It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

…at Warley Place, anyway. Most people love Warley for its drifts of daffodils. After all, Daffs mean Prizes – Miss Willmott won RHS medals a-go-go for hers. She even boobytrapped the best ones and carried a revolver in her handbag against bulb thieves. There must still be a few prize specimens in there, it’s a…

A Year at Warley Part V: Things that just fetch up…

Garden archaeology doesn’t come much more exciting than finding something pretty much every time you dig. I’ve been visiting Warley Place for thirty-odd years and every time I go something new has been uncovered by the dedicated team of volunteers. Sometimes it’s a bit of brick wall, sometimes a cobbled path. It might be yet…

A Year at Warley Place, Part IV: Daffodils

Miss Willmott had a thing for daffs. No, really, she was crazy about them. On joining the male-dominated Royal Horticultural Society she promptly invaded the all-male Narcissus Committee and won gold medals in four consecutive years. Warley Place would have been sunshine-yellow with prize hybrids, named for her sister and brother in law, and a much-missed sister…

Painshill, Pride of Surrey

Painshill Park Landscape Garden in Cobham, Surrey, is an 18th Century fantasy of gothic follies, Arcadian vistas, woodland dells and mysterious grottoes, yet by the mid-20th Century it had crumbled to invisibility. Estate Manager Mark Ebdon, who began work 33 years ago as a trainee, still remembers his first day. “It was just woodland,” he…

A Year at Warley Place, Pt III: The Ruins

Part three in my year’s exploration of the extraordinary ruined garden at Warley Place, Brentwood, Essex, looks at what’s left of the house and spectacular gardens. Last time saw a potted history of how Edwardian Plantswoman Ellen Willmott’s cossetted baby became so very ruined and overgrown. This time we’ll take a quick hike around what a…

A Year at Warley Place Pt. II: The Story

Warley Place, one of the most exciting gardens of early 20th Century England, has been a ruin since World War II. Ellen Willmott, doyenne of the Edwardian gardening scene, was right up there with Gertrude Jekyll (literally, she and Jekyll were the only two women to receive the RHS’s inaugural Victoria Medal in 1897) but for…

A Year at Warley Place, Part I: Snowdrops

I have often written about my love for Warley Place, the once-famous garden of Edwardian plantswoman Ellen Willmott. The Essex garden, visited by royalty and bigwigs of the gardening world, was lost before the second world war, but was rescued in the nick of time and is now maintained by volunteers as a stunningly gorgeous wildlife…

You keep a-knockin’…

…but you can’t come in… A few months ago I talked about the fantastic once-lost Plantation Garden in Norwich, a piece first featured in the Telegraph. It’s a wonderful, mysterious corner, once hacked out of an old quarry by an eccentric Victorian tycoon, then lost, then hacked out of jungle by an army of volunteers who still…

Orchid Frenzy

Okay, I’m not going to witter on here. The orchids speak for themselves. On a windy day when Storm Doris is rattling the windows and sending roof tiles shattering to the ground, here are exotic orchids to fuel a thousand dreams of paradise. All as viewed at Kew’s glorious Festival of Orchids. It’s on until…

Avery Hill Winter Garden

Avery Hill Park, Eltham, Kent. ‘Colonel’ John Thomas North was desperate to leave his humble beginnings behind. He was even keener to leave behind the story of how he made his fortune – selling South American bird droppings as fertiliser. Victorian head gardeners across the country may have been grateful to the Nitrate King but…

The Kitchen Garden at Hampton Court

When ‘food’ is mentioned in the same sentence as ‘Hampton Court’ what generally springs to mind are Henry VIII’s massive Tudor kitchens, groaning with hogs heads, venison and enough pies to satisfy an army. An army that when not actually fighting potential invaders, spent much of its time playing at it, jousting in the tilt-yards…

Christmas at Kew

Thought I’d take a little time out from my giant autumn roundup to visit the Royal Botanic gardens at Kew for their annual Christmas Festival of lights… It’s a combination of imaginative lighting through the trees, illuminating the elegant garden buildings and strange installations. This year is curious because many leaves on deciduous trees are…