The last of the summer flowers

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I’ve been intending to share these flowers with you for several weeks, and here they finally are, not least because having a photograph with a picture of ‘October’ in it is a great motivation to get it published before November.

Life has been busy (isn’t it always) since my garden design course started in September. A raft of assignments ranging from plant recognition tests to essays about pest control, from sketchbooks of ideas for a shady garden to a package of graphics drawn in precariously smudge-able Rotring ink has kept me away from this blog, though not from the garden, I am pleased to report.

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Bright October sunshine, that special, slanting light of long shadows and glistening cobwebs, has invited me on an almost daily inspection of the back garden, where Aster ‘Little Carlow’ has collapsed among the last of the calendulas, while the cosmos and roses seem to flower interminably onwards, and every low-growing plant is losing a daily battle against the inevitable smothering of fallen leaves.

My dahlias, unfortunately, have been a disappointment this year. Flowers were few, and those that came were on short, reluctant stems. What’s more, I have been sent at least one (if not two) incorrect tubers by She Who Charges A Lot And Shall Remain Nameless. The large coral ‘Watermelon’ I had been looking forward to put forth some very pretty but unasked-for pink and yellow flowers, while ‘Linda’s Baby’ was decidedly peachy yellow rather than baby pink. And it’s not just me affected in this way. I’ve noticed others on Instagram complaining of incorrect orders, while one gardener stated that her very best dahlias this summer had come from ‘a cheap bumper pack from Lidl’ and had been far superior to any special cultivars that she had paid a lot more for. Food for thought.

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Meanwhile, the brickwork in the front garden is finally finished! This means that after about a couple of hours’ tidying-up I should be able to take some proper photographs and write a blog post about the maze that has taken me almost a year to complete. Just those pesky assignments to finish first …

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Here in these vases we have what may or may not be Dahlia ‘Linda’s Baby’, some of what is most definitely not D. ‘Watermelon’, and some of what are undoubtedly Cosmos ‘Purity’, Aster ‘Little Carlow’, indomitable caledulas, elderberries, and various salvia sprigs. With these tiny vases, flowers can be swapped in and out as they bloom and fade for an ever-changing mantelpiece scene. In the bedroom, meanwhile, a single Rosa ‘Tranquility’ graces the chest-of-drawers, reminding me to take a deep, luxurious sniff of its lovely scent every time I go to choose a pair of socks.

‘In a vase on Halloween’ is not hosted by Cathy at Rambling In The Garden (sorry I’m late, Cathy!) but if you follow this link you will see her weekly Monday vase as well as those of several more punctual garden bloggers around the world, and it will be no surprise (boo!) to find that more than one of them has gone for a spooky theme.

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An autumn garden reshuffle

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It was a good summer for the back garden. I enjoyed sitting out on the terrace in the hot sunshine, gazing in unabashed admiration as various pleasing planting combinations waxed and waned. How could any of the plants yet to come be as good as these tulips and forget-me-nots, I wondered in May, as the gorgeous twisted tulip petals relaxed into their fading farewells. But then the garden (with only a moment’s hesitatation) triumphantly produced geraniums, alliums, icelandic poppies and perennial cornflowers, peonies, foxgloves, delphiniums, roses, catmint, and its annuals (nasturtiums, gypsophila) in a glorious parade of bright, precious colours. Then the season shifted to late summer, and suddenly there were calendula, crocosmia, cosmos, achillea, dahlias, and persicaria, their flame colours now punctuated by a backdrop of green allium and poppy seedheads. Yes, I enjoyed the show very much.

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But come mid-August I noticed a niggling feeling that the garden was entering an early decline. Now that the best of the flowers were fading, there were no longer enough of them to distract me from the garden’s inevitable faults. Areas that lacked interest started appearing. The corner in which a host of white foxgloves and blue delphiniums had proudly stood last month now bore not a single colour or texture of note. It’s too small a garden for large patches of dullness. I went out and bought a Ceratostigma willmottianum for the bare corner, and planted it. Although it’s too small a plant to make much of an impression yet, I am hoping that it will look good this time next year with its gentian-blue flowers and red autumn foliage. But it wasn’t enough; other things were starting to chafe: an ornamental thistle that was smothering a rose, and nearby, the unattractive brown lower leaves of an echinops in plain view from the back door. There were some bearded irises that had failed to perform for the fourth year running, and a young sedum was being drowned by a surprisingly vigorous pineapple sage. (When will I learn to leave more space between plants?)

When I saw a beautiful billowing sedum while visiting Dr Neil’s Garden in Duddingston, it was the nudge I needed. How I wished my sedum looked the same: healthy, vigorous, enthusiastic, and surrounded by wafting perennial grasses. I knew the very spot I wanted to try moving mine to, under the arch where it would catch the full benefit of the summer sun and provide personality to an otherwise lacklustre corner. Of course, moving the sedum meant moving a lot of other things first. That’s half the fun of it.

First to be dug out were some foxgloves to make space for the echinops, which I split into three or four smaller plants. Christopher Lloyd once wrote that an echinops does the same job as an eryngium, and since the latter is more exciting you may as well plant that instead. But I disagree –  echinops is less startling, more subdued and graceful, and grows more upwards than outwards, taking up far less room. Yes, there is the problem of its ugly lower leaves, but if you place it carefully they can be hidden behind the foliage of other plants. In its new position by the wall, mine would be disguised by some geraniums and a peony.

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The ornamental thistle came out too. You could almost hear the rose behind it breathing a sigh of relief. In fact, I breathed a sigh of relief too to see it come out. Now with a few spaces created in the border, I fetched a potted camellia that I’d been wanting to plant out for some time. There is no point in keeping a camellia in a pot unless your soil is alkaline, which mine isn’t. After trying the camellia in various positions and looking at it from all angles, I decided it looked the business in the place left vacant by the echinops.

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I took great delight in digging the bearded irises out. I’ve had one flower (admittedly a spectacular one) from these irises in four years. I reckoned that if the stupid things couldn’t flower in the hottest summer on record, then they’re hopeless cases and need replacing. In their place I planted a hydrangea that my mother had given me. I don’t have many shrubs in the border, and I’m looking forward to the structure that the camellia and this hydrangea bring to the garden.

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Finally to move the sedum. There was a large drumstick primula (Primula denticulata) that had to come out first, which I planted next to my peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’. The sedum went into its place under the arch, and behind it I placed a little pheasant’s tail grass, Anemanthele lessoniana. Both sedum and grass were gifts from Cathy (Rambling in the Garden) so it seemed appropriate that they should go in beside each other.

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While working, I was able to appreciate the rest of the garden: the cosmos in full bloom, asters and astrantias, nasturtiums, erigeron and dahlias. Autumn days in the garden are some of the most glorious. The whole garden has an atmosphere of quiet and calm, of falling slowly asleep. The birds are still singing, but less frantically than in the spring. The light is more interesting, but of shorter duration. Interesting things are happening to seed heads, to the colour of leaves, even to the colour of flowers.

After my garden ‘reshuffle’ the garden once more became a place I wanted to spend time in, to wander around and enjoy the changing season. No longer was I troubled by those niggles and annoyances. (I should say that naturally there are ongoing niggles as in all gardens; merely less urgent ones.) I look forward to next year, when the fruits of my reshuffle will show themselves in an improved autumn outlook.

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Gardening and The Time Paradox

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It’s a little while since I wrote a garden book review. Followers of my Instagram account may know that I am reading Beth Chatto’s Garden Notebook month by month, and I won’t be ready to review this until I finish the year’s journey with her in December. I also have another gardening book on the go, one of Christopher Lloyd’s, and I’ll review that in due course too. In between reading these gardening books as well as fiction, I’ve now started my new garden design classes and have whole library shelves of delectable design books available to me: plenty to keep my eyes occupied. Meanwhile, another book I recently read gave me a great deal to think about. It’s not a gardening book, but it was so tempting to extrapolate its ideas to gardeners that I thought I’d write this post about it. The book is called The Time Paradox: The New Psychology Of Time and was written by two psychologists of Stanford University, Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd.

I first picked this book up in the hopes of finding an explanation of why I am late for everything. (I did find out, incidentally: I’m a ‘Present Hedonist’, forever too deeply immersed in the current moment to notice the clock). But far beyond that, the book described the many intriguing different ways we perceive time, and how our balance of past, present and future perspective drives everything we do. It describes how our view of the past (positive or negative) determines our contentment in the present, and has less to do with the magnitude of events in our past than our way of framing them. Our relationship with the present is just as important. Reminders to live ‘mindfully’ aren’t necessary for us ‘Present Hedonists’, who rarely forget to stop and smell the roses or sit and enjoy the garden. (We never get anything useful done, mind you, but at least we are less prone to chronic stress and its related diseases.) ‘Present Fatalists’ on the other hand, feel that their life is governed by external influences over which they have little or no control, a perspective that is linked to anxiety and depression. Then there are the ‘Futures’, people whose actions today are driven by anticipation of tomorrow’s gains. Futures are good at delayed gratification. They study for exams, they invest in their pensions, they are always on time for the train. They are the lawyers and accountants who make the world go round while the Presents are smelling the roses and forgetting to submit their tax returns. We all need a good balance between a Past-Positive, Present-Hedonistic, and Future perspective in order to lead a healthy and productive life. So what has this all got to do with gardening?

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There could hardly be a better pastime in which past, present and future are more intricately woven. Let me illustrate with a simple vignette. At the end of last month, I decided that my wildflower crates were past their best (they had never really got off the ground, to tell the truth), and I decided to replant them for winter. I pulled the remains of the wildflowers out, first snipping off anything that could be used for a vase. I walked over to the compost heap, took off the lid, had a good look inside first, and then threw the spent wildflowers in. Then I spent a good few minutes flicking the brandling worms off the side so they wouldn’t be squashed when I put the lid back on. Large ones first, then the smaller ones, then tapping the lid to knock any off the lip and into the bin. Some of them got stuck, and I scooped them off delightedly, squeamishly, with a forefinger, which I then wiped on my jeans. (Can you see why I’m late for everything?)

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I replaced some of the old soil in the crates with new compost, mixing it in with my bare hands, heedless of the dirt I was going to have to scrape out from under my fingernails later on in order to be hand-hygeine-presentable for my day job as a ‘Future’ at the hospital. I liked the smell of the compost and the way it felt. Time slipped like soil between my fingers as I searched for vine weevil grubs (none to be seen). Once the soil was prepared, I planted some snowdrop bulbs. My favourite flowers are snowdrops, and the thought of that first sighting of glaucous shoots in a dark January brings me great anticipation for the season ahead. With the pleasure of past winters always vivid in my mind, I took a large bag of snowdrop bulbs and divided them between the two crates, arranging them in an even pattern across the soil, pressing them in with my thumb. I’ve never planted snowdrops from dry bulbs in autumn before, and it will be five months before I see the results of this trial. I also planted some Narcissus ‘Minnow’ in the gaps between the snowdrops, having admired a picture of them in a magazine; it will be seven months before I see those in flower. To give me something to enjoy today and for the rest of the autumn, I topped the crates with generous pink and white Bellis daisies, bought at the garden centre in a present-oriented splurge. Memories of past enjoyment motivating me to take time over a pleasurable job in the present in order to reap future rewards. Little wonder gardening is therapy.

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People who have a tendency to live in the present are at a disadvantage in the Northern Hemisphere’s future-driven clock-time culture. On the other hand, you can hardly open a newspaper or social media site these days without seeing an article about how we should all be practising mindfulness and living more in the present. It’s getting the balance right that’s key, and I’m convinced gardening can help. Much has been written about gardening and mindfulness: how tilling the earth and being close to nature makes us slow down and experience the infinitesimal now. But what about gardening and a future perspective? Well, if anything could reorientate someone to a future perspective, it’s gardening. Practically every intervention in gardening is made with the future in mind. We plant bulbs in autumn so that we have flowers in spring. We sow seeds in February so that we have vegetables in June. When we plant a sapling, we are not thinking only of the benefit for ourselves, but of future generations, of people we may never know, who never knew we existeda transcendental future. Gardening teaches us about patience, consequences, delayed gratification, investment of time and effort. If education exists to turn Present-Hedonistic children (and adults) into well behaved Futures, then there’s no education like the experience of a dreary, tulip-less spring to galvanise a Present Hedonist into getting those bulbs planted in autumn. If I were a psychologist interested in the time perspectives of gardeners, I’d test the correlation between a Future orientation and a willingness to sow biennials.

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I would also test the correlation between enjoyment of weeding versus a Present or Future perspective. As a Present Hedonist, I adore weeding. Give me a hand fork and a podcast and I’ll happily pull creeping buttercups for hours. I enjoy the task itself much more than the result. Put a Future to the same task and they’ll get on with it too; but with merely the return on investment in mind they are likely to find it a mundane, if necessary chore. It’s the Present Fatalists who suffer most. With little consideration for any future return on their investment of time, and a sinking feeling that no matter how many weeds they pull they’ll never get them under control, weeding becomes a hated and seemingly pointless chore. Yet, gardening is a science, and reliable outcomes can be achieved through specific actions, so there could hardly be a better or more pleasurable way of engaging the Present Fatalist and showing them that this is one arena in which they can take control. To this group of people, who have often had the least control over their lives (through adverse social or economic circumstances, for example) and who suffer frequently from mental health disorders, gardening perhaps has the most to offer.

If you are interested in finding out about your own time perspective scores, you can test yourself on the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory.

Zimbardo, P and Boyd, J. (2008) The Time Paradox: The New Psychology Of Time. First edition, London: Rider.

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Here comes the sun (and I say, it’s all right)

What is it that is so inherently cheerful about a sunflower? This one bears no resemblance to either of the varieties I ordered from Sarah Raven last spring. It should be killing me with its sinister ring of dark bronze juxtaposed with bright yellow. It has an uncanny likeness to Sauron’s glaring eye. And yet I smile whenever I see it.

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Checking back in my records, the variety was supposed to be either the deep red ‘Claret’ or the soft brown and crimson ‘Double Dandy’. I planted a row of each; the slugs ate the back row but somehow spared the front row, which grew into these. Grumble grumble: at Sarah Raven’s prices, one expects the correct wares. But I say, it’s all right. Any flower this sunny can’t put me out of sorts for too long.

I’m thinking of writing a review of all the annuals I’ve grown over the past two or three years: which are reliably successful, which are less so, and which I can’t live without. I think sunflowers may just turn out to be something I grow every year. Borage is an annual that I never need to sow afresh these days: it simply pops up everywhere and anywhere. It’s a wonderful thing to find an annual you like that likes you back with equal enthusiasm. I’d love to know what annuals you sow faithfully each year, which are more miss than hit, which you’ve given up on, and which are reliable self-seeders.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I recommend visiting her page to see what she and other garden bloggers around the globe have found in the garden to put in a vase today.

 

 

Two Topiary Gardens

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On my return journey to Scotland from our trip to the Cotswolds in September (see my write-ups on Snowshill and Hidcote), I stopped off at Levens Hall in Cumbria on the recommendation of my mother. Levens Hall has the oldest and most extensive topiary garden in the world, and since topiary is my spirit garden style, a coffee and wander around its extraordinary collection of clipped yews made for a magical break in the six-hour journey.

The topiary garden of Levens Hall was laid out in 1694 and completed in 1720, and it is the oldest such surviving garden, having escaped the destruction that its contemporaries suffered when the fashion for informal landscape gardens waxed in the eighteenth century.

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Many of the ancient shapes, which are clipped from yew, golden yew and box, have names: Queen Elizabeth and her maids of honour, the Judge’s wig, the Lion, the Jug of Morocco. Summer bedding plants, including masses of heliotropes and verbena, are grown in between the trees, bordered by dwarf box hedges.

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Isn’t there something utterly mysterious about a topiary garden? Perhaps it is because of the aloof, animal bulk of the trees, standing like inscrutable statues in a museum (but which surely come alive behind your back); or perhaps because of childhood books like Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse in which an orphan is driven through a moonlit park adorned with topiaried chess pieces: an atmosphere of magical suspense pervades. The wonkiness of the spirals and twirls of Levens’ yew trees, some looking like toppling wedding cakes, others dumpy yet dignified, somehow added to the sense of enigma. Feeling as though I’d stumbled into a convention of eccentric butlers or an eighteenth-century Ent Moot, I wandered like a small intruder among a gloriously claustrophobic crowd of other-worldly presences.

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It takes four gardeners about a month to clip all the shapes, and they were undertaking this gargantuan task during my visit, meaning that some of the trees were bowling-green smooth, while others were still fuzzy around the edges. And talking of bowling greens, I wandered further on to find that the topiary thinned out and the rest of the garden came into view. A real bowling green, used by a local croquet club, lay beyond an orchard (particularly boggy underfoot – bring stout boots) and next to a dark and ominous beech alley, which led to a wilder part of the garden that was partly wooded and contained a willow maze with a curious centrepiece.

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The fountain garden, containing a large, round, stone pool full of lilies and a modest fountain at its centre, was laid out in 1994 to commemorate 300 years of the gardens at Levens Hall. Returning towards the house was the herb garden, herbaceous borders, and finally the simple but pleasing 17th Century Garden beside the house itself.

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Due to life’s continual gyre of obligations, distractions and circumstances, it has taken me over three months to get round to writing this post, and as I was editing the photos of these remarkable 300-year-old trees I recalled that I had not shared my photographs of another magnificent topiary garden that I visited over two years ago: Drummond Castle Gardens in Perthshire. I do hope you will not mind if I indulge my admiration for topiary a little longer and show you this quite different garden.

Drummond Castle Gardens also has a long history, having been restructured several times. Grander in style and scale than Levens Hall, there is less a sense of the whimsical and more of a stylised majesty in the formal parterre, laid out in a St Andrew’s Cross with a seventeenth century sundial at its centre. Topiaried beech and yew trees are solemn stalagmites, politely spaced, and contrasting in height and colour with the collection of gorgeous ruby-red acers nearby.

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Drummond is magnificent for autumn colour, and our visit, in October, was at the perfect time to witness the spectacle. Relatively little herbaceous planting exists in this part of the garden, but there is more than enough interest to be found among the many types of trees (two copper beeches were planted by Queen Victoria who visited in 1842), in the disciplined structure of the planting, the elegant statuary, and in the peacocks that waft gracefully about the lawns.

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Being Perthshire, there is no shortage of dampness in the air, and many of the trees were adorned with delightful lichen that added to the sense of timelessness. Exploring further on, we stumbled across beds and beds of the most exuberant dahlias, while just below the castle were herbaceous beds rich in late summer colour.

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Levens Hall Gardens near Kendal in Cumbria are open from April to October on Sundays to Thursdays, and adult admission is £9.90, or £13.90 to include admission to the house, with lower prices for children and family groups.

Drummond Castle Gardens near Crieff in Perthshire is open on Easter Weekend, and then daily between May and October inclusive. Entry for an adult costs £6.00 with reduced rates for concessions, families and children. The castle itself is not open to the public.

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The Living And The Dead

November is a funny time of year. Certain plants remain in flower across the garden mainly salvias and roses but also Acanthus mollis, pelargoniums and Cerinthe major and their bright blooms look quite out of place beside those that are dying back.

In July I harvested all the spent allium seedheads, and plonked them in a hurry into a vase on our bedroom chest of drawers, where they have been annoying both of us ever since. The arrival of a new jug prompted me to do something about them, and so I cut their long stems back to size and rearranged them. In a month’s time I will probably spray them with a dusting of silver and use them as Christmas decorations.

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The drawing is called ‘January Beeches’ and is by an artist called Pamela Grace, who is exhibiting at the Dancing Light Gallery at Whitmuir Organic Farm, just a few miles south of Edinburgh. Winter trees are an appropriate subject for today’s post, because one might say that, like Schrödinger’s Cat, they are both dead and alive at the same time.

And just to prove that we still have plenty of plants still alive and kicking, I made a second vase in this little pewter cup Cerinthe, Salvia ‘Amistad’, the David Austin rose ‘Tess Of The D’Urbevilles’ and a stem of snapdragon in the identical shade of velvet red. If anyone is looking for a deep red rose, I couldn’t recommend Tess enough.

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In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy of Rambling in the Garden, and I do recommend visiting her page and taking a look at all the blooms, both dead and alive, that she and gardeners across the world are cutting from their gardens today.

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Rosebud not in a vase

This week marks the fourth anniversary of Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday challenge, and to celebrate this milestone, today we are all finding something that is not a vase in which to arrange our flowers. Any watertight receptacle counts as a vase in my view, but I think Cathy means objects that were not designed to be vases and I hope this inkpot falls into that category. The little rosebuds were the last buds on my ‘The Lady Gardener’ rose, which I lopped off before digging up said rose and moving it to the back garden, where I am hoping it is settling in nicely to its new home.

Thank you to Cathy for inventing and hosting this wonderful challenge, which inspires so many of us across the world to bring beautiful garden flowers into the house each week.

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A Glowing and Sparkling Floral Finale

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Did you all have a wonderful Bonfire Night? We did, after inviting our neighbours to join us on the backgreen in order to burn a veritable ton of cotoneaster and buddleia prunings. Like so many people, we actually had our bonfire on the 4th of November because that was the more convenient day for everybody (although I still smelt of bonfire on the 5th of November and I reckon that counts). We had sparklers and take-away burritos and lots of friendly neighbourly chatting as we warmed our hands by the fire. Nothing goes up in flame like dried buddleia and cotoneaster, and the incinerator became so hot that when I returned to it today to take some of the ashes for my raised beds, the ashes were still glowing briskly.

Today I found the last glowing embers of the garden and collected them together in a sort of autumnal grand finale: pink and white cosmos, velvety red snapdragons, salvias (‘Amistad’ and ‘Neon’), roses, verbena, and alstromeria, as well as a cameo from a salmon-pink perlargonium and some potted heartsease violas. It has occurred to me that this is the second grand finale I have done this autumn, but I am sure you can forgive me for that. I keep thinking the flowers will stop, and they just haven’t.

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In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I do recommend visiting her page to see what she has gathered from the garden today (hint: it’s also firework related) as well as links to many other vases created by garden bloggers across the world. Cathy and The Golfer was kind enough to drop in for tea last week, and it was such a pleasure to catch up with them. The Salvia ‘Neon’ was one of several gifts from her in 2016, and I was delighted to show her how well it had been doing and what a favourite it had become. Unfortunately the garden was in a state due to ongoing redesign works (although they were far too polite to say so!). Cathy and The Golfer, once again thank you for your visit and I hope next time you come through I shall have something rather better to show you by way of a front garden.

Dahlias and Roses on a Painted Shelf

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It’s turning into a mini tradition of mine to arrange my ‘Café-au-Lait’ dahlias in this yellow jug on our kitchen shelf in autumn (for previous years see here and here). This dahlia is a late bloomer, but once it does it’s pretty reliable and always lovely. After idly wondering what I could do to make this year’s vase a little different, I found that I had only the one bloom out at the moment (with three or four more on their way) and decided to add some pale roses into the mix.

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Here we have ‘The Lady Gardener’ to the left of the dahlia, the pale pink single ‘Many Happy Returns’ above, and ‘A Shropshire Lad’ to the right.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I recommend visiting her page to see her vase and follow links to all the other vases created by garden bloggers across the world today.

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Two Cotswolds Gardens. 2: Hidcote

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Of course, Hidcote was the main reason we had come to the Cotswolds, but our off-the-cuff visit to Snowshill on the previous day had furnished us with an interesting contrast. Hidcote and Snowshill seemed to be worlds apart, in atmosphere if not in geography: Where Snowshill was compact, homely, light-hearted and delightfully ferny at the edges, Hidcote was grand, ambitious and terribly civilised, its scale and its multitude of rooms making it hard to maintain a unified impression in one’s mind.

But similarities between the two gardens existed. Hidcote was the creation of the Anglophile American Major Lawrence Johnston, who, like Charles Wade of Snowshill, was a war-weary single man of independent fortune. Hidcote, like Snowshill, has its roots in the Arts and Craft movement of the Twenties, and it too embraced the novel style of a series of garden rooms. Like Snowshill, it was donated to the National Trust in collaboration with James Lees-Milne.

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A formal pool of water lilies beside the glasshouses
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Verbena bonariensis and lavender in a border so the side of the glass houses

We decided to begin our route around the enormous garden (aided by an essential fold-out map) at the formal rectangular pool of lilies, followed by the glasshouses.

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Aeoniums and other exotic plants in a sunny, sheltered position outside the glasshouses
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Inside the glasshouses

The enormous kitchen garden produces all of the vegetables used by the cafés: sprightly rows of kale, pumpkins and courgettes bordered by sage and lavender, and large areas of red clover being grown as green manure.

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A deep bed of red clover in the kitchen garden
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A bee visits a giant thistle in the kitchen garden

This homely scene shifted dramatically on turning a corner: we found ourselves beneath an avenue of tall, heavenly beech trees, a Tolkienesque passage under which sounds were hushed and all colours were muted to shades of green.

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The Beech Alley

This sudden shift in character was a recurring motif throughout the garden, and was in itself a defining characteristic of Hidcote. Facing this direction, we were entertained by the tropical and exuberant red border with its dominance of red Musa leaves, then turning to face the opposite way our view was of a soothing, unfussy double row of pleached hornbeams leading to a grand iron gate beyond which lay the notion of a hazy, unspoilt English landscape: two scenes that could hardly have been more different. It was a kind of jolt repeated throughout the garden and which kept us alert, fascinated, and curious to peek through every topiaried arch, keen not to miss a thing.

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The red border facing in the direction of the house
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At the head of the Red Border
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The red border facing away from the house towards the iron gates
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The Stilt Garden, with the notion of an English Landscape beyond

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Major Johnston was fortunate enough to have enough land to try every possible garden experiment he could think of: a white garden; a fuchsia garden; the solemn and very long Long Walk, a rock garden; a garden of comfrey and hydrangeas on damp woodland beside a stream; a wilderness; a rose garden; a poppy garden; a garden containing a large round stone bathing pool; another with a painted loggia and theatre of pelargoniums. And everywhere: topiary, lots of it. And brick paths, tall clipped beech hedges, more topiary, blue painted benches, and judicious vistas framed by archways cut through the tall clipped hedges.

We couldn’t have been more eager recipients of the charms of Hidcote. Even the weather was perfect: a brief and drenching downpour (we sheltered under one of the beech-hedge archways) gave way to brilliant sunshine that backlit the drops on the euphorbias and pale yellow kniphofias of Mrs Winthrop’s garden (named for Johnston’s mother).

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Hydrangeas in the Lower Stream Garden

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The Pillar Garden

 

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Aeoniums in Mrs Winthrop’s Garden, and below, the yellow planting of Mrs Winthrop’s Garden, including yellow kniphofias and euphorbias, toned down with underplanting in pale blue.
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Pelargonium in the painted loggia, and below, more scenes

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The Fuchsia Garden
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The Old Garden, beside the manor house
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The Old Garden
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The Old Garden
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The Old Garden
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The Old Garden

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Judicious vista through the Fuchsia Garden
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The Bathing Pool Garden

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Another judicious vista through Mrs Winthrop’s Garden
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The Manor House, and below, inside the house

A brief glimpse into the manor house concludes the visit to the gardens, while on the way out the plant centre offers cultivars of plants named ‘Hidcote’ (I bought a tiny Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’) and, to my delight, a special offer on Melcourt growing media, which is the most gorgeous stuff you ever sunk your hands in.

Hidcote Manor Gardens is owned and managed by the National Trust, and details of opening times, admission prices, and how to get there can be found on their website.

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