By Jackie Hunt, Turn End’s Gardener
I am lucky that gardening is a passion and hobby as well as my job so of course I very much enjoy visiting other gardens whenever I can. Last year I was able to visit several inspiring places, taking back ideas from all of them.
In July I visited the garden at the Hauser and Wirth art gallery in Bruton, Somerset, designed by Piet Oudolf. It is a large perennial meadow of naturalistic planting, given structure by shaped beds and pathways and framed by wide canopied trees and hedges. I had previously visited the garden in spring when it looked a little sparse, the winter skeletons of herbaceous perennials and grasses having been shorn and the spring bulbs yet to emerge. In July the garden was a glorious sight, undulating with colour and texture. I imagined a painting, billowing swathes of pastel flowers like washes of watercolour, dotted with bold splashes of poster paint.
The garden’s success lies in its large scale, generosity of plant clumps and borrowed pastoral landscape, but I took away many ideas for plant types and combinations to achieve such a calming effect. Waves of grasses create texture and movement and are repeated throughput the scheme for cohesion, including Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Moorhexe’ and Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldtau’ with their delicate arching flower spikes and upright Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. My plant favourites included Nepeta govaniana, an unusual type of Catmint with pale yellow flowers instead of the more common blue, the delicate hula-dancer skirts of Echinacea pallida and the bright blue bobbles of Echinops bannaticus ‘Taplow Blue’.
In August I visited Great Dixter garden in East Sussex with my fellow gardener Janice Patrick. We went to research mid summer planting, as August tends to be a quiet time for flowering here at Turn End. Known for its exuberant and adventurous style and succession planting, borders were crammed full of vivid colour, mixed heights and towering plants creating a sense of adventure as you explored the narrow paths.
Permanent perennials such as Eupatorium, Japanese Anemone, Phlox, Helianthus and Day Lilies were supplemented with Tiger Lilies, self seeded Fennel and Evening Primrose and rich and bold dahlias. The warm maritime climate and high light levels on the south coast must help with the incredible plant growth, and beds are clearly well nourished, piled high with a fertile mulch. There were also water sprinklers dotted around. In the car park a member of staff said rows of plants in flower were for ready for planting in the garden, so clearly any gap that may appear is instantly filled in with a ready-grown specimen, keeping the garden full of interest.
Particular plants that we identified to try at Turn End are Veratrum album, viride or nigrum, with Hosta-like leaves, producing spikes of purple, green or white flowers and Paris podophylla, with umbrella-like whorls of leaves and dainty golden thread-like flower petals.
I have always found the pot displays at Great Dixter very inspirational. Large clusters of containers are filled with shrubs, grasses, herbaceous perennials, bulbs and annuals. The pots are changed regularly, providing a constant succession of seasonal interest.
I was also lucky to visit the private walled garden of the Rothschild family at Eythrope, near Waddesdon, for a tour by its designer Mary Keen. This immaculate and lavish productive garden is renowned for its exceptionally high standards of horticulture. It was fascinating to learn some of the traditional techniques still used by the gardeners, followed up by a thorough reading of and note-taking from Mary Keen’s recent book about Eythrope, ‘Paradise and Plenty’.
These gardens also have a wonderful collection of containers of tender plants and annuals, and I am inspired to try the cheery combination of Bidens ferulifolia with its feathery foliage and bright yellow daisy flowers with the grey-yellow trailing stems of Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’.
In September I had my first visit to RHS Garden Hyde Hall for a specialist plant fair, returning laden with exciting specimens for the garden. I had long wished to see the Dry Garden, which sprawls across a steep south facing slope and is planted to take advantage of Essex’s particularly dry climate. I was blown away by this magical garden. Paths weave around giant boulders, the ground is strewn in pebbles and fascinating plants nestle amongst the rocks. The wide plant selection creating different heights, textures and forms gives the garden a remarkably naturalistic character, despite species hailing from various parts of the world.
Here at Turn End we have a dry garden, with well drained soil in raised beds. I will be trying Digitalis ferruginea, with their closely-packed stems of rusty-apricot tubular flowers, Triteleia, which have blue funnel shaped flowers in summer as the foliage dies down, and already do well in a dry spot in our daisy garden. Another plant I’ll be sourcing is Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Valerie Finnis’, with its toothed grey flowers. I hope to also try Morina longifolia, with rostettes of spiky leaves and whorls of slender tubular flowers in a really well drained spot.
September also enabled a visit to the National Botanic Garden of Wales, as part of a coach trip with the Friends of Oxford Botanic Garden. The garden opened in 2000 on a site that was previously an estate developed by Sir William Paxton who created a vast water park with a necklace of lakes. The garden is very accessible, educational and family friendly. The evolution of plants is told in the double walled garden, schools and families discover plant science in the Aqualab, whilst the Growing the Future garden provides ideas for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers at home. In my own garden I’ll be trying gooseberries grown as cordons (narrow, upright plants) and sowing flax seeds (Linum usitatissimum) as an annual to fill gaps in my borders with pretty sky-blue flowers.
The showpiece is Norman Foster’s Great Glasshouse, the largest single-spanned glasshouse in the world. Its huge domed roof is spectacular and the paths than run through the man-made ravines take you on a an exploration of plants from across the globe. The terrain is partly designed to recreate natural rocky slopes and pools, but its sheer concrete faces are also very sculptural. It was interesting to see how the staff had introduced annuals such as Bracteantha (strawflower, everlasting flower) to provide late season interest, after most permanent plants had finished flowering.
A final memorable visit was to a Modernist house called The Homewood, near Esher, designed by Patrick Gwynne for his family in the 1930s. It is lavish and complex, the family selling a whole village in Wales to pay for its construction, yet it is the kind of house you would love to live in. The study includes Star-Treky desks and storage designed by Gywnne to make best use of the angular room; a timber-panelled living room hides a secret serving hatch and pull out bar; under the overhanging first floor is a 1970s outdoor kitchen and tempting pool. You may recognise it as the house recently featured as the backdrop to Kevin McCloud’s presentation of House of the Year 2016.
It is strikingly angular and bold, yet its various angled wings disguise its overall size, whilst large reflective windows and a mural on the first floor merge its facade with the surrounding pine forest. Stilts position the first floor living rooms amongst the tree canopy and allow the first floor to disappear into its surroundings whilst the brick base is sympathetic to the area’s more traditional architecture. Gwynne positioned the house on the far edge of the plot to view the glorious, naturalistic garden of mature trees and pools previously created by his father, which itself seamlessly blends into the adjoining Esher Forest.