You may find it hard to believe, but this is the UK in October…
Ventnor Botanic Gardens on the Isle of Wight.
Not just anywhere in the UK of course; my postcard is from Ventnor Botanic Gardens on the Isle of Wight. The garden’s sheltered, south-facing location, tucked well into the Ventnor ‘Undercliff’, has challenged gardeners and ecologists here to push the boundaries of plant hardiness in a constantly evolving experiment. In the light of rising global temperatures and the prospect of significant climate changes to come, the gardeners here are succeeding with an increasingly diverse range of semi-tropical plants that would normally curl up their toes at the first signs of the UK winter.
The result is a lush, exotic garden that is only a short ferry ride away from mainland Britain and one of several garden delights we discovered during an enjoyable week away.
There’s a city centre garden in the North West corner of the USA that is, I would suggest, totally unique. Whilst there are plenty of gardens worldwide that feature contemporary art installations – gardening and art are natural partners after all – this combined garden and sculpture gallery in its space age setting is something really rather special.
Chihuly Garden and Glass at the Seattle Space Center combines the work of world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly with creative modern architecture and innovative garden landscaping. The overall effect is truly spectacular. You can read about the background to the exhibition, the dedicated building and how the designers arrived at their choice of planting in this Seattle Times 2012 web article here.
My October visit was rewarded with a showing of late-season grasses in full flow, and timed for dusk so as to experience the best combination of daylight and artificial lighting on the colourful sculptures and carefully crafted planting schemes.
There’s only one word to describe the garden, and that’s ‘breathtaking’! I hope my photographs will do it justice…
Personally, I often find that modern sculpture can look awkward and out of place in a garden, but not on this occasion – the Chihuly Garden is one of the most bewitching contemporary gardens I have experienced. The exquisite beauty of the glass creations sits perfectly with the garden design and planting, with colour, shape, light and texture weaving a magical web of intrigue and discovery.
Without doubt, Chihuly Garden and Glass is a fitting (and extremely popular) addition to this modern, thriving US city.
One shaft of intense autumnal sunlight is all that it takes to set the garden on visual fire, especially when the garden is planted prairie-style, jam packed with vibrant perennials and golden grasses. The results can be fleetingly spectacular – even biblical!
Meandering through the maze of paths in the Floral Labyrinth at Trentham Gardens I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a ‘burning bush’ ahead. The bush turned out to be a deciduous grass, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenendoah’ or Switch Grass, which transforms in early autumn from the steely green-blue of summer to vibrant shades of red, violet and purple.
Add a dash of warm, late afternoon sun to the already mellow and moody colour palette and the attention-grabbing effect is complete – a real life ‘burning bush’.
On a recent trip to Florence with my wife Janet and photographer friend Martyn we took some time out to visit the famous Boboli Garden, part of the historic Palazzo Pitti, the largest museum complex in Europe. Our short holiday was more of a culinary and cultural city break rather than a grand garden tour, but even considering the time of year this opportunity to take in one of Italy’s renowned classical gardens was too good to miss.
Although the Boboli Garden was indeed impressive in a grand yet minimalist Italian way, the ticket also included entry to another Renaissance garden, tucked away down a quiet, narrow street just a short stroll away. The recently opened and little-known Bardini Garden is a much more intimate affair, with an Anglo-Italian feel and views across the city of Florence to match anything that the Boboli Garden has to offer. A real bonus!
Reading the brochure it became obvious (though not exactly a surprise) that this is a garden for the spring and early summer, boasting collections of azaleas, viburnum and camellia, as well as olive groves, a rose garden and wisteria pergola. Not to worry though – we were in Italy after all – and even in late October there was plenty in the way of architectural formality, statues, stairways and grottoes to keep us enthralled. There was also a very well tended and fruitful kitchen garden adjacent to the ‘Kaffehaus’ terrace…yet another excuse for a cappuccino stop. Oh, and did I mention the views…?
My photo-montage gives a taster of the rich tapestry of colour and texture to be found throughout the garden at this time of year. This is a wonderfully designed garden (as one might expect) and historic Gresgarth Hall, in its wooded valley setting, provides an imposing backdrop.
If you enjoy a veritable rainbow of colours in a garden then this coming weekend’s NGS Yellow Book Open Garden at Bredbury in Stockport, Greater Manchester, is definitely not to be missed.
Geoff and Heather Hoyle are ‘dahliaholics’ and their modest-sized suburban garden is dedicated to growing and showing over 150 varieties of these colourful blooms. The masses of dahlias are interspersed with equally colourful late-summer perennials including salvias and fuchsias.
Geoff is an extremely knowledgeable and helpful host, happy to share his extensive experience; a visit to this wonderfully colourful garden is highly recommended.