A garden of inspiration

The trouble I find with spending a number of days visiting gardens is the sensory overload.  So many gardens, plants, owners, ideas and experiences and when you then start to try and think about how to distil your experience into a blog post; well sometimes it seems to be a challenge too far.

I have a habit of writing blog posts almost immediately I return from a garden visit but work demands have got in the way and I find myself a week after my return skimming through my photos, only a 1000 in my case, trying to decide what to blog about. What strikes me is the direct correlation between the gardens I enjoyed and the number of photos of them.  In each case these gardens are very much those of enthusiastic plants people.  They are full of texture and form often more from plants than structure and they offer me inspiration on so many levels.

I think Jenny and David Stocker’s garden was the real winner for me.  We visiting on a very wet day, although by the time of our visit the rain was light but poor Jenny had experienced a trying time during the gullywasher earlier in the day.  However, despite the overcast skies the garden sang to me.

Initially, it was the extremely skilled placement of pots and small vignettes that intrigued me.  I can learn so much from these.  My pots end up scattered around the garden, randomly placed, but as you can see from the above a small collection with a mix of leaf shapes, size of pots and a couple of small accessories takes on a whole identity of its own; a small work of art.

The cacti remind us that we are indeed in Texas, and I have included it to humour those of my friends who are convinced I spent the week looking at cacti and tumble weed.  However, as you can see from these photos the garden is far from a barren landscape.  David and Jenny built their home on the side of a hill and enclosed the garden with a wall creating a sense of enclosure and presumably creating a microclimate.  I think I am right in saying that the various spaces between the house and perimeter wall create six different garden spaces each with its own theme. 

I think this is what Jenny calls the English Garden. I loved the exuberance of the flowers in this space.  There is no formal rigid border, instead the plants spill out over the paving creating a very naturalistic space and a space I would love to waste a few hours in, listening to the bird and insects and watching the lizards run along the wall (which we were lucky to do a couple of evenings later).

The first and third photos are of the front planting area which as you can see is full of large succulents.  I am not informed enough to attempt to name any of them but I loved the juxtaposition of the spiky succulents with the surrounding trees which I think are oaks.  I developed a  love of the trees in Austin which seem to have quite broad and open canopies giving much needed shade but also with their small leaves bringing a lovely diffused light to the space beneath. I have been trying to think of a tree I could use to create a similar effect in England.

I think one of the reasons I love this garden is because of the polished combination of very English plants such as the Aquilegias, Geraniums and Poppies with succulents and cacti; I think this one is a Prickly Pear. So often you see plants corralled into a restricted planting scheme – succulents, hardy exotics, herbaceous border – and never the twain shall meet.  Jenny has shown that you can ignore these preconceptions and building on the plant’s cultivation needs and looking carefully at colour, form and texture you an create exciting and intriguing planting.

Although Jenny has been blogging for as long as me, if not longer, I hadn’t come across her blog until this trip but I am now following her assiduously and I feel that I have found a kindred spirit albeit on the other side of the pond.






Ruth Bancroft Garden, San Francisco


I have been remiss in posting about all the gardens I visited back at the end of June in San Francisco.  I was so overwhelmed and life has been so hectic since but looking through photos I thought I would post about the  garden I liked least – the Ruth Bancroft Garden.

I should start by saying that I was feeling particularly unwell the morning we visited this garden.  We were in the middle of a heatwave and I had really suffered the previous day even having swollen feet.  I was all for giving up on the whole tour but was persuade to perserve.


The garden is located in Walnut Creek outside of San Francisco.  I won’t attempt to tell you where Walnut Creek is in relation to the city as I spent most of the trip being completely disoriented as to where we were!  It was created by Ruth Bancroft who started work on created the garden when she was in her 60s.  She originally moved to Walnut Creek in 1939 early in her marriage.  She started a garden straight away but originally her passions were bearded irises, roses, herbs, alpines – a woman after my own heart and showing the style of gardening in this area at the time.  However, things started to change when she bought her first succulent – an aeonium.  She quickly became fascinated with succulents and started collecting – hmm this is beginning to sound worryingly familiar.

In 1971 the last walnut tree on the family farm was felled and her husband offered her the opportunity to convert three acres into a garden and to find a home for her vast collection of succulents, all housed in pots.  She leapt at the chance and as they say the rest is history.  The garden went on to be the first garden in the Garden Conservatory scheme – which I suppose is somewhat similar to the UK’s National Trust gardens.


As I have said I am increasingly fascinated by succulents but have little knowledge on the subject beyond the basic aeoniums, echeverias, semps and sedums.  The garden felt very alien to me and very harsh and unfriendly.  The heat obviously didn’t help nor the lack of any real shade but I found the general greyish tones and spikeyness of everything quite oppressing.  To add to this there was a sculpture exhibition staged temporarily in the garden which seemed to comprise many spikey and hard objects.


Looking back through my photographs I don’t have that many which is possibly because Dee and I went and hid in the only shade for most of the visit muttering like naughty school girls at how much we disliked the garden.  However, the ones I have demonstrate how wonderful succulents can be when planted well and with something to contrast against the hard and sharp textures.  In the photo above I think the softness and roundness of the sculpture works very well against the agave (I think it’s an agave).

2013_07010166logoI loved the texture of the dark on this tree, it looked so tactile and crying out to be stroked.  Oh and there were cacti, lots of cacti, and I really don’t like cacti however much I try to even when they have beautiful flowers.

The collection of plants was amazing and from all over the world.  However, talking to one of the gardeners it was clear that many weren’t hardy in the garden or not suitable for the environment, hence the large amount of shading that had been provided.  Now, with the move in much of the states to be more sustainable with planting and to embrace more native plants there was speculation that if the garden was being created now it would be very different.

Looking back on my photographs and those of other gardens many of them are of 2013_07010167succulents so why did I not take to this garden?  I think I prefer the sub-tropical style of planting and not the more desert style.  I like the lushness of big leaves and the exotic nature of aeoniums but I am not so keen on the spikeness of agaves etc.

It also reminded me of many Mediterranean gardens I have visited which I don’t  really like.  I don’t like grey that much and plants which have developed for coping with drought tend to be grey and often have small leaves, which also don’t appeal.

So overall this garden, although containing an amazing collection of plants, with lots of plants and well maintained really didn’t appeal to my tastes.  However, it did make me think about my tastes and made me more aware of the way they are leaning and it is always interesting to look at things that don’t immediately appeal and to challenge your preconceptions.

Picture this: On The Road Again

This month’s photographic challenge from Gardening Gone Wild is entitled ‘On the road again’.  The criteria is a photo which reflects a new garden that you have come across during your summer travels, giving a sense of place.

I have already posted about La Mortella gardens on Ischia which were stunning but I was also taken whilst we were on Ischia at its greenness in comparison to the mainland coast.  The Italians call Ischia the Green Island which it is compared to Capri due to being comprised of volcanic rock but compared to the UK it was still very rocky and barren in places.  I suspect that some of this will be as a result of temperatures in the  Med which are much higher than here in the UK.  I was very aware of the large number of succulents and cacti on the island.  They provided a sense of ‘otherness’.  We have cactus here but they are rarely left outside and rarely do you see them of the size in the photo above.  The dish was about 2ft wide so you can see these are very large cacti.

I took the photo not at a garden open for visiting but in the grounds of a hotel where we stopped for lunch.  I was particularly taken by the way the cacti stood out against the bright blue sea and sky beyond.  The dish was one of three arranged along the top of the wall and were a striking feature.  For me this photo sums up the planting on Ischia and the complete sense of such a different environment to that which I am used to at home.