Tostat and Winchcombe…

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Rain sparkling on Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ this morning, Tostat, July 2017

The mega-lightening and thunder show last night over Tostat finally brought to an end our 4th or 5th mini-canicule or heatwave that we have had since early May- and at long last, a decent downpour has revived the garden which has been hanging on by it’s fingernails.  The ground is well soaked, though, honestly, it will not have penetrated that far considering the general overall super-dryness, but I am not complaining at all.  The green levels in the garden have been refreshed, and everything looks as if it has been through a carwash.

I am waiting for my book delivery before I review the summer-dryness situation properly.  I need some inspiration to break the thinking habits I reckon.

But today is grey and overcast, which actually means that the garden gets a chance to absorb the rain and use it, as opposed to sticking it’s tin hat on again against the beating sun.  And we had a quite a few days like this in England in June, after we had survived the two blisteringly hot days.  Wandering around Gloucestershire and Winchcombe with our friends, some lovely little moments were to be had.

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Winchcombe, Paeonia ‘Bowl of Beauty’, June 2017

Helping Jill to water a friend’s garden, was a delight rather than a chore.  A real plantsperson, the garden-maker had a stack of treats to see, for example, this stunning Paeonia ‘Bowl of Beauty’ that I have read about but never actually seen before.

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Beautiful ‘borrowed landscape’ enlarges this small, but lovely, garden, Winchcombe, June 2017

An enchantingly delicate, double white Geranium pratense, which I think is ‘Double Jewel’, also grew there, not a shouty plant at all, but very pretty.  Unlikely to do well with me, but I can admire it all the same.

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Geranium ‘Double Jewel’, Winchcombe, June 2017

And it wasn’t all about rarity.  This lovely combination below is achievable easily with very ordinary plants which work beautifully together- a spot of rigorous pulling out now and then needed for the lychnis probably, but that’s all.

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Opium poppies, an abundant white dahlia and good old Lychnis coronaria- simple but very effective, Winchcombe, June 2017

I had forgotten how good hollyhocks are.  Gloucestershire seemed to be full to bursting with them in all colours, but I really loved this vibrant red just outside the church in Winchcombe, which is really worth a visit by the way if you are passing.

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Knockout hollyhocks just growing in a pavement crack, Winchcombe, June 2017

This black Centaurea montana ‘Black Sprite’ was to be seen in various gardens, including Kiftsgate Court.  It is a newish variety, but is absolutely gorgeous, with healthy and vigorous foliage and these stunning spidery flowers- and looks as if it should be easy as anything.  I am searching for seed as we speak, there is more available in the US, so it may have to be bought there.  Just discovered that our local perennials nursery has it- good for Bernard Lacrouts!

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Fabulous Centaurea montana ‘Black Sprite’, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

Also gorgeous was the statuesque Cephalaria gigantea, which was a frequent player in Gloucestershire gardens.  It’s height, nearly 2m, and go-with-anything cream pincushion flowers, also the airy structure which on the whole seemed to take wind and rain in it’s stride, all these factors make it a lovely plant to try.  I have already bought seed from Chiltern Seeds.

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Cephalaria gigantea, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

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Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’, Bourton House Garden, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ seemed to be the go-to yellow rose for many gardeners.  Who can blame them?  It is a cheerful, buoyant rose that seems to be pretty trouble-free, and, according to David Austin, it has been voted the world’s favourite rose.

A complex Dahlia this one, which I think is ‘Night Butterfly’, so it isn’t usually what I would go for, but mixing in with the Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ and offset by the creamy-yellow Thalictrum flavum ssp. glaucum ( I think!) I thought the combination was lovely, bringing vividness to a shadier spot.

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Dahlia ‘Night Butterfly’, Winchcombe, June 2017

I was so thrilled last week when I found, goodness knows how I hadn’t noticed it before, a surprise gladiolus growing in the very newest bit of border that I started this year.  I am not a huge gladdie fan, but the colour of this one looked very promising and I couldn’t have chosen it better, if I had chosen it!  But this morning, decapitated by the rain ( so you see, the obvious staking had not happened), it is reclining in a jug in the kitchen- ah well.

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My surprise gladiolus, beheaded by the rain, Tostat, July 2017



What is it in a garden that draws me to it? Snowshill Manor…

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The dovecot, Snowshill Manor, June 2017

A reader challenged me yesterday in the nicest possible way.  Responding to my blog on Bourton House, she set me thinking about what it is that I love and warm to in a garden.  If horticultural perfection was what lit my fire, then Bourton House would have been up there with a gong- so that led me to ponder on what it is that I love about gardens, if it isn’t horticultural perfection.  And I think that, indefinable and possibly fuzzy though it may be, I am drawn to an expression of the person who made the garden or, in that absence of that person, a story being told in some way.  And I love the creation of mood or of spirit, be it in the planting or landscaping, or in the way that both of those elements respond to the natural environment in or around the garden.

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The gate that draws you in, Snowshill Manor, June 2017

So, as we travelled on to Snowshill Manor, on that grey day after all the heat, I was expecting to be more interested in the house than in the garden.  In fact, when we got there, the ticketseller actually said that the garden was a sideshow to the house.  The house, it is true, contains a compelling personal collection of objects and objets lovingly selected by the unusual Charles Paget Wade– we easily spent two hours beguiled by the range and detail of what he collected.  But the garden is much more than a sideshow- and is, in it’s more modest way, every bit as beguiling as the collection in the house.

Charles Paget Wade worked with the well-known Arts and Crafts architect, Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, between 1920-3 on transforming what had been the farmyard of his Tudor manor house into a series of garden rooms, intent on creating atmosphere and and inspiring an emotional connection with the landscape.  The bones of the hard landscaping that Wade and Baillie Scott created still remain, and have been beautifully written upon in terms of the planting by the National Trust gardening team.

It seemed to me that the garden inspired the same sense of adventure as the collection in the house, and in walking through, I was struck by children playing in the weeping pear trees and the fun created by the being-restored miniature village, Wolf’s Cove, which was captivating. Using a almost ordinary plant palette, the gardening team have created borders of airy, frothy planting in blues and yellows, and have left alone the small sheep fields so that they still abut the main garden area as they were intended.  And yet it is not too twee- it is rather refreshing, simple and very attractive.

So nothing grand here.  Simple, effective plantings repeat throughout, areas that can be left are not mucked about with, stories are told and enchantment is created.

Below are top and bottom views of the Long Border.


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Frothy, airy planting in the Long Border detail, Snowshill Manor, June 2017

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An inviting step division between one room and another, Snowshill Manor, June 2017

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There’s a story here, Snowshill Manor, June 2017

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Border stuffed with Alchemilla mollis, white Lychnis and Nepeta, with just a hint of pink and some borrowed landscape, Snowshill Manor, June 2017

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An ancient well framed by the courtyard and planting, Snowshill Manor, June 2017

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The splash of orange Hemerocallis does the trick, Snowshill Manor, June 2017

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Old copper watertank outside the ladies’ loo, Snowshill Manor, June 2017


Bourton House Garden…wonderful plants but somehow…

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Borrowed landscape, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

In our whirlwind tour of gardens in the Cotswolds, Shropshire/Herefordshire and Sussex/Kent, we covered many miles in a comparatively short time.  By the time we got to our third garden on Day 2, we had a ‘nose’ for what we liked and didn’t, and our opinions were strengthening.  On the face of it, Bourton House Garden should have been a winner.  It has a beautiful position overlooking fields and a rolling landscape that probably has hardly changed in the 300 years since this gracious, part sixteenth, part eighteenth century house was built.   And, some to-die-for planting could be seen.  Here are some of the plants that grabbed my attention…

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Abutilon ‘Ashford Red’, Bourton House Garden, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

Abutilon ‘Ashford Red’ wove its way through the hot colours in some of the borders- what a gorgeous colour and spectacular presence this plant has- I adored it.  Not hardy sadly, but I am on the hunt for one, it is not to be resisted.

This Abelia floribunda, which I think is the correct identification, is a bit of a rarity.  Tenderness may be the reason, but this cerise-pink sharpness ran through several border areas with emerald green foliage at a very handy 1.5m or so, height and width.  It is a sumptuous plant, from Mexico originally, and needing a fair bit of water and a protected situation, and no frost.  Which rules it out for me really, but to be totally admired.

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Abelia grandiflora, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

This was a real charmer, Trifolium pannonicum, just around 0.5m tall and weaving in and out of the borders, a bit like a clover on drugs, but very pretty and apparently easy, so I may well give this a try if I can get seed.

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Trifolium pannonicum Hungarian clover, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

I have puzzled over this plant!  Looks like a cross between a Honka Dahlia and a Leucanthemum, but no hard and fast identification yet…any ideas?  Very pretty and quite striking especially as a splash of white in amongst darker plants.  Probably only about 0.5m tall max…

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Leucanthemum meets Honka Dahlia, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

An ambitious planting of Echium pininana had been a tad disrupted by super-hot temperatures and a windy day, but the remains were very impressive all the same.

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Echium pininana, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

There was a lovely shade house with some very unusual plants to be seen.  I have had a go at identifying all three of these plants, but I am not there yet.  Here they are, as mystery plants.  Top left plant has tiny leaflets growing in the centre of those beautiful leaves, top right has what look like cream berries growing in bunches under the leaves and the bottom one, doing a good impression of Deinanthe, has strange red-tinted bladders which can just be seen in amongst the leaves.


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Podyphyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

Cutting to the chase, so there were some very lovely borders.  And some beautiful topiary and a faultless knot garden.  But the trouble was- total horticultural perfection does not a garden make.  It felt as if it had been made by computer or a robot without a human hand in sight.  This was not just me going off in a mood, we all four of us pretty much expressed the same sentiment when we exchanged thoughts half way round.  Somehow, it had no soul, no spirit about it. It really did leave us cold.  So, personally, I would carry on to Snowshill Manor if you are in the vicinity.  Of which more later.

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The Parterre topiary.  Yes, well.  Bourton House Garden, June 2017

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Immaculately planted shady border, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

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The Knot Garden, but why, oh why, the blue herons?, Bourton House Garden, June 2017

Summer-dry or what…

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Abutilon pictum, Tostat, July 2017

Ok.  This is now the third summer in a row that exceptionally dry conditions have prevailed.  Not continuously, but in killer sections of exceptional heat and dryness rolling through from April until now, and showing no signs of abating.  In between conditions normalise a little, but the accumulating dryness builds over time.  So today, I was really thrilled to find a second hand copy of ‘Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry of the San Francisco Bay Area’ edited by Nora Harlow and published by East Bay Municipal Utility District in 2005.

This book really triggered much of the current landscaping and garden thinking of the Bay Area, and was influential, winning the American Horticultural Society’s Book Award in that year.  So, despite paying more for the postage than the book itself, I am really looking forward to learning more about an area that could be really inspirational for me gardening in Tostat.

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Bupleurum fruticosum, Tostat, July 2017

Despite all, there are moments of loveliness- once your eye has adjusted to looking past the things that bug you! I grew Bupleurum fruticosum from seed about 7 years ago, and whilst not a looker in the conventional sense, the massed flower heads look fabulous at eye height and attract masses of insects. Now mature plants, they offer real presence in the garden as other plants go over, and I value their strong evergreen presence.

Echinacea purpurea is just coming through.  It is fair to say that this period, though super-dry, is also an inbetween moment in the garden anyway.  There is a pause that naturally happens in the summer, and we are in it.  But, Echinacea and Rudbeckia are arriving soon, thank goodness.

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Echinacea purpurea, Tostat, July 2017

This is the first year the Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ has flowered- last year, bulb strength was being built with leaf production- but now we have flower spikes and leaves- a great display, but with us, it’s got to be grown in a pot so you can manage the watering levels required.  They are thirsty when in the middle of flowerspike production and it’s true, you want the spikes to last as they are quite magnificent.

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Eucomis Sparkling Burgundy, Tostat, July 2017

Abutilon ‘Pictum’ just at the top of the page, is another shrub that does best in a pot, not so much from the water point of view, but more from the over-wintering needed.  ‘Pictum’ like all the Abutilons with the wider-open bell-shaped flowers, needs not to be frost-nipped, so I lug it under cover in the winter, just to give it enough protection to make it.  ‘Mesopotamicum’ and an unknown orange abutilon are just that bit tougher, the toughness give-away being the more shrouded, longer-line flowers as below.  Personally, I am lusting after ‘Ashford Red’, of which more later…

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Unknown orange abutilon suffering a bit last summer, Tostat, July 2016

And the slightly mad- not-to everyone’s-taste Lilium ‘Flore Pleno’ is carrying on regardless.  And I love it for it’s slightly shambolic Rita-Hayworth quality.  It cheers me up.

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Lilium ‘Flore Pleno’, Tostat, July 2017

Kiftsgate Court Gardens…a delightful tapestry

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The White Sunk Garden, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

It was a blazing hot afternoon when we visited Kiftsgate Court Garden, almost across the road from Hidcote.  So hot that an ambulance was called for one elderly visitor, and the tea room was full of hot, exhausted people.  The sun was so brilliant that it was almost impossible to photograph some areas of the garden!

Kiftsgate really plays a very different tune to Hidcote.  it is an almost phantasmagorical mixture of planting, sumptuous colours, not a spot of earth to be seen as the planting is so luxuriant, and roses that seem to be taking speed they are so large.  The exuberance of it comes as almost a visual shock after the care and restraint of Hidcote.  And Kiftsgate chances its arm with some wilder areas and two contemporary areas, for which it is to be commended.  A garden is nothing if not a growing, changing environment, and whilst historical preservation is needed at times, fossilisation is not the best course. Many of the roses date back to the original plantings made by Heather Muir when she started to create the garden in the ’20s- some of the pink roses were a delightful antique pink, quite different from the more sugary pinks that have been commonplace in rose development.

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Beautiful unknown rose with giant blooms, and a lovely violet tinge, Kiftsgate Court Garden, June 2017

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Rosa Himalyan Musk almost finished, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

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Another unusual ruffled Rose, but unknown, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

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Rosa Mundi, Kiftsgate, June 2017

Of course, there is the famous original Kiftsgate rose, splaying itself magnificently down a long Rose Border and lunging into any trees it can latch onto.  At 20 metres high and about 25 metres wide, this giant display hints at why I have to be so vigilant to reign it in in my garden!  Heather Muir bought this rose in the 1930s from the famous nurseryman, E.A. Bunyard as a Moschata, but Graham Stuart Thomas identified it as an exceptionally vigorous form of Rosa filipes in the late ’40s and the rose was then named after Kiftsgate Court.

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Rosa ‘Kiftsgate’, Tostat, May 2017

The Yellow Border is a gorgeous blast of colour, using blue and orange to counterpoint the yellow.  Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ was a repeating theme, spiked by fabulous deep azure delphiniums in the bright sunshine.

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Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ and those stunning delphiniums, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

The New Water Garden was added by the grand-daughter of Heather Muir, Anne Chambers and her husband in the late 90s.  Making use of an ex-tennis court, they created a cool, modern dark pool, encircled by the existing mature yew hedge, and the sculptor Simon Allison designed a simple, but magical sculpture of copper philodendron leaves, which drips water atmospherically every few minutes. It was an especially powerful experience to sit quietly listening to the music of the water gently falling in the hot sunshine.

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The New Water Garden, Kiftsgate, June 2017

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The New water Garden, detail, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

One of the surprises of Kiftsgate’s location is realising that you are at height above the Vale of Evesham as you descend the terraced hillside towards the Lower Garden. Heather Muir terraced the hillside with the help of Italian gardeners in the 30s, building her little summerhouse to her own design, and her daughter, Dianny Binny, created the semi-circular swimming pool, which adds such dramatic interest to the Lower Garden. The Lower Garden comes to an abrupt finish looking across a view which creates a tremendous false perspective as the ha-ha leads the eye to believe that you are at height. But when you look over the ha-ha, you can see that you are only about a metre above the ground.  Brilliant landscaping.

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The ha-ha, false perspective and semi-circular swimming pool at the edge of the Lower Garden, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

I think that there is only one false note in the whole glorious thing.  And that is the newest ingredient in the Garden, the Mound.  A young, but will-be-magnificent avenue of tulip trees leads to an impressive, elegant sculpture by Pete Moorhouse, using a leaf design and Islamic lettering to create a filigree effect.  Lovely.  But not lovely was the Mound itself, with a lumpy chevron pattern in coloured gravel and four potted olive trees.  A bit like an aircraft landing site to my mind.

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The Mound..mmm…Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

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Detail of the Pete Moorhouse sculpture, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

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View through the Orchard, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

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The Wild Garden, Kiftsgate Court, June 2017

But, stay with the mood of the sculpture, and follow the path into the wild Garden and the Orchard, two more newer additions, and very peaceful and restful indeed.  I loved Kiftsgate with a real warmth, not least because it is a garden made by three generations of women, but also because it has been made with such warmth and abundance, and care.  And you can feel that in the mood and the spirit of the place.









Foxglove mania…

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Foxgloves, Tostat, May 2017

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Apricot pink foxgloves, Tostat, April 2015

A slightly hazy photo of the foxgloves that turned up in abundance this Spring.  It was a really good year for them, despite the dryness here they found the moist spots in a couple of places in the garden, and were statuesque for almost a month- a great bang for no bucks.  I don’t try to regulate their appearances, they just put themselves where they want to be, and most of them are the regular Digitalis purpurea, with just a dash of the exotic from some apricot foxglove seed-grown plants that I planted out.  But, in England in June, I was introduced to some more unusual varieties, which I really loved.

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Digitalis lutea, Kentchurch Court, Herefordshire, June 2017

Digitalis lutea is a very elegant thing.  About half the size of your average foxglove, so maybe less likely to be toppled in the wind, it has slim, cream-coloured trumpets more like a Penstemon flower, and it worked beautifully in this border planting partnered with the white astrantia and orange hemerocallis. A very classy thing, without being showy.

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Digitalis lanata, Thruxton Rectory, Herefordshire, June 2017

Taking cream to a clotted and Devonian level, Digitalis lanata was another foxglove new to me in a plantsman’s garden in Herefordshire that we visited as part of the ‘Gardens in the Wild’ festival in June.  The RHS link will take you to a foxglove that looks very different- no way to explain this, but the chap at Thruxton Rectory was a very serious plantsman, so perhaps he has found something unusual as a yellow form.  This lovely things is again half the size of your average foxglove, but with with more generous flowers than lutea. Very garden-worthy.

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Digitalis grandiflora, Bryan’s Ground, Shropshire, June 2017

A real giant, Digitalis grandiflora had taken a battering at Bryan’s Ground in Shropshire when we visited.  Quite a few of them were on the ground but this one was tall enough for me to look up it’s nose as it were.  A mellow yellow with red-brown speckling in the trumpets, which were generously sized with more to open up the stem.   Also, in Shropshire, I absolutely fell in love with Linaria vulgaris which had merrily self-seeded in the planting outside the Ludlow Food Centre.  It sort of counts as it was once included in the Scrophulariaceae family, and there are similarities in the flower shape.   Also called Butter and Eggs, good name, this is a great wildflower for bumblebees and many other pollinators, and, frankly, it is quite gorgeous- so I have sent for seed.

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Linaria vulgaris, Ludlow, Shropshire, June 2017

Slim, erect at about 0.3m, and completely at home amongst a clump of Stipa tennuisisma, the Linaria had sprinkled itself among the planting delightfully.

I grew Isoplexis canariensis from seed about six years ago, it is a Canary Island foxglove and pretty rare apparently in cultivation.  Of course, it was the fiery orange colouring that drew me to it, and the amazing fact that these absolutely minute seedlings would ever turn into anything so big and gorgeous.  I have them in a big deep pot as they seem to like quite moist conditions, and I overwinter them in our covered barn.  But, this year, they have really not liked our boomerang summer, from 11C to 37C in a matter of days last week for example, and so the flowering has been sporadic and sparse this year.  It may be that the plants are becoming too woody, and I have to start again, but for the moment, I will put it all down to this weird summer.  The plant grows to about 1.3 metres in height and has normally glossy deep green foliage- this year it looks far less happy.  But, as you can see from 2016, when in full throttle, it is a gorgeous thing.

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Isoplexis canariensis, Tostat, August 2016

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Isoplexis canariensis detail, Tostat, June 2017

Hidcote Manor Garden: Lawrence Johnston, a man known only by his gardens

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Hidcote Manor Garden, a story of light and shade, June 2017

This lovely view, as if looking through a tunnel into enlightenment, sums up Hidcote Manor Garden for me.  Visiting with friends on one of the hottest and brightest days possible in an English summer, the gardens glowed with all of their manicured elegance on display but the man who made the garden, Lawrence Johnston, was present only as a name on the National Trust publicity material.

Comparatively little is known about him, apart from his immense inherited wealth and his all-consuming passion for plants and plant-collecting- and his creation of two gardens, Hidcote Manor Garden in England and Serra de la Madone, near Menton in France.  He was born in Paris in 1871 and died in 1958 and was buried near Hidcote next to his mother.

Both of his gardens were eventually saved, Hidcote became the first National Trust property to be acquired solely for its garden in 1948, and Serra de la Madone was saved by the Conservatoire du Littoral in 1999, when threatened with destruction by a housing scheme proposal.  Graham Stuart Thomas, of the National Trust, carried out restoration work at Hidcote which led to the removal of much of Johnston’s Italian statuary, essential ingredients in his pursuit of the classical Italian style.  Serra de la Madone has undergone extensive archaeological restoration- and is certainly to be visited.

So there is a lot riding on a visit to Hidcote- arguably one of the finest gardens in the world.  The great joy is that much of Johnston’s work still remains- especially the bold and decisive architecture of his hedges cutting across the landscape, carving space out for intimacy and surprise, and the wonderful views of the Vale of Evesham still remain as borrowed landscape.   Pools and ponds, towers and openings still work to define the space and the experience.

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Looking down the Red Borders to the landscape beyond, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017

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Looking through the hedge opening, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017

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And further in, the room opens out, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017

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Long vistas and the eyecatcher of the small pavillion, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017

But, and you may have guessed that a ‘but’ was coming, I was disappointed by probably about half of the planting.  Some of the ‘rooms’ were in need of much more colour and variety and planting was sometimes, surprisingly, sparse and dull.  Johnston was a true plantsman, whose passion for plants surely should be insisting that his legacy garden is generously and amply planted.  It wasn’t- enough.  Having said that, the Red Borders sung with colour and vivacity, and the famous Long Border did not disappoint at all with repeated swathes of planting supported by the massive clipped evergreen cones.

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The Long Border, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017

Plants that caught my eye and those of our friends, Jill and Colin:

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Stunning blue and yellow combinations, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

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Eryngium ‘Silver Ghost’, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017

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Primula florindae, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017

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White Astrantia, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

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Lilium martagon, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

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Waterlily, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017

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Unknown rose, Hidcote Manor Garden, June 2017 photo credit: Colin Massey

I am not just carping.  It is a great and glorious garden, which deserves all of its acclaim and attention- and that creates a pressure to maintain standards.  Quite right.