Us British folk do love a garden. Of course gardens are popular world wide, for their beauty, creativity, history, their ability to feed us, and to heal us. However, a passion for gardens runs very deep through British culture, from Victorian romanticism, to the Dig for Victory Campaign, and the 50-year broadcasting history of BBC’s Gardeners World. The National Garden Scheme has a catalogue of around 3700, private gardens opening for charity, whilst every year, the Royal Horticultural Society hosts 13 flower shows across the country, attracting over 500,000 visitors.
Since the invention of photography, gardens have frequently featured in the images captured. The gentry would often be photographed in their magnificent gardens to show off their wealthy status, and later, when an enlightened few turned to photography to record the every day life and people of Britain, the beauty of gardens were enticing.
When I first picked up a camera as a young teenager, it was mostly wildlife that came under the focus of my lens. As I rarely ventured anywhere without my camera, it was only a matter of time before I began to photograph the gardens I visited, and the flowers they cultivated. Flowers and gardens offer a lot to the photographer: structure, colour and texture, both on a garden-wide scale and in close up.
Whenever I visit a garden, I try to capture something of the character of that garden in my photos, as every garden really is an individual.
Here are some of my favourite gardens, and a selection of the photos I have taken there…
West Dean Gardens and Arboretum
Nestled at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex, West Dean Gardens is a lesser-known jewel in the county’s horticultural crown. Opened to the public by the Edward James Foundation, the garden forms part of the grounds of West Dean College, a specialist arts education centre. The gardens are looked after by Gardens Manager Jim Buckland and Gardens Supervisor Sarah Wain, with their dedicated team of gardeners and volunteers. They began a bold re-development programme after the storm of 1987.
Features of the garden include a beautiful spring garden, a 300ft pergola, and some impressive trees, but my particular favourite is the historic walled garden. Step through the gate and enter a sheltered world of temptation and delight. Apple trees slumber with spring blooms around their roots and honeybees visit fruit trees that have been patiently trained against the sun-warmed flint and brick walls. A productive fruit and vegetable garden lies beyond original glasshouses still maintained in working order. Roses climb the brickwork of the distinctive round apple store.
The contract between peacefulness and productivity makes West Dean an inspiring garden to spend time in.
For more information on West Dean Gardens, click here.
Mottisfont, in the care of the National Trust, is a country house and estate near Winchester in Hampshire. The gardens are a joy at any time of year with spring bulbs, autumn colour and magnificent trees, as well as charming riverside walks. It is in the month of June when Mottisfont reveals its full splendour. June is the month of roses, and any rose garden is beautiful, but when it is enclosed in warm brick walls as with Mottisfont, then the standard is raised to a whole new height. The walled rose garden was the creation of 20th century horticulturalist Graham Stuart Thomas, a mere four decades ago in the 1970’s, and has become world famous for its extensive collection and impressive display.
In the deep borders, old fashioned roses, rare specimens, and traditional favourites are combined with herbaceous plants such as foxgloves and hardy geraniums. The walls form a sheltered situation, which captures and accentuates the perfume of the roses and other blooms.
One of my favourite roses is one I first discovered at Mottisfont, and is named after the garden creator Graham Thomas. I adore it’s gorgeous yellow blooms and ability to grow well with little expert care.
For more information on Mottisfont Gardens, click here.
Sissinghurst Castle Gardens
It is several years since I visited Sissinghurst, and I very much hope to return before too long. Once the home of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson, Sissinghurst have become a icon of poetic romanticism. The couple’s ambition of create a refuge of beauty which has become a world renown garden, was just one chapter in a long history which included time as a castle, a working farm and even a prison. The latest incarnation is a popular visitor attraction, cared for by the National Trust.
The orchard is the ideal place to linger in spring, when the ground beneath the trees is carpeted with daffodils and other spring bulbs.
Later in the summer it is the fabulous White Garden that, well deserving of its reputation, takes over as the star of the show. Between the two are long borders, curiosity-sparking doorways, red brick walls adorned with climbers, and glimpses of a history of tender loving care by visionary gardeners.
For more information on Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, click here.
Parham House and Gardens
It would be easy to rush along the busy road between Storrington and Pulborough in West Sussex, and pass by the white gateway that is the entrance of Parham House and Gardens.
The House comes into view as you drop downhill into an oasis of England’s green and pleasant land. The rolling downs cradle the estate, and from the house no sign of the outside world is visible, giving the place an air of peace, tranquillity and timelessness.
The gardens wide borders burst with colour; hot pinks, brooding purples, deep blues, powerful magentas, rich reds and zesty yellows. Plants jostle for attention, each shouting their joy of being alive. Unusual planting combinations are striking, each placed with skill to highlight and complement the subtleties of the other. Yellow fennel parades alongside purple buddleia, white sneezeweed pickes out the pale base of magenta geranium petals, dark centred oranges are paired with dark foliage.
Between all these energetic colours is a moment of calm. The orchard, recently restored after the effects of time and storms had taken their toll, is quiet and peaceful. Young fruit trees are accompanied by older twisted specimens, their branches adorned with ripening fruit and bracelets of mistletoe.
There is a tradition at Parham, of fresh flower arrangements in each and every room of the house open to the public.
All these flowers come from the gardens, which are managed organically with plants chosen to provide the most colour, structure, scent or character that a flower can, a system led by Head Gardener Tom Brown.
For more information on Parham House and Gardens, click here.