Plants: Dog rose

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When the rigid days of summer begin to slouch, someone flicks a switch and the bounty of autumn is everywhere. The countryside becomes a squally mess of exhausted hedgerows, their aching limbs laden with fruit. Bunches of berries cover the hawthorn’s branches, lasting into the colder months long after the leaves have fallen. Others don’t keep; the smell of rotting apples lingers, and deceptive blackberries still appear ripe until the fruit is touched and turns to a sodden pulp.

Strings of rose hips hang like plump fairy lights. Draped over branches for support, the hips glow red and orange. They are filled with many small seeds, each one covered with a head of fine hairs – so minute they make a fantastic itching powder. Guarding the tempting fruits is a tangle of stems with tooth-like thorns. These are where the dog rose gets its name. Their bite could certainly rival any terrier’s canine. Other stories say it was a good medicine to treat rabid dog bites, or that it was originally named ‘dag’ rose after the dagger-like thorns.

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From late May to July, long before the pitter-patter of falling leaves, the thorns are blunted by a mass of blushing flowers. Each lightly scented bloom is neatly arranged of five confetti pink, heart-shaped petals. Harvested and used to make syrup or rose water, their floral flavour evokes an Eastern feast of exotic spices and sticky puddings. Both are simple to make; gathering the quantity of petals needed is the only difficulty.

The fat hips are also good in the kitchen and contain 20 times as much vitamin C as oranges. During World War Two when citrus fruits could not be imported, the government encouraged people to gather hips as an alternative. They make a fantastic sweet preserve, perfect for spreading on a Sunday afternoon crumpet, while a syrup of the fruits has long been used to treat the common cold. A fine excuse for a spoonful of bright red, warming and sickly ‘medicine’.

In the garden

Another theory for its name is ‘dog’ meaning worthless, presumably in comparison to cultivated roses. It is the rebellious sibling in the family, but shouldn’t be dismissed from the garden entirely. Its tough, vigorous nature (and thorny barrier) makes it ideal as a hedging plant, robust-enough for coastal locations, and tolerant of poor soil.

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The sprawling silver stems make this briar more suited to informal gardens. It has a natural familiarity and is perfect for wildlife-friendly gardens, as well as blurring the boundaries between our tended borders and nature beyond. At The Courts Garden near Bradford on Avon it is used with an unusual twist, or perhaps a happy accident. Planted in long rectangular borders, the nodding branches of thorns and berries skulk between billowing Nepeta and mounds of Stipa tenuissima.

Growing to more than 3m (10ft) the dog rose does need space to stretch. In rural locations along tunnels of wiry undergrowth, it is clear this native briar thrives rooting around a maze of rabbit warrens and badger runs. Relying on the support of its neighbours, yet fighting for the biggest autumn crop is the endurance the dog rose revels in from one season to the next.

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Places: The Beth Chatto Gardens

After such a long hiatus (take a look at my Published work to see what I’ve been up to), I couldn’t help but write about a long awaited trip to a very special garden.

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Stood with in earshot of the A120, and less than 15 minutes from the centre of Colchester, it is difficult to imagine that a garden could so easily transport you away from the present moment. And yet among the island beds of Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden, I could have been stood in the mountainous foothills where she found inspiration.

The Gravel Garden was started in 1991, converting 0.35ha (¾ acre) of parched grass car park into a new garden. Faced with low average annual rainfall and poor quality, heavily compacted soil there was uncertainty about whether anything would ever grow. However, instead of despairing at the conditions Beth used these to her advantage. This included taking into consideration the changing weather patterns, with hotter, dryer summers and milder winters.

By early spring 1992 the first plants started to fill dry riverbed-inspired design. Beth used hosepipes to define the beds, creating two long outer borders with a series of sinuous island beds between. The pathways looped their way around the garden with no formal direction or shape.

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Bergenia and Poa labillardieri (left); Allium sphaerocephalon (right)

Every plant was dunked in a bucket of water until saturated, planted and watered again, after that only Mother Nature would provide further watering. To begin with Beth experimented with plants that grew wild in countries bordering the Mediterranean; tolerating free-draining soil and dry summers. She knew that not every plant would be able to cope with the irrigation-free conditions and at the end of the first summer wrote: ‘Not all plants will be successful, some may die, other may prove unsuitable, or simply it may be I won’t like the effect, or the way one thing smothers out another.’

Exploring the borders

In a dry, gravel-covered garden, especially on a hot summer’s day, the atmosphere could have felt arid. However, the Gravel Garden is anything but. The planting is abundant and vivid, combining herbaceous stalwarts with unusual neighbours. Swathes of purple and silver, including Allium sphaerocephalon, Eryngium giganteum and Verbena bonariensis mix with airy grasses, such as Stipa tenuissima and S. gigantea. The planting is a magnet for wildlife too, with pollinators hopping between blooms and birds taking cover in the plants.

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Sedum telephium (Atropurpureum Group) ‘Karfunkelstein’; Verbena officinalis var. grandiflora ‘Bampton’; Origanum laevigatum

Many of us are driven by colour when we garden, but in the Gravel Garden dramatic combinations of texture and shape are the main focus – even in the height of summer. At the edge of one bed the almost succulent leaves of Bergenia, with their stout, upright stems of flowers are set against a background of the fine billowing New Zealand blue grass, Poa labillardierei.

Elsewhere, Verbascum bombyciferum seeds freely around the garden. As a biennial, the silvery leaves create architectural rosettes, before throwing up triffid-like spires of yellow flowers that tower over the borders. The rosettes, which almost look like a Sempervivum on steroids, are such a contrast to the surrounding plants, including the strap leaves and arching blue heads of Agapanthus, and delicate, scented Origanium. Somehow everything is harmonious, yet the considered planting design means that every border is punctuated by a glut of shape and texture.

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Verbascum bombyciferum

With such a varied and rich use of plants, the gravel plays an important role in keeping the whole area securely linked together. Although the borders and pathways have clear definition, the sea of gravel that creeps between the spreading plants softens any hint of a line.

In many ways the Gravel Garden doesn’t feel like a garden at all. It is an ongoing plant study, living art installation, nod towards our changing climate and sickening proof that so many of us could spend less time watering. If the ‘right plant, right place’ adage needed a mascot the Gravel Garden would surely be it. Flaunting the rules of planting may seem like fun, but if following them can create a garden as beautiful as Beth’s then I’m happy to oblige.

Photos taken: early August 2016


Visit The Beth Chatto Gardens website for more information.

 

Places: Anglesey Abbey

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It often feels like the period between New Year and the end of January is a gardening void. Pre-Christmas, winter-interest shrubs and frosty scenes on greetings cards are prominent. Then once Christmas and New Year have gone, and we are well and truly fed-up with tinsel and turkey, there is a lull. At this point I am desperate to get excited about the approaching seasons, but they still feel far away.

However, a sunny cold day is the perfect chance to get outside and explore other gardens. I love to see the uncluttered bones of a design and although I miss busy summer borders, the bare stems of winter can be just as attractive. The purpose-designed Winter Garden at Anglesey Abbey, just north of Cambridge, is no exception. In 1996 the modest garden was created in the 114 acres of parkland, and 20 years later it is at its peak.

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Looking at the estate map the garden looks small and narrow, especially in comparison to the rest of the vast estate. However, the Winter Garden is anything but. Measuring 20m wide by 350m long, the design is simple but maximum impact. Two long borders run the length of the walk, divided by a gently curving serpentine path – with just enough bend to obscure the view around the next corner. Trees have also been planted on the curve of the path, breaking the perspective and adding height.

Clever planting helps to make walking down the single path an enticing journey. The planting is bold, with confident blocks used to heighten the impact of winter colours, textures and scents. Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Beauty’ is planted en-masse, the fiery stems licking the edges of the path. Nearby a sea of Sarcococca is in bud, ready to fill the air with a beautiful sweet scent, while pollarded Salix erupt through the evergreen foliage.

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Varigated Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ is used liberally and pruned to keep the shrub as a frothy lower layer. Under planted around winter flowering Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and contrasting against the toasted bark of Acer griseum.

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The chalky, distressed stems of Rubus have space to roam down the borders. Below the thorny arms is an array of emerging spring bulbs. Early snowdrops are upright and blooming, while daffodils are still developing; even some unseasonally early Iris’ are braving the cold. Other flowering winter gems include many forms of hellebore and the yellow ribbon-like flowers of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Barmstedt Gold’.

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The planting scheme in the Winter Garden may be big and bold, but the combinations could easily be scaled down to suit a smaller garden or border. Even at the end of the meandering path the spectacular ghostly grove of Betula utilis var. jacquemontii could be recreated with just one specimen tree taking the focus. Thank goodness winter gardens aren’t just for Christmas.

Visited: 10 January 2016

The Urban Retreat in photos

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Now that the Chelsea Flower Show is over, it is sad to think that photos are the only means we have to revisit so many beautiful gardens. I hope I have taken enough to remember all of the little details that intrigued and fascinated me, especially in our garden. The texture of intense green leaves again the coarse rusty steel. The contrast of shapes throughout the garden; bold collections of circles sitting within linear boundaries of concrete and the way the building perfectly framed the jungle-planting behind. Watching bees appear from nowhere and make the garden their temporary home, and the spicy, sweet smell of cedar. One benefit is that I can spend as long as I want looking at each photo, studying the layers of planting or the sun through the petals of the Iris. They flatten the busy real-life scene into a one-layered image and really allow the garden to be fully appreciated as a whole.

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Growing aplines, the new un-cool cool thing to do?

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There is something quite fascinating about alpines. Robust little rock plants with jewel-like flowers that look like they have arrived from another planet. Their rugged-exotic appearance makes them look unpredictable and hard to grow. However, mainly originating from cool mountainous regions, they are very suited to our climate and make great plants for containers or small gardens.

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The other day I visited an alpine show. The room was filled with admiring ‘oos’ and ‘ahhs’, as crowds of people all cradling cameras, huddled around tables trying to get the perfect photo of a delicate mass of tiny yellow flowers. It was great to see so many people, however I don’t think my presence did much to alter the average age of the shuffling crowd. It struck me that growing alpines probably isn’t very ‘cool’, but why not? It’s definitely alternative and if you are a fashionable, twenty-something living in a studio flat in London, some vintage terracotta pots with curious-looking plants would certainly make a good talking point. Not to mention an awesome Instagram subject. Perhaps growing alpines is the answer that all of us un-cool folk have been looking for?

 

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The alpine growers of the future? Cool guy from http://come2england.com/hipster-london/

 

With that in mind, here are some tips about why we should all grow alpines and hopefully, why it should make us all a little bit cooler…

  • Alpines are often thought of as plants that grow ‘above the tree-line’, however anything small and hardy can be an alpine, like conifers or cacti.
  • I’ve seen that cool people like to put flowers in their beards and hair; alpine flowers are the perfect size for accessorising one’s facial features. The flowers come in a multitude of different shapes and colours.

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  • Nothing says ‘trendy-without-trying’ like someone who is well travelled. Rock plants come from every corner of the globe and are simple way to bring the rest of the world to your garden with out going anywhere. You could even pretend to have been soul-searching whilst staying in a boutique mountain retreat where your alpine grows.
  • Alpines can be planted at any time of year in unfrozen soil. Although the best time to plant them is March and April.
  • If the thought of gardening is a little daunting, something like a small rock garden in a bowl is a great way to get started and also a great way to get kids growing too.
  • Do your bit to save the planet. There are lots of alpines from southern Europe and further afield that are drought-resistant and once established will happily grow and flower with little water. Really useful if you just forget to look after your plants or live in a hosepipe ban area.

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  • Spend a long time maintaining your appearance so that you look like you don’t care about your appearance? Alpines genuinely don’t need much maintenance at all and they still look great.
  • A single alpine looks lovely in a statement container. A perfect excuse to go rummaging in thrifty little shops or grab a bargain at your local street market. Just make sure that the container has good drainage.
  • The following plants all have alpine varieties, are easy to grow and could be your unique new DJ name: Aubrieta, Crepis, Ranunculus, Thymus, Sempervivum, Sedum or Erinus.

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  • There is also a huge range of alpine bulbs, a lot of them flower in the spring when there aren’t many other plants growing. Great bulbs to start with would be Crocus, Fritillaria, Narcissus or Tulipa.
  • Remember how at university all the cool people would join the obscure clubs, like the ‘Tea-drinking Society’ or the ‘Human vs. Zombies Society’? Alpine-lovers can join the AGS (Alpine Gardens Society) who hold loads of events, local meetings, plant sales and seed exchanges.

Take a look at the AGS website for loads more infomation about growing alpines: http://www.alpinegardensociety.net

Feeling Festive – Homemade Wreath

wreath9 A cold and frosty Saturday morning seemed like the perfect time to start feeling a bit festive and decorate our little house for Christmas. Coming from a family of florists, I realised that I had no excuse not to make my own decorations. Having spent many hours watching my mum turn cut stems gathered from the garden into beautiful arrangements, it was now my turn to give it a go. After an hour or so collecting berries and branches from the fields surrounding my home, I was ready to start. Here’s how I did it: wreath1 wreath2 ONE. Gather your materials. Evergreen plants, seed heads and berries are ideal for a seasonal wreath. I literally collected anything I liked the look of. I had far too much for a wreath, however whatever was left I knew I could use to make other decorations or simply put in a vase. Some of the plants I collected were: Ivy, Hawthorn berries, Travellers Joy seed heads, Larch cones, Rosehip berries, conifer and fir. TWO. Make the base. I used long stands of Ivy, which I bound together with wire, to make a base to build the wreath on. The ring perhaps wasn’t as rigid as I would have liked, something like Willow would have made a stronger frame. I used galvanised gardeners wire to bind the wreath together. THREE. Start wiring. Cut small pieces of your chosen material and start wiring them to the ring. I had decided that I wanted my wreath to have a definite top and bottom, so I started by wiring part of the bottom section so I knew where the top would be. The wiring is quite hard work on your hands, as it needs to be as tight as possible! wreath3 wreath4 FOUR. Building up the layers. After wiring a bottom section I actually moved up to the top of the wreath and started layering pieces back down toward the bottom again. This meant that I was always covering up my last wired section with a new bit of greenery and all the foliage would be pointing upwards. I used Nordman fir for the majority of the wreath, occasionally adding Ivy, berries or seed heads to add interest. FIVE.  Adding extra bits. Once reaching the bottom of the wreath I went back up to the top again and did exactly the same on the other side. After that I wired lots of extra Travellers Joy seed heads to the bottom of the wreath to make a focal point. SIX. Balancing the shape. At this point I probably could have stopped, however I felt like the wreath was still missing a few finishing touches. As a lot if the focus was at the bottom of the wreath I used some brown gardeners string to bind some beautiful berries into the top part of the wreath. I felt that it balanced the overall appearance and also added a more rustic element by breaking the circular shape of the wreath. Having the block of string at the top also meant I could incorporate a loop for hanging it up. SEVEN. Finishing touches. Every wreath needs a bit of sparkle, so I twisted wire around the bases of pinecones and sprayed them silver before wiring them into the foliage. wreath5 wreath6 EIGHT. The final flourish. To complete my festive decoration I made a large raffia bow and tied it in place. I then hung my wreath up, stood back and admired the lovely collection of foliage, berries, colours and textures I had married together on a frosty Saturday morning. wreath8 wreath7 LEFTOVERS. As I had hoped, I had quite a lot left over once I had finished my wreath. I made a very simple length of swag by wiring together conifer branches and long tendrils of ivy. Then attaching seed heads of Travellers Joy with raffia bows. Simple, but effective. There is something so lovely about bringing greenery inside at Christmas time.

Places – Rousham Gardens, nr Oxford

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It’s funny how the simplest of things can transport our nostalgic memories back to our childhood and in a matter of seconds we have gone back in time all just from a taste, smell, place or object.

When I visited Rousham Gardens, I found myself fondly recalling countless hours spent playing in water. Whether pointlessly collecting broken china from a neighbour’s stream, building dams in rivers or exploring the bed of an empty reservoir. There is something about water that brings out our playful inner explorers!

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Water is definitely a prominent feature at Rousham. Created by William Kent in the 18th Century, the gardens are unaltered, making them the purest example of the English Landscape gardening style. It’s easy to forget that what appears to be a very natural parkland with rolling lawns and huge trees, was in fact all carefully planned, to make the most of views and really heighten our expectation and surprise as we explore.

The garden is full of amazing, grand classical buildings and sculptures, which really did blow me away with their size and craftsmanship. They are anything but dainty. In fact, the whole garden has a huge presence that overshadows the very beautiful house, even though the majority of the garden is tucked away.

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My favourite part of the garden absolutely had to be the rill leading to the Cold Bath. The rill winds its way through a simple piece of woodland, flanked by laurel, to a crystal-clear, octagonal cold bath. The idea of an octagonal shape in the garden sounds quite strange, however it just seemed to sit so perfectly with in the setting. The rill and bath is Grade II listed and is the earliest example of the Rococo theory, ‘Line of Beauty’ being applied in Garden Design. Line of Beauty is a term that describes an S-shaped curved line. The theory behind it is that curved lines create a liveliness and excitement that attracts attention, where as straight lines signify inanimate objects and more dramatically, death. Funnily enough, it was as I skipped back and forth either side of the winding rill that I had my nostalgic moment. It was a very quiet day, I was genuinely skipping and knew nothing about the ‘Line of Beauty’ theory at the time!

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A separate walled garden, much closer to the house, has a large fruit and vegetable garden, box parterres, a dovecote and long herbaceous borders, including one dazzling border of just dahlias. It is also where you will find all these various pictured doorways and archways, which could not be more charming.

Rousham has definitely escaped the 21st century and remains a quiet and unspoilt place with plenty of hidden corners and meandering pathways to tempt your inner child.

Visited September 2014

Autumn highlights…

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Of all the seasons autumn seems to be the most fleeting. Like a horticultural firework display, the sudden explosion of colour lights up the garden, but one stormy night is all it takes to blow away the season.  The noticeably shorter days and the weather reaching its climax of unpredictability, makes any opportunity to get outside a real treat. It’s a great time to walk around just looking and marveling at nature’s last hurrah for the year. A dazzling display of fiery colours to recall during the colder months.

Whilst at Barnsdale with the Homebase Garden Academy last week, I had the perfect opportunity to capture all the fantastic autumn colour around the garden. Here are some of my favourites:

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It is a difficult decision, however I think autumn in my favourite season. (At least it is at the moment)!

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The ‘Town Paradise’ Garden

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So many layers of colour

PLACES: Piet Oudolf @ Hauser & Wirth

 

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Layers and layers of planting

I couldn’t quite believe it when I found out that one of Piet Ouldolf’s newest garden designs was a stone’s throw away in the quaint village of Bruton, Somerset. The renowned designer and plantsman has worked on some truly incredible projects, from The High Line in New York to the Serpentine Gallery, London. A leading figure (he basically invented it) of the New Perennial movement, his design style is effortless, natural and unlike any other. For many designers he is someone to idolise and aspire to.

The garden in question, at Hauser & Wirth gallery, has been planted with no less than 25,000 plants! All carefully placed around the modest 1.5-acre site. It is a perfect example of the New Perennial movement, layered swathes of grasses and herbaceous perennials with sinuous pathways that guide you around the space. I wish there had been places to sit with in the garden. With out places to pause it felt like I was on a conveyer belt, being slowly led around the garden with all the other visitors. However, it was still a delight. Each turn created a completely new perspective of the garden and a new collection of plants layered together.

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Looking up the garden from the gallery

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A small selection of key plants

Alongside the garden there is an exhibition of Oudolf’s planting plans, an insight into how he creates and develops his signature style of planting. They are definitely worth seeing and a great reminder (particularly for me) that it is best not to be too precious about your work. If something needs changing, grab a pen and change it!

What also interested me, as I walked around the gallery of felt-tip pen planting plans, was this idea of gardens as art. To go and visit an art gallery to appreciate scribbles and lines on tracing paper. It is probably a subject with no perfect answer; I definitely don’t know where I stand. However, it did make me wonder whether placing garden design in hushed, whitewashed rooms would unlock horticulture to new audiences. Does linking gardening and contemporary art make it appear youthful and trendy? Or does it just raise Garden Design up another step higher on the social ladder?

I could probably dedicate an entire blog to debating the subject and perhaps still end up with no definitive answer. If you like art, wear those peculiarly cool-but-oversized-glasses and haven’t heard of Piet Oudolf then the exhibition is probably a good thing. If you are a 16-year-old school leaver with a slight interest in horticulture, but you don’t know how to pursue it, then a pretentious art gallery probably isn’t for you.

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Perfect colours even in the dull weather

It’s hard to end a post when I cannot even come to a conclusion with myself. Promoting garden design and horticulture in new and unique ways is obviously a good thing. However, I hope garden design never looses sight of the dirt under its nails.

Not forgetting Piet Oudolf and his marvellous new garden, here is a lovely and rather apt quotation from his book Designing with Plants. ‘In the same way that a painter works with a palette of coloured pigments, so the garden designer can select what plants to use from the palette of plants’.

PLACES – The Courts Garden, Holt

Much of our time gardening is spent battling. Whether it is the on-going job of weeding, cutting hedges that are out of shape, edging paths, staking, tying, raking, pruning… we definitely keep a tight control of how our gardens are allowed to grow.

However, as the year starts to wind down, so do we and our gardens take on a glorious ‘shabby chic’, as herbaceous borders elegantly flop over paths and patios, like untying your hair after a long day in the office.

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A line of topiary ‘figures’ walking across the lawn

This is why I particularly enjoyed my visit to The Courts, near Holt in Wiltshire. The let-it-all-hang-lose-effect of late summer, just takes the edge off pristine formal gardens and is a beautiful reminder that sometimes plants just need to do their own thing.

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An archway of apples and grapes, unlike any I’ve seen before!

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I fell in love with the colour of this vine

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…and also fell in love with this combination of grass and hips

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