Cowdray Walled Garden



The Cowdray Estate in West Sussex sits amidst the South Downs National Park and very close to the pretty town of Midhurst.  The ruins of Cowdray House are a prominent feature in the area and although the ruins are currently closed to the public, the adjacent walled garden is a delightful find and better still, entrance is free and visitors can enjoy refreshments in the tea room or outside beneath the expansive walnut tree or one of the attractive pergolas.

The planting in the walled garden is the work of Jan Howard, who discovered the garden in 2001 when it was in a very neglected state.  Formerly a Tudor pleasure garden to the main house, the area took 3 years to clear and plan, before finally opening to the public in 2005.

In keeping with its Tudor origins, Jan has carefully planted the space to reflect features found in gardens of the period.  Symmetrical beds are abundantly filled with scented roses and clematis either side of a central lawn whilst at each end, further beds spill with lavender. A herb garden, soft fruit and apple trees provide edibles whilst in another corner, a beautiful Alitex glasshouse is almost hidden behind a screen of frothy planting.

In one wall, a heavy wooden door leads out into the wider estate and in another area, a wooden pergola provides sheltered seating whilst nearby, two wooden ‘thrones’ invite you to sit down and enjoy the surroundings.

The garden is not just for the occasional visit.  You can also get married, have your wedding reception, christening and anniversary/birthday parties in the beautiful surroundings or in one of two adjacent event rooms.

Whilst we were visiting, a polo game was taking place on the nearby polo field so we wandered out to watch the last chukka.  Cowdray Estate also has a fabulous farm shop selling attractively displayed local produce, meat and bread in addition to a great selection of wines.  There’s a gift shop too with so many beautiful things I actually wanted to buy everything in the shop!



The Old Rectory, Bletchingly. An NGS gem.



The Old Rectory, Bletchingly, open for the NGS

The Old Rectory, Bletchingly is the sort of NGS garden that everyone hopes to stumble across.  The property comprises a handsome honeyed stone Georgian house set amidst country meadows and it is hard to believe that the busy M23 and Gatwick airport are a mere stone’s throw away.

Approached via a narrow tree-lined lane, the house appears almost as a surprise as you turn the corner and would not look out of place on the pages of Country Life.  The topiary-studded front garden lends a formality to the building and the visitor is guided to the side of the house where a pleached hedge shelters a stone rill planted entirely in shades of lime green.



Turning the corner, the back garden is revealed in all its Italianate splendour. This is topiary heaven, with box parterres, hedges and clipped shapes dominating the garden, all surrounding a central pool where a number of terracotta pots planted with black tree Aeoniums form a dramatic mini-landscape.

Roses spill luxuriantly from the walls at one end of the garden and in another secluded spot, foxgloves soar above their clipped box confines.


A formal lavender lined path of standard white roses leads towards the house where a pergola-covered parterre sits neatly beside the stone terrace where teas were being served.

Beyond the formality, we discovered a mini-arboretum, presumably planted around the same time as the house was being built.  Here, towering trees shade giant Gunnera, presided over by a large statue of a stag. The mature trees in the arboretum include specimens such as copper Beech, Catalpa (Indian Bean tree) and best of all, a flowering Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree).

A number of visitors were enjoying teas on the sunny terrace where plants were offered for sale.  Teas were being served on dinky vintage china and the homemade cakes were decorated with fresh flowers. (I recommend the ginger cake!).


The Old Rectory, Bletchingly is open on selected days in aid of the National Gardens Scheme.  See hyperlink for details.

The Chelsea Flower Show 2018


The David Harber & Savills Garden at Chelsea 2018

The Chelsea Flower Show 2018 is finally here and nobody could have wished for better weather.  With a mainly warm and sunny outlook for the week, my blog features a snippet of what to expect if you are lucky enough to have a ticket.  Here’s a selection of my favourites…..


The David Harber and Savills Garden designed by Nic Howard (main photo and above)

This is the first show garden for sculptor David Harber and what a magnificent set piece in which to display his exquisite designs. Nic Howard has created a transient timescape to reflect mankind’s evolving relationship with the environment. The garden marks the passage of time where a natural landscape evolves towards controlled, densely packed planting and culminates in a sculpture representing the earth’s core.  Each section is planted around a David Harber sculpture, starting with a magnificent free-form vertical bronze, which took 476 man hours to create.  Stipa Gigantea, Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ are punctuated with purple splashes of  Iris ‘sable’ and peachy foxgloves.  The planting becomes more lush towards the centre, where birch trees and corten steel wings are densely underplanted with  purple lupins, pink peonies and apricot geums creating a metaphorical worm hole through which can be seen the show-stopping bronze and gold-leaf sculpture of Aeon – described by David as ‘an explosion of time which represents the earth’s nucleus of energy’.

The LG Eco-City Garden by Hay Joung Hwang (photos above and below)

The LG Eco City Garden differs pleasingly from the artist’s impression which confusingly illustrates an apartment block.  This charming show garden illustrates the green space allocated to an apartment block and utilises this space to the max.  A handful of maple trees (Acer tataricum subsp. ginnala) cast dappled shade over a sunken seating area which is surrounded by glorious yellow planting (whoever says they don’t like yellow flowers should think again!).  The garden leads directly from the ‘kitchen’ across horizontal stepping stones beneath which goldfish swim lazily in the pool that surrounds the building. The filtered water system uses nutrients from fish waste to feed the vertical salad and herb garden planted within the building.

The garden is designed to highlight environmental issues and the careful planting includes a solar panelled sedum roof and cushiony mosses planted in the pool area which help to reduce city pollution.  The garden team informed me that moss cultures feed on pollutants and one handful of moss is equal to one mature tree! When it comes to removing pollution, the planting in the LG garden is equivalent to six hectares of forest!


The Trailfinders South African Wine Estate Garden

The Trailfinders South African Wine Estate Garden by Jonathan Snow (above)

The instant appeal of this charming garden is the Dutch-gabled house with wide verandah overlooking the cutest formal garden, lushly planted with lupins which appear to be something of a theme this year.  A low wall and garden gate lead to a tiny vineyard which looks towards the wilder Fynbos landscape beyond.  The Fynbos area recreates the unique South African region and is planted with native plants such as Protea cynaroides, Kniphofia and Agapanthus growing amongst Mediterranean shrubs.

In case you were wondering, the name comes from the Dutch ‘fijnboch’ which translates as ‘fine bush’. As with similar Mediterranean ecosystems, Fynbos vegetation needs regular fire at intervals of approximately 10-14 years in order to germinate seed and retain its condition. The fire rejuvenates older vegetation and indeed some flora only grow immediately after fire which is demonstrated in the planting at the front of the garden where small dots of colour lie beneath the burnt stems of older plants and shrubs.

The Lemon Tree Trust Garden by Tom Massey (above)

The Domiz refugee camp in Northern Iraq not only provided inspiration for Tom Massey’s garden; he was aided in his design by camp refugees who themselves have created ingenious planting schemes in their own harsh environment.  The Lemon Tree Trust garden recreates ideas used in Iraq incorporating scavenged materials such as concrete blocks and tin cans.

Tom Massey’s interpretation emphasises the importance of horticulture and the unexpected beauty of greenery in the austere climate of a refugee camp. Drought tolerant plants such as pomegranate and lemon trees are underplanted with colour and a central water feature highlights the fact that grey water is reused in the refugee camps.  Along one wall, edibles are grown in tin cans and crevices within concrete blocks, reminding us that growing food not only nourishes the camp’s residents but provides the people with a community space in which to nurture nature.

The M&G Garden by Sarah Price (above)

Described as a ‘romanticised haven designed for a warm sunny climate’ this large show garden commands a corner plot with bisecting paths and great views for the visitor.  Its honeyed hues derive from the clay and aggregate chosen to represent a Mediterranean garden which are matched with the plant choices: soft grasses, Dianthus, Cistus, and Euphorbia – all the sort of wispy, drought tolerant flowers that you might expect to find in the sunny southern Mediterranean.

Rammed earth walls (created by making a virtual mud-pie within panels of wood) enclose separate spaces which are broken up with gravel pathways interspersed with pools into which water trickles from corten steel spouts whilst shady height is provided by pomegranate trees. The overall effect is a dreamy, blurred landscape that reminded me of the Lithica quarry garden in Menorca, a centuries-old quarry that has been made-over to horticulture.

There were so many gardens to choose from, but my final favourite was one of the Artisan gardens.

O-mo-te-na-shi no NIWA – The Hospitality Garden by Kazuyuki Ishihara (above and below)

O-mo-te-na-shi no NIWA is my new favourite word (try saying it, it’s marvellous!). It’s derived from the Japanese culture of omotenashi – the concept of wholehearted and sincere hospitality.  Any visitor to this piece of Japanese perfection could not fail to be enchanted by the tranquil setting where a perfectly executed Azumaya (garden house) overlooks a pool planted with Iris Ensata into which water flows gently downwards over the rocky banks.  Mosses and maples are present in abundance, and the little garden sits comfortably within its natural woodland setting where a copper beech is mirrored by the red Japanese Maples beneath.  Walk around the garden and you will see that the walls behind flourish with mosses and ferns, showing that another garden designer has consider the concept of moss cultures improving the environment.




The Moongate Garden, Sussex


The Hobbit House overlooks the pool

It is hard to believe that the Moongate Garden in East Preston, Sussex in a little over 2 years old.  The garden has a ‘Chelsea’ element to it which is not surprising since it was designed in partnership with Nic Howard.

The garden divides itself not only into two halves but also into sixteen separate ‘areas’, each area carefully categorised by garden owners Derek and Helen.  The Purbeck stone wall that straddles the garden has two openings; one, a ‘moongate’ leading to the less formal part of the garden and the other, a vertical window providing a glimpse through from the kitchen window.



The ‘Moongate’ within the Purbeck stone wall

The first half of the garden blends the living space with the outdoors.  A canopy on the exterior of the house ‘brings the outside in’ and a continuous stone floor leads seamlessly into the garden where it continues as a path which becomes less formal towards the moongate.  A circular lawn surrounded by a haze of purple alliums is the main feature in May, along with the two pools and of course, the hobbit house.



The Hobbit House

The intriguing Hobbit House, designed by the owners overlooks a lushly planted rectangular pool.   A sedum roof flows down the side of the little house to a waterfall of plants which cascade towards the grit path.  Inside is a hobbity little hideaway – a perfect retreat to sit and contemplate the tranquil sound of running water.



Sedum roof and cascading planting on the side of the hobbit house.

Mirrors are a strong feature in the garden too, each blackly painted fence panel brightly reflecting the garden through thoughtfully placed mirrors. A second, circular pool reflects the shape of the lawn.



The Moongate seen from the wilder side of the garden

I was excited to see what was beyond the Purbeck stone wall and as I walked through I spotted tiny fairies hiding in the crevices!  The path leads through to the wilder side of the garden where clearly defined areas demonstrate a love of plants and different planting styles.



Lushly planted with lots more to come!

Another circular bed is surrounded by planting – a large border is packed with plants and overlooked by fruit trees growing against the wall.  In the far corner, a fern-laden stumpery gives the appearance of a tiny fairy glade and a highlight was seeing a tiny fairy door set into the base of a tree.  Another area, nicknamed ‘the Mound bed’ has cushiony mounds of shrubs presided over by two brightly coloured peacocks. (not real, I hasten to add).



The fern laden stumpery

A tiny Japanese garden links the mound bed to the rear of the hobbit house and you are back in the formal garden again.  Beside the house, entertaining is the theme, with an outdoor kitchen and ingenious raised salad beds beside the kitchen.



raised salad beds beside the house

This garden is only 50 x 15 metres but appears so much bigger due to the extensive planting. The owners are clearly passionate about their garden which will only improve as it matures.  I can’t wait to come back in the summer and see how the planting has filled out.



The rectangular gap in the wall looks through to the other side of the garden.












The Ascot Spring Garden Show

The inaugural Ascot Spring Garden Show starts today.  What can visitors expect from this new event?  One thing is for sure; the weather has not what the organisers, garden designers and stall holders had hoped for in the run up to the event.  Heavy rain and lower than average temperatures have been distinctly unspring-like but being British, everyone soldiered on to produce a triumph which should be visited (especially since the temperatures are set to soar by the weekend).

Ascot is easily reached and due to its prominence has several free car-parks within walking distance – what a bonus! The event is staged in the entrance concourse where there are six show gardens by several prominent garden designers in addition to six further gardens designed by horticulture students.  For those who don’t like to go home empty-handed, there are 34 specialist plant nurseries and 50 garden related trade stands to browse.

The event is the brainchild of Stephen Bennett (former shows director of the RHS) and promises to “showcase Britain’s finest established and emerging horticultural talent”. The show-gardens are exhibited alongside one-another with the great pavilion as a backdrop.

Claudia De-Yong’s ‘What Lies Beneath’ looks from the outset like an attractive small garden with pretty pergola and an ‘I want one of those’ garden shed.  This garden is the setting for landscaping talks throughout the 3 day show on the methods used by professionals to prepare and build hard-landscaping and decking.

Joe Perkins’s ‘The Courtyard’ is an excellent example of how to use a small garden as an ‘outdoor room’.  Here, a central limestone paved area is set with table and chairs for entertaining, surrounded by yew hedging and zingy lime green Euphorbia and Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’.

The dominant feature in ‘On Point’ by Tom Hill is an unusual upside-down metal planter containing triangular clipped box. The geometric design of the garden is echoed in all aspects such as the canopy with simple dining area beneath.  The overall feel is neatness and order; a trio of cuboid water features, a well-placed bench and sculptural fire-pit, all complemented by an array of textured planting.

Pergolas and seating areas seem to be a dominant theme at Ascot and ‘The Landform Spring Garden’ by Catherine MacDonald is designed on an angle with the covered entertaining area at an imaginary angle to the house.  Designed as ‘a snapshot of a larger garden’ it is traditional and achievable.  The David Harber sculpture is more aspirational than achievable for me, however!



Designer Kate Gould’s ‘A Garden for all Seasons’ was easily my favourite show garden. Divided into two areas, the garden is strongly focussed on enjoying your outside space all year-round. Corteen steel panels and pergola provide the architectural bones within which Kate has incorporated a dining area with useful bottle storage (!) and a separate seating area with fire-pit.  Pink cherry blossom froths over orange tulips, lime Euphorbia, hostas, ferns and grasses.

‘The Yardley London Flower Garden’ by Pip Probert bravely incorporates three areas on different levels; seating, dining and open areas, all connected by a central rill. Inspired by Yardley’s floral fragrances, the packed planting is dominated by standard bay trees beneath which Pip has planted an array of seasonal splendour including tulips, Heucheras, Euphorbias, Fatsia and Heucherellas.

Created in association with The Prince’s Foundation, the Young Gardeners of the Year 2018 competition organised by David Domoney ‘strives to champion young green talent’. The six gardens are situated on the first floor of the pavilion. The aim of the project was to prove how a garden can be created in a small area. Sustainability is key in these gardens and each featured ideas on the use of recycled items and sustainable techniques.

‘The Winner’s Circle’ focussed around a central ornamental firepit and has a drought tolerant planting scheme. A bio-barrel assists with the recycling of rainwater which is designed to filter back into the ground. (Pershore College).

‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ is constructed from recycled timber and plastics and features locally sourced plants chosen for texture and scent. (Shuttleworth College).

‘Kelleway’s Corner’ combines recycled components including scaffold boards and re-used paving stones.  It features a bicycle store (promoting pedal power over petrol) with a sedum roof to encourage biodiversity and a wine bottle holder made from recycled horseshoes (I like this idea!). (Capel Manor College).

‘Superfoods for Horse and Humans’ features plants that promote good health for both equines and their riders. Their garden description reads; ‘Beds at different levels provide accessible foods for picking with the addition of preparation areas to create a functional space for active health conscious equestrians’.  Well, what can I say?  This is what every stable yard needs, clearly. (Reaseheath College).

My favourite of the College gardens, ‘Her Colours’ is designed around HM The Queen’s racing colours and features recycled plastic ‘lumber’ (faux timber to you and me). Stepping stones float across water where Equisetum is planted to give height and colour.  Softer textures such as Carex ‘Prarie Fire’ are planted around the seating area where a delicate Prunus Accolade flowered above.  (Writtle University College).

‘Northern Soul’ is another garden using locally sourced materials and with planting aimed at encouraging native wildlife and insects.  The paving is designed to drain into the rill and pond allowing the garden to irrigate itself. The most ingenious part of this garden is the ‘living edible wall’ – a vertical vegetable garden. (Myerscough College).

Away from the show gardens, the 34 specialist garden nurseries are definitely worth a visit with displays to rival the show gardens.  Amongst my favourites were a tulip display by H.W. Hyde & Son, a charming alpine trough arrangement at Rotherview Nursery and cottage-garden gorgeousness by Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants.   Jacques Amand Ltd are definitely worth a visit for spring bulb ideas with Fritillaria, Muscari, Narcissi and tulips galore.


Opening times are as follows: Friday April 13th & Saturday April 14th, 10-6pm. Sunday April 15th, 10am-5.30pm.  Talks on a variety of horticultural topics are being given throughout each day.  There are numerous opportunities for refreshment on site.

Corfu in Spring


A carpet of pink campion beneath olive trees.

It has been a long held ambition to visit the Greek island of Corfu in springtime.  The wildflowers and lush greenness of the island have captivated so many and the early months, before the crowds arrive are a great time to explore the island.

Corfu is the northern-most of the Ionian Islands with the north of the island almost touching Albania. Arriving in Corfu after the longest of English winters is pure balm, the welcoming sunshine a much needed tonic.  Corfu is the greenest of the Greek Islands and the hillsides are covered in olive groves and punctuated by the soaring rockets of pencil cypress (Cupressus sempervirens ‘Green Pencil’). Continue reading

Vann, Hambledon, Surrey


Beyond Guildford, at the outermost edges of leafy Surrey lie the winding narrow lanes that lead to Vann, a 16th Century house sitting comfortably within its 5 acres of garden which are opened regularly for the National Gardens Scheme.

Dating back to the 16th Century, the expansive house has an Arts and Crafts flavour which is complemented by the garden, which was partly inspired by ideas from Gertrude Jekyll, whose notes on the water garden plantings can be found in the local museum at Godalming. Continue reading

Thenford, Northamptonshire



The topiary-lined rill


Thenford gardens and arboretum are seldom open to the public so it was a privilege indeed to be able to take a look around the gardens in winter to admire the 555 varieties of snowdrops.

Gardener Emma Thick (known on Twitter as the snowdrop lady) is an extraordinary galanthophile, so committed to her little snowdrops that she wears a hat decorated with snowdrop blooms and has a snowdrop named after her.  Emma revealed that the collection at Thenford is possibly the largest naturalistic collection of snowdrop varieties.  The snowdrops are planted in carefully labelled clumps in a woodland setting, although there are sadly no enormous drifts of white to be seen. Continue reading

Waterperry Gardens, Oxfordshire



Snowdrops in the water meadow at Waterperry Gardens.

Waterperry Gardens was established in 1932 by Beatrix Havergal as the Waterperry School of Horticulture, a residential horticultural college for women which existed until 1971.

Only a 10 minute drive from the M40, the approach to the gardens is through the delightful village of Waterperry. Parking is directly beside the plant centre which you have to go through in order to access the garden.  As a first time visitor I found negotiating the shop and plant centre slightly confusing; it was unclear where to pay for the entry ticket and it was a bit of a trek going through the plant centre and circumnavigating a gift shop before finally arriving at the entrance to the garden itself.

 The 8 acre gardens consist of a Formal Garden, the Mary Rose Garden, a Waterlily Canal and the famous Long Herbaceous Border as well as a small arboretum in the meadow area beyond the formal gardens.  Waterperry is mainly famed for its late-summer opulence and a winter visit is more about enjoying the grounds and of course the snowdrops of which there are approximately 60 varieties.


Labelled snowdrops and aconites lining the entrance path.

 Snowdrops line the path leading to the main garden, each variety neatly labelled.  A bark path leads to the water meadow arboretum where thousands of snowdrops have naturalised and visitors are encouraged to wander over the little white bridge and across the meadow to inspect the carpet of white.


Over the wooden bridge to see the snowdrops in the meadow.

 Elsewhere, the bones of the garden are revealed with yew hedging, topiary and the skeletal forms of meticulously trained apple trees giving structure in the winter months.  The gardens produce their own apple juice from these trees in addition to the 5 acres of orchards on-site; the juice is available to buy in the shop.  The beds that froth so luxuriantly in the summer months are dormant, save for the snowdrops and a purple scattering of crocuses.


Knot garden and topiary

 The formal garden, enclosed within the protective arms of yew hedging, is designed to look good throughout the year with structured topiary cones and a knot garden giving shape for summer colour to complement.


Cushiony hillocks of Saxifrages nestled amongst Canadian stone in raised beds


The National Collection of Kabschia Saxifrages is contained at Waterperry. Displayed in raised beds amongst Canadian stone, this extensive collection of delicate little alpine cushions attracts Saxifrage fanatics from across the country.  Adrian Young, the curator of the collection organises a Saxifrage event each March when the plants are flowering and looking their best. Saxifrages originate from mountainous areas and adapt well to the British climate although Adrian reports that they do require a little protection at certain times of year. This year’s Saxifraga event is on 24th March.




Snowdrops at Waterperry


Snowdrops in the meadow









 I particularly enjoyed browsing around the small but perfect Museum of Rural Life which is housed in an 18th-century granary building. The amazing display of antique garden and agricultural tools, implements and photographs could potentially be a visit in itself, so interesting was the collection, presided over by collector Gordon Dempster who enthusiastically guided us around his exhibits which also included brewing equipment and horseshoes.

 Dogs are only permitted in the plant shop area and sadly we did not have time to sample the tea-room which is housed in a former classroom. Waterperry Gardens is open every day from 10am to 5pm (5.30pm between 1st May-31st October). The Waterperry snowdrop weekends are 17th and 18th and 24th/25th February 2018.



Continue reading

The Savill Garden in winter

Bursts of winter colour at The Savill Garden

Bursts of winter colour at The Savill Garden

The Savill Garden is a stone’s throw from the hectic M25 and yet feels far removed from the suburban gentrification of nearby Virginia Water.  Accessed via a narrow lane, the expansive car park comes as something of a surprise, with flags a-flutter and swooping pavilion beyond.  The pavilion, built in 2006 from larch and oak compliments the garden and offers an exciting refreshment opportunity – more about that later! Entrance to the garden is free in the winter months but visitors have to pay to park.  This is certainly a well-thought out garden, the winter planting  makes a showy first impression and leads the visitor around the garden to explore further. Continue reading