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It’s always a treat to visit the gardens of Parham House near Pulborough in West Sussex – if you find yourself in the area do go and see for yourself.  The planting by Head Gardener, Tom Brown, and his team is inspiring, with different areas colour-themed, including the famous and recently replanted Blue Borders.

Detail from the Blue Borders Ornamentals and vegetables intermingle

Despite the searing heat that had me wilting (the bright sunshine made photography difficult) and the lack of rain the plants were in fine fettle.

As well as the ornamental borders and the fine vegetable garden where flowers and vegetables intermingle, Tom has been conducting a trial of annual climbers this year.

‘Clear-eyed Orange’

‘Clear-eyed Yellow’

Some of these have found the current growing conditions difficult, but it was noticeable that the Thunbergia (Black-eyed Susan) were largely unaffected. I’ve seen them growing in their native habitat in South Africa climbing through trees in dry scrubby areas, so they seem well-equipped for the current drought conditions.  Of those being trialled, I particularly liked two clear-eyed (no black centre) varieties ‘Clear-Eyed Orange’ and ‘Clear-Eyed Yellow’ and elsewhere in the trials,  the huge flowers of the morning glory ‘Flying Saucers’ means that will be one I will be looking out for, even though I generally prefer the purity of ‘Heavenly Blue’. I think the two would look wonderful mixed together. After a recent visit to Mallorca, I’m also going to have a go at growing the perennial variety Ipomea indica, I’m sure it will do well grown in a pot in my very warm garden and I will cut it back and keep it in the conservatory over winter.

Morning Glory ‘Flying Saucers’

Perennial morning glory Ipomea indica

No visit to Parham is complete without spending time lingering in the glasshouse which is filled with a wonderful array of ornamental plants. I suspect that this glasshouse has been the pride and joy of many of the head gardeners over the years and Tom is certainly keeping it in magnificent style.

The entrance to the glasshouse

The view along the glasshouse

Planting detail with purple salpiglossis , yellow cestrum and purple heliotrope

Thunbergia alata cascading from a windowsill inside the glasshouse

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Every garden should have a birdbath – especially in this hot weather when birds, like everything else in the garden, need a drink, as well as somewhere to cool off. I have decided that no matter how busy I am, there is always time to stop and watch the birds taking a bath. The blackbirds are particularly enthusiastic, splashing the water everywhere, meaning that regular refills are needed during the day. The thrushes are equally keen, while the bluetits and great tits favour communal bathing and the pairs of blackcaps and bullfinches prefer to bathe a deux. In this dry weather a birdbath is more important than feeding the birds (although we do both), but it is important to refill it daily – even if the blackbirds haven’t emptied it – so that the water is fresh and there is no chance of spreading any avian diseases.

A young robin takes a quick dip while a juvenile blackbird waits for a go.

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It’s three years since I last visited Hyde Hall and my goodness, what a transformation. A cluster of good looking new buildings perches on the hilltop, providing an enclosed teaching garden with classrooms, a large hall for meetings and conferences and a spacious restaurant (there’s another one at the entrance). The previously rather tired vegetable garden has been replaced with the World Garden where they are experimenting with growing all manner of unusual crops outside and inside the impressive octagonal glasshouse. The circular design by Xa Tollemache radiates from the glasshouse making it both practical and great to look at.

But it was another part of the garden that really blew me away – the Sky Meadow – part European steppe planting, part American prairie and part South African veldt the hillside features an ever-changing display of flowers. At the moment oenothera, penstemon, monarda and oxeye daisies are in the ascendant but it will keep on giving right through until autumn. Its brilliant – sadly not something I could replicate even on a small scale in my shady garden.

This may be the driest part of the country, but somehow my visit managed to coincide with rain so my apologies that the photos don’t sparkle as much as I would like them to.

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Ok, not in the conventional sense, I actually love the colour pink, but it’s a description of my response when confronted with multihued rhododendrons and azaleas planted en masse – as I was on a recent visit to Norfolk.

Rhododendrons are such thugs, elbowing everything else out of the way, souring the soil and depriving anything else attempting to grow of any light. Other visitors were oohing and aahing, while I just saw monoculture and stagnant ponds. I’m sure there are situations where they are useful, especially on very acid soils, but there are plenty of other acid loving plants that could be planted with them to much more interesting effect. Once they have flowered, they are very dull indeed. Rant over! There are two fragrant varieties that I love (although not enough to grow them) – the wild Azalea ponticum and the pure white Rhododendron fragrantissimum.

Of course there are places where they are grown more sensitively, for example Bowood House’s rhododendrons are planted beneath wonderful specimen trees and with space between them as they follow the contours of the land in something more akin to their normal hillside habitat. And despite my reservations about them in gardens, I would still love to see them growing in the wild.

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With no shortage of television commentary and press coverage of every type, there is no point in me writing an in-depth review – so instead this is a round-up of the things that caught my eye – the people, the plants, the gardens. This was not a vintage Chelsea in my estimation, but then I go there with a critical eye, whilst most visitors are there to enjoy themselves and there was plenty of evidence of that, even if the gardens were a bit thin on the ground.

The People

I love the way that people embrace the floral theme – these are a few enthusiasts that caught my eye.

Well-known garden writer, Peter Seabrook, dons this tie for all special horticultural occasions. It was given to him by American friends and whenever he is photographed wearing it in the presence of royalty he sends the photo through to them and they have it made into a fridge magnet. He recently told the Duchess of Cornwall that their photo would be on a fridge in Minnesota within the week!

From Chelsea Pensioner to a floral feast of a jacket, red stood out from the crowds

The couple running this cactus stand have certainly embraced their love of cacti.

The theme was green for garden designer Ann-Marie Powell and a stylish attendee – and very lovely they both looked.

The Plants

There were lashings of lupins around in the show gardens, but over the years I’ve found they are not the most reliable of plants, succumbing to slugs, wilt and aphid attack, so I was much more attracted to their tougher relative the baptisia which is now available in a range of colours, rather than just blue. It’s a plant I will seek out.

I’m always a sucker for a poppy and this soft pink Papaver dubium lecoqii Album was a lovely presence in several of the gardens. The seed is available form Derry Watkin’s Special Plants and at Great Dixter.

John Massey’s Ashwood Hellebores were hugely admired in the Great Pavilion –his skills as a plant breeder and his ability as a grower meant he could present such a wide range of cultivars all in flower for Chelsea.

I’ve developed a bit of a thing for species streptocarpus – they are so much more delicate than the larger cultivars that are popular houseplants – I spotted this one Streptocarpus baudertii on the Dibley’s stand in the Great Pavilion.

I’ll probably never grow trilliums – very expensive slug fodder in my estimation – but I could certainly admire the peerless beauty of this double white on the Kevock stand.

Cayeaux Irises had many beautiful bearded irises on their stand – by far the most attention grabbing, both for its looks and its appearance was ‘Bewilderbeast’.

A German grower had brought some amazing orchids to Chelsea – the stand was beautifully styled with antique collecting tools and books. My skills at orchid growing does not extend beyond moth orchids, so this was very much a case of admiring without coveting.

On my recent visit to the Cotswolds I bought a kniphofia pauciflora – smaller and more delicate than most red hot pokers – not a plant I knew before, but there it was a Chelsea.

One of the loveliest stands in the Great Pavilion was Flowers from the Farm. They are a co-operative of artisan cut flower growers across the UK who supply both wholesalers and the public with a wonderful array of British grown flowers. It is so good to see British flower growers really getting established.

The Show Gardens

There were three standout gardens for me, only one of which attracted a gold medal. Sarah Price’s Mediterranean-inspired garden did evoke that landscape that inspired it most wonderfully, but then so did the South African garden with its Cape Dutch house and fynbos planting, as did the Yorkshire garden, which was a masterclass in stonemasonry.

Mediterranean

On a more modest scale, one of the best ideas I saw was on the Lemon Tree Trust garden, where breeze blocks were used to create stepped planters. The Trust provides support, materials and expertise to refugees who want to create small gardens in the camps.

Invasive Plant Alert

I was surprised to find that I have four of the listed invasive species in my garden. I think of buddleja, cotoneaster horizontalis and crocosmia as thugs, rather than unmanageable invaders and rosa rugosa as a useful plant where nothing else will grow. In my own garden I would add Spanish Bluebells and hemerocallis to the rogues gallery, but the important point is to make sure that you get rid of excess plants responsibly. I shred mine and then compost them and if there are just too many I take them to the local green waste site for composting there.

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Rosemary Verey was one of the 20th century’s most influential garden designers and – had she lived long enough – this year would mark her 100th birthday. Barnsley House, her home in the Cotswolds, is now a wonderfully relaxed but luxurious hotel, where the team of gardeners, led by Head Gardener, Richard Gatenby, are keeping the garden looking as splendid as it did in her day.


I had the great good fortune to be invited to a dinner at Barnsley House to celebrate Mrs. Verey’s life – and then to stay overnight so that I could visit the village open gardens on the following day. Perfect weather made the occasion even more memorable.

Somewhere on my bookshelves, there lurks a copy of the book Rosemary Verey co-authored with Avilde Lees-Milne, ‘The Englishwoman’s Garden’ with its cover showing the famous Laburnum Walk at Barnsley House. Since I last visited there, the original laburnums had started to die and have had to be replaced, but the new trees are growing well and we were told that this is the first year when they have put on a proper show of flowers. The accompanying alliums were at their peak, making for a vibrant display. I’m not sure that the laburnum is my favourite tree, especially when combined with purple alliums, but how boring life would be if we all liked the same things. Rosemary Verey advised The Prince of Wales on his garden at Highgrove and the same purple and yellow combo appears on the Thyme Walk with golden yews and purple creeping thymes.


One of the fellow guests at the dinner was sculptor, Simon Verity, who was commissioned to make sculptures for Mrs Verey, including the ‘Flower Sellers’ on either side of the gate that leads from the main garden to the potager across the lane. As a sculptor, it must be wonderful to see your sculptures weather and age as this pair has done.


The most eye-catching plant was the stripey Paeony delaveyi, given the name ‘Burnt Marmalade’ by Rosemary Verey. It appears to be unique to Barnsley House, which is probably a good thing as I have nowhere suitable to put one even if it was available. Lack of a suitable spot often fails to dissuade me from buying a plant – I’m currently desperately seeking a suitable spot for a lovely Rosa mutabilis that I succumbed to recently!

These days, the potager is primarily ornamental, with most of the vegetable-growing for the hotel taking place in polytunnels tucked discreetly out of sight. While the box-edged beds would provide for a family’s needs, the hotel’s demands are far greater.


Appropriately, the celebratory dinner included home grown vegetables, as well as eggs from the Barnsley House chickens and the tables were decorated with delightfully informal arrangements of flowers picked from the garden.

The following day, while most of the world watched the Royal Wedding, I enjoyed the peace and quiet of the Barnsley Village Open Gardens. It was unfortunate timing for them as they usually have far more visitors, but a perfect opportunity for me to see the gardens without the crowds. The Little House garden was particularly impressive, but there were many charming corners elsewhere.

Herbs for Healing is the garden of Rosemary Verey’s daughter Davina Wynne Jones – a delightful contrast to the formality of her mother’s garden

Details from the garden of The Little House

A perfect marriage of stone, water and ferns

The gardens of Barnsley House are open to guests who are staying, or having lunch in the restaurant, or for £10 per person you can wander round the gardens and enjoy homemade biscuits with coffee or tea – but do check first in case the hotel is closed for a private event.

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Plants are so opportunistic – give a plant a crevice and it will thrive in the most inhospitable circumstances – we often kill them with too much kindness. In our gardens, Erigeron mucronatus, the Mexican daisy, is a good example of this – try planting it in good soil and it will sulk and die, give it a crevice in a path or wall and it will thrive and seed.

A natural fernery

Convolvulus cantabricus

Wall Rue

And finally to purple cow-wheat – not a plant of great beauty, or good habits – its hemiparasitic – but I do like its strange habit and extraordinary colouring

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I wish I had a retentive mind for the names of orchids – some do stay with me, but many do not, so forgive the gaps in the gallery of some of the many orchids we saw growing in Istria. I will name those I am sure of, but as for the rest – please just admire the pretty pictures!

Yellow broomrape

White broomrape

Violet birdsnest orchid

White helleborine

Toothed orchid

Pyramidal orchid – I think

Lizard orchid

Lady orchid

Butterfly orchid

Butterfly orchid -I think

Bumblebee orchid

Bee orchid

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I did have the opportunity to see four shrubs that do grow in my garden in their native habitats – I wasn’t surprised to see the white-flowered Cistus monspeliensis close to the coast, nor the lovely Etruscan honeysuckle, but cotinus grew in abundance on rocky slopes and coronillas provided splashes of yellow along the roadsides.

Roadside Coronilla

Estruscan honeysuckle

Cistus monspeliensis

Clifftop Cotinus

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Whether it was steeply sloping meadows of Orlanda grandiflora, the brilliant blues of Salvia pratensis and Nice milkwort, or Dittany dotted grasslands there was always something to keep me interested. Lanes were lined with starbursts of Dianthus carthusianorum, the deadly poisonous Swallowwort was deceptively attractive and the flowers of wild lettuce looked much nicer than the bitter taste of the somewhat narcotic leaves. Among the plants I would happily have in my garden was the large-flowered Austrian flax, the lovely purple-flowered Jurinea and a rather fine cerise-flowered clover. Of course, the chances of them growing in a coastal garden in the south-east of England are remote, but I can dream.

Salvia pratensis

Wild lettuce in flower

Trifolium medium

Jurinea

Dittany – despite its pretty looks it is phototoxic and can cause nasty blisters if touched

Dianthus carthusianorum

Nice milkwort (Nice the place, not a judgement)

Orlaya grandiflora

A dittany dotted meadow

Austrian flax

Poisonous swallowwort

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