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Plant writings, gardening thoughts & observations of Paul Hervey - Brookes, Award Winning Garden Designer & Plantsman.
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Saturday, 28 November 2009

Brilliant even on the darkest winter day.

Whilst working at the nursery today I was struck by two things, firstly the cold silvery light and threat of darkening clouds rumbling overhead and the cheery almost diffident brazenness of a Coronilla in full flower.

Praised by Vita Sackville - West as ‘Flowering continuously between those two great feasts of the Church - a sort of hyphen between the Birth and the Resurrection," and "its persistence throughout the dreary months".  This little shrub works wonders in the winter garden.

(Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca 'Citrina') Native to Portugal it was first introduced to Britain in 1569 and although never widely available has always been valued.  Victorian’s would often grow it in cold greenhouses, giving us a clue that even although our climate is warmer today Coronilla still needs some protection if it is to be grown outside.  A dry sunny spot is best.

Provided then that you have found it a lovely little niche of shelter and the winter sun comes out Coronilla will reward you with clusters of bright yellow pea - like flowers with a delicate faint scent of narcissus.  The flowers are held in clusters of up to 15 and have something of a Galega about them.

(Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca 'Variegata') The plant itself is evergreen and a member of the leguminosae (or to please nomenclature standardisers, Fabaceae) family, it forms a matt of roots and is used in Portugal on banks to reduce soil erosion.  Its growth tends to be a little be way-ward and just like the officinalis galega’s tends to make its own loose shaggy mound.  The leaves are very attractive having a grey shade which harmonises with our English light.

(Coronilla valentina) Looking at my plant today at the nursery I was struck by its incredible vigour this year.  Last winter was colder and dryer, to this point, in the Cotswolds but as it has been relatively warm and wet so the Coronilla  has put on a fine burst of growth.  This although welcome means we will be taking extra cuttings next year, not only for sale but also because like many transported Mediterranean plants it will lose vigour and become somewhat woody.

If I have sold the idea of this little treasure to you, don’t rush out and buy straight forward Coronilla valentina.  It tends to be a bit brassy and brash, theres nothing refined or subtle about this form.  The best is Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca 'Citrina' with its soft grey - green leaves and bright clear yellow flowers its an eye catcher but one which you will want to look at again.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Starting Over

Since the Autumn of 2008 we have been managing and developing our own website, With each new development we struggled to add more content and over time a little like an Apple Mac computer we have had to update and re - jig almost on the same 6 monthly basis!

Over the past year and a half we have given our site a few face lifts but the last, and ironically worse, seemed to make it even less clear to use and not terribly attractive.
Over coffee with friends in Minchinhampton a couple of months ago we realised there was nothing for it and prepared for a new website. We have patiently stood back and allowed the process to slowly evolve.

So our new
website has been totally updated. I am please that all of the plants we sell at the nursery are now listed.  This includes some really exciting new introductions we have been able to grow on from fragile seed sent from all over the world. We have grown them on and propagated over the Autumn ready for next year. It was much easier to grow them than think about the process of putting them onto the website, thankfully for me however that is all done now. 

Another development is the number of courses we have added for next year from the few we offered with the
Painswick Rococo Garden this year. 
Now with some really talented people leading very informative and enjoyable courses along with a  weekend break, learning the basics of growing your own, in association with Cotswolds88 Hotel I think next years courses look promising.
I am really pleased for everyone involved as 2 of our courses are now Royal Horticultural Society Recommended.

Lastly on this starting over blog, the nursery itself is getting a new broom.  We are closed until the 9th January but in that time we are busy resurfacing the entire nursery site and adding additional tables for an increase in plant range.  We have also created to new 11m long show border with some of our favourite plants in them.  I hope visitors to the Garden next year will like the improvements, the resurfacing has made it much easier to walk on and the cows in the neighbouring field seem to like watching us move 50 tonnes of hoggin by hand & barrow!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Thank you Box

To all members of Box Gardening Club who I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking to last night.  Thank you for inviting me and for a really enjoyable evening with you all - It was a great deal of fun!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Italian Villa's & Their Gardens

One of my favorite books about gardening and it is so much more than just about gardens, is Italian Villa’s & Their Gardens.  Not a novel, or travel writing or purely garden writing this book still stands as a bible for those seeking the essence of an Italian Garden.  

I read an original edition of this book whilst at University along with many precious original texts all stored for future generations at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's Library.  It was here that I first read Hortus No. 1 and many old RHS publications with articles by the likes of Vita Sackville  - West.

Italian Villa’s does not bother with the tedious detail of how to get somewhere but rather assumes you to are intimate with the owner of each villa and knowledge of location and entry is rather a foregone conclusion.  Edith brings to life the essence and it is her narrative which is the books biggest strength.  She stresses that ‘ One must always bear in mind that it (Italian Garden Craft) is independent of floriculture’.  Her persistent attention to the describing the layout of the gardens she visits and the visitor routes give the book its constant fresh appeal.  After all gardens may fade, planting disappear but the spaces and voids remain and the book describes this effortlessly.

When I first read Italian Villas I was also reading Geoffrey Jellicoe’s Italian Gardens, between them they became my guides on my first trip to Italy and  I went for 4 months in the summer of 1999.  

One villa which has always remained in my mind which I visited more than once is the Villa Barbarigo.  Jellicoe called it Villa Donna Della Rose and wrote  ‘Consider an amphitheater of hills, the ends linked by a great avenue flung across the valley, and this valley an arrangement of lesser avenues furnished with all the delights of an Italian garden, box hedges, lemon trees, sculpture, pools and fountains, and you have an impression of the gardens at Valsanzibio'. The building was designed by Bernine for Zuane Francesco Barbarigo. The baroque gardens have seventy statues, cascades, fountains and water features’.

Edith Wharton called it Villa Valsanzibio and simply described it as one of the most beautiful pleasure grounds in Italy. 

The villa itself dates from the 17th Century and the garden is divided by colossal 20ft High Buxus hedges each room as we would now call them divided between green structures, statuary and water.  I don’t remember seeing a single flower here, but this garden stood out for me as a singular joy and lesson in proportion and taste.

The village of Valsanzibio is very near to the City of Padua, not only famous for the Pedrocchi Cafe, a favorite haunt of Byron, Dario Fo and Stendhal but also for having one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world with its original 1545 layout intact.  Arranged over a circular format Padua Botanic Garden sets out each plant in its own bed so that the specimens could be observed and catalogued at ease.  

When talking about Italian gardens I think I will leave the last words to Edith Wharton
“The traveller returning from Italy, with his eyes and imagination full of the ineffable Italian garden-magic, knows vaguely that enchantment exists: that he has been under its spell, and that it is more potent, more enduring, more intoxicating to every sense than the most elaborate and glowing effects of the modern horticulture.........” 


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