Every once in a while I encounter a garden which disappoints. Woburn Abbey Gardens in Bedfordshire left us feeling rather flat after our visit recently during an April bank holiday. Suggestions for the new landscaping project at the park were put forward by the renowned landscape gardener Humphrey Repton back in the early 19th century at the request of the 6th Duke of Bedford. The layout of the garden is magnificent & the walkways around this part of the estate are very good indeed. Not all Repton’s ideas were executed & other gardeners had a hand in the final design. We walked around the perimeter of the ‘pleasure grounds’ & saw a magnificent collection of trees. The remnants of snowdrops, bluebells & narcissus were decaying underfoot & I imagine this would have been a tremendous sight just a few weeks earlier. The grounds were very quiet; we had arrived early & really enjoyed these furthest reaches of the garden.   The Pavilion & Rockery however, were frightful. What we couldn’t understand is that this feature in the garden had won a grant for reconstruction in 2012. I have no qualms in saying that it looked like it needed another grant for a further reconstruction. There was evidence of glyphosate use on weeds, (a rockery should never be allowed to get weedy, never mind that it is a main feature in a listed historical garden), there was no exemplary planting to speak of (unless you consider osteospurmums choice plants) & there were unconcealed steel wired armoured cables & black ribbed conduit lying around Now, if this area was under review/reconstruction/replanting/refurbishment or whatever then is should have said so. Walking behind us was a family of Japanese tourists; I was embarrassed, I felt like I needed to excuse the thing. Alas, one of the ornamental ponds was also in disarray choked with weeds & also looked like it could have benefitted from some serious attention. The garden structures around it were in good order but this part of the UK was in a period of drought after a dry winter I did wonder whether this had any bearing on the poor state of the ponds.   The Orangery was a welcome respite from quite a chilly day. This area is rented out for meetings/weddings & the like & was looking really good. The camellias were in tip-top condition and the compost all raked & cleaned. The kitchen garden and outside formal areas around the main buildings also were in very good order but I must say, the work involved here is very easy garden-keeping. The real challenge keeping a historical garden together is ensuring the features work & are fit for public scrutiny. They of course are the difficult expensive bits to maintain but Andrew Russell the incumbent Duke of Bedford is one of the richest men in the world with assets worth £685,000,000.00 give or take a few quid. So, are you thinking what I’m thinking? TTFN helen@reeleylandscapes.co.uk 07708 643313 insta helenreeley twitter @helenreeley facebook Helen Reeley Landscapes www.reeleylandscapes.co.uk Save

 Thumbing through ‘Secret Gardens of The Cotswolds’ written by Victoria Summerley I decided a few weeks back to make visits to gardens in this region a bit of a priority. Afterall, I don’t need to battle the M25 to reach the area & the route is mainly pretty.

 By the time I read about Eastleach House I’d missed the NGS April opening but wrote to the owner anyway to ask if I could visit. And her answer was ‘yes’. I was to leave my tenner in the hidng place & help myself to the delights of one of the most beautiful private gardens I’ve ever visited & I don’t say this lightly as I’ve seen a LOT of gardens.

 Eastleach is a 1900’s Cotswold manor house in the Jacobean Revival style but the gardens are the work of Stephanie Richards. The gardens amount to 14 acres worth & comprise a rill garden, a walled garden, a park & the south lawn. I have a weakness for rills; if I see a garden has a rill then I make a beeline for it.

 

 The rill garden is quite steep but the borders have been thoughtfully terraced & appeared pretty much symetrical as I looked downwards. Of note was the fabulous ironwork fencing designed & installed to keep the rabbits & deer out. It looked successful, I couldn’t see how a creature could squeeze through the bars.

 

 The planting was really quite exquisite; some bold Irish yews stood like punctuation marks reminding me of the garden’s symetry. The garden is designed to peak during July to September but that wasn’t obvious as alliums, camassias, tulips, centaurea & forget-me-not flourished. Mature spring flowering shrubs provided some good structure to the design.

 

 With birdsong for my company I wandered from the rill garden into an arboretum where I disturbed a cheeky muntjack munching away at the camassia flowers.

 

Further on into the park gazillions of wild flowers adorned the hillside; buttercups, daisies, anthrisus, wild garlic, ferns, bluebells, primula & meconopsis. I spoke with one of the gardeners who said the giant hogweed had taken over in the parkland area & they were currently trying to control it.

 

The parkland was the place I would’ve stopped for a picnic & a snooze had the weather been warmer. Lots of spots with rustic benches perfect to spend a while.

 

 Walking back towards the house, it took me a while-I was in no hurry, I encountered a large sculpture of a stag surrounded by beautifully clipped yew hedges. I liked the yew hedges but not the stag. It all looked rather funereal & sad there standing alone.

 

 I made my way through another imposing gate & into the area called the south lawn where the house looked splendid with just blossoming wisteria.

 

 All sorts of shrubs were in flower including ceanothus, lilac, spirea, choisya… but the one that took my eye was a Clematis; a dark pink Montana variety which did look rather splendid against a yellow Rosa rugosa. The planting was all so mature & staged with larger specimens at the back & smaller specimens at the front. Given that this was all taking place on a bank the planting really did seem huge.

 

 

 The final part of my visit was the walled garden. Oh my, what a joy. Bearing in mind it’s only late April the garden was full to the brim with only the vines & veg patch bare. The owner clearly used tulips to great effect although I may have missed the best part of the show. Also of note was a yellow peony set against a forget-me-not-blue bench.

 

 Everywhere I looked my eyes fell upon clipped yew, conifer & box. I reckon even in winter this garden would look splendid especially with a few inches of snow for good photographs.

 

 I shall visit again, maybe late summer when all the dahlias are in full bloom-it will look quite different then. And I’ll definitely take a picnic.

 TTFN helen@reeleylandscapes.co.uk 07708 643313

Save Save Save
Spring. It is isn’t it? There’s daffs, crocus, pussy willow, blossom, birds, frogs & some sunshine so it’s true, spring is here. And this means things are just about to get a bit crazy round here. Good thing I’ve got some chilling workshops on offer.

April Workshops-Grow Your Own Cut Flowers

In April the workshops will be all about sowing & growing annual flowers in the garden. I’ll be demonstrating how, what & when to sow a cut-flower garden in spring. We’ll be sowing hardy annuals, half hardy annuals, herbs & all sorts of flowers which will keep your vases stocked until October and you’ll have some to give awayContact to book 07708 643313  helen@reeleylandscapes.co.uk IMG_2935-1 As some of you know I grew my own wedding flowers last year & had hundreds of blooms all season. IMG_3093 Always masses of giveaways at this workshop-bring a big box or two. All seeds, compost, pots, lunch, refreshments, instruction included £75. Tools provided.

Dates & details

Friday 21st Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd April 10-3pm (ish), venue Apple Tree Cottage, Potten End, Berkhamsted. Contact to book 07708 643313  helen@reeleylandscapes.co.uk   At this workshop you’ll get to see my brand new dedicated cutting patch at Apple Tree Cottage which currently looks rather lonely & forlorn but in a few months’ time will be totally smothered in flowers. IMG_2050

Garden Coaching-What is it?

Garden coaching is for people wanting to overhaul their existing outdoor space using their current skills but need some help & guidance from a professional gardener. Or, it can be a lesson based affair to new gardeners in their own gardens who don’t know a dandelion from a dahlia. Want a no obligation garden chat about this service? Call me 07708 643313 helen@reeleylandscapes.co.uk https://www.reeleylandscapes.co.uk/garden-tuition/ purple flower The longer days and more clement weather provides a good opportunity for ‘Spring’ tasks such as preparing and sowing seed beds, cutting back winter shrubs and generally tidying up around the garden. My top 5 tips this month are:
  1. Plant shallots, onions and new potatoes, known as ‘earlies’; planted now your potatoes will be ready for digging May through to July.
  2. Lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials. These are your plants which grow and bloom over the Spring, Summer and Autumn then die back every Winter before returning in the Spring from their roots rather than re-seeding themselves as an ‘annual’ would do.
  3. Mow the lawn on dry days (if needed) and scarify at the end of the month to remove dead grass, thatch and  moss.
  4. Cut back any Cornus (dogwood) and Salix (willow) grown for their colourful winter stems.
  5. Deal with any new weed growth before it takes hold and gets out of hand.
Are we done with this winter yet? I certainly am especially as my winter travels this year only took me away from the UK to Sri Lanka for three weeks…three weeks!!!  Read about my Lunuganga Garden visit here.  I’m nearly dying of cabin fever here waiting for some warm weather to return. 841145_10201481022768892_1327799343_o-1         Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save
Not just snowdrops of course, which would be a bit bland, but iris, crocus & cyclamen. Also on offer was a church tower, mulled wine & flapjack. Not bad for a cold, grey winter’s day eh? The Old Church House is Long Marston near Tring in Herts just a few miles from where I live so the snowdrop event was a handy place to visit with my dear mama & daughter who was home for the weekend. Funny but just a few years back she would have scoffed at the idea of a garden visit but now ‘the smoke’ is where she lives, she’s only too pleased to join me garden visiting in The Shire when home for the weekend especially if grandma joins in the fun. The mulled wine table was decorated with a sweet bowl of floating hellebores. IMG_5015 The 400-year-old cottage has a thatched roof & a moat. The moat looked a little dull but I imagine it would be a hive of activity once the birds start nesting. thumbnail_IMG_5039 Lots of interest in the wrap-around garden. I saw this very graceful cherry tree underplanted with hundreds of crocus….. thumbnail_IMG_5036 And cyclamen with pretty heart shaped leaves. thumbnail_IMG_5077 Further into the garden the peony was just starting to reveal a bulbous red shoot IMG_5046 Dotted all around was this beautiful purple iris with a bright yellow throat IMG_5011 When different types of snowdrops are planted alongside each other you can actually see how they differ in style & size & colour. In particular, this one called ‘Madeleine’ which had an eyecatching yellow neck. IMG_5062 The owners had thoughtfully planted drifts of snowdrop, aconites & crocus on a small sloping bank. IMG_5054 And who doesn’t love the bark of this Acer griseum. One thing I love about winter is tree bark; normally shrouded by foliage at other times of the year, in winter with the garden stripped back, bark gets an opportunity to show off. IMG_5080 Dead children & pets no doubt. So often old houses with reasonable sized gardens have personal cemeteries. And this garden once held a church so was probaly consecrated ground. IMG_5076 And a very handsome looking pot store. The owners are also keen on alpines. Terracotta pots are perfect for aplines. IMG_5069 I think I have door bell envy-look at this fabulous thing. Must get one for Apple Tree Cottage. IMG_5070 The daphne was in flower & smelling divine so much so it woke the early bees. I saw about six that day buzzing about taking advatage of an early nosh-up IMG_5060 Plenty of hellebores in flower too, mostly pink but there were a few pure white ones. This one had its own personal raindrop IMG_5065 I’m not sure what type of wildlife this box is for. Maybe woodpeckers, as the hole is too big for small birds who would be very vulnerable with a hole this size. IMG_5073 On the way out we took a look at the ancient Norman church tower. Once shrouded & overgrown with jungle, it’s recently been restored & is now looking quite fine. IMG_5025 There’s a door so I suppose one can go in, but alas it was locked. I would have like to see the view from the top. IMG_5072 And on the way out I caught this patch of beauties doing their stuff. So cheerful. IMG_5055 The garden was packed & at times it was difficult to navigate around the tiny paths. There was no lawn, which gets top marks from me as I’m no fan of lawns but I did feel the garden could have done with a tidy up, bit of a sweep up, just a bit. I’m glad I popped out to see Old Church Cottage & I’m sure they were pleased with so many visitors.
During the latter part of our travels around Sri Lanka in January we visited Geoffrey Bawa’s garden ‘Lunuganga’ in Bentota. Mr Bawa was an (mostly) English educated Sri Lankan architect - the most famous architect in Sri Lanka, who died in 2003. IMG_4590 Geoffrey Bawa House Interior Born into a priviliged family in 1919 he didn’t really do very much according to my research & also according to the guide who showed us round his garden. It would appear he spent most of his life dilly-dallying around studying various subjects, traveling & planning to buy various villas in Europe. He eventually settled back in Sri Lanka & bought an abandoned rubber estate with a view to creating an Italianate tropical garden. His ideas never came to fruition due to lack of technical expertise - who would’ve known? IMG_4589 Geoffrey Bawa House Interior Eventually a magnificent garden was built and since Mr Bawa’s death a group of people manage the gardens & the estate through a trust. It’s open to the general public every day & the entrance price includes a guided tour. IMG_4605

 Breadfuit, an exotic but inedible thing

IMG_4609 Pond lilies Lunuganga estate & garden covers fifteen acres and sits on the bank of the Dedduwa Lake. It was an abandoned jungle wilderness when Mr Bawa purchased the place but he soon set about building small houses surrounded by landscaped gardens. Rubber trees were cleared & vast swathes of lawn were installed. Stagnant ponds were drained & reshaped to grow beautiful pond lilies. The slight gradient of Lunuganga afforded Mr Bawa the opportunity to create terraces in the gardens, each one having its own distinct style. IMG_4598 View of the lake from The Red Terrace The Red Terrace pictured here allowed a partial view down to the lake from one of the houses that now act as holiday lets. IMG_4592 The Red Terrace IMG_4594 One of the holiday lets

IMG_4593

The Yellow Terrace I had a strange feeling I’d seen all this before. Which of course I had…the garden has been styled on an English Landscape-I wonder which gardens had influenced him whilst he was studying in England before he finally settled back in Sri Lanka? Stowe maybe? Various pieces of garden paraphernalia were carefully placed around the garden to draw the eye to some view of this or that. In particular, I counted 18 magnificent antique chinese pots, very large & round shaped yet empty; the pots were beautiful enough to stand alone to be admired-no foliage required.

 IMG_4622

One of the ancient Chinese vases

Our brief tour (alas we weren’t allowed to wander without the guide on account of the holiday lets) was supplemented with wildlife. A water monitor popped from under one of the pond bridges & scores of monkeys hacked through the trees on one of their daily forages. The morning was supposed to end with tea, which we had ordered in advance but like so many things in Sri Lanka, that was all a bit too difficult. Next time maybe… IMG_4606 Water monitor

 IMG_4619

IMG_4653

Garden architecture

   IMG_4632

Frangipane tree

IMG_4610

  A frangipane man

 IMG_2905

Shiny brown leaf

TTFN do drop me a line with any garden design queries helen@reeleylandscapes.co.uk   07708 643313           Save Save
The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kandy, Sri Lanka   The second city in Sri Lanka is dusty, dirty, noisy & difficult to navigate so a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kandy was a most welcome relief. Not so much a botanic garden in the sense that we would recognise here in the British Isles, more of an arboretum. The trees were magnificent, huge & exotic. They far more captured my attention than the colonial styled formal flower beds of which there were a few rather undaunting pieces. I’m not a fan of symetrically designed planting arangements-we do it well in this country but I don’t favour them over trees & more natural, wilder-styled planting. Various visiting dignitories have planted many auspicious trees over the years here, but the tree that stood out for me was the appropriately named cannon ball tree Couroupita guianensis that may have been planted by King George V & Queen Mary in 1901. The fruits are the size of and resemble a galia melon but weigh like a canon ball. IMG_4245 A cannonball fruit Do not stand under these trees in high winds. It has a flower that when opened reveals a tiny stupa like appearance & is  known as the stupa  flower. IMG_4249 A stupa flower, flower from the canon ball tree There are vast avenues of palms, some being replanted, huge ironwood trees, humungous teak trees & a huge Javan fig tree that stood splendidly on the main lawn in all its glory proudly taking up 2,500 m2. The gardens are in excellent shape, the plants & beds in very good order-Sri Lankan gardeners habitually sweep up leaves every day. We travelled around the gardens in a buggy with a guide who stopped frequently to talk about salient specimens. We were shown the massive fruit bats hanging in the conifer trees & a resident water monitor that hangs out in the river beneath the suspension bridge & many birds which make their homes on the vast estate. IMG_4273 Huge Java fig (Ficus benjamina) that occupies the centre of the Great Lawn There have been royal gardens in Kandy since the 14th century when a king held court near the river adjacent to the current 150-acre site. Once the British were given the Kingdom of Kandy designs began to form the start of the botanical garden as it’s seen today, under the guidance of Alexander Moon. Originally coffee, cinnamon & spices were grown but the garden now has in excess of 4,000 specimens of plants, trees, palms, orchids & medicinal herbs. The garden has thrived under various superindentants for nearly two hundred years & now yields 2 million visitors a year. The entrance is £8 for tourists but just £1 or so for locals. Our visit was one of the highlights of our three week tour around the island of Sri Lanka. IMG_4263 Me crouched in the buttress roots of a mahogany tree TTFN, next time the garden of Geoffrey Bawa in Bentota, Sri Lanka. helen@reeleylandscapes.co.uk 07708 643313 do drop me a line with any garden enquiries.       Save Save
I haven ’t been trekking far and wide garden visiting since I last wrote for the magazine. I’m off to Sri Lanka in two weeks so my next post will be exotic but for now my adventures have been more of the local sort. IMG_3864

Sue made a very neat co-ordinated wreath

IMG_2851 Terrific effort by Anna During December I organise several Christmas willow wreath workshops which are proving more popular as each year passes. I find some of the wreath making materials in my client’s gardens often as a result of natural pruning and this year was no exception. However, my local willow supplier wasn’t coming up trumps for a variety of reasons so I needed to find a new source. In doing this I’ve opened up a new book it seems. My new supplier sells live willow structures, willow partition panels & raised bed supports all which I’ve already planned to use in projects for next year. IMG_3904-1 When I mentioned my new supplier & products to a local teacher she immediately wanted the contact details to buy a living willow structure for their school. I saw an opportunity to use a willow panel instead of a boring standard fence panel to plug a gap in a hedge here at Apple Tree Cottage. So, my move away from using a local supplier has paid dividends in some ways, however my new supplier is at least regional. It bothers me that my materials are not all immediately local but needs must & off to Bucks I must travel. IMG_3914 Willow work is relaxing & fun. It’s not always easy to bend the rods but patience & application pay dividends. Everyone made and finished a wreath of their own design which can be used for years & years not just during December. Wreaths can be placed in the garden all year round hanging bare or can be dressed with fresh bounty for an outdoor occasion. Next year, I’ll be discovering more types of willow some which I’ll plant on my allotment & some which I’ll weave into plant obelisks. There will be workshops available to make your own willow obelisk. Drop me a line if you want to take part. IMG_2828 Marc’s first attempt at making a willow wreath   TTFN helen@reeleylandscapes.co.uk 07708 643313     Save Save Save Save
dec-2 December is a quiet time for flowers in the garden but it’s a very aromatic time for winter flowering shrubs. Even though it isn’t winter just yet, this week I spotted a Viburnum x bodnantense whilst working in a garden. The blossom wasn’t quite fully open but the scent was sweet & pleasant. These stems can be pruned & bought into the house to add some lift next to evergreen swags. dec-3 Winter offers clear crisp days, perfect for photography plus the woods are much quieter with the kids indoors on their screens. Nothing quite like a silent walk in the forest on a sunny, crisp day tuning into the sounds of the birds & trees. Here are some photos I took whilst out walking a heritage trail around Latimer House near Chesham. That’s mistletoe growing high up in the poplar tree if anyone fancies a challenging kiss. dec-4 Save Save
It was like stepping back in time visiting Coleton Fishacre during our August bank holiday in Devon. The Arts & Craft styled house was superbly curated & reminded me of childhood visits to my grandmother’s home where the bathroom furniture & colours were similar. The house & garden are now under the guardianship of the National Trust & the garden itself is RHS accredited. The site is spread over twenty-four acres and was originally planted with shelter belts of pine & holm oak way before the house was completed. The garden winds its way down to Pudcome Cove via a typical Devonshire combe which alas wasn’t open to the public but you could see it from a viewpoint half way up the cliff footpath. picture1 The route down the hillside footpath is planted with luxurious specimens of musa (banana), gunnera, hydrangea and bamboo. The combe is a micro climate which offers protection to much of the sub-tropical planting; succulents from the Canary Islands & tree ferns from New Zealand. The foot path is steep but firm underfoot with strategically placed benches to rest on the way back up. Closer to the house the planting is more formal. The flower borders immediately around the house are planted with hot coloured canna lilies, dahlias, verbena, hemerocallis & other tender plants I couldn’t name but they looked beautiful. Behind the house is a steep embankment which was of particular interest to me. I’m very fond of aeoniums & in this border were planted some fabulous specimens of Aeonium arboreum ‘Schwarzkopf’. They’d grown to a couple of metres high & they were left outside for the winter which demonstrates just how mild the climate is & the protection the combe offers. The plants were a magnificent glossy purple in really good condition. Alas they have the incongruent common name of ‘Black House Leek’-hardly inspiring. Visitors are very well catered for at Coleton Fishacre. As per usual, the National Trust does an excellent job of fleecing one of one’s dosh. The café is very sheltered-sun brollies were much sought after the day we went as the sun was searing. I read online people roughly spend two & half hours visiting this magnificent house & gardens which is frankly not enough time to do it credit; take a day, take a picnic. This flagship house & garden is open all year except on Fridays. Until next month, TTFN helen@reeleylandscapes.co.uk 077086 43313        
When I looked at the map whilst on a recent trip to South Devon I thought The Garden House near Yelverton too far to travel through the busy windy roads in a campervan on an August bank holiday. However, tweeting with a fellow garden visiting pal put me right & we decided it would be a shame to be so close and miss it. octo The Garden House has an interesting history being closely linked with Buckland Abbey nearby which you can read about online www.thegardenhouse.org.uk but just to say the current dwelling was built as a vicarage and my, what a posh vicarage. Built over three floors and rather grand to say the least the house is a fine example of country elegance. During the 1960’s the then owners Lionel & Katherine Fortescue set up a charitable trust to ensure the garden would remain in good hands for future generations of horticultural & garden enthusiasts. Today The Fortescue  Garden Trust oversees the management of one of the finest gardens in Britain which is also a RHS partner garden. The ten-acre site is on a sheltered north facing valley slope. The soil is acid shale & the rainfall is 135 centimetres a year which means most of the plants & trees grown are quite alien to what we normally experience here in the Berkhamsted area. The Acer Glade contains a superb collection of Japanese Maples; the very best forms have been selected & grown & will no doubt produce the most dazzling colours during the autumn period. Running down through the glade is a meandering stone rill which can be heard tinkling in the background when you rest & take a seat to admire the view. We could have drifted & slept in this robin-song laden space. The Walled Garden was at its best during our visit in August. I was taken back by the warmth of this enclosed area; the bees, the butterflies, the flowers all gave the feeling of being in some sort of horti heaven. The terraces in The Walled Garden section are the mainstay of The Garden House. Not only do the terraces contain an eye watering display of dahlias, they have the remains of a medieval tower and thatched barn which could be described as props for the magnificent flower theatre performing in the borders. The Garden House deserves a full day visit to appreciate fully or if you’re early birds you could squeeze in Buckland Abbey. And don’t miss the cakes, you really wouldn’t want to miss the cakes.   TTFN helen@reeleylandscapes.co.uk       Save