RHS Bridgewater – the Good and the Bad…

Seeing pictures of the new RHS garden in various stages of construction, it was difficult to envisage how the garden would turn out. I couldn’t see how those restricted planting holes between the paths could support the necessary enveloping mass of foliage and flower that make a garden. From above, the emerging layout of the new Kitchen Garden (one of two new gardens within the original walls – the other is the Paradise Garden) looked rather like an airport, with a wide runway crossing diagonally. There was an awful lot of path.

RHS Bridgewater finally opened on the 18th May, after a long delay due to the on-going pandemic, and I was very excited to visit the gardens for the first time a few weeks ago.

Now that the plants are in, and filling out, the effect is less stark, but it still looks to me as though there’s too much path, and not enough planting. And the designs for the main formal parts of the garden are largely on one level. In the wider landscape, and around the lake, there is more height, with native woodland, and mature trees. And non-native trees have been incorporated into the planting in the Chinese streamside garden.

Close to the stream they are small – cloud-pruned pines and smaller varieties of Japanese maples. Further from the water there are larger trees, such as Davidia involucrata (hankerchief tree). But in the formal gardens, the trees are all both small – either by their nature, or by training – and isolated.

The designs for all three main areas are along the same lines – a geometric pattern of paths, interplanted with a mix of perennials and grasses, with regular, individual vertical highlights from clipped beech, and in the case of the kitchen garden, from metal structures.

RHS Bridgewater is unusual in this respect. Most gardens have combinations; groups of trees and shrubs of varying sizes, with vertical interest from the ground up to the top of tall trees. Shrubs and trees are allowed to grow naturally to the shapes and sizes they would achieve in the wild. RHS Bridgewater doesn’t appear to have that. Instinctively, it feels as though there’s something missing. Intellectually, you might consider it to be a good thing that the RHS are giving us something new; something different.

The formal gardens at RHS Bridgewater are a patchwork, populated by plants that are diverse, interesting and beautiful. But it feels somewhat two-dimensional – apart from the clipped beech, the metal structures and a small arrangement of pleached Parrotia (Persian ironwood), it’s all on the same level.

Beyond the formal gardens are large, open expanses of wildflower meadow leading up to woodland. Both add to the overall experience. They contrast with the formal planting, and it’s great to be able to stretch your legs through these more natural areas, after shuffling through the intensity of the formal gardens. But moving from the open, formal gardens, with most of the planting on one level, into native grasslands, one phrase kept repeating in my mind. PRAIRIE STYLE!!!

It is though. It’s very Piet Oudolf, albeit a segmented version of that style which, according to the horticultural press, is still very popular. Personally, I’ve never been that sure about it. For me, the style has too many grasses (though at Bridgewater, they’ve managed to reign that in). It’s too cold; too open. There’s no sense of mystery, no horticultural embrace; where’s the love? The trees and shrubs are too controlled, too isolated – they look lonely to me. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now; the overall effect is of massed carpet bedding, but with perennials and grasses – carpet bedding on steroids.

Maybe it just takes time. Come back in a few years and it may all look very different. Despite the criticism, there are some great features. And if you’re not enamoured of the design style, it’s very easy to ignore that and lose yourself in the wonderful selection of plants on show. Plants such as this lovely Iris…

This variety appears in a few places, but I couldn’t see a label for it anywhere. Labelling is a work-in-progress I think – very good in some areas, non-existent in others. This, for instance, was very clearly labelled…

Such vivid blues are not always easy to come by, so this could prove useful. It’s a speedwell called Veronica ‘Shirley Blue’. The individual flowers are similar to those of the tiny ones of the speedwell you find in lawns (possibly my favourite wild/native flower) but a little bigger, and arranged around flower spikes.

Still on the blue theme, this one looked better in real life than the camera portrays it. This is Amsonia illustris (shining bluestar’), apparently good for well-drained soil in part shade…

The peonies were doing well when I visited. I didn’t find a label for this deep red one…

And while I might have preferred a different layout and design approach, I do think Tom Stuart-Smith has done a great job on the Paradise Garden. This is the lily pond (which will be better once the lilies have established) and rill, showing a great use of symmetry and combining curves and straight lines…

Towards the back of the Paradise Garden, where it becomes less formal, he’s used a small, shrubby tree called sea buckthorn (Hyppophae rhamnoides), once again arranged as isolated specimens. It has long, thin, silver-green leaves and lots of character, with twisty, gnarled trunks. They would look great in a Mediterranean style garden, and they look great here too. Olive trees are vulnerable to the dreaded xylella, and in any case, tend not to thrive (or even survive) in our cold, wet, windy climate, but sea buckthorn is as hardy as they come, apparently taking strong winds and even salt spray in its stride, so would make a superb alternative to olive.

They may be selling us short in the tree and shrub department, but the RHS have managed to pack a fantastic array of lower growing plants into the garden in such a short time. This is in the Paradise Garden…

This area is essentially a gravel garden. I love this low-growing, creeping thyme, which would make a fabulous alternative lawn, for an area you didn’t need to walk on much. You can see that here, the labelling has been done.

The glasshouses are looking impressive, with grape vines along the front and soft fruit against the back walls. They’re just a little bigger than my greenhouse…

There is still some work to be done at RHS Bridgewater…

But no cause for complaint – love the design style or not, the amount of work they’ve done, and what they’ve achieved, is phenomenal. The amount of time, money, and ingenuity that’s gone into the place is awe inspiring. The empty areas just add interest – I can’t wait to see what they do with them. I loved the contrast between two arrangements of pots; one at the front entrance, the other somewhat more tucked away…

In case you’re wondering, the cafe is great too – good food, not bad coffee, and a lovely terrace overlooking the new lake. But even after restrictions have been lifted, I suspect it will be busy – you may need to be flexible over what time you eat, if you want to avoid queuing for too long. There’s an extensive plant sales area which is more like one of the larger garden centres. The prices are not low, but plant prices have gone up noticeably in the last few years, probably down to rising costs of production. Having spent so long in the gardens, I took one look at the plant sales and decided I didn’t have enough time left to do it justice (I also know that I really don’t need any more plants at this time!) Sadly, it was time to leave.

So there you are; a brief introduction to a rather different garden. RHS Bridgewater is shiny and new in every respect, from the hard landscaping and the garden seating, to the welcome building. That newness felt different to the gardens I’m used to visiting in the UK; it reminded me of some gardens overseas – the Desert Botanic Gardens in Phoenix had the same freshness and energy.

I can’t imagine Bridgewater will ever be my favourite garden, but there is a lot to admire, and I suspect I will grow to love it in time. I’m sure it will be interesting watching it develop and mature.

text & photographs © graham wright 2021

Bodnant Gardens

Bodnant, for anyone who isn’t familiar with it, is a very large (80 acres) National Trust garden in North Wales, just south of Llandudno. It’s particularly renowned for its large collection of rhododendrons and camelias, which thrive in the acid soil there. The site is on a hillside, with some steep slopes, and picturesque dells. The entrance to the gardens, and the house (which is impressive, but privately owned, and not open to the public) is at the top of the hill. Winding gravel paths lead through dense planting, which at this time of year is very colourful…

I visited on the last day of April, and was surprised at just how many of the rhododendrons were already flowering…

Having always (until recently) gardened on neutral to alkaline soil, I’m still a little unsure of rhododendrons. Their colours are diverse and spectacular, intense, beautiful; but also a bit shocking and outrageous. Verging on the blousy, they can feel like something of a ‘guilty pleasure’.
Another indicator of low ph (as well as damp, humus-rich soil), I spied this Himalayan poppy (Meconopsis x sheldonii) in the understorey…

Still close to the entrance is this beautifully ordered, green and calming parterre with a central fountain…

Still in the Himalayas, this attractive stand of Himalayan birch (Betula utilis, possibly ‘Jacquemontii’) caught my eye. This kind of arrangement has been very popular in garden design for some years…

And I just had to take a photo of this gentian. I had one of these in a pot for many years, though that was a late flowering variety. They have the most intense blue, large flowers – very striking indeed…

Another blue-flowered plant I’ve recently heard a bit about it Omphaloides. I’ve been considering its use as ground cover in moist, shady areas. It was recommended by one of the famous garden designers (I can’t remember which one). I have seen it before, and was unimpressed, but at Bodnant it’s clearly thriving and looks good. As a ‘semi-evergreen’ it should provide some cover over winter, especially in milder winters…

Moving down the hill, the formal gardens give way to a more open, grassy landscape. This avenue appeared even more inviting due to being roped off (presumably because the daffodils have finished)…

Bluebells were just coming out beneath this incredible old, gnarly beech tree. The house, complete with Victorian conservatory, can be seen at the top of the hill…

There must be miles of paths to be walked, and it’s easy to get lost. With all of the bright colours at this time of year its like an enchanted land…

The Pin Mill, with the reflecting pond in front, is perhaps the most famous image from Bodnant gardens. The end of the reflecting pond is one of those magic spots where you just can’t help taking a photograph, even though you know millions got there before you (and many made a much better job of it). This view mirrors the famous view of the Taj Mahal (though on a slightly less grand scale)…

And finally, another choice plant. Another one for the woodland floor, in damp shade, this is a trillium – Trillium erectum…

Some of you may have seen a recent short series documentary about Bodnant, and the on-going efforts to improve the gardens. I found it a bit disappointing. The narrative was a little disjointed, and perhaps somewhat flippant – trying to sensationalise the problems the team encountered. And I don’t think it did the gardens justice. But having seen Bodnant once more for myself, I could see how much work has been put in. There’s more to do, but it’s looking very good indeed.

The documentary highlighted the problems Bodnant has had attracting enough visitors, most likely due to the location, which might be very beautiful, but is also a bit out of the way (which is probably why it’s still beautiful!) The plan was, I believe, to update the gardens to give them the best chance of attracting more visitors. I already knew Bodnant was an amazing place. It’s in an incredible setting, with views towards Snowdonia national park, and the gardens themselves have always been fabulous. From my latest visit, I would say they match any of the larger gardens in the United Kingdom for their beauty, for their plant collections, and for their facilities. For anyone who, like me, loves plants and gardens, Bodnant is unmissable.

text & images © Graham Wright 2021

Garden Visit – Wollerton Old Hall Gardens

Wollerton Old Hall Garden, in Shropshire, is referred to in the David Austin rose catalogue as one of the most beautiful private gardens in the country. So beautiful in fact, that they decided to name a rose after it. When I discovered the garden was only seven miles from where I now live, I got very excited, and of course, had to visit at the earliest possible opportunity. That was back in October last year. I kept my review back, so I could bring it out to brighten the dark days of the lockdown. Now seems to be an appropriate time.

We visited on a cool, fairly dull day. It was well into Autumn, and some of the leaves were colouring up well. The late-flowering perennials, such as asters (most of which were probably in the newly created category of symphyotricum – thanks for that, botanists!) had taken over the floral responsibilities. They also have quite a range of salvias, which flower over a long period, and were still going strong…

Most of these are slightly tender, so may need some protection in a cold winter. Having them in well-drained soil, in a sunny, sheltered position, should normally be sufficient. The flower in the next picture is unfamiliar to me, and there wasn’t a label, so if anyone knows what it is, please let me know.

Unidentified, but striking – actually, I’m wondering if this isn’t a form of salvia

Apparently the gardens were created in 1983, but look as if, like the house itself, they’ve been there for centuries. It isn’t clear from the website, but I suspect many of the solid features – walls, pillars and gateways – are original.

Doorway to autumn!

Beyond this doorway, a grass path curves around, adding (cliche alert) a sense of mystery…

There are lots of hydrangeas at Wollerton; particularly the paniculata types, which in my opinion are the best. This magnificent specimen is Hydrangea ‘Unique’ (except it isn’t, because I’ve seen it elsewhere!)…

Wollerton is arranged as a series of themed areas, or ‘garden rooms’. This one is called the hot garden…

There are some decidedly cool colours in there too; particularly the blue aster making its late season entrance among the fiery dahlias and cannas. And there are a few cheeky little blue salvias invading this jungle-like banana and dahlia combination…

This is salvia ‘Amistad’; a large, beautiful deep blue variety with almost black calyces. Salvias are pollinated in a particular way. Called the ‘staminal lever mechanism’, when an insect (say, a bee) enters the flower, they weigh down a trigger that causes the stamen to press down on their back and deposit some pollen, which they then transport on to any other flowers they visit. Except, some bees struggle to get all the way into the flower. So instead, they cheat; biting through the base of the flower to get to the nectar. Here’s one in action…

A peep at the old hall itself, hiding among the salvias…

This is the upper rill garden (not to be confused with the lower rill garden). The design makes full use of different levels, from the height of the standard trees, through the mid-level hydrangeas in large terracotta pots, right down to the rounded shapes of box at ground level. And all of it reflected back up through the surface of the water in the formal pond. The plants are set out like chess pieces facing each other…

Back in October the cafe was still open, albeit with social distancing measures, and masks to be worn when not sitting at your table. It’s an attractive interior space, and I seem to remember the staff were friendly, and the cakes were very good.

The plant sales were limited due to the pandemic (I hadn’t realised it can be transmitted to plants) but I couldn’t stop myself from buying a couple of salvias. Unfortunately they’d had a run on ‘Amistad’, so I picked up a couple of other varieties, including a vibrant red one called ‘Royal Bumble’ – one for my very own hot garden.

To have such a wonderful garden so close to where you live is a great privilege , and not one I intend to waste. I’m going to buy a season ticket, and visit often; I’m looking forward to watching the garden as it changes throughout the year.

Wollerton Old Hall Garden re-opens at the end of this week (Easter Friday).

Text & photos © Graham Wright 2021

Lovell Quinta Arboretum

It’s been a difficult year. For too long we’ve all been trapped; unable to visit the places we love, and those we’d love to discover. When Autumn arrived, and having missed out on so many garden visits, I was looking for somewhere to see some autumn colour. A web search suggested the nearest arboretum to where I live (about an hour away) was the Lovell Quinta arboretum in Swettenham, Cheshire. It’s just down the road from Jodrell Bank – the arboretum was created by Sir Bernhard Lovell, who was also responsible for the Lovell telescope at Jodrell bank.

The Lime Avenue

The arboretum entrance is beside the Swettenham Arms pub, in the little village of Swettenham, and after somewhat longer than an hours drive, it would have been rude not to pop in for a socially distanced coffee and desert. Refreshed and ready to go, we (Mrs Pullingweeds and myself) headed for the trees. The entrance fee is £2.50 with an honesty box at the entrance. It’s free to RHS members, but I felt they were underselling themselves, so we put a fiver in.

Our visit was perhaps a little early to catch the very best of the autumn colour, but there was still a lot to see. They had a Taxodium distichum (Swamp Cypress) planted as a focal point behind the lake…

Taxodiums are, as the common name suggests, one of the few trees that will flourish in waterlogged soil. They are deciduous, and produce good autumn tints. The lake looked somewhat scruffy, with a low water level, but that’s because it’s managed for wildlife.

The arboretum has an impressive avenue of Lime trees, from which pale yellow confetti was falling at a slow but steady rate…

This old oak had a hollow trunk, and exposed wood showing intricate patterns…

The arboretum has an astonishing range of trees, with those of different types arranged together. It holds national collections of Fraxinus (Ash) and Pinus (Pine). I was interested to see a little grove of Dawyck beech – Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’, ‘Dawyck Gold’ & ‘Dawyck Purple’. Last winter I planted two of these in our garden; one each of ‘Dawyck’ and ‘Dawyck Purple’. You would need a very large garden to accommodate two standard beech trees, but the Dawyck varieties are tall, columnar trees. They give you the height and grandeur of a large tree, but only spreading to a width of around 2.5m to 5m, depending on who you believe (and perhaps it may depend on the individual specimen – trees of the same variety are not identical; they’re all individuals, with their own character).

I loved this combination of Eucalyptus (I can’t remember the variety) with the finely cut leaves of a rowan (I think this one is Sorbus commixta ‘Embley’). With the blue sky in the background it could almost be Australia…

I said we were there before many of the trees had reached their autumn peak, but our timing couldn’t have been better for this deciduous euonymus (Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’)…

There are longer walks leading out from the arboretum, with some great views out over the Cheshire countryside, and of an impressive brick viaduct. Being limited for time (when are we never not limited for time!) we didn’t head out too far. We spent a couple of hours wandering through the arboretum, admiring the diverse beauty of all those trees, enjoying the peace and quiet. It’s a place that I’m sure we’ll b going back to this year (lockdowns allowing).

I was very restrained when it came to taking photographs – I probably could have taken more, but hopefully the ones here will act as a teasing preview that will encourage you to take a look yourself, should you find yourself anywhere near. It’s a Lovelly day out! Ouch! Bad, I know, but it had to be done ;¬]

text & images ©Graham Wright 2020

Aberglasney Autumn Colour

Last Sunday was forecast to be a rare dry day in what has turned out to be a very wet autumn. We probably should have used it to work in our garden, but instead, Julie and I decided to treat ourselves to a visit to Aberglasney gardens in Carmarthenshire. Aberglasney is a very special garden to visit. The gardens are very beautiful, and there’s plenty of history there, going back to Tudor times at least, and probably beyond.

The mansion, seen beyond the stone walkway that surrounds the cloister garden. Cake alert – the cafe is just away to the left!

The sun may be out in the photo above, but despite the weather forecast, for the first hour of our visit it was overcast, light levels were low, and guess who didn’t think to change the ASO rating on the camera? Well, it’s an automatic. And the camera I normally use does it for you. Excuses, excuses! I was having trouble getting a decent quality shot, as you can see from the image below. It does at least give an idea of the range of autumn colours on show.

The surrounding landscape can play an important supporting role in the design, and the success, of a garden. Aberglasney is fortunate to be set in a beautiful, lush valley, lending a fabulous backdrop to the gardens. It does mean they have a lot to live up to, but that’s something they have very successfully achieved.

The landscape beyond, with a young Sorbus commixta colouring up nicely in the foreground

At this time of year there isn’t much flower colour around. Even the Symphyotricums (that’s late flowering asters for anyone who can’t keep up with the botanical name changes) were pretty much over. But there were still some flowers on show. I presume this Camelia is one of the varieties that flower late autumn to early winter (most flower late winter to early spring). Even so, it seems a bit early…

And this hydrangea was looking unnervingly perfect when all around it was in a state of decay. It’s Hydrangea paniculata ‘Unique’…

Talking of hydrangeas; this large specimen in a stream-side setting is a Hydrangea aspera (also known as H. villosa). Hydrangea aspera species are not your typical hydrangea. They make large shrubs, and while they can be a bit scrappy, at their best they are dusky beauties, with long, softly hairy leaves with a slight blue tinge, and cool, purple-blue lacecap type flower heads (and yes; I’m sorry about the poor quality of the photo!)

I suspect much of the ground at Aberglasney is slightly acidic. It’s a very damp area, which promotes lush growth. Like Bodnant in the north, Aberglasney has plenty of acid-loving plants such as rhododedrons and camelias.

Aberglasney has a fantastic collection of plants, and we saw many that weren’t familiar. This beautiful flower looks exotic; like an asiatic orchid. It’s unknown to me, and I couldn’t find a label. It was in a damp, shady spot, but unprotected from the weather. I should try to identify it.
Close by, these tall seed heads were also unfamiliar to me. Again, I couldn’t find a label…

If anyone knows, feel free to put me out of my misery (and ignorance).

When most of the flowers have gone, you start to notice other interesting features. I was struck by the finely drawn texture of the leaves of this next specimen, which is (according to the label) Rubus lineatus. Basically, a raspberry, but an ornamental variety – it’s not clear whether the berries are edible.

I didn’t need a label to identify the plant in the next photo. The seed heads of the evergreen Magnolia grandiflora are fascinating structures. The leaves too, look lush and exotic; shiny and green on top, with a (typically) bronze underside. They need some protection, and in this country are probably best grown against a sheltered wall. The downside is that to keep them against the wall you need to prune regularly, which means they produce less flowers (and the flowers are even more beautiful than the seed heads).

When it comes to autumn colour, I hear plenty of references to this plant. It’s Callicarpa bodinieri, and the variety usually mentioned is giraldii ‘Profusion’ (which is what this specimen is). I believe its common name is the beauty bush. The berries are certainly bright, and unusual, but I can’t say I like them much; to me they look garish and artificial, and just seem to clash with everything around them.

Against the tall stone walls apple and pear trees have been trained into a herringbone pattern

Close to the entrance and shop this huge cedar tree has a massive branch projecting out across the path at just above head height. There’s something primeval about this tree. Close up, it looks like some kind of giant, fantasy creature; sleeping, but at any moment it could wake…

Eventually the sun came out, and the sky cleared, with just a few clouds bubbling up in the distance. The rich, warm colours of the leaves of this Quercus palustris looked stunning against the blue of the sky…

Yours truly standing under the same oak tree. We’d walked around the whole of the gardens by this time, and it was lunchtime. Fortunately Aberglasney has a very good cafe restaurant, so we went and had lunch, followed by coffee and cake.

If you want to know more about Aberglasney, they have a website. They have a couple of holiday cottages, and we’re thinking that we might try to have a holiday there sometime soon, particularly as we’ll soon be moving up to Shropshire, which is a long way for a day trip.

Autumn is a marvellous time, but it’s getting a bit cold and damp now. I can’t wait for the spring…

Words & photographs © Graham Wright 2019

Gardens of Spain

While on holiday in Andalucia a few weeks ago I took the opportunity to drop in on the botanic gardens at Malaga; the Jardin Botanico Historico La Concepcion.

The gardens are just north of Malaga, looking down on the city from a hill. The view of the old town is now mostly obscured by modern apartment blocks, and sadly, the gardens are immediately adjacent to the main A-45 highway. The traffic noise is a bit intrusive, but it fades into the background after a while. Hibiscus play a significant role, with many fine specimens, like the one above. Interesting that all of the many hibiscus plants there were in the yellow/red colour range. The hibiscus that we see in the UK – the varieties that will survive a British winter – tend to be in whites and blues; cold colours for a cold climate.

The Gazebo, or Mirador Historico (Historical viewpoint)
The Gazebo, or ‘Mirador Historico‘ (Historical viewpoint) on a hill looking down on Malaga.
Looking up to the forest route, which runs along a ridge at the western boundary of the gardens. I think of pines as being dark, rather gloomy trees, but on a peak, and in bright mediterranean light, these pines are equal to the ethereal beauty of eucalypts in an Australian landscape.

The gardens are primarily an arboretum; an impressive collection of trees from all over the world. I loved the section they’d called ‘La vuelta al mundo en 80 arboles‘ (around the world in 80 trees) at the start of which is this lovely stone and metal (bronze?) signage:

As you can see, the bottom section has suffered some damage, and the gardens, while generally well maintained, were in places in need of a little TLC. There are quite a few ponds and water courses, many of which could have done with being cleaned out more regularly. The leaflet shows a lot of water features – waterfalls and fountains, but not many of these were in operation. All that standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and they were voracious – I regretted wearing shorts, rather than long trousers, and got more bites on this last day than over the rest of the holiday. The middle section of the gardens are mostly tropical planting. You could almost be in a rainforest; it’s lush, but dark and damp (despite the 35 degree temperature and full sun). Lovely to experience, but unless you’re fully covered up, you really need to keep moving.

Just one of many beautiful trees in the collection, this Lagerstroemia indica (Crape Myrtle), as you can see, has wonderfully smooth, tactile, patterned bark.

The staff are doing a good job with the labelling, which is very helpful for students of horticulture (such as yours truly) and there’s plenty of information about the history of the gardens, and the collections. Visiting other countries can be a challenging experience when you don’t speak the language very well, but when you visit a garden, wherever you are in the world, the plants all have the same familiar Latin names.

An example of the information boards
A pond with giant water lilies (Victoria cruziana). The flowers apparently open at dusk. I’d left long before then – maybe next time!
Nice to see plumbago rampaging wild; clambering up into the trees. It needs a very sheltered position here in the UK to even survive – no chance of ever reaching this size. A shame that my camera didn’t seem able to capture the intense blue of the flowers.
There were some healthy and impressive cacti on show. These five characters caught my attention – maybe I’m as twisted as they are, but they seem to me to have a rather human quality.
A dragonfly, perched on the tip of an aloe leaf, shimmers in the sunlight.

And in case you were wondering, yes; the gardens have a very good cafe, which I took full advantage of – a tasty salad for lunch, two (damn fine) coffees and a brownie. All in all, it was a sad moment when the time came to leave. Though I didn’t miss those mossers…

Text and images ©Graham Wright 2019

Garden Visit – Rosemoor

A few weeks ago I visited Rosemoor, in Devon for the first time. I was expecting a lot – as one of the four RHS gardens you would expect it to be good – and I wasn’t disappointed.

The huge flowers of Allium Globemaster in the foreground, with roses, lupins, geraniums and phlomis in the dappled shade of a cluster of Himalayan Birch trees

The weather was cool, but there was plenty of sunshine, so it was quite a good temperature for walking around a garden.
Roses play a big part in the gardens (the clue’s in the name) and late June was a great time to visit.

One of the two formally laid out rose gardens; this is the Queen Mother’s Rose Garden.
Rosa ‘Malcolm Sargent’
A honey bee helping itself to the nectar of a Gallica shrub rose ‘Tuscany Superba’, which is an unusual, rich purple.
Rosa ‘Pax’
Pillars, obelisks and swags dripping with roses and clematis – the Rose Trail

Rosemoor is a large garden. There are formal areas, such as the rose gardens, hot, and cold gardens, a fruit and veg garden, and the long border; and there are informal areas, including two woodland walks. The gardens are dissected by a main road, with an underpass joining the two areas. There was some traffic noise, but it wasn’t too invasive. The café provides some good nosebag and an acceptable coffee, which was good, as we were there for a large part of the day.

The Hot Garden, quite green as yet, with reds and yellows just beginning to show. I love the two upright purple beech trees (Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Purple’) standing sentinel either side of the rear entrance
A beautiful specimen of Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo d’Or’ in the hot garden.
Cornus koussa var. chinensis ‘Wisley Queen’ – spectacular in full flower (well, technically I suppose you should say in full bract, as the flowers are the tiny clusters at the centre of the white bracts)
The borders were looking good
The Cottage Garden

Perhaps influenced by the garden at Great Dixter, a lot of the open areas of grass at Rosemoor have been turned over to wildflower meadow. It’s much softer, more romantic, than formal mown grass, and of course it’s great for wildlife such as pollinating insects.

Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) parasitizes grass, reducing its vigour; so allowing the broad-leaved wildflower plants room to thrive.
Podophyllum ‘Kaleidoscope’ – one of many more unusual plants on in the gardens. A good talking point to grow in moist soil and dappled shade


In the end I was defeated by fatigue – mental, as much as physical. Like a child in a toy shop the excitement was just too much, and the coffee was only going to keep me going for so long. It would be great to have the luxury of being able to make regular shorter visits, but alas, Rosemoor is just too far away to justify that. Still, I hope it isn’t too long before I can go back again.

Text & images © Graham Wright 2019


As previously mentioned, earlier this year your gad-about gardener was fortunate enough to be in Palm Springs. While there, I visited the excellently named Sunnylands Center & Gardens.

The view from the car park – not a bad way to start.

Sunnylands is in the Rancho Mirage area of town. Cruise down the palm tree lined Frank Sinatra Drive, turn left onto Bob Hope Drive and you’re there. In the movies. I mean, in Sunnylands.

Sunnylands was formally the winter home of the wealthy and influential Annenbergs – Walter and leonore (it’s alright for some!) The estate runs to 200 acres, including a golf course and various lakes. The guided tour of the Annenberg’s mid-century modern house was tempting, but at $48 a ticket, and with limited time available, I stuck with the gardens and the ‘center’ building, which is free (yes, that’s FREE) to enter.

The visitor centre (or center, in US English) is a stunning mid-century modern building, very bright, and with a relaxed atmosphere, with comfy sofas on which to rest (if you have the time). The are a few pieces from the Annenbergs’ illustrious art collection, including a small sculpture by Rodin that I would have liked to have taken away with me. There was a short video – interesting, good to look at, but somewhat cheesy – explaining the history, and an exhibition of stunning photographs of birds, taken on the estate.

The gardens were compact, but very beautiful, and very different to what we’re used to here in the UK. Desert plants – Golden Barrel cacti and Palo Verde trees – were marshalled into pristine garden symmetry. Immaculate twin reflecting pools hydrated the air, and provided the magic that made the whole scheme come alive. We sat outside the café, by one of the pools, and it was such a beautiful, calming place to spend some time drinking a coffee and eating a pastry. Both coffee and cake were good, and very reasonably priced too, particularly bearing in mind the amazing setting.

There are no plant labels, but that can be forgiven in a garden that is all about design, rather than showing individual plants.

For a spikey-leaved plant, aloe has flowers that are surprisingly colourful and romantic.

Many of the agaves were in flower, and there were a few hummingbirds taking advantage of their nectar. If only they’d keep still – they’re almost impossible to photograph.

Not the best image of a hummingbird you’ll ever see. Note the swathe of aloe flowers in the background.

Everything about Sunnylands is immaculately presented and very beautiful. Perhaps it needs to be in order to meet the approval of the world leaders that convene there. I’ll probably never share the company of presidents and ambassadors, but it was a privilege to share the beautiful gardens of Sunnylands for one glorious, sunny afternoon.

text & photographs ©Graham Wright 2019

RHS Malvern Flower Show

Last Friday I took a day off work (well, I’m actually calling it a work’s outing) to go to the RHS spring flower show at Malvern. It was the second day of the show, and while the weather might have been better than the first, it was still cold, with the odd shower. There was some sunshine too though.

Couldn’t get a prettier setting – the Malvern Hills, from the showground

The RHS flower shows seem to get ever more popular and hence, ever more crowded. There’s a lot of shuffling and jostling to get to see what you want, particularly the most popular areas, which are generally the floral marquee and the show gardens.

The floral marquee was as well turned out as ever, even if most of the stalls were familiar – immaculate and unfeasibly colourful displays of tulips, bougainvillea, chrysanthemums, streptocarpus and the like. I was taken with the stand by Grafton Nurseries, also known as Hardy Eucalyptus. They had so many varieties of eucalypts, including many hardy enough to be grown in UK gardens, and some that are even suitable for patio pots (not all eucalypts are giant trees). I particularly liked the narrow-leaved varieties, such as E. moorei (also known as ‘Little Sally’) and E. nicholii (‘Narrow-leaved black peppermint’) which has leaves that smell, as the name suggests, of peppermint.

I also saw this…

… a plant I’ve seen in photographs but without any captions, so I didn’t know what it was. I had assumed it was a form of Trachycarpus, but it is in fact called Brahea armata. So now you know. The combination of silver/grey foliage with that astonishingly spikey structural form is incredible. Unfortunately it’s native to Mexico, so I won’t be getting one for my garden any time soon. According to the RHS website its common name is ‘Big Blue Hesper Palm’, which sounds very Sesame Street.

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Cactus Gardens

The Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs, California was created by the film star, horticulturalist, and Palm Springs legend Chester Moorten, otherwise known as ‘Cactus Slim‘.

From the information on the gardens I’d seen on the internet, I didn’t have particularly high expectations of the Moorten Botanical Gardens. True, they were highly recommended, but most of the photographs were of a small and rather shabby greenhouse packed full of cacti. Satellite view in Google maps seemed to show a small site, without too much in the way of obvious plant life. It was a long walk too, in the opposite direction to the downtown area.

The entrance is at first sight slightly cranky: small scale and a little amateurish, but perhaps that’s unfair. Informal would be a better description. The gardens are indeed compact, but there are a lot of plants packed into that small site. A gravel trail winds its way through groupings of plants from different regions – Sonoran desert, Texan Desert, Central America region, etc. Labelling is not strictly along full botanical nomenclature lines (though the Latin names are given for many of the plants) but is clear and very creatively done; carved into pieces of sandstone, or painted onto driftwood.

The plants are set in the dusty sand and gravel of a desert landscape, with artfully arranged, sculptural dead branches, petrified logs, and rusting mining paraphernalia (Chester Moorten spent five years of his life as a miner). While the plants are closer together than they would be in the wild, the planting looks, as it is intended to look, natural.

There is a plant sales area with a good range of plants, both as mature specimens and very young, very reasonably priced plug plants, which means you could come away with an impressive collection of plants for very little money. It was hard to walk past all those lovely, healthy little plants, but as there was no way I would have been allowed to take them on the plane home, that’s what I had to do!

The greenhouse (or ‘the world’s first Cactarium’, as they endearingly called it) was small, and had definitely seen better days (one cactus had burst through the plastic canopy and was reaching for the sky) but it did have some very interesting plants inside.

Echinocereus brandegeei

All in all, I’d say the gardens were worth the walk, very good value for the $5.00 entry fee, and well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Palm Springs.

Website: Moorten Botanical Gardens

Text and photographs © Graham Wright 2019