Spring in Benjamin Britten’s garden

The Red House on the outskirts of Aldeburgh in Suffolk was the home of Benjamin Britten from 1957 to 1976.

The Red House from the croquet lawn.
The Red House through some budding mahonia.

Britten shared this extended, late-seventeenth century farmhouse with his partner, the tenor, Peter Pears, until Britten’s death in 1976.

The Composition Studio with first floor window giving views across the orchard.

Many of Britten’s world famous operas and music pieces were composed working in his first floor composition studio. Once when giving a talk he said

At the moment in my studio where I work in Aldeburgh . . . there’s a blackbird making a nest just outside my window and I’m very interested to know whether she’s sitting on her eggs when I should be working.

Benjamin Britten, 1963.
Viburnum, mahonia and ornamental flowering currant are planted along the garden wall of the Red House.

When I visited the garden earlier this week it was full of floral potential and already the gorgeous scent of an early flowering viburnum was wafting across the path on the way to the archive building.

There were buds and tightly furled leaves just waiting to burst given a couple days of sunshine.

The orchard has some old apple trees supporting mistletoe and a variety of new fruit trees that were added in 2008 as the garden was rejuvenated and recreated following the 1950s layout. The orchard has been underplanted with daffodils and pale yellow primulas and hellebores are growing beneath the surrounding hedging.

Receipts discovered in the extensive Britten-Pears Foundation Archive show that in 1958 Benjamin Britten ordered 63 fruit trees, 76 roses and two dozen blackcurrant bushes from Notcutts, the local nursery in Woodbridge.

It was a gentle, pleasant English garden and will be worth another visit later in the gardening year.

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Reviewing Rose Possibilities

Botanical-illustrationsIt is now June and the classic flower of the month in England is usually considered to be the rose. Apart from the fact that I still have endless weekends of internal decoration to attend to, and, as I type, I am manfully ignoring one entire room left in an almost derelict state, I have started to think about the garden.

I realise one way and another I have missed this year for some of my flowering favourites such as the hellebores, tulips, aquilegias, irises and roses not to mention a flowering fruit tree or two. However, now is not the time to moan, but to get on and get planning. It is a good time to think ahead as although quite a few container grown roses are now out of stock for this season, they can still be ordered for delivery as bare root plants for this coming autumn and winter. Naturally, recent evenings have been spent perusing my old copy of ‘The Graham Stuart Thomas Rose Book’ in the hunt for suitable roses for very small gardens.

Graham-Stuart-Thomas-go-to-rose-bookAlthough I do love many of the old fashioned shrub roses that I have grown in the past not all of them are as robust as some of the more recent introductions such as rosa Queen Elizabeth (1954, see below) or the David Austin rose, rosa St Swithun (1993, above right).

Modern-hybrid-tea-Queen-ElizabthCurrently, I am tending towards a thornless, reliable modern climber for my very tiny front patch, possibly the David Austin climbing rose, rosa Mortimer Sackler (2002). It needs to be thornless as it will eventually top the boundary wall at waist height between my property and a side passage used as the rear access for my neighbours.

David-Austin-Mortimer-Sackler
Rosa Mortimer Sackler introduced by David Austin 2002. Photo: David Austin website

Mind you I have been tempted by Stuart Thomas’s comments on rosa Agnes, “Unusual with delicious scent”, but despite the appealing name (😉) I don’t feel I can fit a yellow rose, even this pale, muddled beauty, into the planting scheme.

Agnes

It is a while since I have taken my copy of the Rose Book off the shelf. Indeed, it has been boxed up with all the rest of my books for the last 18 months during the moving process and consequently I was surprised when a slip of paper fell out. As I picked it up expecting it to be a now redundant list of roses from my last garden, I noticed with curiosity that it was a poem. One of my favourites originally copied out over 15 years ago.

ee-cummings-poem

 

A Little Wisteria Appropriation

May-blooms-arrangementSome of you may remember seeing photos from my old garden of the white Japanese wisteria that I trained over a pergola. I originally bought it as a grafted specimen and it flowered from the first year, but it really got into its stride around about its fifth year. By the time I left that garden to a new custodian the wisteria was 11 years in place and blooming spectacularly every May. It also provided a canopy of green shade for all those long hot days of summer!

Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria)
Drooping white Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria) flower arrangement and my one attempt at stained glass behind.

I have moved from the outskirts of city living back to urban life proper and no longer have the space for such a rampant plant in my backyard. Well, that’s not entirely true, but I need the sunny area for some fruit as well as flowers.

White-flowers-wisteriaHowever, despite my ‘restricted space’ predicament, I am not entirely starved of this beautiful, May blooming flower as from the bedroom window I can see the charming Chinese wisteria decorating my next-door neighbour’s pergola.

Nextdoors-chinese-wisteria.jpg

I may be temporarily gardenless but . . .

Bouquet-kitchenFor the first time in 22 years I am not spending spring weekends both coaxing and at the same time taming a garden from its winter state. It is a strange sensation to be without even a windowsill of outdoor plant space. Dare I say it, for the moment it makes me feel rootless!

Here is my old garden last year on the 26th April 2016 . . .

26-April-2016And, here is my last photo of the garden taken on 27 February 2017 before the pots were loaded onto the lorry.

Back-garden-27-Feb-2017B&W

So it is thank goodness for the odd bunch of seasonal flowers.

seasonal-flowersFor me certain colour combinations are simply crying out to be tweaked and developed into some form of textile work .  .  .

sp2watercoourHere, above and below, are a couple of ways I have manipulated the images to emphasise the colours and the shapes in preparation for possibly a silk scarf or a hand hooked cushion cover.

sp2-sketchAfter working on these photos saving some and deleting others, I pondered my gardenless state. Reminiscing I scrolled back through hundreds of old photos featuring the gone garden when I came upon this strange picture. If you were wondering just how odd some people can get here’s proof. No, it wasn’t April Fool’s Day either when I concocted this visual yarn!

A-moment-of-whimsey

A few early spring flowers

Iris-KHMy favourite Iris reticulata cultivar is ‘Katharine Hodgkin’. Strictly speaking I. reticulata are late-winter bloomers brightening up the February gloom, but my bulbs often don’t flower until well into March. This cultivar is a hybrid between I.winogradowii and I.histrioides and, provided with free draining soil and some sunshine, flowers well. The above bulbs are in a pot. They were mistakenly dug up last autumn from beneath a weeping pear. They were then unceremoniously and temporarily shoved into an empty pot and forgotten until I found them blooming earlier this month. It appears benign neglect hasn’t been detrimental.

We’ve had a week of on and off sunshine here in Norfolk and most of the cherry trees are just about coming into bloom. However, even in more sheltered gardens the double blossoms are still only fat, about-to-burst buds. Sadly, the forty-year-old cherry tree in my father’s garden has died after a combination of old age and over vigorous pruning, but the Magnolia soulangeana lives to bloom for another spring.

1
View over the Yare Valley. Who said Norfolk was flat?

Magnolia soulangeana is a flowering tree. It is often planted as a feature tree as I think this one was. It was originally surrounded by lawn, but rebuilding of the house and the introduction of a terrace has resulted in it now growing up against the terrace wall. Its moment of glory is fleeting, but as it’s so early in the horticultural year it is most welcome after the grey, grey winter.

Magnolia

It has plenty of blooms which can now be easily appreciated from standing on the terrace and looking down into the tree – a new and unexpected perspective.

Over several winter weekends I emptied all my pots in preparation for moving house.

Empty-pots

I did take a few photos of the winter garden just before it was partially deconstructed.

Last-garden-photo-21-Feb-2017

It was hard, awkward work emptying the big pots and the biggest two pots with fifteen-year-old clipped yews had to be left.  I couldn’t even budge them and I couldn’t bear to cut the yews to pieces. It all ended up making me feel like  .  .  .  .  .  Sad-figure2

Still, an overflowing tub of grape hyacinths is an uplifting sight,

Pot-grape-hyacinths

as are the magnolia flowers.

Magnolia-flower

 

Working up a fennel/morning glory design

Fennel-2Change of season and change of mood and I’m feeling like working stripes into my more floral scarf designs. Looking at Mother Nature’s versions of decorative streaks has given me a good place to start.

Some variations of Morning Glory have been worth stripping back to a slightly less intricate rendering and then worked with different colour combinations.

However, although these ideas would work well if I was screen-printing them onto a scarf, my freehand, painting style needs to have a looser starting point. I thought I’d combine these heavier looking floral shapes with my recent fennel inspired motifs.

Fennel-1

Here’s work in progress of a version I’ve created combining the two ideas.

 

High summer flowers – lilies, dahlias and hollyhocks

High-summer-lilies

August in the garden, even when not hot and sunny, has a very different palette to the pastels seen at the beginning of summer.

I used to have a bed filled with bright pink echinaceas and hot orange rudbeckias, but these prairie lovers have been squeezed out as my garden has matured.

I miss my prairie, high summer bed which is now in the shade of a Bramley apple tree. It really is a bit too gloomy, but I have strategically placed large pots of dahlias to give it a lift.

White-lily

Another part of my garden that has changed significantly is under the pergola. This area is now in fairly deep shade cast by the wisteria and a vigorous grape vine. However, towards the south-facing edge a blue hydrangea and some lily pots have just enough light to bloom, but they most definitely require regular watering.

I do love the scent of lilies, but in the end, on a dull August day, the vibrant, visual zing of a bunch of dahlias jolts me into remembering it is high summer after all.

Rich-colours-arrangement

After the rain some cheery survivors

Pattern-floral-possTimes are a little turbulent and it’s been a grey summer so far, but some flowers are doing just fine. Hardy geraniums, single clematis, small spray roses, foxgloves and poppies.

Beautiful flowers in the garden, as arrangements or simply as a single bloom bring some cheer to our daily grind.

Although I have been moaning about the English weather in previous posts, I have had enough survivors by the beginning of July for two mantlepiece arrangements.

Summer-arrangement

What a difference in just 8 weeks!

 

Out-now-Thalictrum
Meadow rue – thalictrum aquilegiifolium

A couple of months ago everything in the garden looked as though the abundance of summer would never arrive and then suddenly here it all is. There are plants bursting into flower and flowing all over each other.

Here are a couple of examples that have so far withstood the torrential rain we’ve been experiencing, but, sadly, I have to report my old fashioned roses have been hammered.

But, after a quick tour round the beds I see there’s plenty of potential waiting in the wings. There are lilies, perennial poppies and some knautia all in bud.

Of course, the open, cheerful and always reliable oxeye daisies are a favourite with the bees. They also look beautiful and fresh in the early morning sun (when we have some!).

Early-morning

Spring flowers

Tulips-pink-striped

Finally we had a sunny day and I ventured out to have a quick look round the garden. The hellebore flowers and the hebe foliage are looking colourful, but that was about all.

Spring-bouquet

So feeling impatient I’ve cheated for my spring bouquet and bought some tulips to add a little more flower power. These tulips are Libretto Parrot and will open into a frilly, striped affair.

Tulip-Libretto-parrot

I’m sure I used to have pink and green stripy tulips (Greenland) in the front garden, but I don’t think I planted them deep enough to survive more than one season. Still, these parrots will bring a burst of spring colour indoors.

Spring-

Inspirational autumnal garden – The Old Vicarage, East Ruston, Norfolk

Heleniums--East-Ruston-Old-Vicarage-NorfolkGarden visiting is a popular pastime and the beauty of garden visiting is gardens are an ever changing canvas. Traditionally, in the autumn people go to admire autumnal tree colour, but in a thoughtfully designed garden there are still plenty of colourful shrubs and flowers to see.

At the beginning of October my own garden was looking rather dull and when my sister came to visit it was the perfect opportunity to get out and soak up some inspiration from a nationally renowned garden, The Old Vicarage, East Ruston in Norfolk. It was a very bright, sunny afternoon, really too bright for exciting photos, but I think you’ll get some idea of what a special and unusual garden this is.

I’ve been before, but this was my first visit so late in the season and there was plenty to admire, not least all the super-sized containers planted with large tender specimens,

the dutch garden
The Dutch Garden with the beautiful yellow Brugmansia flowers drooping into the shot.
(Grown as tree-like specimens in very, very large terracotta pots.)

and gravel areas brimming with striking succulents such as these rich Aeonium arboreum Schwarzkopf.

courtyard aeoniums
The Entrance Drive and Courtyard area is planted up with the dramatic Aeonium arboreum Schwartzkopf.

The Old Vicarage, East Ruston is only about a mile and a half from Happisburgh (pronounced haze..bra, of course) on the coast and as such, together with plenty of shelter/windbreak planting, has a microclimate with very little frost. The result of this means a greater, diverse range of plants can survive and the owners have developed a less traditional, innovative set of garden plantings and garden rooms such as the captivating Tree Fern Garden.

tree ferns east ruston
The Tree Fern Garden
Dicksonia antarctica underplanted with the late flowering aconitum and a river of acers.

There’s also one of my favourite design combinations informally, romantically planted beds restrained and ordered by neat formal box hedging accented with geometric topiary.

Floating, soft flowers and formal topiary.
Floating, soft flowers and formal topiary.

The sun was bright, but low enough in the sky to create some drama looking across the King’s Walk catching the yew topiary in all its disciplined stature.

And, at this time of year it’s sunflowers, dahlias, heleniums in formal beds and, of course, in the cutting garden.

Even at this late time of the gardening year there was still plenty to see and I’ve only shown you a glimpse. There is more information and photos at The Old Vicarage, East Ruston

Silver-birch-Autumn-sun-East-Ruston-Old-Vicarage-Norfolk

And, finally, I’m not usually a fan of contemporary art in gardens, but I thought this discrete, nervous-looking but welcoming family of deer just on the wooded boundary between the car park and the garden entrance didn’t look out of place.

Discrete-sculpture--East-Ruston-Old-Vicarage-Norfolk