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.

cenolophium 1

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

cenolophium 2

cenolophium denudatum

pool garden

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

long border1

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

verbascum + e primrose 2

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.


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.

matrix bed 1

matrix 3

matrix 2

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 . . .


. . 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 . . .


4woven fence

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

6 wood heaps

7 walnut

Into the Front Meadow carpeted now with camassia.

8 camassias + yew hedge

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 . . .

9 sweeties

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

10 new sweetie

11 birds

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.

12 ferula

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

13 view

14 view

15 view

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 . . .

16 meadow

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

17 house

18 exotic

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.

19 climber


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

Low late autumn light floods the landscape and transforms and changes the balance . . . .

. . even cast shadows become extras on the stage and part of the metamorphosis..

Forms of plants reemerge – just standing naked  – but still adorned with jewelry  . . .

. .  humble fruit trees so full of character . . . .

. .  supported, just, or expertly trained in some cases.

Even suburban cotoneaster becomes a thing of beauty. And the grasses, well . . . . ornamental . . .

. .  and dipsascus showing nature in roughness and beauty.

I think Rilke might have liked this subtle changing vision and ‘transparency’.

Before you can count to ten

everything changes: the wind flicks

clarity out of even

the high thistle stalks

and flings it in my face,

so close it can’t be seen.

A precipice

on a border mountain

gives more certain footing

than this spot where

long grass displaces itself

overnight,      in wind, in rain,

lies down under the clear air

as if stroked

by the hand

which made it up. Jo Shapcott (after Rilke)   Caety Traylow

down the lane

March 16, 2012

Down a lane at the back of Northiam, the beech woods are still asleep . . . .

. . . signs of spring awakening shows on the lower shrubs and herb layer – catkins on the hazel . . .

. . . some, but not a great deal, of interest in being photographed!


This isn’t Bob’s Lane but Ewhurst Lane – a hurst being a wood. The sheep are, of course, also a clue.

Women he liked, did shovel-bearded Bob,

Old Farmer Hayward of the Heath, but he
Loved horses. He himself was like a cob
And leather-coloured. Also he loved a tree.

For the life in them he loved most living things,
But a tree chiefly. All along the lane
He planted elms where now the stormcock sings

That travellers hear from the slow-climbing train.

Till then the track had never had a name
For all its thicket and the nightingales
That should have earned it. No one was to blame
To name a thing beloved man sometimes fails.

Many years since, Bob Hayward died, and now
None passes there because the mist and the rain
Out of the elms have turned the lane to slough
And gloom, the name alone survives, Bob’s Lane. Edward Thomas  Bob’s Lane

garden courts

August 29, 2011

Garden court can describe a particular exterior area well. Maybe courts are grander than courtyards and often part or parts of large country gardens or estates. Sometimes, as in these examples, these areas were domestic or private garden spaces initially but, now, open to large numbers of visitors. The exotic garden at Dixter has changed not only in the amount of traffic it copes with but the way the change in planting  – from lowish roses to large-leaved architectural exotic plantings – has changed the scale. The drama and personality of this relatively small court is heightened even more by the lack of views out – there’s so much to look at close quarters. Real ‘in yer face planting’!

The entrance court is more open with two areas of grass – not symmetrical – and edged with diverse types of planting. The focus, of course, is the rather stupendous collection of plants in containers. So a carpet of colour at low level frames the porch. It’s very decorative and very personal and very domestic. This feature just makes the space and gives it the character of a court.

Just a nodding reference  to the Actinidia kolomikta that drapes itself elegantly over the clay roof tiles nearby. Very effective visually with the lichen.

At Sissinghurst, the curving arcs of the yew hedging frame the simplest of courts – a very bold statement  – maybe not a place to sit or, maybe it is? In the White Garden, one is encouraged to sit at one end – under some shade. The planting is  simply white and green – very cool but also fairly flowery –  within the evergreen geometric structure. Designed for a family but now inhabited by hundreds.

At Glyndebourne, once a private house and now an opera venue, it’s useful to view the connecting garden spaces from the balcony. There’s a good deal of coming and going along main routes but there are small personal areas to linger in.

The rear garden court spreads out from the original main rear access. A succesful space whether used years ago or this week – the area has a charm and connects to the main lawn.

A piece of sculpture has been posiotioned bang in the centre of the busiest area – useful plinth for a glass – rather obvious but at least the piece is BIG!

Another contemporary court contains more sculpture with a Henry Moore ‘Draped Reclining Figure’ at the far end. There’s a touch of Dan Kiley here but doesn’t quite hit the spot!

The garden courts are connected by the changes in level – steps and curving ramps – that serve the visitors and staff well, offering plenty of options within the circulation.

Fabulous perfume from Clerodendron trichotomum placed so that branches overhang one of the spatial areas with shade loving  lush planting around the base

Classical yew hedging forming the structure and the invitation to explore the court that encloses the large pond.

The poem – well, yes I realise it’s about the need for affection or simply the need for sex – some people analyse it as such!Music, sex, discreet garden courts, private spaces  . . . . all these cross reference. You can simply choose which suits!

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.   Elizabeth Bishop  I Am in Need of Music

colour and texture

August 20, 2011

At Great Dixter, sun and shadows highlight the colour and texture in the planting beautifully but those who plan borders and are involved in planting design know that form and habit are also important components. The Gleditsia elegantissima  – strong in form and habit, casts the shadow and frames one view across the Long Border. The silvery foliage erupts from Salixi alba var. sericea, pollarded to retain the scale. The tree would become too large for this situation if not pollarded.  Silvery cardoons make equally dynamic statements at the back of the border with graceful artemesia to the fore . . .

. . here lines of Calamagrostis show how form and habit makes strong contrast to the floppy lines of low dark aster and the topiared yew shapes. The single fastigiate tree, on the left, is a poplar and provides a satisfying link and repetition in form to the ornamental grass. All so simple but so satisfying . . .

. . lines again of course in the kitchen garden; lines here for order and good husbandry but, aesthetically attractive too.

Teazel, Dipsacus fullonum, is the key plant at Dixter this month and this year. Don’t recall seeing so many of these all around the garden previously. The teazels seem to follow on from mulleins but, this may well change, as gardens, especially great gardens where visitors are welcomed, are required to ring the changes with regard to key plants that spread seed.

By the large, old mulberry, teazels wave out from a group of pink Japanese anemones to greet the visitor. Very delicious combination . . . and one I shall borrow!

In The Exotic Garden, lush tall growth as expected in August with bananas towering overhead and dramatic mixtures of texture and colour at eye level. Was looking forward to seeing the swallows which nest under the eaves of the low buildings – no sign and no sound unfortunately.

However, multitudes of dahlias and cannas in mid aria instead. The dark leafed canna could be C. ‘King Humbert’ – I forgot to ask but will on the next visit.

But I do know that the pale dahlia below, with flowering fennel, is Dahlia ‘ Bishop of Dover’ because I’m growing this too, this year.

And a flowery mead – eryngium and white agapanthus give the strength of form and shape with softness in texture and coolness in colour of the complimentary plants completing the picture.

The swallow’s cry that’s so forlorn,
By thrush and blackbird overpowered,
Is like the hidden thorn
On the rose-bush, deep-bowered:

But when the song of every bird
Is hushed in Summer’s lull profound,
And all alone is heard
Its little poignant sound,

The piteous shrill of its sharp grief
Seems, in the silence of the air,
The thorn without a leaf
On the wild rose-bush, bare!   Grace Tollemache  The Swallow’s Note

in the manor garden

August 9, 2011

At last,  a visit to Gravetye Manor,  that I’ve been intending to visit for far too long. Even on a heavy English summer’s day, this garden didn’t disappoint. It was the home of William Robinson, Irishman, gardener and horticultural writer. The Elizabethan buildings sit on a south-facing sloping site nestling within native woodland where Robinson practised his ideas published in ‘The Wild Garden’. The garden immediately around the house is pure Arts and Crafts in style based on the vernacular of architecture and materials. Lots of Cenolphium denudatum in all the borders – rather magical when used at this scale.

The new head gardener, Tom Coward from Great Dixter, has stripped the rampant bind weed that had throttled plants in most of the beds and planted bulbs and annuals for short term effect and this looks splendid in full summer.  Long term planting will happen once all weed and roots have been destroyed and the beds are clean again after years of neglect. Now, William Robinson was hugely critical of the formality of especially French seasonal bedding so he may not have given the nod to cleomes, cosmos and the dahlias as seen below, but he would have appreciated the good husbandry that had to happen at Gravetye to resolve a problem. Robinson advocated looking at the indigenous plants thriving in their natural situations. He also advocated the use of mixed hardy plants in loose natural groupings.

The garden is created with the use of simple cross axes. The famous pond is set at the bottom of the valley with the wild flower meadow flowing down the slope. The meadow must look beautiful in early summer and contrast splendidly to the formal arrangement of the garden.

Copied from my edition of Robinson’s ‘English Flower Garden’ is the flower garden plan with a more readable detail below.

And the visual of ‘My Flower-garden in Rose and Pink time’

A panorama towards the yew trees and the summer house, restored but not rebuilt I think, but the pergola is new and looks relatively simple as the original appears in the illustration. The wisteria is the old plant – huge knarled stems at the base of the plant.

Painting by Victorain artist Beatrice Parsons ‘The Paved Garden’ showing the view to the north west and the relatively young pine trees which then came down in the great storm of 1987. View of this area to the south above.

Very taken with the effect of sedums tucked into the slate canopy – must try this at at home. Seagulls permitting!

Robinson in his wheel chair and just a couple of  his quotes below.

“for the botanist all plants are equal. Gardeners must choose between plants or suffer”

‘The gardener must follow the true artist, however modestly, in his respect for things as they are, in delight in natural form and beauty of flower and tree, if we are to be free from barren geometry, and if our gardens are ever to be true pictures….And as the artist’s work is to see for us and preserve in pictures some of the beauty of landscape, tree, or flower, so the gardener’s should be to keep for us as far as may be, in the fulness of their natural beauty, the living things themselves.’

It started to drizzle and the effect brought to mind how the garden might have looked to Gertrude Jekyll with her myopia – blurred and frustrating I imagine. Jekyll wrote this about her friend:  …when English gardening was mostly represented by the innate futilities of the “bedding” system, with its wearisome repetitions and garish colouring, Mr William Robinson chose as his work in live to make better known the treasures that were lying neglected, and at the same time to overthrow the feeble follies of the “bedding” system. It is mainly owing to his unremitting labours that a clear knowledge of the world of hardy-plant beauty is now placed within easy reach of all who care to acquire it, and that the “bedding mania” is virtually dead

My copy of The English Flower Garden has this verse from The Garden by Andrew Marvell on the frontispiece

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,

And Innocence, thy sister dear!

Mistaken long, I sought you then

In busy companies of men;

Your sacred plants, if here below,

Only among the plants will grow.

Society is all but rude,

To this delicious solitude.


And lunch was good too!

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