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A week in Cornwall – Part 2 – The Eden Project

It had been years since we last visited the Eden Project, so we were excited to return when we holidayed in Cornwall in the Autumn of 2018. We knew that there would have been so much development in that time. When we did visit  again during our week’s holiday in Cornwall, the project had developed almost beyond belief. The first view of the domes from the top paths is always stunning and most inviting. The domes were the brainchild of founder Tim Smitt and designed by architect Nicholas Grimshaw.


The walkway down to the main feature, the project’s domes, was early in its development when we last visited so we were amazed at how interesting it was on our return visit. Here is a taster of what we saw as we descended down to the domes.


The first dome is the rain forest zone, where plants that we see more often as house plants grow healthy and tall, flowering and fruiting as in the wild. Exploring the dome takes you right up to the top of the building which affords great views. Wandering back down gives us as much interest to enjoy as on the climb up. Exploring this dome is quite an experience!

After exploring the tropical dome we had a break for refreshments, coffee and cakes as usual and then moved along the corridor leading to the Mediterranean Zone. That is the subject of the next post.








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My Garden Journal 2016 – January

I will once again be keeping my garden journal during 2016 recording my thoughts on our own garden here at Avocet in the tiny hamlet of Plealey situated just inside the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the South Shropshire Hills. I will share the sounds, sights and aromas of our garden and make mention of the wildlife that shares the garden with us. In 2015 I found a quote every month from a little book, ” Led by the Nose” written by Jenny Joseph. In 2016 I will look back at what I recorded in my first garden journal which I began in the first full year of living in Plealey. Although we moved here in August 2004 my journal began in January 2005. It will be interesting to compare 2005 with 2016.

So, welcome to our “Avocet” garden in 2016. I hope you enjoy the journey through the months with me.

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My first page for 2016 features my gouache painting of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few words about this charismatic garden visitor.

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“The Great Spotted Woodpecker makes its presence felt in our garden. It is black and white with splashes of bright red. It announces its arrival with a loud call as it flies in with its undulating flight. It hits the bird feeders hard so they swing around. These hungry birds stay feeding for far longer then any other bird.”

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On the opposite page I write “Gardeners often pose the question“What is your favourite season in the garden?” It is easier for some to answer this question and they quickly give a definitive answer, while others find the choice impossible to make. For me? Well, I admit  I always answer “The one we are in.” Not many gardeners will say “winter” viewing it as a “non-time” in their gardens. Many put their gardens to bed for the winter by chopping a huge percentage of the plants to the ground. Their interest only returns when spring bulbs burst into flower. I absolutely love the winter garden!”

I illustrate the page with my watercolour painting of two hips from Rosa “Graham Thomas”, a David Austin New English Rose which we grow as a climber. It gives joy to the gardener for many months of the year with its profuse golden sunny yellow blooms and when it finally gives up in December it begins to produce its green hips which quickly turn to yellow then orange.

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Turning the page over I write “As the weather turns colder at the end of the first week of the new year we are delighted to see the garden full of birds. Often we hear our feathered visitors before we see them. While spending a day in the garden cutting down soggy perennials we heard the Buzzards mewing over our heads and the grating call of Mistle Thrushes defending their favourite berried trees. The high pitch calls of Goldcrests are barely audible” Below these words we find my gouache painting of a pair of Goldcrests.

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Foliage features on the opposite page where I write “In winter flowers generally give way to interesting foliage on both shrubs and evergreen perennials. There is such a wide variety of shapes, colours and textures to be found in our January garden”.

A selection of photographs which I took in the garden on the same morning follows.

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Turning the next page my text is all about the scents of winter flowering shrubs.

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“Scent is such a powerful force in the winter garden and it is shrubs that put in a strong performance. We plant these scented shrubs close to paths so that we can enjoy them close up. On still days though their perfumes can be appreciated all over the garden. Cornus mas, the Cornelian Cherry, has a delicate scent but striking flowers of a bright yellow to which sunlight adds a hint of lime green to make it really zing.” 

A much more strongly scented winter flowering shrub grows close to the main path in our back garden and is generous with its scent spreading it all over nearby borders, is Daphne bhuloa “Jacquiline Postill”.

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On the page opposite I put the spotlight on a plant called “Physalis alkenengi” as I had come across the skeletal remains of its fruiting head while gardening in the Hot Garden.

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I write “Physalis alkekengi is a strange little plant. It is inconspicuous for most of the year apart for twice when it gives splashes of colour. We rarely notice its off-white flowers in mid-summer but bright red papery “lanterns” soon follow. Inside its lanterns are hidden glossy orange berries. The wet decay of winter breaks down the papery cases which turn biscuit coloured before the flesh falls away leaving a lantern shaped net within which sits the orange berry.”

I illustrated this page with a watercolour painting of this little garden treasure. It was a great challenge!

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My next page is about two gardeners at work. Jude the Undergardener and I produce our own bean poles and pea sticks to use on our crops which we grow on our allotment plot.

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“Bean Poles and Pea Sticks

We have reached the stage now where our garden has matured enough to allow us to produce our own bean poles and pea sticks to use on our allotment. Our two Hazels provide us with the majority, but other shrubs add to our stash when we prune them.”

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On the page opposite I share my photos of the first frost of 2016.

“The first frost of the year arrived in the third week of January. It added a new white dimension to foliage which sported rims of tiny white crystals.”

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My final words and pictures in my January entry in my garden journal look back at my 2005 garden journal and a current garden project.

“Looking back at my January entries in my garden journal of 2005, I notice that I was then building a heated propagator in our new 14 foot by 8 foot greenhouse. This has served us well over the years making seed germination so much easier. This year I am making a much bigger propagating bench. For this version I will need support of my Undergardener, Jude.”

I hope you enjoy my photographic journey through this most enjoyable two day project. It was a good task to do while the weather outside was too cold, windy and wet to get any outdoor gardening done. The greenhouse was warm and snug so a good place to be working.  When describing our efforts I used short captions for each photograph.

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Using recycled wood we made a new bench. We checked it was perfectly level.”

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“We fixed in a double layer of insulation boards after adding an edge of 6 inch board. Then we fixed on a layer of plastic sheet.”

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“We added a 2 inch layer of soft sand. The control box, thermostat and probe were fixed to the box.”

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“Then we laid out our heating cable carefully. The cable had to be covered in soft sand.”

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A second layer of soft sand was added to a depth of 2 inches. We carefully made it level. The final touch – a layer of capillary matting”.

Here ends the entries from the first monthly entry into my Garden Journal for 2016. See you in February when we will start to use our newly constructed heated propagation bench.




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Croft Castle month by month – Part 5 May

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We are almost half way through the year now so we were expecting to see some big changes at Croft on our May visit.

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We made our May visit to Croft Castle on a warm sunny day so everything in the garden looked colourful and full of cheer. The leaves were fully out on all the trees and herbaceous plants were beginning to flower.

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The long border we always pass as we make our way towards the walled garden is now lush with every shade of green with occasional splashes of flower colour. Our view from the long border towards the church and castle is framed beautifully by trees in full leaf. The Horse Chestnuts were in full blossom. They are beautiful flowers when looked at close up.

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On the walls of the buildings close to the walled garden roses were in full bloom.

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As we passed through the gateway into the waled garden we were amazed by how much the first view had changed. It simply looked so green and lush.

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For the first time this year the vineyard at Croft was showing signs of growth with shining bronze-green leaves bursting from every bud.

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We expected to see major changes as we walked through the blue gates to look at the greenhouse and the surrounding garden. Bright reds of poppies hit us first but close by these cute bantams were definitely new. We certainly found plenty of colour in the greenhouse as plants under cover were flowering way ahead of their normal time.

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Leaving the greenhouse area back through the blue gates we could see that the productive gardens had made a lot of progress since our visit in April. Gooseberries were fruiting and rows of vegetable plants were now established. The sunshine brought out the colours in the borders along the walls.

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We just had to stop to admire these beautifully pollarded willows, now regrowing strongly. The Cirsium rivulare was in full bloom and looked good against the old garden buildings.

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Along the fourth side of the walled garden the light was so bright that colours seemed extra vibrant and exciting.

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For the first time this year there was interest in the Rose Garden with groundcover beneath the roses in flower and indeed the first roses were open and giving the gift of their scent to anyone passing by.

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After leaving the walled garden we wandered around castle itself where we enjoyed tempting views over the meadows to the lake and countryside beyond.

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The open gate into the meadows was just too tempting for us. We followed a mown path through the wildflowers.

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Croft is well-known for its ancient Sweet Chestnut trees. We were fascinated by the texture of the bark on this group.

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Our next visit in June will be the half way mark through our year of visiting Croft Castle gardens.



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Croft Castle month by month – January – part two

Welcome back to Croft Castle where we were about to find out what lies beyond the blue gate. We entered the space beyond the gate and found immediately to our right one of the gardeners’ buildings from the days when the walled gardens were a productive fruit and veg garden. Today it is a children’s discovery room complete with nature table. A board showed the gardening tasks for the month. Close by hung an old pruning saw.

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After a good peruse among the dusty artifacts and sharing our memories of nature tables at primary school we moved on to the old, wooden framed greenhouse which until now we had viewed from the gate. On this visit we went inside. We were delighted to find the old iron mechanisms that controlled the windows and vents still intact. We both find these fascinating and are amazed by the ingenuity shown by the greenhouse designers of that era.

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We were pleased to find a colourful line up of watering cans and a very healthy looking Cobaea climbing up wires and flowering profusely. It was easy to see why it is graced with the common name “Cup and Saucer Vine”.

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Outside the greenhouse we found a stack of apple trees heeled into a pile of compost awaiting the time when the frozen ground allowed them to be planted. Further old buildings hugged the walls – they were ina tumbled down state. The old window attracted me and my camera but I remain undecided if it is best as a colour or monochrome picture. Any thoughts?

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We continued our tour of the main walled garden following the herbaceous borders to discover ancient apple trees beautifully pruned ready for fruiting next season. Their trunks and branches were encrusted with lichens and mosses creating miniature landscapes. Clumps of Mistletoe decorated several of the trees. This is a common parasitic plant in the orchards of Herefordshire. A Mistletoe Fair and market are held in December every year in the nearby market town of Tenbury Wells. They are famous for their mistletoe auctions.

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Along the third and fourth walls mixed borders included many shrubs which were well pruned in readiness for new growth when spring arrives. In the central area among the grass willows had been pruned too, cut into low pollarding and coppicing to encourage fresh, long new wands to cut and use around the garden as plant supports or sculpture.

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I enjoyed a play with this pic on Photoshop!

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We were attracted to the opened seed pods of a Paeony with its four sections of woody shell. I certainly enjoyed playing with the image on Photoshop! Here you can select your favourite of three versions.

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The sweet scent of the pink flowers of Viburnum bodnantense reached our noses long before we spotted the shrub itself. Next to it in the border was the giant stalk of the biggest Lilly we can grow in the UK, the statuesque Cardiocrinum giganteum.

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In the growing seasons there are some lovely features within the walled garden like little garden rooms, including a pool garden and a rose garden. In the winter they are so cold and bare! But an odd Rose bloom was trying hard when we visited. It sadly offered no scent though, unlike the neighbouring Rosemary with its gentle aroma coming from the tiny china blue flowers and the Lonicera frangrantisima, the Winter Flowering Honeysuckle.

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The gardeners have been busy making a huge “bug hotel” which is now almost complete. They have been having fun!

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Reluctantly leaving the walled garden through a stone archway, we found small courtyard gardens linked by interesting textural paths. We gained views of the rear of the castle building and its huge water butt!

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A further archway in a stone wall took us to a quartered courtyard garden with white benches and heavily pruned rose bushes. A strong wind blew through this area, making life difficult when I wanted to take a photograph of a Primrose flowering well out of season, resulting in a blurred close up of my scarf. Oh dear! But I did manage in the end. Definitely better without the scarf.

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Rounding the next corner we could look out over the low stone wall across the meadows towards the lake and woodlands. The weather was not right for exploring these areas, so we decided to save it for warmer times. Above the corner tower an unusual wooden bell tower peered. Against the house wall we found a second scented Viburnum bodnantense heavy with blossom.

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The  tiny garden surrounding the estate church is often colourful but in winter colour was total lacking. The tower of the church was covered in scaffolding and it looked as if restoration work was well under way. I will share some pictures of this lovely building when the scaffolding is down later in the year.

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We finally reached the front entrance to the castle, the massive door protected by stone-carved dragon sentinels. As we retraced our steps along the herbaceous border and stone wall we looked back to get views of the whole castle frontage.

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Our next visit will be in February when we will see if anything in the garden changes as the days lengthen slightly and the light values improve. It may be a bit warmer too! Fingers crossed.

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Aiming for a year round garden – late spring.

It is only a few weeks since I published my post looking at our garden in early spring, but it is time for another look to see how we are doing where our aim of trying to establish a year round garden is concerned. It is amazing how much has changed in that time.

Come for awalk with me and my camera!

Let us start in the front garden with a look at our gravel garden, The Beth Chatto Border, where we find the brightest of colours radiating from various Euphorbias. In sharp contrast a near black Iris crysophagres has flowers of the darkest indigo.

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In the other borders in the front garden the last of the spring bulbs mingle with the earliest of the herbaceous perennials.

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The Shed Bed also rings with the colour of Euphorbia and the newly revamped water feature gives a gentle bubbling sound for us to enjoy. This water feature is created from metal objects we dug up when we first made the garden and we have now planted miniature Hostas and different varieties of Tricyrtis around it. The view down the path to the chickens is framed by the richest of blues of the Ceanothus. The little slate border by the shed is displaying the first flower on our Tulbaghias along with the tiny pink blooms of the Erodium. In the insect hotel a pair of Dunnock have built their nest just a few inches above the ground and about 6 inches from the path.

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The Freda Border is full of every shade of green punctuated by the pale blue of the Camassias. Nearby in the alpine troughs and crates the Saxifragas flower like myriads of tiny red gems.

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On the opposite side of the house the Shade Garden, the only part of the garden which is shaded, looks lush and lively.

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Moving along from the Shade Garden towards the back garden we wander through the Seaside Garden and into the Rill Garden.

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From the Rill Garden we can take the central path past the greenhouse, where Jude aka Mrs Greenbench or The Undergardener, is busy tending her hundreds of seedling veggies, annuals and perennials. It is a very productive place!

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Turning left just past the greenhouse the borders surrounding our small lawned area are bursting with late spring colour and fresh growth.

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Just off this lawned area we enter the Japanese Garden with its pool which is an essential element of any oriental garden but here it doubles up as a wildlife pool.

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We can wander along a gravel path back towards the central pathway and along the way we can look at the Prairie Garden on our right and the Bog Garden on our left.

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In the Bog Garden foliage predominates with Hostas, Ligularias and Rheum purpureum. One flower worth a close up look is this stunning Primula which sadly we don’t know the name of.

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A glance over our shoulder gives us the chance to look back over the pool towards the Summerhouse.

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On the opposite side of the central pathway we find the Chicken Garden and the Secret Garden both now still full of colour from spring bulbs but bursting with the burgeoning growth of the herbaceous perennials.

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Wandering back along the path towards the shed we can appreciate close up the beauty and complexity of the Camassia flowers.

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Our little Slate Garden is colourful now with Auriculas and Primulas in full bloom.

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So there we have it –  a gentle wander around our garden in early May. It all looks very different now just a few weeks after my early Spring post. The next post in this series will be in early Summer when I guess we can look forward to even bigger changes. I shall finish this post with a photo of the Ceanothus that kept getting blown out of the ground root and all during the gales of Winter. But just look at it now! It illustrates just how resilient plants are. It has a sweet scent that welcomes us whenever we go to the shed to pick up the tools we need in the garden each day. Sadly I am not sure I like it when it flowers so heavily.

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Two Welshpool Town Gardens

June’s Hardy Plant Society garden visit took us to two little town gardens. The first garden was truly tiny and the second slightly less tiny. They were perfect if very different examples of what it is possible to achieve in such small spaces. The secret to them both was wriggly paths leading the eyes and feet around to discover hidden secrets.

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The tiniest of the two had planting at all levels from tiny specimens right by your toes to trees above your head and the borders were full of unusual plants. Little surprises.

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The gardeners here even found room for an alpine house, a fruit cage and a couple of little water features.

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Humour is essential in any garden however small.

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Humour reigned supreme in the second garden we visited that morning. There were interesting arches, grottoes, seating areas all surrounded in lush planting.

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Hidden throughout this little patch were containers planted up skilfully to give surprises wherever we turned.

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Deep in the heart of this little paradise we came across a cool enclosed garden where we found ourselves in for a real treat – a little glimpse of the Far East.

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This garden was tightly fitted within a group of houses close by the town’s main church and occasionally we caught glimpses of these other buildings through the foliage.

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Atop one of the many little outbuildings lived a very healthy and happy green roof.

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This was a very special garden – a place to relax and become engulfed in plants. In the afternoon we met again as a group to enjoy a very different garden in a very different setting. We found ourselves out in the open high up on a hillside with big skies above a wide view. This garden features in my next post.

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Looking Back One – An Hour at Croft Castle

This is the third in the series of posts looking back at garden visits we enjoyed last summer and autumn. Here we shall remember our autumn visit to the grounds of Croft Castle in South Shropshire.

Croft Castle is a favourite National Trust property. We often visit to enjoy a walk around the gardens and take tea in the teashop. On this autumn day we only had a short time but still managed to do both!

Croft is famous for its ancient avenue of Sweet Chestnut trees which are now sadly coming to the end of their lives. Their gnarled, pitted bark shows their great age and makes you imagine just what they would have seen going on under their boughs and all around them over the centuries. If only they could tell.



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The Gardens of the RHS Part Six – Orchids at Wisley

The new Centenary Glasshouse at Wisley is one of our favourite, regular places for visiting and enjoying.


In our September wander we made several detours through its big sliding doors and into its warm, dry interiors as thunder storms threatened to periodically drown us. We always enjoy the glasshouse plants but Jude the Undergardeners favourites have to be the orchids, although here she is admiring a Passionflower.


If we visit any garden with orchids hardy or greenhouse varieties she is drawn to them. But I don’t complain – they are unbelievably beautiful, the blooms richly coloured and eccentrically shaped. Here under the protection of Wisley’s glass roof they flourish.

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With such a stunning, varied and comprehensive collection of orchids what glasshouse could wish for more?

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Wisley Part Five – The Centenary Glasshouse

I promised you a sample of the delights of the RHS’s Centenary Glasshouse, and here they are.


Usually in glasshouses the flowers are the stars of the show so just for a change let us begin by bringing foliage to the fore and letting leaves revel in the lime-light.

Foliage in all shapes, sizes, textures, markings and colours are to be found around every corner.

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Now for the flowers!

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The Gardens of the RHS Part 1 – A Tour of Wisley


The Royal Horticultural Society is probably the most important, most well known and most influential gardening society in the world. We are lucky to live in the UK where we have access to their own gardens and to their recommended list of gardens open to the public.

Last Year we enjoyed visits to three of their four gardens, Rosemoor in Devon, Harlow Carr in Yorkshire and their main garden Wisley in Surrey. The one we didn’t get around to seeing was Hyde Hall in Essex – maybe later this year.

In this series of posts I shall share our visits with you. We naturally begin with their main garden, Wisley. There is so much of interest to gardeners that I shall post a blog each day this week based on different aspects of Wisley. Hopefully these will provide a little respite from the cold and wet. So please enjoy my Wisley Week.

Perhaps we had better start with one of the classic Wisley views. Then I shall share a few views to give a feeling for this special place.


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These huge sloping double borders were designed by the great Piet Oudolf. We saw them first just as they were planted when it was mostly soil dotted with little young plants all raring to go. Every visit we make to Wisley we head for these borders to see how they have developed. Over time they have been altered with some plants replaced with more effective, more appropriate ones. They are now at their peak. See more of Piet Oudolf’s borders in a future post “Meadows and Prairies at Wisley”. DSC_0094

The recently built Centenary Glasshouse is a work of art in itself, one of the finest examples of garden architecture to be seen anywhere at anytime. Look out for the future posts, “Orchids at Wisley” and “The Centenary Glasshouse at Wisley”, to see what is going on under all that glass.DSC_0095 What would a visit to Wisley be without a gallery of plants?


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In my next Wisley blog I invite you to share a selection of sculpture which was displayed around the grounds at the time of our visit.