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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Sissinghurst splendour

A visit to Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent a few days ago provided plenty of inspiration - and some interesting plants from the shop there. The famous White Garden, developed by Vita Sackville-West and Sir Harold Nicolson around the surviving parts of an Elizabethan mansion was looking spectacular, even though some of the roses had finished blooming. The National Trust, which owns the property, has just opened the Priest's House (left) as a 6-bed holiday cottage. Windows look out onto the White Garden, and guests can wander through the gardens in the evening, when other visitors have left.

But what really caught my eye were the hazel hoops set into the ground around some of the rose bushes. What were they for? Alexis Datta, Sissinghurst's Head Gardener, was on hand to explain - apparently bending the stems down over the hoops puts pressure on the plants and makes them produce more flowers. It also provides different heights and shapes in the rose garden.

Sissinghurst Castle is off the A262 in Kent, near the village of Cranbrook. Postcode is TN17 2AB.
National Trust holiday lets:
(All profits from lettings go towards funding the Trust's conservation work.)

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Bloomsbury's Exotic Blooms

For a glimpse of South Africa, head to the British Museum in Bloomsbury, where Kew has created a colourful front garden with plants from the Cape region. They range from these agapanthus, with their lilac-coloured pollen, to the Quiver tree, so called because the San people have traditionally used its branches to create quivers for their arrows. According to the explanatory boards dotted among the greenery, South Africa has 22,000 different plant species - two-thirds found nowhere else on earth.

Surprisingly, these are not Wild West cactus, but euphorbias. The San mixed their milky sap with extract from the Diamphidia beetle to poison their arrow tips. But if correctly applied, the sap can be used medicinally, and was a traditional treatment for cancer.

The garden will remain until October 10, and visits are free of charge.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Lambeth treasure

Finally made it to the Treasures of Lambeth Palace Library exhibition - just in time, as it closes on July 23. Among the fascinating material there: the 12c Lambeth Bible (left), Richard III's Book of Hours, which he left in his tent when he went out to fight and die at the Battle of Bosworth; a letter from Elizabeth I with a post-script about her recovery from smallpox; a copy of the warrant, with Elizabeth's signature, for Mary Queen of Scots' execution; and physicians' daily reports on the mental health of George III.

But before you go into the Great Hall, stop and admire the enormous sprawling white fig tree by the entrance. It was originally planted in 1555 by Cardinal Pole. Lambeth Palace garden - one of the oldest and largest private gardens in London - is open only rarely. But visitors to the exhibition do get a bonus - a discount for the Museum of Garden History at St Mary's Church next door.

Lambeth Palace Library, Lambeth Palace Rd, London SE1 7JU

Monday, 5 July 2010

Time for a change

Inspired by all the lovely plants at Cottesbrooke Hall, I've been creating a new flower bed at the end of our garden in front of a row of camellias and rhododendrons. These look spectacular in spring, but by June the area is crying out for more colour.

The solution? Lay a path of old bricks immediately in front of them, where dense shade meant nothing grew, then dig a new bed.

There's a colour scheme of sorts, moving from pinks, mauves and purples on the left, through to reds, then yellows and whites. It's a real mixture of plants, many of which were donated by friends or grown to raise money for charity by the convenor of our local garden club, Margaret. A fatsia japonica has pride of place in the centre (thanks for this, Heidi), while a dogwood (from Elizabeth) should provide an elegant contrast to a small hydrangea rescued from an overcrowded bed nearby. There's also a ceanothus which had become rootbound in a neighbour's balcony pot. In between are lupins, acanthus spinosus (Bear's breeches), erysimum 'Bowles Mauve', salvia, achillea, phlox, campanula, scabiosa and a tradescantia, 'Sweet Kate', which had not been doing well against an east-facing fence. I've surrounded the bed with canes and criss-crossed it with black cotton, in a bid to keep out the foxes, and now am waiting to see what will survive. There are plenty of gaps to be filled, but for these I'll try my hand at propagation, using advice from Carol Klein's brilliant new book, "Grow Your Own Garden" (BBC Books). She makes it look so easy!