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..

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.

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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.

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

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

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.

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/

Allt-y-bela

Allt-y-bela is designer Arne Maynard's garden in Monmouthshire. Initially, it was Arne's intention to make a simple garden using his favourite components - roses, topiary and wildflower meadows. There was no garden here when Arne bought the restored medieval farmhouse five years ago, just a few outbuildings set across an ancient drover's road.

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The topiary, mostly set around the house, is huge and dramatic, and seemingly randomly placed.  His gardener, Steve, said it was not unusual for Arne to receive deliveries of large pieces without much forethought as to where they would be placed.

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None of the pieces are alike and there is no attempt at placing them in a formal pattern. The larger pieces are a mixture of yew, hornbeam, purple beech and box.  Low hawthorn hedges have just been planted to create rustic edges for the few formal borders.

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There is a pleasing lack of formality to the garden as it is the designer's intention to blue the boundaries between the garden and the wider landscape.  Beyond the immediate vicinity of the house the garden is surrounded by wildflower meadows.  At the end of summer the flowers have all faded but in spring thousands of bulbs are in flower, designed to make the meadows look as though they've been there for hundreds of years.

In keeping with the house's agricultural history there is a productive and beautiful Kitchen Garden.

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By the way, the house was white when Arne bought it. I don't know how he came to choose orange as the right colour to paint it but it makes a stunning backdrop to the garden, mainly because green really stands out against it.  And when you've got an orange house you need a few orange flowers.

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Next to the Kitchen Garden is the Cottage Garden, full of flowers to be cut for the house. The paths are made from stone found around the house and are angled to provide interesting glimpses of other parts of the house. These foxgloves are Digitalis ferruginea gigantea.

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Despite his best intentions Arne has been unable to resist the urge to go beyong his original brief. The stream behind the old granary has been canalised with local stone and divides the stage from the terraces that form the Garden Theatre.

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The gardens immediately outside the house are more complex, though still informal.

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The Courtyard Garden at the front is enclosed with a pleached hedge and filled with smaller pieces of topiary and cottage-style planting, making for an interesting view from the kitchen.

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One of my favourite spots in the garden is at the back of the house. Box hedging reaches out towards the meadow.

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It is here the roses are most in evidence. Although by late summer they are mostly past their best they must look and smell amazing in June.

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Back towards the front of house, next to the granary, is Arne's latest project, the Lattice Garden. Low hedges of hawthorn frame herbaceous planting and topiary.

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espite being a two-time gold medal winner at Chelsea, there's still room a little whimsy in the garden (or was it there already when he bought the property?).

Little of this garden would be possible without full-time gardener Steve Lannin. Although the topiary is only trimmed once a year apparently it can take weeks to get all the way round the garden.  Steve was a warm and knowledgeable host on our visit and really brough Arne's design ideas to life.

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t is difficult to explain how much I enjoyed this garden; it's quite different to any other garden I have seen. There really is a blurring between the garden and the wider landscape and the huge topiary adds unexpected scale and drama. I didn't feel as though I were in a garden in the normal sense - there were no boundaries  - just endless possibilities of walking round the garden with different views at each turn.  Quite an achievement.

The garden at Allt-y-bela is not open to the public but group visits can be arranged. Alternatively, you can stay in the house as a B&B and have the garden all to yourself.

Allt-y-bela - http://arnemaynard.com/portfolio/gardens/my-garden-in-wales/#.V8bC9aJM1YU

Steve Lannin's garden diary - http://arnemaynard.com/journal/garden-diary/?tag=Steve%20Lannin#.V8bDcaJM1YU

Polesden Lacey

There's been a house at Polesden Lacey, on the edge of the Surrey Hills, since 1336.  The gardens, however, owe most of their present form to Edwardian society hostess Margaret Greville.

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As usual, short of time, I didn't go into the house.  The exterior is attractive and provides a lovely backdrop to the extensive gardens.

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The gardens are amongst the most popular of the National Trust's properties and considerable effort has gone into keeping them in good condition. Many of the plants were labelled - handy at times.

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The star of the garden, in late July at least, are the long borders.

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I didn't pace them out but I reckon it would take Usain Bolt a good 12 seconds to run them at full speed.

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Highlights of the late summer borders are the statueque Kniphofia Tawney King, Verbascum bombiferum and various Phloxes, Achilleas and Salvias.

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Next to the Long Borders is the Rose Garden. Not quite my cup of tea, and at this time of year the roses are fading, but it is on an epic scale. I did like the pergola tunnels of running the full length of the walled garden.

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Round the corner is the Cutting Garden. Although there was an extensive cutting garden in Margeret Greville's time, it was a bit futher away from the house than it is now.

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The richness of the Dahlias and other flowers such as Verbena bonariensis tell you we are moving into late summer.  Like all good working gardens, there is a gardener's bothy.

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This one seemed to be more for show than work though.

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I stumbled across the meadow almost by accident. Paths have been mowed through the wild flowers and ornamental trees are planted seemingly randomly throughout.

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One of these was Acer griseum, also known as the Paperbark Maple - for obvious reasons.

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The hunt for a loo took me past a second hand bookshop (no time for that) into the woods and finally back for one last look at the Long Border.

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I would have stayed for tea and cake but I had a meeting with a new puppy which was slightly more appealing. However, I have had coffee and cake there before, quite good from memory, even though the queue was overly long.

Although the carpark was full and it was the school holidays, the grounds are so large it never felt crowded and at times I was lone in parts of the gardens. Fab. I think of the National Trust gardens I've seen this is second only to Hidcote.

Polesden Lacey - https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/polesden-lacey

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 - http://www.chatsworth.org/

The Farm Shop - http://www.chatsworth.org/plan-your-visit/shop-and-eat/chatsworth-estate...

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

Hauser & Wirth

Durslade Farm in Bruton, Somerset, is the latest outlet for the international art dealers Hauser & Wirth. In 2013 they commissioned Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf to design a garden for the gallery. The plants were supplied by our favourite nursery, Orchard Dene, and the garden was planted in the spring of 2014, one of the wettest on record.

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Those of you familiar with Oudolf's style will not be surprised to see huge borders of long-flowering perennials with little in the way of traditional structural plants like evergreen shrubs. For those of you not familiar with his style the garden can appear unstructured and lacking in focal points. There tends not to be the huge summer climax followed by assiduous cutting back, pruning and tidying that we are used to in traditional English gardens.

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Rather the garden starts slowly in the spring. But once the perennials get going there is wave after wave of billowing flowers and grasses. As summer moves into autumn the seed heads of faded flowers start to predominate. Rather than cut them back Oudolf leaves the seed heads to stand as long into the winter as possible. Indeed, Oudolf selects his plants as much for the way they move into senescence as he does for their colour in high summer.

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September marks a shift in focus from colour to form. Here we can see the seed heads of Echinacea pallida silhouetted against the still frothy flowers of Deschampsia. Oudolf is not obsessed by mixing and matching colours but by combining shapes and textures.

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There are few tradtional English gardeners who would put orange and pink in the same view but here Oudolf is contrasting the cone shaped flowers of Helenium Moerheim Beauty with the flat heads of Sedum matrona with some fluffy Pennisetums and amorphous Asters.

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This way of designing with plants has been termed "The New Perennial Movement" and Oudolf is its pre-eminent practitioner. The most notable way of imlementing this idea is with "block" planting - single species in large groups to make a big impact. As an idea it has been going longer than I've been a garden designer and it has influenced my own planting design.

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Oudolf's ideas have not remained stuck in a rut however. He has picked up on the scientific developments in matrix planting. This is based on the work carried out primarily at Sheffield University by Professors James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnet and also by Dr Noel Kingsbury.

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Matrix planting combines plants that do not compete with one another. They may flower at different times and have completely different forms and, to a certain extent, different requirements in terms of light and water. A lot of their research was brought to bear on the summer meadow planting at the Olympic Park in 2012. Matrix planting produces more of a tapestry effect and at Hauser & Wirth Oudolf has used block planting in some borders and matrix planting in others, to great effect.

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Enough of the garden design theory. It was a beautiful day when I went with friend and fellow designer Lisa Cox. There was thick fog most of the way from London but it was just starting to lift as we arrived. The garden didn't open until 10am so we had to amuse ourselves with second breakfast and a walk around the gallery.

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The sun was hazy and at a low angle, perfect autumn weather. Its always a difficult balance between looking at the whole garden, taking it all in, and looking at parts of the garden through a lens.

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Photography does focus your concentration though and makes you look at things you might miss on a broad sweep across the garden. However, it does also mean that people don't always recognise the garden you are photographing as they are not looking at it in the same way.

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Taking photos does highlight some peculiarities. For example, I took this one of Verbena bonariensis. Beloved of New Perennial designers and these days ubiquitous, I suddenly realised that this was the only one in the whole garden. Surely this wasn't intentional? A mistake then - but by whom? Or is it a joke? We also saw one lone Lobelia...

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Hauser & Wirth in Somerset is primarily concerned with art. There is some sculpture outside, some more successfully placed than others. The giant clock in the garden is a bit wierd I think but the spider in the courtyard is striking. There is a book shop and of course, a cafe and restaurant.

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As we were there early there was time for second breakfast of coffee and toast and jam.  Reasonably priced, tasty and in an art-filled cafe, I enjoyed it all.  The farm buildings have been restored in a fabulously rustic/trendy style - lots of concrete, wood, clay tiles and old brick walls.

The Hauser & Wirth experience is not to everyone's taste of course, one client described it as "a pretentious place, nasty art and not at all my idea of a garden!".  I can't do anything about her taste in art but I do hope she'll go back and have another look at the garden.

Hauser & Wirth Somerset - http://www.hauserwirthsomerset.com/garden

Orchard Dene Nurseries - http://www.orcharddene.co.uk/