Category Archives: Garden Tours

Whichford Pottery

I’ve been a fan of Whichford Pottery since its handmade flowerpots first caught my eye at the Chelsea Flower Show more than a decade ago.  Sadly, shopping at will was curtailed by the expense of shipping, but I tucked away the surprising news that the family-run business is open to visitors.  It was a no-brainer, then, to add a visit to this celebrated workshop to the itinerary of my recent garden tour (Late Summer Gardens coordinated with Discover Europe), which included a 6-day stay in the Cotswolds.

Whichford Pottery is located near Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire.

Whichford Pottery is located near Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire.

Established in 1976 by Jim and Dominique Keeling, the pottery is internationally renowned for its handsome, durable, and frostproof flowerpots.  The business is, in fact, the largest handmaking pottery in Europe, with a team of 25 craftsmen creating traditional and bespoke ceramics inspired by British, Greek, Italian, and Asian designs.

Some of the large flowerpots available in the stockyard between the Pottery production building, shown here, and the Octagon Gallery.

Some of the large flowerpots available in the stockyard between the Pottery production building, shown here, and the Octagon Gallery.

Our morning at the pottery was extraordinary.  I was amazed we were able to observe every detail of the process, beginning with the three types of locally-dug clay and ending with a wide array of finished products, including numerous small items which were carefully wrapped and stowed for our trip back to the US.

Kylie explains how raw materials are mixed. Notice the red tray of clay lumps on the extruder that produces square logs of finished clay.

Kylie explains how raw materials are mixed. Notice the red tray of clay lumps on the extruder that produces square logs of finished clay.

Our tour, led by Kylie, began in the clayroom and while I can’t begin to describe the process in detail, here is what I remember in short:  the three clays are mixed with grog (previously fired clay that is ground up and incorporated to reduce shrinkage) to make a slurry that is piped through a machine which removes stones and other bits that are too large.  Then, the clay is squeezed through an accordion-like device to remove water, pumped into a machine that shapes it into logs, and cut into lengths that are wrapped in plastic and stacked for a minimum 8-week resting period.

This device squeezes water from the clay mix.

This device squeezes water from the clay mix.

Mixing is probably the most important part of the process and yet most would imagine it a thankless job.  The craftsmen in the clayroom were high spirited, however, with radio blasting and obviously enjoying their work.  Perhaps a nearby ceiling painting keeps them inspired.

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After a quick look at the kilns, we were treated to a demonstration in the throwing workshop by Joe, Kylie’s husband, and within minutes saw a lump of clay transformed into a flowerpot with a pie crust edge.  In the same studio, we also marveled over the application of a variety of finishing details, such as basket weave and other forms of ornamentation, as well as personalization with names and dates to mark special events.

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Each flowerpot is marked with a “Whichford England” stamp at its base and some are further distinguished with a makers mark, or a rolling mark that circles under the lip of the pot noting, “Whichford Pottery*Warwickshire*England.”

Whichford Pottery's destinctive hallmark.

Whichford Pottery’s destinctive hallmark.

Before departure, we did our best to spread joy in the stockyard and Octagon Gallery where a selection of pottery and other gift items were offered.  

The tempting Octagon Gallery.

The tempting Octagon Gallery.

Limited by packing space, I chose a small longtom fired with a moss glaze for my new porch. Though my Wichford flowerpot may not always be dressed with such fanfare in the future, for its first outing it is graced with a selection of lady slipper orchid commonly called a Venus slipper (Paphiopedilum). 

Wichford flowerpot, now sharing its charms in the Upstate of South Carolina.

Wichford flowerpot, now sharing its charms in the Upstate of South Carolina.

To see more about Wichford Pottery, enjoy this 4-minute video clip of Adam Keeling at work.

Or, click on the photo below of the courtyard garden to examine a small selection of various flowerpots created by these talented craftsmen.

Courtyard garden at Whichford Pottery.

Courtyard garden at Whichford Pottery.

Great Dixter

In September, there’s no better garden in England than the one at Great Dixter, the family home of gardener and garden writer Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006).  Today, the garden is cultivated in the spirt of Lloyd by Head Gardener Fergus Garrett and a team, including interns, which never hesitates in a forward-looking approach that embraces new plants and fresh ideas.

In today’s garden column in the Greenville News, I use Great Dixter’s pot displays as a lead in for information on creating fall containers, so it’s the perfect time for a closer look at this iconic garden. Details and a map of the garden can be found on Great Dixter’s website, but here, I would like to let the photos speak for themselves.  Enjoy!

Pot display at the home's front door.

Pot display at the home’s front door.

The Sunk Garden and Barn Garden looking towards the house.

The Sunk Garden and Barn Garden looking towards the house.

The Sunk Garden and Barn Garden looking towards the White Barn.

The Sunk Garden and Barn Garden looking towards the White Barn.

The Sunk Garden and Barn Garden looking towards the Meadow Garden (beyond the yew hedge).

The Sunk Garden and Barn Garden looking towards the Meadow Garden (beyond the yew hedge).

The Walled Garden looking towards the enty into the Sunk Garden and Barn Garden.

The Walled Garden looking towards the enty into the Sunk Garden and Barn Garden.

The entry from the Walled Garden into the Blue Garden.

The entry from the Walled Garden into the Blue Garden.

The Nursery Sales Shop.

The Nursery Sales Shop.

Exiting the Nursery, looking across the Topiary Lawn towards the house.

Exiting the Nursery, looking across the Topiary Lawn towards the house.

The stairway entry to the Exotic Garden.

The stairway entry to the Exotic Garden.

Planting detail.

Planting detail.

The Long Border seen from the Orchard.

The Long Border seen from the Orchard.

The grass and meadow of the Orchard from the Long Border.

The grass and meadow of the Orchard from the Long Border.

The vegetable area within the High Garden.

The vegetable area within the High Garden.

Overlooking the Peacock Topiary from the High Garden.

Overlooking the Peacock Topiary from the High Garden.

One last glance...

One last glance…

Some of the Best Views of England

As you would guess, the itinerary of a garden tour includes lots of gardens, but every once in a while it’s exciting to do something a bit different.  On the recent tour of the Cotswolds, our guide, Ian, suggested a visit to Broadway Tower, a Capability Brown folly on the second highest point of the Cotswold escarpment, 1024 feet above sea level.

Sharon was the first up the hill to Broadway Tower.

Sharon was the first up the hill to Broadway Tower.

Completed in 1798, the Tower was designed by renowned architect James Wyatt with an eclectic mish-mash of elements including turrets, battlements, balconies, and gargoyles.  In fact, it has everything an American tourist could ask for on a first-day out in England, complete with a gift shop on the ground level.

Long before the Tower was built, the location was a vital communications center known as a “beacon hill,” where messages of urgency could be conveyed by lighting a fire that could be seen for miles around.

Later, during the World Wars, the Royal Observer Corps used the Tower to track enemy planes, and during the Cold War they constructed a nuclear bunker where they could report nuclear attacks.

Here are a few of the amazing views from the tower today…

In the far distance looking west, the counties of Hereford, Worcestershire, and Powis, with the Malvern Hills 25 miles distant.

In the far distance looking west, the counties of Hereford, Worcestershire, and Powis, with the Malvern Hills 25 miles distant.

To the Northeast, looking over Hereford, Worcester, Worcestershire, Leicestershire, and Northampshire.

To the Northeast, looking over Hereford, Worcester, Worcestershire, Leicestershire, and Northampshire.

In the near distance, pasture lands and villages.

In the near distance, pasture lands and villages.

And here’s a good part of the group, with smiles…and are those shopping bags I see?

Marian, Dick, Sharon, Marcia, Sarah, Gerald, Suzanne, Martha R., Karen, Beth,  Eugenia, Jennie, Joan (hiding), Kathy, and Martha S.

Marian, Dick, Sharon, Marcia, Sarah, Gerald, Suzanne, Martha R., Karen, Beth, Eugenia, Jennie, Joan (hiding), Kathy, and Martha S.

Another important part of a tour is the accommodation and in the Cotswolds we were fortunate to stay at The Wood Norton, a boutique hotel built as a hunting lodge for European Royalty in 1897.  I can’t imagine anything more perfect–the rooms were lovely and comfortable, the food (and wine!) outstanding, and the staff superb in every way.

Here’s another handfull of views we all came to love…

Wood Norton Hall, our home away from home.

Wood Norton Hall, our home away from home.

A small sampling of Wood Norton's beautiful garden and landscaped grounds.

A small sampling of Wood Norton’s beautiful garden and landscaped grounds.

And if you didn't have enough excitement during the day, you could book a balloon ride for the evening!

And if you didn’t have enough excitement during the day, you could book a balloon ride for the evening!

Almost Wordless Wednesday–September 16, 2015

Great Terrace at Iford Manor

Great Terrace at Iford Manor

Just home from London last night, so no time to write yet, but wanted to share this image of one of my favorite gardens–Iford Manor–with its recently redesigned borders on the Great Terrace.

Final Flourishes

It seems an awful long time since I shared news of an impending porch project and the first photos of demolition of the old deck, but the job is finally drawing to a close.  Anyone who has ever been involved with home construction or rehab knows that’s worth celebrating, in and of itself, but even better, we are thrilled with the final outcome of our project.

Just getting started in June.

Just getting started in June.

Simply put, the first-floor porch and basement patio are better than our wildest dreams.  Even as the final flourishes are added, it just keeps getting better and better.

Most surprising of all, the process has been enjoyable.  Everyone we have worked with, especially our designer, Kimberly Kerl of Kustom Home Design, and our contractor, Mike Carter of Renaissance Company, have gone above and beyond to make sure every detail has been just the way we wanted.  They have made it both easy and exciting for us; I can’t commend them enough.

Here’s the latest…

A beautiful new patio!

A beautiful new patio!

With exacting details to make it perfect.

With exacting details to make it perfect.

And a stunning porch that provides a birds-eye-view of the world beyond.

And a stunning porch that provides a birds-eye-view of the world beyond.

While I’ve been happy to share periodic updates about the porch, I’ve had little time for writing on the blog this summer, which has been disappointing, because I’ve had so many wonderful experiences I had hoped to share.  Needless to say, you’ll be hearing about some of these events this winter, when both the garden and I are enjoying a rest.

I want to tell you about one thing, quickly, now though, because it was so exhilarating…

Last Friday, with other officers of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, I visited the White House and had to opportunity to meet with Valerie Jarratt, Special Advisor to the President, just prior to a White House Briefing for our Board of Directors.  Following this visit, our group met with General Wilma Vaught at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, and then toured Arlington National Cemetery, and the Smithsonian’s American History Museum.  It was a great day and one I was glad to share with the most hardworking and inspirational volunteers I know—the GFWC Board of Directors.

GFWC Executive Committee with Valerie Jarratt, Special Advisor to the President.

GFWC Executive Committee with Valerie Jarratt, Special Advisor to the President.

GFWC Board of Directors at Arlington National Cemetery.

GFWC Board of Directors at Arlington National Cemetery.

This afternoon, I will begin to put the final flourish on summer with one last garden tour, a trip to the Cotswolds, London, and Kent.  I can’t wait to share the details and hope to post a few tidbits along the way.  For now, however, just let me give you this one little hint…

What a great way to end summer!

What a great way to end summer!

Isabella’s Courtyard

The recent tour to Boston & the Berkshires was a overwhelming success and many of the Hortitopia group noted the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum was a great favorite.  I have to admit, it stole my heart too, not only because of its art and artifacts, but especially for its dreamy interior courtyard.

Interior courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Boston, from the North Cloister.

Interior courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Boston, from the North Cloister.

By all accounts, Isabella was a remarkable woman.  The firstborn of a wealthy New York family, she married a schoolmate’s brother, John Lowell (Jack) Gardener, just days before her 20th birthday and became a Bostonian.  Within five years she bore and lost her only child, a son called Jackie.  After suffering a subsequent miscarriage and being advised against further attempts to have children, she sank into a deep depression.  Soon after, Jack traveld with Isabella to Europe for a change of scene, where they crossed Norway to see the midnight sun and visited St. Petersburg, Vienna, Paris, and other lively cities.

In time, a love of travel and intellectual pursuits fueled Isabella’s ebullient personality and sometimes unconventional behavior.  Celebrated as a millionaire Bohemienne and leader of the smart set, she became friend and patron to noted artists and writers, including John Singer Sargent and Henry James.

The Roman mosaic, Medusa, from the East Cloister.

The Roman mosaic, Medusa, from the East Cloister.

In the 1890s, with an inheritance from her father in hand, Isabella began collecting in earnest, building a world-class collection of paintings, statues, tapestries, manuscripts, architectural elements, and other remarkable pieces.  The museum planned by the Gardeners to house these treasures, and which Isabella built after Jack’s sudden death in 1898, was modeled after a Venetian palazzo. Fenway Court, as it was then known, opened to great acclaim (and a champaigne and donuts celebration) in 1903.

Closeup of the fountain taken from the West Cloister.

Closeup of the fountain taken from the West Cloister.

As noted in the museum’s companion guide and history written by Hilliard T. Goldfarb, “She had turned the facades of a Venetian palazzo inward on each other to form a courtyard, a graceful oasis filled with flowers, palms, and fountains.  Eight balconies overlook a mosaic bought in Rome that is surrounded by Roman statues.  At the entrance to the courtyard stand the lion stylobates purchased for Gardener by her husband in Florence.  Natural light, which was critical to Gardener, streams through the skylight, bathing the entire courtyard with its evanescent effects.’”

A peek, from the West Cloister, at the skylight and some of the balconies.

A peek, from the West Cloister, at the skylight and some of the balconies.

In 2003, the courtyard was redesigned as part of the museum’s centennial celebration to reflect the lush style popular in Isabella’s day.  Now, floral displays are planned and executed around seasonal themes up to 9 times a year.

Last week, chimney bellflower (Campanula pyramidalis) drew oohs and aahs as the courtyard’s prima donna, while hydrangeas acted as supporting players.

The bellflowers are grown from seed in greenhouses by the museum’s horticulturists.  As biennials, it takes two years for the plants to reach maturity and produce the 6-foot tall spikes of bell-shaped blooms.  Native to southern Europe, chimney bellflowers were grown as a summer embellishment for the fireless grate in the 17th to 19th centuries, which accounts for the plant’s common name.

Holly among the bellflowers, taking a photo.

Holly among the bellflowers, taking a photo.

With careful observation, you can see many of the courtyard’s decorative and green plants remain in pots, though most containers are hidden, so they are easily exchanged with greenhouse replacements.  The balconies provide visitors a unique view of the courtyard from nearly every room.  In turn, the courtyard illuminates the museum’s collections and arouses intimate relationships between art and landscape.

The amazing museum offers three floors of outstanding art, including Titian’s Rape of Europa (1560-1562), Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait (1629), and Sargent’s Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast (1882-1883), plus thousands of other carefully selected and curated pieces.  Today, the space also hosts exhibitions, concerts, lectures, performances, and an Artist-in-Residence program.

The fourth level served as Isabella’s home until her passing in the summer of 1924.  In September that year, her niece, Olga Monks, wrote, “It seems strange to go to Fenway Court and lonely.  Bolgi [her assistant] told me a few days ago that he often thought he heard her calling him, but her people work as they feel she would have wanted them to do and the place must always remain live for that was the idea in the original conception and in the execution of the idea, a living message of the beauty in art in each generation.”

A lingering look at Isabella's legacy...

A lingering look at Isabella’s legacy…

Wordy Wednesday

I’m a bit forlorn I’m not in London this week for the Chelsea Flower Show, but after a month of back-to-back trips, I’m relishing a couple of weeks at home.  Recently, I was able to squeeze in a pleasant morning at the Joyful Garden Tour sponsored by Christ Church Episcopal, where I captured the enticing image below.

A Charleston-style garden featured on the Joyful Garden Tour.

A Charleston-style garden featured on the Joyful Garden Tour.

Although not at Chelsea, I’ve found a pretty good substitute—four episodes of a recent British television show, now on YouTube, called The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge.  This link is to the first show, a cottage garden design challenge.  If you watch this one, the other episodes should pop up in a “suggested” box.

I never tire of garden tours, which is a good thing, as I’ll soon be in Toronto for the 2015 Garden Bloggers Fling, quickly followed by this year’s first visit to England (outlined here).  If interested, the September tour to England, which includes a visit to the private gardens of HRH the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at Highgrove, still has a couple of openings, as does the August tour to Boston & the Berkshires.

Wherever your upcoming travels take you, I hope they’re filled with flowers and fun…

Terry Gentry's salmon-colored Louisiana iris.

Terry Gentry’s salmon-colored Louisiana iris.

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge–Symmetry

This week’s photo challenge is symmetry, which gives me an opportunity to revisit some shots I took in Italy this past September.  Here are just a few favorites…

Villa Gamberaia

Villa Gamberaia

Windows

Windows

Pantheon

Pantheon

 

 

Almost Wordless Wednesday–November 26, 2014

Waterfall and Roman bridge at Nesso as seen from Lake Como (Lago di Lario)

Waterfall and Roman bridge at Nesso as seen from Lake Como (Lago di Lario)

Though taken in September, this photo with its Japanese creeper (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), also called Boston ivy, seems to fit the season. The image is excerpted from a collection of garden tour photos which I only recently finished editing. To view the album highlighting gardens and other sights of the Lakes, Florence, and Rome, click here.

For a unique rotating view of the waterfall and lake taken from the bridge, click here.
Look carefully and see if you can spy the bathing beauty!

New Vigor to the Mind

It’s no secret that I keep a bag packed and am always looking ahead to the next trip, but just now I’m especially excited because I’ve planned a garden tour for June 2015 that includes a visit to some of my favorite gardens in the UK, plus a handful of those still at the top of my “must see” list. Repeats include Bodnant, one of the finest and best-loved gardens in Britain, and Levens Hall, home of 300-year old towering topiary and current head gardener Chris Crowder, an innovator who keeps the ancient landscape fresh and fun.

Chris points out a tree planted at Levens Hall by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales.

Chris points out a tree planted at Levens Hall by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales.

And I’m over the moon about finally visiting Gresgarth Hall, the garden of designer Arabella Lennox-Boyd; Chatsworth, the “Palace of the Peaks;” and Scampston Walled Garden, designed by the master Dutch plantsman, Piet Oudolf; to name but a few.

Seneca said, “Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind,” and St. Augustine noted, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” How true. My favorite travel quote, however, is from Susan Heller, who advised, “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”

To see the full itinerary of this garden adventure, click here.