2015 saw the Society return to Great Britain for our meeting this year but to a part of the country not visited before - the West Country, comprising the counties of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.
The meeting was two-centred, at the Holiday Inn, Taunton for the first few days and the Carlyon Bay Hotel, St Austell for the remaining days. In this, the first of my three informal reports on the meeting, I will concentrate on the visits we made from our Taunton base.
For the second of my reports, please click UK2015 - Part 2 and the third and final report, please click UK2015 - Part 3.
Sunshine greeted us as we boarded our coaches on Friday morning for the one hour journey travelling south west to RHS Rosemoor, where we were to spend the whole day. The original garden, started in 1959 on a 3.2 hectares (8 acres) plot, was created by Lady Ann Palmer. She worked on it for over 30 years before giving it to the Royal Horticultural Society, along with an additional 13 hectares (32 acres) of fields and pastures. It currently occupies some 65 acres and is laid out in a number of specifically themed gardens, along with larger areas of woodland, an arboretum, orchards and other features.
Armed with maps we were given a brief introduction to the gardens before being left to our own devices. People quickly disappearing in all directions.
Foliage and Plantsman's Garden
Unnamed clematis, but possibly C. 'Margaret Hunt'
Immediately opposite the entrance are a set of eight formal gardens, featuring roses, a winter garden, a spiral garden, Hot garden, shrub rose garden, herb and cottage garden and a foliage garden. There is also the Long Border. My favourite of this group was the Herb, Potager and Cottage Garden.
Herb, Potager and Cottage Garden
I loved the wicker bed edging, and the beautiful dry stone granite walls, forming a great backdrop to the plants and flowers that grew in the cracks.
From here we made our way slowly to the Mediterranean Garden. In the bright sunlight of the middle of the day it was easy to image one was in southern Italy, Spain or somewhere similar. In the adjacent Exotic Garden we were impressed by a number of Musa basjoo, the Japanese Banana. We asked a passing RHS gardener about them, and what they did with them over the winter. He said that in the main they are left, unwrapped, and generally survive quite well. In spite of Devon having a reputation for a very mild climate, RHS Rosemoor sits in a frost pocket. However given the number of plants in the gardens it would be impossible to protect them all, let alone move them into a frost free environment, so they have to take their chances. A couple of years ago there was a longer than usual frosty period but only a couple of specimens died.
Musa basjoo, the Japanese Banana, in the Exotic Garden Rosemoor House
The Exotic Garden sits next to Rosemoor House, the original residence of Lady Anne. It has been converted into holiday accommodation and must be a wonderful place to stay as, after all the visitors have left you would have the whole of the grounds to yourself. The house also is home to a small tea shop where we had a very nice light lunch. A more substantial menu is available elsewhere in the gardens. From here the obvious route is around the Arboretum. I'm certainly no expert on trees but with the help of good labelling one could see it contained a good number of specimen trees from all over the world.
The Gazebo, at the top corner, was very picturesque and is apparently a favourite place for wedding photos.
Pine cones in the Arboretum Gazebo in the Arboretum Water feature in the Arboretum Lake at the end of Rock Gully
Crossing the road that traverses the garden, we made our way along Rock Gully to the lake, where we watched the swallows (or where they swifts?) skimming the water for insects. From here the coolness of the Lower Woodland Walk was too inviting to be refused, but even this contained a number of surprises, such as the stag statue, welded from all sorts of scrap metal I assume, and a couple of very large, wicker insects suspended in the trees.
RHS Rosemoor plays a part in the RHS Education Programme, with a large Learning Centre off to one side. As we walked through the woods we came across a group on their hands and knees analysing the flora in a marked square metre of ground. It's good to see young people so obviously interested in nature - they will hopefully be the gardeners of the future.
We made our way back to the entrance as our departure time was approaching. RHS Rosemoor is a big garden with lots for everyone. It is well maintained with many plants - though not all - labelled. One could certainly make further visits and find new things to see, especially if spaced through the year. A great start to the Society Meeting.
Day 2 was a cross-over day, with our two coaches heading for different destinations in the morning, to cross over for the afternoon so everyone saw both gardens.
We started with Watcombe House, just over a half-hour drive from our hotel but going north east. This private garden is open for just a few days each year under the National Garden Scheme, a charitable institution that encourages owners of gardens both large and small to open them for a few specific days each year, charging a small admission fee which goes to various charities. It's a very popular scheme in Great Britain, giving access to normally private gardens.
We were welcomed by Ann and Peter Owen who gave a brief introduction to their house and garden before setting us free to wander.
Entering the garden you are faced with a well-tended lawn to your right, a rather nice Edwardian house to your left, and various archways and avenues leading off to as yet unknown treasures.
The Edwardian Watcombe House View from the house
Venturing across the lawn you arrive at a formal pond, complete with fountain and surrounded by well weathered stonework. Tranquil and serene, the bench behind would make a perfect place to sit and contemplate the universe and the meaning of life, or think of nothing and just enjoy the view!
Off to the left through a hedge archway was a secluded "corridor" garden, with neatly clipped box spheres and a stone urn as a focal point. Standing at the very end gave a vista down the central path with a disappearing view through the hedge arch, making it quite a secret place, hidden from the rest of the garden.
Secluded Corridor Garden
Opposite the house and across the lawn there is a walled garden with an ornamental wrought iron gateway, giving a view of a fountain, dancing in the breeze and standing in front of a rustic open fronted stone structure housing a statue. It was only by going through the gateway that one found an orchard of beautifully trained trees on one side and a pergola on the other.
Well trained trees Pergola
Going round the end of the house you pass a small courtyard with two rather nice clematis in a pot, C. 'Abeline' (pink) and C. 'Bernadine' (white). Onwards round to the rear of the house and quite a different story unfolded. A raised lawn provides an opportunity for a flight of stone steps and a sloping flower bed and the patio between the house and raised lawn is covered by a wisteria growing over a sturdy pergola. And the lawn also makes a fine backdrop for a couple of large topiary figures.
C. × durandii C. 'Abeline' (pink) and C. 'Bernadine' (white) Steps to rear garden Topiary in front of wisteria on pergola at rear of house
Topiary in rear garden
Ann and Peter have a series of gardens, and whilst each has an individual theme, together they complement each other. They are well maintained but have a wonderful feeling of being lived in. They may contain formal features but overall I felt it was a lovely and informal place to be.
East Lambrook Manor
The second garden that we visited was very conveniently situated just over the road from the Rose and Crown, a 17th century traditional public house where we had lunch. It also gave time for the light rain to ease off.
East Lambrook Manor was the home and garden of Margery Fish, celebrated plantswoman and garden writer. Many people credit her with popularizing gardening in Great Britain in the second half of the 20th century. She came to gardening relatively late in life, in her forties, learning through making mistakes and then writing about the good and the bad in her books. For this reason the garden has the relatively unique status of being Grade 1 Listed. This British system, normally reserved for buildings, recognizes structures with special architectural and historic interest to ensure these factors will be considered in any future planning.
The current owners of the garden, Gail and Mike Werkmeister, have continued the restoration and maintenance of the property, using plants that Margery would have either used or at least recognized.
The garden, set to the rear of the property, offered a multitude of paths and routes through the planting. I felt that although this was quite attractive in many ways, for me it seemed to lack structure, and that made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Plants seemed to have been put wherever there was a space, which of course may well have been how Margery Fish gardened. However this also meant one never knew what might greet you round a corner.
One of the many paths through the garden
Garden path overflowing with flowers
A rather nice C. integrifolia More paths and dense planting "Presented to the Margery Fish Garden by Lister Lutyens Co. Ltd." Restoration work in progress on the main house
Possibly had we made the visits today in the reverse order I'd have been a little more enthusiastic about East Lambrook. It is certainly an important garden and the specific plant varieties used have great historic significance. But whilst the planting is authentically in the style of Margery Fish, I found it a little confusing. My personal preference was for Watcombe House.
To continue with the second of my reports, covering the transfer to, and first full day based at St Austell, please click here.
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