Week 10: Andover Garden Watch 2020 – a very special spring

The tenth week of watching colour and beauty emerge on each and every day of this surreal spring

David spent several years in the late 90s working up his knowledge of plants and garden design in his characteristically thorough way, and creating several gardens  – for us and for friends (who moved regularly enough to provide lots of practice!)

Russell Page’s The Education of a Gardener (publ 1962) was seminal. He was perhaps the first of the many erudite, experienced gardeners whose writings and garden creations moved us. Winter nights were spent reading them; and many spring and summer days visiting and admiring their handiwork.

Week 8’s blog devoted a day to each of our colour-coordinated beds, acknowledging the impact of both Penelope Hobhouse’s garden at Hadspen, with its subtle use of colour, and of Beth Chatto’s innovative ‘dry’ gardening and use of gravel. Week 9’s blog ended with a reference to John Brookes (whose design principles will shine through the photos of next week’s blog)

Each day of week 10 will focus on other sources of inspiration, using features in this garden to show how the ideas of other former-day influencers have fed its design and planting, and found expression here

Sunday 24 May 

A hundred years ago the energies of Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens combined to design and create three local gardens (all in private hands) : in Upton Grey near Basingstoke, at Amport House near Andover and Marsh Court just south of Stockbridge, in all of which traces of their work still remain recognisable – just!

Jekyll was heavily influenced by William Robinson, editor of The Garden, to which she contributed. Robinson was deeply critical of ‘faux french formality’ (and hybrid T roses!) and developed what became known as ‘cottage garden’ style at Gravetye Manor using perennials and softer lines. He began work on this estate in 1884; its garden is still very distinctive.

In her planting plans Jekyll majored on undulating swathes of colour, repeating plants and tones to create connections and continuities, perhaps because her sight was poor. Well, we can do swathes of colour – and undulating perennials!

Geranium Johnson’s Blue and nigella certainly come in waves here and

the campanula on the bank will soon produce a sea of blue as it flowers

There’s no shortage of groups of perennials here –  space is too limited to achieve a traditional herbaceous border though proximity to Rosie Hardy’s nursery near Whitchurch makes the purchase of perennials tempting. 

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Here are five socialising Heavenly Blue penstemons, anticipating the lifting of lock-down rules – on this occasion bought from nearby Longstock nursery 

Monday 25 May 

By contrast Vita Sackville-West’s iconic Sissinghurst is full of the formal shapes of topiary and carefully framed small spaces and knot gardens, meticulously planned and laid out by Harold Nicholson, Vita’s husband, early in their marriage.

But I think the White Garden is her greatest contribution to garden beauty, planted for outdoor summer dining in the dusk when the white blooms and silver foliage become eerily iridescent. We were fortunate to visit on a quiet afternoon (I doubt these ever occur now!) and stayed til evening to see the stunning effect.

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Our little garden means the whites must share a bed with blues – and a winning combination it is too especially when the nigellas and later, cornflowers join in

And here are photos taken at 21.42 – the bats were flying – with an ordinary iphone – which convey something of Vita’s achievement with whites in the dusk

Tuesday 26 May 

Rosemary Verey, plantswoman, garden designer and writer worked at Barnsley House for over fifty years applying her consummate knowledge of plants, trees and flowers to create the most beautiful space. The Vereys created paths and walkways through little meadows and bowers of shady trees, making skilful use of yew, box hedges and pleached limes to contain spaces filled with lavish planting; creating a perfect balance of control and generosity.

We met her on two occasions in her garden, and talked at length about the plants, alongside her much-photographed knot garden. She later sent us a cutting from a box we had admired. It isn’t difficult to spot her influence here in Andover!

Younger versions of three of the box balls in the front of this bed (above) also appear in the photo (below) on a snowy day in 2009. They formed the ‘turning points’ of our knot garden, inspired by Barnsley, but now sadly extinct; victims of box blight. The standard bay tree and the three spirals in the photo also endure – if bigger now.

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David’s bi-annual clipping fest is underway – he’s half way round the fairground now aided by his handy Bosch clipper whose battery life is c 40 minutes. It takes days!

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Wednesday 27 May

Christopher Lloyd was another extraordinarily creative gardener, designer, and writer who lived the whole of his life in the family home at Great Dixter. His father Nathaniel moved a medieval hall several miles to incorporate it into their manor house, and planted many of the great yews and hedges which surround the glorious garden.

Christopher was also a brilliant and generous host, cook, correspondent and pianist.  (His 1970 book The Well-Tempered Garden echoes even better-tempered claviers!) Great Dixter was a welcoming, creative place, and despite the weight of tradition, his gardening was eclectic, exuberant and bold. He delighted in bright clashing colours, welcomed innovation (some thought him iconoclastic, especially when he tore out the sunken rose garden to create an exotic hot tropical space full of cannas and banana plants) and in his old age led the charge in creating wild flower meadows.

He would have enjoyed these juxtaposed beauties and

the morning light behind this rose

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The best flower we have to illustrate Lloyd’s passion for clashes is Echinacea purpurea which is a late summer flowerer – like the cannas and dahlias

Only the canna leaves are showing, and the echinaceas are tiny, so here are (the first!) photos from last year – from our hot and clashing bed, Lloyd-style.

Thursday 28 May 

Gardeners, like most people, are susceptible to fashions, but wild flowers have now been the rage for decades. We were undoubtedly inspired to attempt a wild flower bank by Christopher Lloyd’s enthusiasm. But his book Meadows (publ 2004) was only one among many by well-known garden writers and designers.

We were already captives of Cranborne Manor’s gardens, largely the work of Mollie Wyndham-Quin (aka the late Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury, 1922 – 2016) which not only boast a glorious enclosed White Garden, but have also transformed large grassed areas into wild flower meadows.

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There’s a lot of difference between letting land re-wild, and creating a wild flower meadow. English native species like infertile soils, and the conscientious gardener intent on creating meadows must remove the die-back to reduce fertility. We tried – in 2011 – see above – but the big do-ers squeezed out the delicates.

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Here was ours, above, from the other side of the river. It was never as good again, and in 2013 we gave up the attempt, and here it is today – full of campanulas !

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Friday 29 May

Someone who responded to the natural, given habitat around his holiday hut was Derek Jarman. Prospect Cottage at Dungeness caught his eye in 1986 and in the five remaining years of his life he cultivated native species in a deeply unsympathetic environment virtually on the beach, a mile or so east of the power station.

Jarman used objets trouvées as supports for his plantings; hard material spikes of driftwood or scrap iron which mirrored the architectural plants he somehow coaxed into shape. Pebbles, flints, beach gravel and shells all had their proper place. Dog roses, beach kale, sea holly, bulbs, thistles, herbs; hellebores, cardoons, foxgloves; the bright orange Californian poppies; alliums, lychnis, sedum, irises, fennel, coastal succulents – the list goes on and on – all sprouting from the shoreline pebbles.

Looking through his last book derek jarman’s garden I realise there’s hardly a plant we haven’t tried to grow, and many continue to thrive here in our riverside gravels. Giant beach kale (Crambe cordifolia) defeated us – but if you have been following these posts, you will have seen photos of every other single plant listed.

I won’t try to recover them all – but here are some of his signature plants and colours

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Saturday 30 May 

There many other significant influences on our choices of materials, shapes and planting: for example Andrew Lawson’s fantastic photography and use of colour from whom David learned so much about photographing flowers. He took this today.

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We particularly enjoyed Dan Pearson’s extraordinary contemporary abstract designs and plantings for his winning stands and show gardens at the annual Chelsea Flower Show to which we went on Wednesday late afternoons for a dozen years. His attention to form and his original use of hard shapes and materials and height was ingenious and stimulating.

For example: gravel – simple, relatively cheap and very hospitable

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and a fantastic backdrop and seedbed (cf Beth Chatto) for so many plants, and easy to use to create soft round edges and curves, unlike flags, pavers or decking

So many gardens ‘lie low’ – focussing on the horizontal axis and disregarding the height of surrounding fences or walls, which then achieve unwelcome prominence.

From Pearson we learned to emphasise the vertical. We try to clothe our fences and walls, and to ‘stop’ or at draw the eye by using tall plantings – delphiniums, cannas, thistles, cardoons, small cypresses and standards.

And four two-metre home-made obelisks all painted in a soft very pale blue

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This newbie (previously lurking on the back door path awaiting its moment) now occupies the site just below the wisteria which you will remember only ten weeks ago was bare branches and tiny buds. Now it’s behaving like a triffid!

The obelisks support sweet peas – I picked the the first blooms today!

Finally, for twenty years we learned so much courtesy of Rosie Atkins, the brilliant founding editor of Gardens Illustrated. From her contributors we learned that in the garden (as in any medium) style matters, and doesn’t usually happen by accident!

Next week’s blog will use the garden to pick out the key features which help to make it hang together.

 

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