Wimbledon planting project

In the summer of 2017 I was contacted by A and M and asked to design a new planting scheme for their back garden.

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Although the lawn was in very good condition, and even had a mowing strip, most of the rest of the planting left quite a bit to be desired.

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Some of the shrubs had been pruned in a supermarket carpark style and the weeds had been left to their own devices for quite some time. There were also a couple of dead and dying trees to take out.

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We had a huge clear out of most of the shrubs, a tree surgeon took care of the dead and dying trees, grinding out the stumps where necessary, and then followed the mother of all weeding sessions. Finally the garden was ready for planting.

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The colour palette was based partly on some of the plants already in the garden, mostly blue and purple. The rest of the scheme was a cheeky combination of white, orange and dusky pink.

There wasn’t much to see in the first autumn but by March, despite the Beast from the East, and the Mini-beast, the bulbs were making a brave appearance.

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The first of the perennials to get going was Geum Totally Tangerine, so good it flowered twice. This was followed by Papver Patty’s Plum, almost good enough to eat.

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Despite the scorching sunshine and relentlessly high temperatures, and thanks to a lot of watering the rest of the perennials flowered through June and July.

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The weeding was relentless. That’s what happens when weeds are left unattended and then you fertilize the soil and water the germinated seedlings.

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Some plants, including the delicate Echinacea pallida, suffered at the paws of a youg dog. And some were trampled to death, yes really, by pigeons scavenging underneath the bird feeder.

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The planting has performed really well, despite the extreme weather of 2018. Now in September, it’s still looking good.

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We’re looking at doing a bit of editing. Some parts of the garden are shadier than I thought, and some drier, even though there’s an irrigation sytstem. And some of the plants savaged by the puppy need to be replaced.

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But this is all part and parcel of gardening. Nothing stays the same, some things do better and some things do worse than you expect.

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I’ll leave most of the perennials standing through the winter and cut them all back in February. That will be a good time to move some of the grasses from the shade to the sun.

Fingers crossed there won’t be quite as many weeds in 2019, and hopefully the weather will be a bit more benign….

The Homewood

The Homewood is a modernist house by the architect Patrick Gwynne. He was just 23 when he designed the house for his parents in 1938. Luckily for him they already owned a Victorian villa on the 10 acre estate just outside Esher in Surrey.

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In another stroke of luck, his parents were able to sell a small town in Wales to pay for it. As anyone who's ever house-hunted in Surrey knows that's what it takes to secure a small bit of real estate here, then and now.

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The Victorian villa was demolished and the new house located to make the most of the views of the garden, and views of the house from the garden.  Patrick Gwynne lived here most of his life and left the house to the National Trust.

Gwynne made some updates to the house throughout his life but kept fairly true to his original vision. In the garden, this terrace was added in the 1970s, not an era particularly respected for its contribution to garden design (maybe concrete paving will make a comeback...?).

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The angular swimming pool is a success though, and is still in use by the current tenants. The water is crystal clear, illuminating the green tiles. The later addition of a curvilinear pond with bright blue tiles doesn't work as well.

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Just glimpsed from the house is a series of ponds. Gwynne was able to dam a tributary of the River Mole to create these reflecting pools and a bog garden.

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The garden guide pointed out that a condition of National Trust ownership is that every garden should have a Gunnera manicata. I'm inclined to believe he wasn't joking.

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Following the construction of the house some editing of the garden was carried out, with a few trees being removed or having their lower limbs pruned, to improve the views. Some of the tree stumps are used as sculptural pieces in the garden.

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This part of Surrey is known for its sandy, acidic soil and this is reflected in the planting - lots of heather, pines, Japanese maples and silver birch trees.

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It was Gwynne's aim to blur the boundaries between the garden and the relative wilderness of neighbouring Esher Common. Gwynne's ashes are scattered in this part of the garden.

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To see the garden you have to book a house tour. The house is only open to visitors one day a week for a few months a year so you need to be organised.

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A short garden tour is also on offer after the house tour. Be warned though, if you are booked on the last house tour of the day there is not much time to see the garden properly.

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I was hoping to sneak round the back of the ponds get to get a photograph of the house reflected in the water but was chased down by the guide and asked to leave - this was disappointing to put it mildly.

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The house was really interesting and fans of mid-century modernism would not be disappointed. The garden was much better than I expected so it was shame not to be able to spend more time in it. It would be good visit in spring when the Rhododendrons are in flower, or in October when the heather is in flower and the Japanese maples are changing colour.

You can't take any photos inside the house but you can see some here -

http://egondesign.co.uk/my-dream-home/

There are no facilities (tea, cake or loos) here but Claremont is nearby and the cream tea is excellent (thankyou Desna).

The Temperate House at Kew

The last time I was at Kew the Temperate House was still being renovated. It reopened in July after a five year restoration project.

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Like The Palm House, it was designed by Decimus Burton and opened to the public in 1863. The Temperate House is twice the size of its neighbour and is the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world.

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As the temperate zone is where most of the world's population lives many of the plants here face the combined threats from climate change and human population growth.

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Indeed The Temperate House contains the only known living specimens of some plants. Like Encephalartos woodii, a cycad from South Africa. Only one has been found in the wild and an offshoot was sent to Kew in 1899. It is a male and no females have ever been found.

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The Temperate House is divided into zones representing Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Himalayas and 16 islands. Many of the species housed represent human, animal and insect food, garden plants, plants with cultural uses, plants used in building, manufacturing and medicine. Kew safeguards their future by banking the seed at its Millennium Seed Bank in West Sussex.

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The light in The Temperate House is beautiful. On a sunny day the shadows from the structure run across the leaves and paving. As the plants grow this will probably become less of a feature. For now though it looks very modern, if only more conservatories looked a bit like this.

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As part of the renovation there has been an effort to make the glasshouse more of an experience than just a scientific collection, with a waterfall and a dramatic collection of tree ferns running along a dry riverbed.

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The Temperate House contains plants not quite hardy enough to survive an English winter. However, I think with the right care and location in your garden, in London you might risk planting tree ferns. The false banana, Ensete ventricosum below, and exotic gingerlilies, would defintely need to be brought inside though. That's fine if you've got somewhere suitable to house it, otherwise best leave it to Monty Don.

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To truly appreciate the splendour of the architecture you can climb the spiral stairs to the gallery and get a view of the central area.

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I look forward to seeing how the planting develops. It's almost worth the £17 entry fee to Kew Gardens on its own.

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The Temperate House - https://www.kew.org/kew-gardens/attractions/temperate-house

Loseley Park

Loseley Park, home of the eponymous icecream, has been lived in by the More-Molyneux family for over 500 years. The house, set in 400 acres in Surrey, was built in the 1560s. Its walled garden was set out in the 16th century, re-designed by Gertrude Jeckyll in the 19th century and was redesigned again in 1991.

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Of course there's a rose garden, with over 1,000 roses, and a vegetable and cut flower garden.

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But in high summer it's the various flower gardens that really grab your attention. The Flower Garden is designed with hot colours in mind, but these only develop in late summer. Now there is a tasteful palette of blue and yellow.

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I like the way the plants are packed in, those with looser structures like Geranium pratense and Cephalaria gigantea scramble through evergreen Buxus and Euphorbia, with the frothy Alchemilla mollis skirting the floor.

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Sissinghurst is not the only white garden in the country. The one at Loseley Park is based around a tranquil pond. It's no surprise this is a popular place for weddings.

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One of the things you notice about the White Garden is that not all the plants are white. There are creams, silver, pale yellows, pale pink, dark greens and plenty of variegated leaves.

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One of the more unusual features at Loseley Park is the moat. It's not clear what function it has served but it's now planted with water lillies and Gunnera and home to at least one mallard family with no less than seven ducklings.

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From the moat there's a short walk through the Rose Garden. At the end of June most of the roses are in full bloom. There was a sculpture display there when I visited. The overall impression was marred somewhat by the sorry-looking box hedge. I couldn't tell what was causing the problem but they have my sympathies, it's getting harder and harder to keep box looking good.

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The Tennis Court Border would have been easy to miss as it's a bit out of the way.

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Again there's a blue and yellow theme here, with the full range of Verbascums, from the statuesque V. bombyceferum to the more delicate V. chaixii. It can't all be in good taste though as these poppies were unlikely to have been blue or yellow.

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The stone walls make an attractive backdrop. I was surprised there weren't more climbers in the garden. There is a magnificent and ancient Wisteria but it was obviously not in flower now. There are a couple of roses but really there is the potential for so much more.

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There are tea rooms aplenty here but unlike these two I didn't have time even to taste the icecream let alone sit down.

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Loseley Park - http://www.loseleypark.co.uk/

You need to plan your visit. There is a tedious diversion in place to get there until the end of July 2018, and the house and gardens are not open on Fridays or Saturdays.

 

How to make a white garden

If you've been inspired by the white garden at Loseley Park or Sissinghurst or just by the idea this will help you plan one.

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First off, you've got to be committed. There's no point going 95% of the way and then throwing in a magnificently lurid Dahlia you've seen on Gardener's World or The Daily Telegraph.

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Next, you need some strong, structural evergreens. Nothing sets off white flowers like dark green. And it's good to have some structure in the winter and to form a backbone to the garden. At Loseley Park they've used Viburnum davidii. It doesn't get too large and keeps a nice shape. You could also use Buxus sempervirens (box) or Taxus baccata (yew).

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Something tall and willowy at the back of the border will add some height. Veronicastrum virginicum Album would fit the bill, as would Epilobium angustifolium Album or Digitalis purpurea Alba which would be good for a slightly shady border.

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Working your way forwards, Anemone x hybrida Honorine Jobert is a reliable late summer flowerer. It can take a while to get going but its wiry stems will weave their way through other foliage.

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One of the things you'll have noticed about most white gardens is that they are seldom all white. Touches of pale pink, grey and pale yellow add some depth to the scheme. This Allium Decipiens does just that with globes of the palest pink in late spring. Other pale pinks to think about include the fluffy spikes of Stachys byzantina and Linaria purpurea Canon Went with its delicate spires.

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If you're lucky enough to have a good wall or fence don't forget about adding in some climbers - Rosa Iceberg flowers on and off all summer. And Tachelospermum jasminoides does several jobs - it's evergreen and produces masses of scented white flowers in July. Try a clematis to get an early start such as Clematis montana Henryi.

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Variegated foliage is frequently used in white gardens and this Miscanthus sinensis Varigatus adds movement in a slight breeze, some structure through the winter and works really well with the pale yellow Anthemis tinctoria Sauce Hollandaise and the white flowers and grey stems of Lychnis coronaria Alba.

Other variegated foliage plants to consider are Cornus Elegantissima, Pittosporum tenuifolium Golf Ball and Euonymus fortuneii Emerald Gaiety. Do check the ultimate size of the plants before buying ...

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You want to get the white garden off to an early start so bulbs are a must. My favourite, Tulipa Spring Green looks great with Narcissus Thalia or N. Actaea. Other white tulips include T. White Triumphator and T. Tacoma.

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Following hot on their heels are Astrantia major Large White, liking not too much sun and a bit of dampness. Astrantia major Buckland has a slight pink tinge. You'll need to plant a few of these fairly close as they take some time to fill out, worth the wait I think.

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And finally, if you're after an end of season show stopper then it's got to be a hydrangea. This one's H. Emilie Mouillere which fades to a lovely pink colour. Another favourite is H. arborescens Annabelle with enormous green/white flowerheads if it gets enough water.

If you've not the space for a hydrangea this is the point at which you can add in a Daily Telegraph dahlia, but make it D. White Star or D. Lady Kate or D. Bishop of Dover.

One thing to remember about white gardens, charming as they are, if you don't dead head regularly it will all look rather brown and ugly as the flowers fade.

Chelsea 2018 - First impressions count

Did you enjoy the tv coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show this year? There was certainly a lot of it. I try not to watch too much before I to go as I like to be surprised and make up my own mind about the garden designs.

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As I walk around I hear lots of comments as people see the gardens for the first time. Many people have Marmite reactions when they come across the gardens, they seem either to love them or hate them.

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Mark Gregory's Welcome to Yorkshire Garden got a definite "love it" reaction, as did Hay-Joung Hwang's LG Eco City Garden. The former is an idealised version of the countryside where the garden is just a light touch (although a Yorkshire farmer told me you'd never see Wisteria like that on a farm building) and the latter is an aspirational outdoor room.

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Nic Howard's garden for David Harber and Savills Garden rather got the opposite reaction. Apart from enjoying the view through the rusty structures visitors didn't really get it as a place to spend time. The same was partially true of Jonothon Snow's Trailfinders Garden. Visitors were immediately attracted to the cottage garden part of the design, but it was only those who'd seen the tv coverage explain the burnt appearance of the native fynbos who appreciated the garden as a whole, as part of the wider South African landscape.

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The back story is an important element of the design brief for each garden, and a major part of what the judges are looking at. For many of the gardens this design intention is pretty complex and one that escapes the casual glance. For example, Charles Stuart Towner's Spirit of Cornwall garden included metal screens reflecting the sound waves of music composed in the pavillion, and the water features echo the sea views from Barbara Hepworth's studio in St Ives. Did you get that?

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One garden that made almost no impression on me was Chris Beardshaw's best in show garden for the NSPCC. It may well have represented a metaphor for an emotional transition through the actions of the NSPCC but the way it was designed meant visitors had a very poor view of the garden. The pavillion was huge and the tall and dense planting along the boundaries. coupled with a wall in the middle meant you couldn't really see into the garden. Mind you it looked great on tv.... but what's the point of building a show garden that just looks good on tv?

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The brief for Jo Thompson's Wedgewood Garden was refreshingly uncomplicated - a garden for taking tea. Who can't relate to that? However, it was only as I was writing this that I found out the garden was designed for women. Any men out there with a view on that?

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Some gardens are just a joy to see, on first glance and with further study. One of these was David Neale's garden for Silent Pool Gin. Following the disappointment of realising there was no free gin on offer there was plenty of delightful detail to enjoy.  I think most people get that gin is made in copper stills, what more do you need to understand here?

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In contrast, Tom Massey's garden for the Lemon Tree Trust didn't make much of a first impression. A combination of concrete, recycled metal, old plastic bottles didn't make for the most appealing garden. However, I was drawn back to it several times during my visit, intrigued partly by the ingenuity of gardeners working in adversity, in a refugee camp, and also by the planting. It featured a recycled lemon tree (used in a Chelsea 2017 garden) and a pomegranate tree, which I'd never seen before.

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Even the most bonkers garden, the Wuhan Water Garden by Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins, had some sublime moments. The hi-tec fountains and mist spray created an atmosphere of mountainous forest, but you had to get down on your hands and knees to appreciate it.

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And finally, my favourite garden, Sarah Price's garden for M&G. Again the premise is simple, a garden is a haven which just needs a wall, a seat and a tree. It looked great on first sight and with each time I looked at it there was more to see. The detail of the construction and the sparse planting plus, another pomegranate tree added up to a gold medal. This was my best in show.

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The food and drink on offer has improved somewhat over the years Ive been going to Chelsea. The food courts though are always hugely busy, often with long queues and it's hard to find somewhere to sit. Take a picnic and treat yourself to an icecream.

Lukesland Gardens

I feel very lucky to have friends with friends with amazing gardens. Last weekend I stayed with John and Lorna Howell, owners of Lukesland in Devon.

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The garden covers around 26 acres of woodland, streams, arboreta (there's more than one), rhododendrons, azaleas, wild flowers and a kitchen garden.

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The garden was started by the Matthews family in the 1860s, followed by the McAndrews in the 1870s, but has been tended to and developed by the Howell family since the 1930s.

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The garden has become known for some of its "Champion" trees, which means they are the oldest, tallest or with the largest girth in the county or country. The high level of rainfall, acidic soil and mildish climate makes it ideal for Camellias, Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Magnolias.

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.I was told the Rhododendrons were past their best by the end of May but they still looked pretty good to me. However, this is prime Azalea flowering time, the reflections in some of the ponds were particularly stunning, better than the Isabella Plantation I think.

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For me the streams and ponds are the highlight of the gardens. Addicombe Brook tumbles through the garden over cascades and Dartmoor granite rocks. It's not without hazard though as floods in recent years have washed away paths, bridges and sculpture and silted up ponds. They've been rebuilt and restored and you'd never know there'd been such devastation.

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The wild flowers are also particularly attractive. There are bluebells in the Beech wood and in the Pinetum where they flower in the open with grasses, and along the stream with Red Campion.

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The dampness means plants like Iris sibirica, asiatic Primulas, Gunnera and ferns thrive here, as well as some of the trees like the giant coastal Redwoods from the USA.

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Lukesland is particularly well known for its three large Davidia involucrata, also known as the Hankerchief Tree, which were flowering during my visit. Unfortunately none of my photos could do them justice but if you're in the area in late spring seeing them is worth a visit on their own.

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Although the tea room was busy (and yes I can recommend all the cakes as I tried most of them whilst serving the tea...) the gardens are so large it's easy to find a quiet spot to yourself.

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One of the advantages of staying overnight is the opportunity to get up at the crack of dawn and wander around on your own, although the weather conspired against me and I didn't quite get the mist and low sunlight I was hoping for. Next time maybe...

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The gardens are only open in the spring and then again in the autumn as the foliage of the Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Acers is stunning I'm told.

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This garden is maintained by Lorna and John, John's mother Rosemary (who runs the guided tours) and three very part-time gardeners. Hats off to them all.

Lukesland - http://www.lukesland.co.uk/Index.htm

You can rent a cottage in the grounds - https://www.helpfulholidays.co.uk/cottage/Devon-East-Anstey/The-Clock-House-976251.html

Many thanks to John and Lorna and Rosemary and Desna (and Rob..).

 

 

The Isabella Plantation

Hidden in the middle of Richmond Park is the Isabella Plantation, a 40 acre woodland garden.

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Best known for its collection of evergreen Azaleas, it is also full of Rhododendrons, Camellias, Wych Hazels and Magnolias, making spring the best time to visit.

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"Part of the parklands conservation designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the site is managed very much with nature in mind and the gardens are run on organic principles. Native plants commonly grow alongside exotics throughout the Plantation. Perimeter and shelterbelt areas are planted with native nectar and berry bearing trees and shrubs to provide food and shelter for birds, bats and insects. The Plantation's ponds and stream provide additional habitat for invertebrates and amphibians."

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There is also quite a collection of exotic trees including the Hankerchief Tree, Davidia involucrata, and a few Dawn Redwoods, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, with their yew-like foliage.

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A couple of streams run through the Plantation, creating some large ponds, including Thomson's Pond, surrounded by Azaleas.

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The sides of the streams are planted with a mix of native and exotic plants. I was there too early for the Asiatic primulas, but the ferms were just starting to unfurl their shepherd's crooks.

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For me though the highlight is the native trees coming into leaf, particularly oak and beech trees.

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Of course you don't have be interested in all the plants and trees, Isabella Plantation is a lovely place for a walk whatever the time of year, and it's a bike-free zone....

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The nearest carpark is on Broomwood Hill and there is a gravelled track to the top entrance. When I was there a Park Ranger was offering lifts back up the hill in his buggy, I don't know if this is a regular thing but young and old were taking advantage of it. For the less mobile there is a carpark at the bottom for blue badge holders.

For more information -

https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park/richmond-park-attractions/isabella-plantation

Summer flowers for clay soils

Most gardeners in London will feel cursed with heavy clay soil. The very fine particuled structure means is has little air and water struggles to pass through it, making the soil like concrete in summer and glue in winter; planting in clay is difficult.

However, clay soils are usually very fertile so if improved with plenty of organic matter like compost, it will create an excellent base for many summer flowering plants.

For successful planting in clay soils preparation is key. Aside from digging in lots of compost, and mulching with compost afterwards, be sure to break up the bottom of the hole as well as the sides. This helps prevent the planting hole becoming a sump, holding water and causing the premature death of the plant.

These are some of my top performers for clay soil,many of which are long-flowering.

Rose - roses love clay soil. They are hungry plants so the nutrient rich soil is perfect for them. There are hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from. The rose pictured here is one of my favourites, Gertrude Jeckyll. It has a lovely scent and is one of the first to flower. Although described as a repeat flowerer it never quite repeats the first flush it gets in early June. As with all members of the rose family it's best not to plant new roses where you've removed old ones.

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Hemerocallis - these plants flower prolifically over a number of weeks in mid-summer. They do well in clay soil but like some moisture as well as full sun. This one is called Stafford, ideal for a "hot" border but colours range from creamy-white, yellow, orange and dark red.

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Helenium - one of my favourite plants for late summer. The flowers last a long time and if you refrain from dead-heading them they keep their form right through the winter. Heleniums are another good plant for hot borders with colours ranging from lemon yellow through to dark tawney oranges.

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Rudbeckia - my absolute favourite flower for late summer. Like Heleniums they keep their forms through the winter. I tend to go for the shorter varieties like Deamii or Goldstar as they don't need staking.

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Aster - there was a time when Asters were associated with mildew but most of the varieties on offer now are resistant. This one is Aster x frikartii Monch, it has an RHS Award of Garden Merit which is about as good as you can get for a reliable and good-looking plant.

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Japanese anemone - these flower long and late and do particularly well if the soil is a little on the damp side. Many Japanese anemones will also do well with a little shade, making them doubly valuable in a London garden. I have found they take two to three years to become fully established, after that you may have to spend a bit of time pulling up the runners in the spring to make sure they don't colonise much of the garden.

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Foxglove - both the wild and cultivated varieties grow well in a range of soils, as long there is a bit of moisture. Native foxgloves grow at the edge of woodland so prefer a semi-shaded position rather than full sun all day.

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Persicaria - another late flowering plant that grows well in clay soils as long as there is some moisture. Most forms of Persicaria will spread to form weed-supressing clumps, a bonus if you're a low maintenance kind of gardener...

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Lilac - Syringa vulgaris is a native shrub (wannabe tree...), is scented and attracts pollinating insects. I like the white ones but find the flowers "die ugly". If you're looking for a compact variety try Syringa meyeri Palibin. The lilac shown here is Syringa vulgaris Sensation.

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Veronicastrum virginicum - although these can take a couple of years to get really established, Veronicastrum can't really be beaten for their insect attracting power. The tall spikes rarely need staking and they make a stately presence at the back of the border. Colours vary from white through to pink and lavender.

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The Wisley Glasshouse

Spring feels a long time coming this year. Even the daffodils seem a bit shy, hardly surprising considering how cold, wet and snowy it's been. Best to get indoors and explore one of our great glasshouses.

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Designed and built some 150 years after the great Palm House at Kew there are similarities in the design and feel at the Wisley Glasshouse. It covers three climatic zones - tropical, moist temperate and dry temperate.

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The topical zone features many of the same plants as at Kew, although in a format that's probably more fun to explore for children (of which there were many...).

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There are palms aplenty, including this statuesque Bismarkia Palm from Madagasgar and large banana palm, Musa thomsonii. I love how they look against the light.

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The moist temperate zone is kept in a range of 8-12 degrees Celsius. Orchids abound in this zone, including this Cymbidium Ayres Rock,

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and, hilariously, this Oxalis which many gardeners will recognise as a rather persistent weed. However, it does look attractive here.

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Many of the plants in this zone will grow in very sheltered parts of the UK, Cornwall for example or in a cool conservatory. The main requirement is that the environment remains frost-free.

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If you've got the right environment and you're up for a challenge then this beautiful Lochroma grandiflora "Blue angel's trumpet" would be a spectacular attraction.

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The dry temperate zone is home to many succulents and cacti, a must-see if you've caught on to the current the house-plant trend. Plants here come from places as far apart as Chile, Australia and the Canaries.

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One of my favourite plants here is the amazing King Protea from South Africa. Virtually impossible to grow outside in this country but varieties are usually available from florists. The glaucus foliage of this Leucadendron Red Dwarf looks good with it.

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Cacti are relatively easy to grow indoors. Slow-growing and long-lived, they prefer to be left alone rather than pampered. Be careful where you place them though...

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Entry to RHS Wisley is a rather hefty £15.50 so try and make sure there's enough going on to make it worth your while.

The tea was good, albeit in a bucket-sized paper cup, and the chocolate fudge cake was worth the calories.

RHS Wisley - https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley

Want to get into houseplants? - http://www.janeperrone.com/

The Palm House at Kew

A full six days after getting off the plane from Barbados I found myself in the tropical Palm House at Kew Gardens. It's some years since I've been in here and now with a little more knowledge (but not much more) I enjoyed the heat and atmosphere, complete with song birds (well, a robin).

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The Grade I listed Palm House was built in 1844, designed not by Joseph Paxton as I'd always thought, but by Decimus Burton. It was built specifically for tropical plants brought back by Victorian plant hunters. The glasshouse is thought to resemble the upturned hull of a ship and indeed some ship-building techniques were used in its construction.

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"The Palm House recreates a rainforest climate, a living laboratory supporting a diversity of plants from the tropical regions of the world, all under one roof. The plantings simulate this multilayered habitat, with canopy palms and other trees, climbers and epiphytes down to the shorter understorey plants and dwarf palms. Many plants in this collection are endangered in the wild, some even extinct. There are many species here studied by Kew scientists for research into medicines."

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There are plants aplenty here that grow in the Caribbean - bananas, plantains, hibiscus, gingers, more palms than you can shake a stick at, plus coconuts and sugar cane. And from the far east, orchids and spices - pepper, vanilla, and the "Marmite" plant - bamboo. From Australia there are macadamias, from South America Brazil nuts.

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As a garden designer the main attraction of tropical plants is their sheer exhuberance - the rate at which they grow due to high levels of light and moisture, the varied size, shape and texture of their foliage and (usually, though not at this time of year in this country it seems) the bright colours of their flowers.

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The quality of light, particularly how bright sunshine (on a March day) filters through the foliage is rather fab, creating strong archtectural shadows and a green, almost underwater atmosphere.

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The planting wouldn't appear anywhere as spectacular were it not for the architecture of the Palm House itself. It may look like an upturned hull from the outside but on the inside there's more than a whiff of Paddington Station.

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The soaring arches and seemingly impossibly narrow ribs of wrought iron create and ornate backdrop to the plants.

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And, as many people know, I can't resist a bit of rust, patina and condensation. The maintenance of the building must be a costly and time-consuming exercise. Is this why the entrance fee to Kew Gardens is £17?

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Although the original design was reined in somewhat there are the customary Victorian flourishes showcasing what could be achieved for this new method of manufacturing iron.

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The curved ceilings are designed to capture the maximum levels of sunshine. Only later was it realised that many tropical plants prefer shade and dappled light so manganese oxide-free glass, tinted green with copper oxide was installed to diffuse solar gain and approximate the light conditions in a tropical forest.

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On a sunny spring afternoon the sun was setting directly behind The Palm House, creating spectacular shadows and from the outside the whole glasshouse looked illuminated.

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The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew - https://www.kew.org/

To read more about the design and construction of The Palm House - http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=97

The evolution of a garden

I first met M&S in May 2012. They had been living in the converted dairy for about 18 months before starting to focus on the garden. They wanted a modern country garden but without roses, delphiniums or pinks, and their most immediate priority was to create a visual barrier between the garden and the passing dogwalkers.

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I first met M&S in May 2012. They had been living in the converted dairy for about 18 months before starting to focus on the garden. They wanted a modern country garden but without roses, delphiniums or pinks, and their most immediate priority was to create a visual barrier between the garden and the passing dogwalkers.

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The design took about nine months to finalise and then it was a further three months or so before the contractor started work.

What originally looked like a field turned out to be a thin layer of so-so turf, by now more than knee high, over the broken up hard standing of the milking parlour. And under the rubble lay several huge blocks of concrete and a couple of underground chambers. Several diggers and grab lorries later, plus tonnes of new topsoil and by June 2013 the garden was almost ready for planting.

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Most of the planting was done in July 2013, but not before a massive weeding job was done on the new borders (the result of not mowing for the best part of two years, and being next to a field).  The plants looked pathetically small when they went in. The fact that it was a mini heatwave meant the hose was on a lot on the first few weeks.

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By August though some of the perennials were really going for it. The hedge of Calamagrostis, planted to help keep the neighbouring dog walkers at bay, was being stubbornly slow to put on any height.

During the winter the new tree, a Sorbus aria Lutescens had gone in, plus a new hedge of beech whips. The grass hedge was still low though and the dog walkers enjoyed the view of the garden for a bit longer.

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By April the hundreds of bulbs planted in the autumn were starting to appear, giving a shot of bright colour. The red ones were supposed to be tall but turned out to be comically short compared to the Queen of the Night and Ballerina tulips. The perennials have bulked up a bit through the autumn and are starting to put on a growth spurt.

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The first perennials in flower are the Euphorbias and Salvias, punctuated by lots of Alliums. The neighbour's builder wasn't impressed that everything seemed to be blue.

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By June 2014 the Salvias are still going strong and the Penstemons, Cenolophium and Sanguisorba are broadening the colour palette.

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This garden really takes off in July. Although it faces north there are no tall buildings nearby and most of the trees are on the northern boundary so the whole garden is in sun almost all day. The tall perennials and grasses grow straight up and only a few need staking after heavy rain. The colours are very rich, just what M&S wanted. The bees love the mix of Echinaceas, Verbena and Agastache. And finally the Calamagrostis hedge is tall enough and dense enough to block the view of the dog walkers.

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It's still looking really good in August 2014 with the late summer flowers from Echinacea, Gaura and Sedum with the grass Anemanthele filling out.

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From August into autumn there's a gradual fading of colour in the garden. But even on a wet November day the structure of the plants is still good, making the garden interesting even in rubbish weather.

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The structure of most of the plants holds out until January 2015 and this is how the garden looked before the big cut down. In early spring we mulched the garden, partly to improve the still fairly heavy clay and also to help keep some of the weeds at bay. The former was more successful than the latter.

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The display in July 2015 was even more spectacular than the previous year. 

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By July 2016 most of the perennials have reached maturity. We are starting to notice one or two problems though. The lovely blue Agastache has given up the ghost after a winter of very heavy rain. And two patches in the garden are causing some problems, one because it seems to get inexplicably wet and the other has no apparent cause. In the latter some of the Cenolophium and Calamagrostis have died. Yet both are doing well just a few yards away. We've replanted both areas since, with mixed results. It's still a work in progress but Japanese Anemones seem to tbe managing quite well.

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And here we are in July 2017. We have already divided some of the Rudbeckias and Calamagrostis to plant elsewhere in the garden. Some years the Euphorbias are splendid, some years they just die. The Anemanthele, a short-lived grass, has pretty much had it. Some have been replaced but this autumn the gaps could be filled by the successful Veronicastrum virginicum. The Salvias have had a bit of a time with slugs and snails and the weeds are unrelenting. But finally the beech hedge has formed an almost solid screen between the garden and the field.

In the years between making a start on the garden and now the clients have built a new garage, converted the old garage into another room, built a kitchen garden, filled in a ditch, had a baby and adopted two hedgehogs. I'm still hopeful the pond that was part of the original design but postponed indefinitely might be on the cards again. 

Gardens,are always changing, making them unbelievably infuriating at times but also marvellously challenging and rewarding.

Return to the Hungry Cyclist's Garden

It's a treat to go back to a garden you've fallen in love with and see it anew in a different season.

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Last time I was in The Hungry Cyclist's garden it was, literally, blazing June with many of the flowering perennials at their peak

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Now at the end of September its the turn of later flowering plants, fruit and trees.

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The low light early in the morning (8am rather than 5.30) filters through the wilting flowers and grasses, highlighting the dew and cobwebs.

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The stalwarts of late summer include Sedums and Persicarias, whilst Lavander and Perovskia are just about hanging on to their faded blue stems.

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The fruit trees are fully laden, the changing leaves are drifting towards earth and a deep mist hangs across the valley after a night of heavy rain.

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It's tempting at this time of year to get into tidy-up mode. But if you do it now you face a long winter of stasis

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This is when you might be glad of a little more structure in the garden, like these rough square beds, creating views across the garden.

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At the other end of the day the light is softer.

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Early evenings in autumn are a real pleasure in good weather, a good time to enjoy the view.

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And the fruits of nature.

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The Hungry Cyclist/Gardener.

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A big thanks to Tom, Chris, Desna, Nicola, Rob, Sarah and Susannah for a fab week. And finally, the real star of the garden - Mirabelle

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The Hungry Cyclist - www.thehungrycyclist.com

The best long-flowering plants

At the height of summer some gardens are beginning to run out of steam. I'm always on the look-out for flowers that have staying power and these are some of my favourites.

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Verbena bonariensis is one of the most requested plants by my clients, even if they don't know its name. It flowers on tall wiry stems from June until mid-autumn and will only lose its structure after a heavy frost. It doesn't live long but as any gardener will tell you Vb self sows with complete abandon, almost to the point of being really annoying. Give it lots of sun and almost any soil except really heavy clay. Vb's little brother Verbena lollipop grows well in a pot if you're strapped for space.

Looks good with Echinacea purpurea, Helenium Waldtraut and Calamagrostis x acutiflora Karl Foerster.

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Anthemis tinctoria starts a bit earlier in the year. Most, like A.t. Sauce Hollandaise or EC Buxton, prefer light and free draining soils and should be cut back hard after flowering. They make good cut flowers if you can bear to take them out of the garden.

Looks good with Geranium Rozanne, Knautia macedonica and Verbascum chaixii.

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One of the stars of the late summer garden Aster x frikartii Monch starts flowering in July and will go ontil mid-autumn. Loved by insects, this plant likes fertile soil with some moisture to produce its best efforts although it will survive most conditions.

Looks good with Euphorbia characais Humpty Dumpty, Penstemon Alice Hindley and Rudbeckia fulgida var, sullivantii Goldsturm.

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Penstemon Garnet is my go-to plant for a reliable red flower that doesn't get powdery mildew and lasts more than one summer. Like many plants in this list it likes full sun and fertile soil. I've had some disasters with heavy clay soil. It is not 100% frost-proof so whilst I dead-head it through the summer I don't cut it back fully until early spring. Confusingly this is also callled Penstemon Andenken an Friedrich Hahn and you will often see both names on the label. Most Penstemons are equally long-flowering and other favourites of mine include the deep purple P. Raven and the light blue P. Alice Hindley.

Looks good with Centranthus ruber Alba, Pennisetum Red Buttons and Salvia sylvestris Dear Anja.

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Another great red flower, Potentilla Gibson's Scarlet is at the fire-engine end of the spectrum. It's great for the front of the border but give it plenty of room as the flower stems reach out further than you would think if planting early in the year. Full sun and well-drained soil will keep the plant happy.

Looks good with Geum Princess Julian, Agapanthus Black Pantha and Gaura lindheimeri Siskyou Pink.

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If you can only have one of these plants in your garden this is the one I'd go for. Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii Goldsturm flowers from July until late autumn and continue to look good through the winter if the weather is not too wet and windy. And, even better, it loves heavy clay soils, perfect for London.

Looks good with Helenium Moerheim Beauty, Verbena bonariensis and Phormium Yellow Wave.

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Rosa Iceberg can be grown as a shrub but as it is pretty vigorous I think it's better as a climber. It produces a magnificent flush in June and if you dead-head properly it will continue to flower on and off until December. It doesn't have a strong scent but is usually pretty healthy. Like most roses is is as happy as Larry in clay soil.

Looks good on its own.

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Winner of the RHS Flower of the Decade competition Geranium Rozanne doesn't really get into its stride for a month after most of the other blue Geraniums like G. Orion or G. Johnson's Blue. But once it does get going there is no stopping it, most I know go on until November and they don't need dead-heading. It will even grow in quite a bit of shade but for the best results plant in full sun in almost any soil except that which is waterlogged.

Looks good with Persicaria amplexicaulis Firetail, Phlomis russeliana and Salvia nemoraosa Caradonna.

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The poster flower for the millenial trend of prairie planting Echinacea purpurea will probably outlast many others that don't like the general dampness of our climate. Strikingly architectural, even after the colour has faded, they are a favourite of gardeners and pollinating insects alike. It can take a few years to bulk up so it's not a plant to be impatient with. It likes full sun and well-drained but not dry soil - not picky at all - but worth it. This one is E.p. Magnus Superior but there are many different varieties and colours. I've not had much luck with the orange ones but E.p. White Swan is a reliable and good-looking culltivar.

Looks good with Gaura lindheimeri Whirling Butterflies, Sedum spectabile Autumn Joy and Calamagrostis brachytricha.

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And finally, Erigeron karvinskianus, sometimes called E.k. Profusion or Mexican Fleabane. This is the plant you will see self-sown in the paving at National Trust properties. It flowers ceaselessly from May until November and does not need dead-heading; the newly emergent flowers are white, fading to pink as they age. It's great at the front of the border, keeping weeds at bay with its carpeting growth, and I like to plant it in pots. It's fairly unfussy about the conditions it grows in making really good value for money and it's self-sowing habit means it's quite difficult to kill!

Looks good with Olea europea, Stipa tenuissima and Sisyrinchium striatum.

Return to Allt-y-bela

Unable to resist another invitation to see Allt-y-bela, I trogged down the M4 in the pouring rain.

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Last time I was here it was raining too. But, like then, the sun did come out, briefly. In late July this garden is all about the cottage garden and the vegetable plot. In early June it's all roses and wild flowers

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It's the wild flower meadows that help the garden merge with the surrounding landscape. Of course they're not really wild in the sense of always having been here; they haven't, they've been planted and sown in the last ten years, but you wouldn't know it just by looking.

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But even old wild flower meadows need to be managed - mown at the right time to allow seeds to fall and germinate, the flowers not allowed to lie in situ after mowing but be picked up so the soil fertility doesn't increase and additional species planted that may or may not be typical wild flower meadow plants. Like these Trollius.

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The meadows are in fact quite a bit of work, but definitely worth it I think.

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The roses were over by the time of my visit last year but this time they were just getting into their stride. I'd love to be able to tell you the names of them all but I found myself a bit distracted.

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As the garden is in a bit of a valley the scent is captured and remains in the air, even on a wet day.

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Often I have clients say they don't want any roses in their gardens. Memories of municipal monoculture or a faint whiff of the crematorium perhaps? But when planted amongst other shrubs or perennials they can really shine when in flower and disappear into the background when they've finished.

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And roses' ability to climb makes them doubly useful, especially if you are short of space or have a few old apple trees that might not be looking their best.

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Having a beautiful house does give you a bit of a head start in the gardening stakes. It does take a degree of bravery to turn an off-white ugly duckling into an uskan orange beauty (yes the typo is deliberate).

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And when garden designers witter on about good bones and structure this is what they are refering to - good quality hard landscaping that has a beauty and a purpose and fantastic evergreen plants.

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Or purple ones.

Chelsea 2017 - the best bits

I don't quite know when the RHS knew that some of it's most constant sponsors had pulled out of the 2017 show, but there was no attempt made at reducing the ticket prices. However, it was still sold out.

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In theory this should have been a good year for some designers as arguably there was less competition. There was only one really big gun in the world of tv horticulture - Chris Beardshaw. But even though his was clearly the most popular garden with the public he could only garner a silver-gilt. I didn't see enough of the tv coverage to find out why but if I had to guess I would say the planting was a bit "busy". Though this is precisely what a lot of people liked about the garden - the sheer range of colour, texture and form.

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It was a garden of two halves, one bright and colourful, the other more textural and green. It was impossible to get a photo of the garden as a whole, mainly because the crowds here were the deepest and most constant through the whole day I was there.

Best in Show went to James Basson, a designer based in the South of France. In the well-known game, I have only two degrees of separation to James Basson as he is designing the Provence garden of one of my London clients.

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His gardens are rarely everyone's cup of tea as they are based on Mediterranean plants put together in a sustainable way that requires very little in the way of soil improvement or irrigation. This is precisely what my client wants for her new garden, but it's not exactly traditionally "English". This garden rekindled the debate about where gardens end and wild landscapes begin. In an era of increasing awareness about sustainability in general and the effect our changing climate is having on gardens in particular this is a trend that is likely to continue and develop.

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One garden that combined traditional English with a wild landscapes was the Welcome to Yorkshire garden. I've not been to the bit of the coast, Whitby, that this garden represents but I find it hard to imagine how this would survive some typical "northern" weather. I loved the boat but the mural in the folly was quite naff.

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Newcomer Charlotte Harris's garden for Royal Bank of Canada was also based on an interpretation of a wild landscape. I really liked this garden (even though it was difficult to photograph) and it would be easy to imagine it sitting well in parts of Scotland that have brief but intense summers with very long days.

One of the key plants in the Royal Bank of Canada garden was the Jack Pine and 2017 was surely the year of the pine in its many forms. The Radio 2 gardens were a welcome addition to the repetoire at Chelsea and helped fill some of the gaps left by fewer main show gardens. I particularly liked the Texture Garden designed by Matt Keightley.

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One of the most regular designers at Chelsea is Kazuyuki Ishihara. Ths was another garden that was really popular with the Chelsea visitors. It is an exercise in the minature with each detail exquisitely crafted, demanding close attention.

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I'm no expert on Japanese gardens other than knowing they are usually a stylised representation of nature and man's place in it. This garden was one an increased number of Artisan's gardens, demonstrating the combination of traditional skills with horticulture.

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i thought the overall standard of the Artisan gardens was higher than usual and some of them were entertaining. Some of my favourites included Dr Catherine MacDonald's garden for Seedlip. The copper piping weaving through the planting was fun.

The metal work continued into Graham Bodle's reclammation of an industrial site into a garden. I love a bit of rusty metal... and look, more pines.

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'm normally a big fan of Sarah Eberle, a former winner of Best in Show. This Viking Cruises garden didn't do much for me but I did like some of the plants, particularly this cactus.

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For my final garden there is only one degree of separation. The Breaking Ground garden was designed by Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam; Andrew was my tutor when I studied garden design. The duo finally won a gold medal with this garden after several near misses (somewhat painful for Andrew who is a former head judge at Chelsea). It just shows what you can do with a lot of experience, a loyal sponsor, determination and ambition. And, what is that tree in the background?

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Cobblers Cove Hotel

Every year the Barbados Horticultural Society manages to persuade some of its members to open their gardens to the public. The last open garden of the year was the Cobbler's Cove Hotel in St Peter.

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Every year the Barbados Horticultural Society manages to persuade some of its members to open their gardens to the public. The last open garden of the year was the Cobbler's Cove Hotel in St Peter.

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his boutique hotel is owned by the Godsall family. The garden is as much of a draw as the luxurious rooms and beautiful setting on the coast

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The garden has undergone a gentle upgrade under the eye of garden consultant Niki Farmer. From my conversation with her it has been an enjoyable job, despite the fact the owner doesn't like yellow flowers or variegated leaves.

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All the rooms and suites open out onto or look over probably the most immaculate garden I've ever seen.

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There are many tropical and meditteranean plants and flowers familiar to us in the UK, usually as house plants, such as Bourgainvillia, Brugmansia and dozens of different palm trees.

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Some are less well-known, as plants anyway, such as this Ylang-ylang tree, whose flowers are used in many perfumes.

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One of the guests had not checked in but was making himself at home anyway. I was just dying for this green monkey to nip in to the room and help himself to the hotel soap, but he was very well behaved.

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The green monkeys are not native to Barbados but come orginally from Gambia and Senegal. Over 75 generations they have developed different behaviours and characteristics to their ancestors.

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Its amazing to think this garden is just a few metres from the beach. Shelter from the prevailing winds, plus plenty of sunshine and rain, makes Barbados gardens lush. Large trees can reach maturity in just 25 years.

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Brightly coloured flowers can co-exist in close proximity with shade-loving ferns, something that's almost impossible to achieve in the UK.

Of course there were refreshments. Tea, naturally, iced-coffee and, rarely to be found in an NGS garden, rum punch. The icing on the cake was a plentiful supply of fresh Bajan fish cakes, so hard to find after the strange disappearance of the world famous fishcake stall from Speightstown.

Cobbler's Cove Hotel - http://www.cobblerscove.com/

Niki Farmer doesn't have a website but I'm guessing she can be contacted through the Cobbler's Cove Hotel.

Ole Dam Mikkelsen's garden

Ole Dam Mikkelsen has made this magnificent garden in Barbados from an abandoned sugar cane field in just 33 years. It is full of huge trees, orchids, cacti and palms - only in the tropics can trees this size reach maturity in such a short time.

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The tree on the left I was told is a coolie nut tree from Brazil. I've tried to look it up without success.

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I hope you will bear with me in my ignorance of most of the plants in this garden. It is extraordinarily difficult to find the names of plants just by googling "tropical plant with stripey leaves" for example, or "tree with spikey bark from Barbados". The flower above is called Cat's whiskers but I've no idea what the Latin name is.

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One of the main features of this garden was the variety of trees. This one, I have found, is the Silk Tassle Tree.

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This tree featured on a Gardener's World programme recently but I can't find the episode to get the name.

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However, even I could identify tiny mangoes.

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And breadfruit, although I've still never eaten one.

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What on earth is this? There was a row of them, each about 10m tall.

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And these are the roots of a large fig tree, looking like a box of snakes.

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The foliage, mostly evergreen, is pretty spectacular as well.

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Not always very friendly, unusual for Barbados.

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The flowers are vivid in colour and dramatic in form.

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Here are the stripey leaves. I doubt I would plant this in a garden in the UK but here it looks fab.

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This is some sort of semperviven, or maybe an aloe..

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Now, where's that rum punch?

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Chateau Villandry

My first vist to Chateau Villandry was pretty inauspicious. On a cycling tour of the Loire with friend Helen, I was pretty chateau'd out by the time we got to Villandry. Helen was still game for yet another chateau tour but I opted to sit outside and read a book.  A couple of decades later (maybe more), on another cycling holiday,  I found out what I'd missed.

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There's been a building on this site since 1189 but the Chateau as it stands to date was built around 1536. It was the last of the great renaissance chateaux to be built along the Loire. By the 19th century the chateau had an English style park around it but in 1906 it was bought by a Spaniard, Joachim Carvallo, who was determined to reinstate the original renaissance gardens.

The gardens are extremely formal, symmetrical, loaded with symbolism and mostly set out in the form of parterres.  This means they are best viewed from above, historically from inside the chateau, but also from various vantage points around the garden.  The scale of the gardens, and the intensity with which they are gardened, is quite astonishing.

The Ornamental Garden contains several parterres symbolising different forms of love - "tender love", "flighty love" etc, etc. Another parterre contains a Maltese Cross, a Languedoc cross, a Basque cross and stylised representations of fleurs de lys.

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At the top of the garden is a huge ornamental lake set out in the shape of a Louis XV mirror. At first I thought this quite a boring part of the garden, there is little planting here, just a few pieces of topiary and some fountains set below a cloister-like walk under lime trees. However, it is the least busy part of the gardens (in terms of pattern and planting) and feels quite restful.

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The Sun Garden is the most recent addition to the gardens at Villandry, designed in 2008 to make the centenary of Carvallo's restoration. It consists of childrens' room (a must these days I suppose), a sun room of oranges and yellows (my favourite)

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and a cloud room of blues and whites.

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One part of the garden, which doesn't seem to have a name, combined the formality of a box parterre with the informaility of planting in the Sun Room.

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The blue flowers are mostly Perovskia and Salvia uglinosa and the pink are Gaura Rosyjane.

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The largest part of the garden is the vegetable garden. Although the production of fruit and vegetables seems to be important the emphasis is on combining colour schemes with botanic science. The garden is planted twice a year and is now organic. Everything is still planted in box-lined symmetrical beds of course.

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Companion planting is used to protects crops from pests and diseases.

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One of the best things about gardens like this is finding corners that you're not sure you're supposed to be in, like this glasshouse. More art nouveau than renaissance, but still fab.

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As usual there wasn't time, and less inclination, to go inside the Chateau. There was a tearoom but it was outside and it was raining and I didn't think the tea would be up to much. And there was the thought of dinner here - http://www.letapegourmande.com/ to keep me going. It was worth it (as was the long walk uphill to get there).

Thanks to Rachel and Chris for a fab holiday.

Chateau Villandry - http://www.chateauvillandry.fr/en/  By the way - ten full-time gardeners work here...

For more information about the bike ride - https://inspiringbikerides.co.uk/bike-ride/france-the-loire/