Garden review: historic Villa Gamberaia, near Florence

As gardeners, it is usual for us to want to see gardens that might inspire us. One garden I had read about, and heard about from fellow horticulturists, is the Italian garden of Villa Gamberaia, on the outskirts of Florence. Continue reading “Garden review: historic Villa Gamberaia, near Florence”

The Garden of Ninfa – is it worth all the superlatives?

It was at a meeting of heritage rose lovers that I first heard about Ninfa, a romantic, rambling, Italian garden built in the ruins of a medieval town. People spoke of it in reverential terms and my interest was piqued by their idyllic description – old roses and vines cascading from ruined towers and trees, scrambling along crumbling archways and overhanging crystal clear streams. Continue reading “The Garden of Ninfa – is it worth all the superlatives?”

Review: A tale of two Normandy gardens

A broad lawn sweeps downhill to a lily pond at lowest point, rather than being interrupted by the usual terracing of Continental gardens. On two sides of this lawn, woodland gardens of rhododendrons, herbaceous perennials and bulbs transition from humanised landscape to natural forest. On the far side, a series of themed garden rooms surround the country house and assorted farm buildings, leading to further woodlands beyond. Continue reading “Review: A tale of two Normandy gardens”

Amsterdam’s secret: an enchanted forest and gardens

For a lifelong cyclist Amsterdam is heaven – once you get your bearings that is. That skew-whiff grid of canals is totally bamboozling at first. The initial 24 hours completely did my head in. Utterly lost. Embarrassing for someone who prides himself on being able to find his way around. Since then however, the cycling has been sublime.

Continue reading “Amsterdam’s secret: an enchanted forest and gardens”

Canal Open Gardens (Tuinen Dagen)

More than 25 Amsterdam garden owners will open their canal gardens to the public. When the gardens were designed, in the 17th century, their purpose was to be useful. When the inhabitants grew richer, ornamental gardens became a status symbol. These days however, a return to utility is apparent in the canal gardens. It seems to be a trend to grow fruit, herbs and vegetables again.
Open Garden Days gives special attention to this trend, by creating a tour past these gardens as well as the beautiful ornamental gardens and exquisite garden houses. All gardens can be reached on foot or by bike

Festival des Architectures Vives

To face today’s economic mutations and technical, technological and societal changes, it is not enough to adapt – today we must innovate.

The Festival des Architectures Vives is an architectural path for the general public, who can discover or rediscover the historical landmarks of the city of Montpellier since 2006 and the city of La Grande Motte since 2013. The event invites visitors to go in contact this rich heritage by offering installations scattered around the city. In Montpellier, it takes place in the historic town and offers a path connecting mansions and courtyards, mostly private, that are usually not visible to visitors.

Estufa Fria – Lisbon’s greenhouse (serra fredda Lisbona)

[Scorri in basso per leggere l’articolo in Italiano – scroll down to read in Italian]

This enchanting “cold greenhouse” is located at the end of the Parque Eduardo VII in Lisbon, Portugal, in a protected and sheltered area of an abandoned former quarry. It occupies the surface of one hectare and a half and was inaugurated in 1933 on the project of the painter and architect Raul Carapinha, then renovated in the 1940s and 1970s with new facilities and a new pond. It is now divided into three different areas: Estufa Fria, Estufa Quente and Estufa Doce.

Continue reading “Estufa Fria – Lisbon’s greenhouse (serra fredda Lisbona)”

Ludwigsburg: one of the world’s best pumpkin festivals

When I was growing up the only pumpkin we ate was the Ironbark, which required the strength of an iron woman (or man) and a sharp axe to cut it up. Usually it was baked with meat and potatoes, until tender and delicious but sometimes it was boiled then mashed with butter and a dash of nutmeg. The shape and toughness of the Ironbark made it difficult and time consuming to peel so it was often baked with the skin on. The cooked flesh could then be scraped away from the skin but to be honest I liked the nutty taste of the skin and happily devoured it all. Continue reading “Ludwigsburg: one of the world’s best pumpkin festivals”

My challenge, the acceptance, and the Jardin du Bois du Puits

In May this year I contacted my friend and colleague Catherine Stewart with a challenge: find me a garden to visit in the middle of France I said. Or, more precisely…
‘We are catching ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. Then drive to a rented house near St Malo. Then cross country heading for brother’s place in Monceaux-au-Perch. Via probably Domfront, Alençon that sort of direction.
It’s worth a good red!! I will owe you one’ Continue reading “My challenge, the acceptance, and the Jardin du Bois du Puits”

Garden travel – how do you temper your desire?

Garden travel starts with desire…you want all the beautiful gardens and exotic locations, delicious new foods and intriguing local culture. But after 10 years of leading garden tours, I know that this desire will be best satisfied when its balanced by restraint, as that’s what will give you the most holiday pleasure. Continue reading “Garden travel – how do you temper your desire?”

Wildflowers of the Dolomites, Italy – Part 3

During our 2013 trip to the Dolomites in northern Italy (Wildflowers of the Dolomites Part 1 and Part 2), we were captivated by the mountains and scenery, and were lucky enough to revisit them in 2015. Carrying less gear in our packs (but still too much – next time we’ll be going ultralight!) – we once again used several of Gillian Prices’ Walking in the Dolomites Cicerone Guide books, plus topographical maps. Continue reading “Wildflowers of the Dolomites, Italy – Part 3”

The Kiss: Gardening with Gustav

Have you ever seen a piece of art and imagined it as a garden? I am not a horticulturalist, garden designer or landscape architect. My only design experience comes from moving seventeen times in thirty four years and always having to cram my stuff into a new house and find a way to make it look appealing. But I am an art lover. Continue reading “The Kiss: Gardening with Gustav”

Welcome to the world’s largest maze, in Fontanellato, Italy

The Masone Labyrinth (Labirinto della Masone) of Franco Maria Ricci in Fontanellato, Italy, is 7 hectares (17 acres), making it the largest labyrinth in the world. Will you ever escape its tunnels of green gloom? Continue reading “Welcome to the world’s largest maze, in Fontanellato, Italy”

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’”

Promenade du Paillon in Nice, France: A Public Open Space that Works!

Why are public open spaces so often empty of public? Sometimes it’s obvious – my hometown Adelaide’s infamous Festival Centre Plaza’s concrete desert is blazing in summer and icy in winter, and images of the proposed AUD $90 million facelift suggest little to change that. Adelaide’s Torrens Linear Park and Parklands greenbelt girding the CBD are magnificent, but the latter is most full of the public when it’s fenced off for pay-per-visit events, Continue reading “Promenade du Paillon in Nice, France: A Public Open Space that Works!”

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?”

Sa Pedra Arrubia: Maurizio Usai’s garden

Sometimes I just need to take a quick look at a garden to understand the personality of its owner. I don’t think it’s because I am particularly intuitive; it’s more that for some gardens the aim of the design is so clear and easy to interpret. This is what happened when I visited the garden of Maurizio Usai. Continue reading “Sa Pedra Arrubia: Maurizio Usai’s garden”

Northern Portugal: like Scotland with more sun

A June trip to the Serra d’Arga mountain region in northern Portugal, just south of the border with Spain, reminded me of one of the many pearls of wisdom to be found in Catherine Stewart’s blog postings for GardenDrum. The one I have in mind was about the importance of pH (point number 3 in The 7 best pieces of garden advice I’ve had): “Other than drainage, it [pH] is usually the reason as to why something is not thriving”. Continue reading “Northern Portugal: like Scotland with more sun”

Whisper of stars: Daniel Spoerri garden

“Margherita, I would like to visit something really special before I will go back to Melbourne. Can you help me?” My friend Margherita has spent her life writing about gardens, plants and parks in the Italian magazine ‘Gardenia’. She also founded the Italian Botanical Heritage, an association that gathers well-known Italian gardens and hidden treasures like nurseries, parks and woods, providing specialised itineraries. She knows me, and she knows that I love when art is blended with landscape. Where sculpture meets the garden. Typically Italian, sorry! Continue reading “Whisper of stars: Daniel Spoerri garden”

A garden tour of Italy (Part 2)

Travelling in Italy, I am constantly – and refreshingly – surprised at the green planting that defines the gardens and the landscape. So much so that when colours crop up, they’re a kind of embroidery, something that focuses the eye – as with this wisteria at Villa La Foce – but doesn’t immediately attract it. Continue reading “A garden tour of Italy (Part 2)”

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”

Gardens of southern Italy & the Amalfi Coast

I have had the pleasure of leading a number of garden tours through some of the great gardens of Europe, but if pressed to nominate a favourite region, it would have to be the area of Italy from Rome south to the Amalfi Coast near Naples. Aside from the spectacular views from most of the gardens there, there is a surprising range of plants from sub-tropical species to all sorts of plants that thrive in temperate regions. Add in the rather hedonistic culture of the locals for the evening hours, and you have all the ingredients for a very memorable trip. Continue reading “Gardens of southern Italy & the Amalfi Coast”

South African garden at Chaumont sur Loire

When I opened the email last year asking me to be part of the Chaumont-sur-Loire International Garden Festival (IGF), I just about fell off my chair. To be part of this show has been on the top of my bucket list for as long as I have been gardening. It’s a show that cannot be compared to any other by any stretch of the imagination and the best of all …it’s in the middle of France hidden away in a tiny town called Chaumont nestled on the banks of the huge La Loire river. Continue reading “South African garden at Chaumont sur Loire”

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!

Lessons from Italy’s summer windowboxes

Here in South Australia with its baking summers, container gardening can be challenging. Pots usually require daily watering, especially in exposed positions such as northern windowsills or balconies. Often, they look a bit exhausted, as if they are only just hanging in there… but not so the amazing window boxes and container gardens I saw in Northern Italy’s Dolomites (see my Wildflowers of the Dolomites Part 1 and Part 2) last year. They all looked well-fed, well-watered and bursting with vitality. Continue reading “Lessons from Italy’s summer windowboxes”

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”