Category Archives: Garden Tours

Peek–A Peony for Fall

Do you know this plant?


Japanese forest peony (Paeonia obovata)

No? Well, it’s new to me too. I saw it on a September tour that I led to Philadelphia and the Brandywine Valley, in the garden of David Culp who wrote The Layered Garden.

Commonly called Japanese forest peony, Paeonia obovata is a woodland species native to forested areas of Siberia, Manchuria, China, and Japan. In spring, the plant’s fresh foliage emerges red before turning green. Its single-form flowers, which bloom in early summer and have a mild fragrance, range from white to rosy-purple and feature bold yellow stamens.

Autumn, however, is the peony’s best season. In late summer or early fall, its seed pods begin to split, revealing glossy blue-black berries set among infertile, luminous red kernels.

David grows a cluster of these perennials in the garden of his home, Brandywine Cottage, where they are nestled at the base of a massive fir tree. The tree has a raised canopy that creates an outdoor room, including walls made with a collection of potted plants and a picnic table for enjoying alfresco meals.

While signing books for the group at the picnic table, David noted the peony is easy to grow in good soil with part shade and regular moisture.

I hope to show you more of David’s garden soon; this is just a peek to whet your appetite, which is linked to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge: Peek.

Dutch Master–Jacqueline van der Kloet

I first learned about Jacqueline van der Kloet, a Dutch designer celebrated for her innovative use of bulbs, two years ago when planning a garden tour to the Netherlands and Belgium. Last month, when that tour finally came to fruition, it was Jacqueline’s Tea Garden in Weesp, a small town near Amsterdam, which proved to be the great favorite of nearly everyone.


The Tea Garden showcases naturalistic compositions of herbaceous plants among trees and shrubs.

The garden, which features naturalistic compositions of bulbs and other perennials, is planted among a framework of trees and shrubs. Harmonizing these herbaceous plants can be tricky, however, so the designer uses the space to experiment with combinations of color, texture, habit, and bloom time, perfecting the balance, rhythm, and “painterly effect” she is known for.

Arriving in Weesp, we were awed by the beauty and charm of surrounding grasslands, rivers, and the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, as well as the town’s historic center. Handsome buildings dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth century, three classic windmills, and pristine waterways and roads make this area a lovely stop for tourists.


Popular with tourists, Weesp is crisscrossed by rivers and the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal.

Just steps from the historic district and tucked behind a fortified bastion built in 1674, the Tea Garden was found at the end of a short lane. There, cradled between an old barn remodeled into offices and a private residence, both painted a striking blue-green, the garden sparkled in the morning light.

Evergreen hedges and winding pathways establish a circular flow around the garden. Some of the woody plants grow in their natural form, but many are clipped. A large doublefile viburnum is trained into a small tree and many shrubs are shaped into fanciful forms, such as spirals, domes, and animals, including a peacock and teddy bear.


Some shrubs are clipped into fanciful forms and animal shapes.

What truly distinguishes the garden, however, is the blend of perennials intertwined in loose, Impressionistic swaths, in a way that appears as if the flowers have sprung up on their own.


The cool blue and purple throughout the garden is accented here with sharp yellow and orange.

Among the tulips, alliums, columbine, geums, poppies, lupins, and lacy umbels, the daffodils and hellebores of yesterday and the lilies and coneflowers of tomorrow were evident.  Foliage plants, such as hostas, ferns, and ornamental grasses, added layers of texture, while the smooth curves of pathways were intentionally (and charmingly) disrupted by the undulating forms of clipped box and spreading perennials.

The color scheme was restricted, but not static. Cool blue and purple flowed throughout the garden, accented with soft pink and salmon in some areas and bold chartreuse and orange in others. One of the most striking combinations featured blue cranesbill geraniums punctuated with golden Alexander (Smyrnium perfoliatum) and white, goblet-shaped tulips.


White, goblet-shaped tulips stand tall above a mix of blue cranesbill geranium, golden Alexander (Smyrnium perfoliatum), and other herbaceous plants.

Interestingly, as a teenager, Jacqueline hoped to attend art school, but was dissuaded by parents who worried about her financial security. By chance, she met an old school friend training in landscape architecture and opted for a career in design, studying in Boskoop and Brussels and then designing public spaces with a firm before opening her own business with two colleagues in the 1980s and focusing on residential design.

We saw more of Jacqueline’s work at Keukenhof Gardens, possibly the world’s most overwhelming spring landscape with more than seven million tulips, daffodils, and other bulbs over 32 hectares.  In the United States, she has designed gardens for the New York Botanical Gardens and the Colorblends House and Spring Garden in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and worked in conjunction with Piet Ouldolf on various projects, including Battery Park in New York and the Lurie Garden in Chicago.


Last look–a happy harmony of allium, columbine, and cranesbill geranium.

For more inspiration and information, take the opportunity to visit Jacqueline’s website found here.

Ridleys Cheer


Welcome to Ridleys Cheer!

Your enthusiasm for Ridleys Cheer has prompted me to write more about one of my favorite English gardens. Located in Wiltshire, the garden has been created by garden designer Antony Young and his wife, Sue, since the early 1980s. The couple initially planned a short stay, but were able to purchase additional land and so made the happy decision to improve their home and stay put. With time, they’ve doubled the size of the house and expanded the garden to include many new spaces, including a stunning wildflower meadow.


A first peek from just inside the gate shows the rose ‘Cecile Brunner’ in full bloom.


The dramatic stairway garden includes the (almost hidden) pale yellow noisette climber, ‘Alister Stellar Gray’, a repeat flowering rose with strong fragrance.

Now comprising 14 acres, Ridleys Cheer is an informal garden with sloping lawns, stone walls, and many interesting plant collections. Chief among these are its roses, including 125+ species and hybrids seldom enjoyed, and many magnolias, acers, daphnes, and other plant groups. On my first tour of the garden (more than 10 years ago), Mr. Young greeted visitors with a list of hundreds of plants that could be found in bloom that very day.

When I visit the garden of a designer, I expect a well-planned and executed layout. Mr. Young meets and exceeds that expectation. It was a surprise, however, to discover he is also an expert plantsman who excels at creating niche habitats, providing conditions that allow him to expand the plant palette, as well as show plants to their best advantage.


The reverse view highlights a standard Wisteria venusta with twisted stem, plus sweeping lawn and garden beds.


Everyone fell in love with this Clematis montana ‘Broughton Star’ on the garden’s front wall.  Look closely at the photo above, and you can spy it just left of the wisteria.

The origin of the property’s name is not what you would expect. The Bishops Latimer and Ridley were led to their martyrdom in 1555 in Oxfordshire and before being burnt to death Latimer’s last words to Ridley were, “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and pay the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Hmm…I’m not sure how that worked out in the long run, but I can say anyone would be cheered by this enchanting namesake.

The beauty of Ridleys Cheer and the hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Young lived large in my heart long after my initial visit and so I was particularly excited to add Ridleys Cheer to the itinerary of the West Country Gardens tour, which was carried out in June 2016. As you can see from the photos here, it was another wonderful day in the garden with Mr. Young, just as I hoped.


Entrance to the arboretum, a wonderland of trees, shrubs, and woodland perennials.


And a quick look at the wildflower meadow which is at its best in late summer and early autumn.

In addition to opening for the NGS and by appointment, Mr. and Mrs. Young also offer plant sales, and bed & breakfast. Their address is Mountain Bower, Chippenham SN14 7AJ. They can be reached at Tel: (01225) 891204 and by Email:


Gracious hosts, Sue and Antony Young.


One last look before boarding the coach. The pink climber is ‘Aloha.’

Don’t worry, I haven’t shown you everything; there are still many surprises to discover on your own!  And don’t miss the compost pile, it is the best I’ve ever seen.

When you make the trip to Wiltshire, I also strongly recommend a visit to Iford Manor, Harold Peto’s personal Italianate garden near Bath. If time allows, consider another nearby garden too, The Priory, the personal garden of French designer Mme. Antia Pereire. Fans of the classic landscape garden will be glad to hear Stourhead is not too far distant.


This planting of Guem (perhaps ‘Flames of Passion’?) was one of my favorites.  Can anyone confirm or offer another cultivar name?



West Country Gardens

I spend a good bit of time at the close of each year editing travel photos so I can share the best with those who joined me on the trip.  Here are a dozen favorites from the West Country Gardens tour, June 7-17.


Ridleys Cheer, Wiltshire


Cothay Manor, Somerset


Maperton House, Dorset


Forde Abbey, Dorset


Montacute House, Somerset


Milton Lodge Gardens, Somerset


Wells Cathedral, Somerset


Veddw House Garden, Monmouthshire


Aberglasney Gardens, Carmarthenshire


National Botanic Garden of Wales, Carmarthenshire


Dyffryn Fernant Garden, Pembrokeshire


Cae Hir Gardens, Ceredigion

There are many things I look for when visiting gardens, but I’m most interested in how they relate to the home and their surrounding landscape.  When reviewing my photos as a whole, I’m often struck by how many focus on those relationships.

As you can see, our visit to Wiltshire, Somerset, and Dorset was fabulous, and our foray into Wales was equally exciting.  We also squeezed in a visit to Highgrove House, exploring the Gloucestershire garden of HRH Prince Charles. Sadly, photos are not allowed at Highgrove.

Do you have a favorite among the group?

I’ll be visiting gardens in the Netherlands and Belgium in May.  If you would like to travel with me or consult my schedule for an independent visit, you can examine the full itinerary here.

Dordogne Flip Flop

I’ve just arrived home from a trip to the Dordogne that exceeded all expectations.  Unfortunately, there’s lots of catching up to do before I can indulge myself in blogging, but here’s a quick look at the countryside around Beynac.

On a morning drive towards La Roque-Gageac, I caught this great view of Chateau de Beynac high above the Dordogne River Valley.


Chateau de Beynac from the Dordogne River Valley.

Then, days later when visiting Beynac, I captured a photo flip flop, by photographing the Dordogne River valley from the high ridge near the Chateau.


The Dordogne River Valley from Chateau de Beynac. To the right is Chateau de Castelnaud.

What an amazing place.  Even though the region suffered from a hot and dry summer this year, I think it’s the most beautiful part of France I’ve visited.

Gardens of the Dordogne


Here is temptation for garden travelers I hope you won’t be able to resist:

Gardens of the Dordogne in September!

This upcoming 10-day tour includes many of the best gardens of Bordeaux and the Dordogne Valley, such as Les Jardins de Marqueyssac pictured above, plus a free day in Sarlat-la-Caneda, a wine tasting, and more!

To know what makes the Dordogne so special, peruse this travel guide by the Daily Telegraph’s best expert, found here.

And for a full itinerary and more details about the tour, click here.


The Beth Chatto Gardens


Home of Beth Chatto, with the water garden in the foreground.

Not long ago I remarked how nice it would be to have a snowy day on the sunporch and today my wish was granted, although it is sleet and ice that blankets the Upstate. For company, I choose The Shade Garden by Beth Chatto, a best-loved book I’m revisiting as I formulate plans for a renovation of the back garden.


A view of the gravel garden.

In September, I visited Chatto’s renowned gardens for the first time. In addition to her own books, much has been written about the gardens, so I won’t attempt to explain what others have already expressed better than I can, other than to say I’m thankful I was able to visit the gardens in her lifetime and that they are even better than pictures can possibly show.  For those not familiar with Chatto and her method, often called “ecological gardening,” I recommend a short collection of notes on a 2008 exhibition held at the Garden Museum, found here.


Called ecological gardening, Chatto’s method matches plants to conditions where they can thrive.

The main object of my visit was the woodland garden, but I found its late-summer charms were overwhelmed by those of the gravel garden and water garden. In fact, I’m afraid shady spaces were mostly overlooked that day, which adds to my impatience for another visit.  Since the gardens are only a short train journey from London, I hope, with time, to enjoy them in every season.


Korean reed grass, Calamagrostis brachytricha, adds interest with striking foxtail-like flowers.

Tomorrow’s column in the Greenville News features a small handful of grasses grown in the drought-resistant gravel garden and the photos on this blog fulfill a promise to show more views of Chatto’s landscape.


The scree garden.

Without a doubt, British gardens are among the most beautiful and noteworthy in the world. The best, such as the Beth Chatto Gardens, exhibit the highest standards of horticulture.  And, in general, British gardening professionals have been the primary leaders in both design and plant cultivation for the past 400 years.


The nursery at the Beth Chatto Gardens.

If you haven’t noticed the Hortitopia Tours page, take a peek every once in a while. Currently, I’m featuring a June 2016 garden tour to southern Wales and England.  Among other highlights, the trip includes Cothay Manor, distinguished as one of the “20 Best Gardens in Britain;” Montacute House, featured in the recent BBC production of Wolf Hall; Veddw House garden, a celebrated contemporary garden and favorite of Piet Oudolf; the National Botanic Garden of Wales, a nearly 600 acre garden that looks clearly to the future; and a visit to the home of Dylan Thomas.  For details, click here.


One of Somerset’s finest historic houses, Cothay Manor is surrounded by 12 acres of magical gardens.