Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dolly Parton meets Lutyens? Roy Strong does not meet us.

 Funny business, acting as a tour guide in your own locality (The Welsh Borders), driving around in a big coach, in places that are really familiar, talking people through who don't know it all. Helps you see the familiar afresh. Also rather funny to roll up at your own garden, show people around and then all get back on the coach again.
Stephen and Judith Anderton's cottge high in the Black Mountains


 Stephen Anderton, garden correspondent for The Times now lives in  a site with fantastic views, which have I think rather unwilling to try to compete with the location by making something so humble as a garden. So, planting is largely restricted to the side of the house away from the view. Its feels like a cottage garden but with more contemporary plants, such as grasses and kniphofias. It actually feels very undesigned, and artless - difficult to know whether this is really the case. I really like it, there is something very unpretentious about it, and the colouring works well, lots of different colours but subtle harmonies everywhere. Lots of succulents and ferns sitting in pots on old stone steps. The garden of someone who loves growing lots of plants and feels under no pressure to make bold statements or impress anybody.

"The slugs are this long" Peter Clay expounds the story of his garden, Sue MacGregor of Boxwood Tours looks on.

 Brockhampton Cottage, near Hereford, went down very well. Home of Peter Clay, who runs Crocus the online garden centre. The fact that he took time out of a busy working schedule to talk to us at length about the garden, how it fits into its wide and very English and very beautiful landscape, and his involvement with designer Tom Stuart-Smith, was much appreciated.

 H.Avray Tipping was a well-known, but now largely forgotten, garden designer of the early 20th century, and a key part of the Arts and Crafts movement which has dominated British garden design ever since (which is a thoroughly bad thing if you believe my colleague Tim Richardson). A&C gardening is a harmless pursuit and it balances order and growth so well, many of us are quite happy to follow in the footsteps of Tipping, Jekyll, Sackville-West et al. Tipping created three gardens in the Monmouthshire area, only one of which has been restored, by the current owners, Hilary and Helena Gerrish. Helena has just written a book about him. So now you have no excuse to say you have never heard of him.
High Glanau vintage Arts and Crafts
The trouble with mounts is that some people just have to stand on top of them and wave their arms about.
We also visited Westonbury Watermill, a modern folly and water garden,  where owner Richard Pim is building an enormous (two storey) water-powered cuckoo clock. Watch this space.

Westonbury Water Mill, at Pembridge, Herefs. features a very impressive gunnera maze. Jo is describing the size of our cabbages this year.

The Pant, near Abergavenny, is a most intriguing landscape-as-garden, created by Jeremy and Camilla Swift. Jeremy is an eminent anthropologist, and much of the garden's content reflects interests from his professional life. It is a garden of great subtlety, making the most of wonderful surroundings.

The loo at The Laskett - strangely austere
 Finally, The Laskett, well-known through the voluminous writings of Roy Strong. It is obsessively formal, with allee upon allee, and everything in sight topiarised to within millimetres of its life. He has clearly had enormous fun making it - which after all is the most important thing. I love the way he bulldozes through so many of the basic rules of garden design. Unfortunately he disgraced himself by failing to keep an appointment to meet us, so we had to wander around by ourselves, getting lost in a kind of Alice in Wonderland world of hedges, hedges, yet more hedges, pleaching and monuments (mostly to himself, and one to a cat).

Roy Strong and I in 1996, or thereabouts. Check the body language. I still have the shirt, I understand he gives all his clothes to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Reminds me, I must make arrangements to do the same. We've both cut our hair by the way.

 You may have gathered that Mr Strong and I don't see eye to eye on gardening matters. I think I once wrote that a garden restoration of his should be bulldozed into the Thames (the Hampton Court Privy Garden). We once had a wonderfully bitchy spat on the radio, which could have been the start of a re-play of Robinson versus Blomfield (a great and rather stylised debate of the A&C era - see above), but I think both of us had rather more important things to do (promoting naturalistic planting design in my case and writing fawning books on the British monarchy in his).

Tour leading is great fun, you get to meet lots of interesting people (even if not Roy Strong), and hear about their lives and interests. Over the days, you learn about what they like in gardens and what they don't like, I always find it interesting getting people's reactions, I also learn a lot too, they always see things i have never noticed, even in places I know well. Seeing familiar places through other people's eyes in this way is actually rather special.

Finally, there was one comment I adored, I'm not saying which garden it was about... "Dolly Parton meets Lutyens".

Well not quite finally, we had Monique and Thierry Dronet, of the wonderful Jardin de Berchigranges, stay with us recently. Lovely people, kindred spirits; Thierry pointed out to us that (unbeknown to us)his  garage was on the front cover of a book on green building in the guest room of our (needless to say eco-build) guest room. They had the idea of digging up half a square metre of our wildflower meadow and planting it in the middle of a new meadow area they are creating. So here it is going in, a little bit of Herefordshire in the Vosges mountains.


Alice Joyce said...


Wonderful to read this post, as I had fantasized about joining the tour.

[Had quite seriously tried to arrange things to go along on Boxwood's Venice & the Veneto tour, but alas.]

I now feel as if I've had the chance to vicariously, albeit, briefly, get to know you better and peer over your shoulder on these garden visits.

Why am I not surprised that Sir Roy was a no-show...

MulchMaid said...

A gunnera maze? Sounds a bit scratchy, at the least! How do people come up with these ideas...or are you gently pulling our collective legs?

Seriously, looks like a delightful tour of some wonderful and unique gardens.