Hot on the heels of my trip to Eltham Palace to check out the 1930s planting, yesterday saw me visiting Painshill Park in Surrey, this time to visit an 18th century landscape garden.
A bit of potted garden history for anyone interested. The “landscape” style of gardening became popular in the UK around the 1700s; its best known designer Capability Brown.
It’s a style of gardening that essentially aims to “improve” the natural landscape, intending the results to look like a beautiful spot of English countryside (though, in fact, huge chunks of money were likely spent on creating these effects, and vast swathes of land dug up and moved around to make “natural” lakes and hills and woodland areas…)
Nestled within the bucolic scenery were (in my opinion) completely lunatic buildings, designed to become a focal point and draw your eye to the horizon, across the sweeping vistas. Gothic follies, “ruined” abbeys, temples, towers, arches, bridges… …nothing was considered too grand or too weird for the aristocrats who owned and built these gardens.
At Painshill, close to Cobham in Surrey, all these features are apparent. Designed by its owner, the Honorable Charles Hamilton, an aristocrat with good connections but little actual money, the park was extensively re-designed and re-built to adhere to the 18th century ideas of a beautiful landscape.
Among other great ventures, the oxbow lake was re-dug to form a more appealing shape; a tumble-down ruined abbey was built to hide some actual modern-day brickworks; a grotto was bejeweled inside with crystals; and, most bizarrely, a Turkish tent was erected on the top of a hill at one side of the estate.
I’ve got to admit, it’s not my favourite era of garden styles. A little bit too much effort and artifice to create something “natural” – and a serious lack of things that, to a modern eye, are desirable. Such as, you know, flowers or non-evergreen trees and shrubs.
But a morning wandering around (in rather cold May drizzle) was a good way to blow away the cobwebs of the week. And I did very much enjoy the (non-original) watermill and the glorious walled kitchen garden on the way in.
Incidentally, if you’re thinking of visiting a landscape garden close to London, I would recommend, instead, a trip to Stowe (where I was lucky enough to spend two years in the sixth form at the school there). Designed by Capability Brown himself, this is landscape gardening at its absolute finest.
Next week, we’re off on holiday to Somerset and I’m hoping to visit Hestercombe while we’re there. With a garden designed by Lutyens and Jekyll, I’ve got high hopes of some serious inspiration there…
Of course we loved our house when we first bought it. You’ve got to really love a collection of bricks to hand over the best part of half a million pounds, after all.
I remember when we first viewed it: I was seven months pregnant, we were looking at 13 houses that weekend and we thought we’d found everything we ever wanted as we wandered through the cute little Victorian terrace in East Dulwich.
It was perfectly preserved in the 1950s, a real home where we could imagine bringing up our imminent arrival.
And, best of all in our eyes, it was a doer-upper. “Oh yes!” we exclaimed when we heard there was no central heating. “Oh we’ll just extend this kitchen right out to the side and back” we panted with enthusiasm on discovering the long narrow galley kitchen with no natural light. “We’ll have that pebble dash off on the very first day” we grinned to each other, all the while thinking of the savings we were making on the purchase price by doing all these things ourselves.
And then we moved in. And the love affair came to a rather abrupt end.
That first winter was so fricking freezing. Without central heating, we shivered away. Ancient electrical heaters in the main rooms provided some warmth but left me with the constant fear of an electrical fire in the night. Heaven forbid if you had to walk out of one room to reach another, shivering all the way down the corridors.
Eventually, the builders moved in, 14 months after we first did. Four months later, structural work completed, we moved back. To a house of bare plaster and a need for endless decorating. Once again, I was seven months pregnant.
Our money long (long!) eaten up, the past 14 months have been spent painting, sanding, hole-filling, caulking and getting quotes for various things that cost a fortune.
But at last it feels as if the end is in sight, signalled by the momentous occasion of the pebble dash being removed. And you know what, I’m reminded for the first time that my house is actually a real little looker.
Under all that ugly brown and grey pebbledash are some beautiful London stock bricks, all now beautifully re-pointed and able to breathe the air for the first time in probably 40 years.
Next steps: plant a climbing white rose up the front and replace the windows. Possibly in the opposite order. Ah, little house, you’ll be a proper beauty again before too long.
I always wonder, at some point in a blissful three day bank holiday weekend, whether every single weekend would be as good if everyone only worked a four day week all the time. Surely so much office working is just faffing around, chatting, making coffee, checking emails and so on, that actually it could all be squeezed into four days instead and the whole country could have three whole days off every single weekend? Anyway, such dreams are unlikely to become reality (and perhaps I would find then that I longed instead for a four day weekend?) but a bank holiday Monday is always a very delightful thing for me… …even though I don’t even have an office job to go to these days.
This Monday past, we set off for Eltham Palace, an English Heritage owned house and garden in deepest South-East London.
My latest garden design assignment is to create a planting plan for a London garden attached to a 1930s house; the planting needs to sit nicely with the period of the home. I didn’t know much about 1930s gardening, but a quick Google told me that Eltham Palace has some of the best 1930s borders in the country (and described it as a “gardener’s garden”) and Google maps told me it was a 25 min drive from our house. What luck, eh?!
The gardens were, indeed, stunning.
Along one side of the house, the formal gardens are set: a rose garden, a “linear” garden, a square pond and so on. In my research on 1930s gardens, I discovered that this was quite common in Edwardian times (and, indeed Arts and Crafts gardens, which were still in fashion in the ‘30s): more formal gardens, laid out often symmetrically, planted closer to the house, often in a series of “outdoor rooms” and then, as you got further towards the boundary, the planting became more naturalistic and wild, blurring where garden ended and open country began.
So, too, at Eltham. Across the most fabulous bridge from the moat, a meadow area was full of trees, grass and wildflowers, with a series of paths just mown into the meadow. This is an idea I absolutely adore and one I definitely plan to do if I am ever lucky enough to own a piece of land big enough to have a meadow…
Though the house would originally have been enclosed by the moat, nowadays only half is still filled with water. The section of moat at the back of the house has instead been turned into huge borders, flanked by beautiful old red brick walls.
Even the car parks were beautiful, in fact, this brick wall being one of the first things we saw when we parked the car:
Looking at the “1930s borders,” I’ve got to say, they looked like any contemporary flower borders to me, using all sorts of plants that I’ve learnt about in my course and love. I certainly wouldn’t have known that they were specifically from the ‘30s if I hadn’t been told so.
As for the house, well, that is the most fabulously 1930s place you could ever imagine. I’d left my camera in the pram (which wasn’t allowed inside) so I’ve got no photos, but it was a wonderful stroll round rooms preserved in their 1930s best: fabulously decadent gold mosaic-filled bathrooms; round windows all over the place; a special room (with central heating) for the pet lemur, called Mah-Jong (or Jonggy, if you’re on intimate terms) and walnut-panelled guest bedrooms. Given half a chance, I would have moved in then and there…
So, definitely worth a visit if you’re a garden lover, 1930s buff, or just fancy a wander round a nice house and grounds. We were talked into signing up to a year’s membership with the English Heritage at the entrance (you know, cos it ends up only costing three times as much as just paying to get in and that suddenly sounds like a great deal when someone says it to you enthusiastically) so I hope we’ll be visiting lots more places before the year is out.
Overstuffed walruses, giant totem poles, kitchen gardens growing lentils; what’s not to love about the Horniman museum?
It’s one of those collections of eclectic eccentricity that the British seem to do so well.
Luckily for us, it’s a mere 15-minute walk from where we live (albeit up an extremely steep hill) so we visit almost every week. But weekly visits are almost a necessity to even start to explore just a little bit of the amazingly diverse activities and sights here: almost all of them ideal for children.
The museum was founded by Frederick John Horniman, a Victorian tea trader, philanthropist and collector in 1890 to showcase the bits and pieces he’d picked up on his travels around the world. [Side note, if only current job descriptions were as exciting as “tea trader, philanthropist and collector” — I’d be updating the CV as we speak…]
Added to slowly in the centuries that have followed, the museum is a brilliant juxtaposition of the old anthropological exhibitions that you expect from a natural history museum and crazy architectural features like a totem pole, with modern additions such as the beautiful green-roofed library and aquarium in the basement.
Being something of a fishy family (in the nicest possible way), the aquarium tends to be our first spot to visit, where the sproglet races round pointing out all the fish excitedly to anyone listening and the baby and I tend to spend a little more time staring into the tranquility of the jellyfish tank. So peaceful and beautiful, I’d really love one in my own house.
I try not to bore on too much about the differences between a pipe fish and a seahorse to the sproglet, so once we’ve completed the loop a few times, we head upstairs to the natural history museums.
Here, two floors of glass cases are filled with stuffed animals, where the most famous exhibit is the fat walrus – bought by Horniman for the opening of his museum and originally from Canada. He’s a little chubbier than he should be as the taxidermist who stuffed him who had never before seen a photo of an actual walrus so had no idea they had folds in their skin.
If fish and stuffed animals aren’t your thing though, there’s plenty more to see.
The music room showcases practically every musical instrument you could ever imagine. Though safely behind glass, two tables in the room allow you to select photos of the instruments and listen to what they sound like. An adjacent room has a hands on area where you can play a selection of random instruments (most often populated by dads with their children, I’ve noticed, “just showing them” how to play the instrument correctly)… Outside, by the bandstand, every day objects have been turned into giant instruments – plastic pipes become a huge organ, and metal ones a giant xylophone. The sprog absolutely adores this area.
The bandstand itself is the setting for weekly story readings as well as a series of concerts over the summer.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the animal walk – a (really pretty tiny) walkway where you can admire chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits and… …two alpacas. Alpacas being pretty much one of my favourite animals in the world right now, I often lose myself, leaning on a gate, dreaming of owning an alpaca farm in the country and making my fortune selling beautiful alpaca yarn. Right until the sprog starts tugging at my sleeve and demanding, “Wot Mummy doin’?”
There’s also a kitchen garden, ten acres of grounds to explore, and the most stunning glass conservatory, in which occasional exhibitions are shown and which is available to rent for events like weddings (we did consider it for ours…)
The summer events programme is particularly impressive, I think. With an Edwardian theme (to match the newly renovated Edwardian bandstand), they’ve really gone to town on creating events to cater to all whims. Open air cinema, Edwardian “lates” with tea dances and live music (sooooo up my street!) and activities for kids on every day of the week, such as storytelling, art and minibeasts tours of the grounds. I genuinely think this must be one of the most “interactive” museums in the whole of London.
So, if you like a bit of weirdness in your kulcher, definitely somewhere to add to the “to visit” list. It’s in Forest Hill, so fairly easy to get to on the Overground or train line. Just be warned that the hill to get there is pretty steep…
Check out all the events, activities and exhibitions on the Horniman museum website. (NB, despite the gushing, I’m not in any way in cahoots with the Horniman on this post; just a genuine fan!)
Last Wednesday I spent a gorgeous sunny day wandering round Hampton Court flower show.
It was an English summer personified: the drowsy song of bees in the air, the sun beating down with occasional white clouds drifting across the blue skies, endless (endless!) stalls selling Pimms and rather a lot of people dressed in striped blazers and Panama hats.
I managed to spot a glimpse of Carol Klein, Joe Swift and Mary Berry, which added to the excitement of course, but I also got lots of inspiration from the gardens and stalls around the show.
I am planning to redesign and replant my own little patch of green this autumn and I came away with lots of ideas I’d love to translate back to my own space.
Here are five pieces of inspiration I took away from the show, in the hope they might also inspire you!
1. Use native planting to attract insects
As far as I’m concerned, this is preaching to the converted. Who wouldn’t want lots of colourful butterflies and buzzing bees in their garden, helping pollinate all the fruit and veg?
Lots and lots of gardens featured naturalistic planting and wildflowers, but the Macmillan legacy garden, above and below, was definitely my favourite.
The plants chosen were all native to Somerset (where Douglas Macmillan grew up) and included verbena, alchemilla, ammi majus, anemones, campanula, grasses, foxgloves, geraniums, hostas, sedum and thyme. In short, loads of my very favourite plants!
2. You can still pack a punch with small borders
It’s easy to walk around a show like Hampton Court and think, “sure, this all looks lovely, but I just don’t have space in my own garden to do anything like this…”
The Al Fresco summer garden, though, provided great inspiration for planting in small beds. The majority of the garden was hard landscaping, with a central dining table, covered by a pergola, and built in barbecue.
The area was surrounded by a number of raised beds, of fairly small dimensions, but full of gorgeous flowers, more than making their mark despite the small space they were confined in. Definitely one to provide encouragement to all those who, like me, only have a small space for planting…
3. Use your garden for what you love
Before I started my horticulture and design course last year, I had rather set ideas about what a garden should be.
Surely every garden needed a lawn, a patio, some borders and so on?
Of course, this is complete nonsense. Your garden should contain only the elements you want and will use.
No interest in a lawn but lots of time entertaining outside? Don’t bother including one, just create an amazing dining space like the Al Fresco garden above.
Obsessed with growing tender plants? Forget everything else and just have a greenhouse then! This one from Allitex is surely the greenhouse dream and I loved the way it had been surrounded by flower beds.
Not a show garden, of course, just a display by the company, but I lusted after it nonetheless.
(Perhaps one day I will be able to afford one to replace the beast…)
4. Simplicity is key
I am something of a magpie when it comes to my garden. I want to include every single lovely plant I have ever seen somewhere within its four fences…
But this display on an allium nursery’s stand reminded me of the importance of paring it back with plant choices and with colours. Less range of plants, but growing in profusion, is definitely more in design terms…
Sure, I don’t want to restrict myself to just alliums in my garden, but this was a great reminder of just how striking simplicity can be.
5. Plant up in everything you can…
…but don’t forget a cohesive style
I adored this stall which sold lots of zinc planters and buckets and milk urns and a million other wonderful things.
My garden currently has everything planted in the beds, with a few scattered pots here and there.
But planting up all sorts of unusual objects can have a wonderful effect. These zinc buckets, for example, would look fabulous planted as a herb garden.
Remember to match the planters to the style of your garden, however, to ensure you achieve cohesion of ideas. These would look great in a cottage style garden, as would terracotta pots.
A contemporary urban garden might suit aluminium or concrete pots better. Don’t be tempted to mix too many different materials together or the overall look can become a little bitty…
So, plenty of inspiration for me as I start to plan the next phase of my ever-evolving garden. And I’m booking myself a ticket to next year’s show as soon as I can!
Of course, but of course, I have Pinterest boards for these sorts of things too. If you love a beautiful garden as much as I do, follow my Dream garden plans board for lots of stunning designs. And my board Plants, plants, plants started as a place to save plants we were learning about in my horticulture course and has evolved into a place to save details of every plant I come across that I love. You can see a preview of both below, just click on the photos to go to the full board…
Last Sunday, we strapped the sprogs into their car seats, cracked the windows open to let in some warm summer breezes and set off along the A3 heading for RHS Wisley.
I wasn’t sure how enjoyable the rest of the Wolves in London clan were going to find the excursion; all of them so far too young /not-into-gardening to think that a thrilling day involves me wandering round examining flower beds and sharing fascinating snippets of information about Latin horticultural names or the biology of a plant’s roots. (More fool them…)
Actually, I was delighted at how family friendly Wisley was. There were only a few areas where I had to try and explain “Keep off the grass” signs to the sproglet. There was a soft play area and a children’s playground. But, it says a lot about how much fun we had everywhere else, that we didn’t have time to visit either of them.
An arts and crafts fair was taking place that weekend (I know, double heaven for me: gardening and crafts!)
Lots of stalls were set up around the grounds with makers selling their wares and offering lessons in everything from pot-throwing to brooch making.
Had I been alone, I would have definitely tried my hand at these plant prints. I only had a very quick look, but I think they must be made with inkodye, something I have been dying (geddit?!) to try out for a while now. The effect is really striking:
The sproglet was particularly impressed with a collection of wire sculptures of animals, like this hare:
And, naturally, I couldn’t resist getting a photo of this wolf sculpture. (A friendly wolf! I’ve written before about how they’re pretty hard to find…)
There were also various performances going on during the day. This lady, in the glasshouses, was billed as an “aerial artiste”…
But, most fun was had just wandering through the impressive grounds themselves, which are full of quirky architecture and sculptures.
The sproglet dashed off in glee the minute he saw the pagoda:
But his attention was held for even longer by a rather impressive insect hotel.
(Side note: I think these look stunning, but any I have come across seem rather devoid of insects. Anyone have something similar in their own garden?)
Rather intriguingly, my friend Annie (of Nimble Fingers and Steady Eyebrows) tweeted me just as I was leaving and said that there was a statue of her somewhere in the grounds. Sadly, I didn’t see it, but I did enjoy this couple sitting and soaking up the view:
And the glasshouses, of course, were mind-blowingly awesome:
We spent a lot of time wandering round inside and, of course, I took a few hundreds of photos of plants. This is the (highly) edited selection…
Rather foolishly, I was so busy being snap happy that I forgot to write down the names of any of these plants and I’m not really familiar with exotic flowers like this so I no longer have a clue what’s in the photos.
But no matter, for I’m saving the best til last. My very favourite part of the gardens was the more naturalist drift planting, just outside the back of the glasshouses. This is the look I aspire to in my own (much, much, much) smaller flower beds.
And I was very excited to see lots and lots of Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) growing out of walls and steps all over the place. I just bought some for my own garden and have planted the little plugs over the stone wall that divides one of my flower beds from the lawn. The first little daisy-like flower appeared yesterday, to my immense delight:
Aaaaand, that’s the end! Lots of photos, but still only showing a mere fraction of what’s there. I shall be returning soon, no doubt.
I also purchased some rather glorious second hand gardening books, but this post is already heejusly long so I’ll show you them another time…
The hubby is off work for five weeks now between jobs, so we’ve got plenty of time for exploring. Anywhere else we should go?
Before accepting that I must keep my old tumbledown greenhouse in the garden, for the time being at least, I spent a long time searching online for a greenhouse slash garden shed slash potting house.
It seemed such a straightforward idea to me. One little building that housed plants, tools, and all that junk that accumulates over the years and is banished from the house proper.
I searched and searched and searched and found nothing really suitable. Certainly nothing affordable.
But just now, a mere few days after telling you how I was reconciled to the beast at the end of the garden, and how I planned to make it look all lovely and appealing, on a little stroll down the Pinterest rabbit hole I stumbled across it. My dream garden outbuilding. Part potting shed, part greenhouse, part tool shed. And all, every single last bit of it, utterly beautiful.
Take a look.
Screw the big, ugly greenhouse. I can’t begin to tell you how desperately badly I want this one, nay need this at the end of my garden.
It’s homemade, by someone who clearly has some superb DIY skills, and the plans and all sorts of useful information for how it was built are over at Nitty Gritty Dirt Man.
(There are also loads and loads of other wonderful gardening articles too, with hugely appealing names such as Ten reasons I love elephant’s ears. If you’ve any interest in gardening, you could while away a good amount of time here, as I just have…)
But back to the glorious shed. Any ideas on how I can persuade my husband to give up every bit of spare time he has to learn the requisite skills and then build this for me? As a birthday present perhaps? That would give him a whole three months to essentially retrain as a builder and get it in situ. Sounds fairly reasonable to me…
As spring turns to summer, my thoughts turn to the unwieldy beast at the end of my garden.
I speak, of course, of my greenhouse.
When we first moved in, I planned, immediately, to replace it with something sophisticated like this:
Then I saw the price tag.
And so, I must reconcile myself to living for the next few years at least with this:
It’s not pretty is it?
And, at 15ft by 12ft, it is taking up almost a third of my garden.
Eventually, I will put in something smaller and build some raised veg beds in the area freed up. But for now, until I have a spare couple of thousand pounds, I plan to do everything I can to prettify the beast…
Luckily, there is plenty of inspiration out there. Here are a few of my favourite dilapidated yet lovely garden buildings. Because, hey, everyone loves aspirational gardening, don’t they?
It perhaps won’t surprise you to hear that I do have a collection of old rusty watering cans. So this first picture is brilliantly achievable for me:
And never mind that this shed will soon collapse under the weight of the tree branch; it’s light, airy and full of stunning old gardening related props. And plants, of course. Plants are a must in the greenhouse.
Yup, note to self, more plants needed. Currently, my greenhouse just houses seedlings, but something bigger would look rather nice:
I also have a couple of old wooden crates (left by the previous owners) and am starting to realise that filling them with plants and displaying them outside the greenhouse is an absolute must. (In practical terms, this would actually be a great way of hardening off plants as well…)
And I’ve saved one of my favourites til last. Fairy lights! You’d think electricity and somewhere that’s regularly watered wouldn’t mix, but hey, fairylight the crap out of the place and it will almost certainly look artful and atmospheric instead of old and tumbledown. (Note to readers, fairylight your greenhouses at your own risk!)
I’m planning on creating some similar artful little garden vignettes around the greenhouse over this summer, so I’ll share some photos of the results soon.
Watch this (heavily styled) space!
And if you’re as much a sucker as I am for the artfully distressed in the garden, I have hundreds more glorious photos over on my Pinterest board Dream garden plans. Click below to check it out…
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know have a bit of a penchant for photographing flowers. (For which read, my feed is stuffed full of floral photos, mostly taken on my daily wanderings round Peckham Rye Park.*)
But there was another reason that my feed was 90% flowers: my crappy iPhone 3 which objected strongly to photographing anything indoors in focus and most other big things outside too. Flowers, for some reason, it was fairly happy with.
Since I’ve just upgraded to a phone with a much better camera, though, I thought it was time to branch out (geddit?) and move past the individual flower to whole trees as well.
I’ve developed a bit of a love of trees since starting my horticulture course last year. I mean, it’s not that I ever didn’t like them, but now I’ve started to really notice their individual characteristics.
The way a birch tree’s branches sway and flitter in the wind; the amazing unique leaf shape of a Gingko biloba; the fabulous bark on a mature horse chestnut…
But, I have to confess, I’m still able to identify only a very few trees, so my aim over this summer is to photograph lots and find out what they are.
If this sounds vaguely interesting to you too, follow me over on Instagram to see some more. (All photos in this post are from my feed.)
And if you’re a good tree recogniser, I will be calling on you for help over the coming months!
We went blackberry picking this morning in Camberwell Old Cemetery. The cemetery is a two minute walk from our house and worth a visit as about a third of it is fantastically overgrown, with winding little lanes overhung with trees and a huge amount of brambles.
There’s something really romantic about the old graves, just peeping out through the foliage. When I go, I’d like my grave to end up looking like this one:
Before the blackberry picking in the overgrown lanes, we walked the upkept cement paths first, in an attempt to get the baby off to sleep. I read the inscriptions on the gravestones, noticing especially those who’d died young, or very old, or at the age I am now.
It’s sobering and yet somehow wonderfully beautiful to see the remains of all those lives, boiled down to one little sentence on a gravestone. I always enjoy the ones that say “To my darling husband” or “To my much loved Mum”… There are huge achievements you could reach in life, of course, writing books, becoming famous, making crucial scientific discoveries. And yet I rather feel that to be remembered as someone’s “beloved mother” or “adored wife” is a pinnacle that can’t be topped.
After these introspective musings, baby well asleep, we set off into the undergrowth and were rewarded for our bravery. We foraged a good kilo of blackberries, returning home an hour later covered in scratches, a few bites and with our hands stained purple.
The plans for these little beauties are some blackberry and apple jam / jelly (it’s used like a jam, but sieved like a jelly) and either some blackberry and apple leather or something similar to that. I’ll show you some pictures tomorrow, if they end up looking appealing.
This post is a double whammy, joining in with the August break and also being part of my Making the most of London series.