safely away from Him Indoors, I have a long list of nurseries and gardens to drop in on.

I wouldn't be without Aster divaricatus, a plant with tumbling, wiry stems which cover a multitude of sins in late summer

I wouldn’t be without Aster divaricatus at this time of year, a plant with tumbling, wiry stems which cover a multitude of sins

Leaving our gardens at this time of year is to some extent the easiest option. Many plants are growing less fast and concentrating their efforts into flowers or building up strong leaf rosettes to get them through the colder months. However, in the vegetable garden we are approaching the peak time for harvesting. I remember, when I was a child, returning from long holidays in Cornwall to lawns strewn with apples and damsons, and to courgettes-turned-marrows which my mother would then try to stuff and cook until we could take no more. Not much chance of a glut in our tiny garden, but maybe more than we can eat at once. The best solution here is a friendly neighbour who can help themselves whilst you recline on a beach or live it up at the pool bar.

A little forethought can make all the difference when planning time away from the garden and means you don’t have to worry about returning to a wilting, mildew-molested mess. Here are my top tips for preparing your garden for a late summer holiday.

Water generously the day before departing, allowing time for a good soak.

Water the day before departing, allowing time for a good soak

Watering

Watering is every gardener’s number one concern when going on holiday. Unless you’re into cacti, the prospect of a hot, dry spell is a nightmare if you’re away for any length of time, especially if you grow many plants in pots. Solution number one is a trusted friend who will come around to quench your plants’ thirst every day or two. Should you not have one of those to hand (and I don’t trust many people with my watering) an irrigation system is an option. However, these are only suitable for relatively small areas and seem to me heavy-handed unless you’re away frequently. Instead I use a loam based, water retentive compost for my containers which dries out more slowly than other growing media. By grouping several pots together you will shade the surface of the compost and reduce evaporation. Better still, move any pots which are portable to a lightly shaded position. This may result in temporary legginess or a lull in flowering, but is better than complete dehydration.

Be careful about standing plants in trays of water (this works a little better for some houseplants). Rain may keep these topped up for long periods of time and very few plants relish having wet feet. Better to water thoroughly and allow pots to drain naturally.

Any pots that can be moved will benefit from relocation to a shaded part of the garden

Any pots that can be moved will benefit from relocation to a shaded part of the garden

Disease Prevention

Second on the list of potential vacation spoilers are bugs and diseases. Snails and caterpillars can wreak havoc in the space of a week and cause fatalities within a fortnight. If you are prepared to use slug pellets then do so, especially around vulnerable plants like hostas. General tidying up of dead or dying foliage and flowers will reduce the garden’s appeal to a whole range of pests: get the air circulating around your plants and avoid anything that will attract the little blighters.

Spray plants like dahlias to protects against attack from greenfly or red spider mite. Powdery mildew (an unsightly whitish mould) can be a real nuisance during prolonged periods of dry weather. There are anti-fungal sprays which are meant to defend against this non-fatal blight, but once you have powdery mildew, it tends to stick around. Remove and burn infected foliage and fresh new leaves will quickly emerge.

These mildew infested polemoniums will come back with fresh green foliage after removing the tired old foliage

These mildew-infested polemoniums will come back with fresh green leaves after removing the old foliage

Be Prepared

The British weather is unpredictable and perennials are at their tallest right now. Any that are spent can be given a haircut and will divert their energies into building up strong crowns for winter. Stake any plants that are still in their prime, such as asters, heleniums, rudbekias and dahlias, if you haven’t done so already: a single gale could see them flat on the their backs. I like to interplant early flowering perennials with Aster divaricatus (above) which blooms in September and lolls about, covering and gaps or unsightly foliage in the border. Tie in tomatoes and remove the lower leaves to allow the sun’s rays to ripen the fruit whilst you’re away.

Unless they open automatically, leave greenhouse ventilators ajar to improve air circulation and keep things cool.

With their lower leaves removed, tomatoes will ripen fast in the autumn sunshine

With their lower leaves removed, tomatoes will ripen fast in the autumn sunshine

Plan Ahead

Pick everything you can before you go and freeze it, gift it or take it with you. You will prolong the flowering season of dahlias, cosmos and annual bedding by deadheading and then picking any open blooms. This will encourage the formation of new buds, which should be opening by the time you return. If you have a lawn, mow it the day before you leave, setting the blades high if the weather is warm and/or dry. Pinch out chrysanthemums and fuchsias which will still be growing strongly, and pot young plants on so that they can be making roots whilst you languish in the sunshine.

If you like to be organised, order your spring bulbs before you go so that they are waiting for you on your return. Narcissi and any remaining autumn flowering bulbs should be planted immediately.

Narcissi bulbs will already be putting down new roots, so can be planted immediately

Narcissi bulbs will already be putting down new roots, so can be planted immediately

Whatever mirth one encounters when wheeling the suitcase up the garden path after two weeks on the Costas, it will always look worse than it actually is. Do not postpone a thorough watering unless it’s been vile whilst you’ve been away (which always feels so good!) and follow up with a quick mow, deadhead and weed, concentrating on the bits that show. You will soon restore a semblance of respectability and be able to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labours.

I’d love to hear your top tips for making a garden holiday proof…..

Daily Flower Candy: Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’

Begonia 'Glowing Embers', The Watch House, September 2014

Begonias are such stalwarts of the summer garden that they are often overlooked, even sniffed at, by so-called fashionable gardeners. I’m not attracted by the enormous, dinner-plate sized blooms of most tuberous begonias, but find single flowered hybrids essential for colour in my partially-shaded garden. They do not demand day-long sun and look all the better for it, flowering better when the weather is warm, sulking slightly during cool spells. In my begonia armoury (or should that be ‘amoury’?) are Begonia ‘Million Kisses Devotion’, B. ‘Million Kisses Passion’ and B. ‘Firewings Orange’. But, after their flames have died down, I am always left in love with Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’. It’s a plant that positively smoulders its way through summer, in no need of re-ignition come autumn. The bronze, prettily veined foliage provides a strong backdrop for the simple tangerine flowers that rain down all summer like sparks from a welder’s gun.

Begonia 'Glowing Embers' flowers non-stop from June until the first frosts

Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’ flowers non-stop from June until the first frost

 

Sissinghurst – Fire and Ice

Harold Nicolson bought one plant each of Arctotis x hybrida 'Mahogany' and 'Flame' at an RHS show in 1959. They now create a bold sweep either side of the South Cottage front door.

By late summer both of our plots have started to run out of puff, so I am always keen to seek out gardens which manage to keep up a good head of steam into autumn. Sissinghurst is open almost every day of the year and has to cope with hoards of garden-loving pilgrims expecting picture-book perfection. This makes it the ideal place to go in search of ideas. The gardening team keep the place looking tip-top with meticulous maintenance and by continually filling gaps with seasonal plantings.

Sissinghurst's White Garden still looks superb after a dry summer

Sissinghurst’s White Garden still looks exuberant after a long summer

On my last visit, at the end of August, the scene was stolen by flowers at two ends of the colour spectrum: the cool whites and the fiery oranges. The intensity of light in late summer brings out the best in assertive shades and Sissinghurst’s White Garden positively sparkled. An early clip in June meant that the complex arrangement of box hedges had once again assumed a soft, fuzzy outline, gently penning-in the exuberant perennials and roses inside.

The flowers of Zephyranthes candida sparkle like tiny stars in a dry spot within the White Garden

The flowers of Zephyranthes candida sparkle like tiny stars in a dry, sun-baked spot

Zephyranthes candida is, rather poetically, commonly known as the white rain lily

Zephyranthes candida is rather poetically known as the white rain lily

At the foot of a wall, basking in the warm sun, was a carpet of sparkling flowers belonging to the white rain lily, Zephyranthes candida. Rain lilies are bulbous perennials native to the Rio de la Plata region of South America. In the wild they burst into bloom following heavy periods of rain, hence the common name. After the soggy August we’ve had, these little stars were right on cue.

The white form of Thunbergia alata cascades from a glazed urn beneath the White Garden's arbor

The white form of Thunbergia alata cascades from a glazed urn beneath The White Garden’s arbor

My first experience of the white form of black-eyed Susan, Thunbergia alata, was at Sissinghurst, where every year it pours gently from the lip of a glazed ceramic urn. The thunbergia’s flowers are a deliciously soft curd-white, centred around a bitter chocolate ‘eye’. It’s a lovely contrast and one of this garden’s typically well composed ‘moments’.

Harold Nicolson bought one plant each of Arctotis x hybrida 'Mahogany' and 'Flame' at an RHS show in 1959. They now create a bold sweep either side of the South Cottage front door.

Arctotis x hybrida ‘Flame’ creates a bold sweep either side of the South Cottage front door

All this cool whiteness is juxtaposed in the The Cottage Garden, where fiery heat reigns supreme. As enduring as the thunbergia are the blooms of Arctotis x hybrida ‘Mahogany’ and ‘Flame’ skirting Harold Nicholson’s hideaway. Harold bought one plant of each at an RHS show in 1959 and they were propagated until his gardeners were able to plant bold sweeps either side of the front door.

Stalwart Dahlia 'David Howard' is a tall, vigorous variety suitable for the middle or back of a border

Stalwart Dahlia ‘David Howard’ is a tall, vigorous variety for the back of a border

Helen, one of Sissinghurst’s gardeners, had recommended to me the Dahlia ‘David Howard’, so I was keen to seek it out. Making a big splash in the middle of a border was this sturdy hybrid, blessed with burnt-orange flowers and dramatic, purple-bronze leaves. This truly is the ultimate dahlia for a ‘hot’ border or exotic planting scheme, best underplanted with shorter perennials to disguise any legginess.

A relative of the alstromerias, Bomarea caldasii has a climbing habit

A relative of the alstromerias, Bomarea caldasii has a climbing habit

Occupying a pot next to the cottage’s rose-red brickwork was a divine specimen of Bomarea caldasii, the Peruvian lily vine. This rare twining plant can be found scrambling over other vegetation in its native South America, producing pendulous clusters of orangey red, waxy, bell-shaped flowers. This plant had especially vividly coloured flowers and was clearly in its element. A joy to see such a splendid plant grown so well.

I was equally pleased to see my favourite ginger, Hedychium ‘Tara’, ablaze with tangerine flowers. I recently acquired three healthy plants from Great Dixter, which I am growing on in pots ready for planting out next year. I can already smell the sweet spicy scent of the spidery flowers wafting across the terrace at night.

Sissinghurst never disappoints, offering gardeners inspiration at any time of the year. I came away full of ideas to keep our gardens’ engines running, whether it be with carpets of colchicums, cool waves of Aster divaricatus or classic Anemone japonica.  Whether you’re blowing hot or feeling autumn’s chill, I hope something in today’s post fuels your fire.

Tantalising Hedychium 'Tara' has strong stems and fragrant flowers

Tantalising Hedychium ‘Tara’ has strong stems and fragrant flowers