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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

A Thames walk - Richmond to Teddington

A late summer morning was the perfect time for a ramble along one of the most beautiful sections of the Thames, from Richmond to Teddington. We started from the station, with its decorative platforms, but quickly left the busy high street for the historic Richmond Green, once the site of medieval jousting tournaments and described by Nicholas Pevsner as "one of the most beautiful urban greens surviving anywhere in England".
It covers roughly 12 acres, and behind its fringe of majestic trees are period townhouses and historic buildings, including the Richmond Theatre, which dates from Queen Victoria's reign. The land between the Green and the river was once the site of a royal palace built by Henry VII. This superseded an earlier palace, known as Sheen, but the king named it after his North Yorkshire earldom, Richmond. Later it became a favourite retreat for Henry VIII and then Elizabeth I, who died there.
Little remains of its glory days, apart from this archway and some brickwork, but with a little imagination you could conjure up the image of royal barges, resplendent in red and gold, bringing the rulers from the noise and stink of central London to the rural tranquillity of the riverside. (In fact, back in 2012, such a barge, the Gloriana, was actually built in Richmond to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I was lucky enough to spot her there (below) before she took part in the river pageant.)
Richmond's popularity with the gentry is reflected in the many elegant villas that still line this stretch of the river. As we emerged from the palace grounds and made our way down to the water’s edge via Old Palace Lane, we had a glimpse of Asgill House, built in Palladian style as a summer and weekend retreat for Sir Charles Asgill, Lord Mayor of London in 1761 – 62.
The meandering path took us south along the river, passing under the elegant Richmond Bridge, built in the 1770s to replace the ferry crossing that had been there for centuries.
Recently I discovered that a distant ancestor, William Hill Sargeant, was one of the last apprentices to work on that ferry. He was bound in 1766 to William Price of the Thames Watermen and Lightermen and later captained ships in the breakaway American colonies, so it must have been good training.
Today there are several restaurants along this stretch of the river. One, Gaucho, is sheltered by a huge London Plane tree said to be the largest in the capital and thought to be more than 200 years old.
The Thames remains a hugely popular area for boating. It's amazing to see how many different kinds of  vessels are moored here or just passing through.
At one point we came across the entrance to a tunnel beside the path. Intrigued, we followed it inland and immediately found ourselves among the colourful flower beds of Terrace Gardens (above). The area is a former quarry, but in the 18th century it became part of bordering estates, and was opened as a public park in 1887. A statue of a river god presides over it.
Overlooking us from a commanding position on Richmond Hill was the Star and Garter, once a home for injured servicemen, and now converted into luxury apartments. Further on, we were surprised at how rural the scenery had become, with cattle grazing peacefully on the Petersham meadows.
At this point, the opposite bank of the river has several notable villas, the first of which is Marble Hill House built in Palladian style between 1724 and 1729 for Henrietta Howard, mistress of King George II (below).
Next, hidden by trees, is Orleans House Gallery, the remaining part of another Palladian villa, which was built in 1710 but fell into disrepair and was mostly demolished in 1926. Later restoration work saved the baroque Octagon Room, which now displays many art works that reflect the area’s history. A third stately home, York House  (below), was built in the 1630s and took its name not from a duke, but from the Yorke family, who owned farming land in the area. It currently serves as the town hall for Richmond on Thames.
By now we had reached Twickenham, and beside the Thames Path was Eel Pie Island, once accessible only by boat, but now with a single slender footbridge. It’s supposedly named after the pastries sold there when eels were plentiful in the surrounding water. Famous names to have performed in the island’s hotel include The Rolling Stones, The Who, David Bowie, the Kinks and Pink Floyd.
Continuing along the path, we stopped briefly to admire Teddington Lock (above), which is in fact a complex of a weir and three locks – big, middle-sized and small, so as to cater for everything from barges to skiffs. It was first constructed in 1810, but later rebuilt and enlarged.
Nearby is the Teddington Obelisk, which marks the Thames’s usual tidal limit. By now we’d covered around four miles, and were ready for lunch. We stopped at the riverside pub, The Anglers, and after a leisurely meal headed home via Teddington High St and the railway station. Our last glimpse of the Thames included, fittingly, an angler enjoying the sunshine.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Exploring the many uses of herbs

As someone whose potted herbs have until now come from a supermarket's limited stock, a visit to Manor Farm Herbs in Oxfordshire was a revelation. The nursery grows an amazing range of around 200 different varieties, some familiar, others that I’d never heard of, such as this white Lavender, Meeilo.
Their plant list includes herbs with culinary, medicinal and cosmetic uses, and runs from Achillea Desert Eve Red to Wormwood prostrate. Among them are no fewer than 22 different Thymes, 8 different Houseleeks, and 19 varieties of Mint!
I came away with a basket full of plants, and buzzing with ideas of what to do with them. Jane, who runs the nursery, gave our group a very interesting talk, pointing out that many of the herbs are highly decorative with a wealth of colours and can live happily anywhere from a rockery to a herbaceous border or hanging basket. They're also useful to cover bare ground around the stems of perennials - for example, Jane suggested putting this Purple Sage below a rose bush.
For a splash of more intense colour, there's a striking Purple Basil, while a touch of pink or mauve could be added by the flowers of Heartsease or Chive or this Creeping Pink Thyme (below).
Yellows and oranges come from Golden Purslane, Pot Marigold, and Nasturtiums. For white accents there are Basil and Salad Rocket flowers as well as Nasturtium ‘Alaska’ leaves. Jane also recommended adding herb leaves and flowers to salads for extra aroma, flavour and texture. One tip was to finely chop a fresh herb and add to a French salad dressing mix, leaving it to marinate in a fridge for up to 24 hours before using.
A highlight of the visit was afternoon tea in the garden, surrounded by herb-packed borders. Not surprisingly, the home-baked cakes all featured herbs from the nursery and Manor Farm Herbs' detailed website has a wide range of recipes to encourage experimentation. Ideas include Lavender cookies, Rosemary and Orange drizzle cake, Sage bread, Beetroot and Apple soup and even a Cucumber and Lemon Variegated Thyme Martini. There's also a plant list for mail orders, growing ideas, and care instructions.
Manor Farm Herbs are at Fringford, Bicester, in North Oxfordshire. OX278DP

Saturday, 10 August 2019

What will we plant in our gardens in 2020?

Every summer, one of the country’s biggest suppliers of bedding plants, Ball Colegrave, opens its trial grounds at West Adderbury in Oxfordshire to horticultural specialists, retailers, landscapers and home gardeners. This year, more than 3,500 visitors came along to enjoy the amazing Summer Showcase displays, which included 200 new varieties and 700 experimental products. They were invited to vote for their favourites, and the results give a good indication as to what is likely to be popular in garden centres and nurseries across the country next year. So what received the most votes?
It was a petunia, but no ordinary one. This eyecatching Glacier Sky has large violet flowers speckled with a constellation of white stars edged with an ‘ice’ effect margin. Bred to achieve high weather resistance and with a strong branching habit, it would add that something special to baskets and containers.
The second overall favourite was a spectacular new lavender, Blue Spear, with tall spikes of an intense bluish-purple.  It does best in full sun, while being a magnet for pollinating insects, and is ideal for containers, garden beds and rock gardens.
Third place went to a lovely new ivy-leaf geranium, Marcarda® Pink with Purple Eye. It’s semi-trailing, but with a compact form ideal for containers, baskets and window boxes. Among the other new varieties that attracted many votes were Coleus Flame Thrower Salsa Roja, Osteospermum Compact FlowerPower Purple Sun, Heuchera Black Pearl, Petchoa Beautiful Caramel Yellow, and Lobelia Infinity Blue.

Outstanding among the many current varieties on display was Ball Colegrave's new downy mildew-resistant Busy Lizzie, Beacon Impatiens (above), which comes in a wide selection of colours. The flowers seem to be happy with whatever the summer weather can throw at them and were making wonderful displays, despite the blazing heat of the previous week.
I was also taken with the beautiful range of zinnias. This is a plant that’s fluctuated in popularity over the years – my grandmother loved them, but my mother wasn’t a fan.  Now new easy-care varieties like Zinnia Zesty (above) have been developed that will perform whatever the weather, ready to delight a new generation of gardeners.
The displays around the grounds (above) were amazing, full of ideas and inspiration.
The painter Monet would have loved the planting in and around the water feature, while two living walls, ablaze with colour, showed what could be achieved with the right framework.
And it wasn’t just the visitors who were enjoying the displays – they had attracted the attention of flocks of colourful butterflies  – including this Peacock on a Dianthus Dash Magician.
Ball Colegrave Ltd, Milton Rd, West Adderbury, Banbury, Oxon OX12 3EY

Thursday, 27 June 2019

An Open Gardens Day to Remember

Last weekend saw the Open Gardens Day for our NW2 London neighbourhood. Ten gardens opened to the public – all very different, but equally entrancing, and a tribute to their owners who nurture them with such care and attention. Twenty-five years ago, Chris and Miranda's garden (below) was a building site. It's now a Yellow Book garden, a lush oasis of green with island beds, fish pond and curved borders of perennials and flowering shrubs.
It was interesting to see the different approaches that gardeners have taken when developing their plots. John tends a 'rescue garden', (below) liberated from former freeholder neglect and the result of eight years' work on behalf of the new joint ownership. Whilst it's filled with trees and colourful plants such as clematis and roses,  there's been a concerted effort to attract birds, hence the numerous feeders (below). Among the many avian visitors are four different tits (blue, long-tailed, great and coal), goldcrests, robins, wrens, blackbirds, dunnocks, wood pigeons, greater spotted woodpeckers, and (seen once) a song thrush and a tawny owl.
Another garden that is very wildlife friendly has been created by Margaret and John. There are newts and frogs in their two small ponds and various small birds visit the feeders.
Over the years they have collected some interesting plants and shrubs, including variegated agave, aloe vera, chusam palm,  two sarawa pine grown from seeds, and this lovely feathery aruncus, sometimes known as Goat's Beard.
You enter Vanessa's garden through a trio of rose and clematis arches. The centrepiece is a Japanese koi pond, surrounded by seating. Courgettes and cucumbers are being trained to climb up a frame, and a clever collection of stacked containers, tucked behind a bench, provides a plentiful supply of herbs – an idea I took away to try myself.
Most of the houses in the area are quite substantial, and many are divided into flats. Kate's garden is shared, with a mature willow tree delineating the border between the two halves. As well as a decked area with pieces of art work and found objects, there are old-fashioned roses, a very old apple tree and lots of perennial plants, many artistically arranged in pots.
Jan's garden, which is also divided into two, features a walled water feature with native British pond plants and plenty of places to  sit and watch the wildlife.
Another garden that invites you to sit and relax is tended by Judy and Val. It's brimming with colourful pots, fruit trees, acers, ericaceous plants, shrubs and trees, all of which can be admired from the summer house or the two paved patios (below).
A more formal approach is evident in the tranquil space of  Bob's long back garden, which features mature acers, cypresses and clipped bay, yew and box. Caterpillar control was a hot topic for visitors, who were keen to learn how he was managing to keep his hedging so immaculate.
Rosy and David have a garden in two parts - the first area you see is a large patio with borders of mixed planting, overlooked by a Japanese-inspired pavilion that provides a covered eating area for parties. From here you look out on to the dramatic contrast of a bark-covered area of woodland which they call 'The London Secret Garden'.
As well as these lovely gardens, visitors also explored the Dell – a  magical garden hidden behind a row of residental houses. At this time of year it's awash with beautiful roses like these.
The event is always very much a community affair, with plenty of opportunities for catching up with neighbours and making new friends. Several hundred people stopped off for refreshments in the tea garden, and enjoyed the wide array of home-made cakes that were donated.
A treat for the more adventurous was a chance to ascend to the top of the tower of St Gabriel’s church for a birds-eye view of the gardens. Another major attraction was the plant stall, crammed with hundreds of plants grown for the occasion by neighbours. Brent's new deputy mayor, Lia Colacicco, was among the visitors.

The money raised through ticket and plant sales is going to local charities.The event is organised every two years by the garden club, part of the Mapesbury Residents’ Association, and around 80 people were involved in the planning and preparation. Grateful thanks to everyone for such a memorable afternoon.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Gardeners' World Live Show Garden Awards 2019

The deluges the country has seen in recent days did not deter the exhibitors at the BBC Gardeners’ World Live show in Birmingham. Clad in anoraks and wellies, they defied the elements to create a series of imaginative and colourful floral displays and gardens bound to inspire the green-fingered. Their rewards came at the NEC on Thursday night, with the announcement of the show garden awards. Platinum, the highest available, went to two designers: Alexandra Froggatt for her “Watchmakers Garden” (also named Best in Show, above) and Lucy Bravington, with Worcestershire-based landscapers DesignIt, for the “High Line Garden”. In her creation, Froggatt pays homage to the show’s host city, with the recreation of a garden typical of the back yard of a craftsman in the city’s historic Jewellery Quarter in the 19th c.
A lovely touch is the kitchen garden, crammed with heritage vegetables. It’s surrounded by cottage garden flowers, naturalistic grasses and rustic paths and fences.
Bravington’s Platinum design (above) was inspired by New York’s High Line – a beautiful garden on a bridge over a disused railway line. She’s mixed trees, perennials and ornamental grasses with industrial steel elements to create a sense of privacy. Gold awards went to Gadd Brothers in the APL Avenue for their “Getaway Garden” (designed for a young professional couple with a small linear garden), and Hana Leonard for “Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush” a garden with a circular theme that is sheltered by an airy tree.
Several of the gardens have an international flavour, among them “A Glimpse of South East Asia” by Timotay Landscapes (above). Filled with colourful tropical planting, it’s a fusion of ideas inspired by the natural landscapes of Indochina.  It features a shallow pebble pool which has beside it a large day bed and a hammock for chilling out (rather damp when I took this photo, but perfect for when the sun finally appears).
I loved the drama of the four horses charging out of the MS Society Revelation Garden, which won a silver merit, but if, in my dreams, I could chose a garden to take home, I’d go for another Gold show garden award winner, the John Lewis Home Solutions Garden created by Waitrose Partner Shaun Beale (below).
As well as mixing soft and sculptural planting, it has plenty of space for relaxing whatever the weather, with a garden office, water feature, and an eyecatching espaliered hedge for privacy.

BBC Gardeners’ World Live runs until Sunday, June 16 at the NEC, Birmingham.