The Tour de France in Yorkshire


There’s a song by Kate and Anna McGarrigle with the line: “I've walked upon the moors on many misguided tours where Emily, Anne and Charlotte poured their hearts out”.

Emily, Anne and Charlotte, of course, were the Bronte sisters who lived on the Yorkshire moors in the early nineteenth century in the grimy industrial town of Haworth. Thanks to the literary merits of the Bronte sisters, Haworth, with its stone cottages and cobbled streets, is today a picturesque tourist destination.

In July this year, however, Haworth will see a tour the likes of which the poor sisters could never have imagined. The town is expected to be jammed with people when a circus-like parade of promotional cars, trucks and media vehicles pass through, led by a platoon of police cars and motorcycles with lights flashing and sirens wailing. Meanwhile, helicopters will be circling overhead as the crowds lining narrow Mill Hey Road crane to see a kaleidoscopic mass of around two hundred cyclists swoop into town.

This is the Tour de France — in Yorkshire, England. It may surprise many to learn that it is occurring outside France, although not unusual for the world's largest annual sporting event. During the three weeks it is held each summer, the race covers approximately 3,500 kilometres over twenty-two stages, mainly in France, but it typically dips into other European countries.

Launching the tour in the north of England is seen as a huge coup for local organizers and an economic prize for both countries. It’s also partly the reason Yorkshire has been voted the third best region in the world to visit, according to Lonely Planet’s 2014 Best in Travel list. And for me personally, the prospect of these top cyclists travelling the roads and dales that I tackled as a skinny kid is the stuff of dreams.

The Tour de France claims a worldwide television audience with 47,000 hours of coverage. Add in another 12 million spectators along the route and it’s an advertising bonanza.

In 2012 the Tour was won for the first time by a British rider, Bradley Wiggins (now Sir Bradley). The following year saw his teammate Chris Froome take the title. This, with spectacular successes in cycling at the 2012 Olympics, resulted in an upsurge in cycling in Britain, not unnoticed by the organizers eager for a larger audience. In return for hosting two stages, Yorkshire will have complete disruption of traffic with roads closed for up to eight hours along the route; however, the county is expecting an economic windfall of as much as $180 million dropping into its tourism basket.

In addition to a weekend of thrilling sport, the Tour will showcase some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain, thanks largely to the dramatic helicopter coverage of the race.

From the Grand Depart of in the bustling city of Leeds, the first stage is a loop through the Yorkshire Dales (valleys), finishing in the graceful old spa town of Harrogate, a popular resort for the one percenters of the Victorian era. After an exhausting 200 kilometres, I dare say a health spa for the riders will be in order, plus a considerable number of the more than 5,000 calories each will have burnt through.

On leaving Leeds, the route follows the valley of Wharfedale to the market town of Skipton, a favourite
place of mine as it’s where my parents first met. The race passes along High Street, site of a lively market, and right past the Black Horse Inn where my mother once worked so long ago. Dad worked nearby on the Duke of Devonshire’s grouse hunting estate.

Much as they’d like, there’ll be no time for riders to pause at the inn to refuel on a pint of local ale and traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. So focused, they’ll barely notice the canal basin on the Leeds to Liverpool canal, either, where a narrow-boat can be rented for a more leisurely trip through the dales. And the massive ramparts of the 900 year old Skipton Castle, one of the best preserved medieval castles in England, will be just a blur to them as they race by en route to the hills of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

There are no alp-like mountains on the UK stages, but the rolling terrain of the dales throws up surprises with sharp, steep hills that daunt the casual cyclist. As the riders pass by, they may not notice the quaint villages set in a patchwork of green fields, stitched in place with dry-stone walls of white limestone. More likely they’ll be focused on strategy as a stage race is a chess game on wheels.

It’s a team event with an outright winner based on accumulated time, but there are competitions within the overall race, and among the nine members on each team there are specialists to challenge for the title of best sprinter, single stage winner, or the title of King of the Mountains.

If riders do have a moment to admire the magnificent views, they’ll be able to see the three highest mountains of Yorkshire: Whernside, Pen-y-ghent, and Ingleborough. Beneath these 700 meter peaks are natural caverns, the most famous being Gaping Ghyll. Big enough to hold a cathedral, it has a waterfall twice the height of Niagara Falls

Leaving Wharfedale, the tour crosses Kidtones Pass into Wensleydale, home of the classic Wensleydale Cheese, then follows the valley to the lively market town of Hawes. From here riders will tackle the formidable Buttertubs Pass, so called because of limestone formations near the summit. It will be the toughest ascent of the stage, a punishing five kilometres with a 20% grade. As they reach the top, they’ll see a landscape scoured to the bedrock in places by gales that rage in from the Atlantic. Pity the riders if it’s one of those days, but on a clear day the view is priceless.

After a hair-raising descent on a road little wider in places than a single car width, with cattle grids and ambling sheep, the route snakes down through beautiful Swaledale, hugging the river as it tumbles over Wain Wath Force with the sound of clogs on cobbles. The name “force”, a term used in the North of England, is derived from the Norse word for waterfall — yes, the Vikings were here, too, long ago.

Henry the VIII’s men were in the area as well in 1539, busy destroying the nearby Fountains Abbey after Henry ordered the dissolution of the monasteries. What they left behind is a glorious ruin, one of the largest, best preserved Cistercian monasteries and a World Heritage Site.

It’s a short detour but of no interest to the riders. There are now only about 30 of the 190 kilometres of the first stage left before the finish in Harrogate, and teams will be manoeuvring for position, setting up their best sprinters. Waiting crowds will be hoping for a win and the coveted yellow jersey for British rider, Mark Cavendish, a sprint specialist who’s already notched up twenty-five Tour de France stage victories. To streak to another win on home soil will mean every pub in town will be packed that night.

The gruelling 200 kilometre stage two begins the following day from the walled city of York. Founded by the Romans in 71 AD, tourism is now York’s business with deep layers of history to explore, especially the twelfth century York Minster cathedral that towers over the city. While across the river is the National Rail Museum with a vast collection ranging from the earliest steam engines to the Japanese Bullet train.

Maybe not as fast as a speeding bullet, but with an average speed as high as 50 kilometres an hour on the flat and 80 downhill, the riders will head back into the hills again before leaving the dales for the spectator rich conurbation of southwest Yorkshire, heart of the nineteenth century industrial revolution.  This is the area that gave rise to the Luddites, disgruntled hand weavers who resisted change by smashing the first mechanized looms. They couldn’t stop it, but resist the technological revolution of today and you might still be called a Luddite.

After passing through Haworth, the race enters the town of Huddersfield, significant as the home of Brian Robinson, a childhood hero of mine who, in 1958, became the first ever British rider to win a stage of the Tour de France. Still riding today at 84 years old, he’ll sure be smiling when he sees Le Tour arrive on his own doorstep.

From here the route turns up the Holme Valley, even more significant as it’s where I grew up, cycling forth on most of roads the tour has covered. When I left in 1967 the valley was home to numerous textile mills that after a century or so of belching smoke had turned every building black. Today, almost all those dark satanic mills are gone, torn down, or turned into condos. Soot stains have been blasted away from public buildings to reveal beautiful, golden sandstone, although the old weaver’s cottages that scramble up the valley’s hillsides are still dark, if fading.

Here, too, dry-stone walls quilt the fields, threading upward past man-made lakes and woodlands with green-barked trees to peter out before the bleak, yet starkly beautiful moors in the Peak District National Park. It’s here, when the heather is in bloom, where nostalgia tugs most hard on my sleeve. Nonetheless these moors can be a desolate place when clouds drape low; with only coarse grasses, heather, and peat bogs, there are few landmarks to guide a lost soul — just ask Jane Eyre.  

The valley below, however, is a welcoming place, attracting visitors in ever greater numbers since 1973 when filming began of the longest running TV sitcom in the world, Last of the Summer Wine. It transformed the town of Holmfirth when it became a destination for fans of the beloved show. The series ended in 2010 but visitors still arrive for the annual folk festival, brass bands, and the best fish and chips in England. Locals are friendly, and typically forthright with a sometimes impenetrable accent and a dark sense of humour — a barber shop, long gone now, was said to have had a parrot taught to screech the words, “Cut his bloody ear off, Fred.”

There may well be swearing in the peloton as it passes through. The seven kilometre valley begins as a gentle incline, but it grows steeper as it reaches Holme Moss, the peak at the head of the valley and the toughest climb of the stage. Seen from the valley it’s a forbidding wall, and an opportunity for the strongest climbers to break clear.

This is where I’ll be, the ideal vantage point to watch the arrival of the first riders as they explode up the climb, legs burning, lungs gasping as they pour their hearts out, as I did as a skinny kid so many years ago, dreaming of one day riding the Tour de France. I never did, but my daughter, Leigh, competed in Le Grande Boucle, considered the Women’s version of the Tour de France, before going on to represent Canada at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

After clearing Holme Moss, it’s a straight, fast descent down Woodhead Pass before a race to the finish in the city of Sheffield. One more stage will follow in southern England with a finish in London, before the whole circus packs up and leaves for 18 more stages in France, finally ending with a final sprint up the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Yorkshire may never be the same.

First published Grand Magazine 2014

Stratford Festival Theatre Gardens

What Ontario tourist attraction receives fifteen hundred visitors twice a day? Would you believe the place is a garden? That’s quite a number and you may be wondering why you haven’t heard of it when it’s right on our doorstep.  The secret is, those visitors may not be aware they’re visiting one of the finest public gardens in Southern Ontario.

Located at 99 Downie Street, Stratford, Ontario, this also happens to be the address of the Stratford Festival Theatre, and the primary intention for most of those visitors is to attend a performance at the theatre. Still, I’m guessing there have been more than a few plant lovers who’ve happened by and asked the purpose of the impressive building beside the gardens, but then, that’s a plant lover for you.

For many theatre goers, the gardens are a serendipitous discovery. In the words of head gardener Anita Jacobson, “It sets it apart from other theatres. Many tell us they value the gardens as much as the theatre.”

There are four unique sections, each one a delight. The largest is The Arthur Meighan Gardens, created in 1996 as a gift from the family of Canada’s ninth Prime Minister, first elected in 1920. It lines the approach to the front entrance of the theatre. I began my exploration at the foot of the garden, at a magnificent, ninety-year-old gingko tree, beneath which is an understory of native plants, abuzz with pollinators. From there I meandered along the many crisscrossing paths up the gentle slope to the theatre. It took a while as there are so many exceptional plants, all in top condition, well established with room to reach their full potential. There are yellow hollyhocks, striking red crocosmia, and fragrant phlox in pastel shades. Ornamental grasses bring balance to the rich array of colours.

The Meighan garden is a botanist’s delight. Filled mainly with perennials, each one is clearly labelled with the botanical name followed by its common name. This is essential when visitors are inclined to ask the eternal question, “Quid est nomen illius planta” (What’s the name of that plant?). Horticulture students from Fanshawe College visit each September to practice their plant recognition skills, and there are enough species to keep them busy.

Ask Anita and she always has the answer. She began what would become her career while still a toddler, helping her father in his London, Ontario based landscaping business. She never strayed far from the plant world, and with a degree in zoology she added an essential understanding of the four or more legged pests that inevitably appear in a garden. Even two legged pests have been known to appear, snipping a cutting or two. 

Caring for a public garden requires an understanding of both weather and climate change.  Being more conscious of maintaining a water-wise garden, Anita now avoids the use of overly thirsty plants. She monitors them closely, only watering when necessary. “I also try to include plants that don’t need so much nursing along,” she says. That includes the need for pest control. She plants fewer Asiatic lilies now because of the voracious red lily beetle that devastates the plants.

With a depth of almost 60 centimetres (two feet) of healthy soil in the Meaghen Garden there’s little need for fertilizer, and judging from the health of the plants, they do fine without it.

The main goal of Anita’s team — two assistants and three summer help from May to August — is to ensure the garden always looks beautiful — all the time. Snipping spent blooms, known as deadheading, is a continual process. Tricks like the Chelsea chop are used to encourage plants like garden phlox to produce more blooms. It’s named for the British custom of lightly shearing receptive plants in early June, after the conclusion of the Famous Chelsea Flower Show.

Whereas a display at such a garden show is created to last only a few days using impractical plant combinations, it’s a much greater challenge to ensure a permanent garden always looks its best, especially as few perennials bloom all season long. The Meighan Garden is a fine example of clever succession planting, where a range of plants are selected to bloom on time, in sequence, before leaving the stage. For Anita, this is like seeing a new performance weekly. “I tell people who remark, come back next week as there’ll always be something different.”

Does she a favourite plant? “Yes,” she tells me, I always have favourites, but they’re different favourites every month, although I really like the perennial hibiscus and I love the Japanese anemones. They’re so fresh at the end of summer.” After an hour in the garden, I have a list of new favourites.

The Meighan garden is a place to enjoy, to learn, to see the potential of plants that can easily be grown successfully in one’s own garden.

Venture a short way along the building forecourt, past the huge planters, each containing Lantanas, a popular garden annual impressively trained into small trees, and you’ll find the Ann Casson rose garden. To pass by on a balmy, midsummer evening is to be enchanted by the fragrance.

There is a perception that roses can be difficult to grow successfully as older varieties are often more susceptible to disease. You wouldn’t think so of the ones in Anita’s rose garden. She moved the original plot out of the shade of ever larger trees and into a more favourable place in full sun where the roses excel. With her team’s daily attention, they perform to perfection.

The rose bed is filled with about forty varieties in a rainbow of colours. Included are familiar hybrid tea and floribundas, newer David Austens, and Canadian bred Explorer Roses. “People do have a fond spot for roses, says Anita. “They like to see a hybrid tea in different colours because everyone has their favourites. Some of mine are Double Delight, Pretty Lady, Munstead Wood, and De Montarville.”

Only steps away is The Elizabethan Garden. Here, perhaps during intermission, a theatre goer can slip right into a floral representation of the age of Shakespeare, and ponder, as he may have, at the sight of many of the flowers that would have been familiar to him.

This is an immaculately maintained, parterre garden, a style first introduced in France during the life of Shakespeare. Elegantly designed with crazy paving, a method that originated in ancient Rome, the sections of parterre are enclosed by neatly trimmed boxwood hedges. At one corner stands a gleaming steel statue of the bard, book in hand. On the fountain at the centre, words from his play Cymbeline are inscribed: “These flow’rs are like the pleasures of the world”.

Within the symmetrical parterre are four named gardens containing plants that were familiar, and in use in the sixteenth century. There’s the Witch’s Garden with plants like Vervain, considered in ancient times to be a herb with great medicinal powers. In the romantic garden are flowers that were used to make garlands, nosegays, and posies. These would perhaps include clary sage, used for love potions, dreams, and divinations; and of course, in the Kitchen Garden are edible plants and herbs. It’s best described as an Elizabethan drugstore.

The fourth section is Shakespeare’s garden, where plants are paired plants with passages mentioned in Shakespeare's works. “The challenge was to find plants from 500 years ago that would display well alongside modern day species,” Says Anita. She found them: cowslip, peony, yellow flag, wild thyme, hyssop, and eryngium. Both the old names and the botanical names are used to identify them. There’s even Agrostemma githago, known before botanists renamed it as corn-cockle a common weed of wheat fields. Thanks to modern farming methods, it’s almost extinct in the land of Shakespeare. In this garden, it’s allowed to produce a mass of magenta flowers.

Given the hundreds of references to plants mentioned by Shakespeare in his plays and sonnets, had he failed as a playwright he might have been a gardener. Given the mystery surrounding his identity, maybe he was.

Beyond the Elizabethan Garden, in an expanse of lawn, is a carpet bed, a style that was all the rage in the Victorian era and is still popular in public gardens. A carpet bed is designed using low growing plants to present a smooth surface patterned as the name suggests. This one provides a contemporary connection with the theatre that particularly attracts the interest of theatre goers who may have only a passing interest in plants and gardens.

Anita tells me many carpet beds were established in the early days of the theatre by Dennis Washburn, of England. “All were taken out after renovation, but the public missed them and demanded they be put back in.” A round one seventeen feet in diameter was added at the time by Harry Jongerden, the head gardener who preceded Anita, and is now executive Director at the Toronto Botanical Garden. “Harry had the idea to take pictures or images associated with the plays and illustrate them in the garden.”

Anita continues the tradition, but for easier access for maintenance, she switched to a long, narrow bed, two metres wide and fifteen metres long. The carpet bed is planted in sections, separated by taller plants. In each of the sections, plants form a symbol representing six of the plays being performed during the season. The fun is in trying to guess which of six plays are represented.

Among them for the 2018 season were a map of Italy for Napoli Milionaria, a bottle and glass to represent the bourbon consumed in a Long Day’s Journey into Night, and perhaps the easiest to discern, a pair of legs in high heels that could only be The Rocky Horror Picture Show. One of the shows for the 2019 season is Little Shop of Horrors. Now that could pose a challenge for Anita. Will we see the appearance of an Audrey II?

The carpet bed requires more than 2000 plants, mostly different coloured varieties of alternanthera with bands of ageratum and borders of alyssum. Planting it in spring is a tedious process, but it doesn’t end there. Throughout the season, every two weeks, the plants are hand trimmed by Anita to maintain the precision of the images. Sadly, when the first frost arrives in fall, the plants die and the images fade, as do those in the other gardens at Stratford Festival Theatre.

For Anita, the work doesn’t end. She’s as busy as ever, planting and replanting, keeping the gardens tidy until winter snow hides them. She reviews what worked and what didn’t in her continuing quest to get everything perfect, despite the vagaries of plants and weather. “It worries me when things don’t look the way I want them to. It motivates me to get it right.”

Ask any one of those fifteen hundred visitors if she did and I’m sure the answer would be, “She sure has.”

First published Grand Magazine 2019

The Amazing Chelsea Flower Show

I am squeezed around a picnic table with strangers — a woman from Sweden, another from Australia, and a pair from Italy. Communication should have been a challenge, except we shared varying degrees of English and the lingua franca of plants and gardens.

We are fellow pilgrims who have at last reached our goal, attending the amazing Chelsea Flower and Garden Show in London, England. We’re sharing a moment to grab a bite and summon the energy to plunge back into the surrounding crowd of beaming faces. This was in 2013 and my seventh visit to the show. You would think I’d seen enough, but each visit manages to eclipse the previous one, such is the magic of Chelsea.

It’s been said that gardening is to Britain as cooking is to France, although there are rumours that Britain now rivals France in the culinary stakes. The Chelsea Flower show, however, is incomparable. It takes place each year in late May, has been running for over a hundred years, and exemplifies Britain’s passion for plants.

Presented by the Royal Horticultural Society, this international horticultural exhibition is the Olympics of gardening where leading designers and plant producers compete for gold medals. Winning gold can result in an exceptionally successful garden career and likely retirement to a villa in Tuscany.

It’s also the first event each year of the London social calendar, attended on the first day — media day — by The Queen, who is Patron of the Society. On that day, other members of the Royal family frequently appear along with every celebrity with an interest in gardening — or an interest in being seen at this prestigious event. Actresses Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith are regulars, as is former Beatle, Ringo Starr.

The show is then open to the public for the following five days. It takes place on four and a half hectares in the grounds of the Royal Chelsea Hospital, a retirement home for former soldiers. Chelsea Pensioners, as they are called, are revered by the British public and seen around the show, resplendent in their distinctive scarlet uniforms.

Total attendance is capped for the duration at 157,000 otherwise it would be mayhem. Unlike many garden shows, visitors at Chelsea are not allowed to stroll at will through the gardens. Rather, the large show gardens are designed to be viewed from up to three sides, making it a better experience — no people-cluttered images for the photographer. This means, however, that everyone follows the typically British queuing protocol as they politely jostle their way to the front.

My first of many visits was in 2005, which happened to be the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day and when award-winning garden designer Julian Dowle was tasked with creating a garden that would capture a soldier’s nostalgic vision of home at the close of the Second World War.

After chatting over a pint with a group of Chelsea Pensioners, the result was A Soldier's Dream of Blighty, an authentic thatched country pub with rhubarb and roses in the front yard and red poppies lining the pathway. The Chelsea pensioner sitting on the garden bench quaffing a pint of beer perfected the emotive setting, bringing tears to the eyes of admiring well-wishers. This is an example of how a talented designer can create a space that extends beyond plants and flowers to make a deeply emotional connection.

Perfection is the rule at Chelsea, both in the garden designs and the plants. Take those poppies, which volunteers had spent the night warming with heat lamps to ensure they would be open in time.
Each year, fifteen to twenty of these large show gardens are meticulously assembled over three weeks of intense activity as crews toil to create flawlessness, yet temporary gardens that appear to have been in place for ever. Each one is easily the size of our typical suburban backyard and all are sponsored as they require wheelbarrows of cash, averaging over half a million dollars or more.

For this the finest of garden designers are summoned, someone like Cleve West, winner of numerous medals. In 2011 I was in awe of his sunken garden, inspired by a visit he made to Roman ruins in Libya. From a cream-coloured wall, water flowed from multiple pipes, the sound perfected by days of testing to ensure the exact rate of flow would produce the precise sound he wanted as it flowed into the pool below. Sculpted columns, one toppled and artfully overgrown by sprawling flowers, captured the sense of antiquity.

Plants are provided by specialist nurseries around the country while many rare trees and shrubs are imported from warmer climes. All are held in precisely controlled conditions to ensure they are immaculate at show time.

This was never more evident than in a garden designed in 2008 by Tom Stuart-Smith which, besides winning a gold medal, won the prestigious Best in Show, a coveted award bestowed based on votes from show visitors and TV viewers. The show receives wide coverage on TV and is reviewed each evening by Britain’s gardening luminaries, almost in the manner of Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry and Ron McLean.

I found viewing Stuart-Smith’s masterpiece a peaceful, sublime experience. No massed plantings of colourful flowers, but simply shades of green with a few clusters of white peonies and Astrantia. Among the layers of foliage plants, perfectly positioned zinc tanks of still water reflected clouds formed above by the careful pruning of Hornbeam trees, six metres high. It was like discovering a dreamy secret within a forest.

For a startling jolt of colour, a lively crew from Australia frequently wins gold medals with their designs featuring antipodean plants with hardscaping in bright reds reminiscent of an outback landscape. No kangaroos, but their 2011 garden did manage a water feature in the form of a boomerang.

These large gardens range in concept from traditional through contemporary, avant-garde, even radical. Diarmuid Gavin of Ireland, a regular at the show, likes to shock and surprise. Hugely popular in 2011, his Avatar-inspired sky garden floated above the show suspended by a crane. I would have loved a ride, but only lucky VIPs were allowed aboard.

Gavin’s unusual concept for a garden attracted plenty of criticism, but still managed to win gold. Just don’t remind the principal sponsor, Cork city council in Ireland and its taxpayers. The final bill was said to be around $3,000,000. That would purchase quite a chunk of ION track. Regardless, Gavin’s wildly unique concept gardens are one of the show’s delights.

Among my especially memorable large show gardens is another from 2008 that told the story of former Beatle George Harrison. His life was commemorated at Chelsea in a garden designed by his widow Olivia Harrison and landscape designer Yvonne Innes.

Along a meandering pathway, George’s life unfolded, beginning in his father’s garden plot in Arnold Grove, Liverpool. The path continued, becoming a mosaic of the explosively psychedelic colours of ‘60s culture, past a glass wall bearing an image of a contemplative George in his garden inscribed with his song lyrics, “Floating down the stream of time, from life to life with me.” The journey ended at a white gazebo in a peaceful garden of white flowers representing his spiritual arrival in Nirvana. With one of his songs running through my head, this evocative illustration of his life captivated me.

Perhaps less emotive are the artisan and urban gardens. Around 30 of these small gardens, only five or six metres square, are grouped side by side along a wooded laneway to be viewed as though peering over a fence into someone’s front yard. They are whimsical, filled with novelty, unique concepts, and countless ideas for the visitor to try at home.

I’m always impressed by the unsurpassed attention to detail in these modest gardens. Moss-covered rocks slump in place as though they were born there. Rambling roses cling to drystone walls and wooden fences like long-lost lovers, despite having only just met. Laburnum trees, their rich yellow blossoms droop gracefully over a trickling stream. It would be difficult to replicate these perfect gardens in the real world, subjected to the vagaries of weather, but for a while at least, they spark the imaginations of all who view them.

Plants are precisely placed according to colour, form, and texture, not a fallen petal or a yellow leaf. It’s not hard to imagine an army of garden gnomes working furiously overnight to ensure everything is flawless — except. Except garden gnomes have been historically banned from the Chelsea Flower Show, deemed unworthy, too kitschy. At least they were until the 100th anniversary in 2013 when the ban was lifted and gnomes made their appearance in all shapes and forms, even gnomish effigies of Will and Kate were represented.

Plenty of garden kitsch is available from the 600 exhibitors in the market area, and throughout the rest of the show where only high-end kitsch is on display. Would you pay $50,000 for a bronze snail the size of a smart car? Maybe not, but for the discerning shopper, plenty of fine art statuary can be found.

Time for shopping is essential for many show visitors as every possible garden-related product is available, from the latest elixir for plants to gazebos furnished in decadent style. The man from Dubarry of Ireland is always there, standing in a pail of water to demonstrate the waterproof nature of their exclusive leather boots. “Worn by country squires everywhere, he tells me.” Each time I’m tempted to trade in my old rubber wellies, but I always relent and settle for a packet of rare seeds, hoping customs don’t impound them.

Rather than shop, I prefer to spend my limited time in the Grand Pavilion; a mind-boggling 1.2 hectare temporary structure impossibly jammed to the walls with the most amazing array of plants on earth, a symphony for the senses of colour and form. This is it, the plant lover’s fantasy world where superlatives are redundant. Your local paint store would be challenged to match all the hues, and that’s just the sweet pea display. All the specialist nurseries in the country are represented, competing for a gold medal, but not against each other. As in garden design, each medal is awarded based on meeting the highest of standards set by Chelsea judges — all or none might win.

Foxgloves, which I struggle to grow in my own garden, tower above me over two metres high, while a massed collection of David Austin roses infuses the air. Leading lupin breeder, Sarah Conibear of Westcountry Nurseries in Devon, stops the traffic flow, having diced and sliced the rainbow even further in her quest for yet another gold medal.

If you have a clematis clambering a wall in your garden, there’s a good chance it was bred by Raymond Evison, the clematis king winner of 27 gold medals. At his nursery on the Channel Island of Guernsey, Evison, one of the world’s largest producers of clematis plants, has bred over 100 new varieties. Every year he arrives at the show with at least one new cultivar. In 2005, he introduced Franziska Marie, a rich-blue, double-flowered variety named after his daughter.

I immediately wanted to buy one to bring home, but alas, plant smuggling is frowned upon. I considered begging for a cutting that I could slip in a sandwich at the airport and pretend was lettuce, but instead I waited until the plant eventually became available in Canada.

Even the British public are unable to purchase plants and immediately carry them away. Purchase they can, but they must wait until the close of the show to collect them, which happens precisely at 4:00 p.m. on the final day. A bell is rung to signal the end of the show and the start of the grand sell-off, the fastest way to clear the grounds of The Royal Military Hospital so that it can be restored to its original condition.

Over the following five days, the beautiful gardens are dismantled. It’s rare that a complete garden is sold and relocated to a permanent site. In the 1950s, however, former King Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, is said to have enthusiastically helped move a complete rock garden to his private estate. More recently, the 2008 garden by Cleve West was moved to Meadbank Care Home in Battersea owned by the international healthcare group, Bupa, West’s sponsor.

Otherwise, about 400 of tonnes of material has to be removed from the site. Large trees and shrubs are returned to the growers to be rehabilitated, smaller plants are sold off on site, while gravel, stone, concrete, and waste is recycled. Statuary will be returned or auctioned off for charity; meanwhile everything else is up for grabs.

At the ringing of the bell, the garden gloves come off and the previously genteel patrons of the Chelsea Flower Show become avaricious rivals in a gigantic botanical Boxing Day-like sale.
This is a feature of the show that I’ve not been present for, but it’s been described as a river-like flow of plants, shrubs and even trees filling the streets and sidewalks outside the grounds. There, pedi cabs and taxis are summoned and buses become greenhouses on wheels as thousands of plants are dispersed throughout the gardens of London and beyond to grow on as a living reminder of the gardener’s amazing day at the show.

Visitors from afar like me and my picnic table friends, unable to transport plants through customs, have to be content with inanimate souvenirs (surely not a gnome). Our memories and our memory cards, however, are jammed with images of thousands of plants singing in tune to concepts never imagined. This elevation of gardening as an art form will become inspiration for garden makeovers, or at least a new flowerbed with perhaps a hint of Tom Stuart-Smith or Cleve West in the design.

In my own garden I barely have room for more plants, and my aspirations as a designer are limited to attempts at the perfect groupings and colour combinations I’ve seen. Often I fail, but each summer when my Franziska Marie first blooms on the arbour, I share with gardeners around the world the same excitement and joy we experienced at the Chelsea Flower Show.

For some, one visit to the show may be enough, but for many, including me, the allure of rare plants, the sheer artistry of the gardens, the novelty and nostalgia, will always conspire to entice a return visit — at least one more time. See images from shows here:

Keukenhof, the Netherlands


After a few days in Amsterdam trying not to trip over any one of the 600,000 bicycles lying around, or fall into a canal; the latter potentially precipitated by the former, I went in search of tulips. Sure, Amsterdam has tulips, but it doesn’t have a 32 hectare park filled with four and a half million of them in a hundred varieties, plus another three million or so other bulbs — all planted by hand. To see that, I travelled to Keukenhof near the city of Lisse, less than an hour’s drive away.

Thanks to a cool spring in Europe, peak blooming coincided perfectly with my visit — and also with the visit of a large percentage of the other 850,000 tourists that drop by each spring; yet with 15 kilometres of pathways, the park easily accommodated us.

Keukenhof is only open for a couple of months each spring, but the added attraction on the 21st of April was the Flower Parade, called the Face of Spring. Huge floats and vehicles of the bulb growers, all spectacularly adorned with flowers, travel a forty kilometre route through towns and villages before arriving in late afternoon to a huge welcome at Keukenhof.

Before squeezing onto the main street of Lisse to watch the parade, I spent the day in the park admiring endless beds of spring flowering bulbs arrayed in clumps, swirls, strips and circles. Spellbinding? — I’ll say. They wound around the lake edge, flowed across open parkland, and swept like rivers between the trees to fill glades and dells. Swans on the lake added grace, but played second fiddle to tulips in this beauty contest, while masses of daffodils invited wandering like Wordsworth, though perhaps not so lonely as a cloud.

And the fragrance? The half a dozen hyacinths near my patio are always a delight, but when a breeze carries the output of a thousand, it’s incomparable. Must be why the birds were singing a chorus to this floral symphony. The place is a gardener’s dream, and certainly many an artist’s. Vincent Van Gogh managed to knock off a few tulip pictures, though not at Keukenhof; the current gardens were only created sixty years ago. He would be happy to learn that just last year a reddish brown tulip was named the Van Gogh tulip.

Today, the digital camera has captured every flower growing there, including those being cultivated in the distant tulips fields beyond the park. Laid out like a huge, striped blanket, the striations of colour will vanish overnight when the flower heads are snipped. This is done to prevent seeds forming at the expense of the bulb. I managed a few pictures myself despite thinking a Google search can probably find more than enough images on the internet. Check it out and see the blue rivers of grape hyacinths and beds of regal fritillaria, but it can’t compare to being there. The number of visitors has now surpassed 44 million, almost three times the population of the country.

The meaning of Keukenhof in Dutch is kitchen court, or herb garden, one of its uses when part of the estate of Baron and Baroness Van Pallandt during the nineteenth century. Shortly after the end of the Second World War, a flower exhibition was held at Keukenhof and went on to become this amazing annual event. Originally conceived by a group of bulb growers and exporters as a means to promote their product, it is now operated as a foundation.

One day at Keukenhof with a parade thrown in was a wonderful experience — more would be heaven, but I had to leave to brave the streets and canals of Amsterdam once more. The center of the city may be designated car free, but those bikes are everywhere — but so are wonderful museums, art galleries, botanical gardens, flower markets, pancakes — and one or two tulips. 

Whistling Gardens

This summer I again made my way down to Whistling Gardens, Canada’s newest botanical garden. Located just south of Brantford, it’s the creation of former outdoor education teacher and tree propagator, Darren Heimbecker.

After visiting many of the finest botanical gardens in Europe, Darren was inspired to create his own, practically on our doorstep. Nine years ago he bought a farm which up until four years ago was still growing corn. He then began converting the land from agriculture to horticulture. He readily admits it was an immense challenge and a struggle at times, but this unassuming man fulfilled what many would consider the wildest of dreams.

This is only the second year the gardens have been open and word is already spreading rapidly about this unique property. Currently, eighteen acres are cultivated and now contain the largest public collection of conifers in the world. Over 2,400 species, hybrids and cultivars are planted and thriving. Ideally situated within the Carolinian forest region of the province, the garden is perfectly suited for growing unique species, some among the rarest in the world.

Among them is Abies beshanzuensis, a fir tree that was only discovered in 1963 in China. Today, only three survive in the wild, although a limited number have since been propagated. Another unusual tree, a larch from Japan — Larix kaempferi ‘Diana’, has branches that twist and contort as it grows. Pine trees from Mexico, a variegated oak from Britain, there’s a whole forest of fascinating trees.

In the rock garden, with the 2,000 or so bulbs that flower there in spring, including a blue river of grape hyacinths, there is a collection of dwarf conifers that are more suited to the suburban garden than the potential giants planted around the property. The rock garden features equally rare perennials, including Dianthus freynii, the first one I’ve seen. It’s the smallest of pinks with tiny leaves that form a mossy, tufted mound that invites you to reach out and pet it.

The rock garden, with a section dedicated to fossils found locally, is just part of the landscape. Did I mention the hundreds of varieties among the 3,000 perennials? The huge clumps of Asiatic lilies, unsullied by the pesky red lily beetle, were prominent. Complementing the perennials, Darren manages to slip in 5,000 annuals to add to the show.

Besides the conifers, Darren’s collection of deciduous trees is on the increase with 40 varieties of Cornus (dogwood) and thirty, yes thirty magnolias. A new addition is Acer capillipes, the snake bark maple with its strangely patterned bark. This, like other introductions are undergoing evaluation as they are being grown for the first time in Canada.

At every turn there is something unique to see. Almost four kilometers of pathways take in the Temple Garden where wedding ceremonies are held, and a fountain amphitheater where over 100 jets of water perform to music (composed by Darren). Water features abound and include a lake with swans, a hidden pond, and a Marsh Garden based on one that existed at Versailles.


A garden on this scale and with this number of plants requires multiple visits throughout all seasons to see different plants at their best. In many ways it is a work in progress and it will be years before some of the tree specimens reach their full potential, but what a place to see now and witness the birth of one man’s dream.

Arizona Desert Botanical Garden


The plan was to escape the snow for once, except this was the winter without any. Regardless, it didn’t discourage me from taking a trip south in February to do a little hiking around the red rock country in Arizona. Even there at higher elevations we walked in snow, but in Sedona apple blossoms were blooming. And down in Phoenix spring was well underway, a perfect time to explore the Desert Botanical Garden under a dazzling blue sky. I couldn’t possibly miss the opportunity to see this extraordinary garden filled with rare and unique plants of the Sonoran desert that covers much of the South West United States and parts of Mexico.


The Desert Botanical Garden was first conceived by local people back in the nineteen thirties who saw the need to preserve their native flora. The garden has grown to 58 hectares with more than 26 under cultivation containing fifty thousand plants: yuccas with flowers on four meter stalks; huge, spiky agaves; desert wildflowers; and of course, cacti in all shapes and sizes, including a bonus — at the main entrance stands a group of priceless ones created in glass by renowned sculptor, Dale Chilhuly.

Volunteers started the garden and it is volunteers who keep it humming along, all eleven hundred of them. I met a number stationed along the trails as interpreters, happy to talk to visitors about the plants in their care. One section named the Plants and People of the Sonoran Desert contains the plants that were used to house, clothe and sustain the desert dwellers of the past. Another is reserved as an outdoor classroom where cottonwood trees shade groups of schoolchildren who gather to study the plants and, with luck, grow up to be tree huggers, except hugging is not a good idea in this garden.

Getting around is easy on wide, paved trails — essential, as wandering off piste is neither permitted nor advisable where the majority of plants are assertive cacti, especially the huge, ubiquitous saguaro. This is the cactus of countless old westerns, the original cartoon cactus, growing as tall as fifteen meters with multiple arms reaching for the sky. Sue, one of the volunteers, was on hand to explain how the arms sprout forth to increase production of the night blooming flowers that appear in April. These are followed by ruby-coloured, edible fruit in June.

 
I also learned that when birds nest in holes pecked into the side of the Saguaro, the plant then cooperates by forming a smooth callus to line the hole, making a perfect nesting box. What did surprise me was the sight of a dead Saguaro. Somehow I thought it would simply turn mushy and rot away, but not so. Instead, it resembled a bundle of split cedar rails.

The trees and shrubs of the Sonoran are designed to retain water and reduce transpiration from their leaves. The cottonwood tree there has two sets of roots — one close to the surface that spread beyond the drip line and another that drives deep into the earth to reach the water table. The creosote shrub (Larrea tridentata) is another plant with a strong will to survive harsh conditions. It has no connection with the common wood preservative, but it does have many uses, particularly medicinal, though like many herbs, dangerous if used unwisely.

It really isn’t a friendly bush. To conserve moisture, it inhibits the growth of other plants in the area, while its small, resinous leaves wouldn’t spare a hint of moisture for the thirstiest coyote. When it does rain, however, the leaves fill the air with a pungent odour, considered unpleasant by some. Volunteer Janet showed me how to sample the fragrance by simply breathing on the leaves then taking a sniff — conclusion: more a deodoriser than a designer air freshener.

As usual, there were too many plants and too little time, but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and highly recommend it for anyone passing through the Phoenix area, and it almost never snows in the Desert Botanical Garden.

Malaysian Borneo

I lost my hat in the South China Sea. It wasn’t the gentle, cooling breeze tempering the hot midday sun that whipped it away. It was the speed of the power boat I was riding in as it shuttled passengers between Kota Kinabalu, capital of Sabah state in East Malaysia and Sapi Island. Just a speedy ten minute boat ride offshore, the island is one of a group in the marine park named after Malaysia's first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. Visitors are drawn to the Sapi’s white sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, and tropical rainforest, where huge monitor lizards can be seen lazing about at the forest edge. They wait patiently for visitors to leave, but curious macaque monkeys, with the same attitude as raccoons, will occasional leave the forest to see what’s for lunch.

Terrestrial wildlife aside, the park is one of the finest locations anywhere for scuba diving, but for the non diver, Sapi offers a unique experience — under water walking. The only requirements are the ability to walk and breathe — easy. I tried it and didn’t even get my hair wet. Wannabe Captain Nemos descend just a few meters to the sea floor wearing a weighted helmet that’s supplied with a steady flow of clean, filtered air. Groups are chaperoned by an experienced scuba diver, plus the area is cordoned off for safety. There was no need to walk far, however, as schools of curious, exotically coloured fish immediately show up to greet an alien invasion of their world. The experience was a delight, like being inside the aquarium for a change. It is one of many unique attractions awaiting the tourist willing to travel to the outer limits of a well travelled planet.

On the return trip from Sapi, the boat docked at Jesselton point. Jesselton is the former name of Kota Kinabalu, or KK as it is known. It was named after Sir Charles Jessel, a Vice Chairman of the British North Borneo Company at a time when Malaysia was under colonial rule. During World War II, Jesselton was abandoned then bombed by the retreating British to prevent it falling into enemy hands. After the war, the city was rebuilt by the new colonial government and, in 1968, eleven years after independence of Malaysia, it was renamed Kota Kinabalu.

During colonial times, Jesselton attracted adventurers, northern land pirates, and Foreign Service diplomats. One of those diplomats was Francis George Atkinson, the first District Officer during the British North Borneo Chartered Company Administration. He died of malaria in 1902 at the age of 28. As a memorial, his mother, Mary Edith Atkinson, had a clock tower erected on the highest hill in the city, Signal Hill, at that time known as Bukit Brace. The tower, used as a navigating aid for years is one of only three buildings to survive the wartime bombing. Also on Signal Hill is an observatory with platforms that offer amazing views of the city, the South China Sea, and the outlying islands, shorelines clustered with water villages.

To capture and preserve the history and culture of Borneo, the state of Sabah, in 1985, created an impressive complex containing a museum, botanical and zoological gardens, and a heritage village that shouldn’t be missed. The main museum building, inspired by the longhouses of the indigenous people of Borneo, contains a rich display of artifacts including, of course, a nice assortment of skulls. This was the home of head hunters in a bygone age. At least it was only my hat that I lost.

Now, with a population of half a million, and a popular gateway for travellers visiting Borneo, Kota Kinabalu is the fastest growing city in Malaysia. The increasing popularity among tourists hasn’t yet jaded its citizens, who are warm, friendly, and polite. To shop leisurely in the huge, waterfront handicraft market or in the main street market (where inexpensive pearls are a featured item) without being subjected to the slightest sales pressure is a rare pleasure for the traveller.

 The city, and Malaysia as a whole, has made huge strides in development in the relatively short time since independence. Construction may have produced a modern infrastructure including luxury hotels and modern, international airports, but tradition is respected. This is evident in the state mosque, a stunning building close to the centre of the city. It combines Islamic architecture with a contemporary design, and while the towers and majestic dome inlaid with gold motifs gleam in the sun, the interior of the building offers a respite from the heat of the day. Other than Fridays, which is a day of prayer for Muslims, visitors are welcome providing they follow the dress code — no shorts and covered heads for women. Equally impressive is the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque at Likas Bay. Like a desert mirage, it soars out of a man-made lagoon alongside the coastal highway on the outskirts of the city.


Mosques appear throughout Malaysia — Islam is the official religion — and they have an imposing presence in the same way as western churches and cathedrals do, but on the street, in the market, the atmosphere is pleasantly relaxed. Communication isn’t a problem. Although Malay, also known as Bahasa, is the official language, everyone seems to speak a little English, a useful remnant of the British Empire, while "Manglish" a mutation of the two languages mixed with local dialects is commonly used too. But, with echoes of Quebec, there are government plans to reduce the use of the local lingua franca while promoting correctly spoken Malaysian.

Whatever the language; shopping, eating, and getting directions there is simple — ask anyone where to find food and you’ll get a favourable response. Food is revered and relished in Malaysia, and with numerous ethnic groups plus sizable Indian and Chinese populations, there’s a huge range of deliciously varied and often integrated styles of cooking. The less adventurous gourmand will be happy to learn there is a solitary representative of the western fast food industry present downtown — a KFC store — open 24 hours.

Meanwhile, local restaurants serve up local game and endless varieties of chin dribbling fresh fruit, the stuff we’d pay a fortune for in our grocery stores — sweet and sour rambutan, much sweeter pulasan, which is rare outside south-east Asia, and the infamous durian, both revered and abhorred due to its unique fragrance. The strange odour even permeates the husk and has caused durian to be banned in many hotels and public places, and yet the fruit is delicious.

There’s abundant fresh sea food, with shellfish in particular prepared as take out food from street vendors to be eaten with fresh cili padi (small chillies) and a lime dipping sauce. For those who like to catch their own fish, the South China Sea around Kota Kinabalu and Sabah offers excellent sport fishing opportunities.

Away from the sea, inland, are the rain-forest mountains that rise to east of the city, only a couple of hours drive away. Dominating the skyline and giving the city its name is Mount Kinabalu. At 4,095 metres, the frequently cloud shrouded mountain is the highest in the Malaysian archipelago. The origin of the name is uncertain, possibly meaning a Chinese Widow or the revered place of the dead, but what is known for certain is the uniqueness of the mountain.

Its slopes and foothills hold an amazing number of plant species, including some of the rarest of orchids. The incredible biodiversity is due to the dramatic changes in climatic conditions that range from sea level through tropical to near freezing at the summit of the mountain. Wisely, in 1964, the government created the Kinabalu National Park, since designated as a World Heritage Site and one of the most important biological places in the world. It now attracts half a million visitors each year who arrive to see the unique species of plants, to try to spot the 326 species of birds found there, or simply to climb the mountain.

It doesn’t require mountaineering skills to conquer Kinabalu, but climbers are required to be accompanied by guides. A fit, well prepared person is expected to take less than two days to hike, clamber and crawl to the top. The average rainfall in the park is 2700 mm a year, enough to swim in, so it’s best to avoid the rainiest seasons. Attempts are best made during the driest period, from January to April, but note driest doesn’t mean rain free.

Naturally, there are competitive types who want to race to the top and their needs are provided for.
Super-fit athletes can challenge the mountain in one of the toughest mountain races in the world. The Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon was established in 1987 and takes place each October. It attracts a highly competitive, international field that must run a total distance of twenty-one kilometres up and down the mountain. It’s a gruelling race that was initially restricted to Malaysians, but was soon opened to international participants and now attracts the best mountain runners in the world. The best manage it in less than three hours. I’ll wait for the helicopter franchise to start up; meanwhile the bus ride back down the mountains to the city provided enough adventure. I held on to my new hat.

More on my Borneo adventure.

Malaysian Borneo

After one of the coolest summers on record accompanied by too many complaints about plants not blooming and tomatoes not ripening due to a lack of sunshine, I thought, forget it, I’m taking off for somewhere a little warmer — Borneo. 

To be truthful, the trip was planned long before I felt any need for a change in weather, but I certainly found the sun and warm temperatures — and acres of blooming bougainvillea, frangipani, and orchids, orchids, and even more orchids. 

It was a lovely trip, plus any expectations I might have had before embarking were exceeded when I had the amazing good fortune, purely by chance, to see the largest flower in the world in bloom.

Mount Kinabalu
I was on an air conditioned bus travelling a mountain highway near Mount Kinabalu in the east Malaysian state of Sabah, when the driver jammed on the brakes and swerved onto the shoulder of the road. He’d spotted the hand painted sign at the side of the road — a picture of a flower with the words “Rafflesia in bloom”. 

We piled out of the bus into a steam bath wondering what the fuss was about. I can honestly say that I didn’t know much about Rafflesia, but the locals sure knew. As soon as they’d found it, up when the sign and out went the cash box. And who can blame them. In fact it’s encouraged as a means to protect this endangered species. I paid my thirty ringgits (about ten dollars), and stepped onto the trail through the forest. Fortunately, it was only a short walk along a freshly trampled track and there it was, the extremely rare Rafflesia arnoldii, protected by a hastily erected bamboo fence.

Rafflesia
And what a curious plant it is, only occurring in the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo. As a visitor to the country, the chances of actually seeing one in bloom are rare — I only saw one roadside sign the whole trip. In addition to being rare, it takes months for the bud to form, poking its way up through the forest floor to bloom for only a few days, producing a flower as much as a meter in diameter and weighing as much as 11 Kg. (my plant wasn’t a huge specimen, maybe half a meter across, but enough to impress me).

It’s a brown speckled plant and looks a little like a fungus, but it is a parasitic, vascular plant with a distinct fragrance. Believe me; it isn’t called the corpse flower for nothing — not to be confused with that other corpse flower, the Titum arum, which is a larger plant, but it doesn’t rank with Guinness as the largest flower because the arum is composed of multiple florets, rather than a single bloom. The carrion odour emitted by the Rafflesia attracts the flies that provide pollination duties, resulting in a single seed.

Rothschild orchid
After taking pictures I boarded the bus and continued our journey to the botanical garden in Kinabalu National Park, where another fortuitous surprise awaited. The garden is an orchid lover’s delight, with too many in bloom to mention, but one in particular I must: The Rothschild orchid (Paphiopedilum rothschildianum). It’s an orchid rarely seen outside its native habitat, also the most expensive — if you were to dare purchase a plant (smugglers are jailed).

This solitary specimen lay behind a chain link fence, out of reach of drooling fans. It’s found only on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, one of the world’s most important biological sites, home to 5,000 to 6,000 plant species. Unfortunately, I had to leave without seeing them all, but on the return to the city of Kota Kinabalu, the actual mountain peak appeared briefly from behind the ever present clouds, yet another gift from an amazing country. It’s been quite a summer.

Great Dixter

Great Dixter was the home and garden of the late Christopher Lloyd. Lloyd, revered by gardeners worldwide, was a preeminent plants-man, garden writer, and television personality.

Now operated as a private trust with an educational mandate, this rambling yet cleverly structured garden was originally designed by renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens for Lloyd’s parents, Nathaniel and Daisy, after they acquired the fifteenth century house in 1909. It is as glorious as ever, though it has never remained static. Lloyd learned gardening skills from his mother, then boldly modified and enhanced many aspects of the garden in the thirty years following Daisy’s death in 1972.

 After Lloyd’s death in 2006, head gardener, Fergus Garret, has continued to care for the garden. He has experimented boldly, creating unique combinations of colour and form. I saw bright crimson tulips soar through swaths of blue forget-me-knots, masses of cow parsley (yes that weed) tempering the kaleidoscopic springtime blaze of poppies, euphorbia, wallflowers, and bluebells. Soft and low boxwood hedges combine with huge ones of yew to form an erratic maze of delights connecting the many sections, or garden rooms, while giant topiary mounds topped by figures of birds, stand like sentinels.

Known for his succession planting schemes that ensured colour throughout all seasons, the shrubs, climbers, perennials, annuals, and biennials in beds and mixed borders ensure something is always exploding into bloom.

Lloyd certainly had the eye of an artist, or it could be easy to believe he simply wandered about wearing an old jacket, countless seeds carelessly spilling from the holes in his pockets, accidentally creating heavenly vistas.