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I have a odd but pleasing book called “Recreating the Period Garden”. It was published by the National Trust and edited by one of my favorite garden writers, the great gardener Graham Stuart Thomas, with contributions by six other distinguished English garden writers. This week’s Snippet is from the Foreword by Graham Stuart Thomas:
Many of us start gardening in a small area of ground in our parents’ garden. After this early start, apart from a certain amount of grass-cutting, hedge-clipping and the like, the pursuit of gardening remains in abeyance until we own a house with the surrounding plot of land. Then gardening starts in earnest if we are that way inclined.
The foreword goes on to muse on how many of us then progress to visiting famous gardens from which we draw a pastiche of ideas from different periods. But what I like about it is this evocation of how many of use became gardeners. I got my start in gardening helping my parents: my father with his large vegetable garden (which I hated, as most of my chores there involved weeding in the hot sun), and my mother with her planters on the deck behind our modern house. That was much more fun, as it also gave me the opportunity of having some of her time and attention, which, as a quiet middle child of three, I often craved. I always loved flowers, though, and often had pots of my own plants, indoors and out. I did enjoy the many pots of forced bulbs my father planted every fall and brought out one at a time starting in late winter and early spring.
Having enjoyed several visits in recent years to Kew, I recently bought a book called “The Plant Hunters”, by Musgrave, Gardner and Musgrave. (There are several books with that title). It is the story of several of the most legendary botanical explorers, who brought back exotic plants previously unknown in Europe and England, including many that I saw this summer in The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Fascinating!
Hundreds of thousands of us enjoy gardening and visiting famous parks and gardens. Yet few of us, as we admire the beautiful and diverse range of plants around us, stop to wonder where they come from, and fewer still think about how these plants came to be here in the first place.
How many of us, for example, know that the explorer who found over 300 rhododendron species was one of two survivors of a party attacked in a rebellious uprising and had an escape worthy of a member of the Special Forces; that the man responsible for establishing the tea industry in India single-handedly fought a gun battle with pirates while running a high fever; that the plant hunter who introduced many conifers to our landscape was gored to death by a bull; or that the discovery of the Himalayan rhododendrons resulted in a kingdom being annexed into the British Empire?
I haven’t posted here in a while because I have been traveling in the UK with my family. We visited many beautiful gardens, but one of my favorites was The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
Heligan is an old estate that once had hundreds of acres of formal, informal and tropical gardens, maintained by a staff of twenty-two. After World War I, when many of the workers did not return from the war, the estate slowly declined. The gardens were abandoned by the 1970s, while the main house was sold and divided into private apartments.
In 1990, a man named Tim Smit (who later created the Eden Project) was shown the property by one of its owners, a descendant of the Tremayne family that had owned Heligan for 400 years. The property was held in a trust for him and his sister. They hacked their way through brambles and old hedges to find the remaining original garden structures and landscaping. The work they did over decades to restore the gardens, install sculptures and make Heligan a unique destination for visitors is described in Tim Smit’s book, The Lost Gardens of Heligan. This week’s Saturday Snippet is taken from that book:
We had cut our way through dense clumps of invasive bamboo, drawn towards a perfectly formed palm that stood sentinel at the entrance to what was obviously a walled garden. John Nelson and I were on another of our explorations, venturing deeper into the gardens each time. Today we were excited; somehow we knew it was going to be a special day. You can feel these things.
Once inside, we paused for a moment. There was a sense that we were trespassing, that we had come upon a secret shrine. In the gloaming we could see dozens of trees growing thickly together, woven into a solid mass by an extremely vigorous climbing plant that covered everything like a furry blanket. We had never seen anything like this before. Under the trees we could make out shapes at once familiar and other-worldly. This was clearly the area of the garden where the real work had taken place.
I don’t own the book pictured but I plan to engage in a lot of “garden tourism” soon. We will be traveling to Devon, Cornwall and Ireland this summer! I am so excited to see these beautiful parts of the world for the first time. We will actually start in Glastonbury then work our way down the coast counterclockwise, ending up near Torquay for a family wedding. What gardens in the Southwest of England are not to be missed, in your opinion?
After the wedding, we will go to Northern Ireland and Dublin for a few days. I am excited to see the Giants’ Causeway and Trinity College, which my grandmother attended briefly many years ago. I know there will be many beautiful gardens to see in Ireland — which would you recommend? Thanks!
GRACE KELLY, PARIS IN THE SPRING TIME AND THE “WORST OF ALL DELICIOUS” WEEDS
Convallaria majalis var. rosea after the rain
On the wooden table outside our kitchen door I have a terracotta pot of the most elegant pink lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis var. rosea. The pot was given to me as a precious container of newly planted bulbs by my friend the painter, Charlotte Verity . The gift was important as it was a memento of an extraordinary year Charlotte spent as Artist in Residence at The Garden Museum in London in 2010. Here in the shadow of the ruddy castellated walls of neighbouring Lambeth Palace, Charlotte spent a year painting in Tradescant’s Garden – the knot garden created in 1981 by the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury around the important tomb of the Seventeenth Century plant hunters.
I haven’t posted Saturday Snippets in a while because of the onslaught of spring gardening “opportunities”! Here’s a short, partial rundown: dozens of Ajuga “Chocolate Chip” planted as groundcovers on a new berm alongside the patio/drainage area we had built last fall, with stones interplanted with Ajuga Metallica Crispa. At least fifteen heucherellas planted under the young Japanese maples we planted last fall in a new “grove” to replace the messy undergrowth in a small sideyard under a huge old water oak. New statue and birdbath also in place. Major pruning back of magnolia hedge in back garden, to edge of mixed shrub and perennial border. New deciduous azalea “Fragrant Star” planted and protected from curious, digging dog. Experimental planting of anemone sylvestris under old azaleas; also protected from curious, digging dog. New heucheras still in process of being planted, including two lovely Heuchera “Purple Mountain Majesty”. To be planted: “Berry Supreme” and “Frosted Violet.”
Today’s chores, in addition to the usual weeding, spraying, watering: plant in containers two new Itoh peonies, bought for half-price from local nursery: “Takara” and “Julia Rose.” Plant nine new Hosta “Blue Mouse Ears” and Japanese painted ferns (they are gorgeous together — try it!). Plant nine new Phlox “David” in sunny border. Plant second “Black Diamond” crape myrtle into pot that matches the first one’s new home. Deadhead David Austin rose “Teasing Georgia”. Spread organic tree fertilizer under recently pruned oak tree. Plant more ceratostigma plumbaginoides under established Japanese maple “Filigree”, the idea being that the leadwort’s red autumn leaves and blue flowers will complement the fall colors of the maple. Finish replanting doorstep containers with summer plants.
However, if I really get a lot done, I will likely treat myself to a field trip to see the new Chihuly exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and that will be worth all the effort!
I think Easter is my favorite holiday. It hasn’t been swamped by materialism, as Christmas often is, and it doesn’t take months or even weeks of preparation. AND it includes flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. Many of my favorite flowers, including spring bulbs, lilies of the valley, white dogwoods, pink azaleas. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer has a beautiful blessing for gardens, recalling the special place of gardens during Holy Week:
Almighty and everliving God, whose Son Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in a garden and called her to be the first witness of his Resurrection: we beseech thee to bless this humble garden wherein we have a remembrance of the mighty acts by which we have been saved; grant that all those who see it may ponder and adore the glory of the Cross and the mystery of his Resurrection and may sing with joy the victory hymn; through Jesus Christ our risen Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
But on Easter Saturday, the time between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, we should also remember that Jesus’ Passion began in a garden too, the Garden of Gethsemane. Gardens contain death and life, endings and beginnings, whatever the gardener’s or visitor’s beliefs. So whether you celebrate Easter or not, I wish you a peaceful day in a garden, wherever you may be.
Last weekend, I fulfilled my ambition of visiting Gibbs Gardens during daffodil season, when almost 30 million daffodils come into bloom on its hillsides. It was, as hoped, spectacular! And now I am the happy owner of a lovely book by Sara L. Van Beck, called Daffodils in American Gardens, 1733-1940. So today’s Saturday Snippet is taken from that book, quoting a nursery catalog and letter to customers from the now-gone Hastings Nursery:
We just wish you could see these Giants growing on the Hastings Plantation. We are growing hundreds of thousands and experimenting with about 100 different varieties. They bloom every spring and do fine in pots, boxes and bowls of water in the house during the winter and outdoors for the early spring beds, borders and lawn or garden plots. They make beautiful cut flowers. Daffodils just naturally do well in the South, whether you care for them attentively or whether you only set them out in the lawn. They are graceful and beautiful, rich in color and delightful for all flower purposes. Many friends plant our Daffodils by the thousands and come back for more and other varieties to add to the charm of their permanent home collections.