Skip to content

Le Jardin de l’Alchimiste

October 3, 2013
0 Eygalieres

Eygalières on an overcast day. Situated on the edge of the Alpilles in Provence.

One of the gardens we visited this summer was Le Jardin de l’Alchimiste in Provence, just outside the pretty village of Eygalières.

It was created in the late ‘90s by Alain and Marie de Larouzière (owners of the Mas de la Brune next door, a 16th century mansion built by an alchemist) with the help of French garden designers Arnaud Maurières and Eric Ossart. The garden was interesting and felt quite unlike any I’ve visited before. It was split into three main sections. First, to enter the garden, you weave your way through a maze that spells out the Hebrew word ‘Berechit’ (from the start of the bible and meaning ‘In the beginning’). You then emerge into the ‘Magical Garden’ filled with plants that have magical, medicinal or healing properties according to local tradition. The final section is the ‘Alchemist Garden’ in which the visitor journeys through the ‘black work’, the ‘white work’ and the ‘red work’ (more on this later).

Although each of the three parts of the garden are situated right alongside the other you can’t see through into each one. Each part is enclosed and you don’t see the layout or what lies ahead in each section until you have entered. It had the clever effect of adding to a sense of discovery and made the whole garden seem much larger than the actual area it covered.

1 Maze

The constricted entrance via the maze emphasised the transition from the real world outside to the other world of the garden. It also served to disorientate.

Once inside, the symmetrically laid Magical Garden was peaceful and tranquil. It was a grey, overcast day and it had just stopped raining. We were alone. The place was damp and empty. Serene bliss.

2 Rill

A rill running down the length of the Magical Garden

3 Willow enclosures

Much of this garden was divided into squares of planting each featuring a plant with ‘magical’ characteristics. Many of these squares were enclosed by criss-crossing willows.

4 Vine arch

The garden was bisected down the middle by a vine arch planted with 22 different varieties

The third part, the Alchemist Garden, was really interesting. From the entrance into the ‘black work’ through a dark tunnel the path twisted back on itself several times taking you further into the garden and into another corridor. The turning of each corner unveiled a new surprise. It felt like an adventure.

5 Alchemist entrance

Dark tunnel entrance into the ‘black work’

6 Black pots

Round the first corner – an odd corridor of pots planted up with black petunias

7 Aeoniums

Round the next corner – a lovely surprise as we came upon a row of tall, black, Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’

9 Me and Aeoniums

Much taller than me (admittedly not that difficult!)

8 Aeonium close up

Got to love a black Aeonium

10 Last black section

A dark pool, surrounded by black slate in the last part of the ‘black works’

According to the interpretation, the three colours or works in the Alchemist Garden represent the three steps of the alchemist’s quest for the philosopher stone to transform lead into gold. It also echoes the stages of life on the metaphysical and spiritual path to ultimate knowledge:

– The black work evokes the birth of the child and his physical development – the time of basic intelligence.

– The white work heralds the time of intellectual and emotional development. Some people are quite happy here and will spend their whole life here.

– The red work is the stage for those who are more demanding, who want to travel the whole road and who will discover the meaning of life while progressing in the plenitude of spirituality.

Eventually, from the darkness of the black we were spat out into the white – dazzled and enveloped by a sea of ‘Iceberg’ roses, heavy and dripping with the earlier rain.  Over the tops of the flowers it was a mass of white as far as we could see. It was thrilling. And fun.

13 Entrance to white

Compressed exit from the black work out into the white. Even the colour of the flooring transitions.

14 First sight white

Entering the ‘white work’

15 Field of roses

Masses of white Rosa ‘Iceberg’. I’ve never been in a garden like it. Being here at the beginning of June was fortuitous as the roses looked great.

16 Me and roses

Where’s Wally version. Holding up my umbrella to make it easy!

17 Rose & miscanthus

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ lining the path

18 Gaura underplanting

Underplanting of Gaura

19 White water feature

Water feature in the middle of the ‘white work’

I found the last section, the ‘red’ or ‘great work’, less aesthetically pleasing than the black and white sections but still interesting nonetheless. It just didn’t sit as comfortably, but perhaps that is what comes from a garden full of red. It isn’t exactly the most calming of colours.

20 Entrance to red

A circular entrance into ‘red work’

21 Red garden 1

Red Rosa ‘Prestige de Bellegarde’ and pomegranate trees dominated this section

24 Red water feature

At the centre was a 6-pointed star water feature – the end of the quest – with the fountain symbolising the Philosopher’s Stone. 33 segments radiated out on the paving of the surrounding circle symbolising universality.

It was interesting to visit such a purposefully designed garden, full of symbolism and meaning. It had a story to tell and took the visitor on a journey. Well worth a visit if you ever happen to pass by on holiday. And we didn’t see another soul during our visit there. Just as I like it.

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

May 22, 2013

You may have noticed that it’s Chelsea Flower Show this week. I was there on Monday for press day. Chelsea is still an event in the horticultural calendar that I look forward to. Even if it is a bit of a circus and even if it does start to feel a bit same-y each year. It is what it is – artificial, a bit corporate and something of a media frenzy – but if it gets more people interested in gardening and plants then that’s fine by me. It’s also the best – or at least the most prestigious and visible – showcase we have in this country for garden design. Plus it’s a good excuse for a jolly and a catch-up for horticultural folk.

Having said all that, I didn’t think it was a stand-out show this year. Disappointing given it’s the show’s centenary. I expected a bit more pizazz. Garden gnomes just don’t cut it.

My favourite garden was Christopher Bradley-Hole’s design for the Daily Telegraph. It’s the one that most captured my attention and gave me the most viewing pleasure. Beautifully executed, it was stunning, striking, peaceful. It spoke to me and made me stop and stare. Not that I would want this garden for myself – what a bitch all those cubes of box and yew would be to trim. But it’s the kind of thing I like to see when I come to Chelsea and I like the idea behind it.

Bradley-Hole Garden

Daily Telegraph Garden

I also enjoyed the East Village garden by Balston Agius for being a bit different from your usual Chelsea designs with its sinuous lines, bold planting and angular viewing platforms that jutted out into the garden.

East Village Garden

East Village Garden

I thought two gardens were let down by the hard landscaping elements. Sadly the Sentebale garden didn’t appeal to me at all. The planting at the side, along the wall, was pretty but the hard landscaping was too much – far too dominating and out of proportion to the garden – and I didn’t like the material used. The polished grey stepping stones and expanse of grey steps up to the grey round house left me a bit cold.

Sentebale Garden

Sentebale Garden

Chris Beardshaw’s garden had some gorgeous planting but the path down the centre didn’t work for me – it was ugly and distracting.

Beardshaw Garden

Arthritis Research Garden (Chris Beardshaw)

The garden looked much prettier viewed from the side (bar the unsightly barrier tape keeping people off the plants).

Beardshaw Garden 2

The other things that I enjoyed were the artisan retreats, which returned for a second year. No doubt they appeal to me because I hanker after a garden studio of my own, plus they’re situated in a nice quiet spot. This one housed a Japanese-style dye workshop. The clothes inside were made by students from the London College of Fashion and dyed using natural plant dyes. So pretty.

Colour Field Retreat

London College of Fashion’s Artisan Retreat

Rob Ryan Retreat

Rob Ryan’s Artisan Retreat

In the pavilion I was completely captivated by this display of an entire 30-year old apple tree, roots and all, that had been dug up from an orchard by East Malling Research. Utterly beautiful and displayed to great effect.

EMR Tree

East Malling Research

If you’re going this week then have a great time. If not, there’s always the Chelsea Fringe – back for its second year there’s a host of garden-inspired events (many of them free!) happening all around London until the 9th June.

In search of spring

March 27, 2013

RHSSpringFair 9

I am writing about lavenders at the moment. For an August issue. It is hard to imagine that summer and lavenders will ever materialise whilst we are still ensconced in this interminable winter.

But yesterday I did find spring. It was blooming in the RHS halls at the Great London Plant Fair.

As always, the show was a veritable feast for the eyes.

RHSSpringFair 10

These mountain-dwelling, alpine irises aren’t afraid of a bit of cold. Iris histrioides ‘Frank Elder’.

RHSSpringFair 2

I just love the delicate silkiness of pulsatillas. So beautiful. If I had free-draining soil or a gravel garden these would be straight in. Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Blaue Glocke’.

RHSSpringFair 8

The scent coming off these daffodils really packed a punch!

RHSSpringFair 3

I always make sure I visit Sea Spring Seeds’ stand. This time Joy was displaying lots of cut-and-come-again salads. I bought a few varieties of seed. Salad and cut flowers is what I will be mostly growing in my raised beds this year.

RHSSpringFair 1

How can you not love a hellebore? This one was a rich, chocolate-coloured beauty. Almost black. Scrumptious. Helleborus ‘Burgundy’.

RHSSpringFair 4

A shock of pink. Bleeding heart. The genus has changed from Dicentra to Lamprocapnos. I always find it hard to dislodge the existing latin name of a plant in my head and replace it with new. Pretty sure I’ll continue to know this as Dicentra!

RHSSpringFair 5

Another beautiful hellebore. Pink and speckled. Helleborus x hybridus ‘Anemone Centred’.

RHSSpringFair 6

The furry flowers of Streptocarpus ‘Hope’

RHSSpringFair 7

Amazing leaf patterns of Begonia ‘Namur’

Crazy spring weather

March 18, 2013

This is what my garden looked like a week or so ago. Submerged under water. And it’s stayed pretty sodden since. Nice, huh? That’s what you get in a garden of clay. Yes, it’s fertile, yes I suppose it might be better than thin, sandy soil (is it? IS IT??), but GOODNESS it’s heavy, and sticky, and really badly drained.

Wet spring garden

Apart from that anomalous Monday and Tuesday two weeks ago when it was almost hot on my patio (two days out in the garden, lunch in the warm sunshine – bliss!) the weather has felt endlessly wet and miserable and I’m well and truly ready for spring to, well, spring. We’ve even had snow. Snow for heaven’s sake. In MARCH.

Last week I was gardening at Chelsea Physic and the weather was particularly nutty. The morning was gloriously sunny, then it started snowing lightly (whilst it was sunny!) and by mid-afternoon we were getting sudden, heavy snow showers. Large, fat snowflakes poured suddenly from the sky. It was terribly pretty, if a little confusing.

CPG March 13 02

A sunny morning. The grapefruit that grows outside the backdoor of the mess room. It does rather well in its cosy spot just here.

CPG March 13 01

My view at lunchtime – big old olive tree, cold frames and pit house (the olive tree is thought to be the largest outdoor fruiting olive in Britain!)

CPG March 13 03

Sun streaming through one of the glasshouses

CPG March 13 04

Snow shadows. Sudden, heavy snow showers fell in the afternoon. So pretty. Hard to capture on camera.

CPG March 13 05

The sun returns. Late afternoon.

But the equinox – it is a-coming. Longer days. Hurrah! Can we please have more sun too? Thanks.

Garden Press Event 2013

February 14, 2013


I went along to the annual Garden Press Event today. In previous years it’s been held at the RHS Halls in Westminster but this year it moved to the Barbican. The Barbican is a maze of sharp angles and concrete. Designed to make you feel lost and a bit confused. I’ve been there a few times for concerts and plays but today’s event was in an exhibition hall I hadn’t been to before. Needless to say I took a few wrong turns before I found where I was supposed to be. But it meant that I went past the queue for the Rain Room, which reminded me I really must go and see that before it finishes.

Anyway, there’s rarely much that is new at these garden shows, but amongst the people I chatted to and things I picked up, these caught my eye:

Flexi Spray from Hozelock

When I worked at Savill Gardens and then Chelsea Physic Garden we used lances for watering plants all the time. They were long metal attachments that connected to the end of a hose and were really convenient for doing a lot of watering. Their long reach allows you to accurately and comfortably direct the water flow to the soil level of plants and pots. You don’t really see them in domestic use but Hozelock have brought out this new Flexi Spray product that does the same kind of thing. Only it’s extra whizzy. For a start it’s bendy, which means you can use it as a sprinkler, either with it laying on the floor or wrapping it round an upright stand such as a spade handle. And it also has four different water flow settings which you select by twisting the head. Hozelock products are normally well made so I’m looking forward to trying this out. It’s available to buy now and costs £29.99 (RRP).

photo 7

For those that use grow bags (personally I am not a big fan and don’t use them myself, but many people obviously do) Hozelock have also brought out a product that helps to keep your grow bags evenly watered and allows you to securely poke your canes in to support your tomatoes – tackling two problems that, in my mind, make grow bags a right pain in the derrière to use. It’s called a Growbag Waterer and is basically a trough that holds a reservoir of water (15 litres), on top of which you place your grow bag. Capillary matting sits immersed in the water and runs up the yellow spikes, which pierce into your grow bag. You just have to keep the trough topped up with water. The matting draws water up and keeps the compost in the grow bag evenly moist. You can also push canes through the grow bag and into holes in the trough below, which keeps them in position – no more battling to get canes to stay upright in 10cms of soil whilst supporting your heavy plants (an impossible task). The Growbag Waterer is available from various online stockists and costs around £24.99.

photo 5

Ethel bamboo gloves

I nearly always wear gloves when I’m gardening and I’m a loyal user of Showa gardening gloves, which I love. But when I saw these bamboo gloves on the Bulldog stand I was keen to try them out. I got some bamboo socks from mother for Christmas and they are sooo comfy, warm and breathable. These gloves come in a range of colours and are designed to fit snugly. They would make good presents. Looking forward to giving these a go.

photo 3

RazorCut Comfort Bypass Pruner from Wilkinson Sword

I’ve been able to get away with relying on my little Burgon & Ball pruners since I lost my Felcos, but I’ve been on the lookout for a pair of larger pruners – Felco-replacements – at a pocket-friendly price. Felcos are great but pricey and I’m keen to give other brands a go. I like the look of this new bypass pruner from Wilkinson Sword. It’s made with Japanese steel blades and has an easy-open lock mechanism – you just squeeze the handles together. And it’s only £19.99. This is the medium-sized pair. It feels really comfy to hold at first try. We’ll see how it does when it’s used in earnest.

photo 2

Black Soap from Nether Wallop Trading

I was chatting to the lovely people on the Nether Wallop stand and they were telling me about a product they are going to start selling very soon. It’s called Savon Noir (which means ‘black soap’ in French) by Marius Fabre (a maker of Marseille soap since 1900). It’s an all-natural, multi-purpose soap made from olive oil. Apparently it is common to find it in garden centres in France. You can use it to clean all manner of things in the home and garden and because it is 100% natural and biodegradable you can tip any wastewater out onto the garden afterwards. In the garden it can be used diluted and sprayed onto plants to treat greenflies and red spider mite. In that way it sounds similar to Savona (a fatty acid concentrate). Have you ever tried black soap? There weren’t any samples available today but I’m curious about the product and look forward to giving it a go.

photo 1

Early autumn visit to Great Dixter

October 19, 2012

Great Dixter had a plant fair on the other weekend and it was the perfect excuse to make a long-overdue return visit to one of my favourite gardens. Deservedly famous and created by its equally famous gardener-owner, the late Christopher Lloyd, this garden in East Sussex is packed with plants and is full of beauty, interest, splendid views and an awful lot of heart. Always worth a visit, I couldn’t recommend it more.

Approaching the front of the main house. There is always an impressive pot display there to greet you. No one quite does it like they do at Great Dixter.

As hubs noted on our visit, the plants own the garden here. So true and so I will let them do the talking:

The Solar Garden looking fantastic in the early October sun, with the oast house and barn making a picturesque backdrop

Purple-blue Aconitum, cerise tassels of Persicaria orientalis and the yellow suns of Rudbeckia having a party round the back of the Long Border

Spiky fuchsia-pink petals of this stunning cactus Dahlia ‘Hillcrest Royal’ lighting up the Long Border

A view down the famous herbaceous Long Border, still looking great in early autumn

The Topiary Lawn with glimpses over the distant, rolling East Sussex countryside

The house, which was Christopher Lloyd’s family home, was originally built in the mid-15th century, later restored and extended by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the early 1900s. The gardens wrap around the house so it is prominently visible from most places in the garden.

Love it or loathe it. Cortaderia, or pampas grass, looking fantastic in the Sunken Garden

Autumn view. Sunlight catching the grasses in the Peacock Topiary garden

I love the soft salmon-pink and perfect petals of this gorgeous Dahlia ‘Dikara Superb’. Too sublime for words.

In your face. The giant Dahlia ‘Emory Paul’ towering over me (not difficult I’ll admit, but still!) in the High Garden.

Squashes growing on top of the compost heaps, round the back of the High Garden. One day I will try this.

Truly a plantsman’s garden. Bursting with plants as far as the eye can see, back to the rooftop of the main house over the High Garden.

The Exotic Garden stuffed with luscious foliage plants. In the early ’90s Lloyd famously and bravely ripped out an 80 year old traditional Edwardian rose garden to create this. And what a great decision it was. I particularly like the orange and purple combination of the Dahlia ‘David Howard’ and Verbena bonariensis on the left of this picture.

The plant fair was small and friendly with a lovely village atmosphere. I liked the sweet-looking stalls that the nurseries set up shop under, with simple timber frames holding up a corrugated roof.

We had such a perfect afternoon out. The low autumn sun cast a beautiful light everywhere. I left with a distinct feeling that I needed more dahlias in my life next year, starting with some of the cultivars I saw here. Shopping list at the ready…!

And I also resolved not to leave it so long before I visit Dixter again next time.

London 2012 – Olympic Park Gardens

August 2, 2012

I was lucky enough to visit the Olympic Park in Stratford a couple of times this past week. The landscaping was suitably impressive and the vast areas of informal perennial planting (designed by the meadow experts, Professors Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough of Sheffield University, and garden designer Sarah Price) is looking fantastic.

On entering the park, once you have crossed over the bridge and passed the Aquatic Centre, you can drop down from the main concourse to the garden areas that run alongside the River Lea. If you’re not in a hurry it’s a lovely walk beside these planting areas all the way to the other end of the park. On our first visit we arrived around 10am for an afternoon hockey session and it was nice and quiet for some wandering around (people were in their morning event sessions and most others had yet to arrive for the afternoon ones).

Kniphofias (or Red Hot Pokers) with the top of the main Olympic Stadium in the background. Most of the 2012 Gardens planting is found on terraces or ramps so you can look up, down or across the areas.

The South Park area, nearest to Stratford Gate and the main stadium, is more ornamental and decorative than the other end of the park and has been designed with an urban feel. Here the ‘2012 Gardens’ have been arranged according to ecological zones and are split into the European, North American, South African and Asian Gardens. Much of the large perennial borders in this area have been planted randomly in order to mimic the nature of the plant communities in the wild. Other parts have been inspired by the naturalistic ‘new perennial planting’ style – with plants in strips or waves.

Planting in the South Park area:

The first bit of garden we came to on arrival in the park – the South African section of the 2012 Garden, inspired by moist montane grassland

‘Asia’ Garden. Planting in swathes. The designers wanted to focus on the structure and lushness of foliage that you find on the edge of Asian woodlands.

Beautiful umbel flowers of Ammi majus, with spikes of purple Atriplex and blue cornflowers growing through it. Gorgeous!

North America prairie planting with the edge of the Aquatic Centre just seen in the background

Europe Garden. An area inspired by European hay meadows but with flower species chosen for their length of flowering

Europe Garden – Planting detail

The landscaping has seen the largest areas of annual meadows ever to be sown in a park. More than 10 hectares of annual and perennial meadows have been created in total.

A specialty of Nigel Dunnett & James Hitchmough – Annual ‘pictorial’ meadows surround the main stadium. The stipulation for the meadows around the Olympic stadium was that they should be yellow and gold – known as the ‘Olympic Gold Meadows’.

A vivid combination of both native and non-native plants were selected for the gold meadows designed to flower from late June until the first frosts. After the Games the meadows will gradually incorporate a range of grasses, both naturally and through over-sowing. The idea is that they will become self-sustaining and help support wildlife.

The North Park area is extensive and informal. The areas here represent a range native UK habitats and this is where the wetlands area, rain gardens, bioswales, wet woodlands, reed beds, ponds and perennial meadows are found.

Sticking to the landscaped areas we walked along to the North Park with the River Lea on one side and meadows up the bank on the other. Looking back the way we came towards the stadium and the Orbit.

The Velodrome in the North Park area

Looking over the River Lawns area in the North Park. Beyond the trees you can see the Riverbank Stadium where the hockey is taking place

Looking over the wetlands area back to the stadium. You can really get a sense of how green and vast the park is from here

Woodland on the edge of the wetlands area in the north park

View to the City in the west. You can see the Shard and the Gherkin. Park Live where people gather to watch events on the big screen is just in the foreground. This is an area where the bioswales could be seen. It was also where volunteers were fighting a losing battle to keep the public from rudely trampling paths through the planting on the banks!

This has been the largest new urban park to be developed in Europe for 150 years. If you haven’t been fortunate enough to get an Olympic ticket to the park, don’t worry! It will be converted and opened up for public use after the Games. Some of the planting areas will be adapted slightly. The annual meadows for example, will be turned over to perennial meadows with a mix of grasses. The park will be taken over by the London Legacy Development Corporation and the first areas of the future Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are planned to be open to the public from the end of July 2013.

Useful links:

Nigel Dunnett’s Olympic Park page

Official London 2012 Gardens site and Phone App

More photos from the Olympic Park can be viewed on my Flickr feed here

London 2012

August 1, 2012

I always love it when the Olympics come around. The earliest one I can remember watching and following on TV was Seoul in 1988, willing the likes of athletes including Linford Christie, Colin Jackson and Liz McColgan to go faster. I get completely swept along in the celebration of human endeavour and with all these nations and the world uniting in sport. It is inspiring and uplifting. With 2012 being our local Games and practically taking place in our back yard, Olympic fever is at an all time high in our household. I feel completely proud to be British and supporting all our amazing athletes in Team GB. Bah humbug to all the cynics and moaners.

So far I’ve been to see the rowing at Eton Dorney and to the Olympic Park in Stratford twice – once to see the women’s hockey and yesterday for the swimming. The organisation has been good. The fans have been great – the atmosphere has been amazing and as you’d expect the support for team GB from the stands has been immense.

Today is going to be a big one for Team GB. I’ll be watching the TV for the rowing finals later this morning, Wiggins cycling the time trial and our two GB boys swimming the men’s 200m breast stroke final later this evening. Go GB GO!

Some photos from the last few days (ones of the landscaping and planting in the Olympic Park to follow in a separate post).

Downderry Lavender Nursery

July 4, 2012

This is our third summer living on the London/Kent border. It’s been great having the best of both worlds – an easy half hour train ride that takes us smack bang into the middle of the big smoke or a roll down the hill into the glorious, green countryside of the Garden of England. The more we explore and get to know Kent the more we fall in love with the county. From the undulating High Weald and the Kent Downs, ancient woodlands to the arable land of east Kent, dramatic cliffs on the coast around Dover to the bleak beauty of Dungeness and Romney Marsh, it is varied and truly beautiful. There is much for us to discover and we are doing so bit by bit. Last weekend I went to visit yet another picturesque corner in search of lavender.

This is the time of year for lavender. It’s looking great right now, that gorgeous-smelling, beautiful, useful herb. Last year I went to see fields of it at Castle Farm in Shoreham. This time I trundled down the road a bit further to Downderry Nursery, which holds a Scientific National Plant Collection of Lavender. This is not the place to come to see fields upon fields of lavender. But what they do have is the most diverse collection of lavenders in the world. Down some beautiful, quiet, winding country lanes (with some great views over the surrounding countryside), not far from Hadlow, I arrived at the sun-baked walled garden that is home to the nursery.

The garden is stuffed full of different lavenders growing in the ground but what I particularly liked were the demonstration trial beds, which showed the effects of planting distances, pruning times, mulch types, the addition of grit and different feeds. The hedges looked best at closer spacings – giving a larger, fuller hedge – but I suppose it depends on the effect you are after. Pruning immediately after flowering from early September produced the healthiest, bushier-looking shrubs. Unsurprisingly grit mulch worked the best, as did grit added to the soil (50kg per square metre). The plants by far preferred having no feed – and definitely were not liking manure added on planting!

Trial beds testing pruning times, mulching, drainage and feeding

Demonstrating planting distances for a lavender hedge – pictured here at 23cm spacing on the left and 30cm spacing on the right.

Looking out over the walled garden. You can see many varieties of lavender planted at Downderry Nursery.

The beautiful flower of Lavandula canariensis subsp. canariensis. Native to the Canary Islands – we grew this at Chelsea Physic Garden when I worked there. It’s tender so best grown in a pot and brought under cover in winter. The foliage is bright green and finely dissected.

Lavender basket. Designed by Simon Charlesworth and made by underwoodsman John Waller in just 6 hours! Made to the same design as their award-winning 2005 Hampton Court Flower Show exhibit.

Even the garden furniture had lavender in it – dried lavender suspended in plastic table and chairs.

Even with all these types of lavender on display, I think ‘Hidcote’ remains my favourite. Popular as it is, I don’t care. Deep, rich purple flowers, nicely compact shape, sweet scent, grey-green foliage. Gorgeous.

There were some roses trained against the back wall of the garden. This one, ‘The Generous Gardener’ is worth a mention as it was looking and smelling divine:

Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’

Rosa ‘The Generous Gardener’. Had a really wonderful scent and a gorgeous soft pink colour. It was looking really strong, healthy and abundant growing on the wall here.

Downderry are leading lavender experts and this is a great place to come for choice and advice. This small family company propagates over 95% of the plants they sell and guarantee their lavenders are true to type. It’s worth buying lavender cultivars (for example, my favourite cultivar ‘Hidcote’) from reputable people such as this because plants raised from seed are often variable.

Downderry are open Tuesday-Sunday and bank holidays from May to September. See their website for more details and for plants sold online.

They can also usually be found at Hampton Court Flower Show and this year is no exception. They won Gold and Best Exhibit in the Floral Marquee – many congratulations to them!

Driving down country lanes

Kent oast houses

Cottesbrooke – a perfectly lovely little plant fair

June 26, 2012

I went to the Cottebrooke Gardeners’ Fair on Saturday. This is the fair’s fifth year but only my first time visiting. It always gets raved about as being a real plants person’s plant fair. It has a hand-picked selection of specialist little nurseries and garden sundry companies selling interesting plants and garden equipment, including those that you can’t get just anywhere. The fair takes place in the grounds of Cottesbrooke Hall in the Northamptonshire countryside.

Cottesbrooke Gardeners’ Fair takes place in the 18th century landscaped grounds of Cottesbrooke Hall, Northamptonshire

I took a small shopping list with me and was very good as I more or less stuck to it, buying a few plants from Meadowgate, Hardy’s, Edulis and another nursery, which I have shamefully forgotten the name of. I wanted all the tools from Niwaki but resisted. The fair was indeed very good – pleasant surroundings, never felt crowded and the exhibitors were all of a high quality and good mix. Even hubs enjoyed it. He particularly liked the Edulis stand with their unusual edibles. Although we didn’t go to any, there was also a marquee with talks from gardening slebs and experts throughout the day.

For those who have to travel some distance to the fair and who may want to visit next year, we drove up on Friday night and stayed in Highgate House (which we booked for a cheap price with – a good value hotel with friendly staff and decent food just 2 miles down the road from Cottesbrooke Hall.

Despite getting stuck in the mud in the car park on the way in I’m pretty certain I’ll be returning again next year.

Loved all the valerian (Valeriana officials) which dominated and towered over the rather wild, long herbaceous borders running from the side of the house

Queen Anne house at Cottesbrooke – the family home of the Macdonald-Buchanan family

The Mitchell Bridge dating from c.1765 – over which the main driveway approaching the house runs

More photos on Flickr here.