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Gardens compared: Witley Court and Hampton Court

Two gardens caught my horticultural eye last week.

The first with ruins of the stately party-house, Witley Court & Gardens in Worcestershire – the evocative remains of a medieval manor turned country mansion.

Repeating mistakes

English Heritage gardener, Martin told me how they removed the grass on the east site to reveal the exact shape of the former parterre.

The team then recreated the box-lined formality – past ‘mistakes’ included, where the perfect circles are just a tad squashed. Some circles used forty plants to complete; others merely 30. Perhaps deliberate perspective. But certainly with satisfying authenticity. Especially by using plants grown from a rare surviving box.

New planting brings Witley Court back to life after decades of decline. The box parterre was recreated from the outline found beneath the turf.

There’s more satisfaction in the audio guide by English Heritage. This has voices of the people that remember Witley when it was the social place to be. The voices add atmosphere to the wonderfully restored ‘Persue and Andromeda’ fountain.

Carefully maintained ruin of the once great stately party-house

Tinged with sadness

The most lavish rooms at Witley Court were destroyed by a 1930s fire. Then antique dealers and vandals damaged what survived.

The ruins were rescued by English Heritage in the 1970s. Witley was made safe, but not returned to glory. I’m thankful it survived demolition when so many great countryside homes were lost.

Witley tell stories of a time, but is frozen in time.

New investment

Hampton Court & Gardens, meanwhile, is far from frozen in time in Herefordshire. My second visit.

This once derelict, 15 century castle with Victoria thrills was put back together by a wealthy benefactor in the 1990s. Sadly, death occurred before the family settled.

I was greeted by the now owners of a busy visitor attraction with wedding venue. Their practical attention to detail was abundant and – as with good business, defining. The property stays alive by attracting new people to visit for a new purpose.

Property and gardens returned to life at Hampton Court

New gardens

Speaking of lively, head gardener Hannah Wilks showed me around the new innards for her Victorian walled gardens. A high-budget creation with canals, pavilions and avenues.

The gardens are managed by four keen gardeners using organic methods. There are green manures nestled among crops. Together with heritage varieties to impress visitors when they escape from the yew maze. Both are satisfying.

Hannah’s garden budget would fit in a seed packet, so was delicately suggested, but there is tenacity in the planting with saved seed and planting donations. Every plant is valued as a result.

Clover green manure with sweetcorn in an organic garden

Concluding thoughts

My horticultural eye was excited by the contrast in gardens – one recreated, another created. Both with commitment by professional gardeners to have their plants tell a satisfying story.

My thanks to the gardening teams for sharing their enthusiam.

Find out more

Witley Court & Gardens (Twitter)
Especially friendly welcome by the English Heritage team on the front desk.

Hampton Court & Gardens, Privately owned (Twitter)
Visit with the Institute of Horticulture ‘West Midlands and South Wales’ branch on the 20th July 2013. Click here for details

Many thanks

Philip Turvil

Photo diary: 2013 BBC Gardeners’ World Live

There’s a 27% sales increase on this time last year for BBC Gardeners’ World Live starting today at the NEC Birmingham, 12 – 16 June 2013.

Show manager, Jenny Jenner gives some credit to the vigorous RHS social media campaign that ‘offers such quick’ interaction with visitors and the nurseries.

Response to skills shortage

“I’m a horticulturalist” continues Jenny, with her Wisley diploma. There are high standards. “We want to encourage new gardeners through attending the show”. This includes the college show gardens with a realistic budget and timescale ‘for their first career step’. Together with nine schools, diversity of society stands, and the show’s largest floral marquee.

Outgoing RHS president, Elizabeth Banks added “We want to encourage gardeners by helping people to help themselves; giving them the courage to start and knowing where get advice.”

Visit show website / Twitter

Response to attitude shortage

Nursery owner, John Lockyer, is taking on extra staff now the weather has improved and ‘nature is catching up on itself’ among his award winning fuchsia collection. An attitude shortage is the problem, states John, rather than the skills, preferring to hire people “that actually want to do the job and not clock watch; who take satisfaction in their work”. Often, new staff are known to the nursery for a while.

Tony Smith's latest grass sculpture - stunning. Eight Gunneras. Secret lettuce in the middle, too. http://www.hortusinfinitus.co.uk/

'Pretty & Productive' - veg raised bed with flowering delights by the National Allotment Society http://www.nsalg.org.uk/

See my 2012 show photo gallery

Many thanks

Philip Turvil

Hilliers to tempt visitors with UK’s longest border

White granite paving now holds back 30,000 new plants in the longest double border in the UK at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens.

The border is longer than Tower Bridge, says the garden’s director, Wolfgang Bopp.

There are “new-on-the-scene plants” says their head of collections, David Jewell.

This unveiling concludes a five year project to redesign and replant the ‘Centenary Border’ that was originally planted in 1964 by Sir Harold Hillier to celebrate 100 years of his family business.


Hillier Gardens wants to inspire visitors with exciting plant combinations and offer ideas for their own gardens. It follows 80% removal of overgrown plants by the garden’s team and many of their 150 volunteers.

I feel especially excited to tread the border’s grass promenade again after tending their old border during my horticultural training at the 180 acre gardens and arboretum.

Design approach

The deeper borders now have all-weather access and new diagonal paths to tempt visitors to explore the woodland heart of this world-renowned temperate plant collection.

Landscape designer Julia Fogg said to the Landscape Institute last year “We were keen to maintain the traditional feel of the central path, but also involve visitors more directly with the planting by the way of secondary angled cross paths that lead through the borders and offer an optional route in and out of the bordering woodland.”

Through the ages

Early days: The Centenary Border with Jack Brice in 1965 - one year after Sir Harold Hillier starting planting with roses and a backbone of evergreen trees. Sir Harold reportedly made the border the distance of ten cricket wickets totalling 220 yards. Photo: Hillier family

From my days: The Centenary Border cuts in half the ten acre field once used by the family business. It's now at the heart of the world-renowned plant collection managed and operated by Hampshire County Council - a charitable trust with remit in horticulture, conservation, education and recreation. Photo: Philip Turvil

Market context

This investment by Hillier Gardens needs to pay back in visitor numbers. It’s all eyes on their marketing and taking every chance to nudge up secondary spend once people are on-site.

The Centenary Border particularly needs to delivery when historic and botanic gardens have struggled to attract visitors in 2012’s poor weather in addition to the continued recession that deterred cash-poor households in 2011.

I’ve worked in a number of open gardens and the most successful continuously research what visitors need and test ideas. And better still, create the demand in the first place with community outreach. While there’s an inevitable dip in the public’s ‘discretionary’ garden visits during economic downturn, imaginative investment will help moderate the impact.

UK gardens with long borders

News round up

With many thanks

Philip Turvil

Olympic Park tour with London 2012 update

Every plant is rushing at the Olympic Park.

The golden meadows can’t be late for an expectant global audience at the opening ceremony on the 27th July 2012 and Games beyond.

Although I’m not worried after hearing on Thursday from London 2012’s head of sustainability, David Stubbs and meadow expert Professor Nigel Dunnett from the University of Sheffield. Not with two-year trials topping-up 20 years of research, plus succession sowing, grey-water irrigation, germination testing, brave varieties…

Soon-to-be-golden meadows outside the Olympic Stadium

Attention to detail

There’s as much careful thought in the stadium gardens and four world-plant displays along the canal.

They’re waiting to impress visitors crossing the bridges with large Hillier trees and mixed coloured blocks designed by Sarah Price and co. Even the large concrete block seating are finished smoothly to feel warm.

Head Gardener Des Smith and his team will have horticultural night shifts during the Games to maintain the gardens. Apparently the trial went nicely with head torches. They’re hoping for lots of visitor enjoyment and little deliberate damage.

Inspiration continued

There were smiles all round from the tour group of keen growers. Over 100 gathered for a recording of BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time in the aquarium.

My thanks to LOCOG for my invite as a London 2012 Local Leader. I’m supporting ‘Garden for the Games’ to help communities celebrate the Games with these flower and vegetable growing guides.

The Olympic Park must show off UK horticulture to the world. I believe it will during the Games – and with ongoing pressure and investment, will continue when its development starts again in autumn.

I hope that inspiring domestic and industry gardeners becomes the park’s legacy.

Admiring gardens in the Olympic Park on the 14 June 2012. The site hands over to the new London Legacy Development Corporation later in the 2012 and becomes the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2013. Please see weblinks below for HW stories.

Inspiring community involvement: the London 2012 Local Leader West Midlands launch at Garden Organic's Ryton Gardens in April 2012 with their 'Country in a Basket' design. As of last week, there are 14,000 Local Leaders signed up since January 2012 is this exciting national campaign.

An earlier horticultural treat at the '100 days to go' celebration at RBG, Kew in April planting a Coubertin Oak (see weblink below). The oak joined thousands of violas and mints in five enormous Olympic Rings designed for passing aircraft! L-R David Stubbs, Amanda-Jane Kiely, Craig Harrison, Pamela Warhust CBE, Ron Melville, Tony Kirkham

News round up

HW: Interview with Olympic Park head gardeners, Des Smith

HW: Growers report jubilee success

HW: Largest ever man-made wildflower meadows herald Olympics

HW: Olympic Park legacy programme sets ambition for area prosperity

HW: Sustainability commitments outlined in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park guide

HW: Designers share plant ideas

Useful links

BBC News: Growing for gold with Olympic gardening

BBC News: Gardeners weather the storm for Olympics

London 2012 Local Leader guides: flower and vegetable growing guides, Line the Streets, Opening Night In, Super Saturday

Garden Organic’s Become a Local Leader with London 2012, West Midlands launch, and Flickr images

London Legacy Development Corporation

Coubertin Oaks Project

With many thanks

Philip Turvil

Gardeners’ World Live 2012 highlights

Sun returned just in time for the awards at BBC Gardeners World Live 2012.

I visited on Tuesday evening after a tempting Garden Media Guild invite.

I most enjoyed the design by Oxfam GB using recycled materials. Very imaginative and worthy winners of the  ‘Most Creative Small Garden’.

Oxfan GB winners Andy Wayro and Drew Markou won 'Most Creative Small Garden' awarded by RHS President Elizabeth Banks

There was a début design by horticuturalist Sam Wilson with Garden Organic‘s Sowing New Seeds programme. The edible display had unusual and exotic vegetable varieties grown by migrant communities on UK allotments. A trend to watch out for as varieties continue to diversify.

Garden Organic's Sowing New Seeds display

The spontaneous display ‘Apple of my eye’ sprung up from spare turf from novel designer Tony Smith. I thoroughly enjoyed.

Apple of my Eye, Tony Smith

Tony’s lead design was just as striking as last year’s grass columns, but his 2012 garden was larger. ‘Dominion’ shouted an environmental message about our relationship with nature, complete with God-like seat, combined his trademark subtle details.

Dominion by Tony Smith

There was Silver-Gilt for G-Scapes of Lichfield Ltd with excellent plant choices from this family-run business. The attention to detail of the outer fencing and inside partitions were perfect for the outdoor room design – and their team enjoyed wine on the all-weather furniture! High budget to replicate, but sure to inspire show visitors.

G-Scapes team

This year’s BBC GW Live had inspiring moments with organisers claiming higher standards in 2012. A good result despite the poor weather troubling RHS show director Stephen Bennett in the build up (reported in HW 15 6 12).

Click here to read Rona Wheeldon’s blog about Adam Frost’s best in show garden.

Many thanks

Philip Turvil

Ashwood Nurseries hosts Garden Media Guild

I was greeted by hellebores

The Garden Media Guild (GMG) briefing day attracted horticultural writers and photographers to South Staffordshire last week to tour the garden of plantsman John Massey of Ashwood Nurseries.

Hellebores nodded as we heard stories about the plants, together with his design inspiration from some our industry greats, including Christopher Lloyd.

John’s garden combines great design aesthetic with the precision of a botanic eye. It’s blessed with access to some the country’s most exciting varieties and united by the charming quirks of the owner and his friends and family.

You can probably tell, I rather liked it! And after seeing the early spring garden, I hope to return every season.

Attention turned to vegetables

Dr Laurence Trueman swapped flowers for crops in his entertaining journey through the impacts of eating fresh fruit and veg.

He’s the Award leader in Human Nutrition at the University of Worcester, ‘dedicated to disseminating our current understanding on how our food effects how we live and die’.

Dr Trueman offered an understandable and compelling case for healthy eating. No easy task. I noticed each GMG member had a particularly green lunch!

I’m looking forward to finding out more and best ways for explaining these messages, especially for when I train Garden Organic’s local Master Gardeners.

Websites to watch

Special thanks to Jill and Michael from the Garden Media Guild for organising such a wonderful day. Click here to see upcoming events.

Many thanks

Philip Turvil

John Massey at Ashwood Nurseries, March 2012 Garden Media Guild briefing day

Edible Garden Show leaves good after taste

I was hungry before my second step

Foody smells filled the exhibition halls at Stoneleigh Park as I joined the first of 13,000 visitors over three busy days, 16-18 March 2012.

There were over 2,000 more visitors from the show’s inaugural outing last year

Click here to read HW’s story about their first event

The diversity struck me next

There was abundant GYO advice with established folk such as NSALG and intriguing firms like GrowVeg.com.

They combined with small food producers, garden sundry people, and bee experts. Also environmental charities such as RSPB, National Trust, and Wildlife Trust.

There was a remarkable number of livestock stands with hens, pigs and goats. A nice nod to the former Royal Agricultural Show at Stoneleigh.

I was there with the locally based Garden Organic. I thoroughly enjoyed introducing their Master Gardeners daily in the ‘Potting Shed’ and my weekend Q&A in the experts’ theatre.

So where next?

Well, the show contrasts with big flower shows. No visitor left with stray pollen. No show gardens or judging.

Very friendly show. Always a pleasure to share tips with well-travelled exhibitors and visitors. Lincolnshire, Kent, and Bristol stick in my mind; as do Brassica tips. Lots of locals kept the Warwickshire Life stand busy.

The Edible Garden Show is independently organised with own-booked celebrities. There was James Wong, Rachel Green, Pippa Greenwood, and Paul Peacock.

I very much look forward to next year’s show: 15-17 March 2013

Many thanks

Philip Turvil

Garden Organic Master Gardeners Sue and Mike with Ian, Julie and Will

Grow Your Own, anyone? Photo from inside the first of two huge halls

Colourful launch for Local Leaders

I’ve had a colourful week.

London 2012 published growing guides today for plants matching their official colours, together with palettes for Olympic Rings, Paralympic, and Team GB.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with their enthusiastic team. We’ve put together tips for their fast-expanding network of ‘Local Leaders’.

Read the HW story here: ‘Thousands gear up to garden for the Olympic Games’

Local Leaders support friends and communities celebrate the games by growing and sharing themed veg and flowers. Lots of events, displays, salads, edible bus stops… Click here for case studies so far.

Community colour

London 2012’s growing tips aren’t meant to be prescriptive; more inspirational. So it’ll be fascinating to see how people make this their own. Click for Local Leader sign-up and resources so far.

Oh, keep an eye out too for the grass roots project called UK360 by the charity Media Trust. People across Britain send in films about their local community to be aired on the Community Channel. @ComChanTV. You Tube channel link.

Wedding colours

Surprise email from a horticultural friend.

She asked for flower suggestions for September in shades of yellow, orange and red.

A lovely few minutes followed as my mind wandered back through garden visits, while my arms reached for Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix’s photographic inspiration.

Questionnaire colours

Each section of my latest questionnaire has a different colour.

Please take a moment to imagine soft pastels…

This continues my work with Coventry University in the next round of research with the lovely Master Gardeners and the people they mentor to grow food.

Read the autumn blog about creating the first questions.

Many thanks

Philip Turvil

Spring websites to watch

New dates for the extended Master Gardener programme

More training and support for the lovely volunteers and their mentored ‘households’, plus 100 new Master Gardeners this spring in five areas.

Managed by the national charity, Garden Organic. The programme has supported 30,000 people to grow food since May 2010.

‘Local Leaders’ with London 2012.

Garden for the Games is encouraging people to help their community celebrate the games. They’re publishing their first guides and tips now…

London 2012 have already published ‘Grow for Gold’ with marigolds – spreading this winning colour around the UK with local and mass plantings.

This is lovely idea with a high profile bedding plant. Better still as recommended by Alan Titchmarsh, and perhaps some industry consolation given our mildew-ed impatiens.

Lots more flowers and veg coming soon.


I discovered just how many of our industry folk and firms tweet during my lunch at the Garden Media Guild Awards late last year. Not least Hort Week

So I’ve joined and rather enjoying myself! Find me here: www.twitter.com/philipturvil

Growing Vertical Veg

New website for 2012 with container and urban growing advice from expert Mark Ridsdill Smith. I first met Mark in his role as a local trainer and Islington Master Gardener.

His on the ground approach for where GYO-ers can get their locally-tailored seeds: where to buy seeds and why I love seed swaps and where to find seeds part 2 – exotic, heritage, on-line and local

Many thanks,

Philip Turvil

2012 weather

I thought trees had a bed time. The moment they slip into a satisfying sleep and let the sunlight tempt snowdrops instead. Alas no.

The mild weather filled my garden with plants that never usually meet.

This reminds me of PlantNetwork’s 2008 conference about ‘phenological’ observations – when plants do what – and if botanic and historic gardens should monitor and react to climate change. Look out for the RBG Kew’s 100 plant list.

I found myself complaining about the warm weather on my gardening phone-in show with Mollie Green on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio. I requested a cold snap in the hope of a good crop of fruiting buds on my temperate fruit trees – and fewer pests too.

Although my garlic now begrudges spending Christmas outside.

Even Brussels sprouts are confused. I heard last week from Heritage Seed Library manager, Neil Munro, that these stately veg sometimes need third year to flower if they don’t get enough cold, rather than their usual biennial two-years for saving seed.

But the cold snap is here now!

It’s minus seven degrees centigrade in Coventry. My excited scarf is waiting for me by the front door. I’m going out later to visit my hungover apple trees recovering from Wassailing a couple of weeks back.

Many thanks

Philip Turvil