Beyond design to making the space your own….Grendon Court

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Dazzling Eremurus spearing through Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’ (I think), Grendon Court, June 2017

Grendon Court was the last of our ‘Gardens in the Wild’ bonanza weekend.  And it was really worth the visit in so many ways- warm welcome from the owner, interesting and beguiling features in the design of Tom Stuart-Smith, and some breakthrough moments.  The best of which came about during a casual conversation with the owner, who strode out to meet every visitor personally and was very good at being around whilst leaving the garden entirely to you.

I asked her something I have always wanted to ask a garden design client who has hired a big name like Tom Stuart-Smith.  I asked her how long it was before the garden felt as if it was really hers- and her reply was just brilliant.  She said that the garden had been an immense responsibility and that it had probably taken her about seven years to feel ready to add to and change any elements of the planting design.  And when she did, one of the plants she added was this fabulous golden Eremurus- and she said she added it because the planting was a bit sombre and restrained.  Look at what she did.

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Double take on the Eremurus, Grendon Court, June 2017
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Longer view on the Eremurus, Grendon Court, June 2017

Stunning.  Stunning because she has lit up the entire planting, linked it along the length of this massive, deep border, and it is utterly captivating.  I kept walking around and looking at it from different vantage points, and it was fabulous from everywhere.  I loved her straightforwardness and honesty, as well as her great choice of the spot-on plant for her border.  Just one addition.  Brilliant.

I really enjoyed the wavy box planting- luckily no blight or caterpillars- which made such a big and also slightly surreal statement at the entrance to the garden.  I don’t know if the chickens were original to the design, but they are a lovey wacky addition at the top of the deep box planting.

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The wavy box planting, Grendon Court, June 2017
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The chickens, or maybe not, Grendon Court, June 2017

In front of the house, a wide open lawn sits square which creates the space and proportion that Russell Page always liked, so that the deep borders to left and right completely flank the house and open out the view towards it.  Large shaped evergreens hold the loose planting of the left hand border.

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The left hand border, simply planted with repeats of Phlomis russelliana, Allium and alchemilla, and touches of the same purple-blue Salvia, Grendon Court, June 2017
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Rounded cubes of box link the garden to the borrowed landscape beyond, Grendon Court, June 2017

Nearer to the house, immense rounded box cubes punctuate the wall looking into the borrowed landscape beyond.  The land around the house has been landscaped to create almost a platform on which the house sits, proud of the rolling landscape and not dwarfed by it.  This means that the garden now wraps around the house and almost displays the house- whereas before the garden renovation, the house would have been almost sunk into the landscape.

To the side of the house and up the hill, the garden changes tone.  From displaying and framing the house, steps and a path lead up and away from the house, through a massive Miscanthus planting, interspersed with other tall perennials and roses, to a hidden swimming pool completely immersed in the waving fronds of Miscanthus.  On that windy day,  the grasses moved as if they were a raging sea.

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The swimming pool, framed by the sea of Miscanthus, Grendon Court, June 2017
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Massed plantings of tall perennials combined with the grasses, Grendon Court, June 2017
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Looking back down the steps from the pool area to the left hand border and the large shaped evergreens that hold the planting together, Grendon Court, June 2017

Coming back towards the house, and staying at the height of the chicken statue group, the steepness of the original hillside can really be appreciated- and Tom Stuart Smith has worked with it, whilst at the same time losing it in the apron of the wrap-around garden that sits the house at the centre.  Repeats in the planting, a simple plant palette, and imaginative use of green and good, architectural elements all combine- and are brought alive by the owner’s own imagination and choice.  I loved it.

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The wavy box holds its own against the steep hillside allowed to grass naturally, Grendon Court, June 2017


Kentchurch Court, a joyous tour of Centaureas and more

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The Walled Garden, Kentchurch Court, June 2017

A bright, sunny Sunday morning took us to Kentchurch Court gardens when we visited ‘Gardens in the Wild’ in June.  Our visit started with a very good-humoured mixup over our tickets, and in a way, that set the tone for what was a very warm, sunny, joyous garden- and that included the totally fabulous cream and raspberry scones that finished off the visit.  We met the gardener in charge of it all, who seemed as bright and optimistic as his garden over a discussion about Lychnis chalcedonica, the bright red pompoms of which can be seen in the view above and in detail below.

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Lychnis chalcedonica, Kentchurch Court, June 2017

The Walled Garden, in particular, was a joyous mix of shrubs and trees for structure, with big, bold repeating borders stuffed to the armpits with happy plants, some rare and unusual, others cheap as chips, and with repeating swathes of Lychnis chalcedonica, Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’  and Centaurea phrygia.

So brilliant. 300 seeds of ‘Black Ball’ from Sarah Raven, see above, and you would have an industrial scale planting possibility.  I was inspired and have done that, though in lesser numbers, with the Lychnis and ‘Black Ball’.  Really, really easy from seed.

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Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’, Kentchurch Court, June 2017
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Centaurea orientalis, Kentchurch Court, June 201

I adore Centaurea orientalis too, but it does go to mush quickly as my friend Jane observed. For more about Centaurea as a family, Dan Pearson has a useful article.  But there was more to see than a Centaurea tour!

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Lovely mix of Hemerocallis and grasses. Kentchurch Court, June 2017
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Hemerocallis, Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’ and blue Penstemon, Kentchurch Court, June 2017
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A generous pergola, Kentchurch Court, June 2017
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Verbascum nigrum ‘Album’, the Lychnis, Geranium psilostemon, Kentchurch Court, June 2017

And lastly, a mystery plant, well, to me at any rate, and a possible rose identification.  NB. My pal, Jane the Shropshire Gardener, has identified the mystery plant as Salsify– (Tragopogon porrifolius) and it was weaving its way all through the border plantings, with these exquisite flowers and seedheads popping up all over.

What an inspiring garden, full of fun, colour and energy.  And great scones, trust me.

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Mystery plant now identified:  Salsify, aka Tragopogon porrifolius, Kentchurch Court, June 2017
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Stunning Salsify seedhead, Tragopogon porrifolius, Kentchurch Court, June 2017
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Rosa ‘Wild Eve’ perhaps, Kentchurch Court, June 2017



Gardens in the Wild 2017

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Cotton grass blowing in the breeze, Euriophorum angustifolium, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, Gardens in the Wild, June 2017

A garden festival that has great intentions- bringing unusual individual gardens together in a loose network for visitors to combine over a weekend, coupled with a base that offered some stalls with garden plants and items, as well as a programme of speakers.  I really enjoyed listening to the soft, grande-dame tones of Mary Keen for an hour, a great plantswoman and garden-maker, musing and reminiscing with invited interjections from Anna Pavord who was in the audience.

But the central base creates it’s own problem- it’s a long way from any of the network of gardens back to the base, so probably many people only go there once.  Charging a fiver each time you  parked the car seemed a bit steep to me.  End result, seeing the visibly-less-than-gruntled faces of the stallholders for whom there were only slim pickings in terms of business.

And maybe some of the gardens need to showcase the smaller, more domestic gardens that surely do exist in Shropshire and Herefordshire, rather than just the gardens of those with obvious means?  A garden doesn’t have to be stately to be beautiful and interesting to the visitor.  So, I wonder if a bit more rigour in the selection of the network gardens in finding those that are not yet on the NGS radar, or doing some community endeavour and finding 2-3 in a village that could be viewed together, might not broaden the appeal of the festival, which did have a very high panama hat count. Not knocking, honest.

Meantime, at the Old Rectory, Thruxton, there was a garden made and being made over the last 7-8 years with great passion and dedication by the owners, both charming and very helpful people.  The garden around the house had some lovely planting, and a stupendous veg garden with a wall of mellowing fruit, with apricots already looking luscious in the hot June weather.  At the end of the garden, an accidental pond made when earth was removed, was a real highlight.  Big, shaped as if by nature, and planted with beautiful reeds and marginals, it was a delight to wander around and sit by. Amongst the planting there was a billowing cotton grass, Euriophorum angustifolium, and a pretty little marginal, Pontederia cordata, was just coming into flower, with fat spear-shaped bright green leaves.

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Pontederia cordata, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017

Two other lovely things that made me smile for different reasons were Morina longifolia and Romneya coulteri.  The former as I have grown it from seed in the garden here, and whilst short-lived with me, I adore the bizarre ice-cream coloured flower spikes and the thistle-like bright green leaves.  The Romneya has been dug out from our garden.  I love the fried-egg flowers but the thug price to pay is too high here where it revels in heat and sharp drainage- mine would have reached the moon shortly and was busy exterminating everything around it.  Maybe it would work in a cage?

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Morina longifolia, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017
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Romneya coulteri, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017

In the shadier part of the garden, my heart was won by a lovely small foxglove, Digitalis lanata, with strong lemon flowers in the usual spike, much yellower than the link shows, but there you go.

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Digitalis lanata, The Old Rectory, Thruxton, June 2017




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