Chelsea – The Modern Slavery Garden

Amongst the madness, beauty and razzmatazz of Chelsea this year, there was a garden with a powerful message. The Modern Slavery Garden, designed by Juliet Sargeant, the first female black designer in Chelsea’s 103 year history.

Modern Slavery Garden

Modern Slavery Garden

Behind the closed doors, a dark centre – charcoal floor, dark railings and door backs representing a hidden reality of men, women and children trapped in modern day slavery. The tall Oak planted within, symbolising the Oak Wilberforce stood under in 1788 with William Pitt discussing the campaign to abolish slavery.

The door numbers represent deeply moving statistics from the 2014 Global Slavery Index. Men, women and child human trafficking and forced labour. Sex slavery, debt bondage, domestic servitude, child marriage, organ harvesting, forced agriculture labour, factories and sweatshops, producing goods for global supply chains, even nail bar forced labour.

Modern Slavery Garden doors

Modern Slavery Garden doors

The small oak saplings at the base of the large Oak tree were grown by modern slavery survivors on an allotment run by the Medaille Trust, a Salvation Army partner, on a UK south coast allotment they use as part of their recuperation and recovery from their experiences of exploitation.

Modern Slavery Garden

Modern Slavery Garden

The open Oak doors and colourful planting represent freedom beyond the bleakness.

The UK Modern Slavery Act was passed last year, and from April 1st 2016 for the first time, companies with a turnover of more than £36m must declare what they are doing about slavery, within their companies and their supply chains – (Last year there was a successful prosecution of a bed company in Yorkshire using trafficked slave labour supplying several prestigious UK stores).

Modern Slavery Garden Planting

Modern Slavery Garden Planting

However, as yet there are no repercussions if companies choose not to publish these reports, its early days. Hopefully this legislation will be further tightened. As consumers we can challenge companies making huge profits from others bleak slave misery. A new campaign promoted by the Modern Slavery Garden to coincide with the first wave of disclosures in April 2016, gives power to the public to challenge the labour ethics of products and suppliers. Folk are encouraged to photograph the product with the hashtag #askthequestion via social media and publicly ask for answers.

Today, a few days after Chelsea closed the Global Slavery Index has released new 2016 figures, and reports a 10 million increase – 45.8 million men, women and children are modern slaves. 13,000 within the UK. Victims here are both vulnerable people in the UK and trafficked from overseas, forced to work illegally.

What kind of world is this?

Having been on the verge of giving up Chelsea visits, tired of hotel gardens and greenhouses the price of houses, its refreshing to see the RHS accept new challenging designs. Chelsea is eclectic and eccentric, filled with passion and excellence but so valid to find thought provoking emotive gardens too. Juliet won both a well deserved gold medal and the Peoples Choice in the Fresh category.

Wordless Wednesday – Winter’s Headily Fragrant Sarcoccoca

Sarcococca confusa

Sarcococca confusa – tiny white flowers packing a powerful scent, followed by black berries

Sarcoccoca ruscifolia var chinensis

Tiny white flowers and last years red berries still remaining on Sarcoccoca ruscifolia var chinensis

Queen Bee on Sarcoccoca

After her winter hibernation Buff-tailed Queen Bumble Bee dusted in Sarcoccoca pollen seeking nectar.


Sarcoccoca hookeriana var digyna, its tiny white winter flowers providing nectar and pollen for Honey Bees

Packing a powerful fragrance, three forms of Sarcoccoca in the Anglesea Abbey Winter Garden providing pollen and nectar for awakening Queen Bumbles and other Pollinators.


Rousham – A Winter’s Visit

The Landscaped garden of Rousham in Oxfordshire is a delightful surprise and magical place to visit. The garden surrounds a Jacobean Cotswold house built for the Dormer family, dating back to the 1630’s. As we drove along the drive to the almost empty stable yard car park in the chill winter sun with a flask of coffee and optimistic picnic our hopes were high for an undisturbed afternoon’s first encounter with Rousham.


Sweeping drive to front elevation showing Kent’s crenelated roof top and Stable blocks to right

In 1737, William Kent was hired by General Dormer to remodel the house and gardens. In the Garden, Kent deliberately included vistas beyond the boundaries, the first time very English rural views were included in design, he envisioned the landscape as a classical painting and is famous as the father of “picturesque”.  Kent worked on Bridgeman’s previous Rousham 1720’s garden design, changing the formality and straight lines with light, shape and colour, predominantly green, for the new naturalistic layout and design. The garden today is virtually as William Kent and the gardener, John Clary, responsible for setting out Kent’s vision as they left it, except of course the garden is now fully mature.

Rear house elevation and rear Bowling Green lawn, bordered by historic yew hedge to left and out of view meadows and Long Horn cattle to right

After paying the £5.00 entrance fee we followed a path around the side of the house to the rear Bowling Green lawns. The house sits on a terrace, with large rear flat lawn, then slopes down towards the River Cherwell and views beyond onto the Oxfordshire country side. The views can be seen from the house and garden and in the far distance Kent placed an “Eye Catcher” a sham ruin and false structure with no sides or back – its the tiny ‘building’, almost in the top centre of my photograph below, with the winding river in the foreground.

View over the River Cherwell to the "Eye Catcher" one mile away

View over the River Cherwell to the “Eye Catcher” one mile away

There are no sign posted paths nor labels, tea shops, gift shops or folk collecting ticket money, instead an automated machine to pay the entrance fee. No dogs or children under 15 are not allowed, which not so long ago would have stopped me visiting but now my own children have cleared off to their own adventures, it was rather lovely not be amongst a game of chase or whooping and hollering. We walked down past the seven arched stone arcade, the Praeneste designed as a place to sit and admire the view above and onwards to Venus’ Vale.

Vale of Venus

Venus’ Vale and the Octagonal pool

The ground underneath was quite soggy from the seemingly endless rain we have here but not churned up as so few people visit. We walked carefully around the Octagonal pool to the the start of the Serpentine Rill. The only sound was birdsong, the mature trees and under storey providing lots of foraging and habitat opportunities.

Serpentine Rill and Cold Bath

Serpentine Rill and Cold Bath

The very modern but now nearly 280 year old Rill reminded us of our visit to Moorish Alhambra last year. Originally Bridgeman in 1720 had designed a natural stream through here and Kent redesigned and created the beautiful Rill with shallow Cold Bath presumably not for folk to bathe in, but had it been a summers day, I can imagine the temptation. Kent designed a route so that vistas and statuary were discovered by the visitor, alluring to ancient allegories and references from his Grand Tour of Italy.

Lower Cascade

Lower Cascade

The ground was ever more sodden as we made our way down towards the River Cherwell, we tried to follow the route Kent intended but veered off and back tracked several times trying to take everything in. The garden seemed more beautiful within than looking out onto the views beyond, the enclosure, maturity and green stillness were quite breathtaking. Truthfully, the Statues were a little lost on me, I much prefer the planting, light and contours of the land. We headed to the walled garden, which looking back the house is to the left and divided into two parts.

Walled Garden Fruit Trees

Beautifully pruned Walled Garden Veteran Fruit Trees, with c 1200 Church in background

The thrilling long avenue of Apple trees were immaculately pruned and cared for, leading to a vegetable garden beyond. To the right of the avenue of fruit trees is a second line of beautifully pruned fruit trees and a long herbaceous border, seed heads intact.


Walled Garden herbaceous border with house in background

Beyond the Walled Garden is the area known as the Pigeon House Garden, but this is no ordinary Pigeon House!


Pigeon House Garden

The small white door at the bottom left was ajar so we tentatively peered in and wondered if the resulting manure was used on the borders. One half of this garden has a box parterre enclosing roses with a summer promise, one of the many reasons for wanting to visit again in the Spring, Summer and Autumn.

Pigeon House

Pigeon House with espaliered Pear and Parish Church beyond

Rousham is open daily from 10.00a.m. Last admission is at 4.30p.m. Situated 12 miles north of Oxford and with Blenheim nearby. There is no Tea Room but our own coffee was pretty good and the picnic we took to balance on the top of our car was enjoyed in blissful solitude. Far from the maddening crowds our day was pretty much perfect.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Ornate – Hall of the Two Sisters, Alhambra, Spain.

Stucco decoration

Arch leading to the Sala de dos Hermanas – Hall of the Two Sisters with ornate Stucco decoration

The weekly photo challenge – Ornate, reminded me of our early June visit to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Our first visit to the Nasrid Palaces and the Generalife. We had travelled to see the incredibly beautiful gardens. The intense heat slowed down our progress and forced us to shelter within the palace rooms and appreciate the extraordinary ornate stucco detail, decorating walls, arches and pillars extending to ceilings inside many of the rooms.

The Arch shown here leads to the entrance of the Sala de dos Hermanas – Hall of the Two Sisters, so called because of two large marble flagstones within the floor. The Sultana would have lived here with her family.

Gelli Uchaf, Wales and Noel Kingsbury

Last week we drove across country to Wales, a land of enormously varied and beautiful scenery, spectacular coastlines and Gelli Uchaf, the home and garden of Julian and Fiona Wormald in the west of Wales.

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View from the terrace of Gelli Ufach

Julian and Fiona live on the top of a hill in a welsh Longhouse and garden in challenging conditions but they have staggeringly beautiful views. He writes an intelligent, thought provoking and diverse blog, centred around their life and garden – The Garden Impressionists and some months ago Julian wrote about a planned workshop, Noel Kingsbury was holding in their garden ‘The Rabbits Eye View’. I have dipped in a few of Noel’s books and coupled with Julian’s accounts, the opportunity to attend ‘The Rabbits Eye View’ workshop and visit Julian and Fiona’s garden at the same time was irresistible.


Noel, jolly and entertaining in the Gelli Uchaf borders

We booked a short stay in a wonderful cottage, Felin Fach near Lampeter as either side of our 4 day break had unavoidable work commitments.  Wales is renown for rain but as our trip approached we were delighted to see a largely dry forecast.


Water Butt at Gelli Uchaf, every vista has beautiful detail

Before the Thursday workshop, our Journey from home on the Tuesday to West Wales took us through the Brecon Beacons, designated a national park, part GeoPark and now also has International Dark Sky status too. An area covering 1,344 square kilometres with glorious rolling hills, home to the Hay on Wye Literary festival and invigorating walks.

Brecon Beacons

Brecon Beacons – Bales of Bracken

Part of the Brecon Beacons is common land, which means that local farmers have the right to graze livestock and to take or use some of the natural products. Here the right of ‘estovers’ – the right to cut and collect certain plants such as the bracken, which is cut in Autumn and baled, then used as bedding for farm animals.

Bracken and Gorse on Brecon Beacons Mynydd IIItud common land

Bracken and Gorse on Brecon Beacons Mynydd IIItud common land

We arrived at our cottage, way after night fall as looking for something to eat in Wales is like looking for the proverbial needle in a Bracken stack, especially in autumn. Lesson learnt we stocked up at the first opportunity and Wednesday morning set off for the coastline in search of the National Trust owned Stackpole Estate and Barafundle Bay, which according to the Trust is often voted one of the most beautiful bays in the World.

Barafundle Bay

Barafundle Bay

We drove along some of the route my husband had cycled on two years ago, up huge hills and down again with glimpses of the coast and finally arrived at National Trust owned Stackpole, parked in the almost empty car park and walked on to Barafundle Bay, we were not disappointed, even with a watery cool autumnal sky, the sea was still very blue, we walked on further until the weather changed and a squall of rain came in, then headed back to the car and the journey back to our cottage. No road is quick in Wales, as they meander through hills and mountains, tiny villages and few street lights. So again we arrived back at almost 9p.m.


Up early the next day, as Anne the cottage owner and fellow workshop attendee kindly offered to take me, whilst my husband went walking with an old friend. Anne drove smoothly through beautiful countryside and as she chatted it was clear she is a very knowledgable plantswoman herself. We arrived early as Anne was helping Fiona with food and I wandered off into their garden for a short while.

First view in the morning

My first glimpse of their daily view

To the front of their Longhouse is a terrace, divided into two areas both overlooking the views to sell your house for.

Julian and Fiona's Welsh Longhouse

Julian and Fiona’s Welsh Longhouse

It was hard to know which way to go first as in every direction was something to draw me along. Julian and Fiona open for the National Gardens Scheme, if folk haven’t visited before its likely they get giddy with exhilaration . And then a second visit, third and fourth must be just as  giddying.


A table to enjoy the Gelli Uchaf views from

I had not properly thought through how much Noel’s course would resonate with me before attending but boy what an eye opener. Noel’s course ‘Rabbits Eye View’ encouraged us to think more about plants in ecological terms, how the relationship with environments and ethical sustainability affected plant and plant design choices for the good. And in a fun, warm and refreshing way.

Rabbits eye View

Noel demonstrating the ‘Rabbits Eye View’

We got down to the nitty gritty of planting and looked at exactly how plants grow, challenging us to think through plant survival techniques and long term plant performances and especially to think ecologically as well as horticulturally. Noel took us through Julian and Fiona’ garden, which he clearly liked very much, he was warm, kind and encouraging and very charming. Noel is known for his naturalistic planting design and collaborations with other designers such as Piet Oudolf. Jason from Garden in a City reviewed his book Hummelo earlier this year.

Gelli Uchaf Woodland Garden. Photo Courtesy of Julian Wormald

Gelli Uchaf Woodland Garden. Photo Courtesy of Julian Wormald

As Noel guided us, gently interviewing Julian and Fiona at the same time he pointed out the details in every area of their garden, the smallest of details were joyous. I felt as if I should not be walking on the moss paths, my heavy footprints quite disturbing. We finally departed around 4.30p.m  –  7 hours had just whizzed by.

Moss paths through the woodland garden

Moss paths through the woodland garden with Saxifrage fortunei on left

If you have the chance to visit Julian and Fiona’s Garden, please take it as its so beautiful. I have only scratched the surface here, Julian’s The Garden Impressionists blog has far better photographs from every season to entice you and if Noel Kingsbury loves this garden then that recommendation is hard to beat.

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Photo courtesy of Julian Wormald Rabbits Eye View Workshop with Noel Kingsbury

On our last day in Wales before the journey east and back home we made the trip to New Quay on the Cardigan Bay, which is a Marine Conservation Zone. We stood on New Quay harbour with a Wildlife Trust volunteer, who was monitoring the Bottlenose Dolphins inhabiting these waters. He said as another rain squall came in behind us and I packed my camera away, this was unusually mild weather for the time of year. Within minutes a large Bottlenose fully leapt from the water tossing a fish in the air. The Wildlife Trust man, said we were incredibly lucky, that behaviour is rarely seen. Obviously I can’t show you that photo as I had just put my camera away, but we felt thoroughly blessed to have had such a wonderful trip to Wales. I shall leave you with one of Julian’s unbelievably beautiful early morning garden views instead.

Gelli Uchaf photo courtesy of Juilan Wormald

Gelli Uchaf photo courtesy of Julian Wormald

Wordless Wednesday – Autumn Sunshine, Heleniums and Long Borders at Cliveden


Heleniums at Cliveden

Hot Border at Cliveden

Cliveden Hot Border

Cleome - Cliveden

Cleome – Cliveden

Cliveden Cool Border

Cliveden Cool Border

PS – The mystery Helenium could be one of several plotted on the Cliveden planting plan boards, I’ve attempted to make a match with one from the Helenium database run by Sampsford Shrubs who held the National Helenium collection, the nearest is possibly ‘The Bishop’, but then again…..

The Gardens of the Alhambra and Generalife, Granada, Spain – Part two Partal and Generalife

Part two. After leaving The Nasrid Palaces in part one on a timed visit we walked through the Partal gardens, Upper Alhambra gardens and headed towards the Generalife. In the Nasrid period there would of been streets and houses here occupied by wealthy people – high ranking court officials, religious and administrative buildings and several small palaces and gardens.

Partal Gardens

One of the series of gardens within the Alhambra complex near to the Palace of the Partal

After Granada was captured in 1492 the houses fell to ruin, some were destroyed or built over and the occupants were forced to move away to the outlying Albaycin area. In the 1930’s a new style of landscaping began here as a part of the re-discovery of Alhambra.

We walked in any shade we could find through the Partal gardens along the route which passed the Tower of the Princesses, named after Washington Irvin’s tale, towards the area known as the New Generalife gardens.

Tower of the Princesses seen from the new Generalife gardens

Tower of the Princesses seen from the new Generalife gardens

The New Gardens occupy a part of the old Orchards of the medieval almunia (a kind of agricultural settlement in Hispano-Islamic times).

New Gardens

Water Pool in New Gardens

The architect Leopoldo Torres Balbas created these gardens between 1931-32. There were signs for visitors explaining that the health and appearance of the Cypress Trees had been adversely affected by the unsuitable planting and growing conditions. Hence the Cypress walls in the new gardens are also undergoing restoration, which will last several years.

Welcome seating along the central pool

Welcome seating along the central pool with some of the walls of Cypress

The gardens in place, were lush and filled with wild loose planting, Roses and Orange trees, which must provide inspiration to garden designers the world over.

New Garden loose planting

New Garden loose planting

Just before the entrance to the Generalife Palace Gardens there is another more formal area with seating, wonderful Orange trees, more roses and pools of refreshing water, if we had not been so eager to see the Palace gardens we would of lingered longer.


Garden by the Palace entrance

We walked through the modest public entrance, where a guide electronically notes your ticket number, there is only one visit allowed into the two Palace Gardens. We walked through another courtyard once used as the Stable yard and now lined with Orange trees and through to the Patio of the Irrigation Ditch. A fourfold garden divided by a water rill and backed by high walls.

The Patio of the Irrigation Ditch

The Patio of the Irrigation Ditch with the viewing Pavilion above

The water pool is 48.70 metres long by 12.80 wide. The small trees are Pomegranates, one on each side of the central axis. The 18 arches seen on the left hand side of this photo were added in 1670 when this area was altered to a Christian chamber and two further rooms were added. The restoration in 1926 removed these additional rooms and restored the patio to its original appearance.


Pomegranate Trees and water spouts in the Patio of the Irrigation

Although, the water spouts were a 19th century addition as were the raising of the beds which were originally 50 cms below the paths. Leading through the decorated arches at the far end we walked on to the Patio of the Cypresses.

Patio of the Cypresses

Patio of the Cypresses

The pool is surrounded by Myrtle Hedges and planted with roses. We read that the old cypresses on the verandas give the patio its name. The most famous is the Cypress of the Sultana in which according to legend, Boabdil’s wife used to meet another man. This led to the death of the people of the man’s tribe, their throats were slit.

Orange Tree in the Patio of the Cypresses

Orange Tree in the Patio of the Cypresses

Stairs lead out of the palace gardens to the higher level where there are more gardens to walk in, to one side is the staircase archaeologists believe to have been in Granada before the Nasrid rulers, we walked back through the avenue of Cypress tress, some are hundreds of years old, we read that some specimens are over 1,000 years old.  We felt privileged to visit.

(I gave details of buying tickets in my first post, its best to book in advance, we were advised that tickets are released 6 weeks before and sell out very quickly, so for a June 1st visit they were released on April 20th. There are lots of options including guided tours on the Alhambra official website and bookings were through ticket master).

Recommended reading ‘The Alhambra’ by Robert Irwin – very readable book explaining the history of the Alhambra.