Ruminations on ‘Light, shade, water and earth’…

Kiftsgate Court, The Water Garden, Gloucestershire, June 2017, and reflected detail below…

Water and earth. I started this theme before Christmas, ah well, so now to pick up on the ‘water and earth’ part.

My remaining ruminations…these feature images that have stuck in my mind and still catch my eye, some many years later. Kiftsgate Court Gardens may be overshadowed by the celebrity powerhouse garden which is a close neighbour, Hidcote. But in my view, it beats Hidcote to the ground with sheer heart and exuberance, and what’s more, it is the work of three incredible generations of women gardeners, and I would revisit in a heartbeat. ‘Kiftsgate Court Gardens: Three Generations of Women Gardeners’ by Vanessa Berridge celebrates the details of their accomplishments, it’s on my next present ideas list, that’s for sure.

This stunning water garden with bronze leaves floating in the wind is a miraculous re-using of an old tennis court and holds its own with the older parts of the garden really well.

Bryan’s Ground, near Presteigne, is one of my all-time favourites, full of excitement, fun and clever design. I love the long, thin, still water capturing the reflection of the noble hound sculpture and the fluffy green of the surrounding trees. Very simple but really effective. To my horror, I saw that Bryan’s Ground was up for sale in 2021 during lockdown. I really hope it survives and prospers.

Bryan’s Ground, Presteigne, June 2017

On a giant scale, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Bretton Hall, near Wakefield, uses an immense landscape of rolling grass, water and formal gardens with real verve. I am pretty sure that this sculpture will have been changed since I took the photograph in June 2019, but the image has stuck in my head.

Tom Lovelace sculpture in the Upper Lake, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, June 2019

The pristine still water against a blue sky, surrounded by the earthen ochre walls of Taroudant in Morocco is the work of La Maison Anglaise eco-lodge. Specially chosen tiles protect the quality of the water and the planting is xeric, but irrigated from waste grey water refined naturally in a tank beneath a fountain in the front courtyard, so no new water is used for the garden. The long, thin shape of the pool is an echo of the traditional courtyard pool in Mudecar design- a nineteenth century version of which can be seen in the gardens of Carmen de los Martires in Granada.

La Maison Anglaise, Taroudant, Morocco, October 2021
Carmen de los Martires, Granada, October 2021

I think that these are my favourite-ever water spouts, part of the QVC garden at Chelsea Flower Show in 2009 and designed by Adam Frost. I love the rolled shape, like a flowerbud opening, and I remember that the sound of the water could be heard clearly over the buzz of the crowds, a good, but not too loud, splashing.

Beautiful water spouts, the QVC Garden at Chelsea 2009 designed by Adam Frost, May 2009

I really got into earth, as in, mostly nothing but earth, in Australia. I would never have imagined that I could love such arid spaces, but the colours of the earth and the rocks were mesmerising at different times of the day, and it was a landscape that really got under my skin. Lost traces of human habitation, places where no human had lived, maybe for thousands of years, and, in the Australian spring, the sight of tens of golden flowering wattles in the middle of nothing, was intensely moving somehow.

Remains of a walled garden, Apppealina, Flinders Ranges, Australia, October 2018
Sunset at Rawnsley Park Station, Flinders Ranges, Australia, October 2018
Ground cover grasses, Brachina, Australia, October 2018
Flowering wattles en masse, Flinders Ranges, Australia, October 2018

By complete contrast, the Water Gardens at Beth Chatto’s Nursery in East Anglia, were more squelchy than even my wellies could handle when I visited with a friend, Shelagh, in May 2012. Look at the prehistoric upward growth of the Gunnera and the Skunk Cabbage….

Yellow skunk cabbage, Beth Chatto Nursery, May 2012

York Gate…a gem

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York Gate Garden, Adel, Leeds, April 2019

I was watching a short piece by Adam Frost on Gardener’s World, having just fixed up a visit to Leeds for a few days, when I heard him say that York Gate was in Leeds, not York as I had dimly imagined without checking.  To cut a long story short, on a cold afternoon with sunny breaks this week, I found myself in York Gate Garden in Leeds- a garden that I have always wanted to visit.  Brilliant.

This is not a grand or massive garden- but it is a garden gardened beautifully with real attention to detail and designed by the family who owned it until the 1990s with a lovely mix of quirkiness and boldness.

Take the opening photograph. Ignore the superb spikey shapes top left, and what you can see is a shape redolent of Edwardian or Arts and Crafts gardens, a lozenge-shaped pool, with off-centre plinths, on one of which is a darkly painted planting urn of the period, neatly edged gravel paths and sweeping shapes.  The planting has all of the expected Spring plants that are quintessentially English in style- but looking closely, there are already planting gems, such as this stunning narcissus below.  From afar, what looked like daffodils massed in the borders, but this were a lovely surprise.  No idea as to variety, and only the stems and leaves say ‘narcissus’ to me, but the flower is creamy yellow something else.

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Unknown star-shaped narcissus, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019

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The Arbour, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019

Robin Spencer made the Arbour from recycled wooden beams from a fire-damaged chapel at Armley, and the wooden beams sit on chunky stone legs, very Lutyens- like in their stockiness and practicality.  Close to the Arbour is a woodland area with water from the lozenge-shaped pool trickling through it- I am not a trillium expert as you might imagine, but the red buds rising up from silvered foliage looked magical in the partial sunlight.

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Trillium maculatum, I think, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019

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The Nutwalk, York Gate, April 2019

Looking fragile without leaves, the Nutwalk nevertheless must be pretty tough to take the Yorkshire winds, hazels can take a lot.  Underneath their slender stems, masses of brilliant red tulips had been planted.  The Spencers knew a thing or two about light in the garden- all the paths are angled to make the most of the sloping situation of the garden.  The tulips were shining like stained glass in the fractured sunlight that afternoon.

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Nut walk tulips shining in the sun, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019

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Attention to detail in path construction, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019

A touch of William Morris here in the beautifully constructed path leading to the Perfect Pot at the top.  Fringed by dark and mysterious Ophiopogon planiscapus Nigrescens, the path glitters in the light, bordering the borders filled with spring and summer perennials and bulbs.  The Perfect Pot provides the focal point, simply placed on a gravel round edged with stone pavers.

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The Perfect Pot, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019

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The Herb Garden, York Gate, Leeds, April 2019

Look at the precision of the topiary, and then also at the distance and perspective that the shapes create- and then think about how long-lasting this vista is.  All year round shape and interest.  I am a straggly gardener, but even I love the clarity of these shapes and also the slightly surreal atmosphere that they create.  And the Perfect Pot stars in the far distance.  More of York Gate to follow.

Some Chelsea memories that last. Luciano Giubbilei, Adam Frost and Chris Beardshaw for different reasons…

It’s Chelsea Flower Show time soon. It is a big treat to go, and I love the whole thing, beginning with scurrying along the road from Sloane Square tube with ladies in floral cardigans and umbrellas and ‘off-duty’ husbands daring Panama hats in often quite chilly mornings. I always look a bit like a cross between a sharply dressed bag-lady and a rambler, firmly believing as I do that soft, firm shoes and layers are required as anything can happen weather-wise. Practicality is my by-word, and a rucksack for all the bits that you accumulate. Makes me sound quite Marple-esque. Not quite! I hope.

As it’s only a month away, I spent some time looking through my photos of past Chelseas just to see what still rang bells for me. I admit it’s almost always the planting that gets me, but there are other great features to remember as well.

Luciano Giubbilei's garden for Laurent Perrier Chelsea 2009
Luciano Giubbilei’s garden for Laurent Perrier Chelsea 2009

I loved this planting by Luciano Giubbilei. It’s so fresh and sumptuous at the same time. The crisp green of the box, the relaxed wavy grass and then the knockout peonies in a brilliant ruby colour, mixed in with bronze fennel, a plant I love, and just a few wisps of blue salvia in the mix. Gorgeous.

Luciano Giubbelei won ‘best in show’ last year, and what a different approach he used this time.

Luciano Giubbilei again for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014
Luciano Giubbilei again for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014

Cool, subtle, restrained and thoughtful, this lovely mix of creamy-yellow and greens, with tall lupins, foxgloves, just a little blue, this felt calming and meditative. It was a big risk to have an immense pool in the garden, but what an elegant pool it was. I loved the bevelled, stepped edges going down deep into the still water, with the substantial, oblong feeder rill leading to the pool.

The elegant pool. Luciano Giubbieli for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014
The elegant pool. Luciano Giubbieli for Laurent Perrier, Chelsea 2014

And sometimes, it is a small element of a design that remains with you, and you recognise why you took the photograph. For example, this bench was a small part of the overall design, but it is an object of beauty in its own right. Adam Frost’s Homebase garden, created a harmonious and enjoyable space which begged to be used.  It is always a shame, somehow, that you can’t step into some of the gardens, right there and then.

Adam Frost for Homebase, Chelsea 2014
Adam Frost for Homebase, Chelsea 2014

And a sculpture that was profoundly moving was included in Chris Beardshaw’s garden for Arthritis Research UK in 2013. Beardshaw, from his own experience as a rheumatoid arthritic, created a deeply engaging garden of surprising planting and superb sculptures by Anna Gillespie and Michelle Castles. This bronze crouching figure, covered with acorns, is doubled up with pain and fear at the beginning of the diagnostic journey. It took my breath away.

The Veiled Garden, sculpture by Anna Gillespie, Chris Beardshaw for Arthritis Research UK, Chelsea 2013
The Veiled Garden, sculpture by Anna Gillespie, Chris Beardshaw for Arthritis Research UK, Chelsea 2013

mmm….it’s only 4 weeks away.

Water, water everywhere…

The Ancient Mariner was dying of thirst. Today, the garden is submerged in parts as we have had so much rain. And yet, curiously, my mind turns to different ways in which water can bring emotions into the garden.  At the bottom of our garden is a ruisseau, an ancient small canal which used to bring water from our river, the Adour, into the pasturelands and fields surrounding the old village.  Never cultivated, the ruisseau was seen as purely functional, to be cleared of vegetation periodically to bring water to where it was needed.

Water brings different qualities and arouses different emotions, whether flowing or still.

Adam Frost's garden, Chelsea 2009 where gently running water was used.
Adam Frost’s garden, Chelsea 2009 where gently running water was used.

The Alcazar, Seville. Almost still water in a bowl.
The Alcazar, Seville. Almost still water in a bowl.

Jardin de la Poterie Hillen, France: contemporary stillness
Jardin de la Poterie Hillen, France: contemporary stillness

Hampton Court:  power and formal fountains
Hampton Court: power and formal fountains

Right now, outside, the ruisseau looks more like liquid mud. But in the spring and summer, with lazy light playing on it, it will look like liquid gold at times.  But, gradually, whilst not interrupting the main function as a watercourse, I am planting so that we can both reach right down to the ruisseau, and also, screen ourselves from the maize field beyond. A couple of Amelanchier ‘Obelisk’ will go in as punctation points, and an increased screening of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ so that we get some bright colour in the winter and spring. Our banana, Musa basjoo,  is doing great, though looking pretty tatty right now, and the Gunnera manicata will rise again.  Think I might talk about Beth Chatto’s Water Garden next!