Category Archives: Garden Travel

Beth’s Garden

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One of many scenic viewpoints in Beth’s gravel garden.

Long after Beth Chatto became famous for the “right plant, right place” ethos in her damp garden and woodland garden, and had launched an award-winning nursery and collected 10 consecutive gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, she demonstrated what it truly means to be an ecological gardener by turning her hands to a compacted and parched parking lot.

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Artistry in the gravel garden.

There, she carefully prepared the soil and then selected plants to match the site’s inhospitable conditions. The number and variety of plants that thrive is remarkable, but it is the gravel garden’s exquisite beauty that makes it such a spectacular success.

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A peek at the damp garden from the elevated position of the Chatto home.

I’ve been lucky to see the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex twice, visiting first in September 2015 and then again in late May of this year, just days after Beth passed away at the age of 94. This recent visit was especially poignant as Beth’s right-hand man, Garden and Nursery Director David Ward, lead a tour of the garden for the group I hosted on “Gardens of East Anglia.”

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David Ward

During our time with David, he emphasized Beth’s artistry, pointing out the triangles created by plants, a consequence of Beth’s early training in Ikebana, as well as the many plants featuring exceptional foliage and form rather than flowers or fruits. He frequently said, “I don’t know how she did it,” and noted, “she was always working — sitting on a fold-away stool, observing and jotting down plant descriptions.”

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Iris ‘Benton Susan’, a Cedric Morris cultivar.

Best of all he promised, “We won’t go far wrong here, this will always be a garden for plant lovers.”

Learn more about Beth and her many contributions to gardening on the website of The Beth Chatto Gardens.

 

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.

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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.)

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

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

Les Jardins de Sardy

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Our host in the gravel courtyard filled with fragrant plants.

There are magic moments on every tour and on the recent trip to France one of those moments came at Les Jardins de Sardy, a romantic garden east of Bordeaux. With an invitation to admire its scented trees and shrubs, the garden’s owner drew us into a gravel courtyard and then, with a spicy fragrance lingering on the air, led us to a shady overlook to tell the story of his Irish mother’s 1950s restoration, including efforts to grow English flowers before she capitulated to the allure and drought-tolerance of Mediterranean plants.

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The Italian inspired pool at Les Jardins de Sardy.

Before us in blinding sunlight, the mirror-like surface of an Italian pool reflected the 18th century stone house with its pale shutters and upright cypress trees.  Eager to get closer, the group surged forward as our host guided us to the water’s edge and noted its resemblance to the garden at Alhambra, minus one important detail.  Suddenly, inexplicitly, the pool sprang to life with jets of water reaching for the sky and falling back in graceful arcs, breaking the reflections of house and garden into thousands of brilliant diamonds.

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Voilà!

Wordless Wednesday–On the Wing in the Dordogne

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European Peacock Butterfly (Agais io)

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Small Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae)

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Hummingbird Hawk Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)

Gardens of the Dordogne

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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