Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hidcote and Kiftsgate

When we starting planning our England trip, it was clear that it was going to take a little schedule juggling to balance all the places we wanted to visit with the sometimes limited opening hours of privately owned properties.  We almost decided not to go to Gloucestershire, since we were driving all the way from Cambridge (and then back to Windsor), just to visit two gardens.  The factor that pushed us over the edge, however, was that the two gardens were Hidcote and Kiftsgate.  After driving two hours from Cambridge to Gloucestershire, then another two back to Windsor, I can confidently say that it was definitely worth it!

I was completely enamored of Hidcote almost from the first second.  Just seeing this incredible shade of blue used on the gates and other accent pieces on the property made me fall in love with this garden.  To make it even better is the fact that Hidcote is  "all about the plants." 
Hidcote is the garden at which the concept of "garden rooms" was really started and developed, one of them being The Red Border, below.
I loved this combination of hot pinks and orange crocosmia. 
The Beech Allee is very impressive, appearing to go on for miles. 
The greenhouse shelters lots of beautiful tender plants. 
A view from inside a building into the entrance court also caught my eye.

After leaving Hidcote on a complete gardening "high," I don't think I was fully prepared for how incredible Kiftsgate Garden is.  Since it's directly across the street from Hidcote, it's easy to combine the two gardens in one day.  The difference, of course, is that Hidcote is a National Trust property, and Kiftsgate is privately owned and inhabited. 
To say that this garden is "wild" is an understatement.  In some areas it appears as though the four generations of women gardeners are on a quest to see just how large something can grow before it completely engulfs the house. 
Down an incredibly steep hill is the relatively new pool, which is a structural masterpiece in its own right.  The black lining of the pool makes it all the more impressive. The contemporary structure shown is the cabana.
Back up the hill at the main house, another distinctive blue is used in this garden, here on a door leading from one garden room into another. 
This reflecting pool is a fairly recent addition to the garden at Kiftsgate, replacing an unused tennis court.  You need to enlarge this photo to really get the full effect.  Each of those tall copper leaves is dripping water down into the pool. 
This final shot shows another angle of this beautifully controlled "out of control" garden.  This is definitely a pair of gardens that are worth an extra drive!

Jamie Oliver's Cherry Tomato & Sausage Bake

Yesterday was Frank's birthday, and since he's been nursing a head cold since for the past ten days, it called for a very quiet dinner at home.  This recipe proved to be pretty perfect for the evening.

• 2kg lovely ripe cherry tomatoes, mixed colours if you can find them
• 2 sprigs each of fresh thyme, rosemary and bay
• 1 tablespoon dried oregano
• 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
• 12 good-quality Cumerland or coarse Italian pork sausages
• extra virgin olive oil
• balsamic vinegar
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Splash a little oil in a roasting pan (I used 9 x 15), then add in the tomatoes, garlic and herbs.  Add a couple of tablespoons of Balsamic, then give it all a stir.  Lay the sausages on top of this mixture, and pop in the oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven, turn the sausages over, and put back in for another 30 minutes.

NOTES:  I went to Whole Foods and got three different chicken-based sausages, which was really good, though I think it might be even better with pork-based sausage.  I served this with farfalle pasta tossed into a seasoned olive oil, and a Caesar.  Super easy, and something I will definitely make again soon!  The added bonus is that any leftovers can be rough-chopped and added to the leftover pasta for a great lunch! 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sandringham Estate

One of the favorite places for me was Sandringham Estate, which is the Queen's country home in Northeast England.  While we were touring the house, an elderly gentleman who was serving as a docent said, "This is the house where Her Majesty is not "Her Majesty;" this is where she is "Granny".  Although I obviously don't know the Queen, this is a home and garden that feels like the country home of an older (very wealthy) woman, not a property that feels regal and off-putting like Buckingham Palace.

As one enters the gate, the house is visible across the enormous lawn, which is very much in scale with the house.  Following the path through the wooded areas, glimpses of the house keep coming in and out of view.  
Along the walk, I fell in love with this conifer, which was not labeled.  The coloration is just incredible!   (Click to enlarge to get the full effect).
Most of the seasonal containers were blues and purples, which were quite perfect for the soft brick color and the 80-something owner.  This enormous container (approx 8 feet by 4 feet) was jammed with vanilla-scented heliotrope. 
Lots of lavender, fuschia and soft fluffy flowers in the traditional containers around the terraces. 
A beautiful view from the terrace across the lawn to a pond, below. 
Having come from Atlanta's 90 plus degree weather, a day strolling around Sandringham (with stops for the requisite scones with clotted cream) was pretty perfect!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Barnsdale Gardens

After leaving Sissinghurst, we started the trek northward, though we really weren't going all that far.  We stopped first at Bishop's Stortford, which is the ancestral home of  my dad's family.  It struck me as odd that I never associated them with Tudor England, though I've done extensive family research over the years, and was fully aware that they left England in the early 1600's.   Something that really "hit me over the head" on this trip was the association with the political scene in England at the time both sides of my family chose to leave to make a new life in what would later become New England.
We were going to be staying at Knapwell Woods Farm (another great B & B, just outside Cambridge) for a couple of days, and one of the "must see" places nearby is Barnsdale Gardens, which is the nursery/garden center started by Geoff Hamilton.  As I've said earlier, some of these garden centers are simply incredible, and Barnsdale is definitely not an exception to that statement!  More than 30 fully-designed and planted display areas, to give the consumer an idea of what it will all look like when it's put together.  What is particularly nice is that they are each the size of a small city lot, not a huge country property.

 This first one convinced Frank that we need a greenhouse at home. 
I really liked this arbor, apples on one side, pears on the other.
Another distinctive blue used as an accent color, this type for beehives in a giant bed of anemones. (Makes me feel better about the color choice for my "not shed" door at home.)
The Mediterranean Garden, below.

A really striking knot/water garden......with minor plant modifications, this seemed a pretty "typical" Charleston/Atlanta look that could easily be duplicated (with a high maintenance schedule in mind).

After all of that, imagine my delight when I saw this "simple" hanging basket outside our quarters at Knapwell Wood Farm!

Monday, September 27, 2010


However "touristy" it may be at this point, there is a certain magic to Sissinghurst.  I am delighted that we went toward the end of the season, and that we went on a Monday. 

When we visited Florence a few years ago, I obssessed about Michelangelo's "David," and managed to be the first visitor in the Academia that morning.  Sissinghurst was the same for me.  I was clear that I was going to be the first person through the gate, and that I was going to be able to stand on top of the tower by myself for a little while and just take it all in.  Fortunately it worked out very easily, though there were a few elderly English ladies left with bruised shins (and they say Americans are rude....)

Because I am a hopeless romantic at heart, I can absolutely see what Vita Sackville-West saw in this property many years ago, because it really is one of the most romantic places I've been.  This is the view of "The Cottage Garden" from the tower, below.  That's a pretty cool view to have from your office!
Watching these guys trim hedges was very cool.  If you enlarge the photo you can see the plumb bob that he's using to make sure the edges are perfectly straight. 
The colchium that have naturalized in the orchard were just beautiful!
I particularly loved this sculpture peeking out from beneath a tree in a corner of the famous white garden.
This ancient trough filled with sedum was pretty special, too! 
Crinums and barberry are a beautiful combo that I'm definitely going to recreate at home. 
All in all, an incredible way to spend a slightly chilly morning....I can die happy now......

A Great Salad at Harvey Nichols

Since I haven't mentioned food in a while on here, I thought I would mention an incredible salad I had at the Harvey Nichols store in Knightsbridge last weekend.  As much of an "institution" that Harrod's is in London, Harvey Nichols has an incredible sense of style that seems always to be fresh and cutting edge.

In any case, we were having lunch there and I ordered "Adam's Salad," which was really awesome (I was trying to detox from all of the "full English breakfasts".)

As best as I can figure, it has  bitter greens and arugula, Green Peas, Red Seedless grapes, Cherry Tomatoes, Crumbled Chevre, Toasted Pistachios, and a really light (slightly sweet) dressing.  Sounds simple enough, but really a great lunch!  (along with the most adorable little pastries......)

A Day in London

I'm deliriously happy with the rainy weather we're getting in Atlanta, so I'm tempted to go out walking in the drizzle again with Sadie, but if I don't continue to plow through the England pictures, I'll never finish!  (Besides, Sadie is a bit of a "diva" who doesn't like water in the least...)

We took a day off from garden visits (sort of.....) to go into London for one day.  Since our last English trip was exclusively London-based, we already had a few things in mind we wanted to do.  Interestingly, I had completely forgotten about the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, and almost literally ran into these guys marching down the street as we were walking along the Mall.  Great surprise for a Sunday morning!
One of the main reasons for going into London on that day was Prince Charles' "Garden Party to Make A Difference," which was being held at Clarence House, his official London residence.  It proved to be a very cool way to spend a couple of hours, with lots of exhibits from a number of non-profit environmental groups
Frank was loving the giant Boxwood pigs! 
This is a pretty brilliant design for growing in a tiny space, with recycled water.   Click to see the details more clearly. 
This little boy was a pain in the butt, but the chair was very cool. 
We did the usual tourist thing and went to Harrod's to buy trinkets for all the friends, then went to Harvey Nichols for a great lunch.  After that, I had had my fill of shopping....must be getting old.....

Frank had originally said "no" to The London Eye, since height is not his favorite thing, but changed his mind when he saw it, and realized he could sit for the entire ride (about 30-40 minutes).  This structure is pretty amazing, however touristy it might be.  It's about 300 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower, and one can see almost 25 miles in any direction from these pods. 
Frank says this is the bridge shown in "Fantastic Four...."  I'll have to believe him, since I've still never seen "Star Wars" or "ET"...... 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Do You Hear What I Hear?!?!?!

Sadie the Dog awoke with a start this morning.  Frank is traveling for business, so she left her usual post by the door to climb into the bed to sleep last night (she's still in a bit of a state that we left her with sitters for two back-to-back trips).

From the look on her face you could tell that she wasn't sure if the noise was squirrels on the roof, reindeer, or that magical thing we call rain....fortunately it was rain!

When we walked outside, I'm not sure which of us was more excited.  The air was cool, the grass was wet, and there is a certain freshness in the air.  After taking care of her morning rituals, she is now dozing next to the screen door, just enjoying this new experience.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pashley Manor, Old Brockhurst and Chilstone

After leaving Great Dixter, it was hard to imagine that other gardens we would visit would meet the very high bar that had been set by Christopher Lloyd's garden.  I am delighted to say that we saw many other incredible gardens, each amazing, and each very different.  The first we went to after Great Dixter was Pashley Manor, which is still privately owned and inhabited.  It has both incredible plantings and an extraordinary collection of contemporary art scattered throughout the gardens.
Frank particularly loves roses and fragrances, and this walled garden (below) simply blew him away.  The plantings of lavender, pink roses and espaliered pears was  really breathtaking! 
The family owns a pair of black swans, one of whom can be particularly nasty.  They look rather tame in this photo, but "Fred" made it clear I was to come no closer! 
This sculpture is a companion to the first one, and I thought was particularly beautiful.  She's about 6 feet tall, and the little balls around her feet are part of the installation. 
Next we went to a small garden called "Old Brockhurst" that was open for the National Garden Scheme.  The house is 16th century, but the garden is only about 20 years old.  The prior owner had almost completely stripped any plantings.  The current owners, a retired couple, love this garden and open it for charity on TWENTY weekends a year!  That's commitment to a charity!  They also sell their own produce, flowers, and plants, all going to charity. 
Our last stop that day was at Chilstone, which is one the THE concrete ornament companies in the world.  They were open on a Saturday just by coincidence, and it didn't disappoint..  Fortunately for Frank, the shipping costs to Atlanta were prohibitive on most items....these are a couple of things I thought were pretty fabulous, though.... 

As always, click on the photos to enlarge them to see more detail.

Great Dixter

Waking up to an overcast morning with a little bit of drizzle was certainly not going to keep me from Great Dixter, one of the gardens that was "on my radar" from the beginning of the planning stages of the trip.  After one of Gilly's "full English" breakfast feasts, we were off to the country, Garmin Chick in hand to guide us through all of the little country roads. 

We arrived about 20 minutes before the property opened, and we were the only ones there in the hayfield/parking area. Anyone who knows me knows that this is my favorite thing!  How wonderful to be able to stroll across the lawn at the rambling home with nobody there except Frank and me. 
The sheep right next to the parking area definitely reinforced the feeling that we were miles from other homes, though in fact Dixter is on the edge of a fairly congested village.   
One of the favorite things for me is the personal connection one feels for the gardener in places like this.  Many of the grand gardens are what we would call "checkbook gardens" today; Great Dixter, on the other hand, feels very personal.  I was midway through a book about Christopher Lloyd when we visited, so I was clear that he was "eccentric" to say the least.  Walking past the still-used wheelbarrows and seeing someone going into the house with Mr. Lloyd's dachsunds was a great treat for me. 
This is a garden that is definitely all about the plants.  The original structure is beautiful, but at this time of year, much of it is completely overwhelmed by the exuberant plantings.  One of my favorite photos is this corner of the steps designed by Lutyens, softened and aged with the beautiful little flowers and lichens.  I saw this flower everywhere in England, but don't know it's name.  Can any of the English readers help with that?  I'm assuming it's a self-seeding perennial, but I may be wrong about that.
This last photo gives just a glimpse of the incredible plantings that fill this property.  This is one tiny corner of the sunk garden.  The visitor feels almost like an explorer here, having to brush aside giant leaves and blooms to make it down the paths at the end of summer.

It was a grand way to start the day!