Wednesday, November 4, 2015 7 comments

London's Garden Museum fascinates with Tradescants and treasures

Just before we left on our trip to England, I wrote about some of the gardens and sights we planned to visit there.

In London Calling (London gardens that is), I mentioned the Garden Museum and how much I was looking forward to going there. 

The museum is housed in the former St. Mary-at-Lambeth church

We stopped in on a dreary Tuesday afternoon and were greeted by the news the museum was about to close for an extensive redevelopment program  and won’t be reopened until 2017. Even though activity was winding down, we found the exhibits and grounds intriguing.

A selection of garden gnomes from the final exhibit before renovations
How many garden designs did Jekyll plot at this desk?

The main exhibit was Gnome & Away: Secrets of the Collection, which featured a grouping of antique tools and objects of interest to gardeners. Other assorted goodies were on display elsewhere in the museum including Gertrude Jekyll’s desk and an American pink flamingo.

An early miniature garden

Outside we wandered through the recreation of a seventeenth century knot garden planted in honor of intrepid plant hunter John Tradescant and his son. Both men traveled the globe to find new plants (and parts of exotic animals) to bring back to England. John the elder was also gardener to Charles I.

Even though it was late September, the garden was still lovely. I can just imagine what it looks like in spring and summer when topiaries are at their best, and the old roses and herbaceous plants are in bloom.

The Knot Garden from above (Photo courtesy London Garden Trust)

The knot garden itself is planted with species either introduced by the Tradescants, or grown in their Lambeth garden, which has long since disappeared. Most plants in the modern garden are labeled with their country of origin and year they were introduced to the UK.

One of the fascinating things on display is a copy of “the catalogue to the John Tradescants’ Ark, cabinet of curiosities and botanical garden.” The Ark was considered to be one of the wonders of 17th century London. Father and son opened the garden and “cabinet” to citizens (at a cost of six pence to get in) and in effect, created London’s first public museum. 

The Tradescant catalog lists an Alegator (sic), Rattle Snakes and a Dragon

Astonishing rarities were reportedly displayed including the “hand of a mermaid, a pelican, a small piece of wood from the cross of Christ and all kinds of foreign plants.”

The Tradescant family tomb is adjacent to the knot garden and is one of the most important churchyard monuments in London. Panels carved into the sides of the monument depict objects from the Tradescant collection. 

An alligator and a nautilus shell are among carvings on the tomb

If you love garden history, the information about the Tradescant catalog, tomb and plants in the knot garden is well worth the price of admission.

But I was sorry to learn I had missed some truly extraordinary earlier exhibits.  One on War and Gardens included a scrapbook of pressed flowers from London bombsites collected by a teenager just after World War II. There was also an array of Wills Rose Cigarette Cards from World War I, and stories of gardens behind the lines.
I loved these rose cigarette cards so much I bought one on eBay

I am delving into these stories with the gracious help of the Garden Museum, and will be writing about it all very soon.

I look forward to finding out more about these wartime gardens. 

And I truly look forward to returning to this treasure of a museum in 2017.

Welcome Americans!!

Sunday, September 6, 2015 5 comments

London Calling. (London gardens , that is.)

We're heading for Jolly Old England next week to attend Chris' Naval Academy reunion, visit friends and family, and meet up (hopefully) with some Facebook and blogging buddies.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper holiday without squeezing as many gardens as possible into the itinerary. Since we’ll mainly be in the London area, we’ll be spoiled for choice with dozens of historic houses and gardens nearby. Here are a few places we hope to visit. Photos to follow!

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Photo courtesy Kew Gardens

Arguably the world’s most famous garden, Kew allows visitors to explore 300 acres of gardens and botanical glasshouses, including the breathtaking Palm House. Its collection includes over 30,000 different kinds of plants. The rose garden was totally redesigned in 2008 and now is home to over 100 varieties of the Queen of Flowers. 


Chiswick House Gardens

According to the English Heritage website, Chiswick House is a glorious example of 18th-century British architecture. The third Earl of Burlington, who designed this elegant Classical villa, drew inspiration from his "grand tours" of Italy.

The gardens, beloved for centuries, were the birthplace of the English Landscape Movement and have inspired countless gardens including New York's Central Park. A major project to restore and revive the gardens was completed in 2010.  

Chelsea Physic Garden

London's oldest botanic garden, Chelsea was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful  Society of Apothecaries for its apprentices to study the medicinal qualities of plants. The four acre green oasis has one of the oldest rock gardens in Europe, a Victorian Cool Fernery, beds of medicinal plants, botanical order beds, glasshouses, rare plants and tender species, plus the largest olive tree outdoors in Britain. At one time it was one of the most important centers of botany and plant exchange in the world.

Savill Garden

One of England’s finest ornamental gardens featuring 35 acres of interconnecting gardens and woodlands.  A few of the themed areas include The Spring Wood, The Summer Wood, The Hidden Gardens, The Summer Gardens, The Glades, Autumn Wood, The Azalea Walks and The New Zealand Garden.

We were last there in 2007 and since then, a rose garden has been added. Can’t wait to see how many of the 2500 bushes are in bloom.

Fenton House
A London gem, Fenton is a 17th century merchant’s house set in beautiful walled gardens which combine formal borders and a sunken rose garden. There is also a working kitchen garden and a 300-year-old apple orchard. The bee colony housed in the orchard produces honey that is available to buy.

The Garden Museum

After reading this description, I can’t wait to visit this place. In fact, it is close to the top of my list.

“The Garden Museum's permanent display includes a collection of antique tools exploring garden history. Temporary exhibitions and events also take place throughout the year. Outside, in the recreation of a seventeenth-century knot garden planted in honour of John Tradescant, intrepid plant hunter and gardener to Charles I, are the tombs of the Tradescants and Admiral Bligh of the Bounty. Topiaries, old roses, herbaceous perennials and bulbs give year-round interest, and most plants are labelled with their country of origin and year of introduction to the UK.  “

Buckingham Palace

Last winter, after an episode of Downton Abbey, we watched a wonderful documentary on PBS about The Queen’s Garden at Buckingham Palace. The program followed the garden over a year’s time, exploring the history and the natural history of this royal treasure in the center of London.

It was a fascinating look at a garden most of us will never get to see in person. Except, I am thrilled to announce I will be included in a private Press Tour of the Gardens and the State Rooms later this month.
Photo courtesy Tourist Information UK.

I can’t wait to see the royal bees, the Queen’s favorite roses, rare flowers bred exclusively for Her Majesty and all the other amazing sights there.

So watch this space for all the dirt on the Queen’s spectacular horticultural digs.

Until then, cheerio!

The knot garden at Great Fosters Hotel. We stayed there last trip.

Friday, July 31, 2015 6 comments

Where the wild things are

We think a fox family lives near the trail

The "critter cam" Santa brought me for Christmas is the gift that keeps on giving.

Dad loved the mountains and wildlife
As many of you Dirt Diaries readers recall, we built a small nature path  in memory of my Dad back in 2012. 

We've always wondered what cool things were happening on "Curly's Trail" at night or when we weren't looking. (Was there a Sasquatch or zombie on the loose?)

So I set up the camera (a Browning sub micro) on the last post you can see in the accompanying photo.

That stairway is about 30 yards from our deck and leads down to the stream and a little waterfall. 

The camera takes a photo of anything that moves within 100 feet of its view, night or day. 

 The resulting picture includes an information bar that displays the time, date, moon phase and temperature.

A raccoon heads towards the stream

 That’s great unless you forget to turn the camera off when someone is working in the area. We had 150 pictures of Alfredo’s legs when he was sprucing up the trail and patio by the stream.

Caught the head of a pileated woodpecker

 Some of the critter pictures have been surprising. We didn’t realize there were so many deer around. (As long as they stay away from my roses, that’s okay.)

The deer love my hostas and wildflowers.

We thought we might catch a glimpse of a bear since they’ve visited our deck several times. None yet. We’ve seen owls around, but thus far they haven’t shown up to have their portraits made.

The discovery that a bobcat had been sauntering around the trail was a true shock. I often work down there in the new rose bed Alfredo built for me last spring.
Yikes! Mr. Bobcat strolls along the trail at lunchtime

We’d heard they do live in Western North Carolina, but no one in our community has ever seen one. Until they take a peek at the photo on my iPhone.

From now on, I’ll be looking over my shoulder when I’m down by the trail tending to my beauties.

Because we no longer have to wonder where the wild things are.

They’re right here in our very own garden.

Thursday, July 9, 2015 10 comments

July is dressed up and playing her tune

Love these delicate, canary yellow daylilies

July got off to an unhappy start with Chris back in the hospital for emergency surgery. The work that was done last September went bad, so he had an unplanned six-day staycation at Mission in Asheville.

Thankfully all is going well and he is now home trying to do too much out in the garden.

I can’t blame him because July is when everything is happening from the veggie patch to the roadside to the rose garden. Tomatoes are ripening, wild rhododendrons are showing off, and the roses are just getting their second wind.

It’s a great month to enjoy all the blooms around us, and appreciate how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful part of the world.

Even when there is the occasional health hiccup.

Skylark with more blooms and buds than ever

Thomas Edison
Volunteer Balloon Flowers. No clue where they came from.
I'm becoming a phlox phanatic. This was from a "free to good home" bin

The wild rhodies are near their peak. The mountain laurel was the prettiest we've seen in years

Genevieve and visitor
Our Nikkos got nipped again but the Annabelles are gorgeous at High Hampton
The Lark Ascending and visitor

Sir John Betjeman

The Indian Pipes are in bloom

My black and blue salvia has come back for a second year

Welcome to our mountain world, where things are always looking up

Monday, June 15, 2015 8 comments

Return to Rose Paradise

 In 2012, I wrote about my first visit to Doug and Shari's majestic mountaintop rose garden. If you missed "What you didn't see in Southern Living", you can read the article here.

Since then, I've hung around photographing the garden so often, we've all become friends. I ran into Doug at a local garden center (where else?) in late May and he urged me to stop by soon because everything was blooming at the same time and the roses were in top form. Of course, I made a beeline over there and the garden looked more spectacular than ever. 

Words still cannot describe the beauty. 

Words truly are not necessary. 


Last night we were honored to be on the guest list for the celebration of Doug and Shari's 45th wedding anniversary. It was the first time I had seen the garden at sunset. 

I can't wait for more magnificent photo ops in years to come.