Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Spring Walks 1 - West Dean Gardens

Throughout 2014, I plan to use Wordless Wednesday to showcase some of our wonderful British gardens, starting today with West Dean in Sussex. For a full review of the gardens, click here.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Arundel Castle opens in a blaze of colour for annual Tulip Festival

The Collector Earl's Garden at Arundel Castle in full bloom at the annual Tulip Festival
A burst of sunny, spring weather and plenty of carefully-chosen bulbs guarantee that visitors to Arundel Castle will be met by a blaze of colour if they visit the Tulip Festival in the walled gardens this year. There will be some 15,000 tulips in bloom over the next few weeks and it's a spectacle worth seeing if you're in the vicinity. The bumper crop - planted over the winter months - is blooming early this year and will carry on through Easter and into May. 
Part of the charm of the gardens at Arundel is the setting within the castle grounds
Open from April to November every year, the gardens at this ducal property have been the subject of extensive redesign and renovation during the last 10 years, kicked off by the opening of the Collector Earl's Garden in 2008. Arundel is home to the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk and, whilst the castle is well-known for its beautifully-furnished public rooms and fine collection of paintings, the garden had new life breathed into it when they commissioned Isobel and Julian Bannerman (who also worked for the Prince of Wales at Highgrove) to carry out a major re-design.
Yew buttresses provide a focal point in the herbaceous borders at Arundel Castle
The Tulip Festival is a relatively new event at the castle and kicks off the garden season each year. Just one of the innovations introduced by head gardener - Martin Duncan - since he arrived here, together with the Stumpery (below), which was added in 2013. But each new addition in the garden is designed to draw a different kind of visitor into the castle grounds and this year for the first time, there is an annual pass available so that garden lovers can visit as often as they want for just £30. 
The Stumpery was added to to the gardens at Arundel Castle in 2013
The Bannerman's contribution - the Collector Earl's garden - forms the heart of the former walled kitchen garden, which once supplied all fruit and vegetables to the castle. It is named after Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel, who spent much of his life travelling and collecting valuable objects including paintings and portraits, many of which are now on view in the castle today. Predominant features here include a huge domed pergola, fountains, gateways and pavilions, all in green oak, plus a centrepiece of a mountain of rock planted with palms and rare ferns, and a selection of hot, tropical plantings in high summer.
Restored glasshouses sit at the heart of today's kitchen garden, housing exotic fruits and flowers
The glasshouses in the former kitchen have been fully restored and house a collection of fruit and exotic flowers in high summer, while the surrounding cut-flower garden (also redesigned in 2013) is planted to give good colour throughout the season, starting with spectacular displays of tulips for the annual festival in April and May. The organic Kitchen Garden in this same area provides some of the produce for the castle restaurant.
Arundel Castle was completely restored in the 19th century by the 15th Duke of Norfolk
Arundel Castle and grounds are open Tuesday- Sundays inclusive (plus Bank Holiday and all August Mondays) from 10.00-17.00, April to November. There is a tiered entrance price structure, depending on what you wish to see, but prices for the garden start at £9.00 for adults. Other notable gardens in the area include Denmans and West Dean.
And for one of the best spring gardens in the world, click here to see Keukenhof, Holland.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Keukenhof, Holland - the best spring garden in the world?

Keukenhof opens for just eight weeks each year - from mid-March to mid-May
Is Keukenhof the best spring garden in the world? I'm sure readers will have a view on this. I was lucky enough to visit last week and left with a dizzying array of images depicting the remarkable garden in southern Holland that draws visitors from all over the world. This horticultural mecca opens for just eight weeks each year, but is home to more than seven million bulbs - planted annually - which provide dazzling spring flower displays for the 800,000 visitors who make the pilgrimage to catch a glimpse of the eye candy on offer here between mid-March and mid-May.
More than seven million bulbs are planted annually at Keukenhof
Late March was a little too early to catch the tulips in full bloom, although there were obvious signs of what to expect in the next few weeks (above). But it didn't matter, because there were great swathes of narcissi and other spring bulbs, spectacular blossoms and signs of spring shrubs about to bloom, including azaleas and rhododendrons. But most impressive of all was the mingled fragrances of the flowering bulbs, notably the hyacinths and the vast array of colours throughout the park.
Keukenhof covers some 80 acres (32 hectares) in southern Holland and attracts 800,000 visitors annually
I had no idea what to expect when visiting Keukenhof. This park sits at the heart of Holland's flourishing floriculture industry between the towns of Lisse and Hillegom and I had been told that if you drive there, you will be astounded by the surrounding fields, which are home to the four billion tulip bulbs produced each year by the Dutch. And although the end of March was too early to see these in full bloom, my memories will be of the hyacinths, planted in immaculate rows, with a scent that carries for miles. (For further pictures, click here).
Keukenhof is redesigned annually and all bulbs planted to create new floral displays
Keukenhof covers some 80 acres (32 hectares) and is actually much more than a garden. It is a showcase for Dutch bulb growers, who collaborate to create an annual spring spectacle that draws visitors from all over the world. Bulbs are newly-planted every year and the bedding layout at the park is redesigned so that no spring display will ever be the same. In addition to the parkland, there are also four pavilions within the gardens, showcasing various flowers and plants, with changing themes throughout the two-month opening period.
The Willem-Alexander Pavilion at Keukenhof houses an amazing tulip exhibition this year
Most of us associate tulips with the Netherlands even though this popular flower did not originate there. Early records show that the tulip was first discovered in the Himalayas and introduced to Turkey by the Seljuks in the 11th century, where it is well documented in different decorative mediums including ceramics and paintings. Some 600 years later, Europe was seized by "tulip mania" as bulb collectors became willing to pay hugely inflated prices for the much-prized plant. 
Keukenhof has a constantly changing landscape during the two months it opens each year
Today the Netherlands is the world's largest producer of tulip bulbs, with a land surface area of some 10,000 hectares, providing 4.2 billion bulbs annually. Half of these are exported abroad to garden centres and the remainder leave the country as cut flowers. But it is only when you visit Keukenhof that you realise just how many varieties of tulip there are. There are already some 2,000 different cultivars available and new ones are added each year. 
Holland produces some 2,000 tulip cultivars, many of which are on display at Keukenhof
Keukenhof is open daily (08.00-19.30) from mid March to mid May every year. It is within easy reach of Amsterdam, which has excellent rail and flight connections to the rest of Europe, or accessible from any of the northern French channel ports by car. The drive from Dunkirk is less than three hours, thanks to an excellent highway system, and Calais is only slightly further away. Admission to the park is 15 Euros for adults and 7.50 for children (ages 4-11).

Friday, 4 April 2014

Floral Friday - spectacular spring bulb displays in Holland

Bulb fields around Keukenhof, Holland
Hyacinths as far as the eye can see at this time of year
The daffodils are nearly over, but the tulips are coming into bloom
Early morning eye candy at the heart of Holland's bulb country
Bulbs are one of Holland's main exports - April is the time to see them in full bloom
Early morning mist over the Dutch bulb fields
I've just returned from Holland, where I was lucky enough to visit Keukenhof and the bulb fields around Lisse - certainly one of the most spectacular sights I've seen yet in my travels. The daffodils (above) are coming to an end, but the hyacinths are now in bloom and the tulips are yet to come. Full report to follow.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Wander "lonely as a cloud" and enjoy spectacular daffodil displays at The Valley Gardens in Surrey

A "host of dancing daffodils" at The Valley Gardens, Surrey
If you really want to experience the long-awaited joys of spring and feast your eyes on an ocean of daffodils, head for The Valley Gardens in Surrey just as soon as you can, because you will really understand how the great poet, William Wordsworth, felt when he wrote the verse that immortalised this charming yellow flower:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of dancing daffodils
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze
The daffodil meadow there is fast coming into full bloom and you can spend a memorable afternoon walking through the 430 acres of parkland and enjoying all the spring flowers, including narcissi, heather and some spectacular magnolia blooms - all welcome sights after the incessant and torrential rain that has been such a feature of the last few months here in waterlogged Britain. 
Acres of daffodils in bloom overlooking Virginia Water in Windsor Great Park
The Valley Gardens are part of the Royal Landscape, and lie at the southern end of Windsor Great Park, near Virginia Water. You can park quite close to the daffodils if you get there early (parking costs £6.00 at the gate, but spaces are limited). Alternatively, head for the Savill Garden, and walk through to the daffodil meadow - it's not too far on a sunny day and you can enjoy the magnificent Heather Garden (below) en route. 
The Heather Garden, located close to the daffodil meadow in the Valley Garden
The Savill Garden forms part of Windsor Great Park, and is named after its creator, Eric Savill, who went to work for King George V in 1931, as Deputy Surveyor. He was a talented plantsman with a knowledge of farming and forestry, who set to work, and planted the seeds of the magnificent 35-acre garden that is there today. It's home to several National Plant Collections and forms part of "The Royal Landscape" - a clever catchphrase for all the surrounding areas, including The Valley Garden.
For other spectacular daffodil displays in southern England, click here. This year sees them flowering much earlier than last and you may want to check with individual gardens before travelling a long way to visit.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Thoughtful Thursday - Images from Rajasthan

Just home from Rajasthan in India, where I was lucky enough to see the opium poppies in full flower, many wonderful birds and glorious faces. And now it's time to catch up with our English gardens - after the wettest winter in recorded history, I fear there's going to be more than mud out there!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Kew Gardens' 2014 Orchid Festival brings a ray of sunshine to flooded Britain

Undaunted by the appalling weather conditions around the UK, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew has surpassed itself yet again with its annual Orchid Festival in the Princess Diana Conservatory, which opened this weekend. The annual exhibition - open until 9 March - brings a ray of sunshine amid the relentless storms here in Britain and gives visitors the chance to enjoy a floral spectacle that will warm their hearts.
The Orchid Festival has become an annual event at Kew and offers visitors the opportunity to walk among thousands of colourful flowers, imported specially for the month-long show.The theme for this year's exhibition is "A Plant Hunter's Paradise", with emphasis on plant hunting expeditions of the early 20th century and featuring dug-out canoes, travelling chests and equipment from days gone by, in one of Kew's magnificent glasshouses.
The exhibition is open daily from 9.30 until 9th March. Admission charges are £14.50 for adults, children 16 and under go free when accompanied by an adult. Members of the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire go free on presentation of membership cards.