At last, some brightness and clear blue skies . . . the best present after days of rain!

 . . .  looking upwards and wondering who is flying in, or out . . .

 . . . soft wisps of clouds contrast the angularity of the roofscape . . .

 . . and on the beach, silhouettes against the light and small blue bits of detritus on the pebbles.

Ducks flying low over the sea . . .  just a calming visual essay in blue  as the light changes . . . .

And at Plenty, close-ups and the view from inside to out.

No, I’m not blue just thoughtfully looking outwards and upwards!

A slash of Blue—
A sweep of Gray—
Some scarlet patches on the way,
Compose an Evening Sky—
A little purple—slipped between—
Some Ruby Trousers hurried on—
A Wave of Gold—
A Bank of Day—
This just makes out the Morning Sky. Emily Dickinson    A Slash of Blue

Ah, the track for machinery gives the game away. Best not continue if you are faint hearted! Just revisit here in about 18 months time. The image is of the Centenary Border at the Hillier Gardens looking west down 220 yards of double borders planted in the early 1960’s by Sir Harold Hillier. The master plan for the revitalisation and rejuvenation of the borders is near completion. The detail planting will follow. The process was started about 2 years ago and now the chain saws have entered the site and mature trees have been taken down to ground level. This may seem a tad drastic but, originally, the borders were backed with many varieties of holly and other trees and large shrubs that have outgrown the situation. They were also preventing any decent growth below their canopies. The felling and clearance of almost all of the plant material in the Jermyns House end of the borders will take place this winter. Certain plants will be retained for their uniqueness – the tape on the branches indicate those that have been given a reprieve.

In a corner of my bedroom

grew a tree

a happy tree

my own tree

its leaves were soft

like flesh

and its birds sang poems for me

then without warning

two men with understanding smiles

and axes made out of forged excuses

came and chopped it down

either yesterday or the day before

i think it was the day before

Dreampoem   Roger McGough

It’s a big decision and, in a sense, brutal but plants that are deemed special will be propagated and bought on to be planted again in a better situation where they can flourish to their true potential.

Below is the view of the borders in 2007, when the project was ignited. We found the area over grown, gloomy in the greenness and pretty uninviting. Many of those working in the gardens though, had a fondness for the borders and disliked our proposal that involved massive clearance, widening of the central path and the borders themselves. The most important aspect of the new design was the introduction of angled paths that cut across the long planted areas to provide a secondary path network linking the woodland areas beyond. The concept was based on Purcell’s ‘Fairy Queen’ in which the spirits interplay with humans. We felt a real sense of how wild life and ‘spirits’ might emerge out of the woodland and inhabit this area at dusk and dark when the clod hopping humans have departed.


The small plan above shows the long central path. Traditionally this was the single route for promenading between the two planted borders. The secondary paths are seen cutting through the borders at angles giving access through the planting at close quarters. Sharp lines of yew hedging replace the original hollies and will be kept sleek and angular to compliment the exuberant planting within.  Geometric forms, circle, ellipse and squares anchor the new scheme firmly into the ‘natural’ and informal woodland that has grown to maturity on each side. Below is the view to the west showing the wide main path, and the tertiary routes that run between the back of the borders and the woodland.

And below, a view of the circular area at Jermyns House end housing a specimen Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’.

There are more F.s.’Dawycks’ in the centre but these will go as deemed not sufficiently good specimens for an arboretum.

One half of the Jermyns House end is almost cleared . . . .

. . .  but the half at the Pavilion entrance end is awaiting its fate. Below shows the slim path that separates the back of the borders and the woodland of Ten Acres East and West. The evocative feel of dappled shade and pools of light made a significant impact on the design. We knew we should make a strong link using paths to offer an opportunity to explore these rather lovely ‘fringe’ areas as well as the main and obvious central route between the borders. So, the angled paths were born . . .

The woodland looks inviting . . .

. . . and we hope that visitors will walk through, touch, smell, and enjoy the planting as they stroll from side to side – from woodland through decorative planting across the central avenue and through more decorative planting until they reach the woodland on the other side.

Driving out of Appledore in the late afternoon along the narrow road that follows the line of The Royal Military Canal, I was taken with the sky. It was quite something. The sheep, of course, are just glad to get stuck into the newly washed grass that’s been hidden under thick snow for at least a week.   The canal follows the line of the old cliffs when this land was connected to the sea. Now it forms part of Romney Marsh. 28 miles in length and 5 years to construct with the main purpose of keeping Napoleon at bay but also to control smuggling in the area.

My grandmother used to sing this to me a long time ago and her great-grandmother probably sung it to her. She also banged Bobby Shafto out on the upright piano. Now I realise they are both sea shantys. I’ll stop now as slightly drifting off the point!

Bobby Shafto’s gone to sea,
Silver buckles at his knee;
He’ll come back and marry me,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!
Bobby Shafto’s bright and fair,
Panning out his yellow hair;
He’s my love for evermore,
Bonny Bobby Shafto![1

a briefer wander

December 2, 2010

Another heavy snow fall that left us with way over a foot of snow spread like a huge duvet over ground, vegetation and buildings. Venturing forth from the terrace . . .

 . . some plants, especially the exotics, look so uncomfortable under their white wigs . . .

  . . .  and the sea and shoreline feels so wintery . . .

 . . . a good covering on the west and east hill with plenty of sledging, I’m sure . .

 . . . a break in the clouds and sunshine on the horizon. What would it be like looking at icebergs?

We’d rather have the iceberg than the ship,
although it meant the end of travel.
Although it stood stock-still like cloudy rock
and all the sea were moving marble.
We’d rather have the iceberg than the ship;
we’d rather own this breathing plain of snow
though the ship’s sails were laid upon the sea
as the snow lies undissolved upon the water.
O solemn, floating field,
are you aware an iceberg takes repose
with you, and when it wakes may pasture on your snows?

This is a scene a sailor’d give his eyes for.
The ship’s ignored. The iceberg rises
and sinks again; its glassy pinnacles
correct elliptics in the sky.
This is a scene where he who treads the boards
is artlessly rhetorical. The curtain
is light enough to rise on finest ropes
that airy twists of snow provide.
The wits of these white peaks
spar with the sun. Its weight the iceberg dares
upon a shifting stage and stands and stares.

The iceberg cuts its facets from within.
Like jewelry from a grave
it saves itself perpetually and adorns
only itself, perhaps the snows
which so surprise us lying on the sea.
Good-bye, we say, good-bye, the ship steers off
where waves give in to one another’s waves
and clouds run in a warmer sky.
Icebergs behoove the soul
(both being self-made from elements least visible)
to see them so: fleshed, fair, erected indivisible.   The Imaginary Iceberg    Elizabeth Bishop

Music is King Arthur by Purcell. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner with The English Baroque Soloists. Stephen Varcoe singing ‘What power art thou’, often called ‘The Cold Song’

what a difference a day makes

November 15, 2010


What a difference a day makes . . . ‘my yesterday was blue, dear’, as the lyrics say, and it was wet and a tad miserable. The horizon line was indistinguishable  in the murky atmosphere so I resorted to looking at the rain on the foliage of plants close-by. Pittosporum tobira by the front steps. Poor plant keeps falling over every time there’s a strong storm from the west. It’s also out grown the huge clay pot and now the pot has shattered so something will have to be done . . . but this wasn’t the day to be mucking around with wet soil so I concentrate on looking at the raindrops hanging off the small fruits . . .

 . . and the drips rolling down the foliage of the Euphorbia mellifera and Geranium madarense below . . . all too green, green, green. And the same green!

Striking and vibrant tones on the Molinia however  . . .

. . and even livelier on the Trachelospermum. This plant has gone into shock for one reason or another but, anyhow, it’s a jolly vision and quite festive  in all this gloomy dampness.

The group on the little table has an addition of some mussel shells. I use shells as a mulch around all the plants – these must have been washed down from the deck above in the torrent. 

This morning at least the horizon is clear. Large and beautiful cloud formations hang overhead and move like a symphony . . . sublime  allegro . . .

and slower adagio. The sky looks uncertain but there’s a glimmer of blue to the east . . . and the sky above  the Old Town High Street is a definite improvement.

Up at the allotment, it’s a beautiful afternoon although claggy underfoot. Some small apples still cling to the tree . . .

 . . and even the greeness of the fennel has more definition today. 

The hedgerow is ablaze with fruits of the hawthorn . . . the scherzo . .

 . . . and the rondo, or return, to a lovely settled evening. 

And as Dinah Washington is singing  ‘and the difference is you, the sun’.


October 14, 2010

in East Sussex, is a must on the itinerary for visitors to Charleston and all things Bloomsburyish. There is a pub . . .


 . . . maybe the foliage will hide the light soon.  At the base of the sign post,  a clutch of fungi denote the damp conditions and the lush growth on the turf . . .

 . . and a metal gate that hasn’t been updated yet . . thank goodness . . .

 . .  and on the way to the church I caught a glimpse of a crab, probably Malus ‘Golden Hornet’,  beautifully silhouetted and with much to show off at this time of year . . .

 . .  entering the churchyard there is a view across the fields to the north. A  kissing gate is an enticing entry to the paddock . . .

 . . and this well crafted grave stone would have made  Jeremy proud, I’m sure  . . .

 . . inside the Saxon and Norman church are the famous murals and a simple arrangement of pyracantha with some rosy apples tucked away at the base of the stems.

The ‘nativity’ scene is quite realistic in the context of the setting with a real Sussex barn and local children and a child Bell posing in their Sunday best. Check out the initial sketches on the highlighted website – they are quite majestic . . .

 . . . and the pulpit repainted by Duncan Grant with bright light coming through the south facing windows . . .

 . . and The Supper at Emmaus’ painted by Quentin Bell – live models again and a truthful and wonderfully dominant background of The Downs . . .


 . . . just turning to look out at the view again and I’m reassured that a sense of beauty still exists and Fauré ‘Libera Me’ for someone who is thought well about this week.


We’ve been working up some planting schemes on paper this summer and consequently always feel the need to experience planting on the ground as much as possible during the process. Nothing can – memory, experience, note taking, the web – come anyway near the sensory impact of plants and the way they affect one’s mood – brighten, delight, transfix and absorb – I could go on!  Combining plants together is similar to working up a canvas or composing a piece of music – many layers, proportions of density and lightness of touch, textures – all woven together. In this art form we have to consider sound and smell as well. We also consider wildlife especially insect life. The spatial area that the plants are to occupy is another necessary consideration – a framework of paths, hedging, walls – all form part of the composition. The area of sky above is a crucial and often forgotten part of planting design.

Structural hedging, as a visual backcloth as well as providing shelter for plants and those enjoying them, is an important element in these schemes. So, a necessary and always uplifting visit to Great Dixter at this time of year when the hedges are being clipped and ‘tweezered’ is part of our CPD. Anny’s blog (on the  blogroll) is centred on Dixter at the moment. How excellent the lines of Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and low Aster laterifolius ‘Horizontalis’ look against the clipped yew in the Peacock Garden in the image above.

The old pear trees are the primary structure in the High Garden. A secondary line of hurdle type constructed structures echo the context of this garden within the farming land of East Sussex. Lovely dark dahlias and teazles!

Back to the hedging and the treatment of the yew which is the predominate material here. Allowance for the clipping with a metre wide maintenance path – enough for ladders and the other paraphanlia for hedge work and for gardening into the border. A channel for air and light between hedge and planting is crucial and also a pleasant experience to wander down the back of a border on occasion.

Great textural planting here – simple large blocks, with a simple range of colour, of eupatorium, persicaria and miscanthus with the sharp weight of the castellated yew beyond emphasising that form and texture and habit are what it’s all about. 

Conversely, this grouping shows more obvious tonal contrasts with the yew. Hot dotted colour with  just one large-leaved canna, maybe ‘Durban’ in the foreground. 

The teazles again, Dipsacus fullonum, self-sown most likely with Fergus making the final decision on whether the seedlings are allowed to develop into these candelabra statements – brittle architectural giants rising above the firm framework of the yew. A line of grasses with glimpses of pokers beyond – layers and screens.

Here is the wider picture, quite complex if deconstructed but fairly perfect in the simplicity of the visual composition . . . .

. . . but just shifting the angle and the focus and mood change. Dramatic topiary – brilliant scale – forms a full stop and sets off the foreground planting in a different way. Applause here I think?

The ‘transparent’ grass . . .

 . . and soft tones and seed heads against the strength of the background trees. The foliage of the macleaya is starting  to turn buttery . . .

 . . a tapestry of delicacy made more prominent by the tall block of miscanthus . . .

. . . moving to a stronger colour palette against the mellow tones of Great Dixter house. Canna indica ‘Purpurea’ is the prima donna. Below shows the compact Viburnum opulus, guelder rose, with berries that remain as rich luscious fruits because birds don’t like them. Thank goodness! Love the touch of Mina lobata,of the Morning Glory family but looks nothing like it, in the bottom right hand corner.

. . . .  and perfection of contrasts with Dahlia ‘Ann-Brechenfelder’ and Selinum – a later cow parsleylike umbel – more delicate with a sense of the wild. And some music since it’s Dixter.

so superb

July 30, 2010

that they deserve a whole post  just to themselves. There surely is a self help group or a specialised counsellor that gives advice/listens to those people enduring building work. Into week 7 with a decrease in noise, thankfully I imagine  for the neighbours (very long-suffering), and on we go with works in the basement. The chaps are great, careful and respectful but home working and trying to live around the ‘invasion’ needs patience and a positive outlook. So, how wonderful to be emotionally supported by these beauties that have pealed out from their buds this morning – Lilium ‘Sumatra’  – to cheer us all. Oriental hybrid lilies with  a perfume from the East – frankincense, myrrh and frang pani – supplied by Peter Nyssen, my favourite, at the moment, bulb nursery.

The front patch is populated by Verbena bonariensis. It’s all quite girly really! I would think that about half the plants have been lost this summer but the guys have been really careful with them – tall and brittle in habit and close to the basement windows that are the access points for all builders and materials. Rather a nightmare but  I am grateful for the care shown  as they come to and fro. These views from above might explain . . .

There are a couple of pots of Geranium madarense too – both in their first year so only flowering in 2011. Well, hopefuly they will flower but with all this traffic passing in and out of the windows – surely we’ll have finished this project by next year!

These verbenas just seed on and make a forest most summers. The ‘ghost’ vertical,soft blue plant in the background in Campanula pyramidalis. These are in containers – copied from Great Dixter ( Anny Evason’s Great Dixter Garden Sketchbook has recent posts  – on my blogroll).  

As I finish this post. the perfume from the lilies is powering up to the first floor office window – and I can hear the strains of Handel’s ‘Giulio Cesare’ from the ground floor. Oh my, what a combination!!

lily has a rose
(i have none)
“don’t cry dear violet
you may take mine”

“o how how how
could i ever wear it now
when the boy who gave it to
you is the tallest of the boys”

“he’ll give me another
if i let him kiss me twice
but my lover has a brother
who is good and kind to all”

“o no no no
let the roses come and go
for kindness and goodness do
not make a fellow tall”

lily has a rose
no rose i’ve
and losing’s less than winning(but
love is more than love)

lily has a rose by E. E. Cummings

celebrational landscapes

July 28, 2010

A  few days ago, there was a gathering to celebrate a loving partnership. Just before we all congregated in the leafy land behind the beach, the neighbours on the terrace decorated the couple’s house as part of the joyful proceedings but mainly to show their care and affection  . . .

. . most of the green and flowering material came from the small front gardens. Dorothy came out to see what was happening and also for some attention . . .

. . how could anyone resist?

The railings were also given a ceremonial outfit . . . vine, rose, fuchsia and alchemilla.

The wooded garden provided a rather magical environment for the event and since it’s discreetly hidden between the beach and the Sea Road, there was a choice to make on the last part of the journey by foot – across the fields climbing over stiles, or along the rough tree lined track or, just simply, along the beach . . .

. . . more and more guests gathered and set up their picnic or viewing space, the kids ran around amongst the trees . . .

 . . .  then the ceremony of the exchange of rings, the reading of poetry by Robert Macfarlane and songs from Sarah – Jane. The Shady Pines sang  ‘Born to be Wild’ – a lovely mix of romanticism and bonhomie – tears and laughter.

Some guests walked along the tracks lined with remnants of old walls to the pools left from the gravel excavation. The pools are lovely to swim in . . .

 . . . and on to the beach across the nature reserves.

So the journey of this event started with decorated facades and moved to shady woodland garden and finally concluded with natural, as far as possible nowadays, coastal shore. Congratulations!!!

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Phenomenal Woman Maya Angelou

Just cut the alchemilla and brought it into the house. It’s sitting in a green glass jug below a print by Gillian Ayres and looks great. After a private conflab with W., we hope we can cut enough to figure in next weekend’s decorations for a big event.

Cloe gave me this agave for Christmas 2008 – a difficult time as someone was passing away – and I was charmed with it.  The plant is totally self contained, requires little attention but is always interesting nonetheless. I’m fond of it for all these reasons.

Something so transitory, unexpected and beautiful has seeded itself in an ugly concrete tread on the back steps.

The ‘Giant Bronze’ fennel has already figured in the blog  – way out of scale for a small courtyard but that’s the point! The filigree texture is quite perfect – it’s fun to look deep down into the network of foliage.  Tastes good too! The osteospermums just nestle at the base of this monster and look brilliant in contrast and sort of cosy. The flower reminds me of a freshly painted surface – smart and  accommodating – the plants just get on with it and flower almost continuously. 

The tabulate aeonium seems to cause comment. Friends came to supper recently and we were chatting to one about work related things. I was conscious of the other as he walked into the courtyard, saw the plant on the table and said ‘Oh, my, that’s wooonderful’. He’s an actor!

Looking forward to seeing how Dahlia ‘David Howard’  (above) works with the ‘Karma Chocolate’. Both planted in pots (there’s very little available ground for planting here) which is a new way of growing dahlias to me. Both plants are dark, but not gloomy, one is majestic and the other is positive and that’s just the mood now. . . the arrangement of the petals is very pleasing.

Free, unpredictable, wild, uncontrollable could describe this duo of Californian poppy and Stipa tenuissima and that’s why I like them – individually they appear and flourish where and when  they please. Totally promiscuous and even better when nudging up together. This is the top of this site by the old gate. The ground is poor – hardly any top soil here as it used to be a path through – a twitten – but it has been blocked off years ago. So some reclaimed garden in a narrow channel with planting that the neighbour calls  ‘the seaside look’. Well,  it has to be self sustaining and has developed this year into an eco system in its own right. Hurrah! 

And some music here.

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