Journal

Visiting Gardens: Polesden Lacey 23rd February 2019

The history of Polesden Lacey under 20th Century socialite Maggie Greville is Great Gatsy-esque. Mr and Mrs Greville bought the manor house in Great Bookham, Surrey, in 1906 and immediately expanded and renovated the property to make it into the stately home we see today. Whilst Ronald Greville tragically died at the young age of 36 in 1908, Mrs Greville went on to become a renown and beloved hostess and transformed Polesdeon Lacey into a famous party house, playing host to royalty and nobility from around the world. Mrs Greville left the property to the National Trust in her will, and they have owned it since 1942.

It was a beautiful day in late February when I visited, and the seasons were on the cusp of changing from Winter to Spring. There was warmth in the sun at last and a light, comfortable breeze, but the sky was still hazy with cold air high above. The house overlooks a spectacular valley and I walked through woods below the rolling lawns of the house down into the dell and across to the fields beyond before winding back up the hill into the formal gardens of the house.

Guests who attended the famous weekend house parties enjoyed outdoor activities, and so it was important to keep the gardens and lawns immaculate. Polesden Lacey had a team of gardeners and a head gardener’s cottage, which is still used today and can be rented as a holiday home! Besides the formal walled gardens including a spectacular rose garden, there is also a vegetable garden and orchard.

The best display on my visit in February came from a border simply burstingwith beautiful Spring flowers - dainty Iris’s in shades of blue and violet, lilac cyclamen, hellebores in antique tones and blooming pure white snow drops. The air was heavenly fragant with scent from japonica, daphne and cherry blossom.

I am looking forward to going back when the herbaceous border and rose garden are a riot of intoxicating Summer colours.

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Visiting Gardens: West Green House Opera Garden 24th August

I was lucky enough recently to visit the Opera Garden which sits in the grounds of West Green House in Hampshire. As the name suggests, the garden plays host to year-round events including an opera season, open cinema and dinners. The garden itself is open to the public during the day.

The Opera Garden is made up of several mini gardens which experiment with a host of designs and come into their own at different times of year. I began my tour in the chicken pavilion with its elegantly cut topiary, then entered the walled garden, went through the moon gate into the water garden, wove my way around the towering trees in the wild garden, admired the tranquil ponds of the paradise garden, meandered through the garden of the five bridges and across a meadow to the lake and finally made my way back through the temple garden, grotto and dragon garden.

The walled garden was still looking lovely at the end of summer, whilst the gardens involving water were sadly suffering the effects of a dry summer. A potager garden is one that combines growing vegetables and flowers alongside each other and the walled garden is masterclass in how this can be done.  Colourful flowers such as dahlias, French marigolds and towering sunflowers were in full bloom and most of the vegetables were fully grown alongside the flowers. The garden is cleverly laid out in a pattern and makes extensive use of archways leading up to large fruit cages. Walking through the arches you are surrounded with a variety of hanging gourds, beans and tomatoes growing up the frames. Another eye-catching element of the design is the planting of the borders, with perennials growing in blocks of colour which very pleasing to the eye. Rainbow chard, one of my favourite veg, is used imaginatively to achieve this effect.  

As well as looking great and economising on space a potager garden can benefit your plants and wildlife – the idea being that your garden becomes a series of small ecosystems. Needless to say it can be functional to incorporate vegetables and herbs into your garden flower beds. But there is also the benefit that flowers will attract pollinators such as butterflies and bees which are needed for the veg to grow, and can even repel some pests.  

The Opera garden is designed by Marylyn Abbot and elements were recreated in The Topiarist’s Garden which featured as one of the Artisan Gardens at the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show. Topiary is a recurring theme throughout West Green House garden and is used impressively, particularly in one of my favourite areas of the garden which has an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme: think low box hedges, mazes and only red and white flowers. In fact I was later inspired by this theme when designing the flower arrangements for a tea party.

I will be returning to the Opera Garden later in the year to see which areas have blossomed in winter…  

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