Saturday, May 31, 2008

Coast views and countryside

A wonderful stretch of downland and chalk coastal bluffs is preserved by the National Trust between Seaford and Eastbourne, on the Sussex coast. It's surrounded by seaside sprawl (and heavy traffic) in the surrounding large towns (Newhaven, Hastings, Bexhill by the Sea, and Brighton).

It reminded me of Pt. Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco, California, a place that I knew well years ago, with grazing land combined with spectacular coast scenery.

Clearly, it was a favorite place for walkers, because of the views and open space. On a Saturday morning at 10am, people were streaming in, with knapsacks and walking sticks at hand.

It certainly underscores to me the need for preserving natural places, whether natural gardens or spectacular scenery.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Creating gardens

I'm fascinated about how people create gardens that please them. We have different tastes in colors, color combinations, whether our gardens attract wildlife, focus on natives, or some other passion. I'm firmly in the 'creating gardens that mimic nature' side of things, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the exotic and unusual in other people's gardens, even if I think, I'd never plant that!

I'm also interested in how gardens change. I listened to a lecture program coming over to England, I think from the RHS, that I had downloaded (to my iPod), with Sir Roy Strong and Fergus Garrett talking about whether you can preserve a garden that has a personal imprint of the gardener. Roy Strong clearly was of the opinion that change (often radical) was good, reflecting on how he'd changed his house and garden after losing his wife, who had created the garden with him. But I had the sense that he and his wife had been of differing tastes, when it came to both their house and garden, and he was taking the opportunity now to create the (house) and garden that he was most pleased with.

Fergus Garrett, on the other hand, entrusted by Christopher Lloyd (he's been the Head Gardener for some years) to preserve Great Dixter for the future, would like the garden to continue to reflect the experimentation and approach that Lloyd espoused. And, since he worked so closely with Christopher Lloyd, and there are detailed succession planting plans, I'd imagine that the garden will continue to be fascinating.

After all, a National Trust Garden such as Sissinghurst has evolved in terms of the plants that are used, and is still a very vibrant garden.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

An amazing array of gardens and plants

The songs of birds and diversity of bees are constants in the gardens in Southern England I've been visiting. It's notable, particularly since even though England is a lovely place, it's not unusually species-rich in terms of natives. So gardens, regardless of whatever plants are there, are often quite rich places for harboring an array of wildlife, simply because of the diversity.

A biologist at the University of Sheffield (a fellow whose name escapes me at the moment) wrote a really interesting little book about wildlife in English gardens called something like An Ear to the Ground - basically, his studies had found that diversity of habitats and plants was a key to wildlife diversity in English garden, regardless of origin of plants, and had all sorts of examples of native wildlife using non-native plants.

Certainly, I can believe that in terms of bees -- there are a LOT of different bees visiting flowers in these gardens.

The mild climate here means they can grow all sorts of things, and mix up plants in beds in a way that definitely wouldn't work in the Southeastern U.S.

But what is such fun about gardening here is how fervently it's practiced as a 'hobby'. The nursery/gardens I've visited have been outstanding -- a striking array of plants and unusual species -- also offered for sale, but all arranged and labeled by scientific names, and not common names. It took me awhile to notice this -- at the big public gardens, usually both appear, and I'm accustomed to scientific names.

The nursery/gardens that I've visited in the last couple of days -- Iden Croft, Merriment's Garden, and Beth Chatto's Garden -- have had imaginative gardens along with their nursery plants for sale. And all have been packed with visitors and buyers, in spite of what I would consider inclement weather.

And, they start early. This little boy was fascinated by the bright pink Armeria maritima.

But all this diversity takes a LOT of work....

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Herbs and unusual plants!

I've always enjoyed herbs in my garden, largely because their flowers are visited by insects, but also because they're fun to use in containers, mix in borders, and use in cooking (sometimes...)

Iden Croft Herb Nursery in Kent was listed in the Good Gardens Guide as being exceptional, both for the range of their plants for sale, but also for their gardens.

Arriving with rain threatening, and a cool breeze blowing, it looked like any other nursery. But when I started looking at the plants, I realized that this was really something more.

Unusual plants of all sorts, but the herbs were amazing. It's a good thing I can't buy plants here!

Too many of these plants would be going home with me.

Happily, the rain held off and I was able to take a few pictures.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A bee party

I think (after discussing this with my gardening companion - long distance) that there must be more common bumblebee species here than at home. I'll have to do more research, but my gardening companion (who studied pollination biology) suggests that the cooler climate here in England would favor more bumblebees, who can fly at lower temperatures, relative to butterflies and other insects. I have seen a few wasp-like flower visitors, but primarily a remarkable array (to me) of bumblebees, in addition to honeybees.

Regardless, I've been having a field day observing and taking pictures of them!

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A great variety of bees

I've enjoyed watching some impressive bees visiting flowers-- large golden-striped bumblebees, smaller bees with different markings, and honeybees.

I've only seen a single butterfly, and that from a distance-- it looked like a cabbage white.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

The National Gardens Scheme

The three gardens I visited yesterday were open on the NGS (National Garden Scheme) -- a remarkable organization that promotes openings of private and public gardens for charity, usually one to several days a year. The selection process guarantees that the gardens are all visit-worthy.

They're published in an annual "Yellow Book" with garden descriptions and opening times. People clearly choose times good for their gardens, but they're usually on Saturdays, Sundays, or Bank Holiday Mondays.

Looking at the maps of the different areas of the UK, and the numbers and densities of these gardens open on the NGS scheme is impressive -- it's a remarkable initiative, and raises a great deal of money for specific charities.

The first I visited was Gardener's Cottage, the private garden of the Head Gardener for West Dean Gardens and his wife, also a professional gardener. It was breathtaking, really, in how compact and spectacular it was, and almost impossible to reflect in photos. It was intensively planted, with just a small circle of grass, part given over to a wildflower meadow.

The garden visitors were fascinating, too -- they were obviously all keen gardeners, as it was threatening to rain, and their talk was of various aspects of the garden.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sussex countryside

I took the advice of the friendly woman in the tourist information office who recommended a B&B (a former hotel) in the South Downs countryside, about 6 miles outside Chichester.

The Woodstock House Hotel turned out to be in a lovely village, with a perfect courtyard garden, and next door to an excellent pub/restaurant (where a groom's party was having a pre-wedding pint and lunch).

There are interesting gardens and nature reserves to visit nearby, so it's an excellent location for touring, since I'm hardly needing to walk around town in the evening!

Much more to my interest is poking around country lanes looking at gardens and landscapes.

Having a small cozy single, with a window overlooking the garden, and a place to sit for late afternoon planning time - I'm grateful to have such a delightful opportunity.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Denmans Garden

Driving through rolling hills and countryside on the way to Chichester, I made my way to Denmans Garden, created by an influential British garden designer.

It's an exuberant, not restful, garden, as his style is to let many plants self-seed in the beds, and then edit them out.

So lots of interesting combinations occur -- some pleasing, some pretty unusual, depending on your taste!

I admired a wall covered in small climbing roses, clematis, and several things I didn't recognize.

Denman's use of foliage contrasts is striking. But even better, I liked the technique of letting the lawn be a meadow with a mowed edge and path system, so that layers of grass become part of the landscape.

Lots of the same Allium and Euphorbia spp. that I admired at Wisley were mixed with a large purple native geranium and catmint.

An amazingly diverse border was remarkable.

And the attached nursery was quite interesting, with a wonderful array of plants. A Russian (I think) visitor was asking determinedly in Russian (or whatever Eastern European language she spoke) about the hardiness of a Lobelia fulgida of a bemused nursery staff person. I made an 'educated' guess that she was asking about hardiness based on her mention of centigrade and winter, and 'translated' that. The nursery person asked how I knew what she was asking, and I said I guessed based on practice!

Traveling in many places does help one's ability to 'interprete' things.... I know Lobelia from the wonderful native species that we have in the SE United States, which didn't seem to me like they would be hardy in winter in extreme climates, and he confirmed that for this species. She seemed crestfallen, but then returned to take a pot, and said something about bringing it inside in the winter. And this for a plant that only had leaves, somewhat scruffy, at that.

(Just a note: for these posts, I've kept the image size a bit larger, so if you want to click on them, you'll see a larger and nicer version, not that photos are really able to convery the essence of these gardens.)

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Friday, May 23, 2008

RHS Wisley

A gardening friend of mine told me that RHS Wisley was her favorite English garden. I can see why.

Somehow they manage to include 'everything' anyone could want in a garden-- interesting plants (especially species, not cultivars), fabulous design, huge old trees in a beautiful landscape, demonstration vegetable gardens, fantastic borders, etc. set in a backdrop of lovely old buildings.

It helps that it must be at least 800 acres, plus some huge amount of backup greenhouses & nursery beds. I was thankful that I took a couple of extra memory cards with me -- and was glad that I have a new 4 GB card, too. I had thought I might visit another garden or two, but spent the entire day at Wisley. Here are just a few images until I get them sorted out.

Their 'plant centre' for sales was truly amazing -- just imagine the most comprehensive and fascinating nursery you've ever been in, and multiply it by two. It was full of all sorts of interesting plants, including vegetables, and also included seeds. It was a good thing that I'm a traveler.

What was especially fun was running across so many of 'our' North American plants tucked in various places. There was an oakleaf hydrangea out in full sun in a border, a coral honeysuckle planted on a building wall, Yucca filamentosa, agaves, an unusual dwarf Juniperus virginiana labelled 'Grey owl' and a cultivar of Magnolia grandiflora called 'Charles Dickens' among many others.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Nymans: a National Trust House and Garden

My first garden visit was close to my lodging (perfect for an arrival day visit!) Nymans, a National Trust garden, is an 'estate' garden founded by a wealthy family who were also keen plant collectors.

Nyman's not really a garden for planting 'ideas,' but one to enjoy walking in, and to see the viewscapes, landscapes, and historic plantings. There were lots of visitors today -- mostly 'older' British folks, I think, although I did chat with a 'younger' American who'd lived in Britain for almost 19 years, working for US-based airline companies.

There's an interesting assortment of very old and impressive trees, lots of rhododendrons and azaleas in flower this time of year, coming from all sorts of places in Asia and the Southeastern U.S.

To me, the rhododendrons and azaleas are quite familiar, since we have our natives and the Asian species flourish as well, but they're particularly happy in the buffered climate of Southern England as they're large and floriferous.

These familiar plants were punctuated by unusual plants, a Chilean firebush in full flower, a woody Echium with a tremendously tall inflorescence, Euphorbias, and clearly prized old Wisteria vines and a (big for England) Southern Magnolia.

There were some lovely borders with Iris, Allium, and Salvias, mixed with cardoon, catmint, a stout lupine, lambs ear, and Aquilegias.

The views into the surrounding countryside were lovely, focused on long viewing distances that pull your view forward. The surrounding woods (almost 300 acres) encompasses some Areas of Special Interest and harbors rare plants in the understory of the woods.

And an old dovecote still harbors beautiful white doves.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Visiting English gardens

Leaving home for a couple of weeks, especially at such a nice time of the year in our garden, comes with a few mixed feelings. Everything is green and lush – before summer’s heat starts to crisp things around the edges.

The vegetable plants and tomatillo and eggplant seedlings are doing well, young potatoes are forming (I harvested a few early ones), and the squash plants are looking good.

But it’s also a wonderful time to visit English gardens in their late spring stages; my only previous trip (during the growing season) was in September, also a wonderful time, but a different flowering palette. I’m planning to visit Great Dixter and Sissinghurst again, but am also looking forward to visiting RHS Wisley, West Dean, Beth Chatto’s garden, Nymans, Mrs. Mitchell’s Kitchen and Gardens, Munstead Wood, Downderry Nursery, Iden Croft Herbs, and Chelsea Physic Garden, in addition to as many on the National Gardens scheme that are open while I’m there.

So my sense of anticipation has been building as I finished my last work responsibilities and had time to start planning the details of my garden-visiting schedule (I’m DEFINITELY still working on that – there's been plenty of time in airports and on planes – and I'll being doing lots of planning while traveling). I listened to a podcast from BBC Gardens Illustrated driving to the Atlanta airport, just downloaded yesterday; it was a fascinating program about making a garden, a joint lecture by Fergus Garrett (Christopher Lloyd’s head gardener at Great Dixter) and Sir Roy Strong, sponsored by the Museum of Garden History in London.

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