Postcard from Cornwall 1: RHS Rosemoor
Visiting gardens these days with both my adult sons is like viewing the garden with a comedy soundtrack. Their conversation, completely un-horticultural, is far-reaching and having not seen much in recent months is non-stop. They also both have a quirky sense of humour so it isn’t unusual to hear out-takes of Hot Fuzz or be aware that one of them is doing a moon-walk behind you. It is delightful to have their company and these days out always leave me with happy memories but aren’t necessarily good for taking in horticultural information!
This week we are on holiday in the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall. We are staying in a beautiful little self-catering cottage which used to be a corn store, it’s all incredibly pretty. We have few plans apart from spending time together, relaxing, sleeping and eating. However, being a natural early bird and with two sons in their early 20s I am up long before them so have my trustee laptop with me to entertain.
Anyway back to the theme of the post, on the way down to Cornwall we took a biggish detour to RHS Rosemoor. I have only visited RHS Wisley before and that was a very quick visit so this was my first proper visit to an RHS garden and I have to say I was impressed. I also think I preferred it to Wisley as Rosemoor isn’t on such a grand scale.
We started with lunch on the alpine terrace. The terrace has dry stone walls around it planted with alpines of all sorts including the less popular coniferous varieties and it looked stunning. Adjacent was an alpine house which was positively groaning under the flowers on display. I suspect that the display is refreshed regularly with whatever is in flower at the moment as it was strange that absolutely everything was in flower. There was a predominance of Lewisias which was fascinating as I haven’t really seen these plants enmasse before and the variety was impressive, not just in flower colour but in structure and form. I did wonder whether my fascination with the alpines would have been so marked if I had visited a year ago before I became involved with the Alpine Plant Society. Since joining, for the seed distribution scheme, I have discovered a whole new range of plants which are quite fascinating and broadened my horticultural knowledge.
From here we looked briefly at the rose gardens. I’m not a fan of rose gardens per se and prefer to see roses growing amongst other plants but also the roses weren’t quite in flower. I liked the Cottage Garden but I suppose that goes without saying. Its my default position and my original interest in gardening and what I always come back to. However, again it was the alpine planting on the dry stone wall around the garden which really captured my interest.
The boys, or should I say men, were particularly taken with the Hot Garden where the only real flowers were purple alliums and bright orange geums. The borders were full of other herbaceous plants which will provide the heat in coming months but they really liked this simple and limited combination and the way the yellow dwarf bamboo picked up the yellow leaves of a near by free and contrasted with the geum.
From the more formal areas we made our way through the Rock Gully which was a hit with all of us. I love Primulas and there were plenty of these along with wonderful ferns, another growing interest, trilliums, tree peonies, bamboo and Arisaema. Although I heard one lady call them pitcher plants saying how they would go to Chelsea next year to find a supplier – I had to be restrained from putting her straight!! Whilst the Cottage Garden is my default preference I have noticed that I really do like plantings alongside streams particularly when they are running down a slope. I just need to move somewhere with a stream so I can recreate it. I think it was the scale of the bamboos and the rocks that was impressive giving a sense of exploration and wonder.
Interestingly we all decided that the Mediterranean Garden wasn’t for us. I have found this before that whilst I like the odd rosemary, Cistus, lavender; a garden exclusively of Mediterranean plants, for me, is quite dull. The plants tend to be glaucous or grey with smallish leaves and I think a good visual garden needs more contrasts and variety to make it interesting. I did however like the Southern Hemisphere slope despite it being far too early in the season but then again I have an emerging fascinating with plants from South Africa and South America and feel frustrated at my lack of greenhouse space. My youngest didn’t like this area at all, he is a bit of a traditionalist at heart I feel.
It was interesting watching him in the garden. My sons have been dragged round gardens since they were little but in recent years have been less keen, particularly my youngest. However, since he started studying design and we started visiting The Garden House whenever I visit him at University he has started to show a new interest but it is a different interest to mine. He is currently obsessed with blue and takes endless photographs of blue flowers. Mainly irises as he has always liked them but also meconopsis poppies, Aquilegia and Corydalis. He says that he needs to stand out from other design students who seem to present their work mainly in black, white and red and so he is always looking for different shades. He uses his flower pictures to identify particular shades which he can then copy with his clever software on to his designs. Saying all that he did try to persuade me that he could grow an iris in his student house so I think there are horticultural genes there somewhere.
No visit to a garden would be complete without tea and cake and the Wisteria Tea Room does a wonderful cream tea which of course it would have been rude not to partake off. I think I could have stayed there for longer sitting under the wisteria surrounded by ferns and tree peonies.
My youngest commented that he preferred The Garden House. Initially he said it was because there was more variety of planting. The plantsman in me reacted quite strongly to this comment. No – Rosemoor had far more variety, range and better quality of planting!! We concluded that he preferred The Garden House as it was, to him, more of a personal garden whereas Rosemoor has an educational mission and therefore there are lots of labels and signage and tarmaced paths. I found this very interesting. In the past I have commented that I often find ‘public’ gardens such as those managed by the National Trust soul-less and that I preferred gardens which were obviously more personal. However, I found that I couldn’t apply this to Rosemoor.
Yes it didn’t have the intimate, quirky and personal nature of a garden that opens a few days a year but I found it inspiring. It spoke to the wannabe plantsmen in me. I saw how different plants, such as alpines, succulents and ferns, could be displayed to their best advantage. To me there were areas which were quite personal, someone behind them has a flare, a vision, a talent for creating wonderful combinations. So Rosemoor challenged some of my preconceptions, it gave me ideas to take home and it left me hungry to find out more about plants that were new to me.