Category Archives: Garden Visiting

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 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.

Hyde Hall RHS Garden in Essex

Hyde Hall RHS Essex Planting

Hyde Hall RHS Essex Planting

The Hyde Hall garden was begun by Dr Robinson in 1955 and given to the Royal Horticultural Society in 1993. Dr Robinson was no designer and the RHS has been struggling with his legacy. They employed good consultants (Colvin and Moggridge) but the place is still disappointing. The planting is much improved but the underlying spatial structure is, as it always was, dreary. This summer I made my third visit since the RHS took over and the really surprising thing was how popular it has become. So the design is a success from this point of view, just as McDonalds is a very  successful restaurant chain. But, from my standpoint, McDonalds needs a plenipotentary Chief  Chef and Hyde Hall needs a plenipotentary Resident Designer. My strong impression is that good design consultants are not enough. The garden manager needs to be a trained designer, as well as a manager. This is how most of history’s great gardens were made: by owne- designers or by patrons who worked hand-in-glove with a designer, as Louis XIV did with Le Notre. Making a good garden is a hands-on job. You need drawings but you cannot do the job with drawings alone. You have to live in the garden, to see it every day of the year and to have the requisite authority to change the layout and the planting.

In Britain, most gardens open to the public are now managed by managers who are not designers. This is a great mistake. To create or maintain a good garden, or park, you must be a designer. A formal training is not essential, though it is a great advantage. But design talent is essential. It must guide every decision, from the smallest to the largest. Committees cannot possibly undertake this role and it is rare for someone with only a horticultural training to have the necessary skill-set.

Hyde Hall RHS Essex spatial and construction design

Hyde Hall RHS Essex spatial and construction design

250 Congratulations to Kew Gardens

Wildflower planting outside Kew Gardens

Wildflower planting outside Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens are 250 years old this year and far more beautiful and interesting than at the time of my first visit. But if the quality is twice as good as it was, it  still less than half as good as it could be. I was therefore delighted to learn that an excellent landscape architecture firm (Gross Max, of Edinburgh) has been appointed to advise on the development of Kew Gardens.

The change which has made the greatest difference, so far, is the adoption of a ‘sustainable Kew’ policy. You see this in the wildflower meadow outside the main gate (photo above, taken today) and you see it in the long grass under the trees covering perhaps 50% of the garden area.  The other big changes are the restoration of old features (eg the garden of Kew Palace) and the creation of new features, including the Sackler Crossing and the Tree Walk.

The two missing elements, which Gross Max may be able to provide, are a connection with the River Thames and an overall sense of spatial composition. The latter problem is difficult, because so much of the tree and shrub planting is ‘spotty’ and the new features are being dotted about like rides in a theme park. But the problems are not insuperable and I much look forward to seeing them resolved.

One other point: the increase in quality has has been accompanied by a rise in the entry price from one penny to thirteen pounds sterling. There being 240 old pennies in an old pound, this equates (see comment below) to an increase of  three thousand one hundred and twenty percent. Kew will be a very great garden when the visual quality has risen proportionately!

Nymans National Trust garden management

img_0340The National Trust gets money from from legacies, subscriptions and entrance fees. It owns large areas of land to which the public have free access and it has many ambitious development projects which require funds. Some properties consume funds and others generate funds. I think Nymans must appear in the accounts as ‘a nice little earner’. It is not a very wonderful garden but it is remarkably popular, partly because of its motorway-side location. The woods are beautiful and the sign outside the entrance is mean: ‘Car Park Closes Today at 5pm’. One can hardly enjoy a late afternoon stroll in the woods while worrying about one’s car being impounded for the night. Another surprising aspect of the Nymans regime is the large garden centre. It is very well designed and run but it is almost on the scale of a retail park. Since the planting in the garden is not very well managed, my thoughts about Nymans are that, if it is generating as a big profit, more of this money should be spent on managing the garden and extending the opening hours into the evening. Those who give should also receive.

World Garden Finder Facts

In March 2009 the 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.

Asian landscape architecture and garden design in the twentieth century

Singapore skyline by Gyver Chang

Singapore skyline by Gyver Chang

Why were Asian garden design and landscape architecture such a disappointment in the twentieth century? There is much work which looks anti-ecological, anti-contextual, almost anti-human – and far too American or far too European (see note on Chinese context theory). Luckily, there are some exceptions, including the twenty-first century landscape designs for  King Abdullah International Gardens and the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Instead of writing an essay (which is is in fact what I have done for the final chapter of Asian gardens) I offer the short statement that the problems with Asian garden and landscape design in the 20th century resulted from a poor understanding of design history and theory. There were lacks of appreciation:

  1. by many landscape architects that their profession’s design theory was at least 4000 years old on 14  May 1863 ( Norman T Newton gives this day as ‘the first official use of the title Landscape Architect’ – he knew the art was older but his perception of the theory was post-1863)
  2. by the Asian clients and designers who believed Asia should be ‘modernized’ by being ‘westernized’
  3. by the World Bank and associated development agencies which were certain that western is better, because it is based on science , and because science is the ultimate criterion of truth
  4. by a host of architects, engineers and planners who believed too fervently in ‘master planning’ and therefore fostered the tragedy of feminine design
  5. by bankers and property developers who believed that calculation of short term profit was the way to distinguish good projects from bad projects
  6. by the abstract and anti-contextual nature of international modern design theory
  7. by an inadequate knowledge of Asian design history and theory

The corrective to these Seven Deadly Design Sins should be gulping that wonderful Asian virtue – HARMONY.  History matters, theory matters, science matters, beliefs matter, profit matters,  ecology matters, design matters, people matter -we all matter!

See also: Previous post on Asian gardens and landscapes

History of Asian garden and landscape design book

Himalayas by Ilker Ender

Himalayas by Ilker Ender


My ‘Tomfool Project’ to write a history of Asian gardens and landscape architecture is done: I have just posted the CS (computer-script) to the publisher. The main subjects are Ancient Garden Design,  Islamic Garden Design, Indian Garden Design, Chinese Garden Design,  Japanese Garden Design and modern landscape architecture across Asia.  The text files, drawings and photographs fit on one DVD, so all I have done is re-arrange some binary code, unless you count taking over 100,000 photographs. The easier-to-write chapters drew on other work but the difficult chapters took a year each for research and travel. The sensible alternatives would have been not to have begun the project or to have started 40 years earlier by learning half a dozen Asian languages. But I enjoyed the work and will be a lucky man if the ‘royalties’ pay for the travel – so you could say the books will be sold at ‘cost price minus’. It reminds me of the advice I received from Arnold Weddle about 30 years ago. We were making use of adjoining urinals at the time and I think the conversation went like this:

‘Hi Tom, how are you and what are you doing’. Ignoring the obvious, I replied ‘Fine – I’m writing a book, actually it’s about Landscape planning‘. Arnold, who had recently founded the journal Urban and landscape planning, replied: ‘Hmmm. Don’t expect to make any money by writing books’

Weddle was a wise man and I often quote another of his remarks. In Techniques of landscape architecture he wrote that the landscape profession is distinguished from its related professions by looking beyond their ‘closely drawn technical limits’ and ‘narrowly drawn territorial boundaries’. Though not quite what he had in mind, I have taken his advice in Asian gardens by relating garden design to the religions, mountains,  forests, deserts, social customs, art and architecture of Asia. As you can imagine, this has involved a number of topics in which I might wish to have more expertise.  Ananda  Coomaraswamy would have been a good man for the job, helped by one of his photographer wives and his ability to think in English, Hindi, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Pali, Persian and Chinese.

[See also: next 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 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.

An excellent landscape design for the King Abdullah International Gardens

kaig_aerial_02_smallHaving slagged off the design of their capital city, I am only too pleased to congratulate the Saudis on the design of a new Botanic Garden. It reminds me of a photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope – perhaps of a swirling galaxy. This is highly appropriate for a garden which looks back to the origins of life on earth and forward to a more sustainable future. Siteworks began in 2008  and the expected construction period is 3 years.

The landscape architect and project team leader  for the  King Abdullah International Gardens was  Nick Sweet of Barton Willimore.  Some 150 hectares of the 160 ha site will be planted with indigenous species. They will be watered only by stormwater outlets and treated sewage effluent generated on site. All the power will be solar, all wastes will be recycled and 93% of the construction materials (by volume) will be obtained from the site (rock, stone, gravel, soil). Only electric vehicles charged from the solar array on site will be used for visitors.  What more could one ask? I have  every hope of it becoming that rarest of rare delights: an excellent work of landscape architecture.

PS to King Abdullah: next time Saudi Arabia needs a New Town – make sure the design team is led by a landscape architect. You can expect the most favourable benefit: cost ratio for any project in your Kingdom’s recent history.

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.

Graffiti in the garden

Kelburn Castle. Images by flickr user guinavere.

Kelburn Castle. Images by flickr user guinavere.

My local council detests graffiti artists. A rapid response team in CBRN Suits (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) soon arrives with tanks of noxious chemicals. Understandably, allowing citizens to paint wherever they wish without permission is an unworkable situation and definitely not one I am going to argue for.

However, sometimes I feel too little thought is put into whether the environment has actually been improved with the odd dash of new paint here and there. So, I was delighted to find a more-enlightened attitude on the Glasgow Riviera. Kelburn Castle has been in our Garden Finder for ages, without being on many people’s must-see garden lists for Scotland. Then they employed Brazilian Graffiti artists for a paint job. Now it’s a real spectacle. On cold winter days Kelburn blazes on the landscape as though on fire.

Is it Art? Or should someone call the CBRN guys as soon as possible? Peronally, I love it.

Sacred Gardens and Landscapes

Is Avebury Stone Cicle a 'garden' space?

Avebury, Delphi, Ryoanji and Salisbury Cathedral Cloister are sacred places. But are they also gardens? Yes: they are enclosed outdoor spaces; they were designed to be beautiful; they were not made for functional horticulture.

Sun, shadows, water, plants and structures are intrinsic to their design. Ryoanji, you might say, is a dry garden. Yes it is, but moss grows around the famous stones and the play of tree shadows on the gravel is part of the fascination.

According to Wikipedia “Holiness, or sanctity, is the state of being holy or sacred, that is, set apart for the worship or service of gods. It could also mean being set apart to pursue (or to already have achieved) a sacred state or goal, such as Nirvana. It is often ascribed to people, objects, times, or places.” I have one quibble with this definition: the Buddha did not recognize a god and Buddhism is the world religion which has had the most influence on garden design.

In a demythologised sense, if you wish, I believe that sacredness remains a vital concern in garden design. We want to have places which are ‘set apart’ from the everyday world of bustling stress, which fill the soul and solace the flesh. I wish those who plan suburban subdivisions and housing estates had an appreciation of how space can be ‘set apart’ and yet connected.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and 'Britain's Best Garden'

Britain’s TV Channel 5 is running a series (8pm on Thursdays) hosted by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and called ‘I own Britain’s Best Garden’. It is a welcome contribution to debate about garden design but the point it dramatizes is the pathetic standard of TV discussion of the subject. Alan Titchmarch blazes the trail each year at Chelsea with remarks like ‘Wow – not bad is it’ and ‘This’ll set your knees wobbling – it certainly does mine’.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is more sophisticated but the impression, perhaps correctly for its audience, is that the presenter, the critics and the designers lack substance in their chosen field. I know that many of the participants earn their living from garden design but this does not make them expert designers or expert design critics.

C’mon producers: you can do better – much, much better. Garden TV has been a massive growth area over the past 20 years. The time is right for a push into quality. Kevin McLeod conducts a more sophisticated discussion about architecture, as does Jeremy Clarkson about cars and Jamie Oliver about food.

Useful note to TV executives: Jeremy Clarkson’s Top Gear sells round and round the world.

Drumlanrig Palace Garden in West Scotland

The terraces were excavated by hand from hard rock

PALACE Residences. – There is no gentleman’s house in the west of Scotland, that, in its present state, can properly be, denominated a palace residence; but Drumlanrig, from its commanding situation, the extensive territory belonging to it, and the wealth and rank of its owner, we shall here consider as of this class. We feel the more justified in doing so, from the extensive improvements now carrying on in the grounds, and which will, doubtless, in a short time, be extended to the house. Nothing can exceed the dignity of the situation of this edifice; placed on a knoll, on the summit of an advancing ridge, backed by an extensive range of wooded hills and mountains, and commanding, in front, and to the right and left, as far as the eye can reach, a varied surface of corn and posture land, watered by a considerable stream which skirts the margin of the park, and terminating in hills of heath and pasture in the horizon. To whatever side the eye turns of this extensive and magnificent prospect, the whole is the property of the Duke of Buccleugh. As this property now exists, in a general point of view, there is little for the landscape-gardener to do, except forming two new approaches to the house, a new kitchen-garden; and modifying, by planting and by some changes on the surface, the park and pleasure-ground. An excellent kitchen-garden is already walled round, and the gardener’s house, about to be commenced, we were informed, will be the first in Scotland, not only as a commodious and complete dwelling, but as a specimen of cottage Gothic architecture. The designer of the garden,. Mr. Hannay, is the present head gardener at Drumlanrig; and the architect of the house is Mr. Burn of Edinburgh. As far as we saw the new line of approach, it did not appear to us at all satisfactory; because we could not conceive how the ascent to the house by it could be rendered either easy to travel over, or agreeable to the eye.

Judging from a hasty glance, we should say that the best way to procure two approaches of perfectly easy ascent, and descent, of great beauty and variety in the views seen from it, and of striking effect on arriving at the house, would be, to commence two or three miles to the right and left, and to lead from the present public road, a private one, on a uniform but very gentle slope, along the side of the range of hills at the back, or what is, we believe, the south side of the present flower-gardens. We would there form a court-yard to the palace, instead of the present one on the western front, reserving the extensive prospect from the north front to be obtained by the stranger first from the windows. As pleasure-ground, we would follow up the present style of the place, and form such additions and variations as would place two ranges of terrace-gardens on each side of the east, west, and north fronts. The beautiful terrace-gardens already existing show with how much effect this might be done. Whether we might not change the course of the river in some places, or produce ramifications from it, in such a way as to show more water from the palace windows, we did not take time enough to consider; but, at all events, we think we ascertained the practicability of diverting a part of its waters in such a way as to produce a powerful waterfall in one place, and a lake in another. We have great pleasure in stating that the flower-gardens were in the highest order and keeping, and the grass edgings to the walks entirely to our mind. Mr. Hannay we found fully concurring in all that we had said on that subject in our October article.

Some instruction, as well as amusement, may perhaps be obtained by the reader, from the perusal of what the celebrated William Gilpin said of this place, then called Queensberry House, in his Observations relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty in Scotland, &c., published in 1776. “The garden front of Queensberry House,” he observes, “opens on a very delightful piece of scenery. The ground falls from it, near a quarter of a mile, in a steep sloping lawn, which at the bottom is received by a river; and beyond that rises in lofty woody banks. All these objects are in the grandest style, except the river; which, though not large, is by no means inconsiderable. It is amazing what contrivance has been used to deform all this beauty. The descent from the house has a substratum of solid rock, which has been cut into three or four terraces, at an immense expense. The art of blasting rocks by gunpowder was not in use when this great work was undertaken. It was all performed by manual labour; and men now alive remember hearing their fathers say, that a workman, after employing a whole summer day with his pickaxe, would carry off in his apron all the stone he had chipped from the rock. How much less expensive is it, in general, to improve the face of nature, than to deform it. In improving, we gently follow; in deforming, we violently oppose. The Duke of Queensberry of that day, who carried on these works, seems himself to have been aware of his folly. He bundled up all the accounts together; and inscribed them, as I have been informed, with a grievous curse on any of his posterity who should ever look into them.” (p. 84.) The other observations made by Gilpin on this place are excellent, as, indeed, is all that he has written on picturesque beauty; always, however, making allowance for his almost exclusive admiration of that kind of beauty.

[Ed. The above post was written by John Claudius Loudon in 1831. The photograph was taken in 2008]

Proposed alterations to the grounds at Drumlanrig Castle

The old bedding pattern managed as a wildflower meadow
Drumlanrig lower terrace in 2008
Drumlanrig lower terrace in 2008

John Claudius Loudon concluded his 1831 visit to Drumlanrig with the alterations quoted below. Following upon my own visit in 2008, I would also like to proposed an alteration. It is shown in the illustrations of the lower terrace. It appears from the patterning of the grass that an elaborate parterre once filled the space. My proposal is to re-create the old bedding pattern with a wild flower meadow, as shown on the collage. It could be done by the simple expedient of ploughing the land and sowing a different wild-flower mix each year. The result, I believe would be beautiful, good for butterflies and a popular new attraction for Drumlanrig.

“Of all the alterations which we should wish to make on the grounds at Drumlanrig, there is none that strikes us as of half the importance as that of forming new approaches. There is one now going on; but a more preposterous under-taking of the kind we have seldom or never witnessed in any country. An attempt is made, or was making in August, 1831, to ascend a steep acclivity directly in front of the house; a still more hopeless task than that of cutting the rock into terraces, above related by Gilpin, by the old Duke of Queensberry. The duke did succeed, and the terraces were formed, and now exist; but this approach never can form an easy ascent; and we maintain that, even if it did, it would be in the very worst taste imaginable in the given situation; for this specific reason, that it would show all the striking beauties of the spot before entering the house. Now, we hold it to be a fundamental principle, in laying out grounds, that the grand beauties of every situation should be first shown to the stranger from the drawing-room windows. If this be not a fundamental principle, we should be glad to know on what reasons either the situation for a house is fixed on, or the direction of a road to it islaid out. There are many points in which a stranger taking a cursory glance at a place may be mistaken; but, if he has his eyes open, he never can err in forming an opinion as to the approach. As to the terraces we certainly have no wish to alter them. At the time Gilpin wrote, terraces were common, and the great rage was for nature and the picturesque. That rage has now subsided; and in landscape-gardening, as in architecture, and in other arts which combine beauty with utility, reason is the governing principle.”

Beth Chatto as a garden designer

Beth Chatto's Dry Garden is well planted but spatially boring

BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour was broadcast from Beth Chatto’s garden today. You can find the Podcast at Beth Chatto was introduced as ‘one of England’s best-loved and most influential gardeners’. She explained that the two main influences on her garden had been her husband, who studied how plants grow in their natural habitats, and Sir Cederic Morris, an artist and gardener who lived at Benton End. Beth Chatto said she did not give much thought to colour harmonies and that her interest in plant groupings derived from an earlier love of flower arranging. She then made friends with, and was influenced by, Christopher Lloyd and Graham Stuart Thomas. Her correspondence with Christopher Lloyd, who became her friend, began when he told her off for being ‘cruel’ to her Dry Garden – by not watering the plants. I guess history will judge Christo wrong on this issue. Beth Chatto also remarked that ‘I didn’t read Gertrude Jekyll for, oh, years. But when I did, I felt a real warmth for her’.

She came over as a plain-speaking gardener. On the layout of her garden, the most telling remark was that ‘A path needs to go somewhere’. While full of admiration for her plants, I find the design of Beth Chatto’s Garden disappointing. It is flower arranging on the scale of a garden. There is little imagination and the spatial composition is weak. Indeed, one has to wonder if Christopher Lloyd’s approach to garden design was similar. It could well be that it was the work of his father, and of Lutyens, which give Great Dixter its charm. A dress can be made out of the most beautiful fabric without being well-cut or stylish.

Bog garden design at Wakehurst Place ('Kew in the country')

The bog garden at Wakehurst PlaceWakehurst Place in West Sussex, England, is managed by the Kew Royal Botanic Garden. The valley is a beautiful rhododendron garden and the lake at end of the valley is very beautiful. But the horticultural section of the garden is amateurish. The horticultural standard is fine but the design standard is, well, too horticultural. The bog garden is a case in point. It was made by the Horticultural Team between 2001 and 2003. The planting is OK but the construction design is a disgrace to the name Kew. As the photograph shows, there is a lumpen retaining wall with ‘crawling snail’ cement pointing. As my granny would have said ‘Its horrid’. And look at the bottom edge of the photograph. There is a cheap gray plastic pipe which is used as a ‘water feature’. Even toilets don’t have water features like this. They employ plumbers. Wakehurst place should employ an expert garden designer to make occasional visits and give a professional opinion, much as Dame Sylvia Crowe used to do for the UK Forestry Commission.