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.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Chesters Walled Garden exhibition

I have thought of several creative projects to celebrate the life of the garden rather than just let it peter out as it closes and one of these happened this week. The Queen's Hall arts centre in Hexham is hosting an exhibition of work inspired by Chesters Walled Garden, with artists, printmakers, photographers and a ceramic artist putting work into a wonderful mixed show. The preview was last week and these photos show just one aspect of it - a collaboration between me and my long time friend Kim Lewis, who is well known as author and illustrator of children's books. Kim entitled it 'Sanctuary'.

I chose 12 special plants to represent all the planting in the garden and selected 3 for each garden wall, north, south, east and west, writing a short piece of text, just 50 words to express what I felt about them and the memories that they hold. Kim then illustrated them in her delightful, expressive linocuts, each one getting to the essence of the plant's nature. We discussed them as she went along, so that they have exactly the right 'feel' for the plant's way of growing and the emotion that it evokes in me. Using a square format to echo the four walls of the garden, they are like arts and crafts tiles, very lovely and much admired at the preview.

A leaflet with all the text and prints on it, which Kim has called a 'keepsake', a lovely word, is on sale at the Queen's Hall for just £2, a price only possible because of the help from the printers, Alphaset Design in Chillingham Road, Newcastle. I wanted it to be a low cost so that as many people as possible bought it as a memory of the garden.

As well as Kim and my collaboration, there is work by Northumberland artists: Birtley Aris, Beryl Dixon, Karen Melvin, Brian Waters, Margot Waters, Tony Jolly, Janet Dickson, Eileen Heywood, Rosalind Reid, Mary-Ann Rogers, Jane Veitch and Rosie Villiers-Stuart. Photographers Simon Fraser and my son, Tom White, have also put work in and Jo Aris is exhibiting a series of meticulously made beads that she has fashioned from the soil of the garden collected from various places important to her. Like tribal artefacts they are laid out in a glass case alongside the memories book to which people are invited to contribute. Add to all this the memorabilia on display and it has resulted in a magical evocation of the garden. It runs until 3rd July.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

End of an era

It had to come sometime, but I have now handed in the keys to Chesters Walled Garden, and the door is closed. It was a lightly sunny morning and I had a last cup of tea, listening to the jubilant bird song and sitting on a large stone block by the hundred year old espalier apple trees. With no plants in lines in the sales area, the benches taken out and the signs down, it had a feeling of unreality for me, like a seaside resort in winter.

I have divided up and taken out a lot of plants, but much remains. What I can never substitute is the wonderful, crumbly soil, the product of two hundred years work and the vibrant, diverse and often surprising wildlife that I encountered every day - the wren landing on the visitors book in the shop, the stoat I met on a path in winter, the duck who led her ducklings into the sunken greenhouse, the pheasant chicks that so delighted the visitors. Irreplacable and precious.

What I take with me are the things that the garden has taught me and which I can now use to make a new (though private) garden, plus the knowledge I have gained from those 23 years that I can use in writing magazine articles and in my lectures and courses. The plan is that my new garden will open just for the National Gardens Scheme, when the blank canvas I am working on is good enough for people to look at. I shall carry on blogging and writing about the wildlife, gardens and joys of gardening in this special part of the world.

If you are able to come to Hexham, the Queen's Hall Arts Centre is having an exhibtion of the work of some of the artists who have been inspired by Chesters Walled Garden over the years - painters, printmakers, ceramic artists, photographers and more. This starts on May 29th and runs right the way through June. My contribution is a collaboration with the printmaker (and well known children's book illustrator) Kim Lewis; entitled 'Sanctuary' it is a series of 12 of Kim's very beautiful linocuts to accompany text that I have written about some of the iconic plants of the walled garden, the things that made it special. It would be lovely to have as many people as possible visit the exhibition, and there is a special Garden Memories book on display for which contributions are invited. Susie

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A long winter and update at last!

It has been a long time since I last blogged, I know, but I think that all those people who care about the garden will understand why it has been such a difficult time for me. And what a winter! So here at last is some news of what is happening at the walled garden.

After several weeks of digging up plants, I was helped by a wonderful team of volunteers in mid November to move them in a ragtag collection of boxes, trays and every available sack and bag to a temporary location. Thanks to the generosity of a local landowner, who not only has given my plants this refuge, but even had the ground rotavated and prepared, I was able to take specimens of many of my favourite plants and settle them in before the winter cold. It was just in the nick of time too, as I hadn't realised then that it would turn out to be the hardest winter for a long time. It started raining on November 17th and hardly stopped for a month making the ground really unworkable, then of course there was snow from late December onwards and many people up here were snowed in. Following that, a month of hard frosts and the ground undiggable for a different reason....

In January, the English Garden magazine published a five page article that I had written which was not only about my history at Chesters Walled Garden but about what it is to leave a garden, with its memories and associations held by the plants and the sense of place. It was a cathartic thing to write and is one of a number of artistic projects that help me and others to come to terms with the loss of this special place. In late May, the Queen's Hall arts centre in Hexham will have an exhibition for a month that brings together some of the artworks - paintings, prints, photographs and ceramics - created by artists in response to the garden over the years. It will also preview a collaboration that I am doing with the book illustrator and printmaker, Kim Lewis, called 'Sanctuary', a series of 12 linocuts and text of 12 plants that symobilise the garden and my feelings for it. In addition, there will be memorabilia and a chance for visitors to add to the Garden Memories Book.

Right now, I am embarking on a project to make a new garden which will only be open in a very limited way for charity .... but which at the moment is mud, stones, boulders, weeds and hasn't been cultivated for many years. Hard work and much preparation has to be done to get the ground ready for the plants to come back from their temporary storage but with the help of friends and volunteers, it will somehow get done!