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 -

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 - 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 -  By the way - ten full-time gardeners work here...

For more information about the bike ride -

The kitchen garden at Chatsworth

If there's ever a place to get kitchen garden envy, it's got to be at Chatsworth House.  First off, it's huge. Secondly, there are three full-time gardeners. A stream runs through it, good enough to bottle and sell (and they do), more greenhouses than you can shake a stick at and oh, there's the view...

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This bench, at the top of the west-facing sloping kitchen garden, has a good view of the two and a half acres, the top of Chatsworth House and the stable block and the Capability Brown landscape on the other side of the River Derwent.  But I didn't think to take a photo of all that, you've just got to take my word for it.

(By the way, my most hated combination of colours is pink, yellow and turquoise, but somehow it seems to work here.)

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Like all good kitchen gardens, there are a lot of flowers, grown principally for cutting.  Some are also grown as companion plants for the fruit and vegetables.  These Sweet William were at their peak in late June (the season seems to be a couple of weeks behind SW London).

The Delphiniums were perfect, no slug damage and no stakes.  I think Delphiniums are at their most striking just before the flower buds open completely.

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I had never considered Foxgloves as possible cut flowers, but why not?  Plus, the bees love them, great for helping to pollinate the fruit and veg.

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And I've never seen such amazing Peonies in such huge quantities before.  These look like Buckeye Belle and Felix Crousse, completely OTT and perfect for midsummer.

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Around the edge of the kitchen garden there were stone walls, Yew hedges and odd wildflower invaders, like this Dog Rose.  You wouldn't weed this out would you?

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The heart of the kitchen garden though is the fruit and vegetable area.  All the produce goes straight to the house.  The large greenhouses keep the house supplied with grapes, melons, lemons and even fresh ginger.  The cold frames ensure salads have an early start.

And of course it wouldn't be a kitchen garden without the head gardener's bothy.  This one has been preserved from WWII, complete with a copy of Dig for Victory, an old stove, terracotta pots and string.  All gardeners need string.

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The herb garden is extensive and contains interesting varieties like banana mint which tastes nothing like banana or mint.  This Thyme was nice though.

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Did I mention the Delphiums were good?

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So, I know you're dying to know how the tea and cake were.  Frankly, your best bet is to buy the cake from the Chatsworth Farm Shop (and the rest of your picnic as well - I can recommend the filled rolls and the Scotch Eggs deserve a special mention) and take a flask of your own tea.  The garden is huge (we were there for four hours and didn't see it all).  The Farm Shop stuff is much better (and cheaper) than anything they sell at the house, and the queues are shorter.

Next month - That trout stream - did Dan Pearson's Chelsea garden do it justice?

Chatsworth House -

The Farm Shop -

The visit to Chatsworth House was at the end of a fab weekend with Desna, Rob, Sarah and Logan the dog.