Wonder, delight & mystery: Australian Landscape Conference in review

The 2015 Australian Landscape Conference – held in Melbourne in late September – was a memorable two-day session. More than 600 local and international attendees followed the thought-provoking input of landscape designers drawn from overseas and Australia. Continue reading “Wonder, delight & mystery: Australian Landscape Conference in review”

River cruising and garden visiting in North America with Botanica

When it comes to river cruising combined with garden visiting, most keen gardeners think of Europe. But in September 2016 I will be hosting my second trip for Botanica up the rivers, lakes and canals that connect the US and Canada.
Continue reading “River cruising and garden visiting in North America with Botanica”

Holiday with heliconias and hospitality in Colombia

For the last 20 years I’ve loved tramping Panamanian forests, looking for heliconias and marveling at the incredible diversity of humid tropical forests. Recently it’s become possible to get to know Colombian jungles, too. Continue reading “Holiday with heliconias and hospitality in Colombia”

Stunning designer gardens at Auckland Garden DesignFest 2015

If you have been thinking of visiting New Zealand, don’t miss this one-off opportunity to see the work of some of our top designers in private gardens that bring out the best of Auckland’s iconic landscape. From the famous volcanic cones throughout the city to the backdrop of sea and harbour in the spectacular Hauraki Gulf, you will come away entranced. Continue reading “Stunning designer gardens at Auckland Garden DesignFest 2015”

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”

Chanticleer Garden, near Philadelphia PA

Situated in the beautiful garden state of Pennsylvania, Chanticleer is described as “a pleasure garden.” Whilst I had a giggle over this somewhat quirky term, I must admit that I did derive a whole lot of pleasure out of my visit. Continue reading “Chanticleer Garden, near Philadelphia PA”

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?”

Macquarie Island cabbage at Tasmanian Botanic Gardens

I stumbled upon a weird leafy vegetable in the Subantarctic Plant House in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG). On an already chilly day I made my way into the still colder environment of the Subantarctic Plant House for a glimpse of the native vegetation of Macquarie Island. This special growing environment is kept chilled below 15ºC but above freezing Continue reading “Macquarie Island cabbage at Tasmanian Botanic Gardens”

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”

Singapore Botanic Gardens: 5 things to LOVE

• Rubber ‘n’ Spice: Economic Botany power house
• Orchids: Exotica – science meets commerce
• Dipterocarps: rainforest ark in a City-State
• Dynamism: great team – catalysing regional capacity
• High wire act: balancing rapid change / newness with history / richness Continue reading “Singapore Botanic Gardens: 5 things to LOVE”

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)”

Sri Lanka garden tour: a piece of serendipity

Sri Lanka was never on my list of gardening destinations. A tiny island off the south east coast of India, the former British colony of Ceylon, it was associated in my mind with cricket and tea but never gardening. Then when I had been working as a Tour Leader for Renaissance Tours for a few years, a friend, John Ekin, persuaded me to consider a tour to Sri Lanka. Continue reading “Sri Lanka garden tour: a piece of serendipity”

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”

Lights, Camera, BLOOM – and a win at Philly!

Arriving at JFK international airport, Bayley LuuTomes and I could see that this would be a show like no other. It’s -7 degrees Celsius outside, and everything from the roads to the telephone posts are covered with ice. And not the pretty white and fluffy kind. No this was old brown and black snow, the dirty kind that you slip on while holding on for dear life at every traffic light pole, while praying the light would change quickly so you could get into the nearest shop and just buy whatever they sell so you have an excuse to stay inside and warm up. Continue reading “Lights, Camera, BLOOM – and a win at Philly!”

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!

Four favourite parks in Central West NSW

Almost off the radar in terms of heritage listings at state or national level, yet uppermost in local communities’ minds and affections and emblems of regional pride as meeting places, beauty spots and centres for social or important gatherings, local public parks across NSW are one of its glories. A handful of the hundreds spring to my mind as my favourite places, historic, beautiful, rich in detail (be that layout, embellishment, plantings) and well-loved and used to this day. Continue reading “Four favourite parks in Central West NSW”

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”

Review: Garden DesignFest tours

Garden DesignFest has reigned as Australia’s premier open garden style event for a number of years now, since its inception relatively recently in 2004. Biennially and over two days in and around Melbourne, several thousand garden lovers from all around Australia converge to have their garden curiosity taste buds sated as the gates are opened to some of the most creative, elegant, quirky and pampered private gardens that one could ever dream of entering.

FOR INFORMATION ABOUT MELBOURNE’S GARDEN DESIGNFEST 2016, click HERE

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La Trobe’s Cottage garden wins award!

The Friends of La Trobe’s Cottage are a band of dedicated volunteers and who entered for the second time into the Victorian Community History Awards in the category Historical Interpretation. This award recognises the unique formats of historical representation through the use of physical exhibitions, artistic interpretation, history walks and tours. And we won which is very exciting for all the volunteers that help at the cottage.

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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”

Public parks will save our wildflowers

Australian landscape architects and designers are gradually evolving a distinctively Australian style to their public parks and I recently came across a great example of this in a municipal park in Dunsborough WA, Seymour Park. Continue reading “Public parks will save our wildflowers”

The terraced food gardens of Cinque Terre

Forget award-winning landscape design, perfectly pruned hedges or immaculate lawns. If you want to be inspired by the sheer ingenuity, tenacity and determination of gardeners, the precipitous, terraced food gardens of Cinque Terre in coastal northern Italy are hard to beat. Continue reading “The terraced food gardens of Cinque Terre”

The hunt for red wreath flowers…a WA treasure

The roads around Western Australia are lit up in August with the dazzling colours of the wildflowers so it’s no surprise that travellers are drawn from all over the country to see some of the most unique flora in the world. I’m a typical West Aussie who tends just to pop up to Kings Park in spring to take a look at the spectacular display gardens laden with wildflowers but this year, with the news that the season was better than ever, I felt the urge to head north to hunt for the elusive wreath flower, Leschenaultia macrantha.

Continue reading “The hunt for red wreath flowers…a WA treasure”

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”

Guilfoyle and his warm climate plants

A few years ago, whilst researching Polyscias (commonly called Aralia) cultivars for a magazine article, I came across mention of their discovery and introduction by William Guilfoyle during his voyage on the HMS Challenger in 1868. I was surprised to learn this was the same W R Guilfoyle (1840 – 1912) who later became the famous curator at the Melbourne Botanic Garden. Continue reading “Guilfoyle and his warm climate plants”

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”