Thursday, 9 April 2015

Heatherwick's head-turning glasshouses at Bombay Sapphire's new Hampshire distillery

Thomas Heatherwick's unique glasshouses at the Bombay Sapphire distillery in Hampshire
Thomas Heatherwick - the designer and architect responsible for the sleek and curvy, new red London Routemaster bus and the promised Garden Bridge set to span the River Thames – is no newcomer to the headlines these days. But now you can see another fine example of his innovative designs at the recently-opened Bombay Sapphire distillery in Hampshire, where you will find a bespoke glasshouse complex that will really set you thinking because of its incredible shape and sense of unity with its surroundings.
The Heathwick glasshouses display the 10 different plant species used in the gin production process
Nestled on the banks of the River Test in Hampshire in the apparently sleepy village of Laverstoke, the two Heatherwick glasshouses are home to a range of both tropical and Mediterranean plants used in the distillation of Bombay Sapphire gin. Heatherwick is responsible not just for the spectacular curvature of the gigantic modern greenhouses, but also the conversion and restoration of 23 existing buildings on the site that were formerly a paper mill. Nothing is wasted here and the heat generated by the distillery process is used the warm the glasshouses.
Heatherwick's glasshouse design incorporates more than 1.25 kilometres of stainless steel frames
The glasshouses are a valuable addition to the site and form part of a slick marketing operation to promote the gin that sells in bright blue glass. And, when I visited at the weekend, I couldn't have asked for better weather because the sky matched the colour of the distinctive Bombay Sapphire bottle. The brand owner - Bacardi - has had the sense to turn their main UK gin distillery into a tourist attraction where visitors are offered the chance to see how gin is made; taken on a whirlwind tour of the ingredients used; and then asked to savour the smell of the various botanicals involved, so they can have a tailor-made gin-based cocktail in the bar at the end of their visit before returning to the real world. 
    Garden visitors will immediately recognise the appeal of Heatherwick's glasshouses even if they aren't gin drinkers. They are quite spectacular, with their riverside location and the extraordinary shapes used in their construction. If you check out the Heatherwick website, you will see that: "The finished built structures are made from 893 individually-shaped, two-dimensionally curved glass pieces held within more than 1.25 kilometres of bronze-finished stainless steel frames. In their entirety the glasshouses are made from more than 10,000 bespoke components."

Heatherwick currently sits at the centre of an ongoing argument about the practicalities of his Garden Bridge project, which received the green light from Westminster Council just before Christmas last year. At an estimated cost of £1.75 million, the bridge has been equated to the High Line garden project in New York City, in terms of its visitor appeal, but battles continue to rage about its both its cost and practicality. 
The Bombay Sapphire distillery opened to the public last year and is certainly worth a visit even if gin isn't your tipple. Your entrance fee (£15.00) includes a tour of the site and affords you the opportunity to ogle at the extraordinary Heatherwick glasshouses, as well as a chance to taste the gin that is made there. And of course, there are many other gardens nearby including the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens at Romsey, West Green House garden and, as summer progresses, Mottisfont Abbey - famous for its roses.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Visit Vann this week if you can and see the Gertrude Jekyll water garden

Time to reflect at Vann - the listed house seen through a glass ball in the garden
Vann dates back to 1546, but was restored and renovated in Arts & Crafts style by W.D. Caroe
Now is a good time to see the structure of the Arts & Crafts pergola
The woodland walk and water garden in March
Fritillaries in flower in the water garden
A fine example of a "crinkle-crankle" wall in the garden
Late-spring flowering (May) at Vann
The water garden in early June
June at Vann ... a mass of flowers in bloom
Vann is near Godalming in Surrey and is open every day this week for the NGS until Sunday - 10.00-18.00. From next week it is open every Wednesday to visitors (10.00-18.00). Admission is £6.00. For a full review and more pictures click here.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Spring is in the air - great British gardens open their doors around the country this weekend

With less than a week to go before the clocks change - they go forward an hour on 29 March - there are definite signs of spring in gardens everywhere. There are daffodils in flower all over the country, blossom blooming and trees and shrubs are showing signs of spring growth as more green shoots emerge into the sunlight each day. After the many months of winter, this is a wonderful time to go garden visiting and many great gardens open their doors this weekend.
Great Dixter opens this weekend with its Spring Plant Fair on 28 and 29 March
Great Dixter throws open its doors this weekend with its Spring Plant Fair on Saturday and Sunday (28 and 29 March, 11.00-16.00 both days). Always worth a visit, but plant lovers will find many special treats at the fair this weekend and, if the weather's good, you might want to drop in at Emmetts Garden or take a detour to Godinton House in Kent to see the magnificent displays of daffodils and other spring flowers in bloom.
Daffodils as far as the eye can see at the Valley Gardens
Closer to London head to Valley Gardens, part of the Royal Landscape, to witness daffodils as far as the eye can see (above), or plan a visit to the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex where there is already plenty in bloom and some magnificent spring blossoms.
Blossom blooming at the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex
Vann also opens its doors for the season this weekend for a week of spring joy, with the garden open every day from 29 March to 4 April (10.00-18.00) and after that you can still visit this lovely garden on any Wednesday until July.
You'll find incredible magnolia displays at Borde Hill in West Sussex in springtime
Heading towards the south coast you've got a trio of magnificent spring gardens - all visitable in a day and each unique in its own way - Borde Hill, High Beeches and Nymans The magnolias at the first two will bowl you over if you visit soon! But wherever you visit this spring, part of the joy is the fact that winter is finally behind us. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Wordless Wednesday - the Guggenheim Garden in Venice

What better to do on a rainy day in Venice than visit one of the few green spaces in this magical city at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection on the Grand Canal? And this is what you'll see ... 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

A winter walk at West Dean Gardens - snowdrops, aconites and a sea of crocuses

West Dean sits at the heart of the Sussex Downs amid acres of rolling countryside

Best seen in winter - the bare bones of the pergola
February is not an easy month to find gardens to visit and although many National Trust properties remain open throughout the winter months, offering wonderful opportunities to stride out across open countryside, it was a real joy to visit West Dean Gardens in Sussex this week, to see the structure of this stunning garden so early in the season. Of course the weather helped and I was lucky enough to have clear blue skies (with an ice-cold wind), but the early signs of spring warmed my heart and there were magnificent displays of snowdrops, aconites and best of all - an ocean of crocuses in the walled garden.
West Dean opened its doors again at the beginning of the month and is open daily in February from 10.30-16.00. Longer hours later in the season.
Snowdrop lovers won't be disappointed if they stride out here, and there are many other gardens with white gold currently in bloom - click here for details.
Other notable winter gardens in England can be found through this link. The daffodils are also beginning to show their heads in Southern England and the birds are beginning to sing in the mornings, so perhaps spring is not so far away.
February is a good month to see structural details at West Dean Gardens

West Dean's famed walled garden is immaculate and ready for spring

Don't miss the sea of crocuses on display in West Dean's walled garden ...

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Alluring Orchids at Kew - catch them while you can!

Catch the "Alluring Orchids" display at Kew Gardens while you can. On until 8th March in the Princess Diana Conservatory, there are also three more late opening sessions on Thursdays (pre-booking necessary, see Kew website for details) and workshop and orchid nursery tours. You'll also have the chance to see early signs of spring in the rest of the gardens.