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”

Loulou de la Falaise at Château de Chaumont

When I came across that familiar name in the obituary pages of the paper, Loulou de la Falaise I knew who she was. It’s not the sort of name that you could forget easily! It was quite a brief entry. It mentioned that in the 1960s she was a wild child and fashion editor for Harper’s Bazaar and that she then became a model in New York where she got to know all the famous photographers and artists of that time. Continue reading “Loulou de la Falaise at Château de Chaumont”

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”

A Mediterranean cottage garden

The British really do take their love of gardening with them when they move to other parts of the world. I’ve just come back from a short stay in the Haut-Languedoc region of southern France. It turned out that our self-catering apartment was half of a house, and that in the other half lived the owners, Tom and Frank, who moved there around 6 or 7 years ago when Tom was made redundant from his job in Manchester. Continue reading “A Mediterranean cottage garden”

Girl & boy hydrangea at Trebah Garden

Trebah Garden is in the far west corner of Cornwall, half an hour or so by hedge-row lined roads from Falmouth (i.e. a couple of miles). ‘Trebah’ means house by the bay and indeed the family home looks over the garden down to a gorgeous bay. Continue reading “Girl & boy hydrangea at Trebah Garden”

Ornamental vegies at Villandry

Well it seems vegetables are hot. And, if they are colourful and ornamental, well they’re even hotter. If you want to see vegetables used to ornamental perfection, then I recommend a quick trip to France. Failing that, enjoy some photographs instead. Continue reading “Ornamental vegies at Villandry”

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”

The Loire Valley

Back home again after two weeks in France’s beautiful Loire Valley, its sights and sounds are still singing in my mind. Most of all I remember the ducks quacking gleefully as they zoomed in to land on the still green waters of the River Cher, then the soft splashing as they sailed off to go about their daily business. Some mornings they were in groups of ten or twenty. Continue reading “The Loire Valley”

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”

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”

Plant promenade in Paris

At 10 metres above the ground, maybe 10 metres wide, nearly 5 kilometres long, and packed with trees, shrubs and views of Parisian streets, the Promenade plantée is a trend setter and worth a look next time you are in town. OK, so it’s ranked 180th in Lonely Planet’s list of 1524 things to do in Paris, but then this is about my fifth visit to Paris and I like plants. Continue reading “Plant promenade in Paris”

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”

World’s largest plant show

Every year in north western Germany the worlds biggest plant show takes place. Essen, the 9th largest German city, plays host to over 1500 exhibitors from 40 different countries. They are all there to promote new plants as well as horticultural technologies, products and services. Essen 2013 just closed its doors, leaving its 60,000 visitors exhausted but immensely satisfied. Continue reading “World’s largest plant show”

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”

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”

Louisa Jones fell in love with France

Louisa Jones fell in love with France and Provence as a student in the late 1960s and lives there to this day. English friends said there were no important gardens in Provence but she soon realised they were thinking of flower gardens and that vernacular gardens which had evolved over millennia were not appreciated. Continue reading “Louisa Jones fell in love with France”

A garden in Provence

My partner and I decided to celebrate 35 years together by holidaying in Europe, mainly France. We had always wanted to see and smell the lavender fields of Provence during the heat of summer, so we rented a house in a hamlet near the village of Roussillon. The hamlet was not especially charming, but the pretty house had a lovely balance of creature comfort, French quirkiness, and stylish decor. However, what made the experience truly special, especially for me as a horticulturist, was the garden behind the house. Continue reading “A garden in Provence”

La Louve – a very special garden

I was very fortunate to visit La Louve in early June this year when taking a Ross Tour to Paris and Provence. How lucky we were with a glorious sunny day and just our group to be guided around this fascinating garden by the owner, Judith Pillsbury. La Louve meaning ‘she wolf’ was created by Nicole de Vesian, a fabric designer, stylist for Hermes and later in life a remarkable plantswoman. The garden clings to a rocky steeply terraced narrow plot on the southern edge of Bonnieux – one of the ‘chain’ of villages in the Luberon. Menerbes made famous by Peter Mayle of ‘A year in Provence’ fame is not far away. Continue reading “La Louve – a very special garden”

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”

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”

A country house in France – and garden

I have a friend who lives in France and she and her husband owned a beautiful, old, stone house in the Lot in south west France which they have just sold. I visited twice and each time the house, the plants and the countryside left me enchanted. It is, of course, in a very good red wine area and the food and wine and general hospitality we were given were superb. Continue reading “A country house in France – and garden”

Wildflowers of the Dolomites

Geoff and I recently returned from a month in Italy, including two weeks hiking in the Dolomites, the uniquely spectacular mountains along the Austrian border. It was our first time in the Northern Hemisphere and we were both captivated by Italy’s people, food, history and, especially, natural landscapes (albeit re ‘landscape’, our knees were not quite as captivated as our minds!). Continue reading “Wildflowers of the Dolomites”

Wildflowers of the Dolomites Part 2

Like any good narrative, the best walks also have a certain rhythm and structure. There’s a gradual introduction, rising to a climax, followed by a resolution. This is obvious when hiking in mountains or high country, where you ascend to a breathtaking lookout at the summit, before descending back to more gentle landscapes. For this reason, hiking purists may shun chairlifts or roads but, for me and Geoff, Continue reading “Wildflowers of the Dolomites Part 2”

Giverny, a ‘bucket list’ garden of flowers

The list of 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die includes the Giverny garden of Claude Monet and it is truly one for the bucket list. For gardeners who love a profusion of flowers, visiting artist Claude Monet’s garden outside Paris is like stepping straight into one of his own paintings.

Although when I went the famous water lilies were not in evidence, the abundance of autumn flowers made up for it. The first impression was of dazzling yellow rudbeckia reaching for the sky Continue reading “Giverny, a ‘bucket list’ garden of flowers”

The romantic Garden of Ninfa, Italy

It was May and I was travelling through Italy enjoying a feast of gardens from Sorrento in the south to Lake Como on the north. That’s late spring in the Northern Hemisphere, but the weather was still chilly and, surprisingly for that time of the year in the Mediterranean, it was also wet. But rain didn’t dampen my visit to a garden billed as the most romantic in the world – the Garden of Ninfa south of Rome. Continue reading “The romantic Garden of Ninfa, Italy”

Rudyard Kipling and his garden

The first plants that Rudyard Kipling ever knew were exotic ones. He was born in India in 1865 and spent his first years surrounded by palms, mango and banana trees, and lush growth everywhere he looked. But all that changed very dramatically! When Rudyard was five years old, his parents took him to England. Continue reading “Rudyard Kipling and his garden”

Garden travel to broaden your mind

I am about to jump on a plane and head off to France to lead a tour of gardens and châteaux of Normandy and the Loire Valley and if you haven’t booked it’s a bit late now! But the idea of travelling across the world to see gardens and gardening that I may well have little hope of emulating started me thinking. Is it just horticultural eye candy or is there more to it than that? Continue reading “Garden travel to broaden your mind”

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”

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”

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”

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”

Turning forests into trees into poems

I’ve returned from my visit to Ionia, or at least the island of Chios, home of Homer and Mastic and once part of that Ancient Greek empire on the Aegean Sea. I learned many things including why the island has few trees. You will read about the pine forests (Pinus brutia) being susceptible to fire. That’s half the story. The first half starts over 3000 years ago.

Continue reading “Turning forests into trees into poems”

Floriade 2012, Venlo, The Netherlands

Having heard so much about Floriade in the Netherlands, I was keen to experience this world famous European garden event held every ten years and looking forward to two days soaking up the atmosphere in Venlo, a magnet for horticulturists and gardeners alike. Admittedly, I was anticipating a flower-fest of grand proportions with a strong eco influence and so arriving late May in cool, wet conditions, I found the landscape was a little drab at first view.

Continue reading “Floriade 2012, Venlo, The Netherlands”

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”

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”