| HORTUS 121 Spring 2017)|
Watercolour by Ann Fraser
HORTUS 120 (Winter 2016)
Price (not including postage) £9.50
Extracts From The Current Issue
|From the editor's introduction to HORTUS 121|
|Although I have yet to step foot in the Bekaa Valley (I've seen it from a distance) I nonetheless venerate the place, principally for two reasons. Its wines, produced by the high-altitude châteaux Musar and Ksara, long ago secured my affection, and its native cedar, Cedrus libani - the most frequently mentioned tree in holy scripture - wins hands-down for arboreal stateliness and longevity.|
As our own dear Trad (Hugh Johnson) says in his indispensable Trees: A Lifetime's Journey Through Forests, Woods and Gardens (Mitchell Beazley, first published in 1973, revised several times since - the 2010 edition has some of the best tree photographs ever seen), 'The cedar of Lebanon is the most celebrated and by far the oldest in cultivation', citing a remaining grove of them on the slopes of Mount Lebanon as 'a tiny remnant of a great forest that has been exploited since the ancient Sumerian civilization of Mesopotamia'. That exploitation was sanctioned by such 'eager customers' as the pharaohs and no less a figure than Solomon, who reputedly built his temple from its fragrant and enduring timber.
|From: 'Tradescant's Diary' by Hugh Johnson|
|17 November 2016: They tease me by calling it 'Grandpa's Shed', but I can take it. The fact is I love it. I go into my little greenhouse in my little garden and feel liberated. I have a different relationship with the plants in pots, sharing this little roof. They are my dependents; they need me every day. They look up with doggy expressions. And I give their loyalty back.|
For one thing plants on a bench are at the ideal level to touch and inspect. A fatigued flower or a less than sprightly leaf is obvious - and your fingers can take care of the problem straight away. You must, of course, conjecture about the roots; glass pots would be revealing; I wonder if anyone uses them - keeping them in some sort of sleeve, of course. They wouldn't like light.
We've just moved the plants I've been nurturing for the house in the hope that they'll do their stuff at Christmas. Our favourite cream-flowered cymbidium has had its summer in the shade and recently six weeks in my shed. Now it's the centrepiece of our little library table, among piles of books, and the excitement is spotting the flower-spikes as they start to emerge; six so far.
The Veltheimia has served for twelve Christmases now, still in its original glazed pot. Its gloriously glossy and wavy deep-green leaves are an ornament as soon as they appear in September. At the moment it sits under the glass roof of our north-facing verandah, its flower spikes of pale pink bells forming, keeping company with a Sasanqua camellia called 'Paradise Pearl', full of promising pink and white buds. Perhaps sasanquas are not quite as showy as most camellias, with smaller, less glossy leaves a little like a phillyrea, but they start flowering in autumn.
Meanwhile in my shed a seven-foot standard Fuchsia boliviana that lives outside in summer, dangling scarlet bells, shelters for the winter among various pots I pity, and the Aussie Hardenbergia violacea clambers up into the roof, preparing (I hope) to turn purple in February.
|From 'Jolly and Bright . . . but Humble?' by Emma Inglis|
|. . . Few plants are older in use or more sacred than primroses. Freya, the Norse goddess of love, held them in her hands as she travelled to the altars of the moon; they sprung from the body of young Paralisos after he died of a broken heart; the Romans would drink a tonic of primroses to cure paralysis and gout, and botanist John Gerard, author of the lengthy Herball (1597), recommended them to those of a nervous disposition. 'Primrose Tea,' he said, 'drunk in the month of May is famous for curing the "phrensie".' |
For Milton, primroses were the flowers of the morning, of young life, and youth. On the death of 'a fair infant dying of a cough' he wrote, 'Oh fairest flower . . . soft silken primrose, fading timelessly'. In Germany primroses are sometimes known as schlusselblume, they will open treasure chests. Elizabethan children ate them in the hope that they might see fairies and Victorians were wont to place them on the graves of their loved-ones . . .
From 'It's the Flowers! Spring at Coton Manor' by Susie Pasley-Tyler
|With its promise of spring's arrival, March is the month to which most gardeners have looked forward throughout the dark months. Winter aconites have come and gone; the snowdrops, magnificent in their display, were accompanied by naturalised drifts of Crocus tommasinianus appearing alongside them under the old apple, pear and damson trees in the Orchards. They make a breathtaking sight when, on a sunny day, they open to display their profuse purple flowers.|
March is also associated with daffodils. We do not have many of the early bright yellow ones in the garden, but we do have numerous varieties of white or pale yellow ones, my favourite of which is 'Jenny'. She's charming, with reflexed petals and a pale lemon trumpet. This is probably one of the earliest to flower here, followed by 'Thalia', even whiter and more ethereal. I inherited the other varieties but sadly not their names. In sunnier parts of the garden this is the moment for the enchanting small flowers of 'Tête-à-Tête' and later on Narcissus canaliculatus. Hepaticas behave unpredictably in our soil but we have one very special one, H. transsilvanica 'Elison Spence', which in a good year produces the most stunning semi-double blue flowers - a real showstopper. Primulas flowering here in March include the pale pink P. sibthorpi and 'Iris Mainwaring', the small pale yellow-flowered 'Lady Greer', an unusual true blue form of P. vulgaris and of course, towards the end of the month, primroses proper, which have naturalised among the snowdrops in part of the Woodland Garden . . .
|From 'Great Students, Great Plants, Great Dixter' introduced by Fergus Garrett |
|Since Christopher Lloyd's death in 2006, Great Dixter's students have played a major part in keeping the place alive and joyous. Their energy and enthusiasm has been a catalyst to the place. No one could ever replace Christo, but in their own way these youngsters have filled the gap he left. From all over the world - Japan, China, Turkey, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy and Sweden - they have brought inquisitiveness and a spark. Education was paramount to Christo and continues to sit at the centre of our existence. Here, in alphabetical order, writing briefly for publication for the first time, are a few of their thoughts on the plants grown at Great Dixter during the spring. |
|From 'The Process is the Purpose' by Ann and Charlie Fraser |
|As I watch from the window the autumn leaves falling at the end of another excellent gardening year I am reminded that this will be our sixtieth year at Shepherd House.|
When we first came here, after our wedding in 1957, the garden was right down the list of things to do. Our energies were devoted to doing up the house, transforming it into a family home rather than two unsatisfactory flats. Then came the children and for the next twenty-five years - there are eleven years between the oldest and youngest - time was scarce.
I think my passion for gardening came in 1984 when we decided to knock down the old billiard room (which was the ideal family playroom) in order to build a conservatory, a new structure that gave us a full view of the garden from the house. By that time we had just one child still at home, giving me time enough to take myself off to Edinburgh Art College for a part-time course in drawing and painting. Although always interested in art, I had not as a youngster been encouraged by my rather Victorian parents to go to art school - instead I was sent to Atholl Crescent to learn how to cook.
From 1984 I began to wonder how we might develop the garden to make it more interesting. We started with what we now call the Courtyard Garden, an area immediately outside the new conservatory. Initially we called it the Old Fashioned Garden and consulted a nursery called Plants from the Past, hoping to find examples that might have been grown here in the eighteenth century. That phase lasted fifteen years, until all the plants became overgrown and woody, resulting in a grand make-over and re-naming it the Millennium Garden. But, such is gardening, this too now urgently needs replanting.
|From 'An Enduring Edwardian: Greywalls, East Lothian' by Sophie Piebenga |
|Greywalls, close to the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, lies some fifteen miles east of Edinburgh. All that separates it from the water is a narrow band of sand dunes and the world famous Muirfield golf course. The house itself is adjacent to, though carefully screened from, Muirfield's clubhouse, home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers since 1891.|
From the sunken lawn on the north side of the house there are wonderful views of the golf course and, across the Firth, towards the Paps of Fife (the Lomond Hills). On the south side the eye is led along the main vista of the garden, through the oeil de boeuf in the perimeter wall, to the gently sloping, pastoral landscape with the Lammermuir Hills ('muir' meaning moors) in the far distance.
During my stay at Greywalls last September there was the almost unearthly sight of early-morning mist lingering over the links, gradually burning off to reveal the surrounding landscape and giving way to the most glorious autumn day.
The celebrated golf course and nearby sandy beaches were the raison d'être for Greywalls, built in 1901 as a holiday home for politician and sportsman Alfred Lyttelton (1857-1913) and his family, 'within a mashie niblick shot of the 18th green'. Its architect was none other than the English Arts & Craft maestro Sir Edwin Lutyens, who was responsible too for the layout of its eleven-acre garden.
The HORTUS garden tour to Lothian (10-14 September this year) will be accommodated at Greywalls
|From 'A Living and Barking Dog: the Garden at Little Durnford, Dorset' by Tim Longville |
|Accounts of gardens - certainly British accounts of British gardens - usually concentrate on their design, their planting or the combination of the two. Understandably and properly? Often, certainly. But not, perhaps, always. Because sometimes what is most striking and memorable about a garden - far more striking than its design or planting - is the atmosphere established by the people who have created it, sometimes over several generations and not infrequently over several centuries. |
A perfect example of just that sort of garden is the ten acres developed around Little Durnford Manor, a Grade I listed house lost among minor roads in the still astonishingly rural (if also astonishingly expensive) Woodford Valley, through which the River Avon makes its circuitous way from Amesbury to Salisbury. As Gervase Jackson-Stops pointed out long ago in a Country Life article on the Manor's architecture, the gentry of eighteenth-century provincial centres tended to have summer retreats along the local rivers just as London gentry had similar if grander retreats along the Thames. The Avon and the Wylye were the rivers of choice for those based in Salisbury and their valleys still contain many fine houses and gardens which began - or reached their apogee - in that century.
|From 'A Much-loved, Joyful and Precious Refuge: Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, London' by Rosemary Lindsay. |
|Covering the flank wall of a building in Dalston Lane, east London, is a spectacular huge mural. It is a famous landmark known as the Hackney Peace Carnival Mural, one of six in London that were commissioned in 1985 by the Greater London Council to commemorate the 'Peace through Nuclear Disarmament' movement. It is a joyful illustration of a crowd of people parading with an assortment of musical instruments. It was restored in 2014 after a period of neglect and some of the people depicted in it still live in the area. To the left, and at right angles to the mural wall, is a modest green door in a wooden fence, the entrance to Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. |
You don't often find a garden that greets you with a welcoming message offering blankets and hot water bottles. Nor do you often find a garden like Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, free, open every day of the year, often until eleven o'clock at night - even in winter. This is the reincarnation of a curved stretch of disused railway track, goods yard and coal depot which was closed after the Second World War. The tracks were removed in the 1950s leaving the half-acre or so neglected and fenced off. However, there was strong feeling among local residents and businesses that old Dalston should not be swept away by the ever-encroaching commercial development of the area, and that this piece of open space should be saved for the benefit of the community
|From 'The Thrill of Small Gardens' by Matt Collins |
|Researching the gardens with which I might inspire readers to tackle or rethink their own pocket-sized plots began a journey into a somewhat rusty subject for me. Until recently, my vocational path as a working gardener had directed me towards ever larger and more expansive gardens, culminating in the kind of spatial freedom afforded a head gardener with an open budget and a ride-on mower. It had been a long time since I last considered in any depth the kinds of restrictions faced by small-scale yet devoted gardeners, and the ways one might apply a comprehensive sense of design, let alone floral extravagance, to such confined arenas. Research, therefore, promptly delivered two realisations. The first was the discovery that the tiniest gardens, no matter how impressive, are the hardest to find on the internet. And the second was that achieving inspiring floral results, particularly in circumstances presenting geographical, topographical or accessibility challenges was no simple task. Therefore appropriate examples appeared to be, certainly at first, few and far between. Masterfully adorning a seclusive space with greenery is one thing, but to incorporate a distinctive element of successive flowering in a thorough and deliberate way is something else altogether. The bottom line is that flower gardens require a great deal of devotion, and most of us simply cannot afford the time to devote.|
|From 'The Garden Pavilions of Isfahan' by Katie Campbell |
|In Persia there's a saying: 'Isfahan is half the world'. It came into currency in the early seventeenth century when the country's Safavid emperor, Shah Abbas, moved his capital from Qazvin in the north to Isfahan on the Iranian plateau, midway between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf. In an audacious example of town planning Shah Abbas transformed this ancient trading centre into a magnificent garden city. Unfortunately, as gardens are notoriously mutable, and palaces in Islamic countries tend to be built of fragile materials - wood and stucco rather than bricks and stone - one has to depend on travellers' accounts to fully appreciate Isfahan's ancient glories.|
One of the first changes Shah Abbas effected was to shift the focus of the town south from the existing Friday Mosque. He then created the Chahar Bagh, a wide tree-lined avenue flanked with water channels, to link his new city to the Zayandeh River beyond. Chahar Bagh means 'four gardens', and the original avenue - developed from earlier vineyards and orchards - was lined with small, enclosed gardens, elegant open pavilions, sparkling rills and ponds studded with fountain jets to cool the air and delight the eye. Today the gardens have disappeared and the avenue is a busy thoroughfare lined with hotels, shops and restaurants, but now, as then, it ends in the magnificent Bridge of Thirty-Three Arches. This leads to the suburb of Jolfa - a community of Armenian merchants which Shah Abbas forcibly re-settled from Azerbaijan to oversee trade in his new capital. The move, though brutal, was successful, and soon Isfahan was host to a glittering community of Christians and Jews, merchants, diplomats, artisans and adventurers, making it one of the most glamorous cities of the day.
|From ' The Tools of the Trade: Garden Implements, Part Four' by Peter Dale |
|!Sécateurs - les gros ciseaux, 'the great scissors' - in French. And the French should know. They invented them. Or rather a certain Antoine de Moleville did, in the early 1800s.|
Sécateurs is one of those confusing words that exists only in the plural, like trousers, or premises, or scissors. Attempts have often been made to anglicise the word. You'd start with losing the accent on the e and settle just for secateurs, but there are several alternatives anyway: snippers, pruners, cutters. But for some almost inscrutable reason, they too retain the plural forms. You have a pastry cutter, but a pair of hedge cutters. It must be because, in the case of the latter, there are two blades, not one, but it's still a bit exasperating, as if these tools were claiming a sort of royal plural for themselves.
In ways nearly invisible to us now there was probably a conscious - and conscientious - wish (but only in Anglophone circles) to de-toxify a perceived Frenchness in the word secateurs. Certainly, neither the tool nor its name was quick to catch on in England. Well into the middle of the nineteenth century the much-preferred instrument was the pruning knife. And it still is in some circles. (Question: How many times does Monty Don use a pruning knife when you would use a secateurs?) Something unmanly about the secateurs is it? Something mannered, frenchified? The word itself a bit perfumed? Perhaps. It is still often marketed as 'a lady's gardening tool', the thing she'd reach for when performing ladies' work such as dead-heading the Noisettes.
|From From 'Circles within Circles: Mirabel Osler Remembered' by Katherine Swift |
by Tom Petherick
|Mirabel Osler, who died on 20 October 2016 at the age of ninety-one, was one of the most influential gardening writers of the last thirty years, in both substance and style. Provocative, humorous, hospitable (to both people and ideas), a coiner of epigrams ('You can never see Venice for the first time twice' was one of hers), a flouter of convention, a rooter-out of horticultural cliché, she inspired a generation of readers, writers and gardeners.|
Yet she always maintained that she was not capable of giving gardening advice. 'Because I write books that are rooted in gardens, people think I know what I'm talking about. I don't . . . I write only from limited experience, gained from making one garden with my husband in the country, and one on my own in a town.' But her appeal lay in the fact that she used those gardens as a way of talking about life itself, in all its delights and difficulties.
|From From 'From the Home Patch' by Tom Petherick |
by Sam Llewellyn
|Some of the hedges have been laid on the farm over the winter. This has been done in rotation since we came to Cholwell eleven years ago, starting in the first year. As they have all been done in the past at least once, if not twice, they look orderly when they are done again. When the green shoots of spring begin to appear on the horizontal branches they look very pretty, especially with the daffs poking through. They no longer act as livestock barriers because the farm was long ago re-arranged in terms of the layout of its fields, but they did in the past and although they have grown out, a return to laying was by far the best exercise to manage them properly.|
Laid or otherwise, hedges and banks act as good wildlife corridors and should be preserved and nurtured for that reason alone. As a licensee of the Biodynamic Association under the international certification body Demeter, I am required to demonstrate that at least 10 per cent of my farm may be considered a biodiversity reserve. 'This may include undisturbed forests, headlands, hedgerows/connectivity, and wetlands including ponds and riparian areas', according to the wording of the directive.
|From 'Come to the Hedge: Digging with the Duchess' by Sam Llewellyn |
|There comes a time in the lives of all thinking people when we must reflect on what divides us. In the case of the Duchess and the rest of the population of the Hope in winter it is plenty of thick stone walls of the medieval persuasion, thank goodness. But now the lark is back on the wing and the snail ditto the thorn the safe spaces are no longer safe, and she roams the policies seeking whom she may devour. Last week, as I was contemplating a short stretch of newish yew, I caught wind of her (Chanel No. 5, stale face powder, notes of forbidden gin) and asked her if she was all right. She responded in the normal manner, asking me who I thought I was, Sigmund ruddy Freud, and furthermore why didn't I mind my own business. Sensing a frustration, I asked her if she fancied an outing.|
Well, of course she did. But, she wanted to know, where to? Repressing the urge to tell her my name was not Thomas ruddy Cook, I groped the ether for inspiration, and found myself looking at the first golden shoot on a yew I had been quizzing. So I suggested that we go and look at some hedges. She said that sounded all right, if boring. I therefore took her off to view a few. We went west, and stumbled around in the maze at Glendurgan. We went east, and lurched to and fro in the maze at Hampton Court near London. We went to Herefordshire, and caromed hither and yon in the maze at the other Hampton Court, designed by the great Simon Dorrell of this parish. In each of the mazes the Duchess lost her temper and had to be physically restrained from hacking her way out with the pruning saw that is her constant companion. So I suggested we stopped our quest . . .
Another Green World: Encounters with a Scottish Arcadia
by Alison Turnbull and Philip Hoare
Gardens for the Senses: The Spanish Gardens of Javier Mariátegui
by Javier Mariátegui
Plant: Exploring the Botanical World
by Phaidon editors
The Plant Lover's Guide to Hardy Geraniums
by Robin Parer
The Plant Lover's Guide to Magnolias
by Andrew Bunting
Kniphofia: The Complete Guide
by Christopher Whitehouse
The London Garden Book A-Z
by Abigail Willis
A History of Coton Manor and its Garden
by Ann Benson
Private Gardens of the Mediterranean
by Dane McDowell
You Should Have Been ere Last Week
by Tim Richardson
HORTUS 122 (Summer 2017) will be published on 19 May