My August bank holiday weekend is usually spent sheltering from driving winds on a Cornish beach, enjoying mud baths at one of the now numerous (and ridiculously expensive) music festivals, or even enjoying the steel drums with fellow Rastafarians (if only I could grow that much hair!) in Notting Hill. This year however was different, on the Sunday of that weekend I decided to venture into darkest London SW18.
Blogging about garden tools has led me (often blindly) to explore quite a few new and interesting areas of gardening. One of the most worthy of these discoveries is the NGS yellow book - a publication made slightly more famous by Carol Klein and Joe Swift's BBC2 programme charting the successes/failures of various yellow book applicants. For those readers who are unaware of the NGS, they are a forum for homeowners to open up their gardens (if of a high enough standard) to the public and raise money for worthy charities.
My visit to Victoria Summerley's garden did not start well. Having parked a short walk away I was caught in what can only be described as a 'flash monsoon' which immediately soaked me to the skin and would surely have washed away all remnants of horticultural endeavour within the locale. I arrived to find a number of other visitors sheltering in Victoria's open plan living room enjoying tea and cakes (provided for a modest charge with proceeds again going to charity). Having found Victoria herself I presented her with some Victorinox garden scissors and a spool of Nutscene twine (garden tools, how imaginative!) and was treated to a personal tour of the garden which predictably was now bathed in sunlight.
The garden is an interesting one, a mixture of tropical, exotic and domestic plants which are enhanced by dramatic changes in form and scale. However, the success of the garden is as much achieved by the variety of foliage as it is by the dramatic changes in scale. Giant, spear-like plumes of Phormium, mix with fig leaves far bigger than Adam or Eve could have ever wished for, which in turn are rained on by the emerald fish of black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra).
The main feature of the garden (and the first thing you see on arrival) is a lovely (and much coveted) pine (Pinus montezumae) whose needles resemble a time lapse photograph of water flowing over rocks in a fast flowing river. They sparkle in the sun and are under-planted with pots of miniature pine (Pinus strobus 'minima') andfieryorange dahlias. The curving, shield-like foliage of the Cannas andbananas offer great colour contrast, with maroons, smeared with scarlet, lime greens and yellow, all planted amongst deeper green leaves so as not to overwhelm the viewer. Water is provided by a still pond surrounded by Echeverias in pots and planted with spiky Japanese Rush (Acorus gramineus 'Ogon') and water lilies.
This description is all too brief and leaves out lots of plants, but as I get older my memory is beginning to fade and I have tried to relate what I think are the 'best bits' of the garden. Oh yes, I almost forgot the multi-stemmed Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus debeuzevillei), which Victoria says is much less vigorous than its cousin (Eucalyptus gunnii) and offers a little silver to the palette.
This garden is not confinable, so if you are looking for a traditional formal space, a Japanese garden, or even a tropical landscape, you will not find it here. However, if (like me!) you are prepared to be open minded and want to see some interesting plant varieties, really inventive inter-planting, riotous foliage combined with a wilful disregard for convention, but still with more than a number of traditional elements (if that's possible), then visit Victoria's secret for yourself next year.
You can read Victoria Summerley's blog at: http://victoriasbackyard.blogspot.com/
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