Thursday, 30 June 2016

My garden, three years on

I feel so at home in Bibury that it's strange to think I moved here less than four years ago. This Sunday, 3 July, I open my garden for the National Gardens Scheme, so it seemed like a good time to take stock.
Those of you who remember my old blog, Victoria's Backyard,  will know that I used to open my garden for the NGS when I lived in London, so I'm used to the last-minute panic, and the frantic baking of cakes and so on.
Here in the Cotswolds, I also open my garden at the end of May, in aid of the village hall. This means that most of the major gardening projects for the year have to be completed by then, so I always feel like I'm ahead of the game by mid-June. 
Still, journalists will be journalists, and there is nothing like a looming deadline to make me ...  go and read a book, or rearrange my bedroom. Anything, in fact, to avoid the job in hand. My excuse is that we've had heavy rain most of the week, so I couldn't get much gardening done.
I've been meaning for ages to put together a scrapbook of pictures of the garden, tracing its progress since November 2012, when I moved in. Needless to say, that hasn't happened either, but at least I can make a start by putting them on my blog. 
The trouble with photographing the garden is that the bits that look a real mess are not the bits you photograph very often, so it's sometimes difficult to match up Then and Now shots. I've tried to get them as close as possible, and I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I did.

THEN (above): October 2012, just before I moved in.
NOW (below): May this year. The white-flowered shrubs are broom, Cytisus x praecox 'Albus',  

Below, a detail of the border, showing Helianthemum 'Wisley Pink', santolina, Allium 'Purple Sensation' and Phormium 'Alison Blackman'

THEN (above): The back garden in October 2012, just before I moved in.
NOW (below): May this year

THEN (above): The pond site in August 2014. I don't have a 2012 picture of it, because it used to be home to a dead tree, which had suckered amid a thicket of brambles. I had the tree taken out and for a while, it was a useful place to have bonfires.
NOW (below): The waterfall as it looks today.

THEN (above): October 2012, just before I moved in.
NOW (below): May last year. I thought the climbing rose was dead when I moved in - it was a rather sickly-looking stump. Now it covers the south side of the house. I don't know what variety it is - maybe 'Compassion'?

THEN (above): October 2014. I used to mow paths through the long grass which had two benefits: first, you could walk around more easily, and second, you can use the mowed areas to get an idea of how things will look.
NOW (below): May this year. The border that now runs alongside the wall was planted in the autumn, with additional planting being added this spring.

THEN (above): August 2014. This little birdbath used to sit in the corner of what I call the cherry tree garden, because it is dominated by two big ornamental cherries. It was always a rather problematic bit of the garden because it was full of perennial weeds such as ground elder and hogweed.
NOW (below): May  this year. The iron bench has replaced the bird bath, and there is a new border along the far wall, which my neighbour Neil sprayed off for me earlier in the spring. I planted it up the week before I opened for the village hall.

The new border, below, is planted in sultry shades of purple and pink, with splashes of lime yellow from shrubs such as Choisya 'Aztec Gold' and Physocarpus 'Angel's Gold'. I'm waiting for a sunny day to photograph it properly. However, it's not the very newest border - that has been made on the opposite side of the garden, where Neil took out a mess of lilac and ivy with his chainsaw.
Neil often works with his friend Stephen Crisp, head gardener at Winfield House in London (home of the US Ambassador), and both Neil and his partner Anthony are good gardeners, with a great eye for design and proportion. It's wonderful having gardening neighbours who are happy to help.

THEN (above): spring 2014. Can you see the bonfire piled up on the site where the pond was eventually built?
NOW (below): May this year

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The perfect English village fete, in the perfect English garden

Bibury, like many other villages up and down the country, holds an annual summer fete. It's very much a local affair - volunteers run the tea tent, and the raffle stall, and face painting, and the games for the kids, and the Women's Institute sell cakes and so on.
Until recently, the village fete was held on the lawn at Bibury Court, a Jacobean mansion that is the local "big house", but a couple of years ago, that arrangement came to an end, much to the dismay of villagers.
This year, however, Mr and Mrs Robert Cooper, owners of another "big house", Ablington Manor, offered the use of their gardens as a setting, and yesterday, at 2pm, to the strains of a brass band, the fete got under way.
I'd visited Ablington Manor before, because I wrote about it in my book, Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, and in an article for The English Garden magazine last year. I was interested to see how the space would be used, because although there are large, reasonably level areas of lawn, there are also several gardens within a garden.
I loved the idea of serving tea in the walled garden, which gave a great sense of intimacy.

The decision to put the brass band in front of the "gazebo" (which Robert Cooper designed himself) was inspired; the band were fantastic and it was lovely to hear the music floating across the river Coln, which runs through the garden.

On the lawns there was plenty of room for children to run about, and for groups of friends and neighbours to stand and admire the garden, or swap the latest gossip. The games at Bibury Fete are always very low-tech - no arcade style games, just traditional things like quoits or races.
My friend Wendy Hazelwood was running the tea tent, and asked me to do flowers for all the tables (below). I was also doing Bakewell tart, both for the tea tent and for the WI stall, so I had a pretty busy day, but a very enjoyable one.

The flowers for the tea tables, waiting to be loaded into the car.

The WI cake stall - they'd sold out by 3.30pm! - and below, various views of the gardens


I know this sounds terribly old-fashioned, but I do think the owners of historic houses have a duty to the local community which has grown up around them. These properties are such a focal point that if the owner does not engage with his or her neighbours, it leaves a sort of vacuum at the heart of the village.
I really applaud Mr and Mrs Cooper for opening their garden to the fete - particularly in view of the fact that the garden is open in aid of the British Legion next Sunday. I'm also opening my garden next Sunday, for the National Gardens Scheme, and much as I love my neighbours, I would not want half the village traipsing around a week before the big day.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

First glimpse of RHS Bridgewater

The new RHS garden, to be created on a derelict estate in Salford, is one of the most exciting garden projects I can remember in my lifetime. I went up there last week on the first press tour, and wrote this piece for the i newspaper.
The RHS announced the go-ahead in October, but this was the first chance for outsiders to see what was involved. The charity is hoping to open the garden in 2019.
In horticultural terms the challenge is huge. The walled kitchen gardens, all 11 acres of them, are choked with the sort of thuggish weeds that give gardeners nightmares: brambles, horsetail and so on. In the wooded areas, there are volunteer saplings all over the place, and the avenue of limes that would have led from the gates to the estate to the house (now gone) is unrecognisable. Where horse-drawn carriages would once have passed, there is now a tall crop of Himalayan balsam. It's going to be a huge job, but a fascinating one.
I've posted some pictures below that the i didn't use. They don't really give you an idea of the scale of the site, which is 156 acres in total, but they give you some idea of the atmosphere. The day we visited, the weather was absolutely foul, so I was very grateful to the ladies from Salford City Council (who are partners in the project with the RHS) for bringing along umbrellas.

I would say roughly half the site is woodland, some of which will be cleared to provide what were originally intended to be vistas, or - in the case of the lake below - to restore what was an island and which has now silted up and become overgrown.

Tim Upson, RHS director of horticulture (left), with designer Tom Stuart-Smith (holding drawing)

 The gates to the estate are still there, but the carriage drive is now choked with weeds and trees.

 The meadow area is roughly 30 acres, and will probably remain as a meadow, with wildflower planting and perhaps picnic areas. The Bridgewater Canal, built in the 18th century by the 1st Earl of Ellesmere, runs behind the line of trees you can see running along the middle of the picture.

Another  carriage drive, looking a bit like a river bed.

There are rough paths around the site, such as this one, which leads past the concrete civil defence bunker.

The remains of an octagonal fountain, which was on one of the terraces below the house. The house is now completely gone, and the view from the terraces across the countryside is obscured by trees.