Gardens to Visit

  • Fountains Abbey and Studley Water Garden

    Some gardens just stay in your memory and you grab any opportunity to visit again. Studley is one of those places for me, for it has the UNESCO site of Fountains Abbey in addition to the stunning gardens and deer park.

    I must admit I have never garnered the strength to manage the deer park, as much as I would love to. You might think it's not much of a garden really - just a bit of water, but it's the glimpses, the simplicity that make this garden special for me. Above all, I feel at peace here.

    I remember my father once commenting when I was a child, as we strolled round the abbey, that the monks certainly knew how to choose a spot. The whole site, even though the formal garden is anything but natural, feels at one with its setting. That has always been important to me as a gardener. We might start out buying the plants we love, but we soon learn about what grows in our gardens and if we are fortunate enough, how to borrow a view. There aren't really any flowers in sight here (with the exception of the Ribes by the mill, the Geum was in the plant shop) just the natural landscape with the carved out 18th century water garden. Yet is is easy and pleasing on the eye - 'this green and pleasant land'.

    As always with places associated with childhood, there is a brimming eagerness, an excitement and this place never fails to deliver. The first glimpse, walking through the abbey, thinking of times past, up to surprise view and that sight for sore eyes and then over the top and down through the tunnel, which is very dark and a little scary and out along the water garden. On to the deer park if you have the energy.

    Created by the Aislabies, the site is now run by the NT. Well worth a visit at any time of the year, I visited on 2 April on a warm sunny day with few visitors. I travelled by public transport on the 36 from Harrogate and then the bus from Ripon, which stops at the entrance. Long journey for me, and might be my last visit, but always in my memory. Always a bonus to look around ripon and pop into the Cathedral.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Dunham Massey Gardens

    I visited Dunham Massey at the end of March and I was very impressed with the gardens. The winter garden is well worth a visit, so pop it into your diary for next year.

    Entering the garden I was greeted by a drift of daffodils and glorious drifts of many different varieties were repeated throughout the garden. In fact bulbs featured heavily but there was ample groundcover provided by other plants too, including Anemone, Erythronium and Cyclamen, forming a handsome backdrop to shrubs and trees. What joy to see Trillium dotted here and there.

    Bulbs included Narcissus, Tulipa, Leucojum, Chionodoxa, Ipheion, Fritillaria and Scilla. The Crocus were over. It's one of the best spring plantings I have seen.

    The mature trees are a joy too, and the young Betula stand is beautiful with the white trunks against the stunning blue sky. I was fortunate that it was one of the kindest days of early spring.

    Pieris, Mahonia, Corylus avellana 'Contorta' and many other shrubs and small trees were looking wonderful but the red Camellia was being commented on most of all. Many were photographing tree bark and commenting upon the pretty flowers of Prunus incisa 'Kojo no-mai'. The small Stachyurus praecox was overlooked but its charm will be unforgettable as it matures. The white Ribes also stands out in my mind. The Magnolia were simply breathtakingly magnificent.

    The star new plant was found in the plant sales shop Muscari 'Peppermint' is a must-have.

    I found the house interesting but not what I expected and this is one NT property where I would recommend visiting for the garden more than the house. The garden is a masterly combination of wonderful plant selection and the know-how of planting, creating seemingly effortless colour, texture and visual impact. The parkland is also wonderful and I set off with the promise of seeing deer. I must admit I was thinking if I see deer, I'll eat my hat - and I had to! See the last photo for discernible antlers. Unfortunately there was no-one around to photograph me eating my hat.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • The Gardens at Cliffe Castle

    Apologies for being so far behind. It is almost a month since I have truly blogged, although in that time I did 2 new book reviews and 4 blogs for the Harrogate Flower Show. So I have not been quiet.

    I wanted to take you back to Cliffe Castle, Keighley. I visited on the same day as East Riddlesden Hall (my last garden visit post) and they make an excellent day out together. About a mile apart, so easy to walk the distance or use public transport as I did.

    This garden is being renovated, due to open in summer and it looks like it will be wonderful. When I visited at the beginning of spring, you walk up the tree-lined hill to the Castle. The specimen trees are underplanted with Crocus and Galanthus (snowdrops), hundreds of them. On the other side of the path, different trees are planted at intervals including conifers and blossom trees. The latter made me think of van Gogh. But the whole display brought to mind Browning's words 'Oh to be in England, now that April is there'.

    If in nothing else, we feel joy in the garden as new buds are formed to burst into glorious colour. The skies so blue. It was a lovely day and I hope to visit again when the new garden opens.

    The Castle is filled with an amazing collection of teapots, minerals, paintings and much more plus the splendour of the rooms as lived in by the family. I found it fascinating.

    In the town is a small public square with municipal planting and I found a wonderful silver birch looking terrific silhouetted against the sky.

    Words and images Karen Platt 2017

  • East Riddlesden Hall

    East Riddlesden Hall is a NT property, situated in Keighley, West Yorkshire. I had long wanted to visit, the 'ruined' wing was alluring. The hall and gardens are easily accessible from the centre of Keighley on foot or by bus, which stops very close to the entrance.

    The best view of the hall is from just inside the entrance, across the lake. It is a Grade 1 building, with fine views over the countryside. The stone from Ilkley Moor has been blackened with age, and there are stories of ghosts. The house has lost much of its agricultural lands, but still sits as a jewel in the crown. Built in the 1600s, the volunteer staff will entertain you with many a tale. Once split into separate dwellings, with many families living in the house, the phrase 'if only walls could talk' springs to mind. The panelled interior and plaster work ceilings are interesting. The house contains some period furniture and is sensitively decorated. I thoroughly enjoyed the interior. There is a craft room where you can sew, and also an excellent collection of embroidery I showed on my textile blog

    Yet the NT website promised an awakening of the gardens and I was a little disappointed on the whole. Yes, there were signs of spring in the hellebores, iris, crocus and daffodils yet there is so much more that could be achieved in this garden for relatively little outlay. The garden is formed of three areas, around the lake and entrance, a formal garden at the back of the hall and another area beyond that. To the side there is also a bird watch. There is also a dye garden and herb garden, but they both looked in poor shape. I now see from the website that there is also a meadow walk with a grass maze (I can just see it in my pic with the espalier, probably far too muddy at this time of year), no-one mentioned this, I saw no sign for it and no path to it- it runs along the River Aire.

    Clematis seed heads were still clinging on the entrance to the formal garden area. Hellebores were found dotted all over in many colours. Borrowed views of the landscape beyond make the garden seem bigger. It is definitely worth a visit to the Hall, but for garden lovers a summer's day might find more plants in the garden.

    I visited in the first week in March 2017.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Kedleston Hall

    I visited Kedleston Hall in March on a sunny day, cold but bright. I was greeted outside Derby station with a bright display of Polyanthus, Pansies and Fatsia. A short bus ride takes you almost to the gates of the Hall, where you walk through the parkland with its stunning countryside, river and bridge to the house.

    Yet parkland is about all you will see because there is not much of a gardener's garden here. There were a few promising buds and some ancient trees, but not enough to interest the gardener. Bracket fungus on logs by the shop and more parkland behind the house and a tiny garden area by the Church.

    Although it is a green and pleasant land, the house sits in a beautiful setting, the NT entrance fee is rather steep at 13.00 gbp, especially at this time of year because the parkland walks were far too muddy, in fact after a few minutes I had to give up. I must admit that my mud-loving days ended decades ago and that there never is a good time to discover that your walking boots leak and this was such a day as I waded over to the drifts of snowdrops.

    The lady who had just scanned my membership card ran out of the gate and asked if I had paid, then the lady in the house thought I might be a little too muddy. I felt a bit put out - they were the ones telling people to walk round the fields of mud and I had scrubbed my walking boots on the boot scraper. The house is very interesting, but the NT ended up in my bad books. Not only were the staff here a bit off-putting and not very tactful, I got round the place in about an hour.

    Words, images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Ilam Park - Gardens to Visit

    Ilam Park features walks around incredible countryside as well as a small formal garden area. It does not add up to a must-see for the avid gardener, especially not for those looking for ideas, but for the lover of countryside and open green spaces, Ilam has it all.

    You can get here by bus from Ashbourne, but I was lucky enough to be driven by a friend. It is a stunning NT property with free entrance, set in the Manifold Valley in Dovedale. The tiny village of Ilam has beautiful houses and the surrounding countryside is the epitome of this 'green and pleasant land'. I'd swear those hills are made of green velvet.

    The house itself is now a hostel, so you can stay here. The Church of the Holy Cross also stands in the grounds and is worth a look. You'll spot the clumps of snowdrops and the massive giant redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum in the grounds. It's not the only fine specimen tree, there is also a good example of Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree. Walk over to the riverside and on the house side, you'll find a row of trees with limb-like branches.

    The small formal garden is Italianate. The lavender was showing off its silver cloak, and there was a tiny Acaena 'Blue Haze' near the covered archways. The latter and the grand steps indicate the former glory of the house. Further round there were clumps of golden Eranthis hyemalis, winter aconite. My favourite feature was the stone 'urn' set into the wall with its leaf decoration, holding a heuchera, I would have planted it with Sedum Angelina to overflow its confines.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Sheffield Winter Garden

    When it is cold, it is tempting to seek out indoor gardens, at least for me, call me the fair weather gardener. Hence, I found myself two week ago strolling around The Winter Gardens in Sheffield once more. It's like a mini botanic garden with plants from around the world, but nothing that an avid gardener would not recognise. The structure still steals the show in many ways. I can almost think of it as an extension to my own place and if I had a glasshouse, this would be about the right size.

    Step into that other garden world, the world of plants from other continents, so coveted because we cannot usually grow them outdoors. There is a good selection of Australian plants and those from South America too, mainly represented by cacti and one or two South African succulents. Ferns, palms, wattles, orchids, exotic greenery with a splash of colour associated with subtropical paradises.

    The Kalanchoe looked too small to be at my feet, they deserve an eye-level viewing, with their perfect rose-like blossoms, around 1cm across. The Tradescantia was vying to be the plant that covered the most ground, and was accompanied by a sole Begonia, glowing like a little velvet beacon. Codiaeum (Croton) were dotted here and there, as well as Aechmea and Vriesia. A lone Gerbera was holding fort for the strongest colour. The Norfolk Pine, Araucaria cunninghamii was certainly the tallest. However, the bamboo stand and the fan of Strelitzia leaves were also heading for the roof. The orchids and Anthuriums were looking handsome too. Yet the Cycads and Dicksonia were looking on the dry side. The Platycerium stag's horn fern had grown on one side of a trunk, but on the other it was sporting just two 'horns', well-deserved of its name.

    Right in the middle of the city centre, it's a good place to come and sit for lunch and admire the greenery. Sip your coffee and dream of paradise islands in the Pacific whilst you gaze at that Norfolk island Pine. Bliss.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Sheffield - EU funded gardens

    I have written about the EU funded gardens before, but being unable to make it up the hill to the Botanic Gardens, I photographed these again in their winter cloaks. There is a newer area that is still unfinished, which appears to be using recycled materials and is quite interesting, but not yet planted up. In fact work seems to have stopped, and I hope this has not been abandoned owing to loss of EU funds.

    In the rest of the planting, the grasses are shining. Yucca filamentosa was looking strong too, the greenest plant in the garden. The tree trunks, still extremely slender, are showing interesting colour. The Artemisia should come with a warning sign and I fear it might take over the garden, some of the plants planted in April 2016, are already 60cm (2ft) or more across. Its feathery foliage is, however, to be admired. Buds are beginning to appear and although it is still cold, there are signs that spring is on its way.  The spring Primula are doing their thing. I still cannot believe that flower on the Phlomis, it has been there at least two weeks now. We can always depend upon the garden to give us something unexpected.

    The EU funded gardens are outside the Magistrates Court in Sheffield.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Walking Round London - gardens

    I had to go to London for work and it is always nice to fit in a garden or too. There was not time to get to the major gardens and January isn't exactly garden visiting time in much of England. However walking between A and Z, I took in a few incidental garden spaces. Not places you would go out of your way to see, but if you work in London, or are a weary tourist, it's nice to know the green spots.

    St. Paul's - when you've done gazing at the amazing mosaics and magnificence of the building, take a little walk around the garden. Even at this time of year, there are Liquidambar leaves clinging for dear life whilst an ornamental cherry bursts into bloom. The red and yellow dogwoods are still speaking of fire and brimstone. Berries too were a reminder that winter is here. I loved the fountain with its lion's heads. The wet London plane tree trunk was outside Westminster Abbey.

    I had caught sight of the Gherkin and in pursuit for a photo, I passed Cleary Gardens, a spot to rest aching feet and legs, with a view of the Shard in the distance. I am not fond of filling wheelbarrows and such with plants, but if you must, I thought this pair looked attractive filled as they were with pretty standard garden plants - heuchera, cyclamen and euonymus.

    Reaching the modern architecture towering above old churches and buildings was a bit like stepping into a Hollywood vision of the future. I love both types of architecture. I liked the trees against the glass and yellow columns. The landscape designer in me wanted to plant striking yellow dogwood, yellow bamboo and the most fabulous yellow leaved tree of them all - Acer 'Princeton Gold' or the to die for Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira'. I liked viewing the trees through the modern architecture.

    I walked on in pursuit of a better view of the Shard, and passed the Sky Garden. Free tickets have to be booked online, I would have done that if I had known. I was content to see the garden wall at ground floor level. I don't know if it was planted by Patrick Blanc, but he is the man who started doing vertical gardens first.

    Perhaps the loveliest of all plants on this incidental plants walk was created in a concrete bench facing the Shard on the Thames path! Plants that never die. What a gorgeous place to sit and contemplate the Thames.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2017

  • Belton House - Grantham

    I travelled to Grantham by train and then caught the 27 bus to Sleaford, which stops outside the gates of Belton House, which is part of the National Trust. It is often called the quintessential English country house.

    Rain was forecast, so I headed off to explore the outside areas first. There is a Dutch Garden and an Italian Garden. Although they are pleasant, they are not that exciting. I was just a little bit disappointed that the dahlias were all the same, one yellow round the fountain, and one red along the terrace. Although drifts work well, there are so many dahlias that you could still have had a drift of yellow or red using many different varieties. The bones of the garden are good, it just lacks imagination in planting. There were lots of rather basic plantings of pelargonium in the magnificent urns.

    The Orangery is planted with fuchsias and abutilon as well as palms. The planting is dense with a central water feature. The shrimp plant (Justicia) was in flower. Immediately behind the Orangery are hydrangeas in a lovely deep pink and a lawn with what looked like medlars and a small herbaceous border on three sides. This was planted with plants grown from seed - Xerochrysum, the strawflower everlasting and Cleome, which you don't often see - I like its striking blooms but watch the spines.  Agastache and Dahlias were combined effectively. There were also Sedums and Acanthus.

    I entered the Norman church, not part of the NT. It's well worth a visit. There are some very ancient trees in this part of the garden. Then I came out and walked down to the Italian garden, nicely done, but at one time full of roses. You get wonderful views of this area from the house.

    The house is the best part, I loved it. The interiors are perfect and elegant. I loved the Chinese silk room best of all. There is currently a raffle to save Darcy's desk.

    There was also a display of embroidery by the local branches of the Embroiderer's Guild  that is worth a visit. It is in celebration of Capability Brown.

    There is a large deer park, but my legs were objecting so I returned to Grantham, to be greeted by a terrible storm - torrential rain, thunder and lightning. Honestly that sort of welcome was not necessary!

    Facilities include a shop, garden shop and cafe.

    Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

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