Alnwick Garden

Alnwick_gardensThis is not a garden; but a visitor attraction, not that there is anything fundamentally wrong with visitor attractions per se. A garden though is created as a personal folly in purely personal search for pleasure through the manipulation of nature, l can’t help but feel the motivation for Alnwick Garden was of a far more financial nature. That aside; the garden doesn’t work as a garden.  The centre piece is the large and very elaborate waterfeature which is far too big for the site and is only missing the Disney Princess Castle at the top. Any large cascading water feature is going be compared to the Chatsworth cascade but if that was the inspiration behind this one the creator clearly didn’t understand how the one at Chatsworth worked. Any garden water feature has to be in scale with its surroundings and add to them not try to visually swap them. Why it was seen fit to chlorinate the water I don’t know but the smell of chlorine assails you before you reach the water. Such a move prevents any aquatic life, plant or animal, surviving in the water feature which says a lot about the attitudes of the people behind it.

The other dominant feature is the “poison garden” and much is make of the dangers this garden contains. The whole thing it treated with great drama even though most of the plants are common and normal practices, like washing your hands before eating and not eating any plants you are not sure of, have protected us all from for years. Somewhere behind the showmanship there are one or more valid messages but they are drowned out by the ringmaster!

There is no doubt that Alnwick Gardens are controversial, you only have to mention it to an UK nurseryman to see their blood pressure rise, the important question is; has it done anything to assist the development of gardens and the plants grown in them? Personally I can’t see it, which is a shame as the site has plenty of potential and a lot of money was spent on it.

Strawberry Hill


Horace Walpole first found Strawberry Hill in 1747 and having purchased the house in 1749 set about rebuilding it in the Gothic style with a garden that developed as the house did.  A very well connected and influential man of letters he was an important character in the development of gardens in the 19th century.

The house he built at Strawberry Hill is regarded as a classic example of Rocco regency design and the accompanying garden received a stream of visitors during Walpole’s life. Sadly, the garden was allowed to deteriorate over the years until virtually nothing was left and a large part of it was sold for building. In recent years a gardener has been appointed and volunteers marshalled with the hope of recreating at least part of the garden.

Leckmelm Shrubbery and Arboretum

The entrance to Leckmelm Shrubbery and Arboretum from Google Maps

This takes a little find and is a world away from the highly commercialised gardens usually open to the public. It is situated on the north east shore of Loch Broom 3 miles down the A893 south of Ullapool. The post code IV23 2RH will get you close but you will still have to hunt a little, look out for the high stone wall set back from the road.

Originally started in the 1870s by Mr Alexander Pirie, who owned the Leckmelm estate and had made his money in the family paper manufacturing business in the Aberdeen area. The location made good use of its sheltered location on the west coast of Scotland where tender plants can benefit from the protection of the warm gulf steam. This allowed Seats-at-Leckmelm-Shrubbery-and-Arboretumthe planting of many rare and tender plants which have now had time to grow to impressive sizes. Covering about 12 acres the garden is criss-crossed with paths and initially the garden flourished with a staff of 12 gardeners by 1910. The garden also had a walled kitchen garden with greenhouses and utility buildings. Of this only the wall by the road still exists and the carpark is found through an arch in this wall.

Sadly; the garden was abandoned in 1945, many of these large Victorian gardens became unsuitable around this time, and the garden was left to grow wild until 1985 when it was decided to salvage what was left. Fortunately, the amenable climate and location meant many of the plants had flourished and there is now an excellent collection of mature trees and shrubs growing in the garden. The people working on it only have limited resources they can bring to the project but what the garden is none the worse for it and clearly the garden has enormous potential.

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.