Le Château du Clos Luce

Lernado da Vinci's vegetable garden
Lernado da Vinci’s vegetable garden

Le Château du Clos Luce greatest claim to fame is as the final home of Leonardo da Vinci and the garden is set out as a celebration of his work. It does though have two redeeming features; one is the reconstruction of da Vinci bridges and the other is his vegetable garden. If you ever wanted inspiration for a garden bridge design a walk around the grounds would be a good place to start. The vegetable garden does allow you to get an idea of what a 16th century vegetable garden in the Loire valley might have looked like.Flat-timber-bridge-at-Le-Chateau-du-Clos-Luce-France

Le Château de Chambord

Chateau_de_ChambordLe Château de Chambord looks like the archetypal grand French château, built in the 16th century and believed to have had some of its features designed by Leonardo da Vinci. If Disney was to build a château this is what it would build. The truth is though that it was in fact only ever used as a hunting lodge! An extremely large, grand and elaborate hunting lodge, but a hunting lodge all the same. The fact it was never really lived as a main residence means there has been little in the way of a 16th century French garden associated with it.

The château is very much the star of the show; immediately around it the surrounding woodland is cleared and left as grass to afford a better view of it. Several paths radiate out from this area to create vistas of it and the river Le Cosson has been reshaped to form a reflecting lake on two sides of the building.

Of more recent design is the English Garden which is said to be based on plans from 1889, but is only a small area of trees, shrubs and hardy perennials. Of more interest is the ornamental vegetable garden which is set out with an eclectic range of plants set between paths of gravel coloured glass.

Pinetum Park & Pine Lodge Garden

Slave-garden-detail-at-Pine-Lodge-gardenThis is a private garden open to the public and one of the best modern gardens in the south west of England. It is far more of a garden than the nearby Eden Project or Lost Garden of Heligan and one of my favourite gardens of all time. It all started in 1976 when Ray and Shirley Clemo were looking for a property near their fruit and vegetable business. At the time the property consisted of a bungalow with an orchard and a couple of acres of land. Initially the intensions were modest but, as happens, one they started the project grew and grew!

The garden is in fact divided into 12 gardens each with a different feel but the separation ofJapanese-garden-detail-at-Pine-Lodge-garden individual areas is not as sharply defined as in Hidcote and Sissinghurst with one area being allowed to flow into the next. The bungalow is quiet modest and is easily lost in amongst the garden and its urban location, on the outskirts of Saint Austell, means it makes little use of the surrounding landscape so the garden has to be very self-contained. This is achieved by using the loose divisions between the garden areas to allow you to be drawn through the garden with a central or external focus. The enclosed mind-set of the garden and the restrained use of hard landscaping make the plants the focus of the garden and great effort is placed on naming as many as possible. Over 6000 named plants have made it extremely popular with garden visits and contra to what is claimed by the operators of some other nearby gardens do not in any way distract from the display but add to the pleasure for visiting gardeners.

Ill health finally forced Ray and Shirley Clemo to sell the garden and it is now owned and run by Chang Li who has managed very well to preserve the work of Ray and Shirley while expanding the gardens commercial side. The garden therefore remains an excellent example of garden design in the second half of the 20th century.

Logan Botanic Garden

Garden-detail-at-Logan-Botanic-GardenPart of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE); Logan Botanic Garden sits at one of the most south-westerly points of Scotland, only 40 miles from the centre of Belfast as the crow flies. Bathed by the gulf stream to the west and sheltered by the Scottish Lowlands to the east this garden contains a stunning collection of tender plants.

Most of the most dramatic plants are the tender ones from the southern hemisphere and these are grown in the shelter of the walled garden. The walls, up to 15 feet high, are associated with a castle ruined in the 16th century though the garden itself was originally part of the Logan Estate prior to it becoming part of the RBGE in 1969.

Though a botanic garden and therefore a collection of plants rather than a garden per se it is a wonderful display of what tender plants can be grown in such a northerly latitude if the local conditions are used to their best advantage.

Les Jardins Suspendus de Marqueyssac

Les_Jardins_Suspendus_de_MarqueyssacPerched on a rock outcrop high above the fertile flood plain of the Dordogne river and surrounded by the rivers meander on three sides the garden enjoys dramatic views across the country side. There has been a château and garden on this site at least since the 17th century when the then owner, Bertrand Vernet, employed Poacher (a pupil of Le Nôtre) to lay out gardens there. Little appears to have been recorded about what this looked like but in 1860s Julien de Cerval became the owner and he developed the in Italianate style; creating a lot of what is seen today.

What is there now is a garden of two halves; one close around the château and a second Les_Jardins_Suspendus_de_Marqueyssac#3stretching away from it to the north east following the natural ridge, but both making great use of the dramatic views across the Dordogne valley. Around the chateau is hot with little shade from sun and dominated by elaborate topiary using box. As is the norm in this area; all the hedging is cut by skilled gardeners by hand. Using hand shears and plumb lines the complex curves and shapes are created by eye and the gardeners have a lot of freedom to mould the shape as they seem fit. It is not possible to say what the original topiary looked like in the 19th century as the garden had been allowed to fall in to serious neglect. It was only in 1996 that its restoration was begun and it is a testament to the regenerative nature of box that the hedges now look so good.

Les_Jardins_Suspendus_de_Marqueyssac#2The area to the north east of the chateau is far less formal and cool as the result of the topography and the canopy of trees which cover it. This woodland garden blends into the more formal area with a gradual move away from clipped plants but throughout the garden the range of plants is kept very limited and no part of it is what you would describe as a flower garden in the English sense.

Marqueyssac is a stunning example of what you would expect of a 19th century chateau garden in this part of the world and worth visiting if only for the elaborate topiary as a display of man’s control of nature.

Sissinghurst Castle

Sissinghurst_castleWhen Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson bought the ruined Sissinghurst Castle in 1930, along with its surrounding estate, Harold was initially hesitant until won over by its potential. And at that time potential was all the property really had as it was an uninhabitable wreak. Harold and Vita though quickly started to create plans and as both were practical gardeners by 1937 they already had sufficient of a garden to first open to the public. From these modest beginning they created one of the worlds most visited and written about gardens, at part due to Vita being an enthusiastic gardener by nature and a writer by profession. The couple had differing but complementary garden styles, with Harold more concerned more with the structure and symmetry, and Vita the planting but the two roles were not exclusive being more shades of the same colour.
The starting date of 1930 places it late in the Arts and Craft movement but they were Sissinghurst_borderstrongly influenced by, and meet, Lawrence Johnson at Hidcote, Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood and William Robinson. This contact with many of the leading lights of garden design at the time combined with the extensive travelling necessitated by Harold’s work as a diplomat early in their marriage and Vita sense of history to form a remakable garden. Largely the garden is broken up by walls and hedges to create a human scale as they are at Hidcote; but at Sissinghusrt the buildings, and particular the tower, form a focus for the separate areas of the garden and this whole then blends into the surrounding countryside. This contrasts with Hidcote where the house is relatively unimportant to the garden and the garden rooms work with avenues and vistas to draw in the surrounding countryside.

The white garden at Sissinghurst Castle.

One of the last of the areas in the garden to take its present form was one of the most influential; the white garden. In a small garden such a restrictive pallet would be unlikely to work but here it forms a cool and refreshing interlude to the strong colours elsewhere in the garden. Originally the rose garden it wasn’t started until after the war and is kept exclusively as green foliage and white flowers. It is tempting to draw comparisons with this economy of style with the economies the country was still experiencing through rationing but even with such a narrow pallet great variety is found.
The garden though was constantly a work in progress for them, with plans for areas beyond the present garden, right up to Vita’s death in 1962. Harold survived her by 6 years but her death broke him and by then the joint headgardeners Pam Schwerdt and Sissinghurst_castle_white_gSibylle Kreutzberger had become the garden’s custodians. The estate pasted to their younger son Nigel who, faced with large death duties, struck a deal where the estate passed to the National Trust in 1967 in lieu of the duty but allowed the family to continue its involvement in the running of the house and estate. Financially the estate is now in better health than it has been for a long time. Vita had a large inheritance which she poured into the property but money was often tight for them. From a design point the garden has not fundamentally changed, maintaining the spirit of Harold and Vita, making it now more of historical record of Harold and Vita’s garden style which is still influencing gardens today.

Les Jardins d’Eau

Les_jardins_d'EauIn truth this is more a resource than a garden but a very attractive one all the same. It is though a celebration of water lilies and lotuses which cover about 3 hectares. Started in only Les_jardins_d'Eau#2 1999 and opened to the public in 2000 the gardens make use of a site which slopesdown to the river Dordogne with a series of ponds and lakes. The most interesting feature though is the labyrinth; a 2800 m2 lake filled with different (labelled) water lilies and lotuses which are accessed by a network of decking walkways which allow you to get close up to the individual flowers.

How to lay crazy paving

Finished crazy paving
Finished crazy paving

Crazy paving has fallen right out of fashion; killed first by release of the modern mottle coloured concrete riven flags by Bradstone in the early 1980’s followed by the cheap imported stone flags from the Far East more recently. That said it still has its uses, particularly where an informal path is needed or a low cost solution to matching locally sourced stone. These days the likes of builders’ merchants no longer stock stone crazy paving so you will need to contact a local sandstone quarry. Sandstone is the preferred stone as it gives a good mix of workability, durability and slip resistance; although like all stone it can easily become slippery in the in the right conditions.



  • Crazy paving
  • Subbase
  • Ballast or mixed sand and gravel
  • Yellow sand
  • Cement
  • Cement mixer
  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow, or better still 2 wheelbarrows
  • Bricklayer’s trowel
  • Pointing trowel
  • 4lb Hammer
  • Cold chisel
  • Tape measure
  • Gloves
  • String line and pins

Estimating Materials:


As a rough guide for every square metre of paving you will need about 100kg of ballast, 20kg of yellow sand, 14 kg of cement and 200kg of subbase. These are only approximate figures and should only be taken as a guide.




  1. Mark out the area to be paved
  2. Dig out, removing the topsoil
  3. Set out the falls
  4. Make up to the level with subbase and compact it
  5. Set out the pieces of stone to see how they will fit
  6. Bed the stones onto concrete and point
  7. Clean up the pointing


  1. Mark out the area to be paved

How you chose to make the area out doesn’t really matter, you can get aerosols of paint, length of rope, sand or even a garden hose, but it will give you a change to check it’s the right size and in the right place. It’s easy at this stage to play around with the dimensions and be sure it is going to work. If is to be a path try it out, push any machinery along it to check is the right size and shape, if it’s to sit on put some chairs on it and have a sit. It’s much better to find any problems now than be left thinking if only.

  1. Dig out, removing the topsoil
Ground dug out for the paving
Ground dug out for the paving

The paving will need a solid base so remove any topsoil and if necessary dig further down so you are at least 225 mm below the finished level of the paving. If this does not take you down to firm stable ground then this depth needs to be increased, also in parts of the world where the winters are more severe that those experience in the UK again the excavation needs to be increased to prevent the ground under the paving becoming frozen and lifting the paving.

  1. Set out the falls

Due to the uneven surface of natural riven stone the paving should be laid to string lines. These lines should be set out at the level of the finish paving with one line at each side of the paving. These lines should set the fall on the paving for its surface to drain.

  1. Make up the level with subbase

Spread sufficient subbase over the area excavated in part 2 above up to bring it to within 125 mm of the level set up by the lines in part 3 above, making sure to compact the subbase well. Small areas can be compacted with a sledge hammer but for larger areas it’s worth hiring a vibrating plate. Remember, don’t try to compact more than a 150 mm thick layer at a time.

  1. Set out the pieces of stone to see how they will fit

Before you actually start laying the stones set them out in place to see how you are going to fit them together. Start with the largest pieces along the edges and fit the smaller ones in to suit, you don’t need to arrange every piece but it will help if you know how you are going to fit them together as it is rather like a giant jigsaw puzzle with no picture to go by.

  1. Bed the stones onto concrete and point
Concrete and mortar ready for the paving to be laid onto it
Concrete and mortar ready for the paving to be laid onto it

Move the stones to one side, you may wish to take a quick picture first to remind yourself, and mix some mortar using 6 parts of yellow sand to 1 part of cement and put the mixed mortar to one side. This is where a second wheel barrow comes in useful. Now mix a load of concrete using 6 parts of ballast to 1 part cement and spread it over a corner of the area you’re going to pave. Start at the far side and think carefully about out you are going to work without painting yourself into a corner. Once you have some concrete mixed and spread start placing your stones onto it. You may have to adjust the thick of the concrete as the stone will vary in their thickness; but once you are just above the level of you string lines you can tap the stone down with a rubber mallet or by placing a block of wood on them and hitting it with a heavy hammer. Once bedded into the concrete the top of the stones should be just below the surface of the lines and following the fall you created with the lines.

Crazy paving laid but not pointed
Crazy paving laid but not pointed

Once you have 2 or 3 stones down start to point between them using the mortar you mixed at the beginning, this way the pointing will get good bond with the concrete the flags are pointed on and be less likely to come loose. Continue spreading the concrete, laying the flags and pointing them as you go. You will probably find you will have to use a hammer and cold chisel to get the pieces all to fit together, particularly the smallest ones.

The reason the mortar was mixed first was because if you don’t clean out the mixer when changing from mixing from mortar to concrete you will end up with lots of bits of gravel in the mortar which courses problems. This is not a problem going the other way.

Crazy paving just pointed
Crazy paving just pointed
  1. Clean up the pointing
Crazy paving part completed
Crazy paving part completed

When first used the mortar the paving is pointed with will be very wet, so once the joints are filled with mortar leave it to firm up (“go off”) a bit and then tidy it up with a pointing trowel. How long you will have to leave it will depend o the weather and in hot summertime it could be minutes while in winter it can take until the next day.

It is quite possible there will still be some mortar stains left and these are best clean up with brick acid. Carefully read and follow the instructions that come with it but for bets result let the mortar have plenty of time to harden first. Wet the paving with a hose pipe before pouring on the acid and then scrub it with a stiff bristled broom. Once the stains are removed rinse the area thoroughly with clean water.

How to create a low maintenance garden

Over many years of designing and creating gardens the most frequent request I have received is for a “low maintenance” garden. I have never been asked for a high maintenance one! This is usually followed something along the lines of “so we want most of it just lawn”. The real problem is that people muddle up low maintenance with simple maintenance. Low maintenance is about limiting the time and effort need to keep the garden looking good where as simple maintenance is all about following a mower around and avoiding those strange things in the borders with long funny names! The thing is low maintenance isn’t difficult and just needs a little thought and a lot less back ache.

What needs the most work!

Of all the aspects of a garden the traditional lawn is the most demanding in time and effort, nothing else requires this much the weekly attention all summer. A good contender for this top spot is also the vegetable garden but the people who put this much effort in to growing vegetables do so because they want to and aren’t looking for a low maintenance solution, otherwise they would not do it. The next suspect is annual bedding but this has largely fallen out of fashion at least in part because of the time and cost involved. Now annual bedded is really seen well done outside of municipal planting where it’s in often very well done. In private gardens, sadly, normally annual bedding mean a few lonely alyssum and aubrietia dotted sparsely along the edge of borders. The final culprit is bare soil; they say nature abhors a vacuum and gardens are no exception to this.

What needs less work

First off all gardens need some looking after, the trick is to balance what you want, what you have the time and resources for and what you need. At some point you will have to compromise as with all things in life. Obviously paving requires very little looking after but a concrete yard is going to look rather boring, so the temptation is going to add pots of plants but these need more caring for than plants in borders. Borders are often looked on as for more work than a lawn but for any given area they require far less time and effort than a lawn. I believe people are really just scared off because garden articles are full of all the things they say you need to do and knowing which plant to do what to. YOU CAN IGNORE THE VAST MAJORITY OF THIS IF YOU WISH, THE PLANTS WILL STILL GROW! Yes you might get less flowers or the foliage may not be as dramatic, but you will be a lot less intimidated by the idea of borders. Why then you ask do gardening books and magazine articles list all these things you are meant to do at specific times? Partly it’s because they are enthusiasts, often with a great deal of specialist knowledge, who want the plants at their very best. Another reason I fear is it’s about filling copy. If our expected to produce x number of words every day/week/month you are not going to last long if all you put is “Sit back and enjoy your garden”!


How to make a low maintenance garden


  1. Get rid or reduce the amount of the lawn
  2. Avoid bedding
  3. Use paving and gravel
  4. Start off without any perennial weeds
  5. Use borders and make them big enough for the plants
  6. Chose easy plants


  1. Get rid or reduce the amount of the lawn

In a small garden this is more practical than in a large one, also if you have children the practically of family life may mean this is not desirable. In a small garden that doesn’t have to double up as somewhere for the children to play then extending the borders and replacing the remaining lawn with paving, gravel and or bark is going to reduce the work needed. In larger gardens you are going to need to use grass as the alternatives are going to look very hard. Large area can be managed in easier ways though. Not all the grass needs to be cut short, cutting paths through the area and letting the rest grow long can look very effective. At some point the long grass is going to have to be cut but instead of cutting all the grass every week you just need a smaller mower to cut the paths each week and then hire in a bigger machine in autumn to cut it down and then a day disposing off the cut grass, which will be a lot less than the amount of grass you would have to dispose of if you were cutting it each week. If you hire in a 65 cm wide flail mower two of you should be able to do half an acre in a day.

  1. Avoid bedding

The problem with bedding is it needs replacing every year and leaves you with a bare area to do something with from autumn to spring. Also to be effective you need a lot which is a lot of work and expense. That said nothing gives such a rich display of flowers, even if it is rather out of fashion. If you do what a splash of summer colour use a few pots filled with plenty of plants so there is no room for weeds.

  1. Using paving and gravel

Though at first this may seem hard and drab there is a vast choice of materials which can be mixed to break up the appearance. The simplest way to break up a paved area is by mixing the sizes of paving used, for more contract a second type of paving can be added either a random blocks or in some form of pattern. Areas of gravel or chipping are cheaper and if there is only going to be people occasionally walking over the area the chippings can simply be laid over a porous membrane once the ground has been cleared of all the weeds and levelled. These area can be broken up with cobbles and boulders so long as they don’t get in the way of people walking across the area. Gravel has the added advantage that plants can be grown through it with the gravel or chippings forming a weed suppressing surface. Both paving and gravel can also be broken up with the odd container of plants. The trick being striking a balance between variety and messy; if in doubt less is better.

  1. Start off without any perennial weeds

You cannot stop the annual weed blowing into the garden but these are easily controlled; perennial weeds with an established root system are a lot harder, especially among garden plants. No matter how hard you try you will invariably leave a little bit of the roots left when you dig them up. This is sufficient for the plant to re-grow and soon the weed is back. Even if you cover them they will simply grow through or round the covering. The solution is to get rid of these before you start, a glyphosate based weedkiller is by far the most effective (make sure it isn’t a residual weedkiller). This way all you have to do is create conditions that are unsuitable for weed seeds to germinate. Four things are need for seeds to germinate and establish; light, moisture, air and a growing medium. Therefore shading by plants, a surface which dies out and the absence of something to grow in is going to inhibit any weeds becoming established.

  1. Use borders and make them big enough for the plants

Containers like plant pots will only support a plant for so long before it outgrows it and needs regular watering if the plant is not going to die from lack of water. This is true regardless of how big the container is. Planting them in borders is easier and watering, once they are established, is far less critical. The biggest mistake people make is to make the borders too small with the result that the plant quickly out grows the space it has. The plant then has to be replaced or continually cut back in an attempt to make it fit the space. This just makes more work.

  1. Chose easy plants

Most of the plants you find for sale in garden centres are there because they are easy and reliable. This does mean there is a tendency to see the same plants in every garden centre. Before you go out to buy your plants check a few basic things, how much space is available for the plant, how much light is it going to get and is the soil acidic ( if in doubt assume not) and bare these things in mind as you walk around the garden centre looking at the plants and reading there labels. If in doubt ask a member of staff. If the staff are no help walk out. Good nurseries and garden centres rely on employing staff that are enthusiastic about plants and they will be only too happy to spend a little time sharing their knowledge.

Hampton Court

Planting detail at Hampton Court
Planting detail at Hampton Court

Over its 500 year history this was a royal palace for over 200 years from the Tudor through the Stuart and into the Hanover period. Each successive period saw the house and gardens develop with the combination of great wealth and a need to impress. At this time the monarchy set the style and the court followed. In an ironic twist George III decision to abandon Hampton Court as a palace allowed it to slip into a state of slumber as the house became grace and favour apartments and the garden was largely ignored until the 20th century. This meant a lot of the garden from the mid-18th century could be reconstructed in the 20th century as the land was still gardens and little had been done that couldn’t be undone.
The garden is in fact now a collection of different gardens each with its own history allowing to you see a collection of different periods of garden design side by side. More than that though it does have an excellent range of plants and a magnificent Broad Walk herbaceous border which at 580 metres long shows just how effective a herbaceous border can be. Also worth mentioning is the bedding to the east of the palace and the rose garden to the east which is a modern use of that part of the garden. Both are styles of planting now sadly seen less and less due to fashion, cost and practicality.