Category Archives: Garden Tours

Six (Gardens Galore) on Saturday

Some of my blogging friends have adopted a new meme organized by The Propagator, “Six on Saturday,” and I thought it would be fun to follow suit…especially this week when I’m just home from hosting a fabulous garden tour to East Anglia, England, where I visited some of the most remarkable gardens I’ve ever seen.

So, here are six gardens visited in the first days of the tour. If I’m lucky, I’ll have time to tell you more about each of these special places. Not this week, though, as I’m headed to St. Louis soon for another adventure.


The Old Palace (1485) at Hatfield House, where Queen Elizabeth I lived as a child, and its recently updated garden. (Not in East Anglia, but near Heathrow Airport where we arrived.)


Beth Chatto’s remarkable gravel garden. Notice how the bark of the eucalyptus tree gives prominence to the silver and gray foliage plants.


Helmingham Hall, built and owned by the Tollemache family since 1480.


A stunning scene at Wyken Hall Gardens and Vineyard. Our group also had a fabulous lunch at the café and the gift shop was top-notch too.


The sunken pool centering the rose garden at Houghton Hall. Imagine how beautiful this scene will be when the lavender and climbing roses are blooming!


Sandringham House, the much-loved country retreat of the Queen and the home where Prince Phillip, now retired from public life, spends a good portion of his time.


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.



Auld Lang Syne


Bodnant in June

The title “Auld Lang Syne,” a Scottish tune written by Robert Burns in the 1700’s, translates to “times gone by” and is about remembering friends from the past and not letting them be forgotten.

I finished editing photos from the June, August, and September garden tours just yesterday.  Sitting at the computer for hours on end can be exhausting work, but time spent on these photos was also a trip down memory lane as I reminisced over the many adventures shared with travel friends in past months.

Here are a few highlights, followed by the lyrics to the English translated version of “Auld Lang Syne.”  You’ll also find a link to the first bit of the song on the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” so if the chance comes up, you can sing with brash enthusiasm tonight.

Happy New Year and all the best to you in 2016!


Levens Hall, June


Gresgarth Hall, June


Arley Hall, June


Chatsworth, June


Scampston Hall, June


Hancock Shaker Village, August


Stockbridge, August


Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, August


Kiftsgate Court, September


Iford, September


RHS Wisley, September


Sissinghurst, September


Great Dixter, September

You’ll find the movie version of the song, “Auld Lang Syne,” here. 

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days o’ lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne!

We two have run about the slopes, and pulled the daisies fine, but we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since days o’ auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine, but seas between us broad have roared, since days o’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty friend, and give us a hand o’thine! And we will take a goodwill draught, for auld lang syne!

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne!

And surely you’ll buy your pint, and surely I’ll buy mine! And we will take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne!

The Savill Garden

The Savill Garden, considered the most important natural garden created in England in the twentieth century, comprises 35 acres in Windsor Great Park.  On my recent tour, it was the garden that most distinguished itself by its plants.  Not only was the quality of horticulture exceptionally high, the plants were showcased with both originality and style.

A view of Windsor Castle from the Long Walk, north of the Savill Garden.

A view of Windsor Castle from the Long Walk, north of the Savill Garden.

In the early 1930s, Eric Savill, then the Deputy Surveyor at Windsor, fashioned a remarkable landscape despite the site’s low rainfall by making the most of good soil and natural springs. Today, the garden is a testament to Savill, as well as those who continue to nurture and refine it.  In fact, much has been done to enhance the garden in just the last few decades.

A magnificent herbaceous border leads the way to the Queen Elizabeth Temperate House.

A magnificent herbaceous border leads the way to the Queen Elizabeth Temperate House.

In 1995, the Queen Elizabeth Temperate House (named for the Queen Mother) opened as a shelter for tender plants, while the Golden Jubilee Garden marked the 50th anniversary of the accession of the current monarch in 2002.  The stunning Savill Building, featuring a gift shop and café under an undulating, leaf-shaped roof, was opened in 2006.  And more recently, the Rose Garden was redesigned to feature these prized shrubs in an innovative display.

The Rose Garden

The Rose Garden

In the new garden, roses are planted in a swirling pattern, with color and scent concentrated as visitors move towards its center.  Pale flowers, including my favorite of the day, ‘Pearl Drift’, give way to pinks such as ‘Ballerina’, while reds like ‘Munstead Wood’ provide a crescendo at the center of the scheme.  A raised walkway, angled upwards and jutting towards the heart of the garden, provides a unique view and allows the design to be seen to best advantage.

Rosa 'Pearl Drift'

Rosa ‘Pearl Drift’

I have to admit, however, it was the Golden Jubilee Garden which really made my heart leap.  A modern interpretation of the much-loved cottage garden, this space is designed as an enclosed, sunny area that intensifies the fragrance of flowers and encourages visitors to linger on a nearby bench.  Concentric rings, mainly of yew and boxwood, create a contemplative mood and provide a foil for the brightly-colored flowers.

Between paths and enclosing hedges, large beds are planted in the prairie-style popularized by Dutch garden designer Pete Oudolf.  Bold sweeps of perennials, created with hundreds of harmonizing plants, are arranged in a color wave that progresses from one bed to the next.  In early September, I found a planting of purple geraniums, salvias, and veronicas, offset by a weathered teak bench, to be especially lovely.

Purple bed of the Golden Jubilee Garden.

Purple bed of the Golden Jubilee Garden.

A big part of the excitement of touring a garden, though, is finding a new plant.  Here are a few that that caught my eye on that fabulous, late-summer morning in the Savill Garden.

Hypericum x inodorum ‘Magical Pumpkin’:  Growing to roughly 30-inches tall and wide, this small shrub offers the familiar yellow flowers of St. John’s wort in summer, followed by pea-sized, coral berries in autumn that turn black as the season wears on.

Hypericum x inodorum 'Magical Pumpkin'

Hypericum x inodorum ‘Magical Pumpkin’

Echinacea purpurea ‘Virgin’:  An introduction from Pete Oudolf, this new coneflower grows in compact clumps featuring 4-inch wide flowers distinguished with a prominent green cone and brilliant white petals which are fringed on their tips.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Virgin’

Veronica spicata ‘Purpleicious’:  A major component of the purple bed in the Golden Jubilee Garden, this spike speedwell offers intense purple flowers and dark green foliage on a vigorous cultivar that grows to 20-inches tall and wide.

Veronica 'Purpleicious'

Veronica ‘Purpleicious’

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’:  More compact than many of its kin, this introduction from the esteemed German nurseryman Ernst Pagels reaches just 5-feet tall and provides a jolt of color with deep burgundy flower heads in late summer.  In the Savill Garden, the grass was planted in drifts among the outer borders of the rose garden, where it complimented a variety of soft pink flowers.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Ferner Osten'

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’

Acer x conspicuum ‘Phoenix’:  It’s not often that a tree stands out from the crowd in a garden of exceptional plants, but this unusual maple lives up to its cultivar name with orange bark that becomes more vivid in cold weather.  A hybrid between the American Acer pensylvanicum and the Chinese Acer davidii, the small tree grows 20-feet tall and nearly as wide and will brighten the garden in fall with gold foliage.

Acer x conspicuum ‘Phoenix'

Acer x conspicuum ‘Phoenix’