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!



The Ninfarium

Just before Easter I visited the gardens at Aberglasney in Carmarthenshire, Wales.  The property was taken on by a Restoration Trust in the 1990s and they are working on restoring the house and gardens and bringing them back to their former glory, much like the Lost Gardens of Heligan project.  I will write about the outside gardens soon but first I wanted to share with you what I, and my family of non-gardeners(!), thought was the highlight of the visit – the Ninfarium.

This garden was built in 2005 by covering the ruined central rooms and courtyard of the mansion with a large atrium.  A wonderful indoor space has been created in which a variety of sub-tropical and warm temperate plants including Magnolias, Cycads and Palms are grown.

I found myself wondering about the name, Ninfarium, and initially assumed it was one of those names the Victorians came up!  However, on reading the guidebook after our visit the penny dropped.  The name is derived from Ninfa a garden situated southwest of Rome.  Weirdly I had recently been reading about Ninfa in Monty Don’s book The Great Gardens of Italy which explains why Ninfarium sounded familiar.  There is a now a television series to accompany the book and this last week it featured Ninfa and it all made sense.  Ninfa is a garden which was created in the early 20th century around a ruined medieval village.

The Ninfarium is one of the most unusual garden spaces I have been in.  You feel like you are in some sort of middle eastern oasis.  The light filters through the canopy and the thick walls give it a wonderful coolness which was very welcome the day we visited.  There is a stillness about the space even with 5 of us crashing around.  It is hard to explain but you felt as though you had to speak in lowered tones.

I don’t know who came up with the idea of transforming this space in this way instead of trying to rebuild the interior of the house but it is truly inspired.