Wordless Wednesday: Bishops Palace Gardens, Wells

Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)

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Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavilion) was our first Japanese garden of the tour and delivered on many of the archetypal Japanese garden elements. I’ve already shown you the Golden Pavilion, the garden of Yoshimitsu, and the Silver Pavilion is the garden of his grandson, Yoshimasa (1435-1490).

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Ginkaku-ji is home to some early examples of the dry landscape gardens of the late Muromachi era; these symbolise the ocean and the mountain. The ocean (above) is represented by ginshanada which means ‘silver sand open sea’ and you can see that the sand is raked to represent the waves.  I am curious as to how often the sand has to be raked.  Having peered at it and other sand gardens we saw it seems that the sand must be combined with something to keep it in shape, otherwise surely when it rains the patterns would be destroyed.  You can just about see how sharp the edges of the sand platform are and to my simple mind the sand must have been treated in some way to keep this looking good.

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Again, looking at the second element of the sand garden – the mountain, kogestsudai, a ‘platform facing the moon’, you can see how precise the shape is especially the flat top. The dry sand elements are based on zen principles and are intended for contemplation.

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I have to admit to being left rather cold by the sand gardens we saw, particularly as they are so antiseptic in appearance encouraging no wildlife whatsoever.

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I much preferred the garden away from the dry sand garden.  Near the Silver Pavilion you have a strolling garden which is a variation of the gardens, exemplified by the Golden Pavilion and would probably have originally been intended to be viewed from boats on the lake or from within the temples.  The current garden is much diminished in size from Yoshimasa’s time having only two buildings left of the original twelve.

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Having done some research since my return this waterfall could well be the ‘sengestsu-sen’ waterfall which means ‘spring in which the moon washes’ and apparently it is intended to capture the reflection of the moon ‘washing’ itself in the waters.  I much prefer the greenness of this part of the garden over the grey of the dry sand.

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From the lower part of the garden you traverse steep paths up the slopes to the upper garden from where you have wonderful views out over Kyoto. The upper garden is a moss garden with streams, islands and bridges. The path then brings you back past the Silver Pavilion.

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The Silver Pavilion is a bit of an enigma as there are no silver elements so no rationale for it name.  As Ginkaku-ji was not finished before Yoshimasa’s death in 1490 then I suppose its possible that there was an intention to finish the Pavilion along the lines of the Golden Pavilion, other theories are that the name was coined to distinguish it the two Pavilions or alternatively because the moon’s light was reflected off the building’s former dark timber.

The pavilion you see in these photos was reconstructed in 2010; we soon learnt during our travels that few of the buildings we saw were original.  Hardly surprising given the construction is based on timber, prone to fires and earthquake damage.

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For me the nicest part of the garden was up in the high garden amongst the trees, which were slowly changing colour for the Autumn, and looking out across Kyoto.

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Whilst I was bowled over by the splendour of the Golden Pavilion, I preferred the quieter gentleness of the Silver Pavilion garden.

 

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion

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Kinkaku-ji, or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is the iconic temple of Kyoto. Dating from the late 14th century, the temple was originally the retirement villa of the shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.  After his death in 1408, in accordance with his wishes, it become a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect.

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The temple is built over 3 floors with each floor representing a different style of architecture. The first floor, housing statues of Yoshimitsu and Shaka Buddha, is built in the Shinden style which was used for palace buildings during the Heian Period, which predated the Muromachi era (1336-1573).   The second floor is built in the Bukke style used in samurai residences.  The samurai, whilst originally warriors, increasingly  became more and more powerful setting up a military government in 1192 and ruling over the country for the next 700 years. The second and third floors are covered in gold leaf – hence the name The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. The third floor is built in the style of the Chinese Zen Hall, and is also gilded inside and capped with a golden phoenix.

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The Golden Pavilion, built in the early years of the Muromachi era, continues the Heian garden prototype with ponds and islands.  During the Heian period the intention was that the temples and gardens were viewed from boats; and there are contemporary records recording boating parties and festivities.  In the Muromachi era the intention was that the garden was viewed from specific points from within the temple;  at this time the chisen kaiyu teien ‘pond-spring-strolling-garden’ was developed. Contemporary records show that the Golden Pavilion was intended to be viewed from boats, as in the Heian era, although the garden could be admired from the three storeys of the Pavilion whose geometric proportions means that any view was harmoniously framed.

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The pond on which the Pavilion is sited has an inner and outer pond; the outer pond has a couple of small islands and in addition there are two larger turtle islands facing in opposite directions.

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Having passed the Golden Pavilion the visitor is taken up a windy path past the Anmintaku Pond, which it is claimed never dries up.

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The light on the day we visited was extraordinary causing the most wonderful reflections in the pond and the sun really made the pavilion sparkle.  We were grateful that we hadn’t visited two days before when we spent the day under heavy skies and dodging the rain.

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A striking feature of the majority of the Japanese gardens we saw was their tidiness.  There was rarely a leaf out of place and as you can see from this photo the moss is being raked for some unknown purpose. We also saw moss and lichen being trimmed and other very labour intensive approaches to horticulture which made our issues with lawn edging seem quite pedestrian.

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Being Kyoto we couldn’t avoid encountering a group of young ladies all dressed up in traditional dress who were only too happy to pose for us, subject to a high level of bowing and smiling.

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This is the key photo opportunity area and as you can see it is incredibly busy.  However, with their usual efficiency, the Japanese manage the visitors in such a way that you don’t really feel that you have been managed, everyone gets their chance to take any photos they want, and there is no pushing or frayed tempers.

The Golden Pavilion is, in many people’s view, the Taj Mahal of Japan and you can see why this might be so given its opulence and stunning setting. I too thought it was stunning, however, I don’t think I would go as far as saying it was my highlight of the trip – I much preferred the quieter more modern gardens which weren’t so obsessively managed.

 

Patterns of the Palm House

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Last week, on a rare dry day, I made my very first visit to Kew Gardens in London.  It is almost ridiculous that I have never visited before but living where I do it involves at least 6 hours on trains so you can understand why I have talked myself out of a visit time and again.  However, as I wanted to meet up with some horticultural friends who live in London and who I hadn’t seen for just over a year it seemed a good venue for a Christmas get together.

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The main attraction was the Palm House, which was particularly apt as I was with a group who are very into exotics and knowledgeable on the subject. However,  I found myself distracted completely by the structure of the Palm House with most of my photographs looking up beyond the foliage to the roof.  The Palm House was built between 1844 and 1848 by the architect Decimus Burton and the iron maker Richard Turner.  It was the first large scale structural use of wrought iron.  Sadly the Temperate House, which is even larger, is closed for restoration and will probably be shut until 2018 but I might get around to another visit by then!

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I loved the spiral staircases which take you to the top of the Palm House and on to a walkway from where you can look down on to the foliage.

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You also get to see close up the detail of the building’s construction.

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I found the contrast of the lush tropical foliage with the hard and geometric structure fascinating, especially with the benefit of a beautiful blue sky in the background.

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Just like the structure of the building many of the plants housed here have strong architectural shapes, such as this Dioon spinulosum (I think!).

We also visited the Alpine House and the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which I really enjoyed but is hard to photograph well unless you take plant close-ups which I didn’t as again I was distracted by the overall view.

All in all it was a lovely day out despite leaving home in the dark and a return journey completely in the dark.  Maybe a summer visit will allow a longer visit with the opportunity to explore the outside of the gardens more.  Maybe an overnight visit would be an even better idea, maybe to coincide with RHS Chelsea – I feel a plan forming!

 

 

Stocktonbury – A Campanula Cacophony

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I haven’t been to Stockton Bury for a month and the borders seem to have exploded with campanulas. For the first time I took my mother to the garden. She has been having a rough time with sciatica so I thought a trip out to a garden and some cake was just the thing.  I don’t think I have been to Stockton Bury at this time of year before, I certainly don’t remember seeing the mass of campanulas before.

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We particularly liked the way they were used in contrast with bright coloured flowers – I think contrasting colours work so well. Pastels and subtle colour combinations are all very nice but there is nothing like the zingyness of bright yellow against the cooling blue.

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Or the blue of the campanulas against this Lychnis chalcedonica.

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but I especially like the blues against the chartreuse green of the euphorbia and the emerging flowers of the soldiago.

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But it’s not all campanulas.  Mum really fell for the eringiums, especially eringium alpinum superbum which were smothered in bees. IMG_0744A seemingly bland statement but my mother has always been a gardener who likes neat and short plants, never anything tall or leggy so the fact that she was smitten by the eringiums is quite fascinating.  In fact since Dad died her approach to the garden has completely changed.  She has a small garden which was predominately shrubs with some small perennials but over this year some of the shrubs have been removed and the whole garden is starting to feel more cottagey and is suddenly quite feminine.  I find it fascinating as Dad was never really that bothered by the garden although he did the lawn and pruned the shrubs but I was never aware of him really influencing the planting.  She is really getting a sense of enjoyment and achievement from the garden and every time I visit there are new plans, plants to move and replace  and she is thrilled with learning about new plants – not bad for a 76 year old.

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What about this for an electric combination? I really like it and must make a note to try it next year although I have never done very well with Monardas in the past but its worth a go.

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This is one plant I will never convince Mum to consider growing as she thinks they are really creepy!! I, on the other hand, love them.

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I leave you with one of the many paths at Stockton Bury which lead you in gentle curves around the garden.

Mum loved the garden and how she was constantly surprised going round a corner to come across another bank of flowers.  The outing was a complete success, including the delicious coffee and walnut cake, so much so that she picked up a leaflet with a map on it so she could find her way back with her friend.

Sissinghurst – a Romantic Confection

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As I was staying in Sissinghurst village for my visit to Great Dixter at the lovely Milk House, which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone visiting that area, it would have been madness for me not to visit Sissinghurst garden.IMG_0447

I have to admit to having mixed feelings about this garden visit.  Sissinghurst is one of those gardens that, as a gardener, you feel you should have visited and be able to reference. Interestingly during conversations on the study day at Great Dixter quite a few people were, shall we say, a bit sniffy about Sissinghurst, saying such things as ‘well I have visited but I don’t feel a need to go back’, which was intriguing. I need to say now that my mindset on arrival was somewhat distracted as I was having car issues and I was worrying whether the car would get me the 4.5 hours home (in fact the car was OK which was a huge relief). So I didn’t have the relaxing contented visit I had hoped for.

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I had the benefit of being one of the first through the door and instead of exploring the tower I set out to see as much of the garden as I could before it become crowded.  More by luck than design I found myself firstly in the renowned White Garden. Now I am not a fan of White Gardens I find them sort of static, I much prefer contrasting colours or even harmonious colours and the way the colours work with each other.  However, I have to admit that this part of the garden had a nice calming atmosphere, particularly given my frame of mind.

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Again in the Cottage Garden, which is planted up in hot vibrant colours, I wasn’t thrilled with this combination – the yellows are all the same and I would have liked to see some possibly lighter shades of yellow or an orange verbascum such as Clementine to jazz it up.  However to be far this was just one small planting in the Cottage Garden, the rest was a mixture of strong yellows, red and oranges and lots of textures.

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One of the things I really liked at Sissinghurst were the vistas through the various walls or hedges leading the eye to the next garden or an area you wanted to find your way to.  I have quite a few photographs of vignettes such as the one above and also of large planted pots planted with a single type of plants – an interesting contrast to the mass groupings of pots at Great Dixter.

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Like the White Garden I find the Nuttery with its shady woodland planting relaxing.  I have a weakness for ferns and I was bewitched with the way the sunlight was bouncing off the fronds in this mass planting and showcasing the statue.  I would like to try to do something similar but I don’t know if I have the space.

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The area of the garden that I really enjoyed was the Rose Garden which was somewhat surprising.  I am liking roses more and more and I particularly liked seeing them planted with other perennials.  As you can see the alliums in the photograph above and at the top of the post provide a wonderful froth through the borders.  The scent in this garden, especially as the sun was shining, was quite divine.  I liked this colour palette which provided a really romantic atmosphere (if you ignored all the other visitors which I studiously managed to exclude from my photos).  IMG_0518On arrival at the garden there was an exhibition about Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicholson’s marriage, with copies of their letters etc.  On the walls of the barn that the exhibition was housed in were painted quotes from these letters which showed the strength of their feelings for each other and I think the Rose Garden really epitomises their love for each other.

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So what is my overall impression of Sissinghurst? Firstly, I think I was spoilt by my visit to Great Dixter the day before which really speaks to me.  However, Sissinghurst is a beautiful garden and is the first National Trust garden I have visited which has an atmosphere which, in my opinion, is so hard to come by when the garden is not managed by its creator/owner. I know that Troy Scott-Smith, who took on the role of Head Gardener in 2013, is working to move the garden away from  pristine horticultural excellence back to a garden, which although demonstrating good horticulture, also has a more artistic feel such as it had in Vita’s time.  You can really see that there are areas where this has been achieved and other areas where it hasn’t quite got there.  Hardly surprising given Troy has only been post for two years.  I think I would like to visit again in say 2 or 3 years to see if Troy has been allowed to have his way and how the garden has developed.

 

Bryans Ground, Herefordshire – a Country Retreat

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I love Bryans Ground in Herefordshire. It’s just one of those places that always delights me and which oozes with the spirit of the owners, so much character and personality.  I have visited probably four times over recent years but haven’t managed a visit for the last couple of years so it was interesting to see the changes. 2015_05020046The house is typical Arts and Crafts style having been built in 1913.  The current owners, David Wheeler and Simon Dorrell (who publish Hortus) moved here in 1993 and started to develop the garden.  I haven’t visited this early in the season before so it was fascinating to see the almost bare bones of the garden.  In the past when I have visited in high summer the area above has been a wonderful froth of fennel but with these currently less than a foot tall you can appreciate the strength and size of the topiary.  2015_05020015From the house the canal is one of the first garden rooms you encounter.  Cool and elegant on a sunny day and I think very reflective of the classical Italian gardens but with an English twist.

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I realised today that Bryans Ground is all about vistas, journeys and viewpoints – the classic elements of garden design.  With the July haze of flowers still waiting to come alive you start to realise how strong the structure and design of the garden is.  But it isn’t all serious the garden is full of jokes and humour and has the best use of objet trouves I have come across even better than the wonderful displays I saw in San Francisco a few years back. I loved the flying bikes (top photo) which made me laugh out loud when I came round a corner and the rusty lawnmower in a sea of variegated ground elder also made me chuckle.

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Simon Dorrell is an artist and designer and has contributed to the design, particularly of garden buildings, in a number of gardens in the area including the rose garden at Hampton Court Gardens in Herefordshire.  His talent has manifested itself at Bryans Ground not only in the placement of found objects but also in the quirky garden buildings and more recently in the wonderful new sculpture in the formal garden – which I thought was beautiful but also amusing.

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There are probably 12 or 15 of these rabbits, although I think they might be hares, on plinths forming a square in the middle of a square lawn. It is as though the owners are saying “if you can’t beat them you might as well join them”. And they are such wonderful sculptures.

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Whilst I enjoy the garden the arboretum, Cricket Wood, is becoming more and more of a greater attraction to me.  I do have a growing interest in trees and shrubs and I have enjoyed seeing how the wood has developed.  Since my last visit a number of hydrangeas, azaleas and I think tree peonies have been added. It is so nice to encounter a young arboretum. The interest in views and vistas is continued here.  This is no a wood with rambling paths but is designed very much along the 17th century garden style with strong straight paths which split to give you two or three choices.  I also noticed that there were a number of small areas enclosed with hedges with a specimen plant in the centre, just like the  bosquets in  17th century ‘wilderness’ gardens.

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Whilst the visitor’s eye is drawn along avenues into the garden into enclosed areas there is conversely an appreciation of the surrounding landscape with many paths finishing with a view out to the surrounding farmland.  There were numerous places with seats and benches placed with their backs to the garden looking out but I was particularly intrigued with the seating area below.

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I think this takes framing the view to a new level and quite simply sums up everything I have said above – classic design and humour all with a slight twist.

 

 

Book Review: British Gardens in Time

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There is nothing I enjoy more than a bit of history and when it’s coupled with horticulture I am a very happy person.  So I was thrilled to be offered a review copy of British Gardens in Time; the book which accompanies the new BBC series.

The book, and television series, showcase four well-known British gardens with each representing a key stage in the progression of British horticultural design.  As a bonus the book, written by Katie Campbell, starts with a short history of British Gardens.  We are taken on a gallop through history from the Roman influences, through the lack of any real garden interest in the medieval times to the gardens Elizabeth I’s courtiers built to try to woo her.  I particularly appreciated the approach taken by Campbell throughout the book which embraces all aspects of the horticultural world not just the design.  I spent some time a year or two ago learning about garden design history and it was quite clear that the development of garden design not only occurred due to a need for lords to impress and show off their wealth but also due to the plant introductions that were coming in from new colonies overseas.  You have to understand the whole context of the environment the garden was created in, as well as the background of its creator, to fully appreciate the garden.

The four gardens: Stowe, Biddulph Grange, Nymans, and Great Dixter are presented mainly from a historical perspective.  However, the history of the development of each garden is given set within the context of other garden design and influences.  In the case of Stowe we learn how the development of the garden reflects its owner’s Lord Cobham’s changing political views and criticism of Walpole, the then Prime Minister.  At this time many large gardens including allegorical statues and buildings which would have conveyed a hidden message to visitors; something we now find hard to understand.

Biddulph was built on the profits of the industrial revolution by James Bateman a keen botanist and sponsor of many plant hunters.  Therefore this section of the book explores the ‘cult’ of the Victorian plant hunters but also, interestingly to me, the work of female botanical artists many who remain anonymous.  I have found this period of horticultural  history fascinating for some time far more than the development of the landscape garden under Capability Brown’s artistic hand such as at Stowe.  I suspect that it appeals to the romantic in me, all those exciting stories of exploration, as well as to my fascination with plants and where they come from.  Bateman was into orchids, they were his first love, and it is interesting to learn how obsessive and single-minded these collectors and plant hunters could be. Campbell recounts how some plant hunters collected every single specimen of a plant they would carry and destroyed the remainder so only they had the plant.  It seems that in some cases their single-mindedness destroyed whole colonies although I suppose when you consider the Victorian approach to wild game hunting we shouldn’t be surprised that this arrogant approach pervaded other aspects of life.

I haven’t read the final two chapters on Nymans and Great Dixter but if they follow  the style of the first half of the book and the quality of the television series episode on Great Dixter that was shown last week they should be excellent.

I like the way the book uses the four very different gardens to explore the subject of garden/horticultural history including other developments such as the early plant nurseries, plant hunters, plant magazines, the  acceptability of lady gardeners, the foundation of the RHS and National Trust and the influence of other contemporary gardeners and designers.

I found Campbell’s writing style easy and accessible; although relaying a lot of information in a fairly compact style it has a good flowing narrative to it.  The photographs of the gardens by a range of photographers are needless to say wonderful but it is the photographs of the owners and occupiers, particularly for the latter gardens, and the botanical drawings that I really loved.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is in love with the world of horticulture, as I am.  It is like reading about your heroes and heroines with a touch of plant porn thrown in – what more could I ask for!

Birmingham Botanical Garden Glasshouses

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I felt in need of some plant therapy this weekend.  I don’t feel as though I have had much horticultural time for the last few weeks particularly over the Christmas break when I was decorating.  Sunday’s forecast was cold and grey so a quick bit of research pointed me in the direction of Birmingham Botanical Garden and its glasshouses.

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I have never visited the gardens before and it is just under an hour’s drive so an easy outing.  You enter through the Tropical Glasshouse whose heat was very welcome after the 3C outside.  The lushness was strangely comforting and quite reviving.  The glasshouse was built in 1852 and is a Grade 1 listed building, its Victorian history positively exudes from its pores and I amused myself imagining Victorian ladies being awed by the exotic planting.2014_01120025I was also reminded of the importance of looking up when you are visiting any sort of garden as high up were various glamorous orchids. From the Tropical greenhouse you go through into the Sub-tropical greenhouse.

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After the exuberance of the Tropical glasshouse the Sub-tropical one was a little disappointing.  But signage quickly explained that the planting was being revisited over the Autumn and Winter and a diagram explained the future organisation of plants into shady dry, shady moist, sunny dry and sunny moist.  Saying this as I walked around the glasshouse there were parts which looked great, maybe they were the bits that had already done and if so then it wasnt at all obvious they were recently planted.

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I love the metal framework of the glasshouses, so beautiful.

From here you enter the Mediterranean glasshouse and here if you needed a wake up call you certainly got one with masses Coleus and Poinsettia all down one side.  I’m not a fan of Coleus particularly but I have to admit that, as you can see below, they certain give  value for money when grouped en mass.

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Finally I walked through into the Arid House.  I have been avoiding these since I had an asthma attack on entering the dry atmosphere of the arid house at Oxford Botanic Garden.  For some reason the environment in Birmingham’s Arid House was fine for me, maybe it’s because it’s a larger space but I enjoyed walking around here despite n0t particularly liking cactus.  I was fascinated by the various other non-cactus arids including Sand Lily, Acanthus sennii and Acacia.

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Despite the cold the glasshouses had warmed me up enough to have a wander around the gardens.  I was very impressed since they promise to be excellent as the year progresses including rock, alpine, fern and woodland gardens.  I liked the way the gardens were laid out, with many plants grouped according to the plant hunter who had discovered them, rather than by plant family.  I think I will try to go back again this year to see the gardens when the weather is kinder and it is more floriferous.

By the time I drove home the blue  sky had disappeared and the sky was becoming misty.  I drove back via Worcester and crossing the Severn River the scale of the current flooding was very apparent.  I don’t think I have seen the extent of flooding so great even in 2006 when we had severe summer flooding.  It was strange to think that no more than an hour before I  had been wandering amongst exotic climbers and palms – I have to say I felt much better and relaxed as a result

Sezincote – A Mogul Wonder

2013_08160028logoI have wanted to visit Sezincote for some time now, I think I was drawn in by the Mogul influences of the house.  I have always had a fascination with the Raj having watched The Raj Quartet (written in the 1960s and 1970s) many years ago and read in-depth A Passage to India (1924) when studying for a degree in literature.  I used to be intrigued by the idea of the Raj living in India thinking it must have been magical but in more recent years, having studied  post-colonial literature, I find myself questioning my assumptions.  Edmund Said in his book ‘Orientalism’ (1978) challenges the Western perception of the East which had conveniently been  rounded up under the heading of ‘Orientalism’ or ‘Oriental Studies’ ignoring the range and diversity of eastern society and culture.  He questions whether the West really understands the culture of Islam and cultures that had been labelled ‘Oriental’.   In thinking about Sezincote since my visit last week I have found myself reminded of some of the conflicting ideas and thoughts that the above books gave me. Anyway, that aside I was interested to see how this strange Indian style building fitted into the very English Cotswold landscape.

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The house is located on the side of one of the Cotswold hills with stunning views out across the landscape.  Interestingly its Mogul exterior did not jar as much as I thought it would nor did it look Disneyish. The Orangery was one of the longest I have seen sweeping round from the house and giving a sense of enclosure to the formal garden adjacent to the house.  This sense of enclosure is increased as the land rises steeply at the end of the water garden and the planting here is mainly trees and shrubs. The Indian feel was increased in 1965 when Lady Kenilworth, with the help of Graham Thomas added the South Garden which is based on the traditional “Paradise Garden” which was popular with Babur, the first Mogul Emperor.

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The majority of the garden is set in The Thornery which runs down the valley.  If you have ever visited Heligan, Trebah, Cothele in Cornwall you will immediately recognise a similar style albeit it on a much smaller scale.  I wondered if the water, which started in a pool at the top of the valley and trickled down through various waterways and smaller pools, came from a natural source as there was no sign, that I could see, of a river or stream nearby.  I suppose it is an obvious approach to take with a valley garden although  I have to admit to being a little uninspired by this approach as I have seen it done so many times in Cornwall.  However, Sezincote’s Indian influences ran into the valley garden and this lifted it from ordinary to something a little different.

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2013_08160090logoThe water garden starts in a pool with a temple to Surya, the Hindu sun god.  From here a stream trickles down the hill-side amongst lush planting of hostas, Macleaya macrocarpa, hydrangea, rodgersia and other stream side planting.  The path twists and turns, crossing the stream over little slab bridges.  The highlight, for me, was when the stream goes under the Indian Bridge.  The bridge is named thus as it is adorned with Brahmin Bulls.  To follow the stream you have to traverse it under the bridge by way of stepping stone, some of which were a little wobbly.  There is also a stone seat here with wonderful views out and down the garden.  But what makes the view especially good is that you are looking into the snake pond.  The pond 2013_08160097logohas a small island in the middle on which there is a column topped off with a number of snakes heads which are almost at eye level as you come under the bridge – not great if you don’t like snakes but very eye-catching.  When I visited the island was a mass of Primula florindae and looked stunning, for me the best view of the garden.

The path takes you further down the valley, again kriss crossing the stream and with a similar style planting.  Unlike the Cornish gardens I have mentioned before there isn’t that sense of largeness of scale, the area around you is very open and you become aware that you aren’t really in a valley but walking down the side of a hill.  More pools increasing in side great you as you reach the bottom of the slope and the planting continues with lots of seasonal interest, including specimen trees and shrubs.

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I think that I have been pre-conditioned to associate the Mogul tradition particularly of this era connected with the Raj to mystery.  I have watched many a Sherlock Holmes film or even the Secret Garden where the middle east is treated as something dark, dangerous, mysterious, exciting and I think sub-consciously I wanted to feel something like that in this garden.  Having said that I think this is unfair of me after all it isn’t a theme park.  The guide book explains how the architecture of the house and orangery is a “mixture of Hindu and Muslim details which makes Sezincote a unique example of the architecture of Akbar”.  Akbar was one of the best known Mogul Emperors in the late 16th century who mixed Islamic and Hindu elements in his architecture to try to integrate his culturally diverse country.  An interesting approach that is still relevant now some five centuries later.

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The gardens were very pleasant, beautifully maintained with some interesting features.  I don’t think the house and gardens are a pastiche of India. In fact I think they are very sympathetic to the culture and architecture particularly of the Moguls.  It would be very easy to include everything slightly Indian in nature and create something not far off a theme park but this isn’t the case.  The only objects that I felt were a little over the top and I suspect a more recent addition were the fibre glass baby elephants at the far end of the South Garden.  However, the property is owned and lived in by a family with children as was evident from the various outside games, swings and see-saw doted around so why  not have two baby elephants.

Water plays a key part in the structure and atmosphere of this garden and this again refers to its Eastern inspiration.  Water was very important to the Moguls which is hardly surprising when you consider how important water is to day-to-day life in central Asia and India and it reminds you how much we take it for granted.  If you were to see a water garden such as the one in the South Garden in a garden in the East it would symbolise wealth and opulence.2013_08160129logo

I found this garden initially not that interesting as it reminded me so much of Cornish gardens I have visited.  However, reading the guide-book and understand the connections, history and influences on its creation and how unusual it was when it was created in the early 19th century I find myself becoming more and more a fan.  From a purely horticultural point of view we visited in mid August on a warm day in a very dry and hot season and the garden was looking wonderful unlike many other gardens.

2013_08160107logOh and if the house looks vaguely familiar it is because it reminds you of Brighton Pavillion.  The Prince Regent visited Sezincote in 1807 and was so impressed he decided to proceed with his own plans to have an Indian exterior to the Pavillion he was building.