In mid-May, I spent an enjoyable day visiting the Dorothy Clive Garden in Wiloughbridge, Staffordshire. Set on a hillside the 12 acres of garden are well worth a visit and will provide a leisurely work-out as you meander up and down the hillside exploring the pathways. Run by a charitable trust the gardens aims are to maintain and develop the gardens in the memory of the late Dorothy Clive and to promote horticultural education.
The original gardens were developed by Dorothy's husband to provide her with somewhere interesting and beautiful to walk: walking and exercise were the 1940s prescription for Parkinson sufferers.
There are many more areas to explore including a waterfall, pool, gravel garden and two new developments include an edible forest garden and winter garden. Anyone fancy Shuttlecock fern shoots and Dahlia tuber mash for supper? Both areas are on my list for a re-visit later in the year.
Although the garden is large, it has lots of smaller areas and is full of ideas to take home. It shows just how important it is to create surprise and a sense of journey within a garden - whatever the size. Meandering paths and strategic placing of shrubs leads you on to explore and prevents you seeing everything in one quick glance. A lot of the paths are generous, wide swathes of grass - we often forget that grass can be used this way and doesn't always have to be the traditional lawn.
The final praise must go to the tea room which serves scones to die for- freshly baked and delicious. This has to be the perfect destination for National Cream Tea Day (yes there really is one) on the 26th June- yum yum....
The highlights in spring include an amazing array of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias in every colour available. They all sit within the woodland garden, created within an old quarry and with its own gentle micro-climate thanks to the canopy of mature trees. These shrubs are not my favourites for small domestic gardens, as to me they seem dull and 'heavy' for the majority of the year but even I had to admit that the blaze of colour was fabulous. They really come into their own in a large garden and the woodland setting provides them with the perfect backdrop. I did fall in love with this delicious Magnolia 'Lemon Drop'.
We were given an excellent guided tour of the garden highlights by knowledgeable gardener Zdenek Valkoun-Walker, who also looks after the bee hives in the gardens orchard. Zdenek is in charge of the beautiful seasonal borders and garden areas which tumble down the hillside. Although the tulips were beginning to turn they still provided a colourful display hovering above a forget-me-not sea. This type of bedding scheme would be very labour intensive at home but incorporating some later flowering perennials to take over after the spring flowers have finished would prolong the display. Forget-me-nots will seed quite happily everywhere, so make sure you really do like them before you bring them into your garden.
Another seasonal highlight is the Laburnum Arch, which was just starting to come into flower when we visited. This is a great way to grow this cheerful tree and it will provide you with a stunning display each spring. The seed pods are poisonous but then so are many other plants so don't cross it off your plant list too hastily. The arch is underplanted with box balls which create a sense of rhythm and draw the eye along the path. Intermingled are alliums, about to burst into flower and contrast beautifully with the sunshine yellow of the Laburnums. On our visit there were just hints of yellow and the arch created a cool, green retreat on a very sunny day.
In my October 2014 blog I talked about a design I had done for a client with a small enclosed garden. Last week I was invited back to see how it was progressing and spent a lovely afternoon chatting with Val, the owner, drinking tea and soaking up some sunshine. It really makes my job worthwhile to visit a client and see them enjoying their new garden. The garden was only planted last summer but is already beginning to fill out and mature. The climbers are doing very well and beginning to create the desired sense of enclosure around the bench. Last October the water feature felt very prominent and exposed but this summer is surrounded by a climbing rose, just as we wanted.
A number of garden used floating surfaces- both Alan Gardener and Matthew Wilson had floating decks and Tatyana Shynkarenko's Thinking of Peace garden appeared to be floating on water. This is something which can be replicated at home and shows us again that changes in level, pre-existing or created, add interest to any garden or outside space.
One of my favourite gardens was Marcus Barnett's Mondrian inspired design, with its simple blocks of colour and texture. I also like the effect of the industrial tram lines in the Rich' brothers garden, these created a sense of movement and strong lines we could all copy even if we can't stretch to a moving summerhouse. The planting within the tramlines also shows that applying a little thought allows even trafficked areas to be green - something we should all emulate when turning gardens into driveways and parking spaces.
In contrast to gardens inspired by art and architectural movements, it was interesting to see those drawing on very personal stories and experiences from Charlie Albone's The Time Inbetween about the loss of his father to Kamelia Bin Zaal's Beauty of Islam. When designing gardens for clients, it is sometimes personal events or stories which can provide the inspiration - maybe certain plants remembered from childhood or a favourite place.
In terms of planting it was a pleasure to see greater variation both in terms of planting style and the plants themselves. Anthriscus sylvestris or Cow Parsley seems to have left centre stage having been almost compulsory at one time and although Lupins and Irises continue to prove popular with most designers, no single plant was dominating the show. There also seems to be a growing acceptance that naturalistic planting is aesthetically acceptable and worthy of display - although the Chelsea version of naturalistic is obviously staged and manicured . James Basson's Perfumers Garden aimed to show us all that imperfection and simplicity can be beautiful but then the attention to detail and design involved created a perfect interpretation of imperfection - maybe we should simply accept that as the Chelsea paradox. I'm not sure that this is something easily created and maintained at home, although I sometimes have 'perfect moments'' on my naturalistic allotment when the buttercups and strawberry flowers are beautifully intermingled, less-than-perfect moments are a more common experience : )
It's always interesting to see what themes emerge each year from the collective subconscious of Chelsea' designers. This year it was refreshing to see more variety across the main show gardens than we have had in the last year or so. Although there did seem to be a shared fondness for slate which was the dominant hard-landscaping material for several designers from Darren Hawkes 41,000 beautifully crafted slate pieces to the slabs and chippings used by Sean Murray, winner of the BBC Chelsea Challenge.
I wasn't able to go to Chelsea this year but when I have visited in the past, it is surprising how different gardens can appear in reality compared to viewing them on television. However I certainly didn't miss the crowds and if you haven't had chance to do Chelsea yet then its still available on iplayer. There are some excellent mini-tours of the main show gardens by Tony Buckland and Ann Marie Powell as part of the voting run-up to the People's Choice. I think I might just go and re-watch them now with a cup of tea...
The garden is full of meandering paths with a mix of quiet, secluded corners and more open spaces. Dotted throughout are metal sculptures, some practical and some purely decorative. It has been voted 'Most Romantic Garden' and I can fully understand why when wandering through the Grass Garden, Fernery and around the lake and within the woodland areas. The garden is managed organically and is brimming with wildlife.
Ros' ethos is one of ordered chaos and the success of her approach is evident in managing to maintain and continue to develop such a beautiful garden with only a small amount of part-time help. It reminds you that if a plant is happy in its space it will fight off most pests and disease without much if any intervention from us.
I have been quite slow in sitting down to write this blog but sat here today thinking back to Moors Meadow provides a joyful contrast to the studied artifice, primping and perfectionism that goes into a Chelsea Garden.
Another discovery for me was Syringa lanciniata or cut-leaf lilac. I haven't come across this variety of lilac before and am surprised that it isn't available more widely. It has dark, daintily dissected leaves which will make it an attractive garden addition throughout the summer and the scent is just how it should be. I have a sentimental fondness for the much more common lilac, Syringa vulgaris, but it's a very uninteresting shrub for such a short flowering season.
As it was still quite early in the season many perennials were yet to strut their stuff but the garden was still full of interest. We all drooled over the sumptuous array of hellebores and there was an abundance of blossom and other spring jewels such as trilliums and lamprocapnus (dicentra in old money). There was one particular Lamprocapnos which was new to me and now on my wish-list, with dark green foliage and a much richer, deeper pink flower than many of the varieties easily available. Having squinted and peered across the web, I am fairly sure it was 'Bacchanal'.
A couple of weeks ago I met up with some of my old college friends for one of our regular garden visits. We all travelled into Pershore College from different directions and so we now have a good excuse to visit each others patch and discover new gardens a little further from home than we might usually travel. Aprils visit was to Moors Meadow near Bromyard in deepest Herefordshire.
The garden doesn't have regular opening hours anymore but they are still happy to welcome visitors, you just need to ring or email in advance. If there are enough of you (we were 8) you can also arrange a tour around the garden with Head Gardener Ros Bissell. The garden was started by Ros' parents in 1955 and has steadily grown from a small patch around the house to fill 7 acres. Its a very informal garden and definitely one for the plantaholics amongst us. Ros provided an entertaining, relaxed and very knowledgeable tour of the garden and we completely forgot the cold and blustery weather during our 90 minute expedition. This is not a garden for those who like things neat, clipped and in their place. It is very much a naturalistic garden which flows with the contours of the landscape and the owners whims and passions for particular plants and their relations.