Category: Heritage Gardens & gardening


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

Our second recent Devon garden trip was to the beautifully located Overbecks- a house full of curiosity and a garden of sub tropical exoticism. The house itself is perhaps nothing special , but it contains a panoply of collected items and interesting artefacts accumulated by the original owner, a German inventor called Otto Beck. A room of dolls houses (witha lowered door opening to make the point that this is a room for youngsters), and dispays of bird eggs, stuffed anumials rocks and so on, make this a house of wonder.

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The gardens- another example of a Devon valley being used to great effect in creating a sub tropical microclimate- is wonderful, with a winding path taking you around the wide range of interesting plants , and the occasional view across Salcombe Bay. It was a sunny day and we had a delicious meal on the terrace.

Further information: National Trust website

Old School Gardener

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On a recent trip to Devon we revisited a couple of favourite National Trust properties on the south coast. The first, Coleton Fishacre, is an arts and crafts house and garden originally owned by the D’Oyly Cart family of ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’ musical fame. The house, built in the 1920’s, is furnished in period style and provided an interesting example of a homely scale house, in contrast to so many huge ‘vanity projects’ of the pre First World War age.

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But even more impressive is the garden with its typical valley microclimate providing the opportunity to grow some rather exotic species. I was especially impressed with the borders near to house with the array of Echiums in full flower and a splendid alpine raised bed. The wider estate is a rich mix of trees and shrubs with some wonderful views towards the sea. Well worth a visit.

Further information: National Trust website

 

This year marks the bicentenary of the birth of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, renowned plant hunter, naturalist, botanist and Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. On a recent visit to his home town of Halesworth, Suffolk, I discovered a modern day band of enthusiastic gardeners who are planning a big celebration of their famous ancestor.

Joseph Dalton Hooker as a young man

You may know that one of my voluntary activities is as a judge for the Green Flag Award- the bench mark for good public parks and gardens around the U.K. and beyond. I was honoured to be asked to visit Halesworth Town park recently a small public park in the centre of this old Suffolk Market town, jointly in the care of the local Council and ‘Halesworth in Bloom’, a group of volunteers who have spearheaded many improvements and projects to make the park and wider town a place of horticultural excellence.

During my visit i was shown round the Park and had the chance to learn more about the voluntary effort being put into this very impressive public park, and was also very pleased to see the energy and skills being put into marking Joseph Hooker’s bicentenary; this includes some special plantings in the Park with Hooker associations and a trail around the town and park featuring places, plants and other Hooker associations. The following text is unashamedly lifted from very informative Trail Leaflet produced and which will be launched in the town on 30th June, Hooker’s birthday.

Nepenthes x hookerianum- illustration by Anna Lu to be shown at the forthcoming botanical art exhibition in Halesworth

‘Joseph started attending his father’s botany lectures at Glasgow University at the age of seven! This stood him in good stead when he came to identify and record thousands of both new and known plants. To go on his first voyage of exploration circumnavigating the Antarctic he had to qualify as a medical doctor. He was also an accomplished amateur geologist, a geographer, meteorologist and cartographer, as well as a botanist. He was a skilled writer, artist and botanical illustrator, recording everything in his fascinating journals. He was able to measure and record air pressure, humidity and altitude, and to estimate the heights of mountains so accurately that his mapping of the Himalayas is the basis for all modern maps of the area.

An illustration from Hooker’s ‘Botany of the Antarctic Voyage’

He travelled on foot, sometimes barefoot when it was slippery. In India and Sikkim he travelled by elephant, pony and boat. He endured many biting insects and leeches, and braved man-eating tigers and crocodiles, as well as suffering altitude sickness. As is evident from his Himalayan Journals, he needed to be an intrepid walker and climber.

‘I staid at 13000ft very much on purpose to collect there seeds of the Rhododendrons & with cold fingers it was not very easy…. Botanizing, during the march is difficult. Sometimes the jungle is so dense that you have enough to do to keep hat & spectacles in company, or it is precipitous …. one often progresses spread- eagle fashion against the cliff, for some distance, & crosses narrow planks over profound Abysses, with no hand-hold whatever.’

His collection of thousands of plants, now carefully preserved at Kew, together with his studies of plant distribution linked to altitude, climate and isolation on the many islands he visited, was of significant importance to Darwin, with whom he corresponded regularly.

Rhododendron argenteum

Joseph Hooker, although he was eight years younger, was a close friend of Charles Darwin. They had met fleetingly when Hooker was 21 and was preparing for a long expedition on HMS Erebus as assistant surgeon. When Hooker returned in 1843, Darwin wrote welcoming him back, urging him to compare the flora of the different regions he had visited. Hooker drafted a paper showing the striking similarities in the plants across the whole of the Southern Hemisphere. This was a long time before continental drift had been mooted. Darwin was impressed. So began a close friendship, with Hooker helping Darwin with his botanical collection. As Hooker was preparing for his expedition to the Himalayas in 1847, Darwin wrote:

‘Farewell! What a good thing is community of tastes! I feel as if I had known you for fifty years….’

Hooker knew that Darwin had spent many years collecting material in support of his theory of natural selection, and that Darwin had been devastated when he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858 coming up with the same idea. Hooker and Thomas Henry Huxley persuaded Darwin to publish a paper alongside Wallace’s setting out the theory. That done, Darwin rapidly finished On the Origin of Species, which he had been preparing for so many years. It was printed the following year.  Their friendship ranged from science to domestic matters. In 1862 Hooker wrote to Darwin asking if his wife could recommend a good cook but she must be beyond the ‘the age of flirtation’. Darwin noted what a pity it was that natural selection had not produced ‘neuters’ who would neither flirt nor marry. After Darwin’s death in 1882, Hooker successfully lobbied for Darwin to be buried in Westminster Abbey and was one of the pall bearers at the funeral.

Joseph Dalton Hooker in later years

William and Joseph Hooker (father and son) were Directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew – William from 1840 to 1865 and Joseph from 1865 to 1885, nearly half a century between them. They were both keen plant collectors and highly accomplished artists. From 1806 to 1820 the family lived in Halesworth, where Joseph was born in 1817.

Sir William Jackson Hooker was originally from Norwich and came to Halesworth in 1806 when he had invested in a Halesworth brewing business. He was given a house here and a management position. There are still imposing maltings in the town such as those that now house The Cut and Kings Motors. The Cut Arts Centre retains the barley hopper in the Malt Room Art Gallery. William’s maltings remained in operation until the 1960s. However, he never had his heart in this enterprise and preferred to roam the countryside in search of wild flowers or, nearer to home, to cultivate orchids in his own hot-house. It was the age of the amateur naturalist and collector, and William and later his son Joseph were among the greatest in this country.

Sir William was able to become Professor of Botany in the University of Glasgow without any scientific qualifications because of his specialist knowledge picked up in the field and his published work.

At the University he was paid to give lectures to those studying medicine because most remedies were plant based. He built up a high reputation, producing many important illustrated reference books. As a result he was made the first Director of the Botanic Gardens at Kew. As Director, William increased the size of the Gardens to 300 acres and set up a library, a Museum of Economic Botany and a herbarium, as well as the remarkable Palm and Temperate Houses.

The Palm House, Kew

He used his links with the royal family to good effect and raised significant funding to develop the Botanic Gardens at Kew. Both he and Joseph were outstanding networkers who knew everyone important and used these contacts effectively to leverage what they wanted in the interests of botany and the Botanic Gardens. They also encouraged many other important plant collectors and William, with wealthy patronage, established a superb Arboretum. William’s only regret was probably not being able to travel more. His early expedition to Iceland was his only major scientific journey. He encouraged his son, Joseph Dalton Hooker, who went as assistant surgeon and botanist on a four-year expedition circumnavigating the South Pole and visiting New Zealand and Tasmania. To be accepted for the voyage Joseph had to get a medical degree.

Later, he collected in India, the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet, Morocco, the Atlas Mountains, Palestine and Syria, as well as undertaking an 8,000 mile journey across the USA. In the Himalayas he climbed Donkia mountain, which at 19,300 ft was the highest that anyone had ever reached at that time. On his travels he collected 25 new species of rhododendron, many magnolias, including Magnolia campbellii, and thousands of other specimens.

Rhododendrons at Heligan, Cornwall, grown from seed provided from Hooker’s travels

Joseph’s 150-year-old plant collection is currently helping in the reintroduction of original species to the Falkland Islands. The Hookers’ collections (Herbaria) consist of many thousands of plants at Kew and are highly prized.

As well as succeeding his father as Director of Kew Gardens, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker was awarded the Order of Merit, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India, Companion of the Order of the Bath and the Presidency of the Royal Society. In 1858 George Bentham published his Handbook of the British Flora while working with Hooker at Kew. When Bentham died he left the Flora to Hooker, who edited the later editions. These, known as ‘Bentham and Hooker’, were used by university students for the next hundred years.’

2011 stamp issue to mark the 100th anniversary of Hooker’s death

Plants in Halesworth associated with Hooker:

  • Allium hookeri – small white allium

  • Crinodendron hookerianum – Chile lantern tree, evergreen climbing shrub

  • Deutzia hookeriana – scented shrub with white and pink flowers

  • Himalayacalamus hookerianus – blue bamboo

  • Inula hookeri – yellow daisy-like perennial

  • Iris hookeri – small blue iris

  • Polygonatum hookeri – creeping alpine with pink flowers

  • Rhododendrons (Sikkim) – Hooker was influential in starting the Victorians’ rhododendron mania by bringing back over 25 species

  • Salix hookeri – dune willow

  • Sarcococca hookeriana – sweet scented winter box

If you’re able to visit Halesworth on 30th June you are in for a horticultural treat as the Hooker Trail is launched. There’s also going to be a special exhibition of botanical art (from 1st July). For that matter, I’d recommend visiting the town at any time as it’s a wonderful example of local people playing a hands on role in creating a vibrant and beautiful community.

Hooker’s grave in the churchyard of St. Anne’s, Kew

Further information:

Joseph Dalton Hooker

Halesworth Exhibition of Botanical Art

The Hooker bicentenery in Halesworth

Halesworth in Bloom- the Hooker Trail

Old School Gardener

 

The Old Vicarage Garden at East Ruston is a particular favourite of mine, and one I take students to as it beautifully demonstrates a lot of key design principles and ideas. It also has a wonderful vibrancy and variety, including a dry river bed garden and other areas designed with a particular style. The owners are very knowledgeable plantsmen and come up with some delightful combinations.

It also has a very strong structure, largely created by the lines of hedging that the owners have planted as shelter belts; given it’s proximity to the North Sea coast. Though the overall style is ‘modern arts and crafts’, in keeping with the house, the hedges create a series of garden rooms with their own micro climates and connecting pathways, where a range of different garden styles have been successfully introduced. It’s located between North Walsham and Stalham in Norfolk, and well worth a half day if not a full day visit. I hope you enjoy the pics I took on a recent visit with our friends Jen and Dave…

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Further information: East Ruston website

Old School Gardener

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Having thought I’d done my last stint at Blickling for a while, I was pleasantly surprised to be released from Jury Service for a couple of days, which meant I could pop along for a sunny morning.

It was a relatively easy-going few hours. I started by joining Project Manager Mike in pruning the cordon gooseberries being grown in the Walled Garden. They have come on well since planting last year and now needed side shoots trimming back and suckers removed along with a leader being tied in to continue to gain height before they are fully ready to fruit- I guess this will be next season.

Rory was already at work weeding over the neatly planted lettuce rows and he soon joined me as Mike went off to a meeting. We were soon joined by the two Peters who set to hoeing around the metal edges to remove the weeds in the beds and along the path edges. We exchange a few bits of news, including my frustrating few days waiting to be called to be a juror.

Mike had asked me to go round all the cordons and espaliers to check if their leaders needed tying in, and so it was another relatively light task- and one I really enjoy- to finish off by lunchtime…as I had to get over to the local church to cut the grass in the afternoon before the forecast rain descended. I was pleased to see that the metal arches along the main central path had all been welded into place, and Mike told me that he was waiting for the natural ‘bloom’ on the metal to fade before the job of painting this can be started.

As the other volunteers were weeding over in the Orangery  Garden I didn’t get to see them, but if they’re reading this I hope you’re all well and enjoying the sun! As I’m writing this I can now say that I’ve begun active jury service and have a very interesting case to ponder. This and holidays will probably mean that there’ll be no more Blickling for a few weeks…

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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