Ducks, stones and planting plans at Painswick Rococo

Painswick Rococo Garden is well known for its stunning snowdrop display but this quirky Cotswold favourite is more than a one-season wonder and summer is also a good time to visit.

Not that you will get the flowing herbaceous borders that are a feature of many gardens in the region, as new head gardener Roger Standley explains.

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The Eagle House is one of the striking follies

“There’s not much in the way of flower borders here,” says Roger, who started at Painswick Rococo two months ago. “It was not a big part of what they did.”

What they did do when the garden was laid out in the 1740s was big theatrical display and Painswick Rococo is well known for its eye-catching follies: the striking Red House, pale pink Eagle House and Exedra that stands like a curve of intricate icing in the garden.

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Marigolds in the vegetable garden

It’s the planting around the Exedra that’s occupying Roger when we meet. While the beds match the original shape – as shown on a 1748 painting of the garden by Thomas Robins – what’s in them doesn’t fit the period.

“The 18th century had a lot more space around the plants rather than a mass cottagey planting.”

Lavender has been forced to grow tall in some places and is flopping over its neighbours elsewhere; eupatorium is too big and is blocking views of the roses; Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is just the wrong plant.

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The lavender is going to be restricted to an avenue up to the Exedra

“Much as I love the crocosmia, it’s very much a Victorian introduction and a good 100 years too late for us.”

Not that this winter’s replanting will favour historical accuracy over gardening common sense: “Where the look of the plant fits we will use modern varieties of the species.”

Roger is planning to remove some things, drastically reduce the size of others and replant the lavender, restricting it to just to an avenue leading up to the Exedra and its reflection pool.

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The vegetable garden is in full swing

Next summer, he will also be using more annuals in the spaces that are created between perennials.

“We will possibly have a theme in these areas with one year lots of varieties of nicotiana and in another sunflowers.”

Spring bulbs are also going to be added to extend the display. And that’s the dilemma of somewhere like Painswick Rococo: while it aims to be historically accurate to fit its status as the only surviving garden of the period that’s open to the public, it is also a charity enterprise that needs to attract visitors year-round to fund its upkeep.

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Part of the stone display

As part of that drive to encourage people to visit out of snowdrop time, this summer sees a sculpture exhibition in the garden by stone balancer Adrian Gray, who put on an award-winning show at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Seven of his gravity-defying pieces are on display until the end of August and their almost mesmerising quality perfectly fits the Rococo Garden’s tranquil atmosphere.

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Wild flowers are being encouraged by letting grass grow long

Some of the sculptures are sited in the orchard where the grass is being allowed to grow long. A serpentine mown path enables visitors to wander through the meadow area, which is already attracting more insects.

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The garden’s newest residents

If the stone sculptures are a temporary feature, the ducks are now permanent residents. Brought in to manage the weed on the pond – which barley treatments had failed to shift – the group of Jemima Puddle-Duck look-alikes and their floating duck house are proving popular with visitors; the duck house is modelled on one in a painting by Thomas Robins of a Rococo-style garden at Honington.

Nearby, the plunge pool beds are another area Roger is keen to tackle: “It needs a new design and something a bit more in keeping with the 18th century.”

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The plunge pool border is going to be revamped

Shade planting under large trees is fine but the other beds are, we agree, a bit of a mish-mash of different things.

Meanwhile, the formal vegetable garden – part of the original layout – now supplies not only the garden’s café but also a bistro in the village and visitors can buy surplus produce and plants.

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The ducks have a floating house

Ultimately though it’s the sense of fun and discovery that draws people to Painswick Rococo.

“There’s a fantastic historical layout to the garden and the setting is incredible.”

For more details about Painswick Rococo Garden, visit the website

Turning a forgotten space into an outdoor delight

The chance to review one of Brundle Gardener’s products has transformed a sad spot in my garden.

Many of us have a part of the garden that is somewhat neglected. An area that you walk past, averting your eyes and muttering ‘I really must do something about that’. Usually, lack of inspiration or time means little gets done.

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‘The Courtyard’ has long been in need of a rethink

In my case, the neglected spot is what we refer to as ‘The Courtyard’. It’s actually a rather grand title for what is little more than a tucked away area outside our basement kitchen; the strange layout of the house, which is dug into a slope, means that although technically the kitchen is under the rest of the house, it is actually on ground level.

The courtyard has a high retaining wall on two sides that holds back the garden, the house forms the third boundary and on the fourth there’s a fence that separates us from our neighbours.

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The wall planters needed redoing

North-east facing, it gets a little morning sun – a very little – but it’s really a rather gloomy spot. And, with quite a lot of garden elsewhere, it’s always been low on my list of priorities.

The impetus to finally do something about it came when I was asked if I would like to review one of Brundle Gardener’s products. A suggestion was a table and chairs set, which looked perfect for this tiny space. Not only is it a half-table, ideal for putting against a wall, the table also folds down to free up space when it’s not in use.

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The table and chairs are easy to put up

Before I had even set it up, I was impressed: both the table and the two chairs were well packaged to ensure they weren’t damaged in transit.

It’s also easy to put up – no assembly and just a lift and click into place mechanism for the table flap. It has a grey, powder coated steel frame with a toughened glass top, while the folding seats have the same steel frame with a checked manmade fibre seat and back, which are water resistant. They have proved to be remarkably comfortable.

Of course, merely plonking somewhere to sit into the courtyard wasn’t going to be enough to transform it. There was definitely a need to revamp the planting as well. Not that there is much scope: the available soil amounts to little more than a narrow strip at the foot of the wall and fence and the lack of direct sunlight limits the choices.

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The euonymus needed cutting back

The first step was a good clean, using a wire brush to get rid of moss on the paving. A Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’, used to provide a screen between the courtyard and next door, had got out of hand, with some reverting to plain green. It’s been pruned hard to remove the green and reduce the overhang into the courtyard.

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The euonymus has been tidied up

The remains of a Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ that until this year was doing well, were removed and I’m planning to replace it in the autumn, though possibly elsewhere in the garden.

Deciding I needed some expert advice for the difficult narrow ‘borders’, I paid a visit to ShadyPlants.com in Painswick. Tony and Sylvia Marden specialise in plants for those tricky places and we spent a happy hour discussing possibilities and looking through their stock.

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The back of the Begonia evansiana leaves are beautiful

For the space against the fence, where there is marginally more soil, they recommended two evergreen ferns: Polystichum makinoi and Phyllitis scolopendrium cristatum.

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Begonia southerlandii has lovely orange flowers

Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of begonias but I fell in love with the orange flowers of Begonia southerlandii and Tony suggested the white flowered Begonia evansiana ‘Snowpop’ would be a good partner. Both, he assured me, are fully hardy and well able to cope with the less than ideal conditions.

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Cardamine trifolia was suggested as ground cover

For the thin strip at the foot of the wall, they suggested Cardamine trifolia, which has what Sylvia describes as ‘clouds of white flowers’. It should spread happily to fill the space.

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New planting in the wall pots

Continuing with the begonia theme, wall planters that have in the past been used for violas, now have some cream-flowered begonias that I found at another local grower, Dundry Nurseries. I liked their long, tubular flowers and slight bronze tinge to the stems, which works well with the rusty planters and old bricks. The begonias are in plastic pots that sit inside the terracotta so that I can change the planting easily.

Finally, I shifted the old sink into a better position in the courtyard and planted it with mint while the chimney pot has been moved to another part of the garden.

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The courtyard has been transformed

I’m pleased with the transformation and the courtyard is already proving popular – especially as a cool place to escape the recent heat. I can see the table and chairs being well used.

Brundle Gardener’s table and chairs are available from garden centres and online stockists. The suggested retail price is £119.99.

Get some show garden style

A little bit of show garden magic will be coming to the Cotswolds this weekend as leading designer Paul Hervey-Brookes sells plants from his gold medal-winning design at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show (pictured top).

Hostas, beautiful blue chicory, Verbena bonariensis, asters, myrtle and some large shrubs that last week were being admired by the Hampton show crowds are among the plants on sale. The Garden of Discovery, for Viking Cruises, won Paul his ninth gold medal, six of them consecutively.

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Chicory will be on sale

The plant sale is raising money for the Dogs Trust in memory of Paul’s husband, Yann Eshkol, who died a year ago.

“Yann was always very keen on animals and them being cared for and our dogs are all rescue animals,” says Paul, who is based in Stroud.

The Dogs Trust was chosen because Yann died just weeks after last year’s Hampton show where Paul won gold with a dog friendly garden for the animal charity.

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The 2016 Dogs Trust garden

Slad Valley House in Stroud is hosting the plant sale as part of two National Garden Scheme open days on Saturday and Sunday July 16 and 17.

The one-acre informal garden is set around an 18th house and is gradually being restored by the owners, Debbie and Michael Grey.

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The garden is being restored

“The garden is interesting because it’s turning what was a mill owner’s house back into a home after being used for a variety of different things over the past 40 years,” says Paul. “It is bringing a garden back to life.”

What was a lawn at the front of the house is now a flower garden, there are mature trees and shrubs.

“It also has some challenging terraces to garden on.”

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Slad Valley House is hosting the sale

Some of the Hampton Court plants have been added to the garden this week and it also features elements of Paul’s earlier work, namely two sculptures by Andrew Flint that were used on his 2013 Chelsea show garden for Brand Alley.

While some plants were sold in the traditional end of show sell-off at Hampton, many have been brought back to the Cotswolds.

“It seems right to bring them back to where we made our home and where people have been so supportive over the past year,” says Paul, who runs garden and home shop Allomorphic in Stroud. “The whole thing feels right, not as though we’re doing it for the sake of it. It has got a good purpose.”

Slad Valley House, Stroud, GL5 1RJ, is open for the National Garden Scheme from 2-4.30pm on Saturday and Sunday July 16 and 17, 2017. Admission is £3.50. There will be homemade teas for sale.

Review: Square Foot Gardening: Growing Perfect Vegetables

It’s so disappointing to spend weeks carefully nurturing fruit and veg only to miss picking them at the right time. Turn your back for a moment and it seems tomatoes split, radish turn bullet-like and courgettes morph into marrows. Square Foot Gardening: Growing Perfect Vegetables aims to take the mystery out of just when to harvest.

growing perfect vegetables

The book has been produced by the Mel Bartholomew Foundation, which carries on the work of the American who started the pioneering square foot method of cultivation more than 40 years ago. He advocated growing in a 4ft by 4ft box that was subdivided into 16 squares with one type of plant per square, arguing that it required less work and produced just the right amount of produce, reducing waste.

“He had seen a lot of ripe produce go to waste in his local community simply because of inefficiency and gardener burnout,” the introduction tells us.

Yet, popular though his method has proved, it did not answer the problem of when to harvest and it’s this “missing link in the chain” that Growing Perfect Vegetables aims to provide.

The book begins with an overview of exactly what we mean by ripeness and how it occurs. We learn about crops that will continue to ripen even after harvest (climacteric), such as tomatoes and apples, and those that stop ripening as soon as they are picked (non-climacteric) with examples being cucumber and lettuce.

growing perfect vegetables

There’s advice on which fruits to ripen in a bag and a warning about “enemy plants” – those crops that don’t work well as kitchen garden neighbours; basil harms cucumber plants while strawberries compete with cabbages for nutrients.

The bulk of the book is the ‘ripeness listings’, crop by crop analysis of what to look for in a ripe veg or fruit and how to store it, both in the short-term – asparagus spears with the cut end in cool water – and in the long term, layering beets in damp sand for the winter. And it’s not just for the kitchen gardener as how to choose the perfect shop-bought produce is also covered.

The listings are divided into three: crops that will grow inside the square foot system; those that have to be grown outside, such as fruit trees; crops that are generally imported into the USA, such as avocados and bananas.

There are nuggets of additional advice scattered through: wear gloves to pick aubergines because of their spiny stems; restore limp radish by soaking in ice water; snipping off the foliage on a cantaloupe melon decreases rather than increases the sweetness.

growing perfect vegetables

Also useful are lists of the crops with the shortest shelf-life; the 10 healthiest fruit and veg and the most beautiful crops, such as rainbow chard and Romanesco broccoli. The book also suggests some “less-famous winter squashes” that are worth growing.

Some of the advice is of little use to a British audience – who has a problem with racoons? – and some of the crops lose a little in translation; I’m still not completely sure what a pole bean is, while you have to read closely to work out that cilantro is what we know as coriander.

Growing Perfect Vegetables is also, despite the title, not a guide to growing but harvesting once you’ve successfully raised your crops.

But, if you’ve ever puzzled over whether a leek is ready to pull or how to extend the ripeness of apples, this book will more than solve your problem.

Square Foot Gardening: Growing Perfect Vegetables is published by Cool Springs Press, RRP 11.99. Buy now (If you buy via the link, I get a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

Review copy supplied by Cool Springs Press.

Read more book reviews here

Colour-fest at RHS Hampton

There’s simply no getting away from colour and – thankfully – plants at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Many of the show gardens seem to have made a welcome return to putting plants rather than hard landscaping first while there are take-home ideas aplenty from pretty pastel combinations to in-your-face primary colours.

Now, I must admit to a bias towards Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes. I’ve followed his career since his first show garden – in a tent – at the Malvern Autumn Show back in 2008 but his gold medal-winning exhibit this year is one of his best.

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Colours in the border echo those of the hard landscaping

Paul is known on the gardening circuit for his skill at planting up a border but even so he has excelled with his Viking Cruises garden. There’s a sense of movement in the planting that drifts under trees, with variations in height and some beautiful combinations.

How’s this for a mix of blue?

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Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ with Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’

Or pink – the bees were loving it.

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Oregano and perilla

Who says green is dull?

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Alchemilla mollis with the vertical lines of Liatris spicata ‘Alba’

Simple but really effective.

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Nicotiana sylvestris adding height to the planters

I really loved these Achillea ‘Summer Berries’.

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They come in a mix of colours that Paul had carefully separated out to give different effects. Here is the cream with bronze variant.

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Cream and terracotta achillea with Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’ and Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldschleier’

And Persicaria bistorta is given a whole new feel when combined with carex.

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I was glad to see I’m ‘on trend’ as I’ve just planted up an old wine box with this erigeron.

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Another Cotswold success at this year’s RHS Hampton is Martyn Wilson, who also started his design career at the Malvern show. He has won his first RHS gold medal with a celebration of the regeneration of brownfield sites.

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I really liked the colours in this garden – rusted steel, oranges, creams, yellows and the odd touch of purple from buddleia.

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The attention to detail was superb.

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While my Cotswold neighbours are using refined colour combinations, two of the show gardens are unashamedly brash.

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Bright, primary colours dominate the ‘Journey of Life’ garden by Edward Mairis, which has an acrylic wall in rainbow colours.

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Charlie’s garden is all about colour

In Charlie Bloom’s ‘Colour Box’ garden it’s the plants that sing out. Built with donations of time and products rather than financial sponsorship, it is dominated by plants in every colour.

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“I think the public want to see plants at a horticultural show rather than lots of impressive hard landscaping,” explained Charlie. “The idea was to rebel against the concrete and box ball fraternity and go mad with colour.”

That said, it’s a garden that has plant combinations you could try.

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I also liked the peep-through architectural wall from Stark and Greensmith.

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And the way the plants were set off against it.

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Here are some of the other things that caught my eye.

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Beach huts on the ‘Fun on Sea’ garden

There was more than a touch of the seaside.

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Southend Council’s ‘By the Sea’ garden

And some boats.

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Hoyland Plant Centre’s Floral Marquee exhibit

It was good to see vegetables weren’t forgotten. Here on the gold medal-winning Blind Veterans UK garden by Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Dan Bowyer.

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A nifty way to grow strawberries on the RHS Kitchen Garden by Juliet Sargeant.

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And an edible green wall.

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Finally, at the end of a long day . . .

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Plants, Shoots and Leaves’ stand

there are some tempting places to sit and rest . . .

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Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants’ annuals display

or even lie down.

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‘A Bed of Roses’ by Fryer’s Roses

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2017 runs until July 9. For more details, visit the RHS website.

* Flower-filled Mini (pictured top) is part of Primrose Hall’s Floral Marquee display.