Louise Danks works as Production Manager at the National Dahlia Collection, but when the day is done and the plants dealt with, she heads to her favourite place, Portholland Beach on the Roseland Peninsula.
I first went to Portholland Beach when I was about four years old. I grew up around the corner, it was before Cornwall became really touristy, and we went all the time. It was ages later when I realised that not everyone went straight to the beach after school!
It is very small and there are just two rows of squat stone cottages, little terraces with steep gardens stretching up behind. I was always terribly envious of the people who lived there. Each cove is fairly narrow and the beaches are very flat. The water is clear and it’s amazing to swim, and, because it’s on the south coast there are no waves.
You get there along a long, winding Cornish lane; the sort with high hedges and where you have to do a lot of reversing. The banks are covered in pink campion, violets, stitchwort and valerian at this time of year. The anticipation builds as you go, waiting for that first glimpse of the vista, unfolding at the end of the road.
There is a sign that says ‘Temporary Road Surface’ which has been there for at least 35 years. I shall be quite sad when it finally goes! Between the two coves you can scramble over the rocks, and there are rock pools; higher up there is a view over the sea from the stony, shaley track.
At this time of year, the two peaks of our business collide. We are sending out rooted cuttings and also doing the final preparations for RHS Chelsea. People don’t realise, but it’s very pressured and exciting, there are so many variables in getting a plant that flowers in July to perform in May. You worry about whether plants will make it in time and if the judges and public will like the display. When I feel stressed, even thinking about Portholland is incredibly calming.
The beach is such a gentle, quiet place. We went there in January, it was my birthday and we had a picnic. You can sit and think, allow yourself to recharge. There is nowhere else that I would rather be.
Words: Naomi Slade
Award-winning garden designer Paul seeks sanctuary on Selsley Common, above his home-town of Stroud, Gloucestershire. Paul opened a new branch of his shop, Allomorphic, in Tetbury on 30th March.
In the last 20 years I’ve spent a lot of time on Selsley Common, mulling things over. It’s quite high and at the top it rolls in two directions, five valleys running down towards Stroud on one side and the Severn Estuary on the other. Sometimes you can see Wales but other times you can’t even see your hand, it’s quite dramatic.
For me it has a lot of character. Historically, there’s been stone extraction, so there are traces of human activity in the wilderness. I often walk the dog there – well, it has been a series of dogs, really. I recently rescued a spaniel called Netta; she loves running and hopping around. You can look down onto the town below and it gives a lot of perspective.
On a grim day there’s just grass and nothing else, with no visual noise. Sometimes I need to remember that, in the scheme of things, the things that I find stressful are straightforward. The Common is a silent friend who lets me ramble on about whatever I need to, and just seems to get it.
If you have to work hard at something, it’s not meant to be that way. If you keep trying to force your way forward you just get stressed; it’s easier to follow a more natural flow of things and accept new ideas. It also makes life more exciting, sometimes unnecessarily so!
I like that sense being in a big-scale, dramatic landscape, as it helps remind me how little and fragile our own existence is. It’s the opposite of my job, like two sides of a coin. I can’t just design gardens, I need a connection, and it’s important, mentally, to hold on to somewhere that provides a sense of liberation.
Over time I have developed a very personal relationship with Selsley Common. It grounds me and ideas can come and go. You can go back and see yourself in different points in time. It was there a long time before me, and it’ll be there for a long time after and that’s an antidote to the craziness.
Words: Naomi Slade
Gardening writer and editor Clare Foster adoresthe magical Cothay Manor in Somerset. Clare’s new book The Flower Garden: How to grow flowers from seed is published by Laurence King.
I first went with my parents about 20 years ago, but I’ve returned several times since. As you arrive you come through a field of cows to a small lake; the manor is on the other side and it is reflected in the water, it’s all very romantic.
The place has an air of faded splendour about it and a sense of mystery. The house has that patina of age and the garden unfolds behind it, made up of lots of different compartments. You don’t see it beforehand so there is a real element of surprise.
I love the fact that it’s not very formal. There is good structure with lots of clipped evergreens but, within this, the planting is loose and flowing, which adds to the romanticism. All the different plants are the sort of things that I would use, soft and naturalistic, and it is comfortable because it is so relaxed.
There are lots of ancient crumbling steps, with erigeron daisies spilling out over the stones. Areas of gravel are softened with self-seeded plants and in one place Dierama has been left to self-seed among the pebbles, it is absolutely beautiful.
You get there along tiny, winding country lanes. It feels like the middle of nowhere which is quite rare now. There is nobody on the gate; it is very much a private garden that the public are allowed to visit.
You stop thinking about everything else that is going on in the world and just relax into it. Many gardens are accomplished, but they don’t speak to you. Those that get to your heart are hard to pin down, they just have an air of intrigue about them.
What sticks in my memory is a simple avenue of clipped Robinia pseudoacia 'Umbraculifera' underplanted with nepeta. The way the nepeta catches the dappled light from the trees is wonderful, you just don’t need anything else. All the different areas are full of planting detail and contrasts; I can wander around for hours and not get bored.
Cothay Manor, Greenham, Wellington TA21 0JR;
Tel: 01823 672283
Mark Lane is a garden designer, TV presenter and Ambassador for gardening charities Greenfingers and Thrive and, for him, a visit to the Savill Garden in Berkshire was a revelation.
I discovered it quite recently, but I absolutely fell in love with the place. The structure of the Savill building is incredible, it looks like a crumpled fallen leaf, with a living roof and a spectacular vaulted ceiling above you as you go into the garden.
Considering how young it is, dating only from the 1930s, it is extremely mature. It looks like it has been there forever. I discovered it in winter, and the amount of colour and scent was phenomenal. The Cornus and Salix have brilliant, coloured stems which shine against the dark-green lawns and the gunnera in their winter shrouds looked magical.
It is very well kept, I couldn’t for the life of me find a weed! The garden is almost triangular, with the Cumberland Obelisk and Autumn wood in one corner, the Summer wood in another and, finally the very beautiful Queen Elizabeth Temperate House.
For me, the Temperate House is such a calming, relaxing place. There is the sound of water from the little fountain and fig trees trained up the walls, and the spiral staircase is beautiful, although it is not very good for wheelchairs.
As a plant-lover, I think it is somewhere that everyone should go. The vast collection of magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas comes alight in a tapestry of colour, and there is a surprise around every corner. When I got to the viewing platform, the bold swathes and contrasting planting opened up in front of me, it was really exciting.
The plants are so well chosen and they are carefully placed so they relate to each other well. The way they catch the light is incredible and it has taught me how beautiful gardens can look even in autumn and winter.
I have not felt like this for a long time. I visit lots of gardens, and they are what they are, but the Savill Garden really hit me. It is a place that has grown through the years and mellowed into the landscape. It is a real credit to all the gardeners involved.
Words: Naomi Slade
The Savill Garden, Wick Lane, Englefield Green, Egham TW20 0UU;
Wakehurst’s Deputy Director and Head of Landscape, Horticulture & Research, Ed chooses Cambo garden in Fife.
The first time I went to Cambo, I had that feeling of being a guest in someone’s private home. Not aimed at the masses and all the better for it. It’s an intimate and playful garden, which gives an insight into both the desires of the owner and the skills of the horticulture team.
You go through the small door into the walled garden and it’s like stepping into an alternative reality. It manages to be naturalistic, loose and open in a way that works in that space, while the walls and glasshouses add structure. You can hear water runs through the centre and there are big beds of tulips, planted among perennials and set into a matrix of grasses.
I think it’s one of the best practical uses of the European style of prairie planting. The gardeners at Cambo have made it their own; it is not dominated by external design influences. Every new development oozes confidence and assurance and there is an intangible sense of house style
The magic is in the connection to the wider landscape. The garden quickly turns into a dense wooded valley, then suddenly the wood stops and you are on an exquisite little beach next to the wild North Sea. Last time I was there eider ducks were swimming in the waves.
It makes me feel incredibly excited and reconnects me to the early days of being a gardener. This is the thrill of being in a really good garden, you can’t quite rationalise what’s in front of you and there is a joyful sense of being overwhelmed.
When the sun is out in that part of Scotland, the light is brilliant, almost glassy. The spirit of the garden is revealed in sharp relief. It verges on the surreal; your brain does nothing more than process and take it all in.
Gardens should be thrilling and at Cambo it’s the overarching sense of place rather than the individual plants that give it its magic. Bringing a sense of this to a large, public garden, and avoiding looking institutional, is the challenge; it’s what I aspire to for Wakehurst.
Cambo House & Estate, Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 8QD
Garden Historian Advolly chooses Winterbourne House and Garden, Birmingham University. Her ‘Introduction to Garden History in 10 Objects’ is at the garden on April .
I first went to Winterbourne House for a meeting regarding the Capability Brown tercentenary celebrations. The elevated terrace in front of the beautiful Arts and Crafts House looks down on to the pergola, the herbaceous borders and sunken garden. Down the steps is a large lawn, then a lime tree walk and yew trees. The walled garden has a crinkle-crankle wall; I use an old picture of it in my lecture and people always ask what on earth it’s for.
As a typical Arts and Crafts garden, everything is compartmentalised. Each one works in its own right and this allows you to experience a section at a time. It is a bit like reading a trilogy, each book stands alone but the story is better if you read all three!
Winterbourne was laid out in 1903 and is contemporaneous with Hestercombe in Somerset, which dates from 1902. Its original owner, Margaret Nettlefold, had a number of books by Gertrude Jekyll; you can really see that influence in the design and this taps into one of my specific periods of interest.
The glasshouses have the most amazing collection of cacti, and succulents and orchids as well. I was delighted, I hadn’t realised this place existed! The nut walk leads to a geographical collection of trees, a magnolia border and a beautiful alpine garden, too. People think Birmingham is just built-up and urban but Winterbourne is an oasis. It achieves what many places struggle with – year-round interest.
Everything is really well labelled and the interpretation is very good. I like discovering new plants and gardeners and volunteers are very knowledgeable. You look at something and think ‘that’s nice, what is it?’ and then realise that somebody has helpfully put a sign next to it.
Their dahlia selection is fabulous and I’ve found some brilliant plants there. They really have had a resurgence and it’s inspired me to create a dahlia border at home this year. I looked at it and just thought, ‘oh my God, I want some of that!’.
Winterbourne House and Garden, 58 Edgbaston Park Rd, Birmingham, B15 2RT
Award-winning photographer Clive Nichols chooses Pettifers in Oxfordshire as his favourite place to visit. He has been described as ‘Britain’s Best Garden Photographer’ by Canon Photo Plus Magazine.
I first visited Pettifers in 2000. On the recommendation of fellow photographer, Jerry Harpur, I contacted Gina Price the owner and she invited me to take a look. Now I live in the same village, which is a gift, as I can go any time and know that I can get great shots.
I was struck by the combination of formality and planting, it was absolutely beautiful. It slopes downhill to the east and the morning light floods into the bottom of the garden. In midsummer I set my alarm so I am there for sunrise – as early as 4.30am – when the sun back-lights the plants with an incredible orange glow.
Being there in the ‘golden hour’ is a celestial experience; it doesn’t last for very long, but the adrenalin starts to flow and the hairs on the back of your neck start to stand on end. It is a feeling of being somewhere special and magical that you don’t get very often.
It isn’t that big, I’m guessing only a couple of acres. The front garden is quite small and unobtrusive, but to the rear is a generous lawn, flanked by two large colourful borders of perennials, bulbs and grasses dropping to the parterre, so there are nice changes in level.
The garden changes throughout the season so there’s always something of interest. There are the snowdrops, then waves and waves of daffodils. There are fritillaries and Anemone blanda, and she is really good with tulips. The box and yew parterre gives structure, especially noticeable in the winter, and Gina and her gardener Polly are constantly updating and tweaking the borders.
Pettifers is where I learnt the most about light and colour. It taught me that the bones of a garden need to be strong, it isn’t just about the planting. And, also, that every element should be to the same high standard, or it detracts from the whole. I took to it straight away and it still excites me now, 20 years later.
Words: Naomi Slade
Pettifers, Lower Wardington, Banbury, Oxford, OX17 1RU
Tel: 01295 750232, Email: email@example.com
Open to groups by appointment
Huw Richards is aged just 20 but already has almost 120,000 subscribers to his youtube gardening channel. While he’s very much a 21st century gardener, he is always drawn back to the traditional feel of the walled gardens at Llanerchaeron in his native Wales.
Llanerchaeron was the first walled garden I ever visited!
We live about half an hour away and we used to go with my parents. I suppose I was too young to even remember the first time I went! But when I was a bit older I can remember my dad explaining how a walled garden can create a microclimate and extend the growing season. I just loved all of the old apple trees and the fruit and vegetables, and I fell in love with it.
It has so much character
Sometimes in gardening I think there’s a trend towards too many straight lines, too much perfection. I look at some of the Chelsea gardens, for example, and I think they look a bit artificial - they don’t have any personality. But Llanerchaeron has been the way it is today for 200 years - I love it because of its imperfections! I just think it’s an amazing place.
I think my favourite time to visit is early spring
Just when it’s coming to life. Everything starts that little bit sooner, because of its south-facing walls, so that’s when I think that my garden won’t be long in getting going itself. You know that when the apples are in blossom at Llanerchaeron then everyone else’s apples won’t be far behind!
It’s most famous for its apples and they are incredible
The way they have been shaped over the years is wonderful and they just add to the character of the place.
You really do feel at one with nature
There’s a lovely walk if you go through the garden and head down to the River Aeron. There is so much wild garlic along there and you just get hit by the scent. It’s incredible. We live up the valley from Llanerchaeron; there’s a stream that runs by my garden and eventually it runs into the Aeron, so whenever we’re there it’s as if the water in the river has come from ‘our stream’.
Llanerchaeron, Aberaeron, Ceredigion, SA48 8DG
Tel: 01545 570200
Jekka McVicar is best-known as one of the UK's foremost herb experts, but had no hesitation in choosing RHS Garden Rosemoor in her native south-west as her favourite place.
I first visited RHS Rosemoor soon after it opened in the early 1990s, with my two young children and a girlfriend and her toddler. I thought it was very linear, with some very new hedges all lined up, and I just couldn’t see how it would ever work. But over the years I’ve watched it evolve into just the most exquisite use of space.
It's linear, of course – it follows the river – but wherever you are in the garden it gives the sense of rooms. I think that’s the thing that draws me to it the most, this idea of different rooms that all have different feelings. It was first designed by Elizabeth Banks (later RHS president) in its current form and it’s a remarkable feat.
One of the things I really like about Rosemoor is it’s not too big. There’s an awful lot to see but you can get around everything easily. It’s hard to say what my favourite part is – the vegetable area is superb, the roses are spectacular, the hot beds are something else. All of the different garden rooms give you something else and there's really something for everyone here. The planting is just wonderful throughout.
It's a genuine year-round garden.There's something to interest you at any time of year; the winter foliage, for example, is just spectacular. But you can go there in any month and always see something new.
I was inspired to plant hedges by seeing them at Rosemoor. I'd never really thought of using hedges before but now I have them around my vegetables – they keep animals out but they're wonderful for the birds. Finches and blue tits love to hide out in the hedges, and you see dunnocks on the floor underneath them. Birds are one of the best ways to keep an organic balance in the garden.
It feels very much as if it's a West Country garden, which of course it is. But I'm from the West Country and it's important – it's rooted in its community and the whole look and feel of it is true to that.
RHS Garden Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Devon
Tel: 01805 624067;