The Sussex Prairie Garden is a six acre garden with naturalistic planting, created by Paul and Pauline McBride, who worked with Piet Oudolf some years ago. The garden is on a farm and surrounded by oak trees, featuring a wide range of herbaceous perennials, Veronicastrums, Thalictrums, Persicarias, Sanguisorbas, Kniphofias and Hemerocallis. Huge drifts of ornamental grasses and Asters extend the season of interest hugely. In addition to the planting in the borders there are some massive pots beautifully planted up with huge salvias, Melianthus Major and splendid Pelargonium Tomentosum. The expansive beds are planned with winding rough paths to allow visitors to wander through, brushing grasses and Heleniums as they pass. It is definitely a garden for a late summer visit and seems to have managed remarkably well through this hot summer of 2022.
The plant fair on the day of our visit was spread out through the garden and accompanied by a band and stalls selling refreshments. It had a decidedly festive air! There are dozens of varieties of Miscanthus, Panicums, Molinias, Sporobolis and Penisetum and several of the plant stalls capitalize on this by selling a good selection of grasses.
The garden is at its best in late summer and into the autumn as might be expected from the nature of the plants. I have visited earlier in the year when there is far less to see.
The planting is bold and on a grand scale, not much of it less than a metre tall, but for anyone interested in growing prairie type plants or simply just interested, this is a garden well worth visiting.
A lovely day was had by all, despite the rain, for our visit to Pashley Manor Gardens, on Wednesday 14 September. The first wow factor was the magnificent and absolutely huge 500-year-old spreading oak tree that is the same age as the frontage of the Manor House. The second wow factor are the gardens: exquisitely beautiful, divided into several colour-co-ordinated garden ‘rooms’ which lead to the fabulous terrace, with sweeping views of the long borders, lawns, lake (once a moat) and surrounding trees to the countryside beyond. After a refreshing coffee, many joined a half-hour gardener’s dahlia ‘talk and walk’ around sections of the garden’s long borders. I loved the gardens so much that I am aiming to visit again on a sunny day so that I can relax on the terrace and absorb the spirit of the place.
Thinking we would take advantage of the extra days made available for visits to Perch Hill, we chose the one for container planting. However, on the day it was the dahlias that stole the show and which we will remember!
Although rain was not forecast, we arrived to a little bit of a mizzle and a very grey sky – in the photographs this has tended to deaden the exuberant colours. We were knocked out by Penhill Watermelon, Geri Scott and the delicious Apricot Desire, but it would be impossible to choose one favourite out of all the lovely colours. Although some are critical of the Sarah Raven enterprise, there is no question that the gardens are beautifully styled. Of course, plants are labelled so that anything you see you will find on their website, but it is a commercial business. In fact, it is good to find a label so that you can identify what you are looking at! Salvias are everywhere, edging the herbaceous borders, in pots as well as mixed through the beds. These are such versatile plants.
One of the things I like best about RHS Wisley is how useful it is – beautiful to walk around, pleasant to visit, but also how just being there can answer a multitude of gardening questions: ‘Will this plant survive outside?’‘Just how big can an Indian Bean Tree get?’ or ‘How best can I display alpine plants in my small garden?’
But one of the most useful parts of RHS Wisley helps to answer a question that has become louder and more frequent with every passing year, especially here in the South East:
‘What can I use to replace my ravaged box hedges?’
On Wednesday 11 May, a coachload of CABAHS members went on a much anticipated trip to RHS Wisley. This was my first experience of a CABAHS coach trip and it was brilliantly organised by Anna (thank you Anna!).
After experiencing dry weather for weeks, the forecast was for rain mid-afternoon, so it felt important to pack as much in as possible before the rain started. Several members had signed up for a tour with a Wisley volunteer, but as the tours started, so did the rain – several hours earlier than forecast! We were, however, undeterred.
Late April is a great time to remind yourself that spring happens outside of London, and I had the joy of meeting a group of friends in Yorkshire for the Harrogate Flower Show. This is quite a major show, running over 4 days, but it’s not run by the RHS and it has quite different emphases. It does, though, have lots of exhibitors and we enjoyed a full day there, in brilliant sunshine.
First off, we looked at the flower arranging, clearly a major component with several training colleges nearby. There were lots of competition categories, from big set pieces to carefully chosen themes. We admired long-horned cows fashioned from garlands of flowers, and saw a heavy emphasis on arum lilies, which featured on the Best In Show winner, for instance.
By contrast, the show gardens were a very minor element of the event. They were small, commercially-sponsored but not carefully themed, and quite underwhelming. And they had very few people looking at them.
The area for various Societies was dominated by the Daffodil Society Northern Group, where competitors were vying for prizes in nearly 100 categories. The variety of blooms was extraordinary, with a strong emphasis on precision and newly-developed cultivars. Among others, the Yorkshire Bonsai Society was also showing beautiful specimens, as were the National Auricula and Primula Society, the National Dahlia Society, and the West Yorkshire Hardy Plant Society, which won a Premier Gold award for its spectacular display.
The gardens at Keukenhof in April are quite remarkable. Great rivers of tulips are everywhere. Small exhibitions in the Juliana house give background information to the history and also to the planting practices of this huge venture: 7 million tulips (and other flowering bulbs) are planted each year and each year, at the end of flowering, these are all taken up and crushed to be used as compost around the trees in the garden and made into pulp for the paper which covers the guides to the estate.
As a not-for-profit organisation, in addition to the garden architects, the gardens rely on an army of volunteers. From May onwards the gardens are closed to allow time for the essential work of taking up the tulips and replanting, until reopening for the spring display. The bulbs in each garden area are given to Keukenhof by growers in the Netherlands and the name of the company appears as signage on the beds. For those wishing to make a note of their favourites, tulips are also discretely labelled, although it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormous range on display!
Inspired by Melanie’s wonderful talk to members about the various Rothschild gardens, Sharon & I accompanied her on a trip to see the restoration project at Gunnersbury Park. We had our volunteer project at Charlton House & Gardens firmly in mind throughout the day, and were pleased to find parallels – albeit on a much grander scale there! Gunnersbury was bought by Ealing & Acton council in 1925 (Charlton was bought by Greenwich Council in the 1920s) and used as a public park in much the same way that Charlton Park has been.
In 2018 the “Large Mansion” was restored using Heritage Lottery and other funding and opened as a Museum housing the borough archive. Major parts of the park were included in the funding, the Orangery, lake and orchards for example. The Friends of Gunnersbury Park were instrumental in the restoration effort, and volunteers clearly play a large part in the day-to-day running.
On Thursday I joined a tour of Avery Hill Park with the Mottingham Horticultural Society, who had extended an invitation to CABAHS members. It was a beautiful, crisp, sunny afternoon and the park looked gorgeous. Our guide John, from the Friends of Avery Hill Park, told us about the history and prehistory of the park before leading us around the extensive area.
Some members may be familiar with the Winter Garden, a glasshouse currently undergoing renovation work (therefore closed) and about to pass from the hands of the University of Greenwich back to the local council. I look forward to seeing it after renovation is complete!
There are two main areas of the park, historically and now. The more manicured, grassed parkland associated with Avery Hill Mansion (which is currently being converted into a school), and former farmland, with field boundaries and drainage ditches. The Friends are working to make the latter areas more wildlife-friendly by negotiating a meadow-style mowing regime (ie: cutting only twice a year, removing the mowings once seed has dropped, and sowing wildflower seeds) with some mown paths. Even after just a year, it’s possible to see that the range of plant species is extensive. The increase in butterfly numbers and activity in summer 2021 was notable. It is hoped that a general increase in biodiversity will also encourage an increase in bat numbers, which have declined in recent years.
The former field boundaries are still visible, and what would have been hedgerow has grown into rows of trees and scrub, which is excellent for wildlife. A new mixed hedgerow has been planted where one had disappeared, and the drainage ditches have been cleared by volunteers. Another historical feature which lives on through the Friends is the old field names, such as Henley’s Meadow, Little Stony Acre, Grey’s Field and Great Stony Acre. The latter is being planted with native tree species – oak, hornbeam, birch, hawthorn and field maple. Around 1500 trees have been planted over a five year period, and there are plans for a natural drainage pond in the centre as the area is at the bottom of a slope, is mostly heavy clay and becomes very boggy in winter.
It was a very enjoyable afternoon and I appreciated the chance to visit the Park with a knowledgeable guide.