by Anne Chambers
It is still incredibly mild and abnormally warm for November. The winds have now removed most of the leaves but the autumn colours were excellent as can be seen in this picture of a Japanese maple and the red stems of a dogwood in the Hydrangea border by the house.
All the tulip bulbs have been planted but we had a sudden rethink about one border and have ordered another hundred White Triumphator tulips to fill in until some newly planted shrubs and perennials are up to size. I am lucky that it is still so easy to pop them in without any trouble. Talking of bulbs I have become involved with the ‘Plant a Bulb’ campaign for the gynaecological cancer fund which is raising awareness of the five common cancers that affect women all over the country. Dr Susana Banerjee a consultant medical Oncologist at the Royal Marsden is researching into these cancers and the very successful committee have launched a Lady Gardener website for which I am an ambassador. The website for anyone interested is http://gynaecancerfund.com/. With no frost yet plants are still growing well and I was struck by just how lush our rubbish heap was looking! Melianthus and Salvia, Artemisia and Malva all flowering so unexpectedly I couldn’t resist taking a picture.
BY ANNE CHAMBERS
The garden is now firmly closed and we are enjoying the fantastic autumn colours this year. Not just the trees but also the second flowering of rosa Felicia is only just happening and the nerines are late due to the cool summer. We had a wonderful visit to the Laskett Garden and lunch with Sir Roy Strong in mid September. Such an enthusiast even in his eightieth year, he is an example to us all. We spent hours going round his garden which although not large is cleverly deceptive and full of surprises. Having not visited for some years we were amazed by all the changes and new creations. He is not frightened to rip out mature yew hedges and create new structures and vistas. It was so refreshing to see somewhere which has evolved over the past forty years and feel it will never stand still whilst Roy is in charge.
Once the garden is closed we take the opportunity to get away and this year we went to St. Petersburg. Having never been to Russia this was a real adventure. The original vision for this ‘Venice of the North’ is breath-taking and all now in such wonderful state of repair. As our guide said, it is probably looking better than it has ever been. We were blessed with clear blue skies and chilly nights and had five days of nonstop culture and delight. I don’t think I have ever seen so much gold leaf both inside the palaces and outside on the many spires and domes, all gleaming in the autumn sunshine. One of the highlights was Peterhof, created by Peter the Great and expanded by his daughter Elizabeth. We were lucky that the fountains were still playing and what a sight they were. An echo of Versailles with endless varieties and shapes of water cascading in different formations. The formal gardens are very well tended but being so far north the climate does not make for easy gardening! The Romanovs loved gardens and flowers and they can be seen everywhere in porcelain, pictures and of course the fabulous Faberge eggs.
The love of gardens and a rural dream could also be seen in the Pavlovsk Palace, the home of Catherine the Great’s son Paul. This lovely tapestry hung next to his wife’s bed and is exquisite.
Now home to lots of bulbs to plant and borders to prune. We have just had the path in the yellow border re-turfed as the tree roots and wear and tear had taken their toll over the years. We also have a long list of shrubs and plants to take out of various borders so in our own way we are following Roy’s inspiration and keep looking at the garden with new eyes.
by anne chambers
We have had a very wet end to August and a disappointing end of summer with low temperatures and grey skies. The hydrangeas have loved the rain and are looking wonderful. Someone asked me if we held the National Collection as we had so many varieties; thankfully not!
This is the time of year when we try to escape and go and see other people’s hard work in their gardens and visit some nurseries. We went to Coton Manor in August which we had only visited before in the Spring. It is an immaculate garden beautifully looked after by Susie Pasley-Tyler and full of interest. She has a fantastic selection of pots filled with salvias, agapanthus and other late summer flowering varieties plus a hot border with dazzling oranges and yellows. There is also a good nursery so needless to say we were tempted and came home with more plants.
We also spent two nights in Dorset and visited four garden which we had never been to. Firstly in the belting rain, Cranborne Manor, an atmospheric place with an ancient house and a feeling of the continuity of rural English life over the centuries .The old apple trees and yew hedges were all beautifully maintained and we had it to ourselves. Next we went to Stourhead with its stunning trees and lake setting. The temples have been beautifully restored by the National Trust and they have the largest tulip trees I have ever seen which must be over 200 years old.
The next day we went to Forde Abbey with its great fountain spouting 160 ft. jets of water, the highest powered fountain in the country. (At this point I have to mention the Stanway fountain, near us, which is the highest gravity fountain in the country, at over 300 ft.) It is turned on three times a day for about fifteen minutes and if you are visiting either house, plan your visit to coincide with a performance. In the garden there was some good early autumn colour with a marvellous selection of dahlias. Our last visit was to Cothay Manor which we had always wanted to see. Again a very old house tucked away down some very narrow Somerset lanes. The garden is made up of some stunning courtyards surrounding the building and narrow yew allees with rooms leading to small individual gardens. Mrs Robb is in charge and told us that she was always changing various part of the garden, and obviously works incredibly hard to keep it all in such pristine condition.
by anne chambers
O the joy of a small lie-in on a Sunday morning. Now that we are in August the garden doesn’t open until 2p.m. As a result, the hectic rush of re-stocking plants, labelling each one, cleaning the loos etc. before midday opening is finished for another season. It is surprising what a difference the extra two hours makes and we even get into the garden and get things done before the gates open.
The most commented plants in the garden at the moment are the dieramas in the White sunk garden. Also known as wand flowers or Angels Fishing rods, their long stems blow in the breeze with stunning pink bell like flowers attached at the end. They originate from Southern Africa and like sunny conditions with their corms in moist ground .They seem very happy here putting on a wonderful display all through August. We have several varieties, some taller than others and some with a darker shade of pink and if happy they will seed around as well. The only disadvantage is after flowering some of the thin strap like leaves die and turn brown and you have to pull these out of the clumps by hand.
We had a disappointingly cool end to July with welcome rain but no real balmy summer days and this year the wind has really been a feature; even now a stiff breeze is blowing from the South and leaves are beginning to cover the drives.
We had an unusual visit from a dozen steam cars recently. Beautifully maintained and mostly open topped they parked in front of the house much to the delight of our other visitors. We had to provide lots of water to keep them going and having visited the garden their owners disappeared up the drive in a cloud of steam.
Philip has started cutting the box hedges which always look fantastic after their annual chop. We are so lucky not to have succumbed to the dreaded box disease which seems to have affected so many gardens. I wouldn’t want to tempt fate by offering an explanation why we have avoided it so far but we speculate that our stock is so old ( now more than eighty years ) that there was perhaps a greater immunity in these older forms. Philip is also scrupulous in cleaning away all the cut material from under the hedges.
by anne chambers
Its Wimbledon fortnight and I love watching the tennis in the evenings once the garden is closed and exhaustion has set in! It is also the time when I pick my first bunch of sweet peas which is always such a joy as the scent is so special and the colours so very English. Whilst visiting a friend’s garden I was intrigued to see how she grew her sweet peas up the netting surrounding her tennis court. It is such a good idea as perfect support and also hides the rather ugly netting during the summer months.
It has a wonderful scent and in fact scent is one of the main features of the garden at the moment. All the philadelphus, the old fashioned roses and regale lilies are flowering and as a result we have had a lot of comments on how good the garden smells. Scent is such an important part of a garden and often gets overlooked but gives so much pleasure and enjoyment. It is also the least understood of the senses as illustrated by one visitor last week. She was buying one of our Philadelphus Manteau d’ Hermine, a small form with double flowers whose only failing is that it doesn’t have the wonderful characteristic smell of philadelphus. Well, she was buying it because for her, the smell was perfect.
Dead heading is a daily task and it is sad to think that summer is slipping by so quickly, already we are getting the hedge clippers sharpened for Philip to embark on the marathon hedge cutting season when he gets back from holiday in a couple of weeks.
We have also been tackling the long grass and weeds surrounding the silver birch trees which we planted out after Clare’s wedding. They are growing well but decided to place a jute hessian mat around the base of each one to try to restrict the weed growth and let the rain go directly to their roots.
by anne chambers
I have just returned from another garden trip, this time to Southern Ireland with the Garden Club of America. Miraculously we had a sunny and dry week and the gardens there were looking wonderful with late spring colour and early roses in flower.
One of the most noticeable of plants in Ireland were the cornus which are one of my most favourite small trees. At this time of year they are covered in white or pink bracts and are a stunning sight. One new introduction is cornus Venus with enormous white flowers, a real show stopper and well worth trying to find. Another really pretty one is cornus kousa Miss Satomi with pink flowers which is at the end of our wide border and much commented on at this time of year.
June is rose time and Charles Quest-Ritson has written a lovely article in Country Life this week about the garden and its roses. I didn’t realize that rosa Rita, in the Four Squares, was quite such a rare rose and Charles suggests they might be the last surviving ones in the world!
At Helen Dillons’s wonderful garden in Dublin I saw rosa Rhapsody in Blue climbing up her walls and in containers. It is the most striking dark purple colour and she sweetly gave me a plant so now deciding where to place it in the garden.
It is easy at this time of year to feel satisfied and content with the garden as everything is performing to its best, and yes, it is looking wonderful. However one must always be planning ahead and we have now planted the dahlias and tender salvias so that we have an equally beautiful late summer and autumn display.
by anne chambers
It's Chelsea Week again and the gardening year is starting to accelerate. Despite some chilly days Spring just flies by and the garden changes nearly every day. Itís a beautiful time of year, with so many shades of fresh green and the prospect of so much to come.
We have just returned from taking a gardening group to Lakes Como and Maggiore in Italy. Again it was all looking wonderful in blazing sunshine with the paulownias in full flower and all the roses blooming. Isola Madre is still one of my favourites with its magnificent trees but Isola Bella wins on sheer theatrical nerve. There the climbing roses were spectacular covering every inch of wall space and at their best when we visited.
Now home again and we have the anticipation of our own roses but one near to my heart, named after my grandmother Heather Muir, is already flowering. It is one of the earliest and covered in single white flowers. It is a hybrid and related to a Scotch rose with tiny cut leaves and vicious thorns!
The Judas tree(cercis siliquastrum) is full out and looking beautiful against a blue sky and the davidia involucratabehind. It always reminds me of Mediterranean climes with the vivid purple flowers coming straight from the stems before the leaves appear.
We are now entering our really busy time of year with bus parties due from all over the world. The weeds are growing but everyone is flat out trying to keep the garden looking at its best. I feel sometimes rather like the garden at Isola Bella and maybe we too are creating a theatrical experience for our visitors, just hope they give us a standing ovation!
by anne chambers
The garden is open again and we have been blessed with wonderful sunshine and warmth for Easter. A continuously cold March and everything stood still, but now buds are appearing andpeoniesand lilies bursting out of the ground.
What a great spring for magnolias! No late frosts and they sensibly waited until now to perform in style. The pink magnolia mollicomata in the car park is covered in flower and the very dark pink magnolia Vulcan in the lower garden is just starting. They are such a joy and over the years we have planted several new or replacements including magnolia hypoleuca which has an extraordinary scent. However one has to be patient and it was only thanks to my grandmother and mother’s foresight that we are appreciating the glory of the mature magnolias today.
It is always a good discipline before we open to get everything shipshape and organized. I love unpacking all the stock in the shop and this year have ordered two designs of the wonderful Wentworth jigsaw puzzles of the garden as well as beautiful peony decorated vases and notepads. We also ‘unpacked’ two daturas that had got too large to bring in for the winter. Some friends had sent us a delicious package of smoked salmon and the insulation package made for a snug bed for the winter. We wait to see if it has worked!
The tearoom is looking lovely too thanks to Jenny’s hard work and a visitor over Easter said it must be the prettiest tearoom in the Cotswolds. Full of fresh spring flowers and the new tablecloths and pictures.
We have not lost many plants over the winter but inevitably there are one or two casualties and changes. Now is the time that Johnny and I decide on replacements so a lot of digging takes place and some sore backs! I have ordered and planted schima wallichi which was the stunning small tree we first saw in Ireland last September (see picture in my September diary). We have placed it against the house wall in a sheltered position so hoping it will perform as well, but again we will have to be patient, maybe my children will appreciate it in years to come!
by anne chambers
I find February a trying time in the garden. Only really good for browsing seed catalogues and planning trips to warmer climes. So no diary last month and a double dose this month ! I have just returned from a wonderful trip to Pittsburgh to see my married daughter Clare and her husband David and then on to Mexico City where my youngest son Patrick is working.
Pittsburgh made England seem balmy as I arrived during one of their worst winters. However I had been in touch with Brian Trader, a Director at Longwood Gardens in Philadelphia as he had brought a group here last autumn, and he was kind enough to invite us to visit whilst I was in America.
Longwood belonged to the du Pont family . It is on a grand scale and luckily for us has halfa mile of sensational heated conservatories to save us from the biting cold. Brian took us behind the scenes which was fascinating as they have vast greenhouses, propagating and developing the displays which are out of this world. It is hard to explain the scale of the operation with 400 employees and 800 volunteers. It is run as a charitable corporation, all beautifully kept and breathtakingly beautiful. The orchid displays were sensational but there was so much more and we spent six very happy hours in plant heaven.
My daughter Clare is volunteering and doing a Master Garden diploma at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden so I also visited there. On a much smaller scale than Longwood it is still very impressive and very well maintained, again with different exhibitions of flora and trees. America really knows how to put the wow into indoor gardening and do it with incredible style and expertise.
Then on to Mexico City for a few days. What a contrast with sunshine and warmth and all the jacaranda trees in full flower. It is a fascinating city with a mixture of the old colonial and ultra-modern side by side, and lovely tree lined avenues. The parks were well maintained and full of agapanthus but sadly the botanic garden was less impressive and in need of some attention. As we drove out of the city, wild red salvias were flowering along the road side but with Patrick driving there was no chance to stop and study.
Now home and Spring is definitely in the air. The daffodils have appeared and are nearly flowering and the crocuses are a sight in the white sunk garden. We are busy getting ready for opening at the beginning of April so lots of jobs to do. The summer house is finished and looks great and the tearoom has had a makeover ready for lots of visitors to enjoy Jenny Glover’s delicious home cooking.
by anne chambers
I woke up this morning to this winter’s first dusting of snow. It won’t last for long but the chill will slow down the snowdrops, some of which are already flowering. Quite a worry for the snowdrop gardens which don’t open until February but I am sure there still be plenty to see then.
Over the Christmas and New Year holiday we have being doing winter chores like digging up brambles in the bluebell wood and tidying areas around the car park and up the drives. These jobs always get neglected when we are busy so it is a good opportunity to tackle them in mid-winter when the brambles come out in a very satisfactory way, and it is an excellent way to keep warm.
Our one and only camellia in the garden, camellia cuspidata is now covered in tiny white flowers reflecting well against the lovely shiny dark green foliage. Again this is flowering early as it is normally fully out when we open in April.
The BBCs Great British Garden Revival series 2 has begun and is being shown on BBC2 over the next week or two. They came and filmed here with Charlie Dimmock last June concentrating on our peonies. I think our programme is being broadcast on the 21st January. The filming was too late for the tree peonies but some of the herbaceous ones were still looking good. Peony Bowl of Beauty was still flowering and I hope they will include Peony Jan van Leeuwen that I bought at Piet Oudolf’s nursery in Holland several years ago. It is a beautiful single white and as luck would have it flowered for the first time last summer when they were here ( See my July diary).
Good progress is being made on the reconstruction of the summer house. Bernard and Stuart are about to start attaching the cedar shingles which I trust will last for a good thirty years. Rather surprisingly they report that part of the lead roofing has been eaten by squirrels, a rather surprising habit which I hope gives them a sore tummy!