This is a particularly good year for tulips, so I took a detour on the way home from Woolbeding to visit the gardens of Arundel Castle – in particular the Collector Earl’s Garden – which, like the picturesque garden at Woolbeding, is another Bannerman creation. It is an extraordinary place with structures and planting that manage to draw the eye away from the fairy tale turreted and crenelated castle and the looming Gothic cathedral, reducing them both to backdrops to the magnificent and rather bonkers recreation of a garden that the 14th Earl of Arundel created in London with Inigo Jones. It’s bonkers because it is so daring, so removed from current taste, and epic in the imaginations that have created it.
I love the crown that dances on a jet of water in the grotto, the perspectives through the pergolas, and the Stumpery that is new since I last visited. Having recently seen the film ‘A Little Chaos’ about the creation of one of the gardens at Versailles, it seems to me to have more connection with that garden than anything I might see at the Chelsea Flower Show. Oh, and the tulips are rather good too.
Making a garden tricky to visit is the horticultural equivalent of catnip to a cat. The more barriers you erect, the more attractive it becomes. Woolbeding is one of those gardens. Although owned by the National Trust it is privately tenanted which means that is only open on Thursdays and Fridays from April to September – and then only if you pre-book and use the shuttle bus from nearby Midhurst as there is no parking at the garden. So, a certain amount of planning is needed. Is it worth it – absolutely. A series of walled or hedged gardens surround the beautiful house (it’s never open) including a pair of magnificent herbaceous borders – first laid out by Lanning Roper – that frame the view to the front of the house, an ornamental potager and a contemporary courtyard garden.
Away from the house, undulating parkland leads down to the River Rother and to a picturesque garden laid out by Julian & Isabel Bannerman in the 1990s that features cottage orne ornament, a marsh-marigold-yellow bridge, a river god and an authentic looking ruined church that was built by the Bannermans as an entrance to this part of the garden.
Woolbeding has an amazing selection of seating, some beautiful, some timeworn and some decidedly quirky, but all adding to the character of this garden which is gloriously uncrowded. There is always a quiet corner where you can avail yourself of one of these seats and soak up the atmosphere.
Should you feel like indulging yourself, The Spread Eagle Hotel at Midhurst (in conjunction with the National Trust) has arranged a monthly Gardening Masterclass on different themes with Woolbeding’s head gardener. The package includes overnight accommodation at the historic hotel, dinner, bed and breakfast as well as transport to and from Woolbeding, the masterclass, a tour of the garden and a cream tea in the orangery. I was fortunate to attend a press preview and can confirm that I enjoyed every minute! Prices start at £139.50, based on two people sharing a room.
I was recently a panel member on a Q&A session with the wonderful Jekka McVicar – Queen of Herbs and font of much wisdom. Jekka is a great communicator and has a way of imparting ideas in memorable ways.
On the day in question the advice that I came away with and have started to follow is that she liquid feeds all her potted plants EVERY Friday during the growing season. She told us that it makes an enormous difference to the health and growth rate of her plants – and anyone who is familiar with Jekka’s herbs will know they always look superb. Her chosen feed is Maxicrop which is made from seaweed. I have just bought a ten litre container of Maxicrop and will be out there every Friday following her good advice. Thanks Jekka.
I hate plastic labels, but I haven’t been able to find an affordable wooden alternative – until now. Trawling the internet I scrolled past the lovely but pricey handcrafted wooden labels and came to a website offering packs of wooden tongue depressors (do you remember when the doctor would say ‘stick out your tongue and say aah’) costing a mere £1.55 for 100, including postage. They are 15cm long by 2cm wide, so there is plenty of room to write on them – and if they inadvertently end up in the compost heap, they will eventually compost down, unlike the plastic labels.
Over the years I have tried many potting composts, some good, some bad and some that varied between the two. If money was no object, or I was a commercial grower, I would definitely use GroChar from Carbon Gold as there is no doubt that it produces wonderful results, but at more than double the price of other composts (plus delivery) I’ve reluctantly found myself looking elsewhere. New Horizon used to be my preferred alternative, but in the last few years the formulation has changed and currently it is full of lumpy green waste and is not the compost it used to be. My new favourite potting compost is SylvaGrow (£6.99 for a 50 litre bag) a professional peat free formulation that has been used by the National Trust, RHS and the Eden Project for many years and is a favourite with commercial growers. It is now available to amateur gardeners. You may need to hunt around to find a local stockists, but if we spread the word I’m sure it will become more freely available.
By the way, whatever make of compost you buy don’t be fobbed off with leftovers from last year, especially if it has been stacked out of doors – the nutrients will have leached out, it may well be sour and it certainly won’t (as I overheard in a garden centre) have more beneficial micro organisms thanks to hanging around in the cold and wet!