Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Friday, 27 March 2015

Of Yellow Books and Garden Walks

Photo of the Yellow Book which details all the gardens open for the NGS

On Wednesday I had the privilege of attending this year's launch of the Yellow Book. It was great to meet so many people involved with this organisation, to hear how last year's funds will be distributed, and learn what's new for 2015 and beyond.

The launch marks the starting gun firing for this year's garden visiting season, with nearly 4,000 gardens opening for the NGS from now until around the end of October. I'm particularly looking forward to visiting Karen and seeing how she gets on with her openings this year.

I shocked myself last September when I found myself thinking a trip to Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons was to a local event - compared to most things I'm invited to - which in reality turned out to be a 120 mile round trip. I also realised I've yet to visit many of the open gardens which are close to home.

Something had to be done about this sorry state of affairs.

The gigglesome yews at The Courts, Holt, Wiltshire
A view of the gigglesome yew trees at the National Trust's The Courts last Tuesday. Opens for the NGS on May 18th 2015, 11am-5pm. From here you can walk to the gardens at Great Chalfield Manor (National Trust, not opening for the NGS)

So I went onto the NGS website and used their Search facility to see what the possibilities are. It was a promising result, which in turn led to a plan forming in my head. Not only would I visit more local gardens this year, I'd visit them on NGS open days, AND I'd visit those within walking distance rather than driving there.

For 2015 I've restricted myself to those gardens of around 3 miles or less of where I live:

  • Allington Grange - 1.05 miles (opens 3rd, 4th  May, 2-5pm £4). An informal country garden of approx 1.5 acres
  • Biddestone Manor - 2.41 miles (opens 10th May, 2-5pm £5). 8 peaceful acres of wide lawns, lake and ponds, arboretum and roses, kitchen cutting gardens and orchard
  • Bolehyde Manor - 1.05 miles (opens 21st June, 2.30-6pm £4). I found this was the perfect garden to visit during 2010's Football World Cup
  • Corsham Court - 3.03 miles (opens 12th April, 10th May, 2-5pm £5). Park and gardens laid out by Capability Brown and Repton
  • 130 Ladyfield Road and Allotments - 0.98 miles (opens 26th July, 1.30-5.30pm £3). A very pretty small garden, plus 15 allotments owned by Chippenham Town Council
  • Sweet Briar Cottage - 1.36 miles (opens 26th July, 1.30-5pm £3.50). A walled garden of nearly 1 acre in the centre of town
Look out for my Garden Walks blog posts starting next month. For 2016 I plan to add some gardens slightly further afield. Have a look at the NGS website - how many gardens could you visit within walking distance of where you live?

Shhhhh, don't tell anyone but I've slipped in a few other [non-walking] local garden visits already this year, including the Abbey Gardens at Malmesbury on their NGS day earlier this month. NB 2015 might be the last chance to visit this garden as the house is up for sale.

Snowdops and aconites at Lacock Abbey, early February 2015. The gardens open for the
NGS again in February 2016. In the meantime they're open for the National Trust as usual.

Highlights from the Yellow Book launch:

  • 2014 was a record year with over 3,800 gardens opening and providing 6,891 open days. This raised £2.637 million for the good causes the NGS supports
  • The third annual NGS festival weekend is on 6-7 June 2015, with 400 gardens taking part
  • Sarah Wint will be taking her Daisy Bus around dozens of gardens this summer, where she'll pitch in and help each owner wherever she's needed and also blog about her experiences. Sarah has opened her garden for the NGS previously and knows how useful some last minute help can be!
  • There will be a new annual event - a lecture at the Royal Geographical Society. Alan Titchmarsh kicks off the inaugural event in October
  • February 2016 will see the NGS's first Snowdrop Festival in partnership with Visit England

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #36



  1. Decide to ramp up your party's campaign for the forthcoming General Election
  2. Design a snazzy leaflet outlining your plans for the Chippenham Constituency
  3. Arrange delivery to every household in said Constituency
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to notice the accompanying photos are of Bradford on Avon
  5. Et Voila!
To be fair Bradford's part of the Chippenham Constituency too, but my inner imp was intrigued by two parties choosing to show an image from a much smaller town than the main one. It might turn out to be the only thing they can agree on ;)

For balance, I was going to wait and see what the other parties came up with before writing this post. However, they're being much tardier with their leaflets - I've had these two for ages.

Chippenham already has form with its election publicity backfiring despite the current Constituency only being in existence for this and the previous election. It was the subject for How Advertising Works #15 and #16 in 2010, which included the spectacular hand delivery of election material for a Constituency... in Dorset.

In its previous incarnation as a Rotten Borough, Chippenham had a young Sir Robert Peel as an MP in 1812-17, before he went on to 'invent' the police force amongst other things. William Henry Fox Talbot - one of the great pioneers of photography - was MP in 1832-35.

It's clear Chippenham's a key political target for this election as we had our first doorstep canvas visit last August. I told them they were too early at the time as we hadn't had Christmas yet. 

BTW I have no affiliation or particular leaning towards either of these parties. That's probably why Mr Cameron's been writing to me personally every few weeks ;)

Monday, 23 March 2015

Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden

A view of The Baroque Garden part of the Painting Paradise exhibition at The Queen's Gallery
A look at the the Baroque style - characterised by increased formality and a greater use of water in garden design

On Friday when most of the nation was craning its collective neck to see the partial solar eclipse, I instead found myself in the poshest of rooms without windows.

I was at a Bloggers Breakfast kindly set up by the Royal Collection Trust to preview their latest exhibition, Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden. This is at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace from now, until Sunday 11th October 2015.

My visit turned out to be a real treat, from the coffee served by a member of the Royal Household through to the fascinating curator's tour which provided an accompanying slice of garden history without tears.

Amongst the delights are a number of firsts to view: the first portrait of a gardener (Jacopo Cennini, gardener to one of the Medicis, dated 1523); Ruralia Commoda, the first gardening manual - owned by Henry VIII - which contains detailed instructions for both landowner and gardener alike; and the first real English garden captured on canvas, viewed through the arches behind Henry VIII and family at Whitehall Palace.

A view of the Henry VIII and family portrait on show at the Painting Paradise exhibition
Henry VIII with Jane Seymour, prince Edward and princesses Mary and Elizabeth at Whitehall Palace

This is also "Politics in a Picture" as the painting depicts Henry with his family in a physically impossible gathering as Jane Seymour died shortly after giving birth to prince Edward. The painting's symbolism emphasises Henry's power - a statement to show off the Tudor dynasty and exert his right to be king of England.

Today gardening is often considered too nice to be political, yet politics and the garden was a central path running through this must-see exhibition, especially the tussle between William of Orange and France's Louis XIV. I didn't know the race to grow the first pineapple was so charged with political meaning.

At least this was a gentler battle than going to war, though we learned a king's desire to express his superiority through a garden could still be fraught with danger. For example, dozens of Swiss mercenaries were killed by the release of marsh gas when the estate was cleared to form the gardens at Versailles.

Painting Paradise: A selection of images from the exhibition
A small selection of images from the exhibition

There are 7 key themes which take us from the gardens of Persia of around 500 BC through to those of Victorian times: Paradise, The Sacred Garden, The Renaissance Garden, The Baroque Garden, The Botanic Garden, The Landscape Garden and the Horticultural Garden.

In addition, The Garden Inside shows how horticulture is depicted on and influenced household objects and exquisite decorative pieces. Finally The Language of Flowers looks at this popular trend from Victorian times.

There are around 150 paintings, drawings, books, furniture, jewellery and a host of other fine objects to see. It's a rich and fascinating resource which merits more than one visit, so make sure you get your ticket endorsed into a 1-year pass whilst you're there. It's well worth timing your visit to coincide with a curator's tour too.

NB The Royal Collection Trust is a blogger friendly organisation - they've arranged breakfast previews at a number of their previous exhibitions. It's worth keeping an eye on their Bloggers Resource page for details of future events. There was also a live display on the day of the #PaintingParadise twitterstream which added a touch of modernity to accompany the historical artefacts.

Picture of the book accompanying the Painting Paradise exhibition
I couldn't resist getting the book :)
You may also like:

Anxious Gardener's view of the morning's activities
Writer in the Garden went on a different day, but had an equally wonderful time

Tim Richardson in The Telegraph

Maev Kennedy in The Guardian

Discover Your Painted Paradise - a quiz from the exhibition's website

Friday, 20 March 2015

Let's Visit a Real Garden or Two

The entrance to Susan Tomlinson's Bicycle Garden
The entrance to The Bicycle Garden - thanks to Susan Tomlinson for letting me use her photo :) 
I'm showing you Susan's garden today because we've been having quite a conversation after her post earlier this week on Rules for visiting a private garden. By private she means ones like hers and mine.

Her gist is that visitors should be nice, be kind. I agree because I easily give myself 10 times the amount of criticism compared to anything a visitor might care to give. Susan's bravely illustrated her post with a picture of her garden's entrance, the kind of scene which might lead to the sort of negative remarks she talks about.

I saw that picture differently - it really made me want to visit Susan's garden because a) it has clues about her lifestyle and gardening in a different climate and b) I sense a kindred spirit. Here's why...

The side entrance to my back garden
Early Wednesday morning this week at VP Gardens

Can you see the similarities? Admittedly the area bordering our side path is mainly my utility and cold frame area, but I really should tidy it up a bit. NB that splash of red you can see at the end is the 'Anna's Red' Hellebore I told you about for January's Blooms Day. You can also see a bit of the public land next door which I often talk about.

And so to our conversation. After some general talk about how some visitors like to criticise, Susan asked a very important question:

On a related note, do you find that since you blog about gardening, people expect your garden to be perfect? Even *all year*? A bit of pressure there.

Ha - because I blog about gardening, my garden is even worse! I'm trying to spend more time offline this year so I can reclaim the garden.

At one time I did strive for perfection, but that all changed when I was off work with stress 10 years ago. I was shocked to find my manager's vision of 'what a good job looks like' was way below my standard and so I'd been wasting a lot of my time.

And whilst achieving perfection might just about be possible in a job, it's nigh on impossible with a garden except perhaps for the most fleeting of moments. There are far too many changing variables to take into account and besides, life's too short.

Instead I prefer to enjoy the moment and find pleasure in my garden's positives. The negatives will be taken care of - eventually. I've realised I have very little talent gardenwise, though I have improved - blogging about it has taught me loads and I'll carry on learning - but I also know my favourite garden is mine. Susan agrees:

Exactly. My garden is the most beautiful garden in the world. Warts and all. My reply:

It has to be - why else spend all that time and attention on it? Hurray for our gardens - warts and all.

And someday Walu and I are going to come to England. I promise to drop by your garden unannounced and demand a tour! 

And I'll be delighted to see you both! Hopefully I will have shifted the huge 1 tonne sack of conifer mulch on the patio by then ;)

A view of my back garden from the patio
Fresh growth is springing up this week and I'm finally using that bag of mulch you can just about see
on the right. I've spared you the sight of my washing - I'm celebrating its first venture outside this year

You're also welcome to come and visit my garden at any time - but let's just tiptoe past the shed on the way round shall we?

Victoria is the perfect garden visitor - she hasn't batted an eyelid at that huge bag of mulch on the patio. Instead we've enjoyed each other's company and simply being in the garden.

That's how it should be. Real Gardens. Real People. Good Times :)

You may also like:

VP's Open Garden - this separate blog from 2008 shows what the garden's like when I do look after it properly.

By a spooky coincidence Fran Sorin wrote a thoughtful post earlier this week about her experience of opening her garden formally to visitors. She tells us about what happened when it became less of a showpiece and more of a real garden.
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