Monday, October 31, 2011

Great Dixter

It is hard to know where to start when writing and thinking about Great Dixter. This garden has been written about and photographed extensively and I have poured over books on this garden and listened to other gardeners talk about their experience visiting and working in this garden. I had even heard Fergus Garrett, the head gardener, with all his energy and exuberance, give a talk on the gardens at Great Dixter.  I was fully prepared to be exceptionally impressed. The garden was beautiful, innovative and challenging, but nothing can prepare you for the way a place feels. There was an undercurrent of energy, a life force; gardeners seemed to be running in their work, plants seemed to be growing taller, smarter, with more gusto, and I have never seen more stunningly beautiful weeds. Upon arrival we found Fergus Garrett hard at work shoveling soil into a smoking, clunking, banging sterilizing machine happily making Great Dixter's own potting mix. He said a cheery hello and ushered us through a gate pointing us in the direction of the tropical garden, and so begins the tour....

This is a view looking down on the tropical garden from the house. None of the photographs I took inside that garden do it any justice; it was a jungle of mammoth plants in a fascinating textural array of foliage and unusual flowers. Immediately one must give up any hope of identifying plants, there are no tags and there are just too many to try and sort it out. I enjoyed it immensely, I was able to really enjoy the overflowing tangle of plants, all humming along in the great garden! We couldn't have seen it a moment later as the threat of frost was in the air and soon all these gems would be dug and put safely under glass. This garden was a originally a rose garden until Christopher Lloyd wanted a change. The idea of change permeates the place, plants are constantly rearranged in order to try new combinations and to showcase certain plants at different times of year.

Aster latiflorus var. horizontalis lining the pathway.

A wall of Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' made into a hedge of sorts. Instead of the deep black green of the yews, which I love, it is a hedge of bright bleached light.

A interesting cross section of greenery.

The structure of the upward, snaking, see- through Salvia was such a contrast in shape and form.

As we all sat on a bench we were confronted with this dense wall of plant material, with colors hanging together perfectly. The orange red of Tagetes 'Cinnabar,' in tune with the distant tip of the lime green Caltalpa, the deep green of the pillared juniper, the snowy silvery seed heads of the Anaphalis and the bronze purple of the stately fennel.

And this beautiful garden? It is a holding bed!

And now the much photographed Mixed Border. It is a spectacular sight, very deep and bursting full of wonderful plant combinations that are constantly on the move. In this moment, I couldn't imagine it any other way! In the foreground is the well respected Teasel, a self seeder, that is left to spring up at the edges of things. Its vertical structure, rusty golden hue, and outrageous seed heads give so much shape and spontaneity to the gardens.

These giant cardoons, with their big floppy seedheads, loom large in the back of the border. In this light the yew hedge picks up the shadows of these top heavy characters.

Last stop on the tour was the Sunken Garden glowing in the low, heady light. 

I recently came across a video of Christopher Lloyd and Rosemary Verey wandering through Great Dixter discussing plants and ideas. A wonderful picture of the garden and two amazing gardeners.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Plants at Sissinghurst

 Cobea scandens 'Alba'

It was remarkable just how many plants were flowering this late October in England, particularly amazing today when I look out at the snowy world of Vermont. With the warm dry fall in England, many of these plants were coming around for a second bloom at the end of the season. The above plant is blooming as it always does, at the very tail end of the season before frost.

Smilacina stellata seen fruited up in the woodland walk.

Leonotis nepetafolia 'Staircase'
There were even some eager bees burrowing themselves in this late summer flower.

Tropaeolum tuberosum 'Ken Aslet' scrambling up the yew pillars.

Incarvillea sinensis 'Cheron'

Clematis 'Mrs Cholmondeley'


Filipendula palmata 'Elegantissima'
I loved the foliage on this plant!

Scampering up the tower wall was this lovely, yellow, fragrant, climbing rose called 'Mermaid.'

Alogyne huegelii 'Santa Cruz'
Just as we were leaving we passed the pots at the front gate and this flower almost knocked me over!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sissinghurst Castle

I think it is sometimes hard to live up to a reputation, but Sissinghurst had no trouble! I have seen many photographs of this garden, but nothing is quite like seeing it for yourself. It surpassed all my expectations and I was so impressed with the overall design, structure, planting combinations, and terrific plant material. We almost had a disaster when we showed up and the garden was closed, but our friend Bertie made a quick call and after meeting the head gardener, a very warm and gracious Alexis Datta, we were ushered in to tour the garden with the whole place to ourselves. Of course that contributes to the magic of a place! Deb was enamored with the spirit of Vita Sackville-West and the great old connection between literature and gardening. The tower happened to be open so this is where we started.

The walled in gardens, castle tower, and the surrounding Weald, made this the most enchanting garden I have ever been to.

Looking into the white garden.

Aster pilosus var. demotus standing out against that glorious black green yew hedge. The weather and low autumnal light helped show off this feature!

A lovely Argyranthemum against a weathered copper pot.

The yew pillars (you can see these in the first photo from the tower) with Salvia confertiflora.

Looking through the yew pillars to the cottage door.

The Cottage Garden

All those layers backlit by the sunshine!

Another post to follow on some of the individual show stoppers....

Friday, October 28, 2011

The First Snow

Before I go on about my perfect English gardening trip, I thought I would interject with a few snowy shots from home. It started to snow yesterday afternoon and I came home and frantically ran around the garden digging up my tender plants and throwing all my pots indoors. We hadn't really had a first frost yet, so these poor plants were feeling the one-two of the cold and the snow!

This picture was taken last night and the Miscanthus stood tall, but this morning is is flattened by the icy snow.

It seems to take all summer for the Cobea vine to ready itself for flowering and when it finally does the snow descends! The others were deep purple, but this one looked pearly white only a day or two ago. It now hangs its head under the burden of cold.

Early morning sunrise over the distant, snow tipped hills.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Churchill's Chartwell

The next stop on our English gardening tour was Chartwell, Winston Churchill's home and grounds. The place had a park-like feel, landscaping and tree planting on a grand scale, with tasteful gardens, terraces, and pathways winding through the landscape. It was an enchanting place and we all certainly felt like we were close to greatness. The spirit of Churchill was alive and well here! He was quite the creative man in his gardening endeavors, but he was also a painter. We strolled through his studio with his canvases hung to the rafters! 

Romneya coulteri
Tree Poppy

Argeranthemum 'Mary Wootton'
This was a pretty great mum and I saw it again and again in other gardens.

Looking down to the rose and cutting garden.

Eucryphia x intermedia

This was definitely my favorite part of the garden because it held the most interesting plants and planting combinations. This is a recent project for Jamie, a National Trust Careership student studying and working at Chartwell. He extended a narrow bed along this wall and designed a north facing winter interest garden. It was still early in its development, but the bones were good and the plants choice! I loved standing at the top and looking down the long sweep of the bed. 

The fluffy seed heads of a lush, scrambling clematis (possibly 'Bill McKenzie'?)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pashley Manor

After touring Merriments we traveled over to Pashley Manor. What I loved the most was how the garden seemed to be an extension of the house, but I did not take one picture of the building! So you will have to use your imagination.  The grounds had a mysterious air, with secret gardens, silent woodland walks, vines clambering over walls and shrubs, as well as a beautiful pair of testy black swans. 

There were numerous sculptures placed throughout the garden. Here are three Giacommeti-esque female bathers looking back towards the Manor.

The rose garden leading to the kitchen garden was splendid. Here is a wonderful bench backed by the glorious Sedum 'Autumn Joy.'

The rose garden with boxy hedges perpendicularly interrupting the long view.

Deb and I loved the rose/herb garden here and we immediately started thinking about incorporating some of these ideas in her garden. This particular detail is stunning! I love how the grape scrambles out of the boxwood, curving into an archway, while the espalier fruit trees rise straight up through the lower hedge.

Gomphocarpus physocarpus


I thought that I would chronologically post about my recent garden tour in England, but I woke up this morning thinking about this plant so here it is! I discovered this great beauty in the white garden at Sissinghurst. It is native to South Africa and its name refers to its fruit. Gomphos meaning club, karpos meaning fruits, physa meaning bladder, and again karpos, fruits. It is closely related to Asclepias and is a great butterfly plant. A great plant that is only just coming into its own in late October.


Its habit reminded me of Asclepias and Euphorbia. It stood tall and airy, with sturdy branching arms.

What fruits!