Breathing new life into a Teddington garden

I’d been looking after N’s garden for a number of years and whilst it was looking ok both N and I agreed it could look a lot better. However, a major house refurbishment took priority and parts of the garden were used as a workshop by the builder. Eventually the work on the house was completed and N and I could focus on the garden.

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This is a north-facing garden with quite a few trees so sunlight was in short supply. The lawn was in a sorry state and the borders needed restocking. The starting point was to remove this very mature weeping birch to allow more light in. It’s not something I was keen to do as I liked the shape and cutting down any tree needs to be considered carefully these days.

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Most of the hard landscaping was fine, it just needed smartening up. Builder Marcin made some slatted trellis to go on top of the fences, both of which were painted black to disappear into the background. He also completely refurbished and painted the existing pergola, cleaned and oiled the deck and refurbished and painted the shed and clad it in the same trellis.

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The lawn was reshaped with sweeping curves to lead the eye round the awkward corners. N wanted to keep the stepping stone path and Marcin had the great idea of putting it in the border rather than in the lawn. The lawn itself was given a lot of tlc with lots of water and feed and regular mowing - no need to rip it out and returf.

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The garden was ready for some new plants - a pleached hornbeam was added to complement the existing ones and a row of pleached crab apples were added as a screen on another boundary. The crab apples will have spring blossom for pollinators and autumn fruits for birds.

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The rest of the planting is a rich palette of purple, dark red, pink and white for the sunny areas and a quieter mix of white and pink for the shady parts. The stand out features here are a couple of elegant tree ferns.

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In the sunniest part of the garden we added a shallow water bowl in corten steel. It’s a magnet for people and wildlife and the reflections change the views of the garden.

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The lighting is nearly complete and an irrigation system has been installed. Of course, since then it’s hardly stopped raining.

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It’s at this point I always want to fast-forward a couple of years to see the planting fill out. But to do that would mean missing out on the pleasure of seeing the garden develop, sometimes in unexpected ways.

Marcin Builder - https://marcinbuilder.co.uk/

Corten water bowl - https://www.thepotco.com/shop/features/water-features/water-bowls/corten-steel-curved-water-bowl/

Pleached trees - https://www.kingsdown-uk.com/wholesale-plants/trees/pleached/

Perennials - https://www.northhillnurseries.co.uk/

The Vyne's Wildflower Garden

The wildflower meadow in the walled garden at The Vyne was born out of need rather than just desirability - there just weren’t enough pollinators to go round. And we all know now that pollinators are needed not just for flowers but for a most of our fruit and vegetables as well.

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This is the first year of the planting which is a mixture of annuals and perennials. They are all grown from seed, some sown in situ and others started in the greenhouse and planted out once they’d grown on a bit.

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I saw them at the end of July and they looked fantastic. My mother told me they looked even better a couple of weeks earlier but it’s hard to see how. They’ve even stood up well in the record-breaking temperatures of mid-July and the subsequent heavy downpours.

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Flowers attract pollinators by offering them pollen and nectar in exchange for fertilisation by travelling from flower to flower. Specific flower types are rich in one or the other or both, and some flowers offer nothing.

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Very generally speaking the closer a flower is to its wild beginnings the better it is for nectar and pollen, which is why wildflowers are so beneficial. However, there are also lots of more cultivated varieties which still have something to offer.

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Poppies and cornflowers are native wildflowers and pollinators love them. But they also like snapdragons, cosmos and marigolds, none of which are native to the UK. Different shaped flowers attract different types of pollinators; there's a good explanation here - https://www.foxleas.com/flower-shapes.asp.

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Flower colour also has a role to play in attracting pollinators. It’s well-known that bright blue flowers attract honeybees and other species have preferences for other colours and scent as well; the scientific research can be read here - https://www.nature.com/articles/srep24408.

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Of course we’ve got used to knowing which wildflowers are at their best in high summer, but spring, autumn and even some winter flowering plants are just as important for pollinators - https://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/10-plants-to-help-bees-through-winter-into-spring/.

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Although all pollinators are good for our crops and flowers, some are more equal than others. The honeybee can pollinate 80% of our flowers, fruit and vegetables. And almost all honeybees are domesticated, ie they live in hives.

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The plight of the British honeybee has been well documented in recent years but the popularity of bee-keeping is helping to check and even reverse this trend. If you’re attracted to the idea of keeping bees get in touch with the British Beekeepers Association - https://www.bbka.org.uk/Pages/Category/what-we-do.

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We arrived at The Vyne shortly after opening and I recommend going early to avoid the crowds. The coffee’s not bad and the queue is manageable earlier in the day. However, you do risk the icecream shop not being open…

Despite growing up near here I’ve never been in the house.

The Vyne - https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/the-vyne

Buy wildflower seeds online - https://wildseed.co.uk/

Green & Gorgeous Flower Farm

I found out about Green & Gorgeous in a magazine and paid a visit on a Saturday late in June. It was a blisteringly hot and eyeball achingly bright day. Not ideal for photography but hey it was a bit of a trek to get there so I had to make the best of it.

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On arrival I was sent off to the sweet pea borders. If ever there was proof that if you’re going to do sweet peas properly you’ve got to plant an awful lot of them then this was it. I could smell them before I could see them. Unfortunately my photos of the sweet peas weren’t very good but if you scratch your screen here you can smell them.

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Although the main business here is growing flowers for cutting, particularly in summer in full wedding season, Green & Gorgeous is open on Saturdays for you to pick your own sweet peas and select just-picked stems and produce in the shop. Some perennials are also on sale.

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I asked if they minded me taking photos and they didn’t so off I wandered. It was a very pleasant way to spend an hour or so, it was just a shame there wasn’t really anywhere to have coffee. Maybe there was but the poor lady in the shop was on her own and I didn’t have the heart to ask as she was pretty run off her feet.

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As well as creating floral bouquets for events they also run courses on topics ranging from how to set up and run a flower farm business to flower arranging, and garden photography with Eva Nemeth.

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The photography on their website is lovely and the Instagram feed is pretty impressive too. It was great to see a successful business selling local, seasonal produce that doesn’t have a huge carbon footprint.

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For those of you desperate for a coffee or other refreshments there’s plenty on offer in nearby Wallingford or Goring & Streatley (if you can find somewhere to park).

Green & Gorgeous - https://www.greenandgorgeousflowers.co.uk

Did anyone scratch?

New Wimbledon planting project

E&S were having a bit of a nightmare with their garden. The removal of a Eucalyptus tree revealed a hotch potch of different height fences and exposed the garden to their neighbours’ gaze. Sorting the fence out resulted in the loss of a lot of established plants.

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The fencing contractor made quite a mess which E&S’s gardener managed to resolve. And E’s first attempt to get some help from a garden designer ended in disappointment. This is how the garden looked when I first saw it. Not the worst starting point but I had quite a task on my hands to make up for all the frustrations of the previous year.

The garden had been very green and lush with none of the neighbour’s houses visible. E wanted to get this look again, but with more flowers and colour. The borders also needed reshaping to give a better structure to the garden.

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The first thing that struck me was that the shed was in the wrong place. We moved it from the sunniest spot in the garden to a shadier corner, swapping places with a seating arbour. We also made the stepping stone path more of a feature and by using the same paving as elsewhere in the garden the overall look came together better.

The borders were reshaped from awkward corners and wiggly lines into sweeping curves. And then we selected a palette of plants from evergreens to shade-lovers to E’s favourite vibrant blues and yellows. It was all planted in October so E&S have had a nine month wait to see it all come to fruition.

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This project proves that you don’t need a lot of hard landscaping to make a massive difference to a garden. It’s amazing what you can achieve by reshaping the lawn and investing in the right plants.

Thanks to the efforts of E and her gardeners the garden is looking immaculate in July. And it is by no means at its peak, there’s still Rudbeckia, Asters and Sedums to come later this summer. And by next year it will be looking even better.

The green room - a garden for theatre loving party hosts

J&D contacted me in September 2016 to smarten up their rather unloved back garden. The back of the house had undergone some repairs and had been re-rendered. Now the garden needed some serious attention.

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As regular hosts who love throwing large parties the first priority was to create a substantial terrace. The current one was very uneven and the step out from the kitchen-diner was a little precarious.

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J&D wanted to keep a large lawn as long as it was easier to maintain. And J in particular wanted a large shed to keep all her baking and party equipment in, and a water feature made out of rock, and space to grow fruit and vegetables. There didn’t need to be lots of colour as long as the planting was green and textural.

As the garden is large it was decided to build it in two parts. The terrace, made with a beautiful silver grey granite, was built in 2017. A new and wider step makes the access into the house much easier and safer and a rock water feature was placed to one side. A gentle trickle makes an attractive soundscape for a morning coffee.

The rest of the back garden was a much larger job and started in the summer of 2018.

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Almost everything in the garden was cleared out - two old sheds, a dying apple tree, masses of concrete and a couple of low brick walls. A few established shrubs and a cherished Cordyline were kept, along with the row of lime trees on the rear boundary.

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Once the clearance was complete the setting out began. A large elliptical lawn edged with granite sets was designed to show off J’s two Lutyens benches and that Cordyline.

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A new, much larger, shed was installed and, along with all the fences, painted black. This helps make the shed disappear into the shadows as well as make the plants really stand out.

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A paved area outside the shed door makes access easy. Although the build was nearly finished and the lawn area prepped for new turf the hottest, driest summer since who knows when meant it was not worth putting it in. J&D would have spent weeks watering it everyday to keep it alive. So we decided to wait until the weather improved (or worsened, depending on your point of view..).

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The planting was done in October, followed shortly by the lawn. As most of the plants were pretty small there wasn’t too much to look at until the spring of 2019.

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Most of the evergreens and shrubs that have been planted are quite small. It will take some time for them to mature. In the meantime the perennials will fill the gaps with some interest.

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The small G&T terrace gets the last of the sun and is perfect for a last minute read-through before the show’s opening night.

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Curtain’s up.

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I’m looking forward to see how this garden develops (also to one or two parties..).

Chelsea 2019 - All the world's a stage

More than once Mark Gregory, winner of The Peoples’ Award at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, said that all of Chelsea was about the theatre, the spectacle and putting on a show. And, as yet again, people ask “what is a garden?”, isn’t it time to stop worrying about definitions and practicality and just enjoy the performance?

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Of course the market for a canal-based garden design is very niche but the Peoples’ Award showed that the visiting and viewing public at Chelsea loved this show garden. And why is that? There’s the sheer ambition of building something as monumental as this and then the artistry of making it look like it’s always been there. And finally, the romance of the wild-meets-cottage-garden planting. As a piece of escapism it couldn’t be beaten, just like watching an episode of Downton Abbey at the end of a good weekend.

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Every garden at Chelsea needs a bit of drama, just so that we sit up and pay attention. Who can deny the unexpected fabulousness of these black oak spines running through Andy Sturgeon’s garden?

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Or the bright red bridge in Jonathon Snow’s Trailfinders garden? Much better in real life than on tv.

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However, one significant intervention is not neccesarily enough if the rest of the design can’t match it. The rather lovely David Harber sculpture was not enough to carry the rest of Andrew Duff’s somewhat lacklustre design.

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Not all the drama is man-made, as Chris Beardshaw showed with his charismatic Pinus nigra which cut an unruly dash across his otherwise impeccable garden.

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And of course, it’s important to make sure the garden isn’t all drama with no plot or character. It’s a fine balance, do you think Sarah Eberle pulled it off? The judges thought so.

As for the rest of the show gardens on Main Avenue, it wasn’t always possible to tell if there was any drama or not, if there was it was hidden away. In the case of Jo Thompson’s Wedgwood garden it was hidden in the shadows behind all the pillars and in Kate Gould’s Greenfingers garden it was either hidden in the sunken bit or on the roof. Maybe you could see it on tv but you couldn’t see it in the flesh. And as for the Duchess of Cambridge’s Back to Nature garden you could only see if you were prepared to wait in a very long queue and I’m afraid I wasn’t.

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Helen Elk-Smith’s design for Warners Distillery seemed to focus on product placement (bottles of gin liberally spread across the garden, but just out of reach of the viewing public) and kept the dramatic falls of water fairly well hidden. The tv cameras did a lovely job of picking them all out, particularly when lit at night, but many of them were hard to see with the naked eye from 10 metres away.

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And finally, sometimes the drama is not about the big idea but all about the small dramas played out in the foreground, like the interactions of the very fine planting in Tom Hoblyn’s garden. It may not be quite what he intended but sometimes it’s the minor characters that steal the show.

As ever, there were long queues for everything at Chelsea but at least the line for the ladies loos was fast-moving. It was crowded, the food and drink were expensive, but would I go again? Oh yes..

Gifts for gardeners

There’s no doubt that gardeners can be a bit of a challenge to find suitable gifts for. When I say suitable, I mean things they really want - not a notebook to write down when the cabbage seeds germinated, or cotton gloves that are good for nothing, or plastic tools or anything novelty, including Under Gardener tshirts or ironic gnomes, and definitely not wind chimes ….

It’s not a very high bar to get over is it? So here’s the Arthur Road Landscapes guide to suitable gifts for gardeners and you don’t need deep pockets for all of them. You won’t find any of these in a charity shop (except the ones at the end of course).

Coffee table books

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Pruning ladder - Henchman https://www.henchman.co.uk/

Pruning saw - Silkyfox http://www.silkyfox.co.uk/gomboy.php

Secateurs - Felco https://www.felco.com/uk_en/our-products/felco-4.html

Aged terracotta pots - DIY https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mrma_RCGaU8

Mower for striped lawns - Hayter https://www.hayter.co.uk/range

Money no object

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2018 - A good year?

Is 2018 - a good year to remember, or not? Maybe not for some reasons, but, politics aside, ignoring natural and man-made disasters, bad tempers and bad news in general, here is the good news round up of 2018 in the small corner of the world occupied by Arthur Road Landscapes.

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A new year, a new day and a new camera on the beautiful island of Barbados. Not too much in the way or horticulture here but when the landscape looks like this who needs a garden?

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But of course I couldn’t resist another visit to Hunte’s Gardens.

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Having cleverly avoided the Beast from the East, but running full pelt into the Mini-beast, I made a beeline for the Palm House at Kew for a bit of warmth and humidity.

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The cold winter and the sudden arrival of a very warm, but late, spring (who knew what was to come?) meant a very good year for bluebells. This little woodland of oak and ash was discovered by my parents in deepest Berkshire.

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May means Chelsea. This was my favourite garden, by Sarah Price. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely mine, I’m just waiting for a commission for somewhere in the Med…

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At the end of May I visited Lukesland on the edge of Dartmoor. Spring was a little later here so this Wisteria was still in its full glory.

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June sees the climax of our native wild flowers. Driving around Surrey I love the road side verges covered primarily in ox-eye daisies. Parts of the M25 are quite spectacular, something to enjoy whilst sitting out a traffic jam. It’s quite tricky finding somewhere to park and photograph them (I haven’t stopped to take any photos on the M25 I hasten to add).

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The heat wave started around the middle of June I seem to remember. I went to Loseley Park before the weather began to take its toll and the White Garden here was looking splendid. Of course the thing about white gardens is that they’re not completely white.

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July and August seem to have been swallowed up in a blaze of sweltering heat and guilt about using a hosepipe (sorry/not sorry) but at the end of summer I went to The Homewood in Surrey. I hadn’t expected much of the garden but even I was charmed by the heather, Scots pines and rhododendrons.

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A very busy autumn meant little time for visiting gardens but I did manage to get the odd half hour or so on Wimbledon Common. Being outside in bright sunshine whenever possible is my way of dealing with short days and long dark nights.

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This is beginning to sound like I haven’t done much work in 2018. Well it’s been a funny old year, a mixture of feast and famine. This sweet little courtyard in Twickenham was completed early in the year. The owners are bird mad so hopefully this spring will see a few new residents in the bird boxes.

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A large back garden project which has taken a couple of years, was finally planted in October. There’s not too much to see plant-wise at the moment but I’m looking forward to seeing it develop next year.

Maybe not a vintage year but not a bad one either.

Like these photos? Follow me on Instagram.

Autumn on Wimbledon Common

It’s been a pretty nice autumn in this corner of south-west London, so far anyway. It’s also been a pretty busy couple of months for me work-wise. I’ve only been able to grab the odd half hour or 45 minutes to go out with my camera between jobs and drawings. Enjoy.

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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 Papaver Patty’s Plum, almost good enough to eat.a

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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