Book Review: ‘Lessons from Great Gardeners’

Lessons from Great Gardeners‘ is an inviting book. First, in terms of content. Forty ‘gardening icons’ – gardeners, garden designers and/or garden owners – are profiled, many with emphasis on one garden to which each has devoted a significant part of his or her life. You absorb their practical skills in terms of knowledge and experience. You respond to their creative ideas and their passion for gardens. You learn from them. Continue reading “Book Review: ‘Lessons from Great Gardeners’”

Which gardens make your heart sing?

When I first took an interest in garden design, it was all about the look. Some combination of colours, textures and forms would jump out at me from a page and I would ooh and aah about how beautiful it was. Continue reading “Which gardens make your heart sing?”

Chelsea 2015 Fresh: World Vision Garden

One of the Chelsea Flower Show 2015 gardens in the Fresh category that I loved was the ‘World Vision Garden: Grow Hope’, inspired by the beauty of Cambodia. It won a silver-gilt medal for designer John Warland, a four-time RHS medallist and a supporter of World Vision. It evokes the rice fields of Cambodia where children often survive, but are malnourished, on just two bowls of rice a day. Continue reading “Chelsea 2015 Fresh: World Vision Garden”

The Brontës and their garden

 

There is not a knoll of heather, not a branch of fern, not a young bilberry leaf, not a fluttering lark or linnet, but reminds me of her” wrote Charlotte Brontë, of sister Emily after her death.

Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontë family

Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontë family

In 1820 a man called Patrick Brontë took on the position of curate in the village of Haworth in Yorkshire. He moved to the house (which had been built in 1779) with his wife Maria, and their children Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Patrick, Emily and the newly born Anne. Less than a year and a half after the move, Maria Brontë died, leaving her grieving husband to cope with six small children. Her sister Elizabeth Branwell had come up from Cornwall to help with the nursing of the invalid – she stayed on in Haworth for the rest of her life to assist in bringing up her nieces and nephew. In 1825 there was more tragedy for the family, when Maria and Elizabeth died within weeks of each other from TB.

The garden at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

The garden at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

Haworth Parsonage was to be the home of the remaining members of the family for the rest of their lives. There were times spent away from home – when the girls took on jobs as governesses, when Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels to further their own educations, and when Branwell found work as a tutor or a railway clerk, but it was the parsonage that was always ‘home’, a much loved spot on the edge of their beloved moors. The windows of the house look onto the graveyard and church, and just outside the garden walls is a path leading up onto Haworth Moor.

The garden at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

The garden at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

The garden at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

The garden at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

The novels that the Brontë sisters wrote are famed for their wonderful descriptions of the moors, the wild landscapes where they loved to walk. However, Yorkshire weather being what it is, it was not always possible to venture far afield, and then they had to make do with walks in the garden. When away from home and unhappily employed as governesses, the sisters often escaped to gardens for some relaxation. In Brussels Charlotte loved the gravel walks of the walled garden of the Pensionnat Heger and wrote of it in her novel Villette:

”The turf was verdant, the gravelled walks were white; sun-bright nasturtiums clustered beautiful about the roots of the doddered orchard giants. There was a large berceau, above which spread the shade of an acacia; there was a smaller, more sequestered bower, nestled in the vines which ran all along a high and grey wall, and gathered their tendrils in a knot of beauty, and hung their clusters in loving profusion about the favoured spot where jasmine and ivy met and married them.”

A small flower border under the windows at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

A small flower border under the windows at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

The Brontës were not rich and so needed to be practical about what grew in their garden at Haworth. Blackcurrant bushes provided fruit for pies and preserves. Under the windows was a small flower border with hardy plants such as lilacs and elder bushes growing there. A gravel walk went through the garden, which Mr Brontë refused to have paved as he was certain it would be more slippery in frosts. Emily was the sister most interested in the garden – she regarded the blackcurrant bushes as her property, and was grateful when Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey sent her seeds for crimson cornflowers and Sicilian peas.

The garden at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

The garden at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

The garden at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

The garden at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

The "square grassed plot" at Haworth Parsonage

A simple garden surrounds the “square grassed plot” at Haworth Parsonage, home of the Brontës

Charlotte loved painting flowers, but seems to have had little interest in trying to grow any. She also seems to have disapproved of “highly cultivated” gardens. So the Haworth parsonage had a simple garden, consisting mainly of the “square grassed plot” described by Elizabeth Gaskell in her biography of Charlotte. Their love of plants comes through more strongly in the novels that it did in the real life garden – primroses, rose-briar, lavender, lilac, mosses, ferns, bay trees, heather, box, hawthorn, honeysuckle, daisies, bluebells, thrift, snowdrops and roses are all plants mentioned in their works.

Today the garden at Haworth still needs to be ‘hardy’. Thousands of visitors pass through it each year. The front garden remains modest, with shrubs and plants that would have been familiar to the sisters.

Graveyard gate through which the Brontës passed

Graveyard gate through which the Brontës passed

On either side of the gate leading to the church are two pine trees, said to have been planted by Charlotte and her husband Arthur Bell Nicholls just after they returned from their honeymoon. A plaque records the fact that this is the gate passed through by Emily and Charlotte on their last sad journey, from home to burial in the Haworth church. In the back garden is a bronze statue of the famous sisters created by Jocelyn Horner.

In 2012 a garden inspired by the Brontës and their Yorkshire landscape was entered in the Chelsea Flower Show. It won a gold medal!

Sir Walter Scott and his Abbotsford garden

My heart clings to the place I have created.
In 1811 Sir Walter Scott purchased a small farm on the banks of the Tweed River in the Borders area of Scotland. It was a part of the country he knew well – he’d stayed there often as a child, had worked there as a lawyer, had collected the local ballads and tales of folk lore and published them. He had a home in Edinburgh, but he wanted a country property as well. Continue reading “Sir Walter Scott and his Abbotsford garden”

Garden oddities – floral clocks

One of the horticultural oddities of the last century is the floral clock. Most of us have encountered them from time to time during our travels, often sighted on gentle slopes in manicured public gardens at tourist destinations. Apart from a moment’s thought at the sophistication of the technology and the intricate plantings used by the designers, most of these outdoor landscapes are soon forgotten. Continue reading “Garden oddities – floral clocks”

Great Dixter: a manic masterpiece

I have long been fascinated by the work of the late British garden designer Christopher Lloyd. So it was with great anticipation that I recently visited his Great Dixter garden in Sussex to the south of London. And I must say I was not disappointed by the extravagant use of interesting plant material throughout the landscape there. As a plant lover rather than a lover of landscape design I am a sucker for the perennial beds that Lloyd filled to overflowing with exuberant mixtures of foliage colours and textures. Continue reading “Great Dixter: a manic masterpiece”

Wordsworth’s outdoor office at Rydal Mount

Wordsworth is of course familiar to all as one of the greatest of English poets, founder of the Romantic movement and Poet Laureate. What is less well known is that he was also a brilliant landscape gardener and his home Rydal Mount is testament to this genius. Continue reading “Wordsworth’s outdoor office at Rydal Mount”

Orchid fever

As a first time visitor to the Chelsea Flower Show in late May, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. So much to see in such a short time. The standard of horticulture, the level of presentation of plants and the sheer variety was even better than I had expected. With so much to marvel at, one thing stood out in my memory of that day and it was the exhibition and display of the Phalaenopsis, or moth orchids, set up as an overhanging ‘tree’. Continue reading “Orchid fever”

The floating gardens of London

Twice a year, a unique barge community of barge gardens floating on the Thames is opened to the public to raise money for charity. Known as the Downings Road Moorings or Garden Barge Square, the gardens can be viewed from the shore or river anytime but for a close-up view, you’ll need to visit on an open day. These occur annually in May and June, once for the National Garden Scheme (during the Chelsea weekend in May) and again in June for the London Open Squares weekend. Continue reading “The floating gardens of London”

War and Peace

On a day when all manner of people turned out to publicly and conspicuously commemorate ANZAC Day, marching, singing, praying, dressing up in uniform, waving flags, wearing medals, beating drums, playing trumpets, bagpipes and horns, then gathering noisily with family and regiment mates in watering-holes from Gallipoli to Goondiwindi to Greymouth, I dug deep to gather my thoughts of war and the fallen in my garden. Continue reading “War and Peace”

Xylothek – a touching, reading adventure

As we can read in this forum or elsewhere, gardening from a distance is far from easy, if not mad; awkward to plan and yet full of surprises. Last week I travelled to Germany for not entirely gardening related reasons but thought I might as well take some rare English bare-rooted fruit trees with me to incorporate into our orchard project there, which we have called our English corner or English fruit circle already. Over Christmas there were spring-like temperatures and I was hoping for a similar winter gap in February. Continue reading “Xylothek – a touching, reading adventure”

Giant squill is simply delightful, Madeira

No I haven’t been to Madeira. But according to Greg Redwood, one of my colleagues here at Kew, I should go there rather than to (mainland) Portugal. This was in response to me listing the places in Europe Lynda and I had hoped to visit while on this side of the world. Oh, well. Next time. For now though I have the Madeirenese (I’m torn here between Madeiranese and Madeirenese – if only I’d studied Latin at school) flora to enjoy. And isn’t that the great thing about a botanic garden: you can visit the plant world without leaving home. Continue reading “Giant squill is simply delightful, Madeira”

Nature’s leaf rainbow

Having returned from a whirlwind tour of the UK, few places could have left a more lasting impression than the wondrous colourful transition of the leaves and progression into a deep winter’s sleep than that of the trees at Westonbirt Arboretum, on the west coast of England. Continue reading “Nature’s leaf rainbow”

The James Bond garden tour

I recently popped over to Plant Postings to read about the amazing garden tour of Italy Beth is planning for herself and other bloggers. I just returned from a garden tour to England and eagerly wish I could join Beth’s group.  As with most things I do, my tour was a bit unconventional. Continue reading “The James Bond garden tour”

Chelsea 2012 review & retrospective

Sometimes it is hard to crystallise your thoughts about an event especially when there is so much visual white noise around. I found that after visiting Chelsea 2012. I have attended three Chelseas now, each separated by a period of 2 years and each time I try to distil the essence of the show in terms of trends. Continue reading “Chelsea 2012 review & retrospective”

Real, or not? Dubai, Chelsea & Aalsmeer

Some things you see when you’re travelling are amusing or thought provoking, and it’s nice to have a blog like this to share them. I’m very lucky to lead a garden tour to Europe each year, taking in the Chelsea Flower Show and visiting great and small gardens in different countries. On a loose theme of “Is it real or not?” here are some quirky items from my recent trip.

Continue reading “Real, or not? Dubai, Chelsea & Aalsmeer”

Ancient Parisian acacia has a crise d’identité

Well at last I’m really ‘talking plants’. As regular readers know, Talking Plants (http://talkingplants.blogspot.com) is a blog devoted to plants and gardens, with an eye for the quirky or scientific, or both. Its first home was the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia, but early this year Talking Plants migrated with my wife Lynda (who adds expertise in French, botany and more) and me to Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London, UK. Continue reading “Ancient Parisian acacia has a crise d’identité”