xmlns:fb='http://ogp.me/ns/fb#' Karen Wagner garden & design: May 2011

Saturday, 28 May 2011

THE Chelsea Flower Show

 The jewel in the crown....Chelsea is a complete extravaganza.
What a wonderful thing to do.  It’s so much better than you see in the pictures or on tv or the dvd’s.
Of course it is wall to wall with people and you just have to go along and expect that....unless of course you can swing an invite to the special invitation and members days.  Everyone is kind, courteous and accommodating and understands that a few bumps and a thousand apologies are what is part of the parade.
And it is like a parade.....of plants, show gardens, celebrities, people and ideas.
We saw so many things.  We loved the show gardens...some fabulous ideas in them.  There wasn’t much variation in planting between them all which I was surprised about.  But overall in most gardens we have seen there isn’t a lot of planting variation.  It seems everyone sticks to the same old same old.
Of course ‘naturalistic’ and meadow plantings are thematic in much of the things we saw.  This seems to be the catch cry throughout England at the moment.  And we wryly have looked on.....everything in that lovely meadow that they are all so proud about is nothing but major and problematic weeds to us.  And we have smirked at the idea of native and naturalistic.  The meadows  (we’re not talking out in the paddocks here – I’m referring to garden meadows in large scale gardens) are carefully planted and managed.  They do have a lot of native grasses and flowering plants in them but also lots of pretty introduced extras to make them look nice.  But I am digressing.
On the whole the plantings were beautiful at Chelsea for all the gardens we saw and the some of the design ideas were truly inspiring.
There are so many pictures that I took that it is hard to just narrow it down to a few.  The water features this year were really lovely....beautifully finished, understated and more in the garden that up on a wall and to the side.  I’ve been waiting for water features to do this and it was really great to see and has given me heaps of ideas.
The two Australian entries were really fabulous.  One Englishman that I struck up a conversation with did ponder as to what was the point as they can’t grow these plants anyway.  We kindly pointed out all the things he would be able to grow and how to do it and he seemed to see the light....maybe he was just being polite as the English are so very good at.
We duly went and had our Pimms – very yummy – one must it seems have a Pimms while at Chelsea as its tradition.....unfortunately it wasn’t the best of days for languishing in the sun with a Pimms as we chose the only day that it rained liked cats and dogs for a couple of hours. 

If presented with the chance, always say yes to going to Chelsea.  Keep in mind that it is a show full of grandiose ideas and go along and enjoy it.  One of the best spectacles I’ve seen.  Better than Fantastic!.

London....land of shopping

Shopping in London is like going to the top of the magic faraway tree and finding the land of shops at the top for the day.  
We have found lots of sights to keep us amused.  And really it’s not about buying as with only a small suitcase, buying lots is out of the question, it’s about all the things you see as you wander around London.  There are interesting things everywhere.

tale of two nurseries

We have been lucky enough to visit lots of gardens on this trip, all different and interesting in their own right.  But after we went to Chelsea, we felt the need to visit some well known and established nurseries.  We have spotted and stopped at nurseries as we have travelled and really we felt that generally they weren’t any different to what we get at home.  Msot of the plants were the same ....a few more or different varieties of some things.  But with all the usual and general nursery stuff.
There are however a few nurseries that are a little more renown for their specialness so we headed off to visit two in London.
The first was Petersham Nurseries, well known for Skye Gignall and the cafe and restaurant that was established in conjunction with the nurseries.  These nurseries are also well known because they are virtually set right in the middle of a field .  Its now even more famous as it has just been awarded a Michelin star which had happened the week before we visited.  The setting is wonderful ....established over a number of old glasshouses, there are great looking plants and plenty of choice and lots of different selections as well as many of the old favourites.  There is a whole glasshouse devoted to eclectic, general and special garden things and paraphernalia.  You can buy your garden tools, special French pots and right through to bespoke furniture and glass-wear.  And from there the restaurant is set in another glasshouse.  The cafe has a small central shed but has tables meandering throughout the whole outside area of the nursery so you can almost sit anywhere you like.  This is also indicative of how fast this eating cafe has grown and the need to have lots of seating available.  Lots more than last time I was there.
It’s a really special setting and a wonderful and inspiring place to visit.

An easy couple of tube stops and a visit to another well known nursery.....Clifton Nurseries has been established in London for 160 years and is set in a lovely leafy street suddenly out of the hustle of main London.  They call themselves “London’s Nurserymen”...fairly definitive!
It’s more of a mainstream nursery that we are familiar with in Australia, and there were some women working there also. They do however have the most wonderful selection of plants beautifully looked after and displayed.  It makes you want to buy plants by the trolley load. 
A beautiful Victorian style white painted glasshouse is full of the most wonderful hothouse grown potted colour.  There’s a delightfully smelly floristry area, tools and practical things and another glasshouse area full of garden paraphernalia and outdoor furniture.  This is obviously a well loved and busy nursery that caters to lots of London Mums and Dads wanting to plant up the ultimate garden.
I found so many plants and ideas in this nursery.  The only thing missing is the cafe which everyone else seems to have....maybe they just can’t squeeze it in. 
Totally inspiring and leaps ahead of what we often see in Australia.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


I'd forgotten how much fun London is. 
As I'm not inclined to do unlimited tourist attractions, having accomplished much of this on a previous visit...I am enjoying picking and choosing the most attractive ideas on my list and heading for them.  Of course the list is ridiculously long and the days rapidly become full and exhausting.  And of course, some of it has to do with enjoyment, shopping and general interest rather than all gardens.
So...I went shopping.  You can buy anything in London.
Half the fun of being out and about here is merging with the crowd and catching the tube.
But beware....be warned and take care..it's really easy to get robbed and ripped off....we had experience of it today.  It takes but a moment of distraction and 30 seconds of slight of hand....those famous london pickpockets.

For our gardening selection today...we ventured to the Museum of Gardening History. Mainly because they had a retrospective exhibition about the recent work of Tom Stuart-Smith.  I do like some of the work he has done.  Its very thoughtful and his drawings are superb.
The Garden History Museum is set in an old church at the end of the street, making it a bit hard to initially find.  But the church was saved in the 70's when they realised the graves of the Tradescants were there and in recent years a renovation using modern wooden platforms has been inserted into the church to give the museum more of a presence.  It's been done quite well.  The garden is small but quite old and has been renovated.  The permanent collection is interesting although quite lacking....lots of old implements and photos and relevant garden paraphernalia etc.  Apparently a lot has been put away and isn't back out yet.  They really need to get onto that, as for the price of 7pounds, it would be good to see a bit more.  The Tom Stuart- Smith stuff saved the day.

This evening we were lucky enough to go to a Garden Illustrated lecture at the Royal Geographical Society no less with a panel of three modern designers discussing their insights and a few other famous people chairing the discussion.  This was great fun and really interesting.  We did find out that English garden designer are the best in the world as are English gardens!! (so little else exists apparently!).  There were lots of other interesting tit bits and one of the speakers - Cleve West - had just won a chelsea medal today, so that caused much sensation and conversation.

Yes its the day they release who got a medal today- record number of medals at Chelsea this year..  And chelsea fever abounds....there are television updates and ladys in floral dresses alighting the tube at Sloane Square, and bits of articles in the paper everywhere.  Some people  do however look at you blankly when you mention Chelsea though and have no idea it is on and call it that flower thingy.....must have to be a certain type of person maybe??

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Oh so capable Mr Brown....

Our last garden to visit in the country before we head off to the big city of London, on our way through, is Blenheim Castle.  This is an enormous fantasmigorical castle stilled lived in by the inherited Duke and Duchess.  It's supposed to be the most fantastic castle in England!
This garden is on our visit list so we can add to our education about  Lancelot "Capability" Brown.
He worked on this garden for 10 whole years while the castle was being built in the early 1700's.  As you walk around the large large large estate park - it took us hours-, you can hardly imagine the changes he managed to make on such a huge scale.  Without machinery, he completely reworked and rechanged the shape and size of the landscape to create views and vistas and spacious parklands - imagine 1000's of people digging new lakes and damning rivers and creating sweeping rises!  Almost impossible.
The trees have been let go to whatever size they prefer and have impact and scale and you suddenly realise how big some of these trees that we prune and control can really get when left 'wild'.
A lot of the garden is quite formal especially close to the palace, which suits the architecture of course, but where does a duchess go for a nice couple of tea from the sitting room for a bit of peace and quiet??

Rather daunting really but inspiring in its own way.  The undertaking itself makes my mind spin.  Impressive.

We also had a quick lunch stop at Oxford...such an amazing town with lovely old old buildings.  And we caught a glimpse of the university of oxford botanic gardens...but we were running late by then and couldn't stop.
Next time??

see you in London....off to Chelsea darling......

Kifsgate Court...surprise surprise

What a pleasant and lovely surprise!!
This is a very large private garden tucked into a back lane in the Cotswolds, sitting around a large and interesting  house high up on the cliffs.  It has wonderful views and a few challenging slopes – which have been incorporated really well into the garden. 
It has a couple of fabulous water features...one a swimming pool set into a wonderful setting.  I think it might be the first swimming pool we have seen...not many of those in England!

The husband and wife team should be applauded as the garden would be quite a bit of work. The plantings are a bit clever with lots of the usual favourites....we don’t see much variation in plants in all these gardens in England we go to see!.......but the plantings here are more attuned for less work and more permanence and evergreen in the boarders etc.  Obviously a more realistic approach when there aren't a hoarde of gardeners employed to make it all look great.

There are lovely mixes of old and new in this garden but it all mixes together beautifully and it is difficult to actually date hen things have been added to the garden.

This is a garden to be in, live in, enjoy, laze by the pool, potter and work in for a whole Sunday and entertain your friends and loads of teenagers in.
Quite remarkable and certainly one of the loveliest gardens without any pretensious overtones.  Well loved and certianly enjoyed I would think....a well loved country estate feel.


Hidcote garden is remarkable.....a garden to remember.  It has wonderful strong design and underneath all the planting it is very structured.  It is one of the most enjoyable gardens I have been to and sits right up in the top 3 highlights of this trip.

It was designed, planted and built by Mr Lawrence through the early part of the 20th century so is quite a modern garden in some senses.  It is made into a series of rooms so you don’t see all the garden in one go and the areas vary in size and shape.  Plants are in masses of one variety often which works really well with the structure.  It’s a really large estate and there was lots of money available to help this enormous garden go together but it doesn’t have any ostentation about it at all.
It’s very well designed.  The proportions and scale of space used for areas of the garden are truly lovely.  Beautiful big and small hedges separate areas.  Some areas are intimate and thus planted this way while some areas are grand and have distinct presence.

Hidcote was the first actual garden rather than a house to be given to the National Trust in 1948, and they weren’t quite sure how to manage it....but it started the whole concept of having gardens looked after and preserved in their own right and for ‘National Significance’.  And now many people travel around Trust properties simply to view the gardens and they are promoted this way also.  Last year 150,000 people visited the garden at Hidcote up by 50,000 from the year before!!  It also has a great program for  apprentices learning their trade.
It would be a great place to come to learn to garden.  It has the most wonderful feeling about it and is a garden that would be enjoyable to just stay in.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Pettifers and Barnsley House

We were lucky enough today to go and visit a private garden that we had arranged sometime ago.  Just a smallish garden in a little stone country village out the back of nowhere.
Mind you, it does have its own full time gardener...(gardeners are paid a pittace here it seems)  and its probably about 2 1/2 X the size of a normal suburban block in Hobart or anywhere in Australia really.  So not exactly a normal size garden.  But a size that is interesting and manageable and 'real'.  Its very much an individuals garden and well loved and thought about.  There were lovely plantings and little surprises that made it special and it was used and enjoyed as a garden. 
It was very pleasant to go to a garden that is lived in and on a relatively realistic scale.
It has appeared in Gardens Illustrated and other magazines a few times and the pictures all look lovely and it lived up to that expectation delightfully.
The gardener, Polly, took us under her wing and took us around the garden and answered lots of questions for us.  We have been accumulating gardening and plant species questions, so it was lovely to talk to someone in the know who could answer everything for us.

We were truly delighted and could see easily how we could go home and accomplish this with ease.

On our way yesterday we also stopped into Barnsley House, the ex home of the late well known gardener and garden writer, Rosemary Verey.  I had read Rosemary Verey books when I first started designer gardens, mainly because the pictures of planting plans were so lovely rendered in watercolours and also gave very clear names and ideas.
Rosemary Verey died in 2001, and the house became a country house hotel in 2003 and recently changed hands again.  The gardens have been kept more or less as she planned them and I remember much of the concepts and ideas from reading her books.
It is a delightful old pile of a house made of local stone and the gardens are superb.  To come here to stay in a lovely country upmarket English hotel would be lovely.  They also offer lots of classes and weekend events to do with the garden, so it is nice to see her spirit being preserved.
I spoke briefly with one of the gardeners and he tolde me that while the garden continues to evolve, the essence of how it was put together is kept as it is timeless and works beautifully.
She was ahead of her time and has managed to design and execute some complicated plantings and have them survive as a classic timeless and ongoing garden.   She was also in great demand to assist others with their gardens and we saw an example of one of her gardens she did for Prince Charles at Highgrove.