A Letter from America by Suzanne Albinson

October 25, 2010

in Articles, From the USA, Garden Reviews, Reviews

Sue lives in Vermont and recently came to the UK to visit gardens with her friend, Kath. She wrote to me about the trip afterwards and I thought her letter was so refreshing in its frankness and enthusiasm that I have added it (with her permission) to thinkinGardens. These are her personal views, they are not necessarily those of thinkinGardens.

See below for comments on and links to the gardens.

Suzanne Albinson’s trip to visit English Gardens

Dear Anne,

I went to 24 gardens. Some of the gardens were A gardens, some Fs. Apart from your garden, which we both admired and loved, my three favourites were Bourton House in Glos, Packwood House in Warwicks and Marks Hall in Essex. Kath particularly loved Foggy Bottom and I think she would agree with me about the other three.

Considering the time of year, we saw some beautifully planted gardens with loads of colour and high garden husbandry. There was an abundance of neatly clipped box and yew in most of the gardens and immaculate lawns and edges (not your cup of tea). If the borders didn’t hack it, the hedges and lawns possibly saved the garden.

I suppose I am always looking for the WOW factor. I love flowers but I now have a real appreciation for grasses and boy, are they used extensively. What did gardeners do before grasses became available? The most successful plantings were blocks of a single plant combined with another block of a complimentary plant and interjected by grasses. The hot border at Bourton House was extraordinary – the choice of plants and colour combinations made it the best hot border of the lot and nearly every garden had a hot border.

Bressingham with all those island beds was incredible as far as the amount of plant material was concerned and some of the plant combinations were very imaginative, but island beds are not my favourite way of displaying plants. Beth Chatto is very Bloom influenced. I’ve been to her garden twice at this time of the year and I’m not that excited.

Marks Hall, our last garden, I thought was really fabulous. It really appealed to my sense of colour, style and neatness. The stream and pond walk up to the Walled Garden and Millenium Walk was lovely, lots of geese, a whole flower meadow (a late seeding?). The walled garden is open on the south side and the designer who renovated it chose to put in a low hedge along that side to give a sense of enclosure but to permit views across the lake to the planted walk on the far side. This was planted for autumn colour but we were a bit early. The walled garden is divided into five smaller gardens to create rhythm with a long border along the back. The plants were so well grown and the colour combinations beautiful – lots of Aster amellus ‘Violet Queen’, and Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ used like sculptures. I would love to visit this garden at other times of the year. There are lots of other sections to Marks Hall which we didn’t have time to explore.

Comments on the gardens:

Avebury Manor, Wilts: OK.

Walled Clematis Garden, Brinkworth, Wilts: not interesting.

Abbey House Gardens, Malmesbury: the front part with the topiary still looks good but parts of the garden look neglected. The espaliered apple pergola was very good as they were fruiting.

Westonbirt Arboretum: interesting trees.

Derry’s Special Plants Nursery: some interesting parts such as the stepped hedge, animal sculpture, raised cold frame, pond.

Veddw House Garden, Monmouthshire: goes without saying.

Bourton House, Glos: hot border fabulous, pretty white garden, very well maintained, beautiful container plantings, lots of little garden areas around house all interesting and well planted.

Mill Dene, Glos: c….(censored. ed.)

Coughton Court, Warwicks: good hot border, white garden, grey/blue pavilion matching the colour of the surrounding lavender, thriving vegetable garden.

Hampton Court Castle, Herefordshire: unusual garden pavilions with accompanying water features, through maze to Tower to look over Walled Garden, Orangery restaurant designed by Joseph Paxton.

Baddesley Clinton, Warwicks: amazing Dahlia border, good long border with thatched summer house.

Packwood House, Warwicks: imaginative use of Asters and Stipas, great colour combinations, good hot border, sunken garden.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens: great glasshouse plantings, prairie style plantings, good architecture on study centre building.

Wyken Hall, Suffolk: best restaurant, expensive gift shop, garden in scale with house but not that exciting, well maintained, lots of birds and fowl.

Houghton Hall, Norfolk: great long borders with vistas either end, immaculate lawns, exciting Fire and Water sculpture, lovely glasshouses with intimate one open with water feature, huge Agaves.

Bressingham Gardens, Norfolk: many island beds crammed with plants mostly very imaginative some more so, lots of mowing.

Foggy Bottom, Norfolk: ditto.

Walled Garden, Langham, Suffolk: OK, small nursery in rented walled garden.

Kitchen Garden, Suffolk: c…. (censored. ed).

Lucy Redman (Designer), Suffolk: Lucy tore us around in rain, one stream planting warranted a photo.

RHS Hyde Hall, Essex: somewhat boring.

Beth Chatto, Essex: some borders had good colour combinations, good pond plantings.

Marks Hall, Essex: fabulous see above!

Suzanne Albinson

For more concise garden reviews see Garden Tweets.

This piece has provoked some comment owing to its blunt dismissal of two of the gardens visited. I will be putting together a whole piece, discussing this issue and quoting the comments I have received, sometime in the next few weeks. To join the discussion please email: info@thinkingardens.co.uk

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