Britain: Sussex and Cotswolds gardens a bracing change from SoCal
Broughton Castle is everything we imagined a 700-year-old castle to be. Inside are chilly, cavernous rooms where enormous fireplaces are flanked by shiny coats of armor and perfumed with a lingering scent of mildew. Stonewalls bear scars of ancient doors and windows, long ago filled in. Outside, sheep graze beyond lushly planted garden borders and walls festooned in climbing roses. (Nan Sterman)
An impossibly narrow tower staircase winds its way up, up, up to a hidden room where hushed voices once plotted the English Civil War. From the tower roof, we looked down onto the small, exquisite Ladies Garden, created more than 120 years ago.
At 20 years young, the privately owned Broughton Grange reinterprets English gardens. Its walled garden designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, for example, leaves two sides open to sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. Within the walls, Stuart-Smith created three levels, the lowest featuring these unusual parterres. Traditionally, parterres are angular beds arranged symmetrically. Here, beds are free-form curves inspired by the shapes of leaf cells of oak, beech, and ash trees, all of which are planted throughout the 350-acre property.
A 600-year-old half-timber manor house forms the core of Great Dixter, home to the late, great garden writer Christopher Lloyd. Lloyd’s parents purchased, restored and expanded the home in the early 1900s. All three were accomplished gardeners whose signature styles are honored and preserved. The Solar Garden is the most formal of garden spaces. Its beds of annuals and perennials are where Lloyd experimented with combinations he replanted two or three times each year, a tradition that continues today. (Nan Sterman)
Tall hedges divide Great Dixter garden rooms, each with its own function. Within rooms, plantings are mostly free and easy. In the Topiary Lawn pictured here, for example, deep green yew trees are clipped annually to retain their sculptural shapes. Beneath them, the garden is alive with grasses and wildflowers swaying in the breeze as bees and butterflies flit from flower to flower.
Gentlewoman Katie Lukas was a hobbyist when she started this garden at Stone House, her home in the Cotswold countryside. Twenty years later, she is a well-respected designer and plantswoman whose enviable 2 1/2-acre garden adorns her home, while blending into the surrounding countryside. Lukas takes a modern approach that eschews isolated garden “rooms” in favor of garden areas that flow naturally from one to the next. Here, a rose-covered arch allows a peek towards the main house, past beds of clipped shrubs, flowery perennials and tall ornamental grasses. (Nan Sterman)
The entry to 7-acre Beth Chatto garden is through this stunning, unirrigated “gravel garden.” The pioneering Chatto planted this section of her 50-year-old garden in 1991. The gravel garden is a horticultural experiment to find plants that “survive extreme conditions, as a help to all gardeners facing hose pipe [garden hose] bans.” I was surprised to see many of the same plants I use in low-water gardens I design for Southern California. The on-site nursery offers a fantastic assortment. It was torture knowing I couldn’t bring plants home. I did, however, purchase the English trowel of my dreams.
The 175-year-old, 40-acre Cambridge University Botanic Garden has more to offer than can be absorbed in a single visit. We were fascinated by the garden’s Chronological Bed for example, where garden plants are grouped according to the era of their introduction to the British Isles, starting about 500 years ago. We even found our state flower, the bright orange California poppy. The poppy, it seems, was a latecomer, arriving between 1831 and 1850. (Nan Sterman)
Surprisingly, Cambridge has a semi-arid climate where rainfall averages 20 inches a year. (Los Angeles rainfall averages 15 inches.) In response, Cambridge Botanic Garden created this Dry Garden, which, according to gardener Paul Astin, demonstrates what local residents can do in their own gardens. For the first few weeks after new plants are set in the ground, Astin says, they irrigate with dishwater from the Botanic Garden’s nearby offices. After that, plants rely on rainfall. More than 100 species thrive with no irrigation in this small space.
Renowned designer Piet Oudolf designed these 440-foot-long, 33-foot-wide Glasshouse (greenhouse) Borders at Wisley, the flagship garden of the Royal Horticultural Society. In contrast to private gardens, public gardens such as Wisley offer research and education as well as gorgeous plantings. Here, Oudolf’s lushly planted borders of burgundy, purple, lavender, pink, silver and blue are more than beautiful. The prairie-inspired planting is organized in broad “rivers” where 16,000 perennials and ornamental grasses attract beneficial bees, hoverflies and birds. Interpretive signs help the public understand and emulate the plantings. (Nan Sterman)
In Wisley’s extensive Trials Field we encountered this test planting of flowering sweet peas. Other beds were filled with varieties of foxglove, grasses, Vinca, Clematis, Euphorbia, Delphinium, Salvia and other plants being evaluated for their garden worthiness.