Friday, 26 June 2015

An English Rose Garden

Today truly couldn't be much more different from a week ago.  There I was earlier on, happily weeding in the Beehive Garden (well, as happily as you can weed) when along came the rain.  So I was forced indoors into my Den (what a chore) and I thought, let's chase this gloom away by remembering last Friday.

I had been doing a little undercover sneaky organising as last weekend it was Mr HenHouse's birthday so I decided to whisk him away.  I managed to organise outings for each of the three days and on the way to our main destination and bed for the night, we happened to be passing near to somewhere I had long wanted to visit.  Through Hampshire's green and rolling lanes we travelled until we found ourselves at Mottisfont.  

Mottisfont is a village but it's also the way people tend to refer to the infamous house there, now owned by the National Trust, which is renowned the world over for its walled rose garden.  As a die-hard rose lover, I had longed to go there; it being June and almost the longest day, it was the perfect occasion upon which to visit.  We were shocked to see how many cars there were in the car park and I mean the overflow car park. Mottisfont's secret is well and truly out.  We got in quickly though, we are members of the National Trust anyway, and headed straight for the main attraction (for me, at least).  There's something about a walled garden which is inherently romantic I think, so when paired with roses, it's a dreamy combination.  Roses are really set off against old brick and stone walls.

There is a large area for rose sales when you first enter.  I wonder how many people do not go home with a rose.  I know we did, in fact the very first one we saw, which will enhance The Beehive Garden here at home.  There was a large selection of potted David Austin English Roses (of which I am an ardent fan) as well as lots of beautiful older varieties.

It was difficult to know where to look first.  What I wasn't to realise was that the space we first entered was only the beginning and there were further rooms to the walled rose garden.

There were traditional box-edged borders along the edges, with climbing roses trained against the walls underplanted with more shrub roses and pretty herbaceous perennials.  Now was the perfect time to see the peonies and catmint and there was a lot of lavender ready to flower.

There were areas of classic English lawn, green and stripy, and many places to sit and enjoy the views.

As you may imagine, the scent in the air was pretty heavenly.  I couldn't resist a sniff and lots of people were doing the same.  I find it impossible to buy roses for my own garden which don't have a fragrance because on seeing a rose, I think your first instinct is to smell it.  It's always a disappointment when there isn't at least some perfume.

Onwards, there was a whole other large area of the walled rose garden to admire.

The planting combinations were really beautiful with lots of old cottage garden favourites: love-in-a-mist, foxgloves, lupins and so on.  All plants I adore.

We were further rewarded when spotting this little chap; a baby robin who was very vocal, no doubt calling for his mum who was not too far away.

A sweet little garden shed had been filled with ephemera relating to the walled rose garden and a voice recording was playing of Graham Thomas who planned the rose garden back in the 1970s.

We decided it was time for a rest and a spot of lunch.  We had taken a picnic with us so we set it out on the lawn in front of the house.  It was a fine spot and good to use the picnic quilt I made when I first started quilting.  There was a river running to the side of the lawn with a beautiful rose growing over the bridge.  A duck and her family of ducklings were splashing along on the water.  Glorious.

We set off to explore the house which was once a medieval abbey, in fact elements of it remain at the core of what is now largely a Georgian house.  You can look round many of the rooms on the main floor.  The house was bought by a wealthy banker and his wife back in the 1930s and the identity of the house was a mix of all eras inside.  There were still hints of the Georgian grandeur, many of the walls were covered with Victorian marbled paint effects (a bit dark and oppressive for my liking) and the main drawing room was in a decadent '30s art deco style with the original furniture.

I was more interested in the top floor which is where the housemaids' quarters were.  Up a steep and narrow wooden winding staircase a series of small rooms opened out.  There was a little scullery (I do love one of those!) complete with its carpet beater, enamelled pots and carbolic soap.

Several bedrooms were open on display.  They were simply furnished but contained the old metal bed frames, patchwork quilts and ragrugs that I love.

The house shut at 5pm and we just about managed to scamper round in time.  I am glad we managed to see inside even though the rose garden was my real passion.

Ah Mottisfont, I wasn't sure you would be able to live up to the hype but in fact you surpassed it.  Places like this make me really proud to be British.  I shall return.

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Bee Hive Garden

In my last post, I mentioned that very inspiring garden I had fallen in love with at The Squash Court in Wimborne, Dorset.

That beehive!   Those foxgloves!  That dove cote!  That little gravel path! The galvanised dolly tub!  Need I go on?  I've been dreaming of this sort of pretty-meets-utilitarian garden for a long time.

It just so happens that we are not short of garden here at The Old Vic.  This little patch you can see below, is outside Mr HenHouse's workshop and we had decided it was surplus to requirements and we were going to hoof everything out and gravel it over to blend in with the drive.  We did not need this bed.

However, a trip to The Squash Court and the grey matter was whirring.  I had plans for this little area after all!  It had very few plants in it and the only ones I wanted to save were the rhubarb and the gooseberry bush, in fact they helped shape the idea for this garden.  What I had in mind for this space was an old-fashioned almost 1940's style garden. So there would be flowers and there would also be fruit and veg.  The soil is pretty bad here.  It's heavy clay underneath yet on the surface it's very dry and it's rock hard because we haven't really had much rain this past year (not that I am complaining).  Not a lot really seems to be flourishing.

Luckily, down at the bottom of the paddock, we have inherited a massive dung heap as our predecessors kept horses.  So off set the Mr in his swanky tractor mower complete with trailer on the back and he returned with lots of well-rotted muck!  He has worked very hard for several weeks, turning over the earth, weeding and hoofing out things we didn't want and digging in all that precious manure to improve the soil.

I meanwhile, had caught a train and headed back to my old stomping ground to find inspiration in the form of Chelsea Flower Show.  Bit further to travel now but still easily do-able in a day.  These days, I find Chelsea far too busy.  It's virtually impossible to get near many of the large show gardens without much persistence and elbowing!  As I really can't be bothered with that sort of thing, I did my best to see what I could and otherwise concentrated on the small artisan gardens and the floral marquee (not to mention the shopping, of course), which are my favourite parts, anyway.  Somehow, the smaller gardens seem a lot more attainable and therefore, for me, inspiring.  This time, the gardens which struck a chord with me were this one...

and this one...

There was some very nice planting in the large show gardens and I took a few ideas away from there, too.  Pinks, blues, lavenders and white are my favourite shades for a border.

The train home was packed, not only was it the Friday of the Bank Holiday weekend but also the start of half-term.  I shoe-horned myself into a corner and stayed there with my spiky plant supports!

The next week, we were blessed with some lovely weather and we set off for a family day out at the County Show at the Bath and West Showground.  We've never made it to this before so I was very excited!  It was a really great day out, something for all of us, not too busy, not too expensive and lots to see and do.  I was pleased to see a few more old-fashioned gardens on display which made my little heart sing.

This one was really super, that mix of veggies and flowers, a garden which was pretty yet purposeful as they were back in wartime 1940's.

Back home, Mr HenHouse had worked his magic on the little garden and I was allowed to get in there with my spade and pretty it up.  I had been stockpiling plants, mainly from Bridport, particularly the WI Market, which always has fantastic cottage garden plants at super reasonable prices.  I had also picked up some bargains from the big supermarkets and DIY stores.  They seem incapable of watering their plants and then sell them off looking half-alive (when they usually just need a good water) at rock bottom prices.  Pot of alliums reduced from £4 to £1 anyone (with an extra 15% off on the Bank Holiday weekend)?  Yes please, all four pots, at 85p each, thank you!

Something else I had long hankered after had also come our way.  I sat there one day pondering that I really really wanted a beehive.  I had a mooch on that well-known auction site but there were very very few "real" beehives, even fewer old ones and none within a reasonable distance.   I was not to be defeated though and through the power of t'internet, that very same morning I tracked down not one but two beehives to a farm relatively nearby.  An email and a 'phone call later, we piled into Delilah Disco and headed off to relieve an old lady of not one but two of her beehives as she was downsizing her bee keeping habit.  Oh happy days!  "Will we keep bees" is the oft heard question ever since?  Well never say never.  Apparently, they may find us first!

In the courtyard, I have two mini greenhouses fit-to-bursting with little plants and seeds I have been raising.  It's been a hard task this year as the weather has been pretty cold.  However, some things were ready to plant out, in particular, the sweet peas.  I wanted an old-fashioned wooden wigwam of sticks to grow them up so off we set down the meadow to find some.

We've allowed the paddock behind the house to go over and do its own thing.  The horse we had staying for a while has moved on and so we're enjoying returning things back to nature and the buttercups, clover and ox-eye daisies are romping away.  We have mowed a section at the top as we have VERY exciting plans for that (more soon).

We soon found our poles and Mr HenHouse was tasked with making the wigwams.

There you have it, the birth of our little beehive garden, created with an old-fashioned cottage utility garden in mind.  It is not quite finished yet and of course, the plants have a lot of growing to do.  I've divided and transplanted some plants from elsewhere in the gardens, including the cat mint and it didn't take a certain furry someone very long to track it down.  The rhubarb forcer is another item I have been hankering after for a long time and what do you know, there it was on the street market a few weeks ago.

In a junk shop on Saturday, I picked up this old deckchair which is ripe for a makeover.  It's lucky that I was planing to make a new (flowery, of course) sling for it as it has failed to take even the Munchkin's weight!

I'll be sharing you our little garden in the future when we've finished working our magic.