River walk – Twickenham to Richmond

River Walk

River Walk

This is one of my favourite London walks, taking you past picturesque Georgian town houses, secret gardens, grand stately homes, boats and meadows until you see the dramatic sight of Richmond in the distance.

I discovered this magical walk by accident when I was in Twickenham for an appointment. What had seemed like an annoying trek across London, turned into a delight on finding what lay beyond Twickenham high street.

Catching a glimpse of the Thames at the bottom of a side street I was drawn down and discovered just how pretty the riverside is. This is the oldest part of Twickenham with the beautiful St Mary church – Queen Anne with a much older medieval tower – cobbled streets and quaint 18th century buildings including an old museum and a theatre – it’s like something out of a Jane Austen novel.

You pass under a pretty bridge, which crosses into an intriguing waterfront garden with just the top of a classical Italian fountain visible. I later discovered the garden – York House Gardens – is open to the public – and is just as eccentric and secret as I’d imagined. When I visited I had the garden, scattered with Italian sculptures, all to myself.

You walk on past more picturesque Georgian houses, until you reach a nice old riverside pub, The Swan – with a floodable beer garden – a good place for a pit stop. Alternatively, if you fancy a coffee more than beer, there’s a cafe just a little further along at Orleans House Gallery, with gardens and a changing programme of exhibitions

The Thames starts to feel very rural here, with cow parsley lining the banks and avenues of trees, trailing their branches into the Thames. You could either carry on to Richmond where you’ll see the striking Marble Hill House on the left, its perfect Palladian facade sitting in a huge stretch of green lawns. Owned by English Heritage the lawns are open to the public and are perfect for picnicking on.

Alternatively cross the river, for £1 by ferry to visit the elegant 17th stately home, Ham House, owned by the National Trust, just visible between the trees.

Another possible detour is Petersham Nurseries – lunch amongst the plants and water fountains. Then on to Richmond past the buttercups of Petersham meadows with cows grazing on your right and the Imposing Royal Star and Garter building of Richmond in the distance.

Finally you’ll see the impressive sight of elegant Georgian terraces of Richmond rising up on the distant grassy slopes and walk on until you come to Richmond Bridge. You could do the walk in the other direction of course – either way, its a winner!

Villandry gardens, France

villandry collage

It was only a matter of time before I’d drag my family to a garden, on our holiday in France this year. We were in the Loire, famous for its chateaux, so I picked the one with the most impressive-looking gardens – Villandry.

It didn’t disappoint. From immaculate formal gardens to looser contemporary planting, pools, fountains and woods, we were all bowled over – there was even a maize and play area for the children.

After admiring the fish in the chateau’s moat, we crossed over into the ornamental kitchen gardens – nine plots in a grid, planted with a tapestry of vegetables and flowers, sparkling with colour in the late summer sun. Jade green carrot leaves, blue leeks and deep purple cabbages were set off by bright flowers – red hot begonias clashed wonderfully with verbenas, beds brimming with yellow targets looked striking with line of blue salvias running through them. Stunning.

In the ornamental garden – planted in box hedges of symbolic patterns, I loved the garden symbolising music, a serene space where dreamy spires of Pervoskia poked up between geometric box triangles – almost contemporary in its simplicity.

The Sun Garden, representing both the warmth of the sun, and cooler clouds, is the most recent addition, commissioned in 2008, and designed in part by Louise Benech. In the Sun Garden, where beds radiate out from a sun shaped pond in the centre, the planting glowed with the golden yellows of the rebekias, orange potentilla and flashes of deep pink roses. In the adjacent Cloud Garden, where little grassy paths meander through beds, there was a cooler palette of blue and white, shrub roses, white potentilla, phlox, with Verbena bonariensis and grasses swaying above.

The calming water garden with a pool and water fountains is a perfect place to take a pause, before climbing up to the higher terraces for a breathtaking last view of this remarkable garden from above.


The Old English Garden, Battersea Park

photo copy 10photo copy 10photo copy 25photo copy 26

I’d been keen to see garden designer Sarah Price’s redesign of Battersea Park’s Old English Garden since reading about the glamorous and beautifully shot opening party in ES magazine two years ago.

When I finally tracked down the down the garden, one hot July morning, hidden behind high brick walls in the heart of the park, I found it as romantic and dreamy as I’d hoped.

Originally built in the 1900s, the garden had become neglected. So it was Sarah’s job, with the help of gardeners from the mental health charity Thrive, for whom it is intended, and the sponsorship of Jo Malone Ltd, to breathe new life into it.

Old roses, honeysuckle and wisteria are in abundance, but there’s an airy, naturalism to the planting that’s fresh and contemporary. Masses of white umbilifers such as the giant Selinum wallichianum and the lower growing Ammi majus, together with great clouds of Centranthus ruber ‘Alba’ give a pretty, lacy feel. Mounds of hot pink Geranium ‘Patricia’ with the dark purply blue spikes of Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ growing up through it, add colour and contrast.

There’s a wonderful sense of height as you wander amongst the beds with Hollyhocks and Veronicastrum towering above you. I loved the combination of giant frothy heads of Astilbe and delicate yellow evening primrose ‘Oenothera’biennis, complemented perfectly by the purples of the Verbena bonariensis and Alliums.

So if you fancy losing yourself in nature for a little while - seek out this little oasis in the city.

Great Dixter in June

photo copy 8photo copy 16photo copy 13photo copy 10photo copy 9photo copy 8

We picked a perfect day for our trip to the famous gardens of Great Dixter, and after a meandering bus journey from Rye, through the Sussex Weald, we arrived at the low-key ticket office.

Your first glimpse through the small garden gate is of a long path leading up to the beautiful half-timbered Arts and Crafts house, bordered on either side by pretty meadow dotted with native orchids and buttercups.

The late Christopher Lloyd made the garden famous with his open-minded and experimental style, which is carried on today by head gardener Fergus Garrett, who favours a relaxed, naturalistic planting.

It’s the contrast of formal and informal that makes Great Dixter so refreshing. In the Peacock garden, the architectural yew topiary is softened by the mass of dancing white  daisies that surround it, with a huge drift of deep red lupins adding a striking splash of colour.

The paths in the High Garden are so small, with flowers towering up either side of you, it’s like being lost in an English garden jungle. Often a riot of colour, with geraniums, forget-me -nots and poppies roaming free and giant fennels, thalictrum aquilegifolium, and even flowering parsnips swaying airily above. Free-standing rose briars and rambling clematis add to the untamed feel.

I have to admit, I was drawn to the soft, romantic border in the vegetable garden, a harmony in pinks and purples, with its repeated tall feathery bronze fennel, mauve valerian and splashes of hot pink plume thistle ‘Atropurpureum.’

Yet it’s only by experimenting that you can find surprising new plant combinations and Great Dixter is a lesson in letting your gardening hair down and giving it a go. It’s like a breath of fresh air.

Attracting the bees

photo copy 4photo copyphoto copy 7photophoto copy 4photo copy 2

It was heaven on the allotment this morning. Tranquil, sparklingly green, and hot – so those baby courgette plants will need some water.

My allotment guru friend, Tom, is having a peaceful pre-watering cup of tea and I join him for a quick sit down under his hawthorn tree – an enviable shady spot.

Tom’s plot is a haven for wildlife – with his valerian-fringed pond and great swathes of phacelia – a beautiful and eco-friendly green manure, which literally hums with bees and improves the nutrient status and texture of the soil.

The lavender blue phacelia contrasts beautifully with the bright yellow mass of poached egg plants ‘Limnanthes douglasii’. It can be used as winter ground cover and stripped off for the compost bin in spring, but it’s a shame to miss out on those flowers and they attract bees and hoverflies, which will eat aphids and pollinate plants.

Tom takes a relaxed approach to gardening – he lets the chard self-seed where it wants and the raspberries move themselves from bed to bed. As I head back to my own plot and the chard that’s popped up in the potato bed – I think perhaps I should take a tip from Tom, and just let it be!