The Art of Kiku

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I was about to write about the Silver Pavilion, a natural progression after the Golden Pavilion in my last post, but I spotted these photos I took of Chrysanthemums on my first day and have ended up researching why they are grown as they are which is very different to the Western approach.

Having arrived in Kyoto after goodness knows how long travelling, starving and suffering from sleep deprivation I wasn’t allowed to check into my hotel room for another 3 hours.  I stumbled into a small restaurant, where no English was spoken and I was the only Westerner and woman, ordered probably the wrong thing, accidentally ate a large and very hot chilli and to be quite honest wanted to go home!.  Anyway, I decided the best thing to do was to get some fresh air so I walked up the main road from the hotel for a while; being Japan I soon came to a large temple, the Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple.  

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I wasn’t sure if it was OK to go in but a very nice man with excellent English in a bright yellow T-shirt welcomed me.  He explained that the temple buildings were closed that day to the public as they were inducting a new Head Priest (I think) in and people had travelled from all over Japan to attend.  However, I was welcome to explore the grounds, take photos, and there was a bonsai exhibition to look at.  I can’t tell you how much better I felt after talking to that gentleman – I felt normal again instead of an alien on my own in a strange country.

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It turned out that the bonsai were in fact bonsai Chrysanthemums, or Kiku in Japanese.  The display did seem appropriate to my circumstances that day – something else very different and alien!

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The kiku is a key symbol in Japan.  It represents longevity and rejuvenation and is the symbol of the Japanese royal family.  We had been due to go to a kiku festival, or kiku matsuri,  when we got to Kyushu but due to the earthquake in this area earlier in the year our itinerary had been changed.

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I find these plants fascinating and looking back they were the first example of the extraordinarily controlling approach to horticulture the Japanese have which some of us found a little challenging.  In fact this approach, to me, represents much of Japanese culture which is very ordered and controlled.

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I have learnt a little more about kiku and how there are numerous classes of plants which are shown at kiku matsuri throughout Japan in the Autumn. I wish I had known a more when I saw these displays as I think I would have appreciated them more.  Well, maybe ‘appreciate’ is the wrong word as to me the plants were too manipulated but I would have understood better instead of being completely baffled by this exhibit.

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As you can imagine I was completely perplexed by these as it seemed that someone had deliberately sat on the flowers.  However, having found a wonderful post about kiku on Botany Boys blog I can tell you that these are ichimonji or komonshoukiku and are meant to represent ‘noble family crests’ like this.

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The flowers are displayed with white discs of paper under to stop them flopping.

Another class can be seen in the top photo – the kudamono, or what we know as the spider chrysanthemum.  You will see that each bloom is held up by a wire disc.

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Another class, presumably of one stem – the flowers were very small so I’m not sure what the judging criteria is on these.

There are also cascading chrysanthemums which I saw a few examples of during my travels, especially at various temples but I am unable to locate any photos of.

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This is how the kiku are displayed at the festivals and here you have a mix of the spiders, referred to above, plus some atsumono which are the large flowered kiku.

I found these displays fascinating. Whether or not you agree with the approach it is always interesting to see something new as it makes you question and challenge your own preconceptions.

If you are interested in learning more about the Japanese kiku I also found these interesting posts from the New York Botanical Garden where they appear to have had a display and the Japan Times.

Matt Mattus, over at Growing with Plants, appears to be interested in the Japanese approach to Chrysanthemums as well – I might just have to get some advice from him as I have a hankering to have a go at bonsai or the cascades.

 

 

 

End of Month View – October 2016

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Well Autumn is truly upon us now.  The Colchicums are flowering, the leaves are falling and the clocks went back an hour last night.  I’ve always enjoyed Autumn, just as I do Spring.  I remember as a child one of the highlights of the season was raking up huge piles of beech leaves and jumping into them. For some reason autumn leaves always seem to be damp these days so not conducive to jumping in.

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Hugh’s Border is slowly losing its foliage and preparing for winter but many of the plants are deciduous so some interest will remain through the winter.  Come early spring the snowdrops will flower and if I remember rightly some narcissus.

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I’m including some photos of the wider view mainly because I have treated myself to a wide-angle lens ahead of my trip to Japan in a week’s time.  We will be doing a lot of travelling to temples, castles and into the wider landscape so I thought a wide-angle lens would be a worthwhile investment – well that’s the excuse I am making to myself! The photos on this post are all with the new lens and it means I can show you the wider garden view so the different bits make more sense and you soon realise just how small the garden is and inevitably how much it slopes.

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Oh and you are probably spotted the large timber scattered around.  These are to replace some of the risers on the steps from the patio and also to provide a more definitive edge to the bottom of the Big Border.  Work has started now that many of the plants are being cut back and there is less chance of damage from large feet.  The aim is to get the new hard landscaping completed over the winter before my spring bulbs start making life more challenging for the landscaper.

Its interesting looking at these photos how much colour there is still in the garden and how much of it comes from foliage as opposed to flowers – reinforcement of my view that if you get the foliage right the flower are just the icing on the cake.

Anyone is welcome to join in with the End of Month meme.  You can use it to follow a specific part of the garden through the year or to give your readers a tour of the whole garden – whatever works for you. I like to follow one area through the year as it helps me to be more critical of the space and make improvements.  All I ask is that you leave a link to your post in the comments box below and link back to this post in yours – that way everyone can connect.

Book Review: RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants

One of the best presents my sons ever bought me was the RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants probably about 10 years ago.  A hugely valuable resource that opens the keen amateur gardener’s eyes to the amazing world of plants.  Naturally, having loved this publication for many years I was interested to be offered a review copy by Dorling Kingsley of their new edition, published on 9th September 2016.

The new edition includes an additional 5000 new plants and claims “to incorporate the latest research and know how from over 70 horticultural experts led by the world-renowned plantsman Christopher Brickell”. It’s a beautiful edition presented in a strong robust carry-box, the ideal present for that special gardener in your life.  However, it’s a weighty tome coming in at 1118 pages whereas its predecessor was split between two volumes making it much easier, in my opinion, to use.  Interestingly, despite the size and weight of the book, there has been a reduction in the information section at the start of the book. Gone are the sections on Plant Problems; Pests, Diseases and Disorders; and specific information about various plant groups such as Trees, Shrubs, Orchids, Ferns.  I presume the decision was taken to remove these sections to allow space for the additional 5000 plants. I think it is a pity as I have often found these sections as useful as the actual encyclopedia – my version is a sort of one stop shop.

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But putting my grumbles aside, which are purely based on the fact that I have an earlier version, this book really is an essential acquisition for all keen gardeners and horticulturists.  It is obviously an A-Z and each Genus is set out with an introduction, general cultivation information and then individual plant entries which start with the botanical name.  The plant entry has specific details about the plant with descriptions of flowers, leaves, stems, overall height and width, geographical origin and hardiness. The entry is then further sub-divided into variants and cultivars.  Not all plants have photographs but there are sufficient to make it very appealing.  In addition there are drawings of distinct or complex features of the larger genera which show any variations in flowers or leaves.

The price of the book is £75 but I think this is reasonable given the amount of information you get which even with the seemingly never-ending plant name changes will provide probably the most valuable resource the gardener ever needs.  I have to admit to drifting to tapping into the internet more these days for plant information as its so easy but it is also quite limited and there is never the breadth of varieties as there are in this book.

So yes if you are looking for that very special present or if you have someone who might indulge you then I would really recommend the RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants

My Garden This Weekend – 9th October 2016

Amarine belladiva

Amarine belladiva

So its been many weeks, no months, since I wrote a ‘My garden this weekend’ post. I won’t bore you yet again with my emotional struggles with the garden and my lack of enthusiasm.  Suffice to say that this weekend I had to really push myself to get on with some of the tasks that are needed.  The patio is full of purchases from the summer that need planting out or I will be struggling over the winter to protect the plants.  However, of course it’s not that simple.  I bought the plants for a particular project – the Big Border revamp – but I haven’t made as much progress as I had hoped.

I think I may have mentioned before that I want to replant the Big Border to benefit from the soil which drains very well. My plan is to use it for the various bulbs that I have a weakness for.  I think last weekend I reported that I had started to relocate some of the peonies to Hugh’s Border and I have added a couple of Miscanthus to the Big Border which weren’t happy behind the shed.

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Bits of it are coming together but the main part of the project is to formalise the lower edge of the Big Border.  The path has for some years been edged with Malvern stone found in the garden or logs from  tree pruning.  I have always gardened on a shoestring and never had funds for major landscaping so the garden has developed through hard work and making do with what was to hand.  When the Big Border went in around 4 years ago I wasn’t sure about the path and waited to see where the natural path appeared.  It’s all been a little Heath Robinson.  Originally the path was finished with woodchips but over the years this has disintegrated and the stone edging isn’t strong enough to clearly define the border from the path.  I need it to look smart and tidy.

The trouble is that I have concluded that I need structure and tidiness in my life or I become stressed.  With less time, energy or enthusiasm for the garden this year it has become untidy and this in turn has made it harder for me to re-engage as I just don’t know where to start.  I feel that if I can get some good structure or bones in place then the messiness won’t be so bad – just like edging the lawn makes a huge difference to a garden without you doing much else.  Thankfully funds are a little more plentiful these days and my long-suffering eldest has ‘volunteered’ to help me with putting in some thick wood edging.  Then, probably in the Spring, we will put some wood edging on the other side of the path but probably something thinner.  I will then cover the path probably with wood chip – the cat doesn’t approve of gravel!

img_6741I have moved all the plants along the path edge and the Malvern stone so my eldest can get on with the improvements.  We now have a large pile of Malvern stone to find something to do with. A suggestion has been made that I could use them to create a home for my hardy succulents, alpines and tiny bulbs.  I am resisting using the word ‘rockery’ as I really dislike rockeries but there is a small gem of an idea mumbling away at the back of my mind.

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In my bid to take control of the garden again I have seized the day and removed a couple of large shrubs that I haven’t liked for years.  One went from the border above, as did a large persicaria and some common ferns which swamped the area and used up all the moisture.  The photo doesn’t quite show you how much space there is here but  I am quietly excited as it’s quite a big space and will, after some feeding and soil improvement, provide a home for the remaining peonies that need rehoming.

Hopefully with all our efforts this Autumn the garden will be more manageable next year so I don’t feel I need to spend as much time working in it and I can do some of the other things I want to do without feeling guilty or maybe even just sit and enjoy the garden.

Update on the Front Garden

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Some readers will recall that back at the start of the year I decided to do away with the front lawn. Since then I have been a busy bee and with the help of my sons the transformation is nearly completed.

The pile of bricks isn’t an art installation but the start of the path that we have been working on this weekend.

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My eldest has been a star and spent the morning digging a trench for the bricks to lay in and he managed to get the bricks for 25p each which has made a huge difference to the cost and allowed us to be more generous in the number used.  The next step is to cement them in place and then to put gravel down on the path.  I intend to use the same gravel as the driveway so it blends together.

From being embarrassed by my front garden I now love it – as my son says it is now a proper garden rather than a small lawn with some plants around it!

There’s more to the life than gardening (and blogging)

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I was surprised to discover today that it is 17 days since I last posted a post on this blog and even more surprising for someone who has posted 3 times a week for at least 9 years is the fact that I haven’t missed posting nor have I even thought about it.  I didn’t even share with you the photo of my blue meconopsis poppy, grown from seed, which flowered this year with half a dozen flowers nor did I ever get around to blogging about all the gardens I visited in Suffolk or my visit to Croome Park last weekend.  Something has changed in me not just in terms of blogging but in other aspects of my life and it is for the better I think.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while particularly over the last 18 months will know that my job has changed and this past 18 months has been quite unsettling for me as I step up to a much more responsible role with a huge feeling of needing to prove myself.  It has taken its toll on me at times emotionally and physically but recently a new phase seems to have started – maybe I feel more assured in my role, maybe its not as scary and new – whatever it is I am now sleeping better and I don’t feel so stressed which can be no bad thing.

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One of my coping mechanisms in recent weeks, which I think has helped enormously, is walking.  Most evenings I go out after dinner for a walk, to the adjacent common or sometimes on the hills.  And it has made a huge difference particularly to someone who spends so much of the day at a desk or in meetings.  The local common is a wonderful place to walk as the grass is allowed to grow tall with just some paths mown through it and you can just loose yourself and let your mind drift; then on my return home I embroider.  In a strange way the compulsion I used to feel to garden in order to de-stress has been relocated to walking and sewing. I am sure that some of this relates to my new neighbours clearing the fence line and reducing my privacy.  I have tried to employ my usual Pollyanna approach to this saying it will be fine but I am struggling with it and we are looking at ways of addressing it – I’m even toying with moving house!  But I also think that the garden isn’t fulfilling my need for creativity any more.  I have basically run out of spaces to dig up.

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I have nearly finished the revamp of the front garden and just need to put the path in.  I say ‘just’ but this actually means laying a brick edge hence the delay while I work through all the excuses why I can’t do it this weekend or the next until I decide to just get on with it and stop procrastinating.  I will have to post about it soon as I am rather pleased with how it is looking in its first year but I am waiting for some of the asters to flower to give it colour before I do.

There is nothing new to do in the back garden aside from day to day maintenance which I have been doing as and when but I have to make myself garden these days.  This morning I made myself deal with the dead rose blooms I could see and of course once I was outside I spent a satisfying couple of hours dead heading, cutting the grass path and re-engaging with the garden.  I was thrilled to discover some banana seeds had germinated in the greenhouse, that a wren appeared to be nesting in the old bird box and that the fig tree I had brutally pruned a couple of weeks ago, when I rediscovered it under the triffid branches of the Geranium palmatum, was covered in lots of new emerging shoots.

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Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy my garden but not in the compulsive obsessive way I used to.  I don’t drool over the bulb catalogues any more instead that bad habit has been transferred to sewing magazines.  I don’t have a desire to spend every minute of my spare time in the garden, visiting a garden or at a garden club – instead I am a more rounded person which can only be a good thing.  Whilst I enjoyed my trip last month looking at gardens in Suffolk I would have liked to have had the opportunity to visit Gainsborough’s birthplace museum which was just near our hotel but always shut by the time we returned and I have recently developed an interest in the Northern Renaissance artists which may influence my holiday choices next year.

My family and friends think I have moved to a better place and that the real me is finally emerging.  Expressions like ‘you have blossomed’, ‘you have grown’ etc are being used and I think they are right.  I will always love my garden, whether its this one or a new one, but I don’t now need to rely on it to justify who I am, to prove I can achieve something and I don’t need to blog relentlessly any more to satisfy my need to mental stimulation and desire to connect with others.

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This new phase, with adult children and a demanding but rewarding job, means that I have the time, funds and courage to embrace interests I used to have many years ago.  I want to travel more, maybe I will have a go at gliding again, I want to get fitter, I want to expand my sewing and embroidery abilities, I want to see art, I’m going to go canoeing for the first time and if I loose some weight along the way I will be thrilled.

There will be blog posts but probably more as and when and I have started a new blog to record my sewing journey and to connect to other sewers but I don’t know how successful that will be as to be honest I am actively trying to avoid looking at screens when I’m not at work but we shall see and that’s the key change instead of setting myself mad targets and schedules, looking for things to blog about, I have moved to a more relaxed ‘lets see’ approach and I am comfortable with it.  So ‘lets see’ what the future brings – I may paint the spare room or I may read a book this afternoon, it doesn’t matter.

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End of Month View June 2016 – Hugh’s Border

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A quick End of Month post from me as to be honest I had lost track of where we are in the month.  The garden is at its most full and even more so given the amount of rain we have had over the last few weeks.  Hugh’s border is looking fuller than ever, and in some places too full.

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The other end of the border which is shadier but not as shady as it used to be due to the neighbours cutting down the trees along the boundary.  This end is the home to some of my earlier fern acquisitions which are now quite substantial, there is also a Paulownia although it is battling with a rogue foxglove growing through the middle of it.  My idea is that the Paulownia will form a leafy canopy over the border but I think that will take a few years.  I spent some time this last weekend digging up Pulmonaria which grew along the edge of the steps and had started to self-seed around.  It was great when the border was so shady but had well outgrown its space so I have replaced it with another fern and some more siberian irises which I hope will bring some new textures to this end of the border.

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The front edge of the border which is a lot better than in previous years but at the moment lacking in colour.  There are some foxgloves, crocosmia and a fuschia about the flower so in a week or so it should colour up.  My approach these days is for the foliage first and then the flowers to add colour highlights during the year.  However, I need to work on how I combine the foliage.  I was very impressed with some of the combinations I saw in the gardens last week so there is food for thought on how to improve the planting.

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The back of the border from the bench and you can see this is particularly chaotic and probably too full.  I need to do some editing here and make some decisions about what should stay but I enjoy that side of gardening as it stimulates my creative side.

So that’s a whizz around Hugh’s border before I go to work.  All are welcome to join in with the end of month meme I just ask that you put a link to your post in the comments box below and link to this post in your post so we can all track you down.

Suffolk and N Essex Garden Tour – Day 2

Ultingwick, Maldon

Ultingwick, Maldon

Day 2 of our tour welcomed us with lovely sunshine and we set off optimistically to our first garden – Ultingwick, nr Maldon.  I was looking forward to visiting this garden as I have been friends with its owner, Phillippa, on Twitter for a couple of years now.  I know that Phillippa does not think this is the best time to visit her garden as she really focuses on mass tulips in Spring and then late Summer planting.

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However, the roses were out in abundance and despite the torrential rain the day before they were looking very good and smelling heavenly.  There was a very pretty yellow climbing rose over an entrance arch, which I didn’t photograph, but I was completely bewitched by its scent – apparently it is Goldfinch and it is on my wants list.  Seeing all of Phillippa’s climbing roses, has reinforced my feeling that I need to add some to my garden – to the extent that one has already been planting at the front of the house.

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Part of Phillippa’s garden is made up if a large meadow with mown paths through it.  It was just beginning to colour up with scabious flowering and I expect it will soon look glorious.  However, I did learn yesterday that due to the heavy rainfall in the area the river that runs along the boundary of the property has burst its banks and flooded the garden which is such a pity.

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I was surprised that I didn’t have more photographs of the garden particularly the herbaceous borders but I think I was distracted by talking to my colleagues about the garden and how wonderful the setting is.  What really interested me was Phillippa’s collection of succulents and other tender plants.  You can see the pots around the front door in the top photograph but work had just started on placing the late summer planting now that the tulips have been removed.  I was particularly fascinated by the way the aeoniums have been planted in the border above – a real gaggle of aeoniums all huddling together.  On the other side of the central pot is a similar group of a different type of aeoniums, a much shorter greener variety, which had taken on a sort of organic shape.

I really enjoyed Phillippa’s garden, there was a lovely atmosphere partly contributed to by the listed buildings but also partly from the elegant and generous planting.  I would love to visit again either to see the tulips or the late summer planting.

RHS Garden Hyde Hall

RHS Garden Hyde Hall

I have to say that I was disappointed with my visit to RHS Hyde Hall because  I am annoyed with myself as it turned out later than I had missed quite a bit of the garden as I was talking to colleagues and ran out of time.  So much so that I decided the next day to look around the garden in the first instance on my own before joining up with others.  However, I did like what I saw.  As you arrive there are newish plantings near the Plant Centre with block plantings of perennials in squares rather than the traditional herbaceous border.  I particularly liked the colour of this delphinium but I don’t know its name.

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As you walk up the hill to the original garden, not that I knew that was where it was, you travel through large generous sweeping borders which had a strong impact due to the limited colour palette and were a good example of how to incorporate grasses into a herbaceous planting.  It did get a little samey though as you walked up the hill and I think that maybe different colour palettes could be used in different borders.

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At the top of the hill is the Australian/South Hemisphere garden which I really enjoyed as I have a weakness for plants from this part of the world and it was great to see them grown so well and to be envious of the free draining soil which allows this success.

I would like to visit this garden again so I can see the rest of it, maybe I could incorporate it with another visit to Phillippa’s garden.

Furzelea, Danbury

Furzelea, Danbury

Our last garden of the day was a lovely surprise.  A private garden of only 2/3rd of an acre which was a plantsmen’s delight and a demonstration that just because you collect plants it doesn’t mean you can’t have well planted borders.

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Take for example this White Garden which is clearly white but actually there is little white in the garden.  Avril, the plantswoman in charge, hasn’t fallen into the White Garden trap and filled the space with white flowering plants instead she has used white variegations with some white flowers and it just works.

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My photos of the borders are over saturated so not that great but if you look at this border you can see how the heuchera picks up on the digitalis and the poppy and how the phormium picks up on the brown leaved plant at the front of the border.  When you look closely at the planting the combinations are even more interesting.IMG_5527

Take this combination for example and look how the geranium palmatum picks up the pink tones of the Phormium leaves and in turn the heuchera picks up on the purple of the leaves.  The colours trickle right down to the front of the planting with the pink flowers of the heuchera.

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And this combination with the flowers of the grass, an annual that I don’t have the name of but an determined to find out, and how they work with the phormium leaves with the foliage of the artemisa also picking up on the silver tones in the leaves.  Interestingly the majority of the combinations I liked were foliage ones with the flowers an added bonus.

For me this garden was one of the ones that made me think about how I plant in my garden and from which I learnt some really useful lessons. I really enjoyed it

 

 

 

Suffolk and N Essex Garden Tour – Day 1

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Our first day started with torrential rain causing delays on the motorway  causing us to be late for our first garden of the four day garden visiting extravaganza that we were embarking on.  Due to the awful weather, the owners of The Moat House generously invited us into their home for morning tea and cake.  I think it rakes a real generosity of spirit to invite 38 soggy strangers into your home with their damp shoes and dripping umbrellas and coats particularly given the pale green carpet.

Moat House, Little Saxham

Moat House, Little Saxham

Being hardy gardeners, having refueled, we were keen to explore the first garden.  The Moat House is a partially moated garden of two acres which has been developed over 2 years. The garden is very much your traditional country garden with herbaceous borders full of roses, generally in pastels shades, alliums, geraniums, delphiniums, and peonies.  IMG_5343

As you would expect with any English country garden there was plenty of box edging and topiary around the garden.  Personally, I’m not that keen on box edging but I can see that it provides a nice edge and has the benefit of hiding the legs of plants and the bare soil but you need to have the discipline to keep them looking sharp in order to achieve the best effect.

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And we had the first of many parterres filled with herbs and plants for cutting.

Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow

Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow

With the rain abated and the sun shining we moved on to our next garden – Fullers Mill Garden, West Stow.  The garden was created by Bernard Tickner who has gardened here for some 50 years and has now placed the 7 acre garden in trust for the charity Perennial. Bernard is a plantsman and his approach is to create a garden which is very loosely designed, giving a natural feel, and providing interest all year round.  The garden is almost on an island created by the diverted mill stream which powered the Fullers Mill.  The Fulling Mill has existed on the site since 1458, fulling is a process through which you make cloth thicker by passing it through a series of wooden mallets, the fabric is then stretched out on the drying ground.

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I quite liked the looser planting style to the previous garden and it was the favourite garden for many that day.   generously  borders with gentle curves are planted up with shrubs and perennials merging together in soft mounds.

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However, the real feature of Fullers Mill Garden is the stream and mill-pond.  The inclusion of water in the garden was a real theme of the gardens we visited this week which was interesting as we constantly heard that we were in the driest part of the country.  Presumably this is because when the houses were built there was no water on tap so the properties were located close to streams in order to have easy access to the little water that was available.

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I think Fullers Mill Garden is one that would have benefited us having a little more time to explore but we spent the day trying to catch up the time lost in the morning on the motorway.

Bellflower Nursery, The Walled Garden, Langham Hill

Bellflower Nursery, The Walled Garden, Langham Hill

We ended the day with our first real plant buying opportunity at Bellflower Nursery.  The nursery specialising in Campanula, hence its name, and hold a national collection.  I have to admit that I’m not that keen on Campanula as they never grow very well for me but I really enjoyed visiting this garden purely due to its location within a walled garden.

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The owner of the nursery, Sue Wooster, not only has her nursery to run but also the ornamental side of the walled garden to maintain and she shared with us that she has also just taken on the tenancy of the edible part of the walled garden. She was doing a sterling job is maintaining the borders which I think also act as stock beds for the nursery but what I enjoyed was the slightly dishevelled aspect of parts of the garden which Sue admitted had a habit of getting the better of her.  There is something particularly romantic about a walled garden especially one that has the ghosts of its past still evident.

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So day 1 having started a bit wet under foot ended well with us in high spirits and our coach driver rapidly becoming aware that he was going to have to develop skills in packing plants.

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