Saturday, 16 April 2011

Spring at Great Dixter

This week I went to see a garden that is weeks ahead of mine!! Being at Great Dixter reminded me what a huge difference there is between Sussex and the North; here we have trees just starting into leaf, there I saw a bluebell wood full out under hazel coppice. The journey back on the train was like seeing the progression of the seasons in reverse.

What a joy it was to visit Dixter. I felt so at ease there, so relaxed, lulled by the washes of colour, the unpretentious and happy mixture of bulbs, perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees, topiary, wood and stone. The tulips were at their best, here subtle combinations of purple with silver foliage of cardoons, there jazzy orange with blue. There is such a sense of playfulness and exuberance in the way it is planted, Christopher Lloyd's spirit infusing the place, yet not static like a historic garden that remains stuck in a planting plan and never changes.

I loved the use of aged, silvered wood, tall poles to support honeysuckles, or to grow clematis behind espaliered fruit trees as in this photo. The wooden staves have sagged and settled like a ship, split lenthways providing gaps that ladybirds can overwinter in, giving a rhythmn and patina to the dry wood.

I came home inspired and dissatisfied with my own garden at the same time!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Lovely Amdega summerhouse

Our lovely Amdega summerhouse has been the perfect place to get out of the cold March winds at the tail end of a winter that just seems to have gone on and on... It is painted a soft, pebble grey, like the colour of collared dove's feathers, a colour that fits harmoniously with the plants around it; on one side is a collection of greyish hostas, on the other (not yet filled out) are pale yellows and blues from eryngiums, roseroot, coreopsis and an unusual lemon coloured clover.

The roof is made of cedar shingles, tightly fitting together, which age to a lichen grey. They give a lovely scent, woody and evocative, and the evening light comes slanting in from the west through the pretty windowpanes. I love the way the roof line flicks up gently at the eaves, a subtle piece of design. It is hand made from Western Red Cedar which is known for its durability and resistance to warping and shrinking - very necessary to cope with the sort of winter we have just come through! All in all, it is a thing of beauty as well as being a restful place to sit out of the wind.

For more pictures of Amdega summerhouses go to and here is a press release from Amdega below -


Indoor living, outdoors

Handmade, cedar summerhouses from the world’s oldest supplier of bespoke conservatories

AMDEGA, the world’s oldest maker of conservatories and orangeries, launches new summerhouses for 2011.

Part of the quintessential country garden for generations, and more and more an urban retreat from the pace of city life, summerhouses are the perfect way to enjoy the outdoors whatever the season.

The new summerhouses from Amdega feature eleven different designs made to the highest standard, each with their own unique detailing that can be adapted for a variety of purposes including a tranquil home office, inspirational studio, gym, or even a den for the kids.

Split across two core ranges, ‘The Chelsea’ and ‘The Hampton,’ customers can choose the design, colour and size that reflects their own individual style and matches their home and way of life.

The ‘Chelsea’ range, the more luxuriant and traditional of the two, bears Amdega’s signature style with distinct features including high cedar shingled roofs with elegantly cambered eaves and original hand leaded lights made from individual panes of glass.

The ‘Hampton’ range offers more contemporary designs with functionality, ease of installation and durability at the forefront of their design. Each model offers clean, contemporary lines incorporating Georgian style window panes, cedar slatted roofs and double doors.

With a reputation built upon delivering the highest quality available in the marketplace, Amdega has chosen the finest materials, working closely with its in-house team of craftsmen, from joiners to glaziers, in the creation of the new products.

With this in mind, each of the new summerhouses are hand-crafted from Western Red cedar and other sustainable timbers, offering customers durability and protection against adverse weather conditions which can often lead other woods to shrink, warp or twist.

In line with the launch of Amdega summerhouses, the company is also launching a new website focused entirely on its summerhouse range.

Amdega summerhouses start from £2,760 and are available in a range of colours and decorative stains including Slate Green, Zinnia Red, Nigella Blue, Walnut, Mahogany and Maple (Amdega’s exclusive Botanical Colour Palette).

For more information on Amdega summerhouses please call 0800 980 0797 or visit

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Monty Don returns to Gardeners' World!

I am just so delighted that Monty Don is returning to Gardeners' World! In the midst of all this snow misery it is such good news to me and to so many gardeners I know. It's not that I don't respect Toby Buckland's extensive knowledge (which knowledge I felt he was never allowed to really show by the programme makers) - he has worked in horticulture since leaving school and trained and supervised at Cambridge Botanic Garden. I just hated the falsly chatty, quick topic change, plant up a pot in 30 secs kind of programme that it happened to become just as Toby took over. But Monty Don's return must be because the Beeb now realise that they alientated so many gardeners with that style of programme and that Monty Don will bring back the viewing figures.

Monty Don is equal in my pantheon to Geoff Hamilton (whom I still miss). I pray that the producers won't devalue what he says by making him have to fit in with some cosy, cup-of-tea, jokey style. If they think that it appeals more to younger
viewers, I think they have that wrong. My daughter has her first allotment and has been watching Beechgrove Garden online rather than Gardeners' World. I would love to see more satisfying looks at gardens (ie not too quick a glimpse) and focus on different plants of the kind that Carol Klein has been doing. The most absorbing programmes in recent years have been the Gardeners' World Specials - Carol Klein's recent look at botany & science for example - and my favourite of all, Allotments presented by ..... Monty Don.

So thank you for cheering up my snowbound weeks and here's a picture of snow just to show that I really can't do any gardening!

Thursday, 2 December 2010


With snow up to my knees, it looks like gardening will be on hold for a long time. Even last winter there wasn't such a depth of snow. Just look at the compost bins with their swags of white - and to the right - the spade which had been left stuck in the soil of the vegetable garden!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Garden art and bread

I had a lovely comment from an anonymous person (thank you) on my last posting who offered a memory of being in Chesters Walled Garden amongst its amazing and tame wildlife. Memories of the garden live on in all sorts of different ways and from now until nearly Christmas you can see Kim Lewis's quite wonderful prints in the lovely setting of Allendale Bakery and Cafe. It's not really as if you need an excuse to visit this warm, cosy cafe on a winter's day with its fresh baking smells, bowls of home made soup and the best scones I have ever tasted. Kim's work looks so right in this setting and is being much admired.

The prints show 12 iconic plants from the walled garden, plants I chose to represent each of the four walls. I wrote 50 words of text to go with each (keeping to few words is harder than writing lots...) and we talked together about the plants natures, what they FELT like, what they meant to me, and Kim has got all this miraculously into her linocuts. This is the second airing for the exhibition after being seen at the Queen's Hall Arts centre in Hexham this summer. In addition to the prints of Chesters (which Kim entitled 'Sanctuary') she is showing a set of prints of lilies also very beautiful. You can read about the Bakery and its breadmaking courses at - there is lots of parking or you can park in the marketplace in Allendale and walk for one mile along the river to get to it. The footpath goes past the hollow into an old mine working where a stream issues out of the stone entrance. A great thing to do on a winter day.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

An autumn trip to Scampston

It's a three hour journey from Northumberland but recently I went down to see the walled garden at Scampston in Yorkshire - for the first time. Up til now I have been too busy working to be able to go but when my friend Jill suggested a trip, I jumped at the chance. Reminded how lovely it is at this time of the year by an article in Country Living, we set off, knowing that when we arrived we would also get a good cup of coffee - the restaurent has a reputation for its food. It didn't disappoint and there were files of press cuttings so we could read about the garden at the same time.

The recommended path around the garden takes you on a journey inside the walls but separated from the various compartments that it is divided into by a line of pleached trees. So we emerged at the far end to look into a garden of curving grasses. Having seen so many photographs of this, I had expected them to be taller and have more impact. We enjoyed the contrast though with the silent garden in the next enclosure, a large, sky-reflecting and serene pool, its surface glassy because it was a still day. The gardeners must have been in the middle of clipping the yew cylinders that are regularly planted in this green space because there were strange wooden structures that provided a template for the shapes. Hinged and made of curving wood they reminded me of whalebone corsets! Perhaps the gardeners were having a break, but the downed tools amplified the silence.

There is much to see at Scampston wihtin the high walls of the garden - cutting garden, vegetable garden, a delighful greenhouse that we could tantalisingly only look into from outside as it needs repair, long strips of perennial plantings backed by yew hedges, shrubby areas, undulating yew hedges and a viewing mound to see the patterns of it all. But the most anticipated was the Perennial Meadow and it was very lovely. From every angle there were different combinations of seedheads, grasses and exciting forms, and we ended up spending a long time just wandering around it taking in the planting details.

At one end of this stands a Katsura grove, a shimmering of autumn leaf colours from multi-stemmed Cercidophyllum trees and as the leaves die they give off a heady and evocative scent of burnt sugar. Its sensuality was enhanced by a great circle of grasses, the tall variety 'Transparent' waving over our heads. Lunch was simply delicious; I had a tremendous Ceasar salad, one of the best ever, beautifully put together and balanced. The long drive back over moor and dale was lit by evening sun so we didn't mind the travelling quite so much and it had been a good day.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

With Chesters Walled Garden now closed, I am concentrating more on my garden writing and there are several articles out at the moment; in Amateur Gardening is a piece on a remarkable garden at 10 Low Row, North Bitchburn, Co. Durham, which is open for the National Gardens Scheme, where 95% of the plants have been grown from seed or cuttings by Ann Pickering. In the current Northumbrian magazine is an article on Newbiggin House, where Daphne Scott-Harden has created an amazingly rich garden at 1,000 feet up - and in the previous issue of the magazine I wrote about the garden at Carrycoats Hall. This garden is open this coming Sunday when the annual Thockrington church fete is held there.

It's the only chance in the year to see this Northumbrian garden, a garden made in a wild and empty seeming landscape, typical of the uplands of this area. The trees that shelter it nestle in a slight dip in the land, so it is always a surprise to me to drive along the narrow road in the featureless moorland and see the house and its two walled gardens.
One has a very productive crop of vegetables and fruit, the other a country mix of flowers and vegetables with old fruit trees and box hedges. It's unpretentious and lovely, come about by a slow evolution and has a feeling of quiet seclusion.

Throckrington Church Fete is on August 15th starting at 2.30pm. There are teas, stalls, raffle, games, plants, and you can wander in the walled gardens, shrubbery, woodland walks and see the new perennial garden.