Category Archives: Garden travel and tours

Museum Quality Gardens

A interesting garden typology which seems to be given more attention in recent times is the museum garden, such as the garden at Giverny ‘The Museum of Impressions’. The garden museum was conceived to give visitors an experience of the Seine valley on the impressionists trail and to complement the art gallery experience of viewing impressionist paintings. The museum building is described as “topped by roofs landscaped in heather…inscribed into the natural slope of the land, allowing the minimum of opague walls.”

For the garden traditionalist there is the Musee Rodin in Paris which captures something of the atmosphere of the outdoors indoors and has a an inspiring sculpture garden.

Perhaps an even more interesting possibility with this trend is the potential for the museum-in-the-garden. The museum of life and science in North Carolina demonstrates the potential of the museum outdoors.

Where better to experience and learn about art, physics and the natural world?

The view that changed the world and its gardens: what Petrarch saw from Mount Ventoux

View from the summit of Mount Ventoux

View from the summit of Mount Ventoux

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), known Petrarch is said to be the first man since antiquity to have climbed a mountain for pleasure alone. His ascent of Mount Ventoux, on April 26 1336, is described in his letter, below, and the view is shown in the photograph above (image courtesy Mark Madsen). The results of this famous climb include (1) humanism (2) renaissance literature and science (3) a re-birth of mimesis as the dominant theory of art and as a zest to ‘imitate nature’ (4) the change from inward-looking medieval gardens to outward-looming renaissance, baroque and romantic gardens (5) the tourist industry – Petrarch is known as the first tourist, in the sense of a man who travels for the pleasure of study, learning and views.
“To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which is not improperly called Ventosum [Mount Ventoux]. My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer. I have had the expedition in mind for many years; for, as you know, I have lived in this region from infancy, having been cast here by that fate which determines the affairs of men. Consequently the mountain, which is visible from a great distance, was ever before my eyes, and I conceived the plan of some time doing what I have at last accomplished to-day. The idea took hold upon me with especial force when, in re-reading Livy’s History of Rome, yesterday, I happened upon the place where Philip of Macedon, the same who waged war against the Romans, ascended Mount Haemus in Thessaly, from whose summit he was able, it is said, to see two seas, the Adriatic and the Euxine…. At first, owing to the unaccustomed quality of the air and the effect of the great sweep of view spread out before me, I stood like one dazed. I beheld the clouds under our feet, and what I had read of Athos and Olympus seemed less incredible as I myself witnessed the same things from a mountain of less fame. I turned my eyes toward Italy, whither my heart most inclined. The Alps, rugged and snow-capped, seemed to rise close by, although they were really at a great distance; the very same Alps through which that fierce enemy of the Roman name once made his way, bursting the rocks, if we may believe the report, by the application of vinegar. I sighed, I must confess, for the skies of Italy, which I beheld rather with my mind than with my eyes. An inexpressible longing came over rne to see once more my friend and my country.
Happy the man who is skilled to understand
Nature’s hid causes; who beneath his feet
All terrors casts, and death’s relentless doom,
And the loud roar of greedy Acheron.

PS apologies for using the hackneyed ‘changed the world’ header for this post.

Sericourt – A Garden for Remembrance Sunday

The Yew Army at Sericourt

The Yew Army at Sericourt


The title of Yve Gosse de Gorre’s book about his Jardin de Sericourt translates as ‘Wisdom and Folly in the Garden’. The garden lives up to the name and is filled with deep thinking leavened with humour.

Like Jencks’ Garden of Cosmic Speculation it is concerned with the meaning behind the form, but less about the nature of nature, and more about the nature of man.

In the classic French manner there is much use of box and topiary, but not only to provide the framework of the garden as you might traditionally expect – here the evergreen sculptures provide the form, the content, the rythmn and the meaning of the garden. There is one early ‘mixed border a l’anglaise’ created in the 1980’s, but after that the garden is an intricate grid of pathways and allees, rooms and vistas, all exploring a concept, and all inviting intervention and interpretation by the viewer. Charles Jencks garden was criticised last year for having become a ‘monologue’ instead of a ‘dialogue’, but Yve Gosse does not speak so much as open the pages of his book for the viewer to make up his own mind.

 

The Council of War at Sericourt

The Council of War at Sericourt

The Council of War – monumental, menacing or amusing?


The Millenium

The Millenium Cross




Please visit the Jardin Plume before it becomes over copied


the Bassin Mirroir and Orchard at the Jardin Plume

the Bassin Mirroir and Orchard at the Jardin Plume

I vividly remember my sense of injustice and disappointment when a university tutor dismissed the French Romantic poetry I was raving about as ‘cliché’. I had only just met it, and I thought it was wonderful. Please then, go to see this wonderful garden before it becomes cribbed, copied, and eventually clichéd. It is so new and so original, yet the formula is old, because this garden takes the best principles of the past and applies them in a strikingly modern way.

Sylvie and Patrick Quibel are hortics who built the garden to promote their nursery. Now the nursery funds the garden, and the garden has been voted Garden of the Year by Those That Know.

It is on flat ground in the middle of farm land in Normandy, a climate similar to ours in England, so plenty of scope for copying. The Quibels based the design on the principles used at Vaux le Vicomte by Le Notre (a design so successful that the Sun King jealously imprisoned the owner, stole the chateau, and got the designer to do him Versailles). There are grand allées, formal hedging and tightly clipped parterres. The house is raised above the land, and extra land is ‘borrowed’ by carrying the eye seamlessly into countryside beyond. There is a potager as purely ornamental as Marie Antoinette’s, a pool to reflect the heavens, and secluded spots for indulgent reverie. So far so déjà vue, but what makes the garden modern is the way all this is done.

The raising of the house is by one sole brick step, and that is the only new hard landscaping to be seen. The allées are wide paths in an orchard, mown between geometric squares filled with tall grasses and colourful perennials. Thus French formality is wittily contrasted with the billowing grasses which play so well to the wind swept site .The Quibels saw them as undulating and continued the metaphor by clipping the formal hedges into waves.

The parterre in front of the house is filled with the Summer garden – a jumble of hot colours and tall shapes including over 8 different types of Helenium – on close inspection each bed of the parterre has a side missing, ‘to let in the air’. This looks out onto the orchard, and beneath an enormous apple tree, the reflection pool, which is a simple square cut in place of one of the grass cubes in the orchard.

There are traditional box balls in the Spring garden, but there are over twenty of them, of varying sizes and interplanted with mainly whites such as hellebore and solomon’s seal, astrantia and pulmonaria, all brought alive with the lightest scattering of Molinia ‘Fontane’ dancing above.

The Autumn garden is hidden behind hedges on the west side of the house, and Patrick describes how they built the arbour as this is the best spot to enjoy an evening aperitif. In front of the arbour an enormous ‘table’ of box separates the diners from the crowd of ‘vivaces’, a brightly coloured jostling jungle of perennials, with annuals and grasses, mostly over six foot tall. The Quibels site Dixter as an influence, and like Christopher Lloyd and Fergus Garrett they plant in associations. They will try out groupings in situ until they are happy with a combination, when they repeat it again and again, so that the result is harmonious, whilst looking natural. In the spring everything is cut to the ground, weeds removed and, like Dixter, self-seeders scrutinised and allowed tenancy where they enhance the original planting.

The arbour and box 'table' in the Autumn garden at Jardin Plume

The arbour and box 'table' in the Autumn garden at Jardin Plume

As nurserymen the Quibels were influenced by Priona in Holland, and they propagate a huge range of new perennial style plants such as Aster, Cimicifuga, Veronicastrum, Circium, Epilobium Sanguisorbas and Thalictrums and wonderful grasses including their own self seeded Miscanthus ‘saturnia’, a luminous white flowering possible love child of Miscanthus ‘Silver feather’ which is similar but heavier.

It is this mixture of formal and natural, control and laissée faire, old fashioned structure and twenty-first century planting that makes this garden special. It is a very sensual garden, crammed full of colours, scents and movement, and the French are very sensual about their plants. Nursery catalogues talk of finding the plants that have ‘seduced’ you in the gardens, and to overhear the eager replies to Patrick’s question ‘Do you want it?’ (vous le voulez?) in the nursery, you can see why.

The Quibels will be speaking at the Garden Museum on October 20th www.gardenmuseum.org.uk To visit the garden see www.lejardinplume.com

Patrick Quibel in le Jardin Plume

Patrick Quibel in le Jardin Plume





The sky's the limit

vauxhall-sky-garden-3

Vauxhall Sky gardens: http://www.amintaha.co.uk/

As garden-in-architecture skygardens are new to the urban design agenda. I suppose what we are talking about here when considering the introduction of skygardens into the garden and architecture typology is a form of greenhouse or biodome in the sky. Vauxhaull it would appear is a semi-private garden akin to the penthouse suite or the executive boardroom. While Fenchurch Street seems to promote public thoroughfare and viewing…even though it is not a podium space but rather akin to  garden- as- observation- deck.

Other projects are shown on http://www.greenroofs.com/blog/.  and http://marquetteturner.wordpress.com/2008/07/04/the-urban-jungle-how-architects-are-helping-city-dwellers-get-back-to-nature/ but it will be even more interesting as the type gains popularity and skygardens become a more developed typology….

20 Fenchurch street: http://www.capitalcommitment.co.uk/site/portf.ec3.20fenchurchstreet.off.aspx

pic__portf_20_fenchurch_st


Can we trust The National Trust?

When planning a visit to gardens managed by the National Trust, one checks opening times, days/months, and in my case whether dogs are allowed. Lately, though, I have realised there are more things to confirm before a sometimes vast journey is met by disappointment.

 

A large part of the experience of a garden/landscape is visual, so are we missing out if we cannot take good photographic images or view ‘scenes’ we expected to due to the mismanagement of landscapes?

 

My displeasure with The NT was prompted by recent visits to two iconic landscapes, and their less than satisfactory responses after I contacted them with my concerns. It would seem the NT has lost its focus and is swamped by policy documents etc and cant concentrate on little maintenance operations. I think this might be because it has become a huge organisation and is too preoccupied with creating strategies for the future and not concentrating on keeping present ‘customers’ happy. It is managing visitors’ experiences now and encouraging repeat visits which will keep these landscapes alive, without visitors there is little point in future management strategies. Customer satisfaction must be the priority and customer satisfaction is, admittedly, a complicated issue but it must rest on the unique experiential qualities of each individual landscape.

 

The two landscapes I will comment on are Studley Royal and Claremont. At both of these I encountered the same problem of obscured viewpoints. Both of these landscapes contain topographical high points that were utilised as positions from which to overlook the landscape below/beyond. Currently many of these viewpoints are obscured by undergrowth, and in some cases large trees. Most disappointingly is at Claremont where there is a viewpoint indicated on the map shown on the leaflet (more on this leaflet later!) and when one climbs up to where there should be the best view over these iconic grass terraces (the view shown in all images of this landscape) we see only large shrubs and trees in our way. NT do plan to clear it in the future, but apparently it is not a priority because ’not many people use this path’.

 

As for the leaflet; I was not impressed by the leaflet given to me upon entrance because of the amateur looking drawings of insects and creatures on it. Upon further investigation I became quite disheartened by its contents. The bias towards environmental concerns in this landscape was beyond logic. I thought I had come to a landscape famous for having a number of England’s most famous historical Landscape Architects/Garden Designers work on it, not to a landscape legendary for being where dragonflies flourish. I have nothing against environmental issues and in fact believe quite obviously that the designed landscape and the natural landscape should exist in unison. But let’s get our priorities right here, what is most important about this landscape, what is it special characteristic? If these dragonflies can only be found in this landscape, then fair enough they do deserve a mention, but this leaflet contained one small section on the designers (each of whom have had volumes and volumes of words published about them) and the rest of the leaflet was about bugs and insects etc.

 

At Studley Royal (which incidentally is a World Heritage Site) I looked forward to seeing the famous Moon Ponds. The photo below shows what I found. When I asked what the NT are doing about green algae I got a very informative response explaining the difficulties in maintaining these pools as they were not designed that well. I sympathised with this and was interested to read further that there is a future £1m redevelopment proposed that ought to alleviate ‘some’ of the green algae problem. I really cannot help thinking that for much less expense than that, why cant they simply scoop out the algae on a regular basis, starting immediately.

 

Green clouds?

Green clouds or turf?

  

 


 

By contrast, the adjacent river shows the reflections my photos should have captured had the Moon Ponds been clear of algae.

 

White Clouds

White Clouds


 The NT are custodians of our heritage. There is always a huge bias towards architectural heritage opposed to landscape heritage anyway, this can possibly be excused. But can the mismanagement of important landscapes ensure their survival into the future? Of course I understand that on the whole and as an organisation the NT do a magnificent job as protectors and advocates, in the big picture, but are they loosing focus on the micro scale? Are these small issues only noticeable to garden historians and not the regular punter, am I being fussy? Either way, I will not be recommending anyone visit a NT trust landscape to see some specific scene unless the NT can assure that that scene is actually available for viewing. 

 

Stonehenge theories revisited


 

Stonehenge Sunrise June 22nd 2009

Stonehenge Sunrise June 22nd 2009

The paperback version of Rosemary Hill’s Stonehenge has just come out. In this witty and erudite volume she unpicks the various theories of the purpose of the stones and shows how they “say more about the theorists and their time than the place itself”. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1861978804/ref=sib_rdr_dp

Like Pevsner and among many others I have shared Tom’s disappointment in visiting Stonehenge in the middle of the day with a thousand other tourists, and have done the same visit only once since we were no longer allowed to have picnics on the sacrificial stone.  And no one can tell me that it is not indeed a sacrificial stone, since my own time and place meant I was brought up with the romantic view of Stonehenge as described by Clive King’s immortal ‘Stig of the Dump’. In it the time-misplaced caveman Stig who lives in a chalk pit, leads our adventurous hero out of his long summer holidays and back in time to witness Stonehenge one Midsummer’s Eve. The sense of time and timelessness of the stones are ingrained via the experience of childhood.

It is in the moonlight or early morning that the stones look at their most magical, or in the drama of a storm as portrayed by Turner. One must go out of hours. The only way to visit Stonehenge in my view is then to keep your romantic beliefs, and in the current layout to keep your distance. One must see it without the crowds; the coaches and concessions; barbed wire and information panels – (the latter soon to be redone by English Heritage’s ‘intellectual access scheme’ which apparently involves rewriting all information so that it can be understood by someone with the reading age of ten.)

One of the best views of the Stones and the settings is from the footpaths behind Countess Farm, on the Amesbury roundabout. Walking up behind the Kings Barrows and looking out along the Avenue you get the sense of scale and grandeur which makes the whole plain feel like a cathedral nave with the stone circle as the trancept. One of the fairly recent proposals was to have the visitor centre at Countess Farm, with pedestrian access to the stones from there. This would be a brilliant way of regaining the atmosphere of the place, with the half mile walk allowing the time and space to feel the sense of place. The cars and coaches would be out of the view too. We would then just need to get rid of the barbed wire.

At the poet and philosopher John Michell’s memorial service last month was read this poem:

How Lord Montagu Gave Stonehenge to the Freemasons

By John Michell, Midsummer 1988

WHEN philanthropic Mr Chubb gave Stonehenge to the Nation

(He’d bought it just before he made this generous donation)

He laid down two conditions: public access as of right

And nothing to be built nearby to mar the sacred site.


The answer to these clauses form the government Trustees

Was ‘Bother Mr Chubb, we’ll do exactly as we please.

A few more buildings round Stonehenge aren’t really going to spoil it,

Beginning with a carpark and a gents’ and ladies’ toilet.


The Commissioners of Works who were the first administrators

Were succeeded by another bureaucratic apparatus

Entitled ‘English Heritage’, and what these people do

Is bugger up historic sites; their head’s Lord Montagu.


They made a fence of steel and wire which everyone bemoans

And dug a concrete tunnel from the carpark to the stones.

No one is permitted now to walk inside the ring

You’re kept behind some ropes so you can hardly see a thing.


There used to be a festival to greet the summer sun

And people would assemble there as they had always done.

In 1985 we saw the end of that tradition

Lord Montagu decided on its total abolition.


But ever since he ordered that the festival should cease

Stonehenge has been surrounded by an army of police,

And if you try to join them they get terribly excited

And tell you that it’s private and you haven’t been invited.


Now, I’m not the sort of person who’ll impetuously hasten

To spread the word that every single policeman’s a Freemason,

But many of them are you know, and here’s the subtle dodge;

Stonehenge has now been proved to be an old Masonic Lodge.


The person who revealed this – and he certainly should know-

Is Mr Russell Herner of the Grand Lodge, Ohio.

His book about Stonehenge says it was built for all eternity

To house the Master Mason and the rest of his fraternity.


So when upon the longest day, St John the Baptist’s Feast,

You see a group around Stonehenge who gaze towards the East,

They’re not just simple coppers spoiling other people’s fun,

They’re members of the brotherhood out worshipping the sun.

Perhaps there was a senior officer at the memorial, for we learn this week that all pagan police officers are to be given time off to celebrate the Summer Solstice. And all witches in the force are to be given Halloween for religious parity. Who will police the solstice then?


Please do not visit Sissinghurst Castle Garden

The Sissinghurst White Garden (right)

The Sissinghurst White Garden (right)

In the interests of conservation, please do not visit Sissinghurst Castle Garden. Unless of course,  you are a garden designer, owner-designer or historian:  in which case you have no alternative and should see our page on Sissinghurst garden visits.
Sissinghurst Garden should never have been marketed as a destination for coach parties, not even for the good ladies of the Gateshead Woman’s Rural Institute. I reached this elitist conclusion in the course of a visit to Sissinghurst Garden on 10th July 2009. At 10.55 am there was a traffic jam in Sissinghurst Village and it then took 15 minutes to negotiate the single-track road from the ‘turn-off’ (double entendre intended) to the Alton Towers-ish car parks. Luckily, an electric float was available for transfers to the Sissinghurst Ticket Office. We had to join a long queue for timed tickets to enter the garden and were given a ticket with a 30 minute wait for the 12 noon entry. Then we spent 20 of those 30 minutes queuing for coffee. There was no timed ticket system for the toilets but it was necessary to queue again, even for the urinals. It was not quite like visiting Bluewater Shopping Centre on the last Saturday before Christmas, but there were similarities.
Inside at last, poor old Sissinghurst Garden looked over-crowded and rather tired. The main show of white in the famous White Garden was sweaty T-shirts and some tasteless muts were dressed in reds, yellows, blues and other colours too. I asked an employee if it was often as busy as this. She said we were lucky to be here on a quiet day.
Remembering Adam Nicholson’s plea for Sissinghurst, to change and to become the World Lesbian Capital.  I remarked to my wife that if she encountered any hot lesbian action in the undergrowth, my blog would benefit from a few good nipple shots. Escaping from the crush, we went to see Adam Nicholson’s new vegetable garden. It is no re-creation of Young Adam’s boyhood rural idyll, or his teenage fantasies. It is a high-tech production facility for the restaurant. We ‘invested’ in 2 coffees and 2 slices of cake, paying £10.80 for them and remembering the bargain eats we have so often enjoyed in motorway service stations.
It all makes me wonder if Sissinghurst should become a Theme Park, managed, like Warwick Castle, by Madame Tussaud’s. Phases 11 and 12 of the Sissinghurst International Development Programme (SIDP) are going to involve cows and pigs. Why not have tended by yokels in smocks with pretty milkmaids in Tess of the d’Urbervilles outfits? Just think of the merchandising opportunities. Later phases of the SIDP are expected to include:
13. The Sissinghurst Blue Garden (over-18s only)
14. The Sissinghurst Trump Hotel
15. The Sissinghurst Resort Spa and Conference Centre
16. The Sissinghurst Golf Course
17. The Sissinghurst International Airport
18. Sissinghurst Eurostar Station
19. The M2-Sissinghurst Link Road
20. The Sissinghurst range of Gay and Lesbian Sex Toys

Lancelot Brown and Blenheim Palace Garden

100_7911I have sometimes heard myself remark that if ‘Capability’ Brown undertook a modern landscape architecture course he would be lucky to get a mark of 50%. But a few of his projects are excellent and none is more puzzling than Blenheim Palace Garden. I have been to photograph Blenheim many times and had another ‘shot’ at it last week. As usual, when I got home and looked at the pictures they are pretty flat and pretty disappointing. But after struggling with the Oxford area traffic and driving through the tightly picturesque village of Woodstock, and walking through what must have been the trade entrance, an amazing vision of the palace, the lake, the landform, the woods and the bridge opens before you. It is beautifully composed, full of awe and vast in scale. But you need a really wide angle lens to capture the scene, and I think this is why the photographs tend to be disappointing. I therefore offer you a photograph of the bridge only. It was taken from the lake edge with an angle of view approximately equal to the human eye (47 degrees on a 35mm camera) and I think it captures the scale of Blenheim much better than a wide angle lens would have done.

A view of Blenheim Palace from the bridge

A view of Blenheim Palace from the bridge

Surrey Garden Tours


Summerhouse at Millmead, designed by Lutyens

Summerhouse at Millmead, designed by Lutyens


Once upon a glorious sunny day (actually last Tuesday), I braved a rather gruesome M25 to join Joy and Jane in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for one day of their garden tour visiting rarely accessible gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll.

We were shown round each garden by the gardener, starting with Jekyll’s own garden at Munstead Wood. She began creating the garden in 1883 and commissioned her friend Edwin Lutyens to design the house.  There is something very casual and comfortable about the garden and it is easy to feel very at home there. The triangular Summer Garden, also called the Three Corner Garden, was densely populated with blooming foxgloves, iris, lupins and dhalias. Both Munstead Wood itself and adjoining The Quadrangle (Jekyll’s experimental garden) are adorned with elegant Munstead White foxgloves, with beautiful green mottling and slightly shiny leaves.

At the restored Quadrangle you can see an experiment that Jekyll never got round to herself.  She suggested that a lovely border could be created backed with redcurrant and Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) – and now it has been. David Austin Roses introduced a rather lovely crimson rose in 2007 called Munstead Wood and I had the opportunity to admire some fine specimens.

Later, we visted another Jekyll and Lutyens collaboration – Millmead. It is a dignified terraced town garden with a charming summer house, that has been recreated in the Jekyll style garden at Godalming Museum.

Guests stay in either Heath House (Joy’s B&B) or Nurscombe (Jane’s B&B) which I can only imagine is a very great pleasure. I popped into Nurscombe for a quick look round and had lunch at Heath House. Joy is a fine cook and even made an ice bowl embedded with flower petals to serve dessert.  I have every intention of having a go at making one myself.

I would strongly recommend booking yourself a place on the next tour (dates are 7th-10th September 2009) – see Surrey Garden Tours for more information.

Garden Hotel or Garden B&B?


An India-inspired pavilion in the garden of the Corner House B7B in Maiden Bradley

An India-inspired pavilion in the garden of the Corner House B&B in Maiden Bradley

The latest  Gardenvisit.com Newsletter recommends holidays at home for this year of recession – and with the best summer weather for several years (so far!) the idea is working well in the UK.

I too have been visiting a lot of English gardens this summer – and looking for places to stay. My preference, always, is for accommodation with interesting gardens. Grand garden hotels, like Cliveden and Ston Easton, are luxuriously OK but not in keeping with the recession theme, or my arrive-late-leave-early habits – or my budget.

So what about B&B accommodation? I had some intersting experiences ten years ago, with greasy food, greasy carpets and odd landladies. But the property development boom of the last decade has produced some very comfortable places run by charming people with an interest in garden design. For example, I have stayed recently in Millgate House and, last week, in the Corner House in Maiden Bradley where I was very interested in the Indian garden. Most people’s idea of an Indian garden, especially in India, is an Islamic garden. But the Hindus and Buddhists had a far older and far more Indian approach to garden design – which involved roofed pavilions, garden shrines and pools.

Please email us if you run or can recommend, good accommodation with  interesting gardens, and we will put together a list.

World Garden Finder Facts

In March 2009 the Gardenvisit.com World Garden Finder:

  • was ten years old
  • contained 2,486 gardens in 61 countries
  • had aerial photographs and maps showing the location of every garden
  • included 3,500 images
  • included a variety of User Generated Comment: images, reviews, ratings and Head Gardener’s Comment

But we want to make it better!  Please help us – with reviews, ratings, photographs and descriptions.

The original idea for the garden finder was to provide links to gardens from my online book English garden design: history, philosophy and styles since 1650. [This book also appeared in print, in 1986 and is due to be revised and re-published]. Since 1998 we have published over 25 online books and there is an interesting job to be done in linking them to and from the garden finder descriptions.

Sissinghurst garden farm news

As guessed, the rumpus was a publicity stunt exercise in TV dramatics. The BBC and the National Trust knew when they were planning the TV series on Sissinghurst that  Adam Nicholson and Sarah Raven’s ideas were going to be accepted.  So in Episode 8 of the longest-running docudrama in the first 5,000 years of garden history, we saw some of the farm land being used to grow vegetables and Sly Steve in the kitchen admitting that Sarah’s Moroccan Lamb had been popular with the guests. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00jclx2/Sissinghurst_Episode_8/ Adam shoehorned in a final attempt to make Sissinghurst into the World’s Lesbian Capital or, at least, the World’s Sexiest Garden (with the line “Harold Nicholson loved Morocco more than any place on earth. He often had an affair there”). Adam Nicholson also remarked that “Writing is the family business. Butchers chop up pigs. We write books.” Nicely put, but was he laying a foundation for a new family business: TV? Watch this space.

PS Why does the National Trust want publicity for Sissinghurst? To attract more visitors and to have more money to spend. But to conserve the garden’s character it needs less publicity and fewer visitors.

Re-creation of the world's oldest garden design in Egypt

The plan is Sennufer's Garden is the most famous illustration of an Egyptian garden, and the oldest accurate plan of a garden

The plan of Sennufer's Garden is the most famous illustration of an Egyptian garden, and the world's oldest accurate plan of a garden

I heard a rumor that  Sennufer’s Garden is to be re-created. This is a project I have dreamed of  (see note at foot of page on The Domain of Amun) and I believe it is the best tourism investment Egypt could make.

– the project will attract worldwide publicity
– the re-created garden will remind the world that Egypt may well be the country in which the world’s first pleasure garden was made (see blog post Where is the world’s oldest garden?)
– garden visiting is an extremely popular tourist activity, with the Alhambra said to be the most visited garden in Europe
– a new tourist attraction on the East bank in Luxor will take some of the pressure off the ancient monuments on the West bank of the Nile
– a re-created historic garden will fit well with the ambience of the resort hotels being developed on the East bank
I do not know if it has been arranged but the re-created garden is the type of project which could easily attract funding from a hotel chain, an Arab billionaire or from the Aga Khan Historic Cities Support Programme (HCSP) . Since the garden structures would be of mud brick, the cost would not be exorbitant.

The new Sennufer’s garden will  be an invaluable contribution to the world’s cultural heritage. If he has a hand in the project, congratulations to Dr. Zahi Hawass (Secretary General, The Supreme Council of Antiquities). A re-creation of the world’s oldest garden would be a wonderful event.

Other Egyptian garden plans survive but Sennufer’s Garden Plan is by far the most sophisticated and in some respects astonishingly modern. See Marie-Luise Gothein’s explanation of the plan of Sennefer’s garden.

[See also: Previous post on Asian gardens and landscapes]

Sissinghurst Garden Design and Management


Photogaph Philippe Leroyer

Photogaph Philippe Leroyer

BBC4 is showing a series of programmes about Sissinghurst Castle Garden. Here is a link to the first episode on the iPlayer – the link will not be active for long and there is a link to a BBC Sissinghurst webpage.  Adam Nicholson and Sarah Raven live in the family house, because Adam is Vita’s grandson, but Adam’s father (Nigel Nicholson) gave the property to the National Trust. The programme presents Adam and Sarah as enlightened visionaries able to understand the past and present. But the National Trust staff are presented as obstinate blockheads able to say little more than ‘This is the way we do it because this is the way we have always done it and this it the way we will continue to do it’.  Since the series runs to 8 episodes one can’t help wondering it the editing has been done for dramatic effect. Unless the National Trust  Blockheads are going to be seduced by sweet reason, the series is going to end up portraying the Trust as a disorganised rabble which leaves decisions to junior staff.

Sissinghurst gives me the impression of being too commercial and of having too many visitors. It this is what the National Trust wants, they should avoid the cowpats Adam wants to bring back as an aspect of traditional farming. The BBC slipped in the titbit that Vita had over 50 lesbian lovers and the Independent (28.2.09) refers to ‘the site’s fascination for today’s educated lesbians’. Adam predicts that ‘By Easter, there will be rivers of lesbians coming through the gates’.  It would be useful to know whether the return of traditional farming practices (‘cowpats’) would attract or repel the lesbians, and where Adam stands on the lesbian issue.  I look forward to Sissinghurst holding its first Gay Pride day. As they say, ‘history repeats itself as farce’.

German garden design and garden tours

karl_foerster_garten_originalGardenvisit.com is most grateful to Marija Calden for help with adding new gardens updating Garden Finder entries for Germany. See for example: Karl-Foerster-Garten and Kloster Seligenstadt. Marija’s  help  is particularly welcome because German gardens attract less international attention than they deserve and, for example, less attention than the gardens of Italy, France and England, resulting in fewer German garden tours. Yet no one can doubt the country’s deep love of nature in general and gardens in particular, nor the technical expertise of Germany’s landscape architecture profession.  And the design quality of the best German gardens (eg Sans Souci, Herrenhausen, Whilhelmshoehe) is very high. So what’s the problem?

My explanation is that too many German gardens are run by municipalities as public parks. As Jane Austen might have said “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that two old ladies can maintain a garden in better condition than a dozen youths  with the latest equipment’. Love and knowledge are better tools than brawn or engines. Furthermore, a garden requires enclosure. If greenspace in towns is not fenced or walled it is not garden space. It is public open space. The example of Japan provides support for this explanation. Everyone knows of the matchless standard of care in Japanese Gardens. But what of Japanese public parks? Their management is slightly worse than in a typical industrial country: not as good as in most European countries and not even as good as in the public parks of Eastern China.

A garden is a special kind of place. It always has been and it always should be – different.


Ginkgo avenue in Japanese Meiji Shrine garden

This brilliant photograph, by Masahiro Hayata, combines the spiritual glory of a gothic vault with the transcendent luminance of a stained glass window.

The avenue is formed with the oldest surviving tree species on earth, the only survivor from prehistoric times. The Ginkgo was widespread 270 million years ago but disappeared – except from a small area in Central China. The seed was taken to Europe, from a Japanese temple garden, by Engelbert Kaempfer in 1692. Kaempfer  was a German naturalist, traveller and physician who wrote an important account of Japan and also made the first accurate drawings of Persian gardens.

The 300m Ginkgo Avenue is in the garden of the Meiji Jingu (shrine) in Tokyo. It commemorates the 1867 Meiji Restoration, which led directly to the astonishing modernization of Japan: the landscape architecture of this photograph involves many interests.

Cornwall gardens, hotels and tours


Cornwall Gardens and Recommended Garden Hotels eBook

Cornwall Gardens and Recommended Garden Hotels eBook

Only 12 days until the winter solstice: its time to be thinking about next year’s garden tours!

While planning a Cornwall garden tour, we produced an eBook on the subject. It is available for free download from our Gardens in Cornwall page. If any readers have further suggestions on where to go and which hotels have good gardens, please add a comment below! We would be pleased to include the information in a revised edition of the Cornwall Gardens eBook.

The eBook has information on eight top Cornwall Gardens – and also John Claudius London’s notes on his 1842 Cornwall Garden Tour. He was very ill and only spent a few days in the Duchy but his remarks are of considerable historic interest. Loudon was the most prolific garden writer who ever lived and perhaps the only polymath to take on the subject.

See also: Garden Tours in Cornwall.


Context-sensitive design

This view, in Bundi, inspired Kipling to write Kim - which is full of 'context-sensitive' local character.More design (cities, architecture, landscapes, gardens etc) should be more context-sensitive:

  • it is more sustainable (less energy, local plants, local materials etc)
  • traditions which have survived what Christopher Alexander calls ‘an endless period of time’ are likely to be adapted to local cultural and geographical circumstances
  • local character is what local residents usually want
  • local character is what tourists usually want

I am NOT however arguing against innovation, which local people and tourists can all appreciate. I am arguing that every design team MUST explain and MUST justify the contextual approach they have adopted. Similarity, Identity and Difference are all welcome in the right circumstances. Garden travel is one of life’s great pleasures – and it helps one see that Russian design should not be copied in China, French design should not be copied in Russia, American design should not be copied in Dubai, British design should not be copied in India, Japanese design should not be copied in America, etc etc etc. Mobile phones and cameras are international go-anywhere products. Designed gardens and landscapes should have local roots, however much they learn from elsewhere. Curiously, designers often understand this best when working outside the countries in which they were born.

The photograph is of the garden in Bundi where Rudyard Kipling wrote Kim, and possibly wondered:


Winds of the World give answer! They are whimpering to and fro

And what should they know of England who only England know?