Category Archives: Garden Travel

Beth’s Garden


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.


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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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.


Les Jardins de Sardy


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.


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.



Wordless Wednesday–On the Wing in the Dordogne


European Peacock Butterfly (Agais io)


Small Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae)


Hummingbird Hawk Moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)

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 Power of Water

Winter is only a week old and yet by this morning my gauge had measured nearly 8 inches of rain for the season. Following on the heels of a wet autumn, including a 2-day October deluge that dumped 7 inches in the Upstate and more than twice that amount in the Midlands, it’s safe to say we’re all praying for a respite.

We’re not the only ones hurting, though. Northern England has suffered devastating floods this past week and I’m heartsick for those who have suffered loss and damage.

Everyone knows how destructive a flood can be, but Tim and I discovered firsthand the power of water when a log pile (fashioned as a critter refuge when a 2014 torrent felled a tree) was moved more than 50 feet. Since the flood crested in the early morning before the sun rose, we didn’t see the heavy pile move, but were shocked to find it in a new location when we explored the riverbank a few days later.


In this October photo, the log pile can be seen in its original location with its head above flood waters. The normal course of the Reedy River is along the top of the photo, while the flood channel through our property is separated by the elevated riverbank. Our home sits well above this area, atop several steep terraces.


Other than making a quarter turn and moving downstream (left to right in the photo above), there is little difference in the position of the logs. Even the small braches piled on top of the critter refuge remain in place.

Unfortunately, my friend Chris Crowder, head gardener at Levens Hall, has seen this power at work in a more damaging way. In the past few weeks, the gardens at Levens have flooded three times, and the most recent was the worst ever.  Here’s a look at what Chris has experienced, along with a couple of comparison photos I took when I visited the garden in June.


The force of the water toppled the palisade wall and swamped the entire lower floor of Levens Hall.


In the greenhouses, flood waters came within a hair of bench tops.


The fountain garden during recent floods.


The same garden in June, with Chris (far right) leading a tour for my travel group.


The red border looking towards the ha-ha and fields beyond.


The red border in June, looking away from the ha-ha towards the center of the garden.

Upstate weather is clearing and getting colder as the week progresses, but the forecast for Cumbria and other counties of northern England is more rain.

Fingers crossed there will be blue skies for us all again soon.


A final look at Levens Hall, where the power of water has destroyed the surface of the car park. (All Levens photos courtesy of Chris Crowder.)



December Hodgepodge

Though no one wants to hear me moan, least of all me, my work days this week (including 13 long hours yesterday) were devoted to editing garden photos, an onerous task that is always left for the empty days of December. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have any unfilled days this month, at least not yet, but I’m determined to finish nonetheless.  The good news, however, is the job allows me to revisit all the breathtaking homes and gardens I’ve enjoyed in past months, including Harewood House, which now tops my Must-See-Again List.


Harewood House in Yorkshire, distinguished with an Italianate terrace laid out by Sir Charles Barry in 1843 and an earlier park by Capability Brown, plus many more delights in both the house and garden.

A holiday card from the White House (sent because of my connection with the General Federation of Women’s Clubs) arrived this week and I thought you might like a peek.


Holiday card from the White House for 2015.

I was a bit disappointed when I first opened the envelope, but this year’s offering, which opens like an accordion, is growing in my regard.  If you’re not familiar with the buildings in Washington, DC, those depicted are (front to back and left to right) the White House, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the United States Capitol.


Greetings from the First Family.

The weather in the Upstate has been unseasonably warm for more than a week and the forecast today is for a high of 72 degrees F, so our morning along the river was especially foggy when the sun rose at 7 a.m.  Relaxing on the new porch with the newspaper and my morning coffee, the effect was quite dreamy as the mist swirled just outside the room’s windows.   I hope we have a pretty daytime snow sometime this winter, so I can sit in snug comfort and watch the flakes float down.


Enveloped by morning fog on the new porch.


A table for work, crafts, and meals.

One end of the porch offers a cozy sitting area and the other a table for work, crafts, or meals.   You will be happy to know, I’m sure, that the (once maligned) gate now hangs with honor on the brick wall.  The credit goes to my hero, Tim, who was persuaded it could (and should) be done and tackled the job with gusto, as well as his usual care and precision.  Sometimes, just for fun, I welcome him home from work with the good news, “The gate is still on the wall!”


The bespoke table, made of wormy chestnut, an American species destroyed by blight 100 years ago, is also especially handsome and beloved. If you’re wondering about the low-growing plants in the copper pot, they are a relatively new holiday offering called Frosty Fern (or Frosted Fern), Selaginella krausianna variegatus. If you live locally, these were purchased at Roots, a favorite home and garden store.  I love the color and texture of this club moss relative, but be warned it requires careful attention.


Ready for the front door, a Christmas swag with sleigh bells.

Roots also fashioned the holiday swag for my front door featuring authentic sleigh bells found in an antique store during my August 2014 garden tour of the Hudson River Valley.  Last Christmas, I forgot all about using the bells, so thank goodness for Jenny, who sent an email reminder earlier this month.

In the garden, the winter iris (I. unguicularis), hellebores (Helleborus x), and camellias (both C. japonica and C. sasanqua) are blooming, and rightfully so. Surprisingly, so is the forsythia, adding another unusual twist to this otherworldly morning.


December blooming forsythia.

As a closing note, don’t forget to register for the Greater Greenville Master Gardener Symposium “For the Love of a Garden,” planned for February 13, as tickets are selling quickly.  You don’t want to miss this Upstate event featuring an impressive array of expert speakers, including Brie Arthur, Foodscaping and Landscape Design correspondent for the PBS television show, Growing a Greener World.  For details, click here.

brie w juice

Look for the wise and wonderful Brie Arthur at “For the Love of a Garden,” scheduled for February 13.