Reflections on a Busy Week

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What a rollercoaster ride last week was. It began with visits to two very fine private gardens, open by appointment for the National Garden Scheme, and ended with a frantic day of potting up and bedding out in my own garden at The Watch House. In between came the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show in Derbyshire and a whirlwind tour of Coton Manor Gardens in Northamptonshire. The days had all become a blur by Sunday. Writing this post, it’s been a pleasure reflecting on what was a happy, varied and sunny week: the sort I’d like to enjoy many more of. England is magical in May and early June, which is why I like to take most of my holidays then. I return to work today looking forward to a well-earned rest. How lucky we are to live in a country so blessed with beautiful countryside and great gardens. I sometimes have to remind myself of that.

All the locations I visited last week will be getting their own posts in due course (perhaps not Newport Pagnell Motorway Services), but in the meantime, here’s a taste of my adventures.

First stop was The Orchard, home to Mark Lane who you may recognise from the BBC’s Gardeners’ World. When not on our screens, Mark is a busy and successful garden designer and writer. He made his name in publishing before an accident and subsequent diagnosis with spina bifida meant that he required a wheelchair to get about. Mark re-trained and has never looked back. As one might expect, The Orchard is skilfully adapted for wheelchair access, but the design is not compromised by this. Mark’s aesthetic is contemporary, softened by varied, multi-layered planting. There’s a strong emphasis on structure, interesting perennials and plants which attract wildlife into the garden. The Orchard is open by appointment to small groups of four or less, between July 1st and August 31st 2018. Individuals are also very welcome. Mark and his partner Jasen are charming, enthusiastic hosts, making my visit a thoroughly enjoyable one. Click here for details about how to arrange a visit to The Orchard.

On the same day I visited Marshborough Farmhouse near Sandwich (pictured above). Rarely does one come across a private garden of this calibre in terms of plantsmanship and standards of gardening. Quite simply it blew my socks off. I left wanting to return again and again, bowled over by the owners’ knowledge and commitment to their garden, which is all consuming. From 2.5 acres of Kentish farmland Sarah and David Ash have gently fashioned a garden of great character. Their collection of plants, many of which have been raised from seed or cuttings, is stupendous and will delight anyone with a passion for plants. Unlike my garden, which is on chalk, the soil here is slightly acidic, sandy loam and very sharply drained. This makes it possible to grow all sorts of Australian and New Zealand natives, as well as Mediterranean plants. I don’t mind admitting that I was completely in awe of this garden and returned home feeling that I must try harder. Visits for groups of ten or more can be arranged between the 18th and 29th of June 2018, and again between the 20th and 31st of August. I would heartily recommend taking a notebook and pencil as I guarantee you will encounter plants you’ve never seen before. Click here for details about how to visit Marshborough Farmhouse.

Whilst at Chatsworth I managed to sneak up to the walled gardens, located on a gentle slope high above the big house and with a magical view of Capability Brown’s expansive landscape park. The hanging woods behind march right up to the mellow stone walls, lilac rhododendrons spilling bountifully over. This is the sort of place I imagine gardeners might go if they qualified for heaven. Gardener and guardian angel Becky Crowley presides cheerfully over a cutting garden packed with peonies, hesperis, irises, geums and roses, alongside generous plots of fruit and vegetables. Much longer required here on my next visit.

When I’m travelling cross-country I try not to waste an opportunity to stop off at a garden en route, especially when I have a car that I can pack with plants. The night before my journey I Googled “Gardens near the M1” and up popped Coton Manor Gardens. I’ve been researching and visiting gardens for over 25 years, yet somehow I’d never heard of this one: remiss of me, yet what a fabulous find. The garden at Coton Manor possesses the kind of quality, charm and personality that is lacking in some better-known gardens. It has developed slowly and organically around a handsome house, resulting in a layout which is both unexpected and exciting. The use of water in the garden is especially ingenious, with pretty streams, pools and rills that could easily inspire smaller gardens. A flock of placid, coral-pink flamingos is a point of fascination for young and old. The plant nursery is full of good quality, home-grown plants and naturally I succumbed to its charms as well. Mine were a rose called ‘Pearl Drift’, Iris chrysographes (black form), Viola ‘Irish Molly’, Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’, Dahlia ‘Ragged Robin’ and Agapanthus ‘Silver Moon’. Of course, I needed them all, no question. My greatest regret is that I didn’t have time to stop for lunch, which looked good. If it comes to a choice between buying plants and feeding myself, buying plants will always come first. This is a possible but very expensive diet plan.

I was compelled to go back to work for two days before the weekend began. I love my job, but at times like these I’d rather be outside getting my hands dirty. Saturday was a bit of a write-off as I had made plans to spend time with friends. On Sunday I set about the Jungle Garden with a remarkable amount of vigour given I couldn’t actually remember getting home the night before (I do know I was in bed by midnight and I appear to have eaten toast and marmalade before doing so).

I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the task in hand, but quickly found that there’s nothing like getting stuck in to make a job seem less daunting. In the space of eight hours I managed to plant out my aeoniums (a task which requires some delicacy now that some are over 5ft tall), half a dozen colocasias and trays of a superb coleus named ‘Henna’. I also put some effort into grouping my potted plants so that they can start to mingle and knit together. I reckon on them needing a good two months to look established before my garden opening in early August. Ideally visitors won’t be able to detect any pots at all by then and the plants will have formed parallel banks of flower and foliage. TFG.

Categories: Flowers, Foliage, Garden Design, Landscape Design, Large Gardens, National Garden Scheme, open gardens, Other People's Gardens, Perennials, Photography, Planting Design, Plants, RHS Chatsworth, Trees and Shrubs

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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19 comments On "Reflections on a Busy Week"

  1. My group visited Coton Manor too and loved it! Lucky for us, we had time for lunch (and can say you missed a treat), but were only able to drool over the plants. When you get to East Anglia, don’t miss Wyken Hall Gardens, the Old Vicarage at East Ruston, and Houghton Hall. The best of the best, of course, was the Beth Chatto Gardens, but I imagine you’ve visited this hallowed ground. If you allow time for shopping, don’t miss Holt for its fab shops and antique stores.

  2. How very nice wander with you into these beautiful gardens. I adore wide herbaceous borders and can spend hours drooling and photographing individual plants. Yours isn’t looking too shabby either! I rather like the zonal leaved pelargoniums and what is that lush looking shrub(?) in the far right-hand corner?

    1. My garden will look better at the end of July. It’s bitty until everything fills out. I planted some Mrs Pollock geraniums this weekend but I pinch all the flowers out.

      I think the shrub you are referring to is Isoplexis / Digitalis sceptrum. You can get it from Hardy Exotics at White Cross near Penzance. It has orange flowers like foxgloves. It’s completely brilliant and a bit hardier than an Echium in my garden.

      1. That’s the one. I have kept away from that nursery so far as I just know I’ll end up buying tons of things! Might pop in soon though as I want some succulents.

      2. Just go for it! Don’t overthink it!!! I believe they have Dudleya, which is an interesting succulent plant. The nursery at Tremenheere Sculpture Garden is also really good for succulents.

      3. Yes, I bought some from Tremenheere in 2016 including the Maderense Geranium that died this year and a Gazania last year which also died – should have brought that indoors, but I’d forgotten it was out there. I do have some cute pots perfect for succulents…

  3. I love those borders at Marshborough House. They’re exactly what I’d like to have in my garden! Lovely to see photos of your garden too which is looking great. Your aeoniums are amazing! Mine never get rosettes as big as that and frequently succumb to mealy bug which seems to stunt their growth.

    1. That’s a pity. The aeonium in the photo is one of my babies. The grown ups are planted out in a dry border. The rosettes will get very large by the end of the summer. I’ve not yet had mealy bugs attack them but now I know I will look out for them!

  4. Hi Dan
    any tips on growing calladiums please? I potted them up a while ago but nothing is stirring and its getting a little late in the season now. I bought good corms? (not sure if corms or tubers) from a reputable grower and I’ve tried bottom heat as I read they need this but nothing – so help please.
    Many thanks

  5. This is why I am obsessed with English gardens. Beautiful. Don’t we always covert what we can’t have…..mealy bugs on Aeoniums for you, roos and rabbits munching their way through everything that isn’t sage or lavender for me…..the joys of gardening…..

    1. Could you spray the other plants with a solution containing lavender oil as a deterrent? You have so much time on your hands – surely you could squeeze this in between manicures? 😂 🙄 👋

  6. I really have nothing more to add here other than, ‘What a masterpiece!’ That house! Seriously, I look at gardens like this and wonder to myself, “What am I doing living in London? Look at all that space!” Speaking of space I was recently going through some of my garden photos and founds these:
    These were taken in April 2017. I imagine it still looks amazing. Enjoy!

  7. Thanks for a lovely tour with some places to add to my to-visit list. I’m happy for a glimpse of Coton Manor with The Seven Sisters in flower. I hope you know how stunning your pictures are – and so atmospheric. I lavished extra oohing and aahing on the top two and the backlit walled gardens.

  8. What a lovely week you had. I can just imagine how pleasurably exhausted, giddy and excited you must have been by so much horticultural stimulation! Have you ever grown Loquat? I have just discovered one in a new clients’s garden. Doubt it will fruit, but it’s leaves are lush.

    1. Neighbours when I lived in London had a loquat so I never had to plant one of my own. I am currently growing the copper-leaved loquat, Eriobotrya deflexa, to see if it’s hardy. So far, so good. The leaves are glossy and new growth flushed red. I am told by people down here that their fruit does set and is edible.

      Hope you’ve had a lovely weekend Tim.

  9. Thanks, Dan, it has been very pleasant. This tree is large, about 5m and very dense. I am thinking to crown lift it and thin it. I suppose there is a chance of fruit in a mild Winter, but that would be a bonus. The leaves are very handsome and it seems to lend itself to a tropical/exotic look, so I might be seeking more advice in that department ( banana, canna etc), that being one of your areas of expertise .

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