Karen Platt's Blog

  • 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

  • Botanical Style by Selina Lake


    Botanical Style by Selina Lake, hardback published by Ryland Peters. ISBN 9781849757133, price 19.99 available from www.rylandpeters.com

    Decorate with style - botanical style. If plants and flowers are your passion, indulge in all things botanical from cushions to wall hangings, plates, chairs, tablecloths and dressing gowns to rugs. Surround yourself with calming green or exotic flowers.Tropicals, ferns and flowers can adorn accessories in your home or you can create botanical 'corners' to connect with the natural world. This book is all about bringing the outdoors indoors and creating a botanical haven. The book is split into chapters: Botanical Inspirations - Vintage, Boho, Industrial, Tropical and Natural. The book features how to display houseplants and how to decorate your home with a love of all things floral and green. It is filled with style ideas. There are projects to make too such as floral wreaths or a botanical pinboard. The book is lavishly illustrated throughout.

  • Ilkley Moor and Skipton Woods

    How many times do you unwind with a walk immersed in nature? We are blessed on this small island with many natural features. There is nothing like a bracing walk along clifftops or immersed in the greenery of woodland.

    Yesterday I ventured on a coach trip to Ilkley and Skipton. The sole purpose of the day trip for many was to go to Skipton market. My sole purple was to visit Ilkley Moor and to go to Skipton woods. Skipton is known as the gateway to the Dales and the area is Wharfedale with stunning green Yorkshire countryside.

    The first stop in Ilkley almost totally confounded my objective as we had just under one and a half hours. The cow and calf rocks loom above Ilkley. At first I thought it would be too far, but I set off, the rocks seeming ever distant. Just as I thought I could get a photo, a few paces on the rocks tantalisingly disappeared from view. No time to wander on the moor today. In the end, I got close, but the steep climb was not being friendly and I snapped a couple of shots and returned downhill to the town. The distant views of the moors are stunning, even on this almost sunless May morning.

    I grabbed a coffee at Avanti and a slice of their fabulous coffee cake. The cafe was busy and very hot. On the far side of the coach car park is a fabulous clothes shop, but you do need a large bank account, I wish. I could quite easily have disposed of 1,000 gbp on a couple of outfits. Next door is an equally stunning home accessories shop. Ilkley, with its Victorian buildings and independent stores, is a beauty set amongst its green landscape.

    On arrival in Skipton I headed to my favourite store, to find it had changed hands. It had been a sort of charity shop with a difference having old crochet and linen, the odd dress, cheap threads and more. Many things that could be re-used in crafts, a real magpie's haven, but sadly gone.

    I entered the church, it is the first time I have done so in many visits to Skipton. The stained glass is amazing in this church with medieval origins. I lit a candle for someone dear to me that I lost a week ago and for my mother, gentle soul that she was. Outside I wandered out of the church grounds with their pretty flowers and a fabulous specimen Acer, past the castle (I have entered three times before, it is well worth a visit), and round to the back in search of the entrance to the woods off the main road.

    This green canopy was so soothing, so natural and beautiful. Deep in the woods you can hear nothing but birdsong, on the edges you can hear road noise. There are seats dotted around. A stream runs through the ravine and the hillsides are cloaked in Allium. There is even an outdoor 'classroom'. The area is managed by the Woodlands Trust. It gave rise to another idea for a book, that I might just pursue. For now I must finish my new purple flower book, launching this month.

    Back in Skipton, with over an hour to kill, but very weary feet, I wondered whether to get a sandwich in M&S, or to go to my usual haunt, which used to be called Wild Oats but has changed its name. I was not sure if it had changed owner and the food too. I decided on M&S, but there was a chilly wind and I thought it too cold to sit and eat a sandwich in the plummeting temperatures. Then my eye was caught by the Three Sheep Cafe and I enjoyed their quiche very much. The cakes looked delicious but I had eaten cake for elevenses, so resisted, (halo still in place!). Without my glasses, I wondered why someone had put a tissue in my teapot. Lifting the lid, I saw this was an 'extended' teabag. The teashop owner had seen the idea in Madeira.

    A very enjoyable day in touch with nature. As we headed home, I took a pic from the moving coach of the view.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Harrogate Spring Flower Show 2016

    Still a bit achy from my day in Chesire, but I braved the drop in temperature to go to the Harrogate Flower Show, my favourite excursion in spring. I did not know they were building a new Hall and the plants had been moved into a marquee, but the lighting was far better, so better photos. Despite the hail and freezing weather, I had a wonderful day.

    You too can have a super day at the show, tomorrow is the final day. If you can't get there this spring, the autumn show is fantastic too and there's always next year.

    The displays took my breath away this year from the Fritillaria and Cypripedium on Jacques Amand's stand, to Taylor's Clematis, Dibley's Streptocarpus and so many more. Some plants were definitely must-haves, so I have made a list of most of those here. They are not in order

    1. Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) Blossom Quinn from Warmenhoven

    2. Petunia Black Knight from Iddon's

    3. Cypripedium from Jacques Amand

    4. Heuchera Sweet Tea, I thought this was the best, a few nurseries were showing it

    5. Incredible Erysimum I had not seen before, being sold by a few nurseries including Hardy's, this one is Red Jep

    6. Breathtaking Clematis Pink Champagne from Taylor's

    7. Muscari Bling Bling again sold by three nurseries

    8. Primula 'Slack Top' from the nursery of the same name

    9. Pelargonium (need to decipher the name, sorry)

    10. Streptocarpus from Dibley's

    11. Iris sold by two nurseries and just unimaginably beautiful greenish and faded denim

    12. This amazing bonsai of Acer

    Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Nostell Priory

    Nostell, near Wakefield is owned by the NT. Parts of the house and the grounds are open and there is a cafe, plant shop and places to picnic.

    The house and parkland are magnificent, set around the lakes. The land is green as far as the eye can see. There is a formal area to one side of the house, at this time of year planted with spring bulbs. The tulips were few in number and still in bud, but the daffodils were hanging on and there was a central walk planted with daffodils and scented hyacinth. The herbaceous border was just beginning to wake up. It has a backbone of shrubs with many Ilex (holly) and the Euphorbia was looking good. I was feeling a little disappointed however, as spring had not really sprung here. Then I turned the corner and noticed something in the grass - fritillaries and suddenly I felt so glad that I had come. To one side they were large Ensete (bananas), still in their winter garb, wrapped in old leaves against the chill and at their base Cynara, the globe artichokes whose silver leaves were sparking in the cold sunshine.

    I walked through the children's adventure playground and found a bug's home. The winter beech leaves were shivering in the wind, still clinging to the twiggy branches. A little further on, round the back of the house, you come to the lakes, looking wonderful at this time of year. I circled the large lake with its Typha (bullrush) and came round to the Menagerie Garden, where the Magnolia were in bloom. This area had many shadows and felt particularly cold, and the Magnolia had suffered some light frost damage, but still made a terrific outline against the blue sky. Again, I was glad I had made the trip.

    At the shop I loved these carved wooden chickens. I entered the house to be awed by Adam's plasterwork and ceilings and the Chippendale furniture. Then back outside to walk to the smaller lake and the Obelisk.

    It was a wonderful day out, well worth a visit and I might return in summer. I took the train from Sheffield and then the bus from Wakefield bus station. It was an easy journey. Whilst in Wakefield, you might also wish to visit the Barbara Hepworth Gallery.

    I know many criticise the NT and their care of houses and gardens, but without them, many of these places would no longer be there at all. I do have one criticism however, the standard of the NT cafes/restaurants. I think they are rather poor, not only in their selection and quality of food but in the length of time you have to queue, even when there are only a couple of people in front of you and the cleanliness, price and poor service. This is true of three NT properties I have visited this spring. Take your own food and drink.

    If you love gardens, take a look at my gardening books in the online shop

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Harrogate Spring Flower Show Preview

    The Harrogate Spring Flower show starts off my plant hunting and gardening year with a bang. I like this show very much for its quality displays that match Chelsea and the entrance is a fraction of the price plus you can buy plants and lots more and have a real day out. It is easy to combine with lunch in Harrogate and even an afternoon at Harlow Carr gardens.

    So if you have been thinking about going, and haven't, the best way I can persuade you is to show you some of the flowers from previous shows.

    It takes place this year on 21-24 April 2016, at the Great Yorkshire Showground from 9.30-5.30. gate price is 18.50gbp. The show programme has all the details of exhibitors and is just 3.50gbp.

    You'll find more information on flowershow.org.uk

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Spring at Sheffield Botanic Gardens

    There is nothing better on a bright spring morning, than heading off to a garden and taking some pics of gorgeous plants.

    I love spring flowers because they are wonders of nature, often pushing up through snow or hard, cold earth to bring colourful joy to the world. Sheffield Botanic Garden is free to wander around and enjoy the sights of spring


    Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Spring

    The first in a  series of four seasonal observations.


    There seems to be confusion as to when spring begins online, but traditionally spring has begun on the 21st March, if one follows the astrological calendar. Although I regard that as the beginning of spring, for me, it has always undoubtedly been the appearance of plants that determine spring. The snowdrops, then the crocus both herald spring. Yet the weather can still be inclement and spring does not necessarily mean the end of snow or wintry weather.

    In my garden Ranunculus is a favourite harbinger of spring, and yet it can even appear in December in mild weather, but it will not usually produce flowers until April. The Hellebores are also one of my favourite spring flowers, but they have been producing blooms for weeks. When the Anemones and Primulas come out, we really know that spring is here.

    Spring is a renewal, a rebirth. Time to throw off the cloak of winter, re-emerge, renewed and full of life. As with plants, the same is true for many of us who hibernate in winter. We can throw off the thicker, heavier clothes and feel refreshed.

    Springtime is a time for walks to see nature re-awakening, to enjoy a few blue skies, temperatures rising. Climb the green hills, the meadows, see plants in their natural habitat and dream of summer warmth. For me it is time to consider colour, texture in lichen and more. The tracery of bare branches is still beautiful against blue skies. I am fortunate to live near the Peak District and to enjoy all it has to offer. I am also fortunate to live in one of England's greenest cities, close to all amenities yet within walking distance of fabulous green spaces and just a few miles from the Derbyshire countryside.

    I admire the colours of spring, the vivid greens, fresher than at any other time of year. A superb companion to the predominantly yellow of spring flowers. Some of the 'black plants' are also darker at this time of year, triggered by cold, they show their darkest tones.

    Spring has traditionally been a time when I visit gardens and flower shows and revel in plants. The earliest garden show I visit and one of the best is the Harrogate Flower Show, which takes place later this month and can easily be combined with a visit to Harlow Carr. Harrogate itself will have displays of vibrant spring bulbs throughout the centre. I usually visit Cornwall and I have included a pic of Barbara Hepworth's old garden, now belonging to the Tate in St. Ives. As well as visiting old favourites, I try to fit in a few new ones every year. On my list at the moment is Lyme Park.

    I love spring - it is joy.

    Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

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