A SHORT HISTORY OF NATURAL GARDENS

A client recently rang to ask me to visit her home to design a Natural Garden. I am happy working in an endless range of garden styles but the first thing to ascertain when someone has a request of this type is what they mean when they use such  terms: Mediterranean, Japanese, Formal, Baroque, English – its a veritable minefield for the unwary designer.

The client was asked to show me examples of what she had in mind and an interesting discussion ensued.

Here then, is my…..

SHORT HISTORY OF NATURAL GARDENS

In 1597 Francis Bacon wrote an essay entitled “Of Gardens”.  His definition of a garden in this essay makes it clear that his was an escape from nature, which needed be brought under human control. It begins: “G0d Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed it is the purest of human pleasures”. Untamed Nature could still be regarded as a threat to man at that time, but now in the 21stcentury we are all too aware that the reverse is true.

Chinese style - Chelsea Flower Show 2008

Natural gardens are by no means a recent phenomenon.  In fact the very first Taoist gardens of the Chinese were a means of enabling man to live to live undisturbed by external events and in harmony with nature. Records from the eighth century explain the philosophy and techniques of garden making in great detail.

The origins of recent movements toward natural gardens can be traced back to the late nineteenth century.

At this time in the UK garden landscape was dominated by formal design, inspired by those of Italy, by way of French and Dutch landscaping. In contrast to this, a movement arose which supported natural garden design, a reaction to the highly structured format of these “foreign” imports.  Around the 1850’s some designers were challenging the use of bedding plants and calling for the use of hardier, more permanent plants.  William Robinson’s book ‘The Wild Garden’ was published in 1870 and signalled the beginning of the modern natural garden movement.  Many would consider Robinson to be the grandfather of the natural garden and his wild garden brought the untidy edges (where garden blended into the larger landscape) into the garden picture: meadow, water’s edge, woodland edges and openings.

Non-native "wild flower" meadow

Another pioneer of natural garden design was Jens Jensen.  Born in Denmark in1860, he migrated to the United States in 1884.  In partnership with Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect, he developed the ‘Prairie Style’ of gardening which used indigenous plant material. Jensen transplanted the wildflowers into a corner of Union Park, Chicago, creating what became the first American Garden in 1888.

Important contributors to the natural garden movement    

Many since Robinson have advocated natural gardens, and some important publications over the years are as follows:

  • Gertrude Jekyll: Wood and Garden (1899)
  • Wilhelm Miller: The Prairie Spirit in Landscape Gardening (Urbana 1915)
  • Frank. A. Waugh: The Natural Style in Landscape Gardening (Boston 1917)
  • Jens Jensen: Siftings (Chicago 1939)
  • Willy Lange: Garden Design for Modern Times (Gartengestaltung der Neuzeit) (Leipzig 1907); and
  • The Garden and Its Planting (Der Garten und seine Beplflanzung) (Stuttgart 1913)
  • Piet Oudolf:  Planting the Natural Garden (Timber Press 2003)
  • Violet Stevenson: The Wild Garden (Frances Lincoln 1998)
  • Samuel B Jones and Leonard E Foote: Gardening with Native Flowers (Timber Press 1997)

Waugh, Robinson and Lange all suggested that exotic plants which fitted with natural plant associations could be included in the natural garden.  Others such as Jensen argued against using any foreign plants in the American garden.  Alwin Seifert, a German landscape architect, also insisted that no foreign plants should be used even if it meant there were only a few native plants to choose from.

Natural planting style: Koblenz 2011 garden festival

Theories behind the natural garden movement   

Given that this movement gathered momentum towards the end of the nineteenth century it has been argued that it was a reaction to the rapid change to the natural environment imposed by the industrial revolution.  Indeed the movement towards natural gardens took place in the rich, industrial nations of Europe, the United States and Australia.

Other theories have suggested the implication of nationalism and racism, and yet others have suggested a backlash against the architecture profession. In addition, the devastation to the natural environment caused by invasive exotic plants has been significant in many countries, including the corner of rural France where I now live.

RECENT HISTORY

Natural planting in an English downland garden

In the 1970’s there was a revival of late nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas about natural gardening, which have continued into the 21st century.  We have witnessed the development of ‘Green Parties’, ‘Eco-Warriors’ and various other environmental groups around the world in recent decades.  As awareness of environmental problems has grown, many have attempted to bring nature back into the different realms of everyday life.  This desire to re-unite with nature is also reflected in the work of some modern garden designers.

Many of the classic texts mentioned above were re-published during this period.  Another important publication was (Natur einschalten-Natur ausschalten) ‘To Switch on Nature – To Switch off Nature’ by the Dutchman L. G. Le Roy (1978), feted by those struggling with German post-war politics.

The term ‘Natural’ is now often considered synonymous with ‘Ecological’, focusing on a new generation of practitioners and thinkers concerned with moving our society onto a more sustainable path.

Around the world many countries and peoples have supported ‘native plant movements’ where the use of natives in garden designs has been the ultimate goal; evidence of such movements has been observed to a lesser extent in Europe but it is rapidly gaining ground.

The argument has always been coloured by a lack of clarity over what actually makes a plant “native” and what “nature” is. From the outset, William Robinson and his contemporary, the English architect Reginald Blomfield, (1856-1942), debated at length over this subject and the discussions are sure to continue….

Mushroom of the day, flower of the day, bulb of the day, shrub of the day

A huge Boletus mushroom found, picked and eaten today.

Tradescantia flowering in the garden at Chabris, central France today.

Today I thought it would be nice to show you some of the plants from our garden. Every day we rush out to see what is newly flowering or growing and this is a small selection of those which are rewarding this simple effort and pleasure.

Most of these are newly planted this year so their first flowering is a special treat!

Erythrina x bidwillii is a cross between E. crista-galli from South America and E. herbacea from North America.

Colchicum Waterlily in flower under the Sequoia and close to Toad Lillies and Hostas, also in flower.

The mushroom glut and other good gardening news.

With the unseasonal weather set to continue well into August, Nature seems very confused. The recent rains have provided a huge glut of edible (and other) fungi which are normally expected in the autumn and we have been washing, slicing and freezing basket-loads of Ceps every day for a week or more. It has made the French national news broadcasts: initially upbeat reports of nature’s bounty and impromptu mushroom markets in the south-west, but now including cautionary notes as the hospitals fill up with poisoned tourists. It pays to know what you are putting in your mouth, I find.

Abelia Kaleidoscope

A summer of mild, wet weather is not what we signed up for when we decided to cross the Channel and settle in central France. It has brought benifits however, in terms of garden plant growth. Establishing a new garden is an expensive affair, especially if you have to buy plants at French retail prices. The humidity has helped the settling in of these treasures and for that we are most grateful. A large number of plants have been bought this year but recent purchases have included a new variety of Abelia,  A. ‘Kaleidoscope’, bred for its leaf color and dense, compact form. I have planted it in our new front bed, next to clumps of orange Crocosmia and scarlet Phygelius, both blooming as we speak, and in front of another new plant, Erythrina x. bidwillii, currently in bud but promising clusters of pea-shaped, dark red flowers. This hot scheme should be worth building on as more plants become available, creating a stunning show against a sunny garden wall, which already features Sophora and Mimosa and should be ideal for other half-hardy plants.

Lagerstroemiais high on my wish list for this bed; we now have three varieties of this plant which for me is still very exotic and I would like to try taking cuttings from a red-flowering form for the front and perhaps a softer pink than we currently grow, for the back garden. The oldest of our specimens, a Demartis variety called Yang Tse, was planted in half sun but has since been moved to a much warmer spot in the gravel patio. It is now in full flower while the other two, a white and a red, are still in bud. I have my eyes open now for suitable plants and will no doubt shortly start begging for cuttings.

I have been taking lots of cuttings recently, inspired by students who are doing the same on our Plant Propagation for Beginners course. I have a small plastic greenhouse with undersoil heating installed in the loft under a Velux window and I am having great fun swapping cuttings with neighbours and or increasing some of our own plants to give away to friends. Our first batches are now rooted and being hardened off in a sheltered spot and include Campsis, Hydrangea paniculata, Viburnum bodnatensis and pomegranate.

In the mean time back in the loft we have Brugmansia, Rosemary, Curry Plant, Ceratostigma, Acer palmatum, Camellia and Cornus florida all doing well. I have always loved propagation and have had several opportunities to grow plants from seed or cuttings on a commercial scale. As a lad, I even entered the Young Propagator of the Year competition run by Horticulture Week. The temptation to start a nursery when we moved to France was only held at bay by lack of garden space and perhaps it is just as well: the Academy is more than enough to keep me occupied.

Chaumont part 2

As a garden designer Chaumont has to be my favourite garden show, combining a great venue with cutting-edge garden design in an annual festival which we have visited many times. The gardens are in place all year, allowing them to evolve and develop through the season. It is also a favourite of Garden Design Academy students who visit with us each year.

"Madam Irma - all kinds of predictions"

Continuing our tour, “Madam Irma – all kinds of predictions” featured the gypsy caravan of a fortune teller through which you pass into the white garden of a crystal ball future. Creating a garden of the future, we are told, means letting you be captivated by time, dreaming, projecting yourself, guessing, measuring the fragility of the future and the multitude of possibilities. It means betting on the future.

“Garden in the Street” considered a future where biodiversity became the essential reason for the existence of the street, to the point where the way it is laid out was completely reviewed and the face of the towns and cities of tomorrow was changed. Structures collected water and photovoltaic energy, provided lighting and support for plants. Run-off water feeds flowers and specialist paving encourages grass and other plants.

"Fertile bulbs"

“Fertile bulbs” also contains structural elements but of a much softer design,  composters in the form of giant bulbs, awakening the promise of future germinations and making the hidden work of the subsoil visible (decomposition, fermentation, reorganisation, reuse). They offer an ode to domestic biodiversity, one we can all take care of.

“Lucy in the sky” was a clever idea and cleverly built, a packing case construction illustrating the importance of rooftop gardens in the cities. The ecumene is shared by wild plants which adapt to the conditions, taking nourishment from its water, its air and its waste. Gardeners can assist by orchestrating this symbiosis and appreciate the diversity of its beneficial effects.

Chinese landscape architect Wang Xiangrong creates in his garden a “misty landscape”, which is a reference to the archetypal Chinese garden, developing a feeling of “misty poetry” and serenity. Red-coloured pavilions, earth and water, blue sky and white clouds form constants, made use of by this very contemporary garden, called “Between sky and earth”

Between Sky and Earth - Chaumont 2011

Chaumont International Festival of Gardening is open until 16th October and is well worth a day of your time. The huge numbers of plants make you want to rush out and spend, but one of the curious aspects of the show is that the garden shop offers very few plants for sale. It is an aspect of the event which is (deliberately?) neglected and always a slight disappointment to me.

Coming soon: Part three of this review covering another selection of gardens.

Feng Shui Garden Design

Chelsea Medalist Colin Elliott of the Garden Design Academy has joined forces with Elizabeth Wells FSSA to launch a unique hands-on Feng Shui garden design course.  Designed to bring the benefits of this ancient art to the garden, the first six-day residential course at the Garden Design Academy in the Loire Valley, France, will take place from 13 September 2011.

Garden designers, landscape architects and other “place makers” have searched for inspiration from wherever it is available. Some look to nature, inspired by the local landscape or that of the Great Outdoors elsewhere, while others immerse themselves in the fine arts of painting and sculpture in all its forms. Garden history may also point the way by providing examples from the great gardening traditions of Islam, classical Italy, Japan or China.

Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics widely used to orient buildings in an auspicious manner. Depending on the particular style of Feng Shui being used, an auspicious site can be determined by reference to local features such as bodies of water, stars or compass. Feng shui was suppressed in China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, but has since seen an increase in popularity with clients from home owners to major corporations all seeking the benefits this traditional geomancy can provide.

The practice of Feng Shui ensures that our surroundings are arranged and organised in the best possible way in order to achieve success, health, wealth and happiness.   As our homes and gardens are so interlinked it makes sense that as well as creating a beautiful home space that delights our senses, good Feng Shui outside will help attract high quality energy inside. Our homes and gardens are co-dependent, whatever the size of our garden space.

Feng Shui principles have been the same for centuries: everything should be in proportion and there should be no straight lines – curves all the way.  For instance, flow can be created by paths, edging, pots, shrubs; hard concrete can be covered with a more fluid material such as gravel and corners can be filled and softened with pots, climbing plants and statues.

Hostas and lantern

Hostas and granite lantern in a shady spot in the gardens of the Garden Design Academy

Every view of the garden should be agreeable, therefore if the garden is overlooked or has unpleasant views e.g. bins, fuel storage, factories, then these should be hidden from view by using trellis and climbing plants.

Protection to the rear is also important so that the property lines are clearly defined and the home feels secure.

Water features, trees, statues etc are all meaningful and have their appropriate places in the garden – in the wrong position they can be detrimental.

From the point of view of Feng Shui, these points are simply the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much more to discover, think about and use with this practical and exciting approach in the outdoor spaces.  Because FS techniques are common-sense and straightforward, our gardens can only benefit from using them.

 

The course is aimed at the amateur gardener and is priced at £950. Numbers are strictly limited to ensure attendees maximise the benefit from the hands-on support provided.  No previous knowledge of horticulture or design is required, only an interest in gardening and a desire to give the garden (however large or small) a new lease of life and an independent energy. 

For further details of this exciting new course visit the website:   http://www.gardendesignacademy.com/residential_Feng_Shui.html

Hibiscus, Hydrangea, Hebe, Hemerocallis and Hosta

From the wide range of plants flowering in our garden, “H” seems to be the letter of the day; it is also the birthday of my Father, Henry, who at 85 is still as keen a gardener as he was when he ran his nursery and flower farm in Cornwall, south-west England.

Hibiscus

Unknown hybrid of Hibiscus moscheutos

Of the several hundred species of Hibiscus most gardeners are familiar with, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, is a tropical species, the national flower of Malaysia and a house plant in our climate. The other common species, Hibiscus syriacus, is hardy in Europe but comes from Korea where it too is the national flower. While both the French (Minier) and the English (Notcutts) have been growing and breeding this species since the 17th C and the Washington National Arboretum created the first triploid forms, some of the more interesting newer varieties are coming from its country of origin. Hibiscus syriacus grows easily here and many gardeners train it as a flowering hedge. Neighbours keep giving us self-sown seedlings to try but two of our newer named varieties are double flowered Purple Ruffles and semi-double, white with red China Chiffon.

A third Hibiscus form is becoming increasing popular: hybrids of the American the Swamp Hibiscus, H. moscheutos and similar species, which feature very large flowers in a range of colours. Fleming Brothers of Lincoln, Nebraska (USA) are well known breeders of this plant while the Sakata Seed Corporation in Japan was also involved from the 1960’s onwards. The big difference between these and H. syriacusis that they are herbaceous: they die down every autumn and regrow the following year. I have bought and planted a couple of colours from a grower at the local market but, as is so often the case here, he was unable to tell me there names. Perhaps they were a mix batch of seed raised plants but I was told they were from cuttings so I may eventually be able to identify them. As implied by the common name, while they like good sunshine they also require moist soil. I have chosen two sites with slightly different conditions to see where they do best.

 Hydrangea paniculata Kyushu

Hydrangea paniculata Kyushu

Hydrangea macrophylla varieties have been flowering for some while and now our H. paniculata are blooming. Kyushu has huge, rounded heads of white flowers which bend towards the ground under the weight. Great Star was a discovery from the renowned French garden of Princess Sturdza, Le Vasterival at Varangeville-sur-Mer, a few miles west of Dieppe in Normandy. The flowers open to large, white, wavy, star-shaped florets that can be up to 4″ in width.

I am a great fan of Hebe and of the 1001 gardens I have designed over the years few cannot have had a Hebe Great Orme in some prominent position. After its third year with us, ours is finally producing flowers in the quantities we are used to. Our other Hebe, in the White Border – a shadier spot than Great Orme was given – has flowered more quickly. This is H. Kirkii, a natural hybrid between Hebe salicifolia and Hebe rakaiensis which was discovered in 1868, near Canterbury on New Zealand’s South Island and was named after botanist Thomas Kirk.

We grow a number of Hemerocallis (Day Lilies) in a range of colours and these have being flowering for several weeks. One clump was recovered from the side of the road where someone had dumped it, but most are named varieties including Cream Drop, Burning Daylight, Royal Red, Vanilla Fluff and Congo Coral. This is the theory: in fact, some of the plants are not flowering anything like the colour expected and I suspect a mix-up at the nursery…..either that, or they ran out of one variety and bunged us what they had left.  In the dry conditions we are experiencing they have needed regular watering but have produced spectacular amounts of flower, whatever the colour.

Last on the list is Hosta, a plant we grow few of, lacking the water margin conditions they prefer. Variegated Great Expectations was said to be challenging to grow but has done well here, while a large patch of Hosta ‘Guacamole’ surrounds our Japanese granite bird bath. This variety is a sport of ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ and has huge, glossy, apple green leaves surrounded by streaked, dark green leaf margins just like an avocado. Flared flowers are appearing now: pale lavender and very fragrant.

Lavatera Barnsley, Santolina and other joys of summer

Lavatera

Lavatera Barnsley showing reversion.

A common and great value flowering shrub is doing well at the moment. Lavatera x clementii Barnsley is a cross between the shrubby L. olbia and the herbaceous L. thuringiaca, a cultivar of ‘Rosea’ which is not entirely stable. In a periclinal chimaera like “Barnsley”, the meristem has mutated and contains one layer of cells which is genetically different from the remainder. This photo shows a specimen in our garden which has started to revert. The best way to avoid this is to be careful not to over-prune, something I may have done this spring. The plant is very easy from cuttings; this plant is only two years old and a one year old cutting planted in the garden is also in full flower and around 4ft tall.

Santolina chamaecyparissus is another cheap and cheerful summer flowering shrub and we have planted a group in a poor, dry area of the garden where many other plants would struggle. Cotton Lavender, as it is sometimes called, has herbal uses and is sometimes added to pot pourri, but not everyone is a fan of the smell. Some gardeners prefer to remove the flowers to create a clipped silver hedge: you can do this, but would miss this effect, which seems a shame.

Santolina chamaecyparissus

Santolina chamaecyparissus - Cotton Lavender

The Lilies which have survived the attentions of Lily Beetle (Lilioceris lilii) are in flower now, in a range of colours from white, cream and yellow, through to orange and red. I have spent what seems like hours, removing the both adult and larvae by hand but have found that Lilium regale Album stays beast free while nearby hybrids are covered. I shall be watching this effect in years to come to see if is repeated or if they just did not find L. regale this season. As a lad, one of the jobs given to us in the Royal Gardens was removing Lily Beetle from the stems of Cardiocrinum giganteum. Given that these plants can grow 10ft or more tall, step ladders were required!

Lilium regale Album

Lilium regale Album - Lily Beetle free!

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011 (French national open gardens event)

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Les jardins des Metamorphozes

This weekend was too good to be missed: a three day festival of gardening with, in our region of Centre, 97 gardens open. These ranged from the vast gardens of local chateaux to those of a much more domestic scale. Having spent ages putting together a web site on Loire Valley gardensI was keen to try some of those smaller, less polished gardens, the passion and pride of their private owners.

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Les jardins des Metamorphozes

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Domiane de Prieure at Valaire

The list of great gardens was tempting but we did resist, choosing as our first port of call the Domiane de Prieure at Valaire, where an art gallery and garden have been established in the grounds of an 11thC priory. It is a pretty place, with interesting planting and sculptures dotted about, created as a private garden but open now to the wider public. Les jardins des Metamorphozes offers a series of garden styles in a small space: formal and informal, with French, English and oriental influences inspired by notable gardens visited by the owners.

Chatting with the owner we were recommended to another garden on our way home, the Jardin du Pouzet at Couddes. An enthusiastic ex-nurseryman has retired and failed to sell his business (we can sympathise, having had the same problem in the UK). After a period watching his enterprise deteriorate he decided to create a garden from the old nursery, finding a new use for the site and recycling to remaining plants.

Passionate and knowledgeable, the owner will guide you around and show you his horticultural treasures if he likes you, and I am delighted to say we got on very well indeed. It has to be said that this is not a garden as many visitors understand it and some will go away disappointed, but it features 200 varieties of Rose and depending on the season, thousands of bulbs, bedding plants and herbaceous plants in new beds amongst the established trees and shrubs, many rare or not often seen. He also has France’s biggest collection of Gingko and we spent a contented couple of hours exchanging plant stories as we toured his collection.

A tree new to me seen in this garden: Euodia / Evodia, now called Tetradium daniellii, a meliferous plant from S.W. China and Korea. It is named for William Daniell, an army surgeon who, in the 1860s, collected a specimen in Tientsin province , China.

Rendez-vous aux jardins 2011

Gingko variety at Pouzet

I hope we have made a few friends today and it was suggested we join an association of parks and gardens of the Central region so that we can meet more gardens owners. I am very keen to get involved with local horticulture and have sent them an email to see if they will have us. I gather our garden will have to be inspected by experts….is it good enough?

After some recent rain, the first in several months, the garden at home is looking much happier, although the gravel patio has almost as much growth on it as the lawn, which is now in need of a cut. We have a number of projects on the go…..but more on these later.

Iris, Hemerocallis, Poppies and Peonies

Pivoine Marie Crousse

Peony (Pivoine) Marie Crousse

After Courson, our last flower show visit, we followed up the discovery of a local grower to visit them at their nursery. Bourdillon specialise in Iris, Hemerocallis, Poppies and Peonies and their beautifully illustrated catalogue mentioned an open weekend on 21st and 22nd May.

We dutifully turned up on the Sunday with a gardening friend only to discover, with a season three weeks in advance of normal, they had held it early this year. There was still plenty to see however and we happy roamed the fields for several hours before returning to the office to buy a few things. Their web site (http://www.bourdillon.com) shows their full range of plants but here are a few photos from my visit……..

Iris ensata Kishuu-Wakanami

Iris ensata Kishuu-Wakanami

We finally succumbed to temptation and bought one of the Itoh peonies I described having seen at a show earlier this year – Bertzella – while our friend chose a potted Iris ensata Kishuu-Wakanami which she later divided and shared with us. The Japanese Water Iris is native not only to Japan but is very widespread in China, Korea, India & eastern Russia and needs boggy conditions in the spring. We have planted it in a shady spot in a new bed which contains many recent purchases, but plan to move it in the autumn to a spot next to a Japanese water basin to which I add water often, the overspill moistening the ground for the nearby Hostas and other plants.

Poppy Lambada

Oriental Poppy Lambada

The weather here continues to be warm and dry; temperatures in the twenties, usually 10°C higher than the UK and no rain to speak of since February. Water restrictions have started in many regions of France and agriculture is in trouble, although there are a few regions of the country where they have had plenty of rain.

At the recent Comice Agricole at St. Aignan, a country show also involving the 16 villages surrounding the town, the talk was of little else. We hoped to try comparing the white wine from each of the communes (for educational purposes and of course, in moderation) but it was so warm we could not summon the energy for more than a brief visit before leaving to sit in the shade of a Willow by the River Cher and cool off. A TV crew spent some time filming our standard poodle as she said “Hello” to the competition goats, the first in the family to achieve fame in this country.

Hemerocallis Edge of Darkness

Hemerocallis Edge of Darkness

Courson: Europe’s greatest plant fair

Courson plant fair

A view of a small part of the plant fair at Domaine de Courson Spring 2011

On Friday we took up our invitation to the spring plant fair at the Domaine de Courson, surely Europe’s and perhaps the world’s greatest plant fair. It is held twice a year in the grounds of the chateau, south of Paris. When working in the UK we were unable to justify the time for both Courson and Chelsea and only visited for the autumn fair. These days we live just two hours from the Domaine and are delighted to make the pilgrimage in the spring as well. We are already looking forward to October 14th, our next opportunity to indulge our passion for plants.

There are three problems with Courson, where many of Europe’s best nurserymen show their wares: firstly we do not have a large enough garden to accommodate all the plants we would like to own; secondly, we could not afford to buy them all. Still, at each show we spend beyond our allocation, selecting our favourites, changing our minds and agonizing over which plants to leave for another trip. More than once over the years, I have stopped in the middle of the show after several hours of plant hunting, physically and emotionally drained by the experience. The trick is to remember to eat at lunchtime and to drink plenty of water: Courson is hard work!

The third issue is that with so much wonderful plant material on display it is inevitable, even after five hours or more of hunting, you have missed much more than you have seen and not given nearly enough attention to so many fine stands. I have never found the time for one of the many lectures and conferences they organise over the three days, a pity given the quality of speaker they are able to attract. I am beginning to think that a two-day visit is called for and we have already selected a B&B required for the night.

Cornus Venus at Courson

Cornus Venus at Courson 2011

“What did we buy?” I hear you say. The plant of the show as far as we were concerned, was Cornus Venus. Those of you who do not know the Flowering Dogwoods are missing something very special and this new variety, a cross between Asiatic Cornus kousa chinensis and American Cornus nuttallii is amazing. The “flowers” of these Cornus are actually bracts, modified leaves which look like petals, creamy white, 10cm or more across and produced in quantities which almost smother the plant. It was bred by Dr. Elwin Orton of Rutgers University New Jersey, who was responsible for a breeding and excellent range of new hollies, also mixing Asiatic and American genes. This Cornus will now grace a prime position against the log cabin classroom where it should grow to a plant of around 4m high and broad. It is said to have spectacular autumn leaf colour in addition to red fruits and we are very excited to have such a plant in the garden.

Equally exciting was a purchase we have been putting off for many years, lacking a suitable place to grow it: a yellow flowering Magnolia. Having waited patiently many new varieties have appeared and Pepinieres Botanica, who show a huge selection of Magnolias and other choice trees and shrubs, were offering several. We took advice and eventually selected Daphne, one of the best of these, bred in 2000 by Philippe de Spoelbergh. The parents are said to be M. acuminata ssp. subcordata ‘Miss Honeybee’ x M. ‘Gold Crown’. It has now been planted in a new bed we are creating close to the old washing basin and pump on the east side of the garden.

Magnolia Daphne

Magnolia Daphne

We have a problem with the front wall of the section of the building that we rent out as a holiday apartment. It is a large wall, facing north and the little garden surrounding lacks colour on that side. Our answer was a plant of Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Rose Sensation’ a new variety looking similar to the common climbing Hydrangea, but with more attractive shoots and pink flowers in the summer. This came from Les Hortensias du Haut bois, a specialist who grows a staggering 750 varieties of Hydrangea.

The apartment itself we call Rose Cottage and at the moment a huge Rosa Paul’s Himalayan Musk is in flower on the fence and the wall. We thought we would add a bush rose of the modern/ old fashioned type for which David Austin is justly famous. We were underwhelmed by his stand however, and selected a specimen from a French grower instead. The beautiful pink, scented flowers of Elodie Gossuin are a winner and the plant will grace the apartment garden as soon as I dig a little bed to accommodate it. The variety is one of the Rosa Generosa series from Guillot, who have been rose growers for more than 180 years and specialise in old varieties.

We were looking for plants for the hot, dry and sunny bank in the front garden but failed to find interesting Lavenders or, my wife’s favourite, x Halimiocistus, the cross between a Cistus parent and a Halimium. In the past we grew Merrist Wood Cream, a hybrid of Cistus salviifolius and Halimium lasianthum ‘Formosum’ and were hoping for a replacement; we did buy a couple of Helianthemums, Fire Dragon and Supreme, which we have planted either side of a self-seeded Lizard Orchid. Also on this bank sits Echium russicum, a red flowered version of the Viper’s Bugloss native to the Steppes. I gather it is short-lived so I hope it will self-seed in what I trust is an ideal site.

We saw plenty of other wonderful plants, including Alstroemaria and Hippeastrum on the Pierre Turc stand, but eventually had to leave while we still had the energy; the day was exhausting, with 5 hours spent at the show and four hours of driving, but we came back content, richer in many ways, if a little poorer financially.