Arundel Castle


Arundel, West Sussex

As I have previously reported on this blog, my boyfriend is a fan of castles. That was fine by me, until we started visiting them. I soon realised that I don’t like castles much. As far as I’m concerned, if you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all. They’ve all got a gatehouse, a portcullis, a drawbridge, tricky spiral staircases and slitty windows for shooting arrows out of. Some are just ruins that you still have to pay to get into, then imagine where those features were. I’m rarely bored, but I am bored by castles, and find it difficult to hide – so much so that when we visited Caerphilly Castle (one of my boyfriend’s favourites, one of my least favourite ever) I couldn’t hide my desperation to get out of there. It has given rise to the term ‘Caerphilly Face’ in our household.

As Christian gamely trudges around gardens with me without complaint, I have vowed to never again show my Caerphilly Face when visiting a castle. To lessen the chance of it happening we have agreed that it’s best for all concerned if the castle has a tea shop, and, ideally, a garden. Which is, of course, the case with Arundel Castle. So off we went to coincide with the Tulip Festival.

Judging by the Caerphilly Faces of the French and Dutch teenagers trudging around the castle I am not alone in my castle-phobia. But actually, I quite enjoyed this one. For starters, it’s intact. It has lots of life-size models and recordings that give you a sense of life in the castle. It even has soft furnishings.

But of course the garden was the main draw for me. It’s awash with tulips at this time of year – over 20,000 of them.  Some of the displays were a bit too garish for my liking (I guess you have to go for the wow factor in a garden like this) but here are some ideas that I could see myself replicating in my own garden.



Arundel Tulips-by-steps


Drift of bulbs


It seemed like spring would never come, and now we seem to be hurtling headlong into summer. I’ve gone from willing everything to grow, to wishing it would all slow down a bit.

This patch of bulbs is just one tiny part of a 20m long swathe of bulbs that seems to have popped up overnight alongside a busy road in Cheltenham. The verge separates the road from the pedestrian and cycle lanes on the other side, and this delicate spectacle is definitely best enjoyed by those on foot or on bikes. It isn’t brash enough to be appreciated by car drivers whizzing past.

Someone has a put a lot of thought into this planting – it’s fresh, pretty and unusual – and keeps on going (the daffs, now going over, are being succeeded by tulips). The main road is usually my least favourite part of the walk to work, but right now it’s my favourite.

Coleton Fishacre


The weekend before the gloriously warm Easter was spent in Devon, on two of the foulest days imaginable. It was so cold, wet and windy that it was a real effort to do anything, and in desperation we turned to the National Trust handbook. Happily, we found that we were near Coleton Fishacre.

I loved it. The house is built in the Arts & Crafts style, with an Art Deco interior, and was the country retreat of the D’Oyly Carte family (Gilbert & Sullivan impresarios). Going around the beautifully proportioned house, you have a real sense of going back in time, and of the fun that the family must have had there – tennis rackets, fishing rods and hammocks are left lying about, and there are elegant cigarette dispensers, cocktail cabinets and record players at every turn. The servants’ rooms and kitchens (complete with an old soda stream, about six foot tall) are on display too, and there’s even a flower arranging room, filled with vases of all kinds, a sink and a work surface – the lady of the house enjoyed arranging flowers from the garden.


There’s a huge dining terrace on the side of the house, which has a window to one side to stop the wind coming in. It continues outside (see above) to keep out the draughts – a nifty idea.


The RHS-accredited garden is filled with rare and exotic plants that thrive in the (usually) mild climate, and spills down a valley towards the sea. Apparently the family used to ask their weekend guests to help with the weeding. It was a too soggy to walk around for long, but it was good to see the magnolias, rhododendrons and camellias in bloom. By the time we left, we had big smiles on our faces – I would love to go back in summer, and explore it more.






Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’


I’ve been on the lookout for a shrub for my main border for a while – something multi-stemmed that would give a bit of structure, with spring blossom and autumn colour. I had set my heart on a Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’, but  I read said that it needed a sheltered, well-drained spot – and my garden is anything but sheltered, or well drained. Plus, I thought it might get too big. So in the end, I plumped for a Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’.

I’m glad I did. Not only has it brought some welcome early spring colour (and contrasts nicely with the acid-green Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfennii close by, just seen in the background of the pic) but it is proving as tough as old boots. The garden has been battered non-stop by strong south-westerlies that have howled up the valley, but the Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ has stood firm, hanging on to every bit of blossom. I guess it’s not surprising that it’s so robust, seeing as it can be found growing on the exposed slopes of Mount Fuji.

Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ also has good autumn colour, and twisted stems in winter. I plan to underplant with early spring bulbs (it’s already looking good with some Cyclamen coum beneath it).

I’m still hankering after the Cercis, though. Apparently they can be grown in pots, so maybe I can squeeze one into the garden that way…