Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Great Comp - a spectacular plantsman's garden in Kent

The gardens at Great Comp were created from seven acres of wilderness by former owner, Roderick Cameron
When you arrive at Great Comp and start walking around the seven acres of gardens, you'd be forgiven for thinking you've stumbled across an ancient site where the owner has made the most of the available landscape around crumbling Gothic ruins to create an unusual garden filled with interesting and rare plants. But the "ruins" were actually created over the years by late owner, Roderick Cameron and his wife and are a clever reconstruction of ironstone rubble found in the grounds of the house they bought nearly sixty years ago. 
When the Camerons moved there in 1957 there was little to see and certainly no garden to speak of - just four acres of land that was hugely overgrown. After 50 years of hard work and the acquisition of adjoining land, the result today is a stunning garden providing year-round interest, with some of the finest magnolias and rhododendrons anywhere in England in the spring, and a collection of salvias that attracts visitors from far and wide in the summer. The "ruins" add interesting focal points to a very personal garden and serve to protect some of the tender plants as well as providing unusual places for visitors to sit and reflect on the lovely garden around them.
Expect to see plenty of rhododendrons in bloom if you visit Great Comp in May
Part of the joy of this garden is its serenity and simplicity. It first opened to the public in July 1967 and remained open just a few days a year for the Gardens Scheme (forerunner of the NGS).  It is now open daily from April to October and because of the Cameron’s foresight in setting up a Charitable Trust, it will remain open, despite the death of its creator, Roderick Cameron in November 2009. Today Curator, William Dyson, who has been at Great Comp for two decades, manages the property and also runs a very fine nursery where you can buy many of the plants you see growing in the garden.  He exhibited at RHS Chelsea 2015 after a break of 11 years and came 3rd overall in the 'Plant of the Year Competition' with his newly-launched salvia 'Love and Wishes'.
The Italian Garden at Great Comp, created by Roderick Cameron from rubble found on site
Great Comp is a very enticing garden, with its many paths curving out of sight and large areas of informal planting. There's an impeccably mown lawn in front of the house, fringed with tall conifers, willows and oaks, and from here different paths lead off into areas of woodland. But everywhere you look there are splendid shrubs, underplanted with hostas, lilies and salvias, and you will find more than 3,000 different plants here as well as the heather and rose gardens, and an Italian Garden with its fine collection of Mediterranean plants. 
The garden is located near Sevenoaks in Kent and is open daily from 1st April until the end of October, from 11.00-17.00, as is William Dyson's nursery. Admission is £7.00 for adults. Events at Great Comp this year include The Changeling Open Air Theatre productions in July and The Summer Show in August, featuring many guest nurseries and unusual plants for sale. Other notable gardens nearby include Hever Castle and Titsey Place.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Artisan Gardens at RHS Chelsea 2015

Best Artisan Garden and Gold Medal: The Sculptor's Picnic Garden by Walker's Nurseries and
supported by Doncaster Deaf Trust
Breast Cancer Haven Garden supported by Nelsons - Gold Medal
Future Climate Info, A Trugmaker's Garden - Gold Medal
Edo Garden by Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory - Gold Medal
The Evaders Garden by Chorley Council - Silver-Gilt Medal
Brewers Yard by Welcome to Yorkshire - Silver Medal
The Old Forge for Motor Neurone Disease Association - Silver Medal
Runnymede Surrey Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Garden - Bronze Medal
If you're heading for RHS Chelsea this week, don't miss the Artisan Gardens, tucked away at the side of the show - they're a brilliant source of ideas for your own garden, with fantastic attention to detail. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 - Preview of The Show Gardens

The M&G Garden - The Retreat designed by Jo Thompson
Royal Bank of Canada Garden designed by Matthew Wilson
Sentebale - Hope in Vulnerability designed by Matt Keightley
Prince Harry reflecting in the Sentebale garden at RHS Chelsea this year
Cloudy Bay Garden, in association with Vital Earth designed by Harry and David Rich
Homebase Urban Retreat Garden in association with Macmillan Cancer Support designed by Adam Frost
The Beauty of Islam designed by Kamelia Bin Zaal
A Perfumier's Garden in Grasse designed by James Basson
The Telegraph Garden designed by Marcus Barnett
The Time In Between designed by Charlie Albone
The Hidden Beauty of Kranji designed by John Tan and Raymond Toh
Viking Ocean Cruises Garden designed by Alan Gardner
The Living Legacy Garden designed by Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam

The Brewin Dolphin Garden designed by Darren Hawkes Landscapes
Healthy Cities Garden designed by Chris Beardshaw
A glimpse of the Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden designed by Dan Pearson
Drizzle with outbursts of heavy rain was the order of the day at RHS Chelsea today, so apologies to my readers for some rather dark images. The 15 show gardens are featured here - in random order - all taken whilst dodging in and out of the rain and trying to get near enough to photograph them, as the show was already crowded at 7.00 am. But the good news is that the forecast is set to improve so many visitors to this years show may be lucky enough to see these gardens in sunshine later this week. When the medal winners are announced later today, I will add details.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Bluebell bonanza at Hole Park in Kent - catch them while you can!

The bluebell walk at Hole Park, Kent  is spectacular in April and May
When I glimpse rivers of blue in woodland glades, I know that spring is finally here. This year has seen bumper bluebell crops after an unusually mild winter and the dazzling blue flower is everywhere, basking in dappled sunshine - in verges at the side of the road and every available woodland space. But for a true spring spectacular with bluebells as far as the eye can see, head to one of Britain's best-kept garden secrets - Hole Park in Kent. 
Hole Park is surrounded by 15 acres of formal gardens
This family-run estate at the heart of the Kentish Weald has fine views over the surrounding countryside and one of the finest bluebell crops in the country. The woodland walk is spectacular in springtime, even though many of the azaleas and rhododendrons are yet to flower. And the formal gardens around the house, with 15 acres of immaculately-clipped topiary and green vistas will lift your spirits on any sunny summer day.
The season at Hole Park starts with dazzling displays of spring bulbs
Hole Park is undoubtedly one of the best spring gardens in the country. It opens its doors at the end of March and remains open every day until early June so that visitors can enjoy the spring spectacular, which starts with drifts of daffodils, meanders into a bluebell bonanza during April and May (they are early this year) and crescendoes with azaleas and rhododendrons throughout the woodland valley adjacent to the formal gardens. 
The formal gardens around the house are Italian in style, offset by immaculately-clipped topiary
Immaculately-trimmed yew hedges are another outstanding feature of this Italianate garden, with its fine views over the surrounding countryside. The garden has had time to mature because Hole Park has been in the same family for the last century. It was originally planted by the present owner's grandfather, Colonel Barham, between the two World Wars. Autumn brings another dazzling colour display when the leaves begin to turn.
Acres of bluebells are followed by stunning azalea and rhododendron displays
Walk through the woodland areas and you will be struck by the sounds of birdsong and the delicious smell of spring. And when the bluebells are over, there's still plenty to see and a striking colour palette because of the huge collection of azaleas and rhododendrons, which come into full bloom in May. This is when you will catch the magnificent wisteria in flower too, clinging to the long pergola at the heart of the formal gardens.
In high summer, it's the magnificent borders that give the garden interest, ranging from the tropical hot borders, with their fine vistas over the Kent countryside, to the semi-circular vineyard garden featuring wisteria and climbers. All set against a strong background of geometric topiary shapes, mellow brick walls, classical sculpture and stunning, champion trees, offset by acres of manicured lawns. There is also a water garden and a series of sheltered garden rooms adjacent to the house.
Hole Park is open every day from the end of March until the beginning of June, 11.00-18.00. Summer openings commence in early June, when the garden only opens on Wednesdays and Thursdays, through until the end of October, but with additional Sunday openings throughout October for the autumn colours. Admission is £7.00 for adults. Other notable gardens nearby include Great Dixter and Sissinghurst.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Andromeda Botanic Gardens, Barbados

Welcome to Andromeda Botanic Gardens in Barbados ... a tropical plant paradise
Andromeda was established by Iris Bannochie around her home in St Joseph, Barbados
Follow John's Path through the gardens and discover a world of tropical plants
Iris Bannochie, Barbados' leading horticulturalist, was awarded the Veitch Medal by the RHS in 1977
Iris Bannochie bequeathed Andromeda to the Barbados National Trust in 1988
The gardens are named after the Greek goddess, Andromeda and are tethered to Barbados' coral stone rock

The gardens are an excellent showcase for the island's many exotic trees and plants
Andromeda Gardens are open daily from 9.00 to 17.00

Friday, 24 April 2015

"Must See" British gardens - Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

The Rill Garden at Wollerton Old Hall 
Wollerton Old Hall, near Shrewsbury is definitely a garden to visit this year if you can. This unusual four-acre property is a credit to its owners, Lesley and John Jenkins, who bought the house nearly 30 years ago and have created an Arts & Crafts style landscape here in a series of garden rooms surrounding a house that in part dates back many centuries.  But you will have to plan your visit carefully because the garden is only open two days a week - on Friday and Sunday afternoons from 12.00-17.00 - from Easter until the end of September (Fridays only in September), plus Bank Holiday Mondays.
The gardens at Wollerton Old Hall are set around a Grade II listed 16th century house (not open to the public)
Lesley Jenkins spent part of her childhood here when her parents originally owned the property, but they eventually sold up and moved away and when she and her husband John bought it back in 1984, there was a very different garden to the one you see today. Lesley studied Fine Art and has created a landscape with strong architectural lines and colour schemes within a framework of garden rooms that run across three north-south and three east-west axes, allowing striking glimpses of what is beyond. Hedging and paving play an important role in drawing your eye through this garden.
A visit to Wollerton Old Hall in the spring will allow you to see the structure of the garden
I visited in May, but have spoken to colleagues who have gone later in the season and am assured that Wollerton retains its interest throughout the open period because of its imaginative planting. Clipped yew, box and a variety of shrubs give strong structure to the various different garden rooms and the borders are planted with many different perennials that come into flower throughout the season. 
May was a little too early to enjoy some of the garden rooms at their best, but there were plenty of spring bulbs in bloom and with the promise of summer soon, the chance to see the bare bones of this charming garden with all its walls and gates. What really struck me was the vast array of different greens in the spring palette here and the chance to see the promise of what's to come later in the season. So this year, I'm determined to return to Wollerton throughout the open period, as I head to more properties in the north of England and further afield in Scotland, in my quest for new gardens.
The full-time head gardener at Wollerton Old Hall is Andrew Humphris, who worked before at nearby Biddulph Grange. He is helped by part-time gardeners and a team of volunteers. There is also a nursery, stocked with many of the unusual perennials you see in situ here. I left there with a car load of healthy plants which look wonderful at home. Located near Shrewsbury and Market Drayton, there are many other stunning gardens nearby including the Dorothy Clive Garden, and, a little further afield some of the gardens in Herefordshire.
Wollerton Old Hall is a sea of green in springtime
Part of the joy of spring in any garden is the startling array of green you see and Wollerton is no exception, although Lesley and John Jenkins have drawn on their plantsman expertise to ensure that both colour and structure appear throughout the garden whenever you visit. And once you reach high summer, the palette here is very different, with magnificent "hot" borders. 
There is also a series of lectures and classes available at Wollerton throughout the season, giving participants the chance to have a private view of the garden. For further details click on the link.