by anne chambers

In between writing Christmas cards and shopping I am still venturing into the garden for short bursts when the temperature is above zero.  There are leaves to clear and hydrangeas to dead head, in fact there is always a job to do.  Our tree peonies, which Johnny ordered from China, arrived last week after a smooth but delayed journey.  All sorts of rules relating to phytosanitary health have to be adhered to and certificates issued which resulted in them being held at East Midlands airport for over a fortnight while frantic messages went to and fro the nursery in Shandong province.  Fortunately they had been packed in sphagnum moss so were none the worse for their journey and are now safely potted up and ready for an English winter.We have filled our new Keider greenhouse with all our tender plants, and there is hardly an inch of space left.  This is the only heated area in the kitchen garden and is a joy to venture into on a cold morning.  All Tina’s cuttings and seedlings start life here so it is hive of activity particularly in the spring.

There is still colour in the garden; the mahonias are in full flower.  One particularly good form came from Lionel Fortescue’s garden in Devon and this has an extra large flower and delicious scent.  It won’t be long before the hammemalis is out and the shortest day will be behind us. So also will this gardening year and I for one won’t be sad to see it gone. When I think back to the drought conditions we had up till March it seems bizarre that we have had such high rainfall this year. A retaining wall in the North Border collapsed last weekend after yet another heavy bout of rain and will need to be rebuilt in the New Year. Because so many of the insects which pollinate the plants had such a difficult time, seed has been quite light this year so I anticipate no excuse for not having a great flowering year in 2013 !

I would now like to wish all our gardening friends and visitors a very Happy Christmas and we will look forward to a flourishing New Year.



by anne chambers

As I sit and write this morning torrential rain is still falling!  We have just managed to plant the bulbs in very wet ground and just hoping that they will not rot with all this rain.  Johnny hired a digger for a week mainly to remove all the top soil from our wild flower area.  We decided that the soil there was much too rich and that coarse grass suppressed the more delicate wild flowers. We hope now that the poorer base layer will provide a much more suitable environment for the seeds and plugs that we will sow in the Spring.

Our trip to Yorkshire was very enjoyable and even though it was late in the season the gardens at Scampston and Harlow Carr were full of colour and variety.  A huge amount of work has been undertaken at both gardens and there are still more projects in the pipeline. A garden never stands still and this is certainly true here at Kiftsgate. We also visited Burton Constable, a former winner of the HHA/Christies Garden of the Year, and saw their Walled Garden that has been transformed into a myriad of different themed areas.

At this time of year I give a few illustrated talks to local garden clubs on the garden. It is a good form of publicity and encouraging to see how many people will turn out on a cold wet night to hear me.  Going through the slides (not into PowerPoint yet) has reminded us how quickly a garden changes and that we need to update the slides to reflect the deaths and the new planting and how much shrubs and trees grow.

The autumn colours have been good but now that the leaves are down the clearing up begins.  We collect all our leaves for rotting down into leaf mould. This is spread in rotation on each of the borders the following year after it has fully broken down into a lovely crumbly compost.  Tina and Philip have nearly finished pruning the roses and digging over the rose border which now looks completely different, all carefully tied up and very neat and tidy compared to the chaotic growth of the summer.



by anne chambers


The garden is now closed for the season so the work of putting the garden to bed for the winter begins in earnest! In spite of the really wet summer or maybe because of it, plant sales were up which is mainly due to Tina’s hard work and very skilful propagating.

We returned from our trip to Northern Italy with our group of American friends, exhausted but relieved as all went well and we had blue skies every day. Everyone was incredibly welcoming and we came home with a wonderful present of a tree! Whilst visiting Isola Madre on Lake Maggiore we were introduced to Jon Franco the head gardener. He didn’t speak much English but had visited Kiftsgate and insisted on giving us a present. Their most famous two hundred year old tree had blown over a few years ago in one of the storms that hit the lakes but after heavy pruning and with the help of helicopters, was hoisted into position again. Everyone held their breath to see if it would survive this ordeal and it has, so now we have got a graft of this Kashmir cypress from the original specimen. We carried it all round northern Italy and eventually onto the aeroplane to its new home and we are now looking for a suitable position to plant it in the garden, a wonderful memory of a lovely trip.

I have started pruning the climbing roses, the growth this year has been amazing so there is even more than usual to cut out. Below is a photograph of Rosa Bleu Magenta on the kitchen garden wall before and after my pruning.

Philip is still cutting the hedges, which again have put on enormous growth and this shows how marvellous they look once he has clipped them back.

We are also tackling the vast Magnolia delavayii that grows up the tearoom wall. Every two years we have to cut this really hard so that we can see out of the windows and walk along the path. It flowered very well this summer but appears only to flower on second year wood.

We are off to Yorkshire next week to look at some late flowering gardens including Harlow Carr and Scampston and I am much looking forward to this short break before the bulbs arrive and that back breaking work begins.



by anne chambers

As I write we have had a wonderful September week, heavy dew and autumnal in the mornings with clear blue skies and some welcome sunshine. At last the poor farmers can get on with the harvest which has been incredibly delayed this summer. The second blooming of some of the roses is beginning and the late asters and autumn cyclamen are looking wonderful.

As promised last month, a photograph of the daturas. We did have a drama a week ago when one of the pots blew over and broke, so now only one on show in the garden. Luckily the plant is OK and will live to see another day.

I have completed my bulb order with Avon Bulbs; always fun choosing new varieties as well as old favourites, but not such fun when the order arrives and they all have to be planted! More camassias for the orchard as they seem to be bulking up well and lots of tulips and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, which is so reliable and an excellent purple. Johnny has been trying to collect seed but because of the wet summer this is proving harder than usual. Plants have flowered well but either the seed has not set or the plant has just not produced as much as usual and are taking longer to ripen.

The eucryphias have been spectacular this year, covered in stunning white flowers. Pictured is one by the car park which must be over twenty metres high. Two years ago we were in Chile in February and flew over a white forest of eucryphias, one of the highlights of our trip. They are an underused addition to British gardens as they provide a useful and spectacular show in late August and September.

We are off to the Lakes in northern Italy next week, leading thirty American ladies to look at gardens. We take trips like this every couple of years to different parts of Europe and just as we thought we had it all sorted an email arrived telling us of a dreadful freak storm which hit the peninsular of Lake Maggiore at the end of August. Two of the gardens, Villa Taranto and Villa San Remigio which we were going to have visited had been badly damaged and were closed for the foreseeable future. Villa Taranto is an amazing botanical garden started by a Scotsman Neil McEacharn in the early years of the last century. He employed over one hundred gardeners and still today it is beautifully maintained by a staff of twenty. San Remigio is a wonderfully romantic, rather run down garden with great charm and I am so sad to think of all the damage to the beautiful trees and structure that this storm has caused. Luckily we have been able to find replacements for our ladies, and we are much looking forward to our trip.

Let’s hope we have an Indian summer for the last month of opening the garden, I think you will all agree we deserve one!



by anne chambers

We are now back to opening just in the afternoons so more work can be done in the garden. It is a busy time with a lot of pruning taking place. All the philadelphus, escallonias and olearias have been cut and endless dead heading of the roses so some can have another flowering period in September. Philip will be starting the long job of cutting all the hedges next week when he gets back from holiday, it takes him around ten weeks but luckily it is only done once a year!

The large terracotta pots are looking good having filled out during the summer. We have also brought down pelagoniums and oleanders plus two enormous daturas that have been over-wintered in the greenhouses. These particular daturas are named ‘Grand Marnier’ and I will always remember my mother on a BBC Gardeners World programme telling the interviewer that she had no problem remembering this name as she was ‘very partial to a drop’ after dinner! Picture next month (the plant, not the bottle).

The Star College event went well with a relatively dry day and people able to have their picnic lunches in the garden. Paul Harvey Brooks gave a very good and thoughtful talk about the cut backs in municipal gardening in town centres and how it filters down to young people not wanting or being able to go into horticulture. Paul Moir from Painswick, Glyn Williams from Hidcote and I then did a mini gardeners question time and the Star College gave an update on their work and aspirations for the future.

The Kiftsgate rose was spectacular this year and lasted much longer than usual because of the cool weather. In fact everything has thrived in the cool damp weather and now the hydrangeas and astilbes are looking wonderful. One of my favourites is Hydrangea involucrata hortensis with its salmon coloured double flowers turning to pink, not too large so perfect for a smaller garden, and a great sight through until September.

The weeds have loved the summer and it is an endless battle to keep on top of them and stop the willow herb from seeding. We had a real tragedy with a very old wisteria suddenly dying overnight . I think it must be old age but I will miss it up the wall in the white sunk garden where it has been since my childhood. We will have to think of a replacement but not until the garden closes as it is going to be a big task getting it out!

The Olympics are in full swing and have been such a success, all very exciting watching such talented and dedicated people winning their medals. We had a visit from Visit Britain with a delegation of Chinese and Indian travel representatives. Hope some of the gold dust rubs off on us for next year with more visits from abroad.



by anne chambers

Not an easy summer with high winds, hail and constant rain, but because of Philip’s good staking earlier in the season, plants have stood up well and everything is flowering its head off, particularly the deutzias and Carpentaria californica, one of my favourite shrubs in the garden.

We hosted a celebration of 85 years of the National Garden Scheme in mid June with Lycetts, our insurance brokers, sponsoring afternoon tea and a wander round the garden, luckily in the sunshine. George Plumptre, the chairman of the NGS, gave a good potted history of the Scheme and I talked about the history of the house and garden. My grandmother opened the garden for the first time for the NGS in June 1930 and made £15-2s-0d, quite a considerable sum in those days and we have been open for them twice a year ever since.  

The roses are now full out with the Kiftsgate rose beginning to flower. It is covered in buds this year so should be quite a sight with its enormous panicles of white blooms cascading down from the trees. Even the seedling which was named after my mother, Diany Binny, is performing well. Luckily it sowed itself outside the garden on the hillside below the yellow border so we don’t mind how big it gets, certainly even in this garden two Kiftsgates would be too much!

We have been planting the annuals we pop in for later colour, tobacco plants and late flowering salvias that give such good value until the first frosts in the autumn. The borders are very full with everything having grown enormously with the wet so I can foresee a busy winter cutting back even more growth than usual. After last summer’s drought the garden could not be more different, and although not good for our visitor numbers, it will have benefited hugely with the rain. The hydrangeas and astilbes should be spectacular in August and September with phloxes and asters at record heights!

This week we have got a visit from the Fishmongers livery company, and the following week a Photography Course and a Charity Day for the National Star College. Truly a busy time ahead. I must admit I am looking forward to our holiday in Italy at the beginning of August, a hot sun will be most welcome!

If you are interested in attending either of these two events:

the Photography course: James Kerr can be contacted through


the Star College



by anne chambers

What a glorious end to May. Chelsea Flower Show brought the sunshine and heat in abundance and now for the Jubilee weekend it has reverted to endless rain and cold.

We didn’t go to Chelsea itself but watched rather too much coverage on the television, particularly of celebrities being interviewed. On the Monday night of Chelsea we had a lovely invitation from the New York Botanic Garden to have dinner in London with their patrons and many of the finest gardeners of this country. We were thrilled to be there in such a distinguished crowd and I had the good fortune to ask Roy Lancaster if he knew where to get a good Schitzophragma integrifolium for the Wilson garden in Chipping Campden. He said he had collected seed two or three years ago from the same mountain from which Wilson had originally collected seed, and that we could have one of his plants. Result !

The garden has burst out with the heat and at long last the banksiae rose and wisteria are full out having been in bud for about four weeks. The tree paeonies have never flowered better and have been much admired by visitors. The borders are filling and the roses beginning to flower. I am thrilled that my rose La Follette, a tender rose that thrives in the South of France has flowered for the first time. It is a stunning with enormous pink/apricot flowers but a big climber and is starting to cover the roof of the old garage.

The abutilons which seed themselves freely in the lower garden are full out and combined with lilac hesperis look great. The lower garden is at its best in May with the crinodendron and Philadelphus delavayiiNyman’s form stealing the show.

We have replaced the tulips in the large pots with summer displays and in fact have dug up all the tulips throughout the garden as I find they do not return with any vigour the following year, unlike the alliums and lilies which have all appeared. I am engaged in a war against the ghastly lily beetle and I manage to kill three or four daily. As a result the lilies are looking healthy and well. It is the time for planting out the tender salvias, very useful to fill any gaps. Dahlias also help to add bulk in the yellow border as well as in the red border.

Ebrington, our local village, has had eight stone seatsmade to mark the parish boundaries for the Diamond Jubilee. We had the great unveiling yesterday by the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire, Dame Janet Trotter followed by a wonderful tea in the village hall. There was a large turn out and feel it is a fitting tribute to the Queen who has been such a tower of strength and solid as a rock over the past sixty years.



by anne chambers

It has not stopped raining for the last month. Getting onto the borders leaves an awful mess and it has not been good for visitors to the garden. However everything does look healthy, vigorous, quenched and green. Now that it is warming up, the borders are beginning to fill out and all bodes well for a good summer flowering season.

The main highlight in the garden at the moment are the tree paeonies. Some are already over, bashed by the high winds and torrential rain but the enormous buds on many others are just beginning to burst. We do now have a great selection in every part of the garden and they are much admired and will continue to flower well into June. Even after flowering they have the bonus of stunning coloured leaves through the summer.

Johnny has been importing tree paeonies from China for several years and this year we have a small selection of Rocks variety for sale from a nursery near the border with Mongolia. These tree paeonies were discovered by Joseph Rock in China and have the beautiful purple blotch at the base of the flower. They are the top of the range and difficult to buy in England.

I attended my first meeting as trustee of the Ernest Wilson Memorial Garden Trust in Chipping Campden. The Trust looks after a small garden on the High Street of Campden, open to the public and planted with many of the species that “Chinese” Wilson collected on his travels in China. One of these is the beautiful Magnolia wilsonii which we have in the garden here and is full out now. Ideally it should to be planted so you can look up into the flowers which hang down and have exquisite ivory white petals with dark red stamens.

We visited the Malvern Flower Show yesterday for the first time for several years. It is so much easier for us than Chelsea and full of interesting nurseries and displays. You can also buy plants which is too great a temptation and of course we came back with one or two new treasures for the garden. One of them, Zaluzianskya ovata, caught my eye because of the lovely cream flowers with dark pink reverse. Carol Klein featured it on Gardeners World the same night and she told her viewers how it had no scent in the day but come the evening smelt fantastic. I rushed out to test her claim and of course she was right, it is sensational. A bonus!

Our busy season is just beginning with bus parties from all over the world due to visit. Although we are closed on Thursdays and Fridays we are having a number of events on these ‘closed’ days. James Kerr, an award winning garden photographer based in Warwickshire, is giving a photography master class on 12th July.  The next day, Friday 13th July, we are hosting a garden day and picnic in aid of the National Star College Foundation which is a wonderful charity based near Cheltenham. If you are interested in attending either function, James can be contacted through  The Garden Photographer and the Star College.

For our taller herbaceous plants we have been hooping, essential with taller varieties of geranium, phlox and asters. We use metal plant hoops but always seem to have to order more each year as the ‘legs’ get bent after constant use and as we increase our stock of perennials. The sweet peas have been planted out with Philip making hazel wigwams for support. They give good height to parts of the borders and of course the scent is wonderful in the summer.

By my next diary we will have celebrated the Queens Diamond Jubilee. I have already bought my bunting and Marguerite Bell in the tea-room is busy cooking celebration union jack cakes for the occasion. It will be a memorable weekend and we should be able to see quite a few of the bonfire beacons from our high vantage point in the Cotswolds.



by anne chambers

We are now open and after the very hot weather at the end of March the garden is well ahead of last year. However as usual in England things can change very quickly as we are now having frosts and some much welcome rain. Luckily our magnolias escaped frost damage and flowered incredibly well but faded far too quickly with the heat. The daffodils down the drive look marvellous and the new Mount Hood that I added last autumn have all flowered well.

It is always a very good discipline to get the garden ready for opening and I always feel that if there is not a great deal in flower at least it must look well cared for and neat and tidy! Philip has worked his magic with the grass and Tina has produced some excellent plants for sale so we are all ready for another season.

The trilliums are always much admired in April and we have various groups dotted throughout the garden. They like having shady woodland conditions but the ones in the fountain garden are thriving in full sun. They do seed and clump up but are still difficult and slow to accumulate so as a result do not appear for sale very often.

The tulips and bluebells are well ahead, and although not full out must be three weeks early. I have noticed that some of the tulip bulbs have been dug up and am not sure if it is pheasants or a rabbit which has somehow negotiated our Colditz like defences! We have found a burrow on the steep banks which we are keeping an eye on but Johnny’s dusk patrols have not yet succeeded.

I always love this time of year with the vivid greens and everything just beginning to appear and burst into leaf. It reminds me of the Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy. When we visited recently we were struck by his series of paintings depicting the transition in the countryside from week to week over several months. I feel the same is happening in the garden here at Kiftsgate before my very eyes!



by anne chambers

We are thinking of our opening on April 1 and it is a matter of fitting in all the gardening jobs that need doing and making sure the garden is looking neat and tidy for the big day!

It has been a good winter but oh so dry. Johnny and I have done a lot of planting on the steep banks and usually at this time of year the soil is possible for planting, but it is already hard work to get a spade in. We have added a lot of compost and mulched around the plants as much as possible, and will keep our fingers crossed that they survive. We had an expensive but exciting visit to Junkers nursery in Somerset where we bought some magnolias, cornus and acers. A marvellous collection is held there by Karan Junker who is a passionate plantswoman and a very good saleslady!

This year we emptied the semi circular swimming pool as it needed re- painting. This is done with black rubberised paint and takes the gardeners a good week. We are now re-filling rather carefully, as it is with our own water supply which is unusually low for this time of year.

I pruned all the floribunda and shrub roses which were beginning to show signs of growth. The bed of felicia roses planted by my grandmother are very woody and old but always give a brilliant display in June and after dead heading again in August. My mother always said that roses will live for ever if pruned properly and as these must be nearly eighty years old I think she was right!

It is an exciting time of year with bulbs and herbaceous plants appearing every day, the daffodils will be perfect for early April and so will the magnolias as long as we do not have a late frost. I am just about to go and prune the summer flowering ceanothus and penstemons which we leave till now for protection but are looking messy and need a trim.

The new black iron bench which has been made over the winter is waiting for its seat covers. We were inspired by a holiday in Morocco two years ago and copied a simple design on the roof garden of our riad. This is going to be placed in the summerhouse overlooking our water garden so that people can relax and enjoy the peacefulness of this area.

The tea room has also had an update and been re-painted in the same Farrow and Ball colour as before which we all liked. New tablecloths in a floral design have been made locally as the old ones had badly faded over the years. We have re-placed all the pictures too with photographs that Johnny has taken of the garden. We suddenly realised that Andrew Lawson’s beautiful old photographs were getting very out of date so have had modern unframed ones made via the internet!

The next two weeks will be flat out getting everything spic and span and the plants ready to bring down to sell. Tina has been up in the nursery for most of March re-potting and planting seeds, all looks in good order and we should have an excellent selection on our stands for April.



by anne chambers

Into a New Year and the dismantling of the Christmas tree covered the hall with pine needles, particularly bad this time and I am still finding the odd one on the stairs even now.

January was still very mild and the wonderful hammemalis outside the kitchen window was in flower by the first week of January, smelling delicious and lighting up the border. Snowdrops also appeared in the Bluebell wood which is very sheltered and daffodils began showing.

It was a joy to be working in the garden with the sun on ones back and I cut all the old leaves from the hellebores which again had flowered at least a month earlier than last year. We have got a good collection of the orientalis and one or two special ones from Ashwood Nursery which I have bought at great expense over the years. They are clumping up well and give immense pleasure at this time of year.

The gardeners started raking down the steep banks which are always covered with pine needles, especially this year with all the high winds. We lost a lot of tender plants last winter from this area and have begun to dig holes for replacements. After such a dry summer and autumn the ground is still very hard and by April it is impossible to practically get a spade into the soil. We are going to wait to plant until March when hopefully the worst of the frosts will be over. Pittisporum tobira, ceanothus and some tough escallonias and rhamnus are going to be added. We try to enrich the soil with lots of compost but because it is so steep and shady plants take a long time to establish and grow.

As I write in mid February winter has struck with snow and heavy frosts at night. Luckily I have not yet started pruning the floribunda roses such as the felicias in the Four Squares and will wait for a mild spell to tackle these.

The swing seat down by the swimming pool is being re-covered and mended and now ready to be assembled in all its new glory. We have also commissioned a new iron bench for the New Water garden which should be arriving this week and was inspired by a visit to Morocco two years ago.