2019, Gardens of the World, Uncategorized

Armchair Travellers’ Gardens: Alnwick Garden, UK

A modern take on the traditional garden

   

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The formal garden at the top of the Grand Cascade

     About 35 miles from the Scottish border lies the town of Alnwick (pronounced “AN-ik”), a picturesque little market town on the River Aln with a population of approximately 9,000. It is also the site of Alnwick Castle and Gardens, which has been the home of the Percy family, (eventually given the title of Northumberland), for over 700 years. The current Duke attained the title upon the premature death of his elder brother, and thus suddenly and unexpectedly found himself in charge of 125,000 acres, comprising some 500 farms and 700 houses. The garden had once (200+ years ago) been glorious, but was now a shadow of its former glory, and as the Duke was busy learning about the running of the Estate, he asked his wife if she would like to do over one of the gardens. Although he thought she would plant a couple of roses and call it a day, the Duchess (who is quite young; 59 now, 38 when she started) embarked on an ambitious and visionary plan to turn the land into a garden that would be classic and yet use all that modern technology had to offer. It was not to be a private garden, either, but to be open for everyone to enjoy. She interviewed designers and began to raise money, and now, about 8 years and millions of £ later, the garden is being called one of the most important gardens of modern times. 

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     Often, when in beautiful gardens, I find myself wishing that the other visitors would all disappear so that I can fully enjoy what is around me. Quite unexpectedly, during my visit to Alnwick, I found the opposite to be true, as it is designed for people, and people are part of it. There are fountain gardens, some of which encourage children and those who are children at heart to play in them, and there are formal rose gardens, and walled gardens bursting with perennials of all colors, shapes and sizes. There is even a Poison Garden (more about that in another writing), enclosed in a high wall and accessible only with a guide through iron gates marked “These Plants Can Kill”. The Grand Cascade is worth the trip alone. Framed by Hornbeam pergolas that form tunnels that you can walk through, the water in the cascade tumbles down 21 weirs, as fountains jet water in intricate patterns, sometimes soaking the spectators! The garden is open year round, and even the Grand Cascade plays a part in the winter, as it is carefully monitored so that there is only just a skin of ice on it, which, when lit, creates a magical effect.

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Did I mention that there’s a huge tree house, complete with restaurant?
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And a bamboo maze!

     I was so impressed by the garden, and its accessibility to all, that I wrote to the Duchess of Northumberland, and was pleasantly surprised to get a long, thoughtful letter in return. “So much has changed in garden design over the past 16 years since I began the project.”, she wrote, “In those days children weren’t welcome in gardens and what I was planning was unusual. Nowadays most newly designed gardens consider not only children but also families and local communities, which is as it should be!”

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The Grand Cascade
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Inside the Hornbeam walk along the side of the Grand Cascade
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A July border
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Alnwick Castle, in its Capability Brown setting. (Some of Harry Potter was filmed here!)
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The Gardeners Cottage
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Inside the vegetable garden

    The Alnwick Garden is an inspirational place, and I highly recommend a visit. Another time I will tell you about the Alnwick Poison Garden, which is certainly very interesting, although hopefully not inspirational!

2019, January, To Do

It’s a long winter… Or is it?

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Happy New Year to everyone! I hope that this finds you all in good health and that the holiday season has treated you well. Here in Northern New England, the weather has been weird, to say the least. Two measurable snowstorms in November, followed by a month of rain, has left everything covered in slime, including people’s spirits as we try to avoid getting weather whiplash. What I think I know for sure, though, is that the weather this winter will undoubtedly result in our staying inside quite a bit. So what’s a gardener to do, besides look longingly out of the window and dream of flowers and mulch and fresh vegetables?

Luckily for us, the seed catalogues will come soon, to add some amount of reality to our daydreaming. But if that’s not enough, there are some wonderful escapist videos out there. Here are a few of my favorites. They are available on Netflix or Amazon Prime (as specified), but are probably also available on other platforms. 

Currently on Netflix: 

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Big Dreams, Small Spaces.

This is a series of garden transformations, hosted by the impeccable Monty Don. Don is an English gardener and presenter who is probably one of the most well known tv personalities in the UK. In this series, he oversees gardens that are transformed by their owners, or by friends for friends. It is very down-to-earth and interesting to see what can be done in small gardens.

 

 

If garden history and virtual garden touring is more to your taste, try Monty Don’s French Gardens and Monty Don’s Italian Gardens. Yes, Monty Don again. He is very prolific!

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For a show with instant gratification, try Love Your Garden, hosted by Alan Titchmarsh. Second only perhaps to  Monty Don in the Garden Presenter Hall of Fame, Titchmarsh chooses people whose gardens have gone to rack and ruin for one reason or another and swoops in to create a new garden for them, almost overnight.

Available on Amazon Prime, but not on Netflix at this time, are other beauties:

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Great Gardens of England brings you on a tour of National Trust Properties.

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The Secret History of the British Garden (Monty Don again!) is a wonderful historical series with lots of eye candy.

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For something closer to home, try The Gardener, a documentary about Henry Cabot’s Les Quatres Vents, in Quebec. It’s a fascinating look at an intriguing garden!

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This Beautiful Fantastic, while not a documentary, is a wonderful escapist film about unlikely characters bonding over a garden.

And somewhere out there Audrey Hepburn has a series on gardens, but try as I might I can’t find it again. But if you can find it, watch it. Or any other Audrey Hepburn film, really.

There! By the time you have gotten through all those, it’ll be spring, and you’ll be absolutely bursting with ideas for your garden. Do you have any favorites? Please share any others I have missed- there are so many good videos out there!

Design ideas, January 2018

Winter Interest

Here in Northern New England, winter interest in the garden is a must.  Just because three of our seasons are “almost winter, winter, and still winter” (the fourth being “road construction”), it doesn’t mean that we have to stare out the window at nothingness much of the year. Creating winter interest is a more subtle art than designing riotous garden beds, but it is absolutely attainable, and the good news is that it can co-exist with the summertime plants without lessening any of their splendor.

Plant choices are important, but structure is even more so, so I will start with that.

STRUCTURE: The “bones” of the garden are made up of things like walls, pathways, trellises, large trees, and the patterns created by the flowerbeds. They are the framework against which we place the plants, rather like a cake before it has been decorated. Good bones give the garden visual balance and make it interesting to look at. The picture below has good bones. Although it’s not a garden, per se, but a field covered in snow, it’s far from boring to look at. The trees in the middle ground and in the background have an interesting shape, and the low hedgerow dividing the fields breaks up what could otherwise have been a rather dull expanse of snow. And the curly iron gatepost and frosty weeds add a lot of interest to the foreground. In the summer that same gatepost would probably be almost invisible, and we would be walking right by it, only registering a rather weeds patch by the side of the path.

In winter, the bones really get a chance to come into their own!DSCN2749 (1)

Here is another picture, but of a real garden this time. However, the principles are the same: Trees placed in the foreground, middle ground, and background, with the space divided up into sections by low hedges. The wall adds interest, too.

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If you are wondering how to achieve this in your own garden, or if you aren’t quite sure how it will look in the winter, try this trick: Take a photo of your garden and change it to black and white on your phone, or make a black and white copy of a printed photo. Without the distraction of the color, you will be able to see the shapes much more clearly, and imagine what the garden will look like when the flowers have gone away. Then you can adjust, if necessary.

COLOR: Once you have structure in the garden, you can start adding some of the cake decorations- the plants. Plants with brightly colored stems, like Cornus sericea, (Red-twig Dogwood) or Salix alba var. vittellina (A shrubby willow), make a stunning display. Ilex verticillata, or Winterberry Holly, is covered in bright red berries. Neither is all that exciting in the summer, but they make a nice backdrop for other perennials, preferring to  pull their weight in the winter.

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Salix alba var. vitellina, I think, at the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK.

winterberryWinterberry Holly. You’ll need a male as well as females to get a lot of berries. Ask at your garden center.

TEXTURE: Interesting textures that catch the frost or fine snowflakes can also add a lot to the garden. Leave the seed heads of perennials like Echinacea, or the tall Sedums for their unusual shapes. The birds will thank you, too. Just yesterday I had at least a dozen Juncos eating the seeds of the Liatris that I never got around to deadheading. Who knew? And now I get to feel righteous instead of lazy!

Grasses of all shapes and sizes can look splendid in the winter. Tall, plumy ones like Miscanthus add great structure (!!), Medium Pennisetums like ‘Hameln’ add a fountain of foliage to the landscape, and a waterfall of Hakonechloa (see picture below) is hard to beat after a frost.

Grasses in snow

Play around with these elements and you will find that your winter garden is far from boring. Now, if we could just figure out what to do about road construction…

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Garden ramblings

Back Again!

Hello, and welcome (back)! My reasons for having been silent for so long include a wonderfully busy schedule, a need to grow and branch out in other areas, and sometimes just wanting to be in the garden instead of writing! Also, I haven’t gotten anything as near as exciting as a frog in the mail, lately, either. (See previous post if you think I’m hallucinating.)

The plan for this blog is to introduce you to new plants, give you some timely weekend gardening tips, and  to hopefully feed your imagination with ideas and pictures of gardens from around the world. As a landscape designer, seeing other people’s work is  a great tool – not to copy it, but as a springboard for other ideas. Yes, you can brainstorm with a picture. From time to time, I’ll also add pictures of some of the gardens that we have created.

So welcome to The Sunny Side! Weekly posts will begin starting the first week in January, but you never know what may show up before that. I’m glad to have you here.

Seasons Greetings,

Wickie Rowland

Landscape Designer/Creative Director

Labrie Associates, Design & Landscape Division, No. Hampton, NH.

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