I’ve been Googling greenhouses a lot recently, as I’m hoping to get one for my new garden. Needless to say I like the fancy ones made of wood and brick, but they aren’t half expensive. But then I saw these ‘window gardens’ on the South Bank, and totally fell for them. They’re made from reclaimed windows and are part of the Festival of Neighbourhood on the South Bank. During the day they’re community allotments, and by night they’re illuminated sheds.
I want one! If I knew a friendly artisan who would make something similar for me (with sides that go all the way to the roof), I would totally go for it. Mind you, I bet it would cost almost as much as the fancy greenhouses I’ve been coveting.
After a hot and sweaty walk to the post office along a busy main road mostly devoid of plants, this white rose stopped me in my tracks. It was planted in the shady stairwell of a basement flat, and looked as cool as a cucumber. I don’t know if it’s because was against a cream wall, or because it was planted with the dark red dahlia, but its brilliant whiteness was dazzling.
As I was taking this pic, the owner came home. As with most people I’ve met via this blog, she was very nice and said that she can’t stop taking pictures of the dahlia. She’s a bit obsessed by them, and has lots more in pots around the back of her flat. She let me go and have a look.
I love the fact that these incredibly posh Regency houses next to Regent’s Park have gardens that you wouldn’t expect. They’re blowsy, colourful and cottagey and there isn’t a box ball in sight. Cornflowers are currently spilling out of the formal railings onto the pavement.
My recent blog posts may suggest that I have been spending my time touring stately homes in southern England, like a character in a Jane Austen novel. First Gravetye Manor, and now Mottisfont Abbey. Rest assured that despatches from the gritty streets of London will return soon.
Mottisfont is perhaps best known for the walled rose garden planted by Graham Stuart Thomas. It’s impressive, and the roses are underplanted with lots of perennials. But there were things I liked more about Mottisfont. It’s home to lots of great art (and art exhibitions), has a racy past thanks to notorious Bloomsbury Set parties and some amazing trompe l’oeil in the drawing room. Oh, and it has a 1950s ice cream parlour, trout leaping from the river and a secondhand book shop.
It was the busiest, hottest weekend of the year when we visited but it didn’t feel overrun (although panic did ripple through the ice cream queue when rumours of a shortage circulated). The National Trust is all about being accessible and giving kids freedom to roam these days, and they’ve certainly got it right at Mottisfont. Families were picknicking, lying under trees, rolling down grassy banks and dozing in the sun. And best of all: dangling their feet in the stream. I half expected a health and safety official in a tabard tell us all to move on, but no one came. It was truly lovely.
Now, here’s what I call a patio. It plays second fiddle to the plants, which are spilling all over it. They soften the edges and surround the seating with colour and scent. Who wouldn’t want to linger here?
I also love the naturalistic planting in the pots, and the fact that paving slabs have been lifted to make way for more plants. All patios should be like this.
There’s something otherworldly about the place. In common with most grand houses (it’s now a hotel), the view is unencumbered by anything other than rolling countryside. On the day I visited, people were quietly eating lunch in the panelled restaurant rooms and sipping tea on the croquet lawn, much as they probably have done for centuries. It feels far removed from the world’s troubles.
The planting is pretty dreamy, too. Gravetye is the former home of the legendary gardener William Robinson, who eschewed formal Victorian bedding schemes in favour of mixed borders and wilder, naturalisti planting. Tom Coward, the current head gardener, continues in the same spirit today. He formerly worked alongside Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter, and it shows – he’s not afraid to combine plants in interesting ways. I’ve never cared much for lupins or apricot foxgloves, but I loved how Tom uses them.
Even more impressively, the garden has been turned around in just three years – the previous owners of the hotel had financial difficulties and the garden became neglected. You wouldn’t know that parts of the garden are plagued by Japanese knotweed, which Tom has been working to eradicate. Other weeds, such as bracken, remain, and add to the charm – this isn’t a prim and proper garden.
Like many grand houses, Gravetye has elements that we mere mortals can only dream of, such as a peach house and a circular walled garden that catches every last ray of sun. It supplies fruit and veg to the restaurant, as well as cut flowers for the house. Tom grows lots of ladybird poppies, which supply vivid splashes of red. They’re hopeless in a vase, which ensures that they don’t get picked.
Meadows (and their loss) are big news at the moment, but William Robinson experimented with creating one 100 years ago. What goes around comes around, even in gardening – Gravetye is definitely having a moment.
After the refinement of Chelsea, the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is rather an assault on the senses. The sponsors’ messaging in the show gardens can be very in your face – a couple of years ago there was a giant pink tap to highlight the problem of weak bladders, and this year there was a giant washing up bottle lid and lots of bright recycled plastic in the (otherwise nice) Ecover garden. The planting often includes lots of clashing hot summer colours and it’s all too garish for me.
The Athanasia show garden was my favourite by a long chalk. It had really minimal hard landscaping (a big plus in my book), and a cool palette of shade-loving plants. It looked peaceful and inviting and like it had been there for a very long time.
I found out afterwards that the garden was inspired by the memory of Emma Peios, a garden photographer who died last year. I never knew Emma, but I know lots of people who did and were very saddened by her death. The garden was designed by Emma’s friend, David Sarton, and given her middle name, Athanasia. I’m sure this garden is a very fitting tribute to her.
Head gardener Andrea was quite chuffed with her combo here: bolted parsnips and ladybird poppies. I had to break it to her that Cleve West did something similar in his Best in Show garden at Chelsea two years ago. Sorry Andrea : )