Churches in Sussex (2nd day trip)

If you read my previous blog post, Visiting Churches in Sussex (day 1), you will know that I am doing day trips to Sussex in search of the little churches often found in woodland, at the end of lanes, in hamlets or villages – steeped in history.  I’ve focused on Sussex as it’s not too far to travel by car and it’s a beautiful county.

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Petersham House Open Gardens

This post is for all you garden lovers. If you are lucky enough to live in London you have the chance to see the gardens of Petersham House, the home of the owners of Petersham Nurseries, Gael and Francesco Boglione. Their home is adjacent to the Nurseries and is a stunning Georgian house with extensive gardens, swimming pool and tennis court. They have a substantial vegetable garden which is used for the restaurant in the Nurseries.

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Lampshade painting at Charleston

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I went to Charleston, the home of the Bloomsbury Group, to do a lampshade painting workshop with Cressida Bell who is the talented artist granddaughter of the artist Vanessa Bell and daughter of Quentin Bell.  I wonder if you are as  passionate about the Bloomsbury Group as I am? I devour books about them and have often visited Charleston, Berwick, Firle and Monk's House.

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Petersham Nurseries - a source of inspiration

Petersham Nurseries is one of those places that is good for the soul.  It is all about beauty and style, both outside and inside.  I'm there at least three times a month and have rarely left there empty handed!  

It's a half hour drive from my home which takes me across Richmond Park, another place that is good for the soul. It's hard to believe that you are in a big city when you are in the middle of the park surrounded by trees, bracken and deer.  

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"How many kinds of sweet flowers grow, in an English country garden?" Visit to Seend Manor

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting one of the most beautiful private gardens that I have ever seen - Seend Manor, a grade II listed Georgian house in Wiltshire. The village of Seend lies on and around a hog's back ridge in the triangle formed by Melksham, Devizes and Trowbridge.   The garden was opened to the public as part of Open Garden events in aid of Dorothy House Hospice Care.

This 18th Century walled garden is divided into quarters that transport you to the four corners of the globe. It was absolutely enthralling and worth the six hour round trip in the car from London.  I went alone and armed with my Nikon DSLR camera. The weather wasn't great and it rained briefly but by mid afternoon the sun came out. 

Stephen and Amanda Clark are the owners of Seend Manor and its walled garden inside the 28-acre grounds.  I was fortunate enough to meet them both and they invited me in for coffee. The Clarks divide their lives between England and Hong Kong. Stephen is a founder and managing director of the Anglo Chinese Group, an investment and corporate advisory company; Amanda, who grew up in Hong Kong, is a director of Altfield, a business manufacturing, importing and retailing Chinese decorative objects.

The gardens were designed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman, who have worked on many country house gardens from John Paul Getty to the Prince of Wales.

To the front and rear of the manor house, the grounds are elegant, green and restrained, with old trees, yew topiaries and hedges set off by large expanses of grass.

Stephen and Amanda have spent a lot of time travelling the world so it seemed natural to design the garden based on geographical themes in a series of four geographical areas which are separated by wide gravel paths up to 20 feet wide to accommodate the hornbeams running along them.


Firstly, there is China. The Clarks came up with their own design for this garden and for the central pagoda or ting. It took six weeks to build the ting but 18 months to erect. Twelve antique hitching posts surround the pagoda, each topped with a foo dog, the mythical lion-dog that guards against evil spirits.

The second "room" is Africa, because Stephen was born and grew up in Kenya and lived in South Africa.  A stone obelisk is the centrepiece of Africa.

The third "room" is Italy because they have had many a happy holiday there.

And last but certainly not least is England and this is the garden with the most flowers - it is a romantic, box-edged garden full of roses. The Banner­mans adore roses – their own rose garden at Hanham Court, near Bristol, is regularly open to the public. There are the old-fashioned roses that bloom only once a year and also those roses that repeat flower each year like 'Alister Stella Gray'.  She has also included the modern, repeat-flowering bush rose 'Little White Pet' as standards among old roses such as crimson 'Tuscany Superb' and pink-striped 'Versicolor' ('Rosa Mundi').

In the rose garden are also peonies, lupins, delphiniums, pelargoniums, catmint, irises and many other English country garden flowers.

There is also a corridor of ferns and tree ferns set among stones and a grotto at the end of this. In this corridor there are 6ft lilies - the scented, white Himalayan Cardiocrinum giganteum, which find just enough moisture and nutrient to thrive.

The 180 degree view from the front lawn over a wild flower meadow and the Wiltshire countryside is absolutely incredible.

There are a number of lovely outbuildings including a large adjacent cottage with a large cottage style garden

and a huge stage block part of which they use to run their business and one wing is a cottage that they rent.

The vegetable garden has a series of raised beds as well as a berries and cherries protected from the birds and a series of fruit trees.

You are never far from the sound of water as there are fountains everywhere

And the stunning little village church, Holy Cross, is right next door.

I spent four hours wandering the gardens and enjoyed chatting with Amanda at length.  I could have spent even longer there as there just sitting on all the seats and soaking up the views.  After I left there I stopped at a pub on a canal near Devizes and sat in the sun for a half hour.

A wonderful day out of London and one that I shall never forget.  Thank you Amanda and Stephen for your hospitality and the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of your labours.  This is the only house & garden that has moved me to tears!!

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Inspiration from the colours at the Isabella Plantation

It's that time of year when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in flower and what better place to see them in all their glory than the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this London landmark, the Isabella Plantation is a 40 acre woodland garden set within a Victorian woodland plantation planted in the 1830s. It was first opened to the public in 1953 and it's best known for its azaleas which line the ponds and streams and are at their best in late April early May.  Given the bad weather we've had recently they are a bit behind schedule and should be at their best about next week.  The Plantation also is home to a wide variety of rhododendruns and many other rare and unusual trees and shrubs.

It's amazing how much inspiration for interior decoration you can gain from looking at nature and what better than a display of colour from acres of azaleas and rododendruns!!  Their colours are simply mind-blowing when seen in a condensed area as they are in the Plantation.

When we arrived, we immediately entered the bluebell wood which had this sea of blue beneath the canopy.  I was pleased to note that the bluebells are English bluebells and not the pesky Spanish bluebells which seem to be invading our woods.

It had rained heavily in the days leading up to our visit and also the night before so everything was heavy with rain and there was a lovely mist across the Plantation. However it was warm and the paths were not too soggy. I actually preferred to be there without direct sunlight as it's better for photography and also the azaleas and rhododendrons were only half out which made them a lot more interesting to view.

There is a huge variety of trees in the Plantation and some very beautiful trunks, especially after the rain.

Before I get to the azaleas which are obviously the star of the show, there are so many other features of the Plantation, not the least the pocket handerchief tree which my sister is totally obsessed with!!

The rhododendrons are also a feature of the plantation but had only just started to flower.

There are other interesting plants in the Plantation (I'm keeping you in suspense with the azaleas!)

And now for the star of the show, the azaleas. They were only 50% in flower but actually I preferred to see them like this than in full bloom

If you are in London in the next week or two, take the time to visit the Isabella Plantation as it really is a very special place.

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