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‘A small but special Spring Plant Fair’ (the header on the flyer) this weekend at Great Dixter offered the opportunity for a gentle stroll around the garden as well as to view, buy, make notes about and order from exquisite plant nurseries. Wandering up the drive by foot and admiring the structure of the trees around the horse pond  -  an experience often missed if entering and exiting by car. A still and misty morning . . .

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. . . some plants just need more observation now such as the chusquea in relief against the castellated yew hedging.

 

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Simon’s stacks of timber await his decisions on their reinvention into a functional item. Organised groupings and practical arrangements show clearly in the early season before the masses of ornamental vegetation take over . . .

 

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In the field below the nursery and the shop, many small, established nurseries showed their plants, seeds and  products. Lohhof Stauden displayed many grasses and Wildside with Keith Wiley presented delicious, delicate looking but tough treasures.

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Around the Lower Moat, gunnera fronds are on view – the unfurling is magnificent to behold – such stature – accompanied by new vertical growth on the iris – slim and neat in contrast.

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From the orchard the house appears to retreat behind the flowering fruit at this time of year but in the Long Border the drama is centre stage. Confident planting with all companions appearing  well orchestrated. Great knobbly stems of salix, naked and as yet unadorned, punctuate the composition . . .

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. . . the beauty of emerging foliage and flower heads is quite breath taking.

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The Exotic Garden looks tantalising but we are not allowed in quite yet, as everything is under wraps until the temperatures rise, so the Topiary Lawn claims our attention  . . .

 

 

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. . . large trumpets of lime green and piped stems of bamboo and the coppery skirts on Euphorbia x pasteuri delight my eye around the Blue Garden.

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Pretty blossoms on Prunus tenella in the Sunk Garden – so feminine. And various compositions both detail at ground level and bulkier and more distant at eye level offer themselves up to those who can’t get enough . . .

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. . . Fergus has a thing about euphorbias and he’s right! Marvellous with the clipped yew backdrops . .

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and just to finish lines of early, fosteriana, double and late tulips. All one could wish for.

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Preludes and dawns, those spare awakenings

Gone before listened to, how we miss such

Arrays of opportunities. As sun lifts up

Its wings and birds tune their large orchestra,

We are invited out of sleep, called to

Take part, share all such daily, sweet beginnings.

 

Dramas of dreams rise up, the haze of them

Dries in the sun and the awakened mind.

The spirit’s opportunities see flights

We seldom heed. Good moments of regret

Vanish in our wanton rummagings,

O bold designs, O short disparaged nights. Elizabeth Jennings Missed Chances

 

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We took the students to RHS Wisley to engage with, absorb and discuss end of summer planting as part of Advanced Planting Design module. From the fruit mound, we gazed across acres of orchard trees and marveled at the excellence of management and good house keeping that was on display. The dusters must be out at dawn to buff up the fruits on Malus ‘Bloody Ploughman’ . .

malus bloody ploughman

. .  scanning down the glasshouse borders, more commonly referred to as the Oudolf borders, the bleached heads of Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’  make striking and graphic statements at this time of year.  And at close quarters, this upright grass looks glorious with Persicaria ‘Firedance’ . . .

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oudolf borders periscaria firedance 2

calamgrostis

. . . a sweeping brush stroke of Calamagrostis brachytricha – soft + tactile – forms yet another layer in a composition of  form, habit and texture. Mass planting of echinacea, upright dark cones standing proud now, flows like a stream back into the woodland.

oudoulf borders echinacea 1

oudolf borders perovskia close up

More C. brachytricha displaying its silky plumes that contrast well with the darker thistle heads of Eryngium giganteum.  There’s a great sense of power now in the character of shrubs like Cotinus – a dramatic last burst of visual ‘fortissimo’  - while the fingers of Perovskia ‘Little Spire’, also in their last flourish, demand attention in a more ladylike and willowy manner.

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In the perennial meadow, where the planting mix has been defined by James Hitchmough, we recognised Silphium perfoliatum, daisy heads on tall stems ranging away over lower planting in this interesting gritty landscape. We were a tad stumped however, identifying the architectural seed heads in the image above. Neither members of staff had a clue!

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On Battleston Hill, a forest of gums caused discussion  . . .

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. .  as did carpets of much smaller things. Even without the added bonus of flowers, cyclamen is a winner with foliage that is nigh perfection.

cyclamen

The following day, a trip to Great Dixter , without the students although encouraged to visit, to see Conifer (L) and Miscanthus (R) perform in the annual Dixter Dachshund Day. They did well. Thanks Perry? or is it Adele for the facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.563475030367660.1073741834.152726031442564&type=1

conifer   miscanthus

Signs of the changing season here too . . . .

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dixter sun flowers

. .  but the dynamic structure of this garden is never masked by the seasonal planting . . .

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. . .  the one compliments the other.

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dixter heleniums chrysanthemums

Here the fruit is integrated with the decorative planting. Some of these pear trees are very old and make a charming knarled lattice frame through which to view other areas.  And, the cotinus in the Long Border, is behaving just like its relation at Wisley as one would expect.

dixter long border

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In the Exotic Garden, there is abundant growth this year. Carefully squeezing down the narrow paths is like a voyage of discovery . . .

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. . .  so good to see Mrs Oakley Fisher, once more, and still in flower too. It’s all about the plants, of course.

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Out in the late amber afternoon,
Confused among chrysanthemums,
Her parasol, a pale balloon,
Like a waiting moon, in shadow swims.

Her furtive lace and misty hair
Over the garden dial distill
The sunlight,–then withdrawing, wear
Again the shadows at her will.

Gently yet suddenly, the sheen
Of stars inwraps her parasol.
She hears my step behind the green
Twilight, stiller than shadows, fall.

“Come, it is too late,–too late
To risk alone the light’s decline:
Now has the evening long to wait,”–
But her own words are night’s and mine.   Hart Crane  In Shadow

front meadow

Early evening at a Great Dixter Friends’ event – cloudy skies mean little shadow.  Softness is the prevailing texture in the front meadow with quiet colour allowing for the full picture of buildings, trees and hedging to read in complete proportion. I’m always aware of the buildings here with the spaces around the buildings having a clarity as well as differing character. Good design.

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In the Sunk Garden, a mass of Cenolophium, unusual placing in a confined space – but it works.

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cenolophium denudatum

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The division  - brickwork and planting – between the Sunk Garden and the Wall Garden, contains a bold combination of magenta lychnis + small dark dahlia.

lychnis + dahlia

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Groups of cornflowers, seemingly the favoured annual this year, repeated at intervals down the Long Border. Yellow tones  read well in low light with the clearest and brightest seen on the torchlike stems of verbascum.

long border fennel + vrebascum

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Quite lovely pale evening primrose in this composition . . . .

verbascum + althea

verbascum + e primrose 2

. . . and a stronger coloured form stands up well with purple tones.

verbascum + oasts

e primrose stipa

Across the Cat Garden, shimmers of stipa flowers bridge the gap between the perennial layer and the yew hedging.

hydrangea

The growth especially of perennials in the Orchard Garden is overwhelming and luxurient. . . .

pear, salvia turkestanica

. . and right at the furthest boundary of the Vegetable Garden,sits a long thin border packed with matrix planting.  Jewel like perfection.

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The use of colour here has always been bold – it takes confidence to mix these 2 tones of blue with a touch of cerise . . .

corn flowers

. .  but a more obvious tried and tested combination of yellow flowering ferula, purple clematis and soft pink rose.

fennel clematis

inula + cal KF

Exuberance of planting around the Peacock Garden contrast with quieter but, as complex, combinations such as low euphorbia in the selective mix of species in the Prairie . . .

euphorbia

. . and teazles with onions.

allium + dipsacus

There is another sky,

Ever serene and fair,

And there is another sunshine,

Though it be darkness there;

Never mind faded forests, Austin,

Never mind silent fields -

Here is a little forest,

Whose leaf is ever green;

Here is a brighter garden,

Where not a frost has been;

In its unfading flowers

I hear the bright bee hum:

Prithee, my brother,

Into my garden come!  Emily Dickinson

malus 1

The nursery at Great Dixter opens well before the garden. This is a very good arrangement for us locals as we can shop and then start the journey around the garden (as a Friend, of course) before the world arrives.  There was a fresh energy in the air this morning.  Folks who know the set up will understand the chronology of the pics that follow. The group of malus by the lane  full of frothy white blossom partners the line of ash opposite looking OK??? fingers crossed . . .

fraxinus

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. .  delicate touch on the woven fence – just enough for the country setting. Stacks/heaps/piles of hazel and… and … other timber.

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Into the Front Meadow carpeted now with camassia.

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And a couple of residents enjoying the sun at last by the front door. People who know me well also know that I am a little taken with these. They remind me of the 4 that I’ve had over many years. This is 2 year old Conifer in the foreground . . .

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. . . and Miscanthus who is about 6 months old. She’s very sweet.

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Strolling around to the Peacock Garden and the Carnival of Birds – my rename of Daisy Lloyd’s Parliament of Birds  . . .  I see the first of many Ferula with main stalk thrusting skywards.

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A few views from the Cat Garden, High Garden and the Orchard Garden in no particular order.

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By know I’ve decided that Fergus has become obsessed with ferulas – similar to his great liking of verbascums a couple of years ago. But then he’s master of the visual and the horticultural. Down to the Orchard where orchids are just flirting with the buttercups . . .

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. . and on down the Long Border where a snapshot of the strong colour combinations  that Christo enjoyed was framed.

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Muso basjoo, in the Exotic garden, still in their winter clothes but signs of delights flowering well on the walls around the Sunken Garden and a glimpse of a ghost.

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last

And for those students of Hadlow and University of Greenwich, I caught up with Kemal who was looking suitably nervous about his plant idents for the Great Dixter study days – some sympathy or a wry smile maybe, but fond memories.

Within my Garden, rides a Bird
Upon a single Wheel --
Whose spokes a dizzy Music make
As 'twere a travelling Mill --

He never stops, but slackens
Above the Ripest Rose --
Partakes without alighting
And praises as he goes,

Till every spice is tasted --
And then his Fairy Gig
Reels in remoter atmospheres --
And I rejoin my Dog,

And He and I, perplex us
If positive, 'twere we --
Or bore the Garden in the Brain
This Curiosity --

But He, the best Logician,
Refers my clumsy eye --
To just vibrating Blossoms!
An Exquisite Reply!  Emily Dickinson

en movimiento

April 2, 2013

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Long journeys are a time for reflection. I rather enjoy the passivity of lounging around airport lounges, listening to music, people watching, reading and generally taking a view on areas of life. I write lots of notes that I never look at again but, I find this outpouring from my brain and soul, a therapeutic process. However, I’m not so keen on the business of travel connections  - will this flight arrive on time to pick up the next easily?  - will I make it across a city by bus to jump on the right plane? – do I have time to race from one terminal to another ? – this is the part of travelling that I find stressful. At Frankfurt – a very glamorous airport – no hassle and a 6 hour spell spent horizontal on the comfortable loungers that gently ripple and keep the circulation at the right level.

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Early morning arrival at Buenos Aires – warm and sunny – and a trip across the city to catch the next flight. From the bus, a glimpse of the Plata and some fishing activity  . . .

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. . . from the terminal building, the proximity of the water makes an appealing landscape whilst inside, a memorial to servicemen who fell in the Malvinas makes me step back and ponder on the reasoning of the placement of this type of monument in such a busy concourse. Perhaps that’s the rationale:  stop and think.

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Flying above La Pampa, the beauty of the terrain  . . . minimal human interference on the ground but we flying overhead disturb the environment nevertheless.

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The final act is a show stopper – the Andes in full glory.

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Down on the ground, the journey continues after catching up with a special couple. The three of us set off on  The Old Patagonian Express for a short chug along the track through the flat dry landscape around El Maiten and Esquel. It’s a marvel of reconstruction and perseverance .Click to see the video of a derail.

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Marvelling at the fittings and the minuteness of scale, decide that we are heavy, lumpen passengers. It’s time to get back on my feet and move all limbs and breathe in the good air around this tree filled landscape – try to lose the heaviness of the human body. The poem, ah well, somehow arriving by water might have been more exciting. The next leg is 28 hours on a bus . . .

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Here is a coast; here is a harbor;
here, after a meager diet of horizon, is some scenery:
impractically shaped and–who knows?–self-pitying mountains,
sad and harsh beneath their frivolous greenery,

with a little church on top of one. And warehouses,
some of them painted a feeble pink, or blue,
and some tall, uncertain palms. Oh, tourist,
is this how this country is going to answer you

and your immodest demands for a different world,
and a better life, and complete comprehension
of both at last, and immediately,
after eighteen days of suspension?

Finish your breakfast. The tender is coming,
a strange and ancient craft, flying a strange and brilliant rag.
So that’s the flag. I never saw it before.
I somehow never thought of there being a flag,

but of course there was, all along. And coins, I presume,
and paper money; they remain to be seen.
And gingerly now we climb down the ladder backward,
myself and a fellow passenger named Miss Breen,

descending into the midst of twenty-six freighters
waiting to be loaded with green coffee beaus.
Please, boy, do be more careful with that boat hook!
Watch out! Oh! It has caught Miss Breen’s

skirt! There! Miss Breen is about seventy,
a retired police lieutenant, six feet tall,
with beautiful bright blue eyes and a kind expression.
Her home, when she is at home, is in Glens Fall

s, New York. There. We are settled.
The customs officials will speak English, we hope,
and leave us our bourbon and cigarettes.
Ports are necessities, like postage stamps, or soap,

but they seldom seem to care what impression they make,
or, like this, only attempt, since it does not matter,
the unassertive colors of soap, or postage stamps–
wasting away like the former, slipping the way the latter

do when we mail the letters we wrote on the boat,
either because the glue here is very inferior
or because of the heat. We leave Santos at once;
we are driving to the interior. Elizabeth Bishop  Arrival at Santos

en el parque

April 1, 2013

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In the country of pampas and araucaria, Patagonia . . . . here at last.

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Here in the Argentine area of Patagonia in San Carlos de Bariloche in the foothills of the Andes is the oldest national park in Argentina – Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi – 2 million acres of three zonal types of vegetation. Today, March 31st, we spent time in the lower reaches of the hills  (Andino-Patagonico). Nahuel Huapi comes from the Mapuche for jaguar island. Many lakes and islands are encompassed within the parque with the largest, Lago Nahuel Huapi, a water body of nearly 850 square kilometres whose seven long arms reach deep into the forests of native beech Coihué (Nothofagus dombeyi) and deciduous beech, Lenga, (Nothofagus pumilio), pines and cypress. Entering these cathedrals of vegetation is awe inspiring. The eerie sound that emanates from the branches and canopies weaving around in the breeze overhead sounds like  the sound effect from a horror film – the squeaky door announcing the arrival of the villain.!

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Thick underplanting of Chusquea gigantea, another native, adds to the cinematic character of the forest. Very graphic in texture, whether at the end of its life or regenerating in green clumps. And elegant in form as the canes bend gracefully over pathways.

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Certain view points high above the lake offer far-reaching panoramas of the snow-capped mountain range . . . .

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. . whilst at close quarters flashes of exotic colour from other natives such as Embothrium coccineum  - weird and wonderful tubular flower heads  - and the species moschata rose that proliferates in the sunny open clearings.

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The myrtles are in flower – sweetly scented  clusters of small, perfectly rounded cups of waxy white blooms – but it is the form of the stems and the texture of the soft cinnamon bark that takes the eye.. . .

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. . .  late summer effects of ‘things that slip to silence one by one’.

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March days return with their covert light,
and huge fish swim through the sky,
vague earthly vapours progress in secret,
things slip to silence one by one.
Through fortuity, at this crisis of errant skies,
you reunite the lives of the sea to that of fire,
grey lurchings of the ship of winter
to the form that love carved in the guitar.
O love, O rose soaked by mermaids and spume,
dancing flame that climbs the invisible stairway,
to waken the blood in insomnia’s labyrinth,
so that the waves can complete themselves in the sky,
the sea forget its cargoes and rages,
and the world fall into darkness’s nets. Neruda   March Days

The roadside verges in the south east are looking wonderful now, full of grass seed heads and daisies . . .

. . and at Hyde Hall, this is the first composition that greets the visitor. Not natural but with a natural feel and very beautiful. It’s show stopping. Birch and digitalis, the perfect combination.

Also lovely views across the Millenium Avenue. Not natural but as good as . . . with hares leaping  . . . too fast to photograph or I’m too slow!

In the Dry Garden, great compositions and combinations too .

Further up the A12, around towards Clacton at Elmstead Market,  Beth Chatto continues to amaze with perfection in her planting.

Between us now and here -
Two thrown together
Who are not wont to wear Life’s flushest feather -
Who see the scenes slide past,
The daytimes dimming fast,
Let there be truth at last,
Even if despair.

So thoroughly and long
Have you now known me,
So real in faith and strong
Have I now shown me,
That nothing needs disguise
Further in any wise,
Or asks or justifies
A guarded tongue.

Face unto face, then, say,
Eyes mine own meeting,
Is your heart far away,
Or with mine beating?
When false things are brought low,
And swift things have grown slow,
Feigning like froth shall go,
Faith be for aye.  Thomas Hardy

talking trees

October 17, 2011

Talking trees at The Hillier Wholesale Tree Nursery on maybe the last really sunny day of autumn. Lines of Quercus palustris waiting to go to a new home. Hossein Arshadi, director of the nursery, explains growth, management and all arboricultural issues to the students from the University of Greenwich. The nursery covers many acres and holds many species in many sizes from whips to super semi-mature trees over 7m in height.

Suddenly we came across these ‘celebrity’ items – reminded me of a chess board . . .

. . then lines of Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata’ – extremely elegant.

Then groves of betula. These are grafted multistems. They reminded me of photos of Fletcher Steele’s planting at Naumkaug in Massachusetts.

And lines of Acer griseum. Each tree branches out individually . . .

. . later we went on to view The Winter Garden at The Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and saw the acers well positioned to receive as much back lighting as possible – excellent.

And taxodiums and metasequoias and cedar casting reflections on the water at the end of the day. Spectacular.

I Go Inside the Tree – written and read by Jo Shapcott:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PQsAG6l2iw

catching up with grasses

September 28, 2011

Catching up again - seeing and continually learning  – how plants have developed and matured in the growing season, is a pleasure – usually! The first phase of the decorative planting in this garden, in Sussex,  was carried out  during late autumn and early winter of 2009. For those that can remember this was a cold, cold winter, so a fingers crossed approach was needed but, luckily, in this particular garden there is a very fine gardener. The 2nd + 3rd phases followed on in late spring and early autumn of 2010. So back to review the grasses in their 2nd season. Miscanthus ‘Grosse Fontaine’ forming flowering trumpets at the end of the canal . . .

. . and seen from the main lawn below. The oak uprights support wires for the line of espaliered pears and make a division between the two garden areas. Silvery Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ stands sentinel behind Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’ and Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’.  The cedar marks the north garden.

This large garden is a garden of rooms – it was defined as such early on in the design process - with one of the rooms  tagged the Exotic Garden. This houses those that look exotic but aren’t necessarily tender. So very bright colours – reds, oranges, purples  – and bold in form and shape. Miscanthus ‘Ghana’ was part of the palette but we had to accept Miscanthus ‘Graziella’ as a substitute and, all things considered, I think it’s a better grass for the position. Less obvious but with eventual stronger autumn colour and the pendulous habit works well as a contrast to the neighbouring plants. It stands behind the persicaria in the image below.

Not a grass, but a bamboo, Borinda papyrifera stands behind the tetrapanax in this shot, and was sourced from Jungle Giants.

The Exotic Garden nudges up to the Perennial Garden so Hedychium ‘Tara’ and Dahlia ‘Melody Mambo’ jostle around with Aconitum arendsii and Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’ in a rather jolly way . . .

. . Echinops ‘Blue Globe’ parties around as well.

A group of Rosa ‘Lili Marlene’ is under planted with Carex buchananii as a front edge to another garden room.

And the old stalwart Stipa tenuissima used as a threading plant within the Herb Garden. Simple and easy to grow and manage. Just let it seed where it wants and pull it out if you don’t want! Tufty and wafty in habit and provides low movement amongst the lower static groups of herbs. Final image signifies for me, musical notes drifting away and circling back. Wonderment and reflection. Although this is a garden created for a family with all the fun times and gaiety that should and does happen here, it still has an overall  sense of magical solitude but also  seems totally grounded.  Hence the choice of poem that is a reflection on the spiritual and pragmatism of decision making.

In eye a dark pool

in which Sirius glitters

and never goes out.

Its melody husky

as though with suppressed tears.

Its bill as the gold

one quarries for amid

evening shadows. Do not despair

at the stars’ distance. Listening

to blackbird music is

to bridge in a moment chasms

of space – time, is to know

that beyond the silence

which terrified Pascal

there is a presence whose language

is not our language, but who has chosen

with peculiar clarity the feathered

creatures to convey the austerity

of his thought in song.  R S Thomas  Blackbird

looking at stone . . .

August 23, 2011

Looking at and sourcing stone for a project yesterday  . . . . but also dropped into a nursery to view bamboos and other shrubby material and saw these little beauties, looking inquisitive:

That’s the end of softness – hardness now follows. At the stone supplier, in Thurrock, at the arse (my view! but said with a fondness) end of the city, the chalk excavation at the side of the site always holds my eye; this land was a quarry and before that the site of Belmont Castle (1795). Thurrock means ‘the bottom of a ship’ and was, years ago, a ship building area but, now, the home of Lakeside Shopping Centre – ugh! – and industry.

It’s a hard, dusty, unforgiving place but full of interest to strange folks like landscape designers . . . mountains of loose stone to assess and thousands of jumbo bags of differing aggregates  . . . .

. . . also tactile boulder stone attractively contained in mesh columns.

Finally, the decision was made to use some of these largish pieces of rough hewn quartzite as below.

One will be drilled and dished to form the focus of the feature which should have a connection with the Neruda piece. Watch this space for finished result.

In the wave-strike over unquiet stones
the brightness bursts and bears the rose
and the ring of water contracts to a cluster
to one drop of azure brine that falls.
O magnolia radiance breaking in spume,
magnetic voyager whose death flowers
and returns, eternal, to being and nothingness:
shattered brine, dazzling leap of the ocean.
Merged, you and I, my love, seal the silence
while the sea destroys its continual forms,
collapses its turrets of wildness and whiteness,
because in the weft of those unseen garments
of headlong water, and perpetual sand,
we bear the sole, relentless tenderness.  Pablo Neruda

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