Thursday, 24 April 2008

An afternoon at Herterton House Garden

As it was a wet afternoon, I went visiting some other nurseries and gardens north of here - Stanton Hall near Morpeth, Herterton House at Cambo and Wallington, the National Trust house and garden. Both Herterton and Wallington feature in my book Gardens of Northumberland and the Borders, both are particular favourites of mine and I have been going to them for many years.

Frank Lawley had just cut the topiary and hedges at Herterton House - yew, box and holly - and I marvelled at the clean lines, at his precision and eye. With the perennial plants only just starting to show, it is a wonderful example of the strength of shape and drama that a garden can have at this time of the year if there is good design. At Herterton, he and his wife Marjorie, have achieved a perfect balance between architecture and garden - walking into the Flower Garden (in the picture) there was an air of expectancy as of a stage set, ready for figures to emerge into it.

In summer the planting is breathtaking, the colour sense and layout with its fascinating old varieties of cottage plants really outstanding. Anyone who doesn't know this garden really must visit it as it is an excellent example of late twentieth century design, admired by many top gardeners including the late Christopher Lloyd. With its Physic Garden, Fancy garden (knot beds), gazebo, Topiary Garden and Flower Garden it has so much to delight. This picture of a detail of the hedging shows just how contemporary it is as well in its abstract shapes. Inspirational!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Biodynamic gardening at Chesters

There has been a bit of a gap since my last blog because so little had changed in the garden - the cold weather has kept the plants in near suspended animation - but finally with the warmth of the last few days, things are moving. The Apeldoorn tulips, which have been in tight bud for three weeks, are gratefully opening and there is growth everywhere.

David has been sowing seeds for, according to the biodynamic calendar, today has been a leaf day. He follows the Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar 2008 of Maria and Matthias Thun and enjoys the discipline and rhythmn that it gives. The seeds he has been sowing are herbs grown for their leaves rather than flowers (a flower day would be better for calendulas, for example) so he has been filling plug trays with little groups of seed of basil, purple basil, parsley, salad burnet, bronze fennel and dill. A recent book that I got is called In Tune with the Moon 2008 published by the Findhorn Press and also has a day to day moon planting calendar but adds all sorts of other interesting areas - the best time for dentistry, hair cutting, bee keeping, aspects of animal husbandry, beer making and many other areas of life. Fascinating.

The greenhouse is crammed with young plants for sale full of vitality and the wonderfully scented herbs on the back wall are now bouncing back. Lemon verbena, balm of gilead, pineapple sage, passion flower etc. were all cut right back for the winter. There are delicate yellow flowers on the Rosa banksiae lutea, a plant that we could not grow outside, but which flourishes in the unheated greenhouse.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Early spring flowers in the walled garden

We have had a lovely couple of days and the wildlife in the garden has responded with exhilaration. Sitting on the bench having our lunch we have watched thrushes, blue tits, great tits, blackbird and chaffinches merrily bathing, splashing and throwing jewelled water drops in the air. We could sense their relief that the days were warm in the way they revelled in the bathing. Ignoring all this completely, a knot of mating toads were croaking away, four males struggling around one poor female. Newts were ambling round about too and all this as we ate our sandwiches!

The tulips are opening - this one is a favourite, 'Scarlet Baby'. There are drifts of scillas and chinodoxas, the delicate yellow cups of Anenome ranunculoides, lovely lungworts, hellebores and the white woodland flowers of Pachyphragma macrophyllum.

At the base of the old magnolia is a pretty spread of my favourite lungwort, Pulmonaria 'Excalibur' which has silver leaves. It lightens the ground under the tree in summer and sets off the plant form sculpture which is by Dennis Kilgallon whose workshop is near us at Kirkharle.

The garden is looking very tidy now and we have had time to go carefully through the Thyme Bank, diligently picking out all the beech leaves, sycamore seeds and winter debris. At the same time, I've been clipping over some of the old flower heads that I missed last year - just last year's flowering tops, no more, as thyme hates being cut into the old wood. Some plants look a bit sad after all the cold, wet weather so I will have to wait and see how they fare, replanting where necessary. I've found a brilliant new tool to clip over the thymes, some one handed shears, rather like sheep shears, but amazingly sharp (and self-sharpening apparently). They are imported from Greece and are particularly useful because you can cut through very soft plant tops where secateurs often snag - the sort of job I might have to go and get a pair of scissors for. I even used them to slice through some frosted succulent leaves of agave! They can be found at and with their bright red handles, I won't be searching a border to see where I left them!