Gardens to Visit

  • 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

  • Gardens to Visit - Derby Arboretum

    Whilst I am sure no-one would wake up one morning and think I must travel miles to visit Derby Arboretum, if you are in the vicinity it is worth a visit.

    Walking from the railway station along the riverside you get to a picture postcard shot of the cathedral, where the riverside is planted with trees. However before this spot, the riverside is choked with Himalayan balsam and Convolvulus (bindweed), both immensely pretty but to be scorned as obnoxious weeds.

    The Arboretum lies directly behind the Crown Derby factory and shop and has some beautiful mature specimens of trees. The Arboretum is not very large and a brisk half hour's walk will make sure you have made the circular tour. The bark is wonderful and the green canopy provides shade. The Sorbus were already covered in berries. There are very few planted up borders or anything else, which is a shame. Someone has an eye for colour in the circular border. There is a great colour echo between the golden Agastache just coming into flower and the Verbena bonariensis, purple Campanula, Eryngium and the sour grapes Penstemon, as well as the silver foliage. If you love these colours, see my purple flowers book and my silver foliage book.

    In 1840, the Arboretum was the first publicly-owned, landscaped, recreational park in an English urban area. It was given to the city by Joseph Strutt, who is commemorated in a grand statue at one of the entrances. It is thought to have influenced Olmsted's vision for Central Park in New York. The gardens were restored in 2005 with a Heritage Lottery grant.

    As I left the Arboretum, my eye was caught by a pretty, minute front garden with petunias and verbena surrounding the bay window, a clump of Crocosmia and a Solanum potted up against the doorway.

    If you like gardens and plant, take a look at my garden books in print and as ebooks online

    Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Green Spaces in Sheffield

    Sheffield is one of England's greenest cities. The latest addition is a long stretch from opposite the Fire Station Museum, in front of the Magistrates' Court and along to the bus stops near the Police Station.

    It consists of a wave of grass amid plantings of shrubs, trees, bulbs and perennials, interspersed with seating. It was planted up in late spring and has already brought much colour to the area.

    It is part of the Grey to Green plan to transform the riverside area. This is a 4-stage plan that includes extending the city boundary back to its original and also the regeneration of Castle Hill. All this regeneration work is funded by the EU. I have recently read about people saying we don't need money spent on plants and I am very sorry that people feel that way. Making areas look good in our city centres or seafronts, is not a waste of money. It brings jobs, much needed renovation and in turn brings people in to visit and spend money.

    This once redundant area, is now colourful and provides a place to sit and contemplate the perennial meadows and rain gardens with improved urban drainage. It also regenerates a few shops in the area bringing new footfall.

    I will say one thing - I find the landscaping a bit at odds, I know it was planted up quickly, but plants needed to be in drifts and the colours are at odds. But that's the horticulturist and garden design part of me.

    These projects would rarely get off the ground if were not for EU funding. So what you say - it's money we put in. Not exactly we get much more out and central government and local Councils would have been unlikely to do this.

    But we don't need flowers you say - well it brightens my walk into the city centre and it has provided jobs and also given artists a space to exhibit their work in the 4 totem poles. It has also generated income for suppliers of plants, the seating, drainage, paving etc. It will be enjoyed for years to come.

    But it does not stop there, in South Yorkshire the amount of funding from the EU to help the Dearne valley has been astronomic. This area would never have been regenerated without that money. Who closed the pits and the steel industry? Who did not care about the wastelands? Dearne Valley was Europe's biggest industrial wasteland and central government was just not interested and local Councils had no money to spend.

    In the early 1990s, the EU gave £750m to South Yorkshire - a huge investment to regenerate the Dearne Valley. Then between 2000 and 2009, it provided a further £820m. The South Yorkshire region has received more than £1 billion of EU money since the early 1990s, says Sheffield Council’s business boss Leigh Bramall. Later on it funded the Fox Valley scheme in Stocksbridge.

    In Sheffield we have the water feature outside the train station, the Peace gardens, Tudor Square and the Advanced manufacturing Retail Park amongst others including roadworks and even broadband. Barnsley has its bus and train station and so on. Don't think of them as fountains or gardens - think of them as regeneration because not only do they make life better, it's for all the reasons above. The benefits extend to employment and education that have had an impact on those struggling and helped people up the jobs ladder. One in 7 jobs in the region are linked to the EU.

    A huge fuss was made over the amount of money we pay to the EU - and it was greatly exaggerated. The truth is we get much more back - we get access to the single market and we get a peaceful Europe. We also get to work where we want, to travel without restriction. I know we are better off in the EU. There is still a big movement to #remain. I don't want to see my city return to being a city with no money to spend on regeneration whilst central government sells off the NHS and wastes money on Trident. The EU is far more democratic and we do live on the continent of Europe. So if we do exit and it is by no means decided, we lose control over our Continent. Why not find out what the EU has done for your area and join the #remain campaign.

    Words, images copyright Karen Platt 2016


  • Lyme Park, nr Disley

    This NT hall and park is well-known as it was used in 'Death Comes to Pemberley'. That was not really my reason for wanting to go. I had seen images of the spring bulb display, but every time I looked up the weather from mid-March on, it was dire. I have therefore come to believe that Disley has the worst weather in Britain. However last weekend I checked the weather and although not terribly warm, it looked like the rain would hold off. My son said he would rather help me with some household chores - needless to say, we went to the garden instead.

    Getting out of the city was a nightmare, as there were diversions everywhere and in the end, we had just got beyond the city limits when we should have been half way there. It's an interesting route with fantastic scenery, so we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

    When we arrived, we had our picnic on the lawn. Then we headed straight into the house. It is amazing, I could not remember any of it from the TV series, and I have seen that twice but maybe they used private rooms or maybe, more likely, I had just forgotten. I could not even picture the entrance (which looks more like the private entrance to Chatsworth on the TV, maybe it is.) Anyway it is just so enjoyable, I loved all the ceilings and I was very taken with the figures on the golden harp. You'll find information on the furniture and paintings in each room. The rooms and furniture are magnificent. You can even dress up as an Edwardian! I was tempted, but my son had that 'oh my god, she's going to show me up' look on his face. We then headed past the formal beds of Dahlias and Cannas and into the Orangery where there was a wonderful Abutilon, ferns, and Ophiopogon, then round to the formal rose beds. Most of the gardens are formal, but I like that. People were playing croquet on the lawn. We worked our way round the lake, offering a great view of the house, and round to my favourite bit, which is sunken below the house but above the car park, what is known as The Italian Garden. There is a huge deer park too. We had tea and cake and headed home very happy. I would love to see the spring bulbs one day.

    The house and gardens are open from February to October, and the garden is also open at weekends in winter, check dates and times on the National Trust website. Well worth a visit.

    Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Burghley House and Gardens

    I have wanted to go to Burghley House for years, fortunately I made it. The outside of the house is fantastic. Inside it is more Georgian than Elizabethan but still awesome. This was the house of William Cecil, Lord High Treasurer of Elizabeth I and is grand as only the Elizabethans knew how.

    As the weather was not set fair for the whole day, we did the gardens first. The garden of surprises is just that - a garden full of water features and wonderment. The unsuspecting could end up with a shower even in fair weather! There is a water rill, fountains, water 'curtains' and all manner of wonderful things. Kids will love this space, some of the features are interactive. There is also a fernery and borders in a courtyard garden with 'busts' that turn and a sundial. I don't think I have ever seen anything so miraculous. Everything is a discovery. I don't know who the gardens were designed by, but they are a wonderful.

    We then had lunch, with my son saying I had prepared a picnic for 6, there were 3 of us. Then it was off to the sculpture garden. Again I was not disappointed, it is fantastic, with a wide range of beautiful sculptures to suit all tastes. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    There was a food fair but I resisted paying 12 pounds for a tiny packet of tea, quite easily. Another attraction on this weekend was a Rolls Royce event, so we could see all the old cars, in beautiful condition with their wonderful lines. Looking across you could clearly see the ha-ha, a feature Capability Brown pinched from a Frenchman. It keeps cattle from crossing to the land near the house.

    Last of all, we went into the house, I think the painted walls and ceilings are the most striking feature. Elizabeth's State Bedroom is there, but she never slept in it.

    All in all a wonderful day, that I thoroughly enjoyed. The gardens are near Stamford, on the A1. Stamford is also worth a visit.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • The Dingle Garden and Shrewsbury

    This was my first ever visit to the lovely ancient town of Shrewsbury. It combines my love of old architecture, history and gardens. The riverside is super too and I liked it all enough to put a ring round the flower show date later in the year.

    The highlight of my visit plant-wise was The Dingle Garden, designed by the late Percy Thrower. There are a few entrances and exits to this more or less oval garden. I entered from the south. Immediately my day brightened as my eyes were greeted by fantastic foliage, shrubs and trees, flowers and a lake. Whilst from this viewpoint, you can see a large part of the garden, there are lots of hidden bits and nooks and crannies. It is superbly designed and contains all the essential features - water, hardscaping, mature plants, seating areas, bedding, rock garden and more. I guess the outstanding feature at this time of year for most visitors is the magnificent Rhododendron. I found it hard to take my eye off the Acer and I loved the colours in the garden. The wallflowers were going over but the colours were gorgeous.

    This is one of the best kept and best planted public gardens I have seen. I would recommend a visit. Entrance is free. It is situated in the Quarry.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

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