Autumn–ready, reset, go…

The months of September and October are typically times where EVERY day could be a gardening day if the weather has cooled off enough to allow it.  A well attended autumn garden results in a garden with far less necessary spring work.  It is a lot more fun to put plans you have made over the winter into action as soon as early spring breaks than it is to know that there are days of yard clean-up required before you can put trowel to the ground with new plant material.

Thursday and Friday were beautiful days to get started on my autumn bed to-dos. With not much sun and highs in the 70s, I made tremendous strides in the smallish garden beds which flank my front walk and the broad curved border on the west side of the yard. The word ‘reset’ is defined as ‘to set again or anew’, in other words to go back to the beginning — affording the chance to move forward again.

By early fall, woody perennials–especially those which thrive in hot and dry conditions–have become brambled, twiggy masses. The iris need dividing plus a foliage trim back and the long suffering roses are starting to show spider mite and heat damage. Because I garden in a temperate winter area, the autumn cut back or clean up often results in one more round of fresh foliage and blooms. The new leaves have a chance to harden off before the possibility of frost looms and I have reduced the size of the plant enough to be more manageable through the winter.  In the case of the woody perennials and the roses, the cut back requires the discipline to cut off perfectly good flowers and foliage for the reward of extending the bloom season a bit. For the woody perennials such as lantana, some salvias, rosemary and lavender you avoid that inevitable mess of a hard freeze reducing a huge plant to a soggy mess. Many of the woodies have hollow stems. If you prune them back AFTER the cold has arrived the hollow stem tends to accumulate water and a hard freeze will then decimate your plant. A bonus for me in my snail ridden beds is that the cleaning up and clearing out exposes the bases of the large rocks where snails winter over and I have the opportunity to bait heavily one more time (less effective when the beds are lush and the dirt mostly covered with plant masses.)

Gardening guides instruct you to dig and divide bearded iris after they bloom, typically in mid-July. Our long growing season and unmercifully hot summer make that timetable challenging. In areas of longer winter many bearded iris (even those categorized as ‘early’) do not even start to bloom until mid-May. I frequently have my early varieties blooming in mid-February and those classified as late bloomers totally finished by mid-May. My remondant (repeat blooming) varieties bloom all fall, winter and early spring then rest in the summer. With blooms finished by June the foliage looks pretty ratty all summer! I dig and divide in the fall giving the divisions a chance to settle in through the mild winter. The iris seem to end up last on my list and I always have at least one area that I let go too many years and then lose the whole group.


Bearded Iris in better years!

The last few years of significantly more restricted outdoor watering has diminished my once pretty spectacular colonies of iris. I am hanging in there for better times and knowing that iris are fairly resilient through drought times gives me hope!

The photos below will show you that the woody salvias have been reduced in size by about 2/3rds, the roses deadheaded with diseased foliage removed, the aster sprays cut back to the new foliage emerging from soil, the iris cleaned up and trimmed and all the spurge and oxalis dug up. I rescued some great iris out from under the pale blue plumbago and replanted them in more open areas.

I finish each bed/border section by spreading both Preen for pre-emergent weed control and snail bait. I am undecided about winter annuals at this point but know that the beds are ready for them if I want to add any. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll work every section of both the front and back gardens in this fashion. Once everything is done I will order a load of fine mulch and top dress each area. Late in November I’ll strip the rose foliage to nudge them into dormancy, following up with the hard pruning in late January.

A quick update on our grass removal project–the large driveway circle bed is almost empty of it current plants. Digging is more than challenging due to the roots of the two mature and very large crape myrtle trees. Today, we were able to till and clear about 25% of  the area which used to have lawn, adjusting the grade a bit as we worked. I will focus on larger scale evergreen shrubbery on the street side–possible Wheeler’s Dwarf Pittosporum en masse. The west exposure may get a swathe of tough mounding drift type roses and the shady north side is still a mystery to me!

The two smaller areas from which we removed grass are doing really well! I love the vibrancy of the Double Pink Knockout roses underplanted with lavender lantana. The combo has withstood the summer heat quite well with only moderate water. With the upcoming cooler weather allowing the plants to really tuck in well I am cautiously confident of success. You can see this little bit in the lower left photo of the four above. The second area got a ‘Natchez’ crape myrtle which has given us a few worrisome days after we put it in the ground on the day that was 109! About 3 weeks ago I underplanted the tree with Convolvulus mauritanicus ‘Moroccan Blue’ and they are doing really well. I’ll keep all y’all posted on the progress of all these grass-free endeavors!


The Renae tree roses are loving this bit of cooler weather and are putting on sprays of beautiful new pink flowers. They will get just a bit of clean up before the spring but I am letting them do their thing for now!

Around Londontown… wrapping up

I will admit to a little disappointment in Central London as far as front gardens go. Very little green–mostly beautiful historic rowhouses and buildings with only sidewalks, intricate ironwork, steps and great front doors. Where there was a wee courtyard in front it was generally being used as a car park. I had photographed what I thought were some great looking boxwood hedges and columns and then got closer to them and realized they were artificial–amazingly common even in Kensington where a half million pounds will buy you a garrett.  Where I did see large hanging baskets from light posts they were often a mixture of real and artificial! The best window box and hanging basket displays I saw were on the pubs and restaurants.

Chelsea restaurant had doors on both sides of the corner done up beautifully!
Classic green and white carried the day in this shady postage stamp front garden


A small bed is big enough for varying textures, colors and foliage forms
Another great living display on a restaurant door
Good-bye from the Southwark Borough Market–thanks for traveling with me!

A garden out of the ashes…

Our last day in London was cold and windy–I packed my umbrella around but we never had any rain to speak of. There were a few more sights on Dave’s list so we headed out for the Westminster Borough to marvel at the Parliament buildings, Big Ben, the London Eye and Trafalgar Square. My guy has a thing for big bronze lions so the Square was a must see!

The last garden visit on this trip will be more of a history lesson than a feast of huge trees, billowing shrubs and masses of flowers. We decided to walk back to our hotel from the St. Paul’s Cathedral area, took a wrong turn–as I had left our best map in the room–and came upon the Noble Street Gardens. Noble Street is only one long block nestled between two tall buildings and closed to car traffic. There are two very different green space experiences in the that single block. The first is the Noble Street Walkway.


Over 1,000 Roman soldiers, housed in a stone fort built in 110 AD, worked for the provincial governor of London. Ninety years later, Roman construction workers began to build the first City Wall using more than one million blocks of ragstone shipped from Kent in over 1,750 boatloads. This massive defensive stone wall stretched almost 3 miles from Blackfriars in the west to where the Tower of London now stands in the east.

By the 14th century, the City Wall had been strengthened by towers to the west adding to the Late Roman towers to the east. The Roman City Wall set the shape of the city of London for the next 1600 years. Throughout those centuries workers continued to maintain it, using various building techniques. The parish churches, religious houses and street layout were firmly established throughout the Medieval and Tudor periods and–although London grew beyond the City Wall it remained a defensive barrier.

Fast forward several hundred years–when German bombing raids in 1940 destroyed the area, the City Wall was revealed once again. For more than 20 years the area remained undeveloped allowing archaeologists to identify the site of the Roman Fort for the first time. A new road, London Wall Road, was constructed in 1956 as the city emerged from the ruins. New developments have been designed to enhance the area’s historic core.

The Noble Street Walkway was created to allow the City Wall remains to be seen by the public. Descriptive plaques (from which the above story was taken) tell the tale of the remains. The area was intentionally landscaped and is maintained in a manner to not detract from the ruins. A gentleman I met on the walkway works in the adjacent building and told me that the area is heavily planted with naturalizing bulbs and is stunning in the early spring. Right now it has only a green carpet with some vines climbing the ruins but is an amazing sight–knowing you are looking at Roman ruins  and a city that rose from the ashes of WWII.

City Wall ruins spring to life!
View of the northern end


This garden welcomes you as you step off the Noble Street Walkway. The garden is laid out on the remains of the Medieval church’s graveyard. The church itself was restored by Sir Christopher Wren after it was damaged in the 1666 Great Fire of London. The modern design aims to provide the attractive red brick church with a pleasant and welcoming setting. As with every church garden I visited many folks rested and lunched on the benches. These green spaces throughout the city are welcome respite from concrete and stone.


A restful gray, green and white palette prevails

Evergreen shrubs rule at St. Anne and St. Agnes Church garden. I identified viburnum, piers, mahonia, hebe, boxwood, aralia and many more. There are only two higher maintenance beds like the one above. All together this short block in the middle of the bustling financial district had a lot of offer.

My time in this wonderful city has come to an end. I’ll wrap up in the next fews days–after we are settled back at home. I think I’ll call it “Around Londontown…” and will post the best photos of  doorway gardens and windowbox  from the neighborhoods I walked. Until then…

Some Not so Secret Gardens of London…

This is Dave’s last workday at his conference and tomorrow we will do our last bits of sightseeing together. Today I set out to find a few small gardens that are off the beaten track and not in the tourist guides. After three very warm days at the beginning of the week today is cold and windy with a good amount of drizzle. My pink umbrella and I hop on the bus to St. Paul’s Cathedral with the printout from TimeOut London, a publication focusing on the obscure but wonderful things to see and do in the city. As I walk toward my first destination I see a wonderful garden right in front of me smack in the middle of the financial district which is pretty much tall buildings and cement.


This garden covers the burial grounds on the site of the former nave of Christchurch Greyfriars which was taken over by the Corporation of London in 1931. The ruins of the church’s wall form a spectacular backdrop for this simple but very lush garden. The rose garden was laid out in 1989 and is designed to match the floorpans of the former Wren Church. The central flagstone paved aisle is flanked on either side by box hedged beds which represent the original position of the pews. The structures which support climbing roses and clematis are copies of the wooden surrounds which decorated the original stone pillars.





The palette is restrained and the pinks, blues and purples are set off by lots of rich green foliage and a number of silver leafed plants. The beds are not rigidly planted but organized in drifts which mound and merge. In addition to the roses, butterfly bush, agapanthus and penstemon pictured above the beds overflowed with hydrangeas, daylilies, rockrose, abelia, lamb’s ear and bearded iris. While some of these were not in bloom it was obvious that the garden is tended with loving hands. Everything was healthy and green and well dead-headed. Christchurch Greyfriars Garden was as close to perfect as one could get to my personal gardening aesthetic. I am so glad I stumbled over it!


This garden was opened in 1880 and is made up of the churchyards of St. Leonards, Foster Lane, St. Botolph, Aldergate and the graveyard of Christchurch, Newgate. It is home to the famous Watts Memorial, built in 1900 as  tribute to heroic men, women and children who lost their lives coming to the aid of others. The ceramic plaques are attached to a building side and protected by a tiled roof.  Benches provide a spot for quiet reflection. The plant materials in this park sheltered by buildings on all sides were not particularly interesting or in good condition but I would not have missed these unique ceramic plaques created by artist G. F. Watts for the world. The deaths memorialized date back to the 1860s and the most recent I saw was 2007.




The weather having cleared up a little I decided to cross the River Thames in search of this garden–its story was so compelling! A short bus ride dropped me off at the based of London Bridge and I walked a few blocks to Red Cross Way and the site of the Red Cross Building in the 1800s. The base of the London Bridge is dominated by the Southwark Cathedral and as I was trying to figure out which way to go I had a bird’s eye view of the cathedral’s gorgeous herb garden–see that next!

Red Cross Garden was part of London social reformer Octavia Hill’s pioneering social housing scheme, which consisted of two rows of Tudor revivalist cottages and a community hall. The garden predates the buildings and was laid out in 1887 and was created to “provide an open air sitting room for the tired inhabitants of Southwark”. The garden in its present form includes benches, a pond and very small bandstand in addition to lawn and curving beds. A larger, newer covered area has been added and the garden is promoted as a location for small weddings. The cottages form the backdrop for the garden and they are occupied as rentals. They are tiny, tiny, tiny! The front doors can be not more than 2 feet wide. There is a small circle of lawn with a sign indicating that it is a ‘Whisper Lawn’, meaning to advise visitors to be respectful of the cottages’ residents.



Gorgeous palette of pink, white and silver!



What else can I say–beautifully executed. The greens glow against the cathedral’s stone walls.


UP NEXT: A Garden Out of the Ashes

Mr. and Mrs. Shakespeare…

After enjoying the charms of three Cotswold villages, my tour group journeys further north to Stratford-upon-Avon. Our guide, David, takes time to tell us a bit about himself.  He is Welsh born, a former BBC reporter and producer and the father of seven grown children. He and his wife live 6 months of the year in Tampa, Florida; 3 months in Paris; then 3 months in London. He shares that they sold their large Central London home several years ago and gave the proceeds to their children to purchase their own homes. He has a child in each of the three cities and so he and his wife rotate through as semi-permanent houseguests!

On our ride we also learn about Shakespeare’s early life and his marriage to Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26. We will first see Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Gardens. This is her parents’ home in which she was raised along with her younger siblings. There is supposition that the late age at which she married was due to the loss of both her parents and her responsibility in raising the family’s younger children. The cottage is located in the hamlet of Shottery which was once several miles from Stratford-upon-Avon but now is surrounded by the community of about 20,000. In England, to be a village you must have both a post office and at least one pub.  If you lack either, you are a hamlet! In the area close to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage there are many homes with thatched roofs, both straw thatch and water reed thatch. David tells us the historic thatched roofs in England are protected and thus when the homes need re-roofing it must be identical to the historic roof–very costly but a requirement. Just before we turn in to our destination he points out two newly built homes with elaborate water reed thatched roofs. The homes have been built in the medieval style and I could not have picked them out as new builds on my own.

The Cottage was built beginning in the 1400s (Elizabethan period) but much of what can be seen today dates from the 1600s. The land slopes quite a bit and thus the house has many interior levels. It would have been considered a farmhouse but one can presume that because it is quite large, having 12 rooms, that her family was quite well-off.  The property remained in the Hathaway family until 1892 when it was purchased by the Shakespeare Trust for preservation.

The gardens behind the Cottage were quite lovely but I imagine they would rise to the level of spectacular in the spring.  Take a look.



This fanciful woven willow moon art piece was a gift to the Shakespeare Trust and installed in the garden only a couple of years ago. It pays homage to the use of willow throughout the grounds, including two living willow bench covers. You can see one of these at the end of the path in the picture on the right of the second row. It is trimmed back annually but you can see on the left side (sunny side) the willows have sprouted lots of new whips!

Onward into central Stratford-Upon-Avon! Our last destination, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, is quite built up as a tourist attraction with many shops and restaurants. You enter through the Shakespeare Centre which is a lovely exhibit showing how the Bard has been enjoyed and interpreted through the centuries. I especially liked a series of art pieces by a various of artists in different mediums. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Shakespeare Centre leads you out into the garden where you can dally a while or walk the path to the medieval house which also served as a place of business for Shakespeare’s father, a successful glove maker. These gardens, as others I have seen on this trip, look wonderful for the time of year but undoubtedly would be more lush and colorful in the spring.


The gardens at Shakespeare’s Birthplace had a formal layout but many informal plantings within the beds. There were no low rigid boxwoods hedges and lots of loose blowsy drifts of autumn flowers such as goldenrod and asters.  I loved the willow gardener just above who appears to be tending this very large and upright fuchsia.

The kitchen garden had a number of bearing fruit trees in addition to medicinal herbs, veggies and other edibles.

The front side of Shakespeare’s Birthplace faces a street redesigned for pedestrians only. Quite fun to just stroll down and back  even though it was quite crowded. The villages’s library is on this wide lane and there were many school children in and out and also gathered at the outside tables and chairs of the eateries. I sat for a few minutes and just watched life go by!

UP NEXT: Some Not so Secret Gardens of London

Now this is storybook England…

Today’s itinerary included a tour of three Cotswold villages followed by Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and the Birthplace of William Shakespeare, both in Stratford-upon-Avon. If the post seems to be getting too long I’ll do a separate post for Anne and Bill.

Traveling northwest of London into the countryside we immediately encounter thick, wet fog. David, our tour guide tells us this is not uncommon and that the only thing about English weather that you can count on is that you can’t count on it at all. David uses this time to give us a little history of the region we will see. The Cotswolds is a region of rolling hills and villages, often called the most picturesque in England. It encompasses 6 counties with numerous villages and hamlets filled with stone houses (many with stone roofs also) built from the locally quarried white limestone. The stone has turned a honey gold with age and the cottages looked as though they have strayed into the 21st century from another era.

The word ‘cotswold’ comes from two medieval words: ‘cot’ meaning a sheep enclosure and ‘wold’ meaning hill. During the 1500s wool production was the backbone of the economy. The British Isles has more than 50 types of sheep broadly divided into mountain sheep and lowland sheep. The mountain sheep are found in Scotland, Ireland and Wales and tend to have good lean meat but poor quality wool as they are athletically built for mountain life but tend to get pretty scruffed up in the process.  David tells us that the lowland sheep found in England, having no mountains to climb, are downright lazy and thus produce fatty poorer quality meat.  Their coats do benefit from the laid back lifestyle however and in the 1100s-1500s they produced the finest wool in Europe.  The wool was shorn and sent to Flanders where it was woven into cloth. Today the economy of this region is based on agriculture with 80% of the land being farmland. Crops include wheat, barley and rapeseed from which canola oil is produced.

Our first stop is the village of Burford known as the ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds’. Its name is derived from the Old English ‘Burh’ meaning a group of houses and ‘ford’ meaning the ability to cross a river, in this case the River Windrush, without a bridge. Burford has  about 2,000 residents and only one main road. Three eras of cottages can be seen here: Tudor from the 1400-1500s, identified by their black painted oak trusswork and white painted plaster; those built after the Tudor period but before 1700 are identified by windows which are set on the same plane as the walls and those built after 1700 have windows set back 4-5″ from the walls. I was a little disappointed to see very few gardens here and David affirmed that this area is not known for its gardens. Here’s what we saw on Buford’s main street!

Parthenocissus of some type turning a brilliant red for Fall

The collection of finely made wooden handled brushes in this shop’s window made me want to buy one of every kind–they were works of art masquerading as cleaning tools!

Here’s that Tudor architecture David told us about–notice we are on a hill.

I still have several handled baskets like these from the time my parents lived in Wembley in the early 1950s.

Our bus was parked in front of the Burford Priory in a car park area that has existed for many years off the main road. Our guide relayed that the priory property had been purchased as a country house by Elizabeth Murdoch (daughter of Rupert Murdoch) and she has been attempting since then to have the bus parking removed! Apparently walls don’t make good neighbors…

Burford Priory

Onward to our next Cotswold stop–the village of Bibury which lies on both banks of the River Coln, a Thames tributary. This village dates to 1130 and is the scene of the accidental discovery of a Roman villa in 1880. The village has only about 40 homes and businesses, two of which are hotels.


Dry stacked stone walls like the above are found all over the Cotswold region and there are many beautiful examples in Bibury.

Arlington Row Cottages

The picturesque Arlington Row cottages above were built in 1380 as a monastic wool store.  In the 17th century they were converted into a row of cottages for weavers producing cloth for the Arlington Mill on the River Coln. These cottages are depicted on the inside cover of all UK passports and are a nationally notable architectural conservation area.


The Arlington Mill still stands on the river but is now a private residence.

The Bibury Trout Farm has lovely gardens, much of which are right along the river to be enjoyed by all. The Swan Hotel also sits on the shallow river’s bank allowing visitors to stroll anywhere in the village within 5 minutes or so. Bibury is perhaps the most beautiful village I have seen in all my European travels.

After a rich ice cream cone from a local vendor we are back aboard our coach heading down NARROW country roads toward our last Cotswold District stop–a village called Bourton-on-the-Water. This village’s name comes from the Saxon ‘burgh’ meaning fort and ‘ton’ meaning village. Evidence has been found of an earlier Bronze Age settlement which may account for the name. The water in this case being the River Windrush. This village seems almost a metropolis compared to the previous two! Burton-on-the-Water is the civil parish for the county of Gloucestershire and has about 3,200 residents. This charming village is known for High Street. Long wide greens flank the shallow River Windrush which lies right next to the street in the heart of the village with businesses and shops on both sides. Families with toddlers and uniformed school children play and rest on these lawns with a few brave little ones wading in the river. Our guide David told us that on the hottest days residents are known to play football in the river which is now no more than ankle high. Clearly a vacation destination for Brits and foreigners alike there are many guest cottages and small restaurants with outdoor seating. We have time to wander on our off this main thoroughfare and it is just as charming at every turn.  Take a look!

Five low, arched stone bridges cross the River Windrush allowing residents and visitors to access both sides of the villages main street.




There is no shortage of honey colored stone in Bourton-on-the-Water! Even the new additions needed such as the dry stacked wall leading away from the village center to an unseen parking area has been made to blend in with the ancient structures. Narrow lanes and cottages small and large beckon you to stay awhile–I could certainly spend a few idyllic weeks in any of these three Cotswold villages with a bag full of books or a basket of appliqué and never get tired of the beautiful views, cool clean air and very hospitable townspeople.

I will leave Mr. and Mrs. Shakespeare for a short post tomorrow. You are free to go about your day as usual while planning your Cotswolds adventure in your mind’s eye…

Kew #2…

With my head still buzzing I quick step back to the Victoria Gate to meet my guide Jane for the tour of the Great Broad Walk Borders, just reopened this summer after a 3 year renovation project.  To get both history and perspective of the borders, at 1,050 ft. long purported to be the longest double herbaceous perennial border in the world, Jane starts our tour at the Palm House.

Palm House with Parterre Garden in front

Standing on the steps of this immense glasshouse Jane told us the origins of Kew can be traced to the merging of the royal estates of Richmond and Kew in 1772 and that until 1840 is was primarily a pleasure garden for the royals. In that year Queen Victoria agreed for the park to be taken over by the state and be opened to the public. William Hooker was appointed as director with the mandate to develop Kew for public use. By 1844 the arboretum had become overcrowded and landscape architect William Nesfield was commissioned to redesign the landscape. The Palm House was to be the focal point of the gardens with vistas radiating from it and a parterre to be built between the house and the existing pond. The basic structure of his redesign still exists today.

The Parterre Garden spans the length of the Palm House and is planted twice annually. Nesfield’s redesign of the formal gardens coincided with the time Victorians were in love with elaborate displays of bedding plants and the Parterre was considered to be such a display for those who did not have the resources for their own. The word parterre means ‘on the ground’, these gardens being meant to be viewed from above. I am holding the photo on the left in my arsenal for whenever Dave gets really cranky about garden maintenance–I will tell him that he is a lucky man as he could be trimming the grass around all THESE elaborate beds by hand!

As we move away from the Palm House toward The Great Board Walk Borders a question is asked about how the tropicals were kept warm in the glasshouse in the 1800s. Jane points out a tall brick tower far across the pond (really a lake) and relays that a tunnel was built from the tower to the ground beneath the glasshouse where the coal fired boilers were located. The tunnel acted as a passageway for coal to be delivered and as a flue to carry the smoke underground and out through the tower acting as a chimney.

The brick tower is highly decorative. The right side photo was taken from about 20 feet in front of the chimney–an amazing distance away from the glasshouse across the pond!

As The Great Broad Walk Borders were designed to be a grand processional to the Palm House from the historical main entrance at the Elizabeth gate our group swings wide through the surrounding trees to reach the top of the border and make our approach as if we were visitors to the gardens in the 1800s. This gives Jane an opportunity to tell us that the border was originally rhododendron and small seasonal plants in kidney shaped beds with a backdrop of Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara) trees. The Deodors gradually died out (only 3 remain) as they were just not suited to the English climate and were replaced with American Tulip trees in the 1930s. All but two of those trees were lost, along with over 1,000 others, in a huge storm in 1987. In 2000 the avenue of cedars was restored, this time using Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica), which is more drought tolerant. Various border planting schemes had been tried in the late 20th century but none had achieved the desired effect. In 2013 the current design was finalized and the restoration project begun.

The Broad Walk path is 26 feet wide. A series of 8 circles, bisected by the path are joined to form one continuous planting area down each side of the Broad Walk. The shape is like a bean pod and inspired by the largest seed pod in the legume family, Entada giga, commonly know as the Sea Bean. Each circle bed has a different theme and all are planted with a variety of herbaceous perennials. Topiary yew trees (Taxus baccata) were included along each side to emphasize the perspective as you look down the path from either side and to bring some formal evergreen structure to the borders.


This photo from the Broad Walk guide was taken in autumn 2015 after the yews were planted but before the perennials had established and gives you an idea of the perspective the designer was seeking to establish.

As we neared the top of the Broad Walk my guide pointed out two trees of interest, neither of which photographed really well but I want to share them with you even if you have to use your imagination a bit:

This Japanese Pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum) dates to 1760 around the time the Pagoda folly was added to the gardens. It has grown in a horizontal fashion and has been propped up by various methods for more than a hundred years–can you see the brick support in the picture on the right? That one was added in the 1840s. The supports at the top end are steel and much more recent. It is fenced now for its preservation and protection.

The Weeping Birch in this photo is a single tree, planted in 1846, rather than the colony of trees it appears to be. The tree’s graceful branches cover the ground of an area over 100 feet across. In the photo on the right I am standing under the tree near its main trunk and you can clearly see that it is now being supported with steel beams to relieve the tree of the weight of its many branches. It is underplanted with thousands of shade loving bluebells and must be quite a sight in the spring.

Let’s take a walk down The Great Broad Walk Border! The first and largest of the circles is planted with long swathes of colorful CULTIVARS that have been well-proven as garden worthy plants. It is a nod to botanists and hybridizers whose goal was to bring easy to grow and care for plants offering bold blooms, forms or scents.

Left: Aster ‘King George’ in the foreground, Kniphofia ‘Tawny King’ just behind then Rudbeckia  fulgida var. deamii and Euphorbia palustris

Right: Penstemon ‘Firebird’ in the foreground, Geranium ‘Orion’ and many more

The next circle is planted with members of the MINT family (Lamiaceae), such as sage (Salvia), lavender and catmint (Nepeta). Many contain essential oils that give them aromatic foliage, and also have medicinal and culinary uses.

Left: Agastache ‘Firebird’ in the foreground, Salvia ‘Maroon’ and Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ in the background

Right: Salvia ‘Serenade’

Just a note about plant identification–Kew has not marked individual plants in these borders. Instead they have colorful identification guide plaques for each section like the one below.  Unfortunately they picture the bed vertically rather than having the photo run the same way as the bed and so I found them really hard to read.  I did my best to get the right names for you!


Members of the DAISY (Compositae) family fill the next circle. This family has over 25,000 species and includes asters, daisies, sunflowers and more.

Left: Helenium ‘Loydser Wieck’ in the foreground, Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’

Right:  Eurybia divaricate (White wood aster) cloaks a young climbing rose

Take a look at the finials which top the climbing rose support whose base you see in the above right photo. Their cedar cone shape plays homage to the original avenue of cedars planted along the walk.


The fourth circle is devoted to plants classified as MONOCOTYLEDONS, or monocots. Research at Kew on monocots, whose seeds germinate with only one seed leaf is wide ranging. Daylilies (Hemerocallis), Crocosmias and many summer flowering perennials fall into this group.

Left: Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’   Right: Echinacea ‘White Swan’

Circles 5, 6, and 7 highlight different plant characteristics. PLANT LIFE CYCLES are the focus of circle 5 which features a variety of annuals, perennials and biennials.


BEE FRIENDLY specimens fill circle six.

Circle seven features flowers with varying types of SEED DISPERSAL mechanisms. Finally,  in the last circle, in the SHADE on the only two remaining American Tulip Trees are plants that are tolerant of lower light levels such as ferns, anemones and hellebores.

We’ve come to the end of The Great Broad Walk Borders all too soon for me. There is so much more to see here at Kew Gardens and it deserves another day I just don’t have! I’ll leave with with these vignettes from around the grounds.

NEXT UP: The Cotswolds and Stratford-upon-Avon

Queuing for Kew…

Just to set the record straight…there was no queue. I just could not resist the fun title. On the topic of titles let’s this garden’s right straight off. My visit was to Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Dave left early for his meeting venue and I followed shortly heading to the London Underground. Kew is quite far out from the Central London area, requiring a line change and a total travel time of about 45 minutes. The last few stops are above ground with simple station platforms reminiscent of a bygone era. When you alight at Kew Station you have clearly left the hustle and bustle of the city and entered a quaint English village  like those we have all seen on PBS and BBC for years. It was very much a sigh of relief for me after several days on the run, trying to figure out how to get where we wanted to go and not get run over by a bus or taxi in the process!

Kew Station

A brief walk takes me to the Victoria Gate of this world class botanic garden. This 326 acre park offers more attractions and highlights than anyone can cover in a single day. After consulting with a docent I decide to buy a ticket for the Kew Explorer, a hop-on, hop-off land train which circles the garden and offers me a solution for seeing some of the more outlying areas without my legs falling off and sort of get a peek at everything before I commit my brief time here to any specific part of the garden.

I was able to get a sense of the Woodland Glade, Holly Walk, Berberis (Barberry) Dell, Redwood Grove, Conservation Area, Oak Collection and Rhododendron Dell while on the train and did not feel the need to explore them on foot. These are all very large scale plantings and were better viewed from a distance, freeing up more time to focus on other garden areas.

I hopped off to spend a bit of time at the Japanese Gateway and Pagoda. The Pagoda, one of many follies in the garden, was completed in 1762 at the height of the 18th century craze for Chinoiserie. The ten story octagonal structure has lost its elaborate detail after so many years and is undergoing a two year restoration project. Its neighbor, the Gateway of the Imperial Messenger, is a 4/5th replica of the Gate of Nishi Hongan-ji in Kyoto, Japan. The gate was created for the Japanese-British Exhibition held in London in 1910, then dismantled and reconstructed near the Pagoda in 1911. A small Garden of Peace offers an area of tranquil respite and completes the Japanese landscape.

My next stop was Kew Palace to see the Queen’s Garden and the Royal Kitchens. The Queen’s Garden sits between the palace and the banks of the River Thames. However they are fully walled and you do not even recognize that the river is there until you view the formal garden from the Palace’s upstairs windows. The house started its life as the home of a Flemish merchant. It was purchased by King George II for Queen Caroline and their children in the late 1700s and will always be associated with the illness of their son, George III. The Kitchen Gardens bear witness to the never-ending search for a cure for his ‘madness’ with all manner of medicinal plants being grown in addition to the edibles for family meals.

Queen’s Garden

Leafy allees lead to the Kitchen Gardens, also formally laid out with a center axis. The garden’s medicinal plants are well labeled, including information about the ills for which each plant was believed to have curative powers. The source of George’s supposed madness remains elusive.

Edibles are planted closest to the entrance to the kitchens

I had signed up for a 2 pm tour of the newly completed Great Broad Walk Borders and had just enough time for one more hop-off the Explorer, this time at another new must-see at Kew-The Hive. Artist Wolfgang Buttress was commissioned by the UK Government to create this multi-sensory installation which formed the centerpiece of the UK Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo. The structure rises to almost 65 ft. and highlights the importance of pollinators to the world’s future food security. The Hive allows visitors to step inside the life of bees in hopes of inspiring us all to join in the battle to save the bees.

The Hive

The research of Dr. Martin Bencsik (Nottingham-Trent University) on bee vibration and communication patterns inspired the artist to create the structure which stands in stark contrast to the many centuries-old buildings at Kew. You enter The Hive from a circular path set into a wildflower meadow. The installation is made from thousands of pieces of aluminum which create a lattice effect.  It is fitted with 1,000 LED lights that glow and fade as a unique soundtrack hums and buzzes around you. The lights are in fact responding to the real-time activity of bees in a beehive located near the Orangery in another part of the park. Vibration sensors called accelerometers have been place within the beehive The sound and light intensity within The Hive changes as the energy levels in the real beehive ebb and flow.  It is a surreal experience to stand inside the hive and experience the life and energy of bees. The Hive’s honeycomb structure weighs 40 tons yet seems light as air.

To stand inside with the floor almost disappearing below you and the hive rising high and open to the sky above is an experience not to be missed. To add to the experience, bone conductors have been installed in the space beneath The Hive. These convert the sound into vibrations which, when touched with the wood stick provided, travel directly to your skull, and represent the secrets of bee communication through vibrations.

Feeling the bees’  vibrations through bone conduction

Kew’s Year of the Bee offers many Hive activities and educational opportunities to learn about Britain’s bees and the plight of bees worldwide, how to be bee friendly, the power of pollination and creating wildflower meadows.  There has even been a special opportunity to experience The Hive at dusk–so sorry I missed that!

NEXT UP: KEW #2 The Great Broad Walk Borders, a little Kew history and MORE!

More of London’s (and my) past…

We started our day by spending a few hours in the British Museum so Dave could commune with the ancient Egyptians for a bit. Our hotel is only two blocks from the museum’s gate so it was an easy journey on a day forecasted to be unseasonably warm for London in mid-September. Not so much a gardener’s dream but pretty impressive nonetheless.

Our plan was to next travel to the Tower of London on the city bus–new territory for us as we have only ridden the Underground (tube) until now.  We made a small walking detour in search of a small garden behind St. Giles Church called the Phoenix Garden. I discovered this garden listed on the website TimeOut London in an article called Secret Gardens of London. Described as a small walled garden reached by walking down an almost hidden alley beside the church it was a bit challenging to find! Unfortunately a sign posted told us it was closed starting just the day before for some hardscape restoration and the addition of a new, larger and more easily seen entrance. Drat!

Back on track for the Tower we took 2 buses as the day warmed considerably. My desire to see this piece of England’s history stemmed primarily from a 1954 photo I have of my older sister and I holding hands with one of the Tower’s guards. That’s me on the left!


We took the tour which was lead by a Yeoman Warder (often called a Beefeater), saw the Crown Jewels and walked the walls of the Medieval Palace. I then approached one of the Yeoman Warders and showed him my photo. I learned several things–the first being that my mother incorrectly identified the Yeoman in the picture as a Yeoman of the Guard when he was actually a Yeoman Warder like the gentleman I was speaking with.  A Yeoman Warder is a full-time  job working only at the Tower. There are only 37 Yeoman Warders at any time and they must have 22 years distinguished English military service and have achieved a certain rank to be considered. They are part of the Queen’s bodyguard service. A Yeoman of the Guard is only called to service a few times a year for ceremonial purposes.

The Yeoman Warder I was speaking with immediately noticed something unusual about the uniform in the photo and asked if he could show my photo to the Yeoman Warder Archivist, David Coleman. I agreed and he was called. Mr. Coleman was very excited about the photo, asking for permission to copy it.  He told me that the uniform was from a period for which they have almost no photographic record. He pointed out that the crown on the uniform was still the King’s Crown but the letters below E II R are that of Queen Elizabeth. When the Queen was crowned a new style/shape of crown was designed for the uniforms (see the difference in the photo below.) My parents had arrived in England only a few months before Elizabeth’s coronation in June 1953. Mr. Coleman surmised that probably due to post WWII financial restraints only the letters were changed from G R (for King George) to E II R for Elizabeth with the old crown remaining until until it was financially feasible to replace. He shared that he was developing a project on the Yeoman Warders of the post WWII era and thought my photo could be an addition to that documentation. What fun! And really not a shrub or flower in sight!


Here a just a few other photos from our Tower experience.  The first was taken in about the same spot as the one from 1954. You can see in the first two the interesting juxtaposition of the centuries old Tower architecture with the modern glass building. The final two smaller photos are of the Tower Bridge which crosses the River Thames just to the east of the Tower walls.



Oh, by the way…later the BBC News told us the day had been the highest temperature day in September in over 100 years–I guess we brought that Central California heat with us as a gift.!


Stepping into England’s story…

Not every sight we take in on this London adventure will have a landscape rich with Penelope Hobhouse cottage beds or trees and houses hundreds of years old–not sure why but it seems my husband has a few venues he wishes to see in his few free days before work calls him back.

We board our bus (called a coach on this side of the pond) early in the cool morning air for the 2-1/2 hour ride to the English Heritage site of Stonehenge. It seems to take remarkably long to get from our central London hotel to the point where the city meets the countryside. From there it is open road with only broad, flat fields to the right and left. Rolled hay, sheep and cattle dot the fields which are so green they almost look painted.

Stonehenge, also a Unesco World Heritage site, is an ancient temple aligned on the movements of the sun.  The stones were raised 4,500 years ago by sophisticated prehistoric people. I was amazed to learn that archeologists believe that there is just as much stone deep in the ground as we see above ground and that much of the site remains unexamined for burial remains.

There is a pathway to follow all the way around the stones and an excellent audio guide giving you historical and cultural information at designated spots. Access to the site is somewhat controlled by holding back groups to not overcrowd the perimeter at any one time. Visitors are remarkably quiet and respectful as they view the stones. The stones and their story inspire quiet reflection and awe at the feat it was to get them there. The gray sky and strong breezes intensify the spiritual nature of the site.

English Heritage and the National Trust’s (managing the surrounding landscape) restoration and transformation of the site from earlier ‘improvements’ return a sense of context and dignity to this marvel of human endeavor, leaving Stonehenge surrounded only by grass and reunited with its ancient temple approach called the Avenue.

Note to my fellow Fresno gardeners–I can’t help but believe that if we had these marvelous stones in our midst that we might lay them on their sides, bring in a mature olive tree to plant behind them and just scrape the ground around them raw with a hula hoe.  What do you think?