Romantic Gardens (part 2) – the grand, historic and famous

???????????????????????????????My first encounter with a garden strongly promoted for its romanticism was in northern Italy – Villa San Remigio. If you have ever been to the Italian lakes district, you will nod in agreement when I say that the whole place seems impossibly romantic. Stresa, Mennagio, Bellagio (the Lake Como one, not the Las Vegas one) – in the right circumstances these are places of charm bordering on enchantment.

Villa San Remigio had a wildly romantic back story – the love affair between a Neapolitan poet and musician and an Irish artist. If my memory serves me right, there was some sadness, earlyish deaths and childlessness. It had the mandatory handsome villa and a particularly lovely old church along with beautiful views across Lake Maggiore. But were the gardens romantic? It was all gentle decay when we were there, especially of the old concrete (and there was a lot of old concrete in larger than lifesize shrine-like constructions and terraces) and whoever managed the place was hoping to get grants for a major restoration. It may have been done by now but competition for restoration money is stiff in a country with such a long history and so many things in need of major investment.

The gardens at the Alhambra are re-creations. Note the gentlemen on the left, politely trying not to intrude on my photo.

The gardens at the Alhambra are re-creations. Note the gentlemen on the left, politely trying not to intrude on my photo.

I searched on line and found an article in the UK Telegraph, listing their pick of the ten most romantic gardens. Villa San Remigio wasn’t on it, but the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain and Monet’s water lily garden in France were and I have been to both of those. The Alhambra is an amazing place but the gardens are a modern re-creation. It is the whole package there that makes the romance – the history, the beautiful palaces which are on quite an intimate scale, the light, the view across to the Albaicin (or medina)…. The garden enhances but does not generate the romance. The most recent. modernistic gardens at the Alhambra were anything but romantic.
There is nothing romantic at all about the latest, hard-edged modern garden addition at the Alhambra.

There is nothing romantic at all about the latest, hard-edged modern garden addition at the Alhambra.

Monet immortalised his garden in so many paintings which imbues the place with added mystique. An analysis of the garden itself rather belies that. However the water lily garden is loosely maintained and in a naturalistic style which contrasts with his more rigid stripes in the upper garden.
Monet’s waterlily garden is charming enough, as long as you don’t mind sharing it with many strangers.

Monet’s waterlily garden is charming enough, as long as you don’t mind sharing it with many strangers.

What these gardens have in common is a rich history, age and gentle decay, some solid architecture of note and romantic back stories. The gardens do not necessarily stand on their own merits. And let’s face it, in this country we lack most of the above although some of us can manage some gentle decay. But age is measured here in decades, not centuries.
These gardens – and most of the ones on the Telegraph list – are all well out of private ownership now but the love of romantic gardening dates back to the original visions of private owners, albeit generally ones with considerable personal wealth to achieve their dreams. These days the romance is a product of sophisticated marketing. I am yet to be convinced that an institution or business ownership model is capable of generating a romantic garden.

But private individuals can and do. I would disagree with the Telegraph’s list but that is because I am interested in the modern return to romantic gardening – what is being done here and now, not what was done last century or the centuries before.

The soft-edged naturalism, helped by French village style, showed romantic gardening at a very domestic level.

The soft-edged naturalism, helped by French village style, showed romantic gardening at a very domestic level.

We spent a couple of nights in the village of Giverny where Monet’s garden is located. I am quite willing to admit that our delight in the charm of the village may have been influenced by the departure of the daytime crowds, the soft evening light and the consumption of the fermented fruit of the French vine, but we found ourselves more engaged with the village scenes than we were with the star attraction. This was romanticism on a very personal, domestic level. The soft-edged naturalism, often with charming detail, has nothing to do with great wealth, grand vision and power. It is equally within the reach of the individual.
In the village of Giverny, even le chat français and le yellow plastic pot had a certain romantic charm in the evening light.

In the village of Giverny, even le chat français and le yellow plastic pot had a certain romantic charm in the evening light.

The Romantic Garden Part 1

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Garden Lore Friday 31 October

“Against the uniform sheet of snow and the greyish winter sky the Italian villa loomed up rather grimly; even in summer it kept its distance, and the boldest coleus bed had never ventured nearer than thirty feet from its awful front.”
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920)
???????????????????????????????Garden Lore: Friday 31 October
Root stock can try and make a bid for freedom instead of keeping to its place below ground, even on well established trees, as seen here. I know this is escaping root stock because it flowered white a good two weeks before the froth of pink in the main tree unfurled, as well as coming into leaf earlier. It will need to be removed. Root stock is usually vigorous and prefers its own shoots to the grafted top so will put its energies there first, if it can. From time to time, people contact us saying things like: “I bought a white magnolia but now most of the flowers are pink and we only get a few white blooms”. Escaped root stock is invariably the answer. Keep the base of the plant clear of any fresh growth.

Sometimes you can buy fruit trees which have more than one variety grafted on top – maybe two or three different apples grafted onto the one set of roots. These are designed for tiny town gardens to give a range of different produce or sometimes to give the necessary pollinators in order to get any fruit set at all. That is fine as long as the nursery understands the need to graft varieties with compatible growth habits. If one is stronger than the other, it will take over and the weaker variety is likely to die over time.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

All About Roses by Diana Sargeant

d68458bf-8598-4fc7-9e33-200637668d7c - CopyI approached this book with a little trepidation because it seemed to be part of the trend to release Australian publications in this country, assuming that they will be equally relevant here with no significant difference in conditions and plant varieties. In this case it works. This is a charming and helpful book written by somebody who combines vast experience with a genuine love for the topic. The author ran a rose nursery for 25 years where they chose to go to organic production well before many others came to realise that our growing of roses had become bad practice environmentally. There is no doubt it would be easier in Australia to grow good roses without chemical intervention because of their dry climate, but her experience is invaluable. I am not sure how readily available some of her alternatives are in this country yet – but they are stocked even by Bunnings in Australia so if the demand is here, I am sure we will see them soon. That is eco-fungicide, eco-oil, eco-neem and eco-amingro.

There is a wealth of information and ideas in this book in a deceptively simple presentation. She gives a very clear explanation of the different types and, surprisingly, the genetic breeding lines. Recommendations are given on good varieties – thornless ones, pillar roses, scented varieties, cut flowers. As far as I know most of the varieties are available in this country. Growing information is down to earth and practical.

For once, the photos are not just an endless array of close-ups of a single bloom but they also include clear practical photos as well as some lovely mood images.

It is a book for the amateur enthusiast, not the experienced and knowledgeable expert. My one gripe has to do with the publisher, not the author. Where is the index? It needed one and its absence is a glaring omission.

All About Roses by Diana Sargeant. (New Holland; ISBN: 978 1 92151 732 7).

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

The Giverny Experience – Monet’s Garden

The iconic bridge at Giverny is recognisable from many Monet paintings.

The iconic bridge at Giverny is recognisable from many Monet paintings.

In the world of gardening pilgrimages, Monet’s garden at Giverny rules supreme. His water lily paintings, the evocative scenes of irises, beds of summer flowers in the French countryside – could there be anything more romantic? Many were inspired, we know, from his personal garden. Surely in visiting, we will be able to absorb some of this magic? Maybe.

To get maximum enjoyment from the experience, it helps to be A Believer. But be humble. You will be but one believer amongst the half million who visit over the seven months of the year that the garden is open. That is over 2300 a day.

A rare sight - the garden not full of people

A rare sight – the garden not full of people

As we lined up for opening with our tickets pre-purchased on line, a phalanx of 95 Swiss bore down upon us in the tiny lane. We resolutely held our pole position and were directed left upon entry whereas they were headed right. This sent them to the water lily garden and us to the house gardens where we had the unusual experience of having the place entirely to ourselves for a few precious minutes. I even managed some photos without people in them but this state of affairs was not to last and soon equal numbers were pouring in from the top entrance too.

Entry to the garden includes entry to Monet’s house which is presented as it was in his day

Entry to the garden includes entry to Monet’s house which is presented as it was in his day

We had worked out that it may be wise to traverse the house interior early and so proved to be the case. Goodness knows how that poor house stands up to the beat-beat-beat of a million feet but it is an interesting place in terms of its interior decor and the art. The yellow dining room was pretty astonishing.

There is a very good collection of Japanese prints which were a source of inspiration to Monet, though the print count was exceeded by the number of Japanese visitors on the day we were there. Some fine examples of Impressionist art are on display but don’t expect originals. This is a re-creation of Monet’s house as it was in his day and so too are the paintings reproductions, albeit some good ones.

Almost Madonna-like in the garden, one of a small tribe of young women grooming the pelargoniums petal by petal

Almost Madonna-like in the garden, one of a small tribe of young women grooming the pelargoniums petal by petal

The garden? I probably have to whisper this, but if you are a keen and knowledgeable gardener, you may find it a little underwhelming. Monet is said to have taken inspiration for many of his paintings from the garden and to have played with colour to make it zing. Private gardens are private visions. Once they pass into public ownership, that dissipates over time and it has had 88 years to do so. In midsummer, there is a heavy emphasis on annuals and some “interesting” plant choices. We rather doubted that Monet would ever have gone for enormous, overblown modern dahlia hybrids. The flower gardens were reminiscent of English cottage garden style but with strong colours. And immaculately maintained. Hordes of gardeners were picking over the pelargonium florets to remove individual spoiled petals.

The water lily gardens were somewhat wilder and charming for that. There are two Monet bridges there but smaller in scale than they appear in his paintings. The mistake is to expect the gardens to reproduce the paintings in real life. They were an inspiration for an Impressionist artist, never a detailed representation of what he saw before him.

About the coaches... just a few and yes, some of these are parked two deep

About the coaches… just a few and yes, some of these are parked two deep

It is the whole Giverny package that makes it a special experience. If you simply arrive on a coach tour, shuffle around the garden, then the house followed by the gift shop before boarding your coach for the next attraction, you may secretly wonder what the fuss is all about. It is different if you make the time to stay.

We spent two nights in Giverny, staying in a rustic mill house B&B. This gave us time to walk the streets, to bike the countryside and to soak up the romance which still lies below the tourist machine. The first night we dined at the historic Restaurant Baudy which is reputedly largely unchanged from the days when Monet and his friends used to patronise it. The garden out the back was dishevelled and had no plant interest but was utterly romantic in the way we associate with the French.

On the second day we pedalled the 5km to nearby Vernon, along a flat cycle way. “Bonjour,” all the oncoming cyclists and pedestrians called and we replied in kind. We found that it is possible to buy a perfectly acceptable bottle of plonk at the supermarket for €2.50. That evening we had the table d’hote offered at our B&B – freshly cooked local fare eaten al fresco where we talked broken French and some English with our hosts and their friend.

There is still huge charm to be found in Giverny but Monet’s garden, despite all the history and the hype, is only one part of that.

The table d’hote dinner at our bed and breakfast was home-cooked rustic fare and particularly delicious

The table d’hote dinner at our bed and breakfast was home-cooked rustic fare and particularly delicious

Monet’s Garden is open daily from 9.30am to 6.00pm from April 1 to November 1. Further details on all matters related to visiting the garden, transport, accommodation, the village and surrounding areas can be found on http://giverny.org/ Tickets to Monet’s garden cost €10.20 and can be purchased on line through this site.

Giverny is reached easily from either Paris or Rouen. The train journey from Gare St Lazare in Paris to the nearest station at Vernon takes 50 minutes and costs €14.30 each way.

We stayed in an impossibly romantic converted mill house, Moulin des Chennevieres in the village of Giverny paying €90 per night double for bed and breakfast.

 

First published in the Sunday Star Times.

For those in need of a little support

Climbing plants give height to a garden but there is often the problem that they need something to climb up.
old wooden ladders1) The old wooden ladders, one vertical and one secured horizontally across the top, are the effort of a creative gardener down the road. The clematis appears to be a strong growing variety which will cover pretty much the entire shed wall in relatively quick time. If you can find old ladders cheaply, it is a quick solution but I do not think that old aluminium ladders would be so pleasing visually.

simple bamboo grid2) Where you have masonry or brick surfaces, separate framing can avoid the need to drill holes. Here we have constructed a simple bamboo grid, tied together with twine, to give a light weight frame for the seasonal climber, Tropaeleum tricolourm. Gridded wire used to reinforce concrete can also make a handy and economical frame for climbers which can be cut to the required size.

bamboo obelisks003 insert - Copy3) We make our own bamboo obelisks specifically to hold clematis. They last for several seasons you need access to fresh giant bamboo to use as the raw material. That is grape vine pruning holding the verticals apart. You can improvise something similar with wooden or cane teepees. If you want step by step instructions for the bamboo, click here.

pipe framespipe frames4) I had these pipe frames built to hold my tall weeping roses, though I am now using two of them for wisterias. They were not cheap at the time, but they have proven their worth over more than 15 years. They need to be driven a long way into the ground – around 40cm at least – to keep them rock solid but they are capable of supporting a weighty mass of foliage at the top. Top heavy plants can readily snap off when only the stem has been staked.

Tanalised timber posts and old maritime rope5) Tanalised timber posts and old maritime rope have been used to construct this frame which gives a simple garden structure as well as a support for climbing plants. It should last for many years and the only stumbling block I can see is sourcing the rope. The aesthetics rest entirely on having heavy, old rope. Modern, coloured nylon rope with a thinner girth just will not cut the mustard.

photographed in a Yorkshire garden6) From the cheap and cheerful, to the mid priced permanent, to this handsome splendour – which I photographed in a Yorkshire garden. The owner deprecatingly refers to this modern recreation as a “plant carrier”. It is there solely to support climbing plants and to provide an attractive structure within the garden. It is all concrete but using the ground-up local stone added to the concrete mix gives it a weathered stone appearance and colouring that fits the local environment.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Garden Lore

“Hollyhocks are very aspiring Flowers.”
The Flower Garden by John Lawrence (1726)

Clivia seeds and blooms

Clivia seeds and blooms

In the world of wonderfully random bits of gardening information, I thought I would demonstrate to you that red and orange clivias have red seeds while yellow clivias produce yellow seeds. Is that not an interesting fact? These seed are from last year’s blooms. They take a long time to mature. While you can, as we often do, leave them to seed down naturally where they are, picking them and sowing them in trays in more controlled conditions will usually give you a higher percentage.

The reason why clivia plants are often expensive has nothing to do with their being difficult to grow or propagate. It has to do with the time it takes for them to grow and reach flowering size. In this age of instant gratification, people want to buy big plants which will fill a space now and flower beautifully but all for $15, thank you. That is fine if it only takes three months to produce the plant but when it may be four years, you have to be prepared to either pay more or to buy small and be patient. If you have access to an established clump, these are not difficult plants to dig and divide.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Plant Collector: Doronicum orientale

Doronicum orientale, not as was fixed in my mind, a geronicum

Doronicum orientale, not as was fixed in my mind, a geronicum

Who knew that the daisy family – or asteraceae – is one of the largest extended plant families in nature? Rivalling even the massive orchid group, in fact, with somewhere over 23 000 different daisy species. But really, it is the apparently simple charm of the daisy form, as with the poppy, that makes many of us smile. The sunny yellow doronicum has been lighting up the garden these past few weeks. To my embarrassment, I thought it was a geronicum but no, somewhere it had bedded into my memory under the wrong name. It is in fact Doronicum orientale, widely referred to in the UK by its common name of leopard’s bane. It is one of the earliest daisies of the season. The almost flat rosette of leaves grow from a small tuber below the ground and the root system is generally small and shallow. The flower stem can push upwards to about 50cm high and sets multiple blooms in succession. When it has finished, it gently fades back down and goes into a state of semi or total dormancy by late summer. This doronicum is native to southern Europe and the Middle East which may explain the timing of its dormancy period.

Botanically speaking, daisy flowers are not so simple after all. What we call petals are often individual ray flowers, with the fertile disk flowers being clustered in the centre (the bit that looks like a pincushion).

???????????????????????????????

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.