by Anne Chambers
It’s the build-up to Christmas and as I write Johnny, Philip and Tom are down in the wood chopping down a Christmas tree. It is getting more and more difficult as they are now enormous (seventy foot or more) and we only need the top twelve foot. So it is luck if it falls softly and doesn’t shatter on landing. We will wait and see! **
We have had a week or two of frost which I love. Beautiful sunny clear days and stunning white mornings, the plants in the poly tunnel have to be covered with fleece which always gives them a ghostly appearance.
The apple harvest in the orchard has been enormous and now the birds can have their fill. Unfortunately we are back to the mild damp grey days and the dogs return covered in mud from their walks.
Sadly daughter Clare and husband David will not be back for Christmas this year but instead we have got my sister and two of her married daughters and their families so with my boys it will be a full house. As a result I haven’t done too much in the garden but Philip and Tom are progressing well with the borders which always look very neat and tidy once they have been cut over. The mahonia is now flowering and the hamamelis outside the kitchen window is just beginning. The shortest day is nearly upon us so as always we are looking forward to more light and another successful year at Kiftsgate.
Happy Christmas to you all and good gardening!
by Anne Chambers
As another spectacular autumn comes to an end the hard work of collecting all the leaves begins. We are lucky to have masses of wonderful trees in and around the garden but it does mean an endless task keeping up with sweeping and collecting for the leaf mould heap. Last year’s harvest has been put to good use mulching the rose border and the yellow border. We also have three compost heaps which are used in rotation and this is the time of year that we dig down to see how well they have rotted. Our report card would say ‘could do better’ and if we had the time and equipment to turn the heap after a few months we would produce even more black gold. Nevertheless after such a prolific flowering season a generous addition of compost and leaf mould really helps to keep the soil in good condition and now, after nearly one hundred years of attention most of the borders are in great condition.
We have decided this year to prune the shrub roses much harder than previous years. It may be a case of kill or cure because we noticed that in the summer they had all grown enormously, were difficult to tie in and just looked untidy and unruly. We have added more iron work structures to support them so am hoping it will make a difference. We will see next June.
I have been doing quite a few talks on the garden to various local garden groups which I enjoy and it helps to spread the word about Kiftsgate to local people who might have never visited. It is wonderful that there are so many villages and towns that still get together once a month to hear speakers on a variety of topics including gardening and it is a great way for communities to keep in touch and make use of the village halls. It would not happen without the dedication and drive of a few passionate people who give their time and energy free to organize these events, long may they continue!
by Anne Chambers
It is our travelling time of year now the garden is closed and this year was no exception. We visited our daughter Clare and husband David in America. Our first stop was in New York to visit the Botanic garden and also the High Line.
Gregory Long, the head of New York Botanic Garden, was incredibly kind as we had planned our trip to visit on a Monday which we discovered far too late was when the garden is closed! However we were allowed a special dispensation and had a wonderful tour including the superb library which houses the largest collection of manuscripts and books on gardening. Everything was beautifully kept and it was all very impressive in the September sunshine. The recently constructed natural wetland next to the native plant garden was particularly interesting as they were using a natural bio filtration system to keep the water clear. Planted with grasses, sedges and pitcher plants, the water remained clear and clean.
We also much enjoyed our walk along the High Line in New York, an old railway track thirty foot or so above the ground so you get excellent views as it winds through the city. It was originally planted fifteen years ago by Piet Oudolf and by chance we bumped into him in person on an inspection tour, so an added bonus . Autumn is a great time to see it as the prairie planting is at its best and judging by the amount of people strolling along, it is a very popular tourist venue and great asset for New York.
Then off to Pittsburgh by train where Clare and David are living. We visited the Frank Lloyd Wright house, Falling Water, which is about an hour outside the city. Built in a wood with the river practically running through the house this is an iconic design and a popular destination, again very well preserved and looked after.
Our final destination was Chicago. We loved the windy city. Stunning buildings everywhere and the excellent river architectural tour by boat was a great way to see all the different periods of skyscrapers and how they have developed, and are continuing to develop. Clare and I (Johnny and David opting for a football game) also visited the Conservatory in Garfield Park which was built in 1907 and occupies two acres of public greenhouse space. This is situated quite a long way from the centre and is described as Chicago’s best kept secret and one of the nation’s botanical treasures. We were certainly not disappointed, all incredibly well kept and labelled and so unexpected.
Back at home we have been concentrating on the orchard and once again have planted yellow rattle seed to see if we can keep the grass down for the wild flowers. More camassia bulbs have been planted which seem to do well and have clumped up over the years. All the tulip and allium bulbs have arrived so will be popping them in shortly. We have also been giving the large evergreen magnolias their bi-annual cut; they flowered this summer but their growth is so enormous we decided it was time for their short back and sides.
Lovely autumn sunshine and not much rain so far in October, certainly no frost so the garden is still looking good. However the gardeners have started their annual winter routine of putting it all to bed so as to be ready to welcome visitors again next April.
by Anne Chambers
We have had a particularly warm and humid month so far with record temperatures. As a result the asters which are usually flowering after the garden closes in October are all at their best and looking wonderful. My favourite is Aster Sonora with its vivid purple/blue flowers that lights up a border. It is not as tall as some varieties and does not need the Chelsea chop which I now regularly do to the tall asters and phlox at the end of May.
September is our time to escape to see some friends and other gardens and this year is no exception. We were in Scotland and visited Crathes in Aberdeenshire, a National Trust garden that is beautifully maintained and full of interest and colour. I had not been there for thirty years and remembered the marvellous topiary but not the variety of plants that they can grow. They have had the same head gardener for sixteen years and this really shows in the high standard of maintenance and attention to detail in the planting.
Then we went to see Felley Priory in Nottinghamshire which was owned and created by the Chaworth-Musters family. Again it had fantastic topiary and was very much a private family garden, full of unusual and old varieties and looked after beautifully by their lady Head gardener for many years. I was thrilled to be able to buy a knautia macedonica which had been in the garden for many years and was still flowering in September and not covered in mildew.
Lastly but not least we went to see Easton Walled Garden again after ten years. Ursula Cholmeley who sweetly took us round has done marvels with this neglected and derelict garden. Her energy is amazing and she has managed to create an exciting mixture of natural and informal plantings with a productive and stunning kitchen garden, plus raising over sixty varieties of sweet peas each year. It has been, and still is a labour of love and dedication and we loved our visit.
We are nearing the end of our season and the borders look incredibly lush and full so there will be lots of cutting down and pruning awaiting us in October.
by Anne Chambers
What strange and demanding creatures us gardeners are. Never satisfied, and after months of dreary days of rain, we are now parched and threatened with temperatures of 30 degrees in the next few days. As a result we have started the sprinklers on some of the borders.
We had a lovely visit to Eythrope gardens this week with Mary Keen. This is the private garden of the Rothschild family next door to Waddesdon. It is mainly a vegetable and productive area but there are flower borders as well, and the salvias and tender perennials were looking wonderful. Mary has written an excellent book, Paradise and Plenty, on the gardens which are of another generation; stunning greenhouses full of aubergine, cucumbers, peaches and grapes, all grown to an immensely high standard and beautifully kept. It was a real treat to see such an old fashioned proper vegetable walled garden which nowadays is a rarity.
There is still a lot of colour in the garden here and by dead heading and concentrating over the past few years on the latter part of the season I am pleased with the results. The hydrangeas are always much admired and there are still the asters and nerines to come.
I thought I would share with you a poem which was sent to us by a garden visitor, very complimentary and flattering to feel that the garden inspires a verse or two. Other Kiftsgate related poems are on his website.
From the brow
Of the wooded escarpment
Eyes are drawn
To the picture
In a vista’s reach
Into mists and the rolling plain.
And then a near rose
Beckons come close
To the petal’s crenellations
And breathes as sweetly
As the lover’s kiss,
Competes with all the faded distance
And offers the planted bed
Afire with flowers
And boughs drooping
Under the weight.
And then again the call
From between scots pine:
Creeping down the vale,
Hauling the mind away
To thoughts afar and blurring.
(c) Ben Truesdale and distilledvoice, 2016
by Anne Chambers
Still a difficult summer for gardening but at least flowers are lasting well with the grey skies and low temperatures. The Kiftsgate rose is still flowering and Johnny managed with his drone to show how it has now appeared out of the top of the copper beech tree in the rose border. I shudder to think how high it is now but there is nothing we can do to stop it.
One of the best plants in the garden at the moment is the eryingium x oliverianum in the white sunk garden. A stunning blue, a real eye catcher and much commented on. It seems to like the dry sunny position and as a result I have now planted several more.
I visited Sibylle Kreutzberger’s stunning garden for the last time this week. Sadly she has decided to move this autumn to a flat near Witney which will be easier for her to manage. I know she will miss the garden enormously. It has given so many people such pleasure over the twenty-five years that she and the late Pam Schwert have gardened at Condicote after leaving Sissinghurst. With the patience and knowledge they had, they resisted planting anything for the first eighteen months while they cleaned the ground and improved the soil. It is now packed with glorious favourite plants and the delphiniums looked magnificent on Thursday.
July is moving on fast and have been planting some salvias and dahlias to keep the garden looking good well into the autumn. The lilies from Hyde and Son are flowering really well and the oriental yellow and orange ones are yet to delight in the yellow border. The lily beetle seems to have been far less prevalent this year, maybe they don’t like the wet weather like us humans!
By Anne Chambers
What a wet and miserable June, seemingly continuous rain and grey skies. The only fine week was when we took a group of American ladies to look at Cotswold gardens during the first week of June. Luckily it was hot and sunny and we were spoilt for choice over the wonderful local gardens which all looked stunning. We returned to Rockliffe, near Stow on the Wold, one of my favourites, with their blue iris sibirica and the cornus controversa variegata, now almost touching each other over the water.
It is always fun to get out and see other gardens; one always gets new ideas and see new plants and particularly as we tend to get rooted here during the summer attending to our own patch.
It is such a shame the weather has been so dismal as many of the herbaceous peonies and old fashioned roses just go soggy and rot in the bud. One waits all year for their moment of glory and in many cases they never get the chance to reveal their beauty. Never mind, there are other plants which have given us tremendous pleasure this year including the sinocalycanthus Hartlage wine which is a brilliant shrub and has flowered here for the past six weeks.
The other star at the moment are the bush honeysuckles. They originally came from a garden near Bampton in Oxfordshire belonging to the late Peggy Munster. She was a friend of my mothers and gave her a present of one years ago. We have propagated them over the years and they always are commented on as, unlike normal climbing honeysuckles, their restrained growth and natural bush form makes a striking sight.
The summer is racing by as it always does, so much is packed into such a short time but let’s hope the sun shines in July and with all this rain plants should look at their best. Certainly the weeds are thriving so, back to the borders….
By Anne Chambers
We had a very cold April but at last with some warmth and rain the garden is on the move. The tree peonies are spectacular and some have flowered for the first time.
We had to replace valves in the swimming pool earlier in the month so a poor man had to dress in his diving gear and brave the very cold water, just glad it wasn’t me!
I have just returned from five days looking at Scottish gardens around Edinburgh and St Andrews and Perth. A glorious time of year there with the cherry blossom looking spectacular. We saw some excellent, mostly walled gardens but also visited Jupiter Artland on the outskirts of Edinburgh. An amazing project created by Robert and Nicky Wilson with stunning sculptures and beautifully kept woods and grounds. The photo is of a Charles Jenks creation which is wonderful especially with the reflections of the water and sky and the red bridge.
Back here the Davidia is in full flower and completely covered with white handkerchiefs. It was planted by my mother and just seems to get better and better each year, a sight to behold in May. Also our Michelia which is fairly tender is doing well and it also looking good with its pretty white flowers and brown calyx. It thrives in Cornwall but is worth a try further north.
I visited the Malvern Show but will not be going to Chelsea this year and have given my tickets to my son Robert for his first Chelsea venture. Malvern had glorious weather and was very glad that I arrived early as it was incredibly busy and I gather people took hours to get in later in the day. I had not been for several years and was slightly disappointed with the horticultural element, many fewer nurseries were displaying and it seemed to have turned into a lifestyle show with everything for the house and endless clothes shops and gifts.
BY Anne Chambers
Having had such a lovely March we were bound to pay for it in April! Cold and wet so far with the occasional lovely day but frost at night. Everything slowly emerging in the garden but the soil is still cold and waiting for our Spring explosion.
However having said that the bluebells are at least two weeks early. They are in the wood on a south facing bank and are a spectacular sight at the moment. Such an English delight with a sea of blue and not a Spanish invader in sight.
The fritillaries are also looking lovely too just inside the entrance gate amongst the wild garlic and anemone blanda with the odd grape hyacinth. Each flower is so perfect and they have naturalised here happily in the grass.
I was lucky and escaped the rain and cold with a week in and around Rome looking at gardens. There they have had a very early Spring so the roses were already flowering and the countryside looking stunning with hundreds of shades of green. I visited an amazing peony nursery, created over the past twenty years with a vast collection of Chinese tree paeonies and herbaceous ones too. The tree peonies were full out and stretched for several acres, a spectacular sight in the lovely sunshine. I of course was tempted and bought a lovely rockii , cyclamen-pink in colour with the dark blotch in the centre which is now planted in our rose border, a beautiful reminder of a perfect week.
We have had an invader in the lower garden, a roe deer has been eating the geranium palmatum and phloxes. This is a first having a deer in the garden and really annoying as the rabbit population seems to have decreased after the arrival of several foxes which patrol at dusk. We are working on a solution…
by anne chambers
As with last year I am afraid February has come and gone without me writing a diary! Now in early March we are having frost at night having had such a mild winter with everything at least a month early. However things due to change again by the end of the week with Spring promised once more.
We had a wonderful ten day break in Langkawi, an island off Malaysia. Very tropical and exotic with fantastic trees and birds including the greater hornbill which was spectacular.
There was a lovely waterlilypond in the middle of the hotel full of frogs who occasionally had an unwelcome visit from a monitor lizard
A very lazy holiday recharging our batteries ready for another season.
Now back to work in earnest with preparations for opening on Easter Sunday well under way. Sadly Tina our gardener for the past seven years is leaving us to look after her father. We will miss her as she has been an excellent producer of plants and a very dedicated gardener and friend.
We have had the stonemasons working for several months over the winter, replacing the stone around the fountain pool and coping stones on several of the walls and pediments of the house. There is still work to be done but rather like the Forth Road Bridge it is a never ending project.
We visited the Birmingham Trade Fair in February and large boxes keep arriving with items for our shop, hopefully some new lines and tempting presents and gifts for visitors to buy.
The seeds have been sown, the paving stones are being pressure cleaned and the garden is beginning to burst into life ready for another season, we look forward to seeing you in 2016!
by anne chambers
A very Happy New Year to everyone. What a strange wet and mild winter it has been so far. Daffodils already flowering and I even heard of a banksia rose in flower! Certainly the hellebores are well out, just hope we don’t suffer in March and April!
We had a wonderful Christmas with all the family here from their foreign parts. They all clubbed together to buy Johnny a drone which Clare brought over from America where they are cheaper. He has been mastering the flying skills and taken some excellent photographs and videos. It is fun to see the garden from on high and through the seasons, hence the photo of the new garden.
We are in the process of refilling the pond having done our yearly empty and clean, removing wheelbarrows full of leaves and blanket weed, hence the hosepipe in the photo. You will also see the new addition of paving stones across the wild flower garden. We have sown this with perennial wild flower seed this year and hope that will be more successful than the annual mix.
Sadly Jenny Glover who ran the tearoom last year so well has decided it was all too much for her on her own and we have now found Lutti Bates who is a friend of Jenny’s and also lives locally. She has been running the pub in Broad Campden for the past three years and decided to have a change. We are delighted as she is an equally good cook and I know will keep up the high standards that Jenny established.
We have got stonemasons hard at work in the garden at the moment replacing paving and coping stones on some of the walls. Luckily the weather is suiting them and all is progressing well.
2016 is the Year of the English Garden, the 300th anniversary of the birth of Capability Brown (nearby Compton Verney, pictured at the top of this page, Charlecote Park, and Ragley Hall were all landscaped by him), and the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare who was born and lived in nearby Stratford-upon-Avon. Brown didn’t do any work here but his contemporary, William Shenstone (b. 1714) did much of the landscaping along the escarpment and planted the lime avenue up our drive and down in the park towards Mickleton. As a result of these anniversaries and Visit England's Year of the English Garden we are hoping that we will be as busy as we were last year, and now is the time to be making changes and re-planting. I will be pruning the floribunda roses next week and the gardeners are about to tackle the steep banks raking off the mass of pine needles that have fallen due to the high winds.