Tag Archive: parterre


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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We took a mother’s Day trip out to this super National Trust Hall and Farm in Cambridgeshire. I loved the parterre with it’s combinations of Box and Euonymous and the Folly tower with some wonderful skeletal trees…

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One block of the 'Piano Hedges'

One block of the ‘Piano Hedges’

A very hot, humid session this week at Blickling. Just as well then that Gardener Ed had something not too taxing for Aussie Pete and me to do. It involved coaxing the Yew bushes known as ‘pianos’ (due to their resemblance to grand pianos) into a bit of order.

Gardener Ed explaining his approach to 'playing the piano'...

Gardener Ed explaining his approach to ‘playing the piano’…

Ed handled the hedge clipper, while Pete and I used measuring tapes and lines to cut the turf edges that will help to guide the edges of the hedges! I his usual thorough way Ed explained how, over time, the bushes have become a bit unruly- too much ‘cutting by eye’ had resulted in a number of bumps, bulges and hollows that spoil the neat geometry. Over the past few years he has been letting some areas of the bushes grow out to the desired lines, and now they look pretty much ready to be ‘whipped into line’. It’s interesting looking at how much these bushes – and their accompanying ‘acorns’ on the parterre- have grown in the last 200 years or so. Here are some pictures taken between 80 and 100 years ago and the difference with today is quite noticeable…

Whilst the bushes will continue to grow (especially inside), the hope is that the lines now beign established can be maintained. Even so, it was interesting to see how much Pete and I had to cut back the turf edges to accommodate them- 2-3 inches in places. As I say, it was relatively easy work with lines and half moons, but even so the high humidity made it rather sapping work. Still we were rewarded with an ice cream from Ed at the end of the session.

The rest of the gardens in this area are looking grand, and I also made a quick trip over to the walled garden to see how it was looking (Project Manager Mike wasn’t around today). The other garden volunteers were busy weeding around the edges fo the parterre and Rob and Becca were raising the crown on a Lime tree near the Temple- complete with hydraulic lift. The result has certainly opened up the area and enabled some shaded shrubs and trees to benefit from more light.

Before the session I’d emailed Head Gardener Paul a layout plan and list of trees for possible inclusion in the Tree Trail project I’ve mentioned before. This is coming together nicely, with between 20 and 30 trees in the trail. Once firmed up we can start to sort out the information to go on the sign boards at each specimen, as well as leaflets, childrens’ activities etc.

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As I may have mentioned before, the gardening team is a wonderful group of people, with many an amusing tale to tell. Ed’s contribution today concerns the ‘human sundial’ set out in the parterre (see picture below). Apparently he confronted a bemused gentleman walking around this one dull day. The man complained that the sundial wasn’t working- ‘It’s overcast’ said Ed. The man was puzzled and disappointed he couldn’t get the dial to work- ‘You should put a sign up explaining that it only works when the sun is out’, he said. Hmm, maybe a case for introducing an artificial sun on dull days?!

The 'Human Sundial'- it seems a little too complicated for some people...

The ‘Human Sundial’- it seems a little too complicated for some people…

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

WP_20160525_12_17_11_ProOn a recent trip to Devon, we stopped off en route to visit this Neo Gothic ‘pile’ in Somerset, former home of the Gibbs family, who made a ‘pile’ of their own, trading in a rather large ‘pile’ of Guano, or South American bird excrement, favoured for its value as a fertiliser in 19th century Britain.

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Making our way from the impressively equipped visitor reception and restaurant we passed by a delightful formal parterre garden set some way away from the house, and then toured this amazing mansion, with its glorious colourful decor and richly carved woodwork. Much of the house is in need of renovation, but the National Trust has made great progress in restoring some of the most important rooms.

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‘… An ordinary man with an extraordinary fortune, a man of vast riches but simple pleasures. Antony was the second generation of the Gibbs family to live at Tyntesfield. He epitomised the Victorian age, fascinated by art, technology and travel….After buying Tyntes Place for his growing family in 1843, William Gibbs went about making it his own. He remodelled the exterior of the simple regency house into the Gothic extravaganza we see today….Four generations of family life, a love of beautiful things and the accumulation of useful bits and bobs made Tyntesfield a treasure trove of objects. Almost  60,000 objects have been catalogued including everything from priceless paintings and ornate furnishings to ice skates and picnic sets. It is the largest recorded collection owned by the National Trust and tells the story of a wealthy family’s life over four generations….’

From here we made our way through some lovely formal gardens near to the house and then to the Walled Garden, where some gardener must have been a little the worst for wear when he/she planted the lettuces…

WP_20160525_13_32_54_ProSeriously, this series of wobbly lines was done as a bit of light relief in what might otherwise be the normal regimented lines of fruit and veg; I loved it.

And the rest of the garden was interesting, too, though I thought it lacked some variations in height to give it structure.nearby was a rather nice play area with lots of carved and country-themed play features; I especially liked the large slug (which doubles as a nice seat).

There was also a stall selling fresh veg and bulbs so I spent a little on buying some orange Tulips for next year…now where have I put them?

Further information: National Trust website

Old School Gardener

 

Crocuses looking good in the sun under the Oriental Plane Trees

Crocuses looking good in the sun under the Oriental Plane Trees

I had to change my day at Blickling this week, so was working alongside the Wednesday volunteers, some of whom have been in the gardens for over 10 years, and some, like me, have been inspired more recently by the project to regenerate the Walled Garden.

Our focus was the parterre. Gardener Ed gave us a quick course in rose pruning and we set off around the edges of four main beds.

Previous sessions had replaced the aging Catmint (Nepeta) which runs along side the rose beds. These contain a mixture of floribunda types, several of which are quite old and have lost their vigour…hmm, know what they feel like?

We made good progress, and by the end of the day we had pruned the roses, replaced about 50 old, weak specimens, watered them in (in bucket fulls of water taken from the central fountain) and I hoed over a quarter of the beds to finish off.

I gather from Project Manager Mike, that the fruit trees have arrived, so it could be that next week we’ll be focussed on planting them in the walled garden I’m also taking over my Garden Design group to do a practical session on transferring designs onto the ground.

The end of a sunny spring day..

The end of a sunny spring day..

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

 

WP_20150810_13_00_34_ProOn my latest trip to Portugal, I was thinking there must be another classic garden to visit in the mountain hideaway of Sintra. But having checked, it seems I’ve been to all of them, and if you’re interested you can see them in my series ‘Portuguese Gardens’.

But there remained a lingering doubt (or was it hope?), that there must be an historic garden somewhere close. Looking at the Lisbon map, and planning our days out, it stood out in that large green lung that is the Monsanto Park: the Palace of the Marquesas Fronteira.

This classic house, originally built in 1670 as a hunting lodge in what was then the rolling, wooded hills of northern Lisbon, is still lived in by the current Marquis and his family, so the house is only partly open to visitors (via a very informative 45 minute guided tour). Today, the views are of the sprawling Lisbon suburb of Benfica, including the red-arched Estadio da Luz, home to that famous football team of the district. About 100 years after its inception, after the infamous Lisbon earthquake had destroyed his main home, the then Marquis decided to extend his hunting lodge and make this palace home.

WP_20150810_12_52_39_ProAfter being asked if we’re mind waiting for a later house tour (to enable the rest of the party to benefit from the French version), I had a little wander into this compact, but interest-filled garden. And I went round again after hearing about and seeing some sumptuous interiors.

The centre-piece, especially as viewed from the upstairs rooms of the house as well as the high terrace overlooking the formal pool, is a rather intricate box parterre, where the shapes are closely edged, leaving what seems to be an impossibly narrow gap between the bushes: still the gardener seems to manage somehow.

This impressive feature was only partly filled with a selection of roses, and though traditional, I find the combination of close-clipped box and rather more unruly roses not as satisfying as when the enclosed beds contain slightly shorter plants that themselves have a rather more symmetrical form, e.g. lavender or perhaps catmint.

The elevated terrace with its display of sculptures of Portuguese kings surrounded by metallic-glazed tiles, is also very satisfying to walk along and gaze from, including downwards to a well-stocked carp and goldfish pool, with a lone, and rather aggressive black swan! I could picture this pool being the centre of 18th century fun and games, with rowing boats taking important guests from one little grotto to another, deftly avoiding the fountains of water (which today at least, were not in operation).

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Nearby is a rather more naturalistic garden with tall trees and what must be at other times beautiful borders of hydrangea and agapanthus (I took the opportunity of gathering some seed heads of the latter). The walls of this area and indeed the rest of the garden, are beautifully tiled with traditional, if rather simply designed tiles, or azulejos, plus a vivid blue paint, the latter beautifully setting off fresh green foliage.

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There is also a rather lovely terrace with immediate access to and from the first floor of the palace, with another impressive array of classically-inspired sculpture, leading to another large grotto, this one covered inside with the broken pieces of crockery and other shattered ceramics, apparently some coming from the plates used at the Palace’s inauguration, and smashed to commemorate the event!

Similar in style to other Portuguese palaces and gardens of the time, Fronteira is nonetheless well worth a trip, especially for the way our guide brought it to life.

Further information:

Fronteira Palace website

Gardens and Landscapes of Portugal

Old School Gardener

WP_20150714_10_41_49_ProThe volunteers and staff at Blickling had a fabulous day out recently, visiting two nearby gardens not normally open to the public. Our first visit was to the medieval manor of Oxnead Hall.

Wikipedia says:

‘Oxnead is a lost settlement in Norfolk, England, roughly three miles south-east of Aylsham. It now consists mostly of St Michael’s Church and Oxnead Hall. It was the principal residence of the Paston family from 1597 until the death of William paston, 2nd Earl of Yarmouth in 1732. Under Sir William Paston (1610–1663), Oxnead was the site of several works by the architect and sculptor, Nicholas Stone, master-mason to Kings James I and Charles I…

The house was originally built for Sir Clement around 1580 but was remodelled by Nicholas Stone, for Sir William Paston, between 1631 and 1632. At its zenith, the house had seventy-nine rooms but under the Earls of Yarmouth it declined until by 1744 it was described as ruinous….

Nothing remains of the garden statuary installed by Nicholas Stone, though his Hercules, originally from Oxnead, can be seen in the Orangery at Blickling Hall. Blickling, in its parterre, also has a sixteenth or early seventeenth century fountain, consisting of a basin on a base, bought from Oxnead in 1732.’

The gardens here are extensive, with some lovely changes in level as they tip towards the River Bure. A recent occupant ws also something of an enthusiast for garden features; he added a ‘folly’ near the river and one or two other garden buildings broadly in keeping with the overall style. He also added a rather grand extension which, whilst in keeping with the roginal building, did not have planning permission, so is not occupied. The gardens are formally laid out near to the house, with agrand parterre of box and simple landscaping of the ruins of the old Hall, which have been left exposed and which in one or two cases, have been graced with further statuary.

I particularly liked the water gardens which weave among the River and give lovely views to the Hall and the rest of the gardens. the Head Gardener here (a former Blickling gardener), is making steady progress in restoring the grounds to their historic pattern, including a walled kitchen garden.

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To end the trip we all enjoyed some coffee and cakes prepared by the Gardener’s wife. Though impressive and well looked after, Oxnead’s gardens by and large lacked floral or other planting interest to suit my own taste in gardens, which leans towards the arts and crafts tradition where planting design and variety takes a more central role.

WP_20150714_11_39_31_ProOur second visit of the day was to prove right up my  alley…

Read more in a day or two’s time!

Old School Gardener

WP_20150625_14_59_03_ProAnother two week break from Blickling, and this week’s session was hot, hot, hot!

Shorts (well, nearly), were the order of the day along with my new National Trust polo shirt. I joined the other volunteers in the Orangery Garden initially, weeding among the Hellebores and ferns, an area I’d helped tackle earlier in the season, but which now was awash with Foxglove seedlings.

Quite satisfying working in the shade and after a good shower of rain a few days before, working my border fork around the plants and leaving the odd seedling where there was an obvious gap. The ladies and I managed to clear one of the island beds just before lunch, and a couple of us then went over with gardener Rob to the Double Borders to continue filling gaps with Dahlia tubers, some not looking up to much, but we shall see…

The Parterre looking neat and with early hints at the colour to come...

The Parterre looking neat and with early hints at the colour to come…

These borders, typical of many British gardens at this time of year, have completed the first spring rush of fresh foliage and flower colour and are giving way to the clipped forms of shrubs and the more subtle colouring and tones that presage a  later summer riot of colour, which I look forward to seeing. To add a further bit of interest, there’s also currently a sculpture display in the gardens, featuring some lovely stained glass and various shells.

The garden team have obviously been busy in recent weeks filling the gaps left by the spring bulbs with a host of annuals, all looking ready to romp away. The plant that yielded most visitor interest while we were planting was the Beetroot (‘Bulls blood’) which had been cleverly grouped at the front of the borders and gives a really vibrant splash of red when the other colours around at this time are more muted. Well, we finished our planting task in good time as the warmth of the day reached its peak…

Beetroot 'Bull's Blood' causing a stir in the Double Borders

Beetroot ‘Bull’s Blood’ causing a stir in the Double Borders

And later I came along for another ‘roasting’- a most enjoyable ‘Hog Roast’ put on by the Trust as a ‘thank you’ for staff and volunteers. I had a good chat with Head Gardener, Paul and a couple of other volunteers, one who acts as a room guide in the House, the other as a guide in the R.A.F. Oulton Museum on site. There was a Jazz band and the food was scrummy too. 

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

 

WP_20150521_15_40_07_Pro I think it must be three weeks since I was last at Blickling. I got a chance to look around at the end of my working session and there were several highlights I hadn’t seen before, most notably the Azaleas round the Temple, the wall-trained Wisterias, the masses of Forget-me-Nots and Honesty in the Dell and some of the colour combinations in the double borders; especially the Tulip ‘Queen of Night’ and the black foliage of Mongo Grass and Black Elders.

My fellow volunteers were bit thin on the ground this week, and the gardening team pretty much seemed to be tied up in interviews all day, so we were left to our own devices! But the task was simple, weeding in the rose borders in the main Parterres. I went to work with my hoe (I really enjoy this task) and though the borders were pretty clear, there were a few odd weeds (including patches of Oxalis which the other volunteers dug up) and some edging of the grass to be done.

The session was punctuated with chats to vistors who were very complimentary about the gardens. One couple from Bury St. Edmunds envied us the light soil we have in this area- they have to tackle thick clay.

Head Gardener Paul informed us that the National Trust Gardens advisor had recently visited and was full of praise for the gardens and what the whole team had achieved; that was good to hear.

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Work in the Walled Garden has continued with the hard core for the main paths being laid and consolidated. The next job is installing 800 metres of metal edging- I don’t envy the Team that job!

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

 

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