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.

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?”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”