Category: Heritage Gardens & gardening


On our way home from a recent trip to Devon, we diverted to one of my all time favourite gardens; Hestercombe, just outside Taunton, Somerset.

I remember coming here many years ago, when the local Fire Service were headquatered in the house and the work to restore this classic Lutyen’s – Jekyll garden design was just getting underway. Even then the strong structural elements- though in a poor state of repair-  shone through. Since then, several decades later, the Charitable Trust that owns the place has done a marvellous job in restoring not only the gardens but much of the surrounding parkland too, so that you can wander through a very interesting ‘designed landscape’ reflecting earlier design styles harking back to the’ landscape garden’ school.

The main garden is what you come here for.  Sunken and surrounded by a series of strong pergolas and with two stone rills descending either side, it is a joy to behold. We were fortunate in arriving early in the day and had this wonderful place of quiet and reflection virtually to ourselves.

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The restoration story is a fascinating one, including a quest to find a series of plants that were in the original Jekyll planting plans but which were no longer readily available. This is most notable for a number of gladioli varieties, one of which was discovered by accident as one of the historians associated with the garden was giving a talk..only to be approached by someone who thought he had one of the missing gladdy’s! Since then this rare plant has been nurtured and propagated to get to the necessary scale for mass planting…and the display of gladioli is certainly impressive..

This is a real story of horticultural dedication; a trait seen in abundance all around the gardens. The house, though perhaps less of a priority, is gradually being brought into beneficial use, but it does require some renovation. We finished off our tour with a rather nice lunch in a very classy restaurant overlooking the gardens.

Old School Gardener

Frther information: Hestercombe Gardens website

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Some pleasing pictures from my good friend Jen…sorry we couldn’t join you, but thanks for the pictures!

Old School Gardener

Further information: Sheffield Park website

I’ve loved Castle Drogo in Devon for many years. A classic Lutyen’s design, the house is as imposing (forbidding?) as the entrance suggests. The gardens are relatively modest for somewhere so grand, I guess partly because of the site perched on a granite outcrop overlooking Drewsteington and Dartmoor beyond.

Our recent visit coincided with a long standing and major renovation project on the house; basically re-roofing to stop water penetration. The story goes that Lutyens used a relatively untested asphalt covered flat roof system when the place was built, and over time this has broken up and so water is getting in where it shouldn’t. It’s a multi million pound project and we were able to climb an external stairway (my other half very warily), to see the work underway, beneath a huge ‘tent’ that encases the whole of the roof and must make for a resonably comfortable work space, notwithstanding the site’s exposed position.  We had a very interesting guide to the works, which are imposing some limits on the areas of the house open to the public, but heh ho, never mind. There was a rather interesting ‘installation’ of many many different kids of clock in one of the rooms!

We concluded our visit with a stroll through the split level gardens,a nice mixture of herbaceous perennials giving a late summer boost of colour and some grasses just coming into their own.

Old School Gardener

Further information: Castle Drogo- National Trust website.

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I’m getting a bit behind…so here’s post covering my four latest visits to Blickling….sorry for the delay!

Session one involved weeding in the fruit cage in the Walled Garden. As you can see, after doing the bush fruit we wandered over to the strawberries, including ‘checking’ on the quality of some late fruiting varieties!

Session Two focused on clearing weeds from a part of the side borders, where its planned to create some raised beds for local Schools to get involved with. Rory and I set to and removed a large amount of Couch Grass (or rather it seemed a lot, but as you probably know the stuff will return…). After this I trimmed back the tendrils of the squashes and gourds which were starting to invade the perennial borders…some of the pumpkins are looking very large already…

The third session was a bit of a wet day and only a few volunteers were on site, but I think we made an impact in a morning’s work. First Rory and I replanted and strung together some tall perennials that had been uprooted by Storm Aileen, and then we joined Jane and Tressa in tidying up one of the glasshouses. The floor had been overrun with ‘Mind your Own Business’ and we decided to lift the metal gratings above the old heating pipes and clear this out, which revealed the piping and ornamental ironwork, and with the other tidying up made for a much improved scene overall..

Despite the recent stormy weather toppling some of the taller flowering plants in the Walled Garden, its still looking glorious…

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My last session was a switched day, so I was working with some of the Wednesday volunteers over in the Rose Garden, weeding, and in my case, tackling the large amount of lichen and other weeds that had invaded sections of the gravel paths. Here are some ‘during’ and ‘after’ shots. Quite satisfying, though I suspect in lifting whole sections of path surface like old carpet, that much of the original path is now in the compost bin!

Over the past few weeks its been pleasing to see progress in a number of other areas: the sun-dial that was stolen from the Secret Garden has been replaced with a replica (complete with 2017 date on the dial), and a couple of large oak trees have been felled because of infection – one of these may provide a good opportunity to include it in the planned Tree Trail, using its stump rings as a way of illustrating both its age and associated historical events back over a couple of hundred years. Work is also progressing on refurbishing the water wheel near the Lake, including a viewing area for visitors. And the metal tunnel in the Walled Garden has been finished and is looking great; as the apples grow up it will be come a central feature of the garden….

So a pretty busy month at Blickling (with a small contribution from yours truly) and it was also very interesting – and inspiring to see these pictures of the Walled Garden back in 2015 and just recently- what a transformation in a little over two years!

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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A small group of volunteers were in on this week’s trip to Blickling. We began the day weeding around the glorious herbaceous border that abuts the parterre on two sides.

A couple picked their way through the dense planting whilst the rest of us hoed, raked and removed the grass and other seedlings that had taken a grip amongst the gravel paths. Though the path was a bit wet in places- not helped by some blocked drains- it was generally a satisfying task, even though it took some deft fingertip sorting of the small tufts of grass from amongst the muddy shingle.

During the morning the sound of chain saws was a constant background hum. I discovered that a large oak tree just over from where we were, was in the course of being felled. Apparently ultra sound testing had confirmed internal rot, that visual observation of a tilting trunk had suggested earlier. Work on the massive tree had begun a few days before, and I learned that during this a bees nest had been disturbed and that several people had been stung by the angry bees; Assistant Head Gardener Steve included. Having been chased to the bothy in the process, Steve was attacked again by the waiting bees as he re-emerged! A brief chat with him on our way to lunch confirmed that he wasn’t feeling too bad after his ordeal. I was pleased to hear that the felled timber is to be used to create some raised beds (probably along with a whole lot else) in the Walled Garden. You can get an idea of the scale of the tree in the picture below, alongside which I’ve included a couple of shots from the double borders.

After lunch in the Walled Garden bothy,  new volunteer Tim and I gathered up some onions and put them in the glasshouse for drying, and then harvested some runner beans; Project Manager Steve offered some of these to us (a nice treat for the evening meal at home, as my own plants hadn’t been yielding many), and I finished the day by carrying over the rest to the restaurant for their use. It really is impressive how much produce is now finding it’s way into the meals prepared in the on site restaurant.

On my way back to the car I stopped off at the beginning of some of the estate walks, where a new sign had been installed that uses laser cut etching onto the surface of bare wood (see pictures below). This looks very attractive and is being considered as the way we might present the written information on each of the Trees in the gardens that will form the new Tree Trail I’ve been working on. My only concerns are that the lettering might, over time, lose it’s legibility and the surface of the bare oak plaque used for the signs might also crack with weathering. We shall no doubt look into this further to arrive at a final solution by next Spring.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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An early start at Blickling this week, and the first hour was spent harvesting some second early potatoes; variety ‘Nicola’. I don’t know these but have been told they are pretty tasty…’Charlotte’ is my favourite and I’ve just harvested a good crop in Old School Garden (I gather our neighbours enjoyed them too while we were away in Australia).

After that and reconnecting with some of the garden volunateers I missed last week, I went with them to the Parterre, which is looking splendid at present. The two Peters were continuing to paint the metal tunnel in the Walled Garden, with just the top half to do..involving painting from a platform.

The jobs in the Parterre were edging the grass and weeding. A fan of edging (it’s second to hoeing of the garden jobs  in my book), I found some reasonably sharp edging shears and managed to complete the set of four borders (new volunteer Tim had done one already) before departing home…to continue to get the home garden back to some semblance of order…

Progress is being made!


Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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It’s nearly two months since I was last at Blickling and I was wondering how the place might be looking, as it’s getting into peak visiting season.

I had lots of catching up to do, but after a few weeks with very little floral colour it was wonderful opening the garden door and coming across the double borders in all their summer glory.

It was great meeting up with the gardening team of staff and volunteers. With the other chaps I went over to the Walled Garden and was bowled over with the sight that greeted me…fabulous summer colour and every area with something growing in it, including a wide range of fruit and veg, all looking very healthy.

And whilst away the metal tunnel that runs the length of the central path (erected and welded together just before I went away) is now being painted…something the ‘two Peters’ were tasked with continuing with their tins of black ‘Hammerite’ paint. It really does add great vertical interest to the garden and will look absolutely splendid as the apples hat have been planted alongside it reach up and over to create a fabulous ‘green walk’. I also noticed a couple more new bench seats set out on the side paths which add to the scene.

Fellow volunteer Chris and I set about weeding between the rows of various vegetables (including some rather vicious globe artichokes), mainly hoeing with the occasional hand forking out of any larger plants. This was relatively easy work on a pleasantly warm and sometimes showery day…it was good to be out in the open and tackling some physical tasks once more.

Another pleasing sight was the south-west quadrant of the garden , which was the last to be cultivated. a fine sward of grass in the shape of a key hole is surrounded by vibrant floral interest and all symbolically done to represent the Indian flag, to link in with an exhibition at the House about the Marquis of Lothian’s connections to that country.

The whole scene was quite a contrast to Old School Garden,which after six weeks of letting nature do her own thing, looked rather less neat and tidy, as you might imagine. Still, after a lot of urgent attention since returning from Australia, it is starting to look rather more cared for.

As I left a little early (together with a bunch of wonderful Dahlias from the Walled Garden), to get on with the clear up at home, it was nice to hear ‘great to have you back’ from a couple of the gardening team… it was great to be back.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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Our recent Lake District break culminated in a visit to the wondeful arts and crafts house, Blackwell, on the eastern shores of Windermere. We had been here about 20 years ago, and had a memory of it as a fabulous example of the work of Scottish architect H.M. Baillee Scott..but I wasn’t prepared to be bowled over.

It was built 1898–1900, as a holiday home for Sir Edward Holt, a wealthy Manchester brewer. It is situated near the town of Bowness with views looking over Lake Windermere and across to the Coniston Fells.

Blackwell has survived with almost all its original decorative features intact, and is listed Grade 1 as an outstanding example of British domestic architecture. The house is furnished with original furniture and objects from the period. The gardens were designed by Thomas Mawson in a series of terraces, though today I suspect they are rather more simple than the original design- I was itching to see a formal herbaceous border ona the large grassed terrace that overlooks the lake! Today a few flowers and herbs border the terraces, which form sun traps on the south side of the house. Here’s a short video from the Blackwell website to give you the flavour of the place…

What is most impressive is the attention to detail to ensure a strong sense of unity from the structure and detailing of the house through to the decorations, furnishing and internal structures- several small ‘nooks’ alongside fireplaces and/or views of the surrounding landscape (with delightful stained glass) are a key feature. Here’s my own photo show of the house…

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And of the gardens…

Definitely the epitome of all that’s good about arts and crafts style, though perhaps more could be made of the outside? The house is run by the Lakeland Arts Trust, who also provide a very good cafe on site.

Further information: Blackwell website

Old School Gardener

Our second trip to a notable Lake District house and garden was Sizergh Castle, an imposing house standing proud at the gateway to the Lake District. Still lived in by the Strickland family, Sizergh has many tales to tell and certainly feels lived in, with centuries-old portraits and fine furniture sitting alongside modern family photographs. The exceptional wood panelling culminates in the Inlaid Chamber, returned here in 1999 from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

‘A true patchwork of styles, taking a stroll through the House will lead you from the base of the medieval solar tower, through the Elizabethan interiors, into the French regency-styled Drawing Room and beyond. Cherished family photos sit alongside precious antiques, linking the past with the present day. In a house full of contrasts, fine craftsmanship can be seen throughout, from the impressive collection of Gillows furniture, to the stunning Italian-designed ceilings. They all have stories to tell, not least of all the splendid Victorian dining table, which awaits your uncovering of its tales and secrets. From the Battle of Agincourt, to the fight for Malta during the Second World War, the Strickland’s involvement in over 700 years of national history can be uncovered first-hand at Sizergh. ‘

The 647-hectare (1,600-acre) estate includes limestone pasture, orchards and semi-natural woodland. Its rich and beautiful garden includes a pond, lake, a national collection of hardy ferns and a superb limestone rock garden.

Unfortunately an urgent medical need meant my visit was shortened, so some areas of the gardens I will need to return to. But I managed to meet the Head Gardener and compliment her on the quality of the planting in the herbaceous borders (with some clever twiggy supports) and the ‘square foot gardening’ in the kitchen garden. I also loved the Stumpery which shows off the ferns to great effect.

Further information: National Trust website

Old School Gardener

A week in the Lake District is always a treat, especially if you have some fine weather. On a recent trip we had a rather mixed bag, meteorologically speaking, but we had great company ( a group of ex college friends) and plenty of places to visit as well as some fell walking. Our first really wet day we spent exploring Keswick and especially the famous Derwent Pencil Museum (the home of ‘Lakeland Pencils’). At first glance this seems like a rather modest museum, but upon closer inspection- and there was plenty of that- I found it delightful. The wall-size information panels and engaging videos; especially the one telling the story of the Keswick Pencil company’s involvement in a project to create a pencil that  could be used by war time airmen not only to plot their route, but to escape enemy hands should they be shot down- it concealed a small, fine silk map of Europe and a minute compass.

Our way home took in the splendid former home of the poet Wordsworth, Rydal Mount alongside Grasmere. Though the rain continued off and on, we had an interesting look round this humble home with many interesting exhibits on the famous poet and his family. The gardens, cascading down the hill towards the lake, were also wonderful, even in damp weather. A flowing plan of mixed borders and woodland gardens seemed just right for this spot.

Further information:

Derwent Pencil Museum

Rydal Mount

Old School Gardener

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