Autumn newsletter 2018

As the autumn leaves fall, I have a foot in two countries.  I've spent much of the last few months in Australia, taking advantage of the spring to enjoy the resurgence of life and the unearthly beauty of Australian natives - especially their fragrance. 

I've had some unimaginably good fortune, being commissioned for some very special plant portraits.  

I've been able to take advantage of visits to both spring and autumn gardens, including a very special visit to Hortus Botanicus in Leiden, The Netherland's oldest botanical garden.  

As we watch the frosts build each day and the mists envelop the landscape, or spring unfold into summer, there is much to enjoy watching nature metamorphose.

Heidi, November 2018

A Royal Commission

In September I was asked by Their Royal Highnesses Prince El Hassan bin Talal and Princess Sarvath of Jordan to paint a pair of pictures as a gift for the 70th birthday of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.  

Their Royal Highnesses wished to present The Prince of Wales with paintings redolent of their gardens in Amman, Jordan, which are resplendent with natives and exotics, fruits and flowers.  We chose a fig and a pomegranate for this commission. 

Happily they were completed on time and sent to London early in November.  

For more details on this commission, click here.

Spring in Australia

The burgeoning of growth in spring in Australia is signalled by the wattle as it explodes with bright yellow puff balls of blooms. 

The fresh growth of eucalypts lends a cleansing fragrance to the air. 

New fronds of undergrowth and waving grasses create stronger patchworks of green amongst the dry. Many of these photos were taken in the bush gardens surrounding Australia's Parliament House.

Despite a lack of rain, spring saw a spectacular display this year of blossom of exotics, perhaps because of a prolonged winter. 

The Prince of Wales' watercolours

During the annual Floriade festival, from August to November, the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra displayed a set of 30 garden and landscape watercolours by HRH, The Prince of Wales. An experienced watercolourist and passionate patron of the arts, the Prince of Wales has been painting for most of his adult life. The exhibition was designed to celebrate the Prince's 70th birthday. 

This display of garden and landscape works selected by Prince Charles for the NGA coincided with Canberra’s popular festival, Floriade, which celebrates the beauty of nature through both planned gardens and open country.

The collection was beautifully hung against a dark sage wall, in singles and groups. It was prefaced by a filmed introduction by His Royal Highness, who described his passion for watercolours in modest and appealing terms, setting the scene for the paintings.

They were a mix of British landscapes and subjects painted on the Prince's travels in North Africa, Switzerland and beyond.  Framing was gilded and elegant. 

This was a bijou, delightful exhibition giving people a chance to see the Prince's work, which is not usually shown.

Garden visits

Belton House Gardens

Belton House is a Grade I listed country house in Belton near Grantham, Lincolnshire, England. The mansion is surrounded by formal gardens and a series of avenues leading to follies within a larger wooded park.

Belton has been described as a compilation of all that is finest of Carolean architecture, the only truly vernacular style of architecture that England had produced since the Tudor period.

The House was built in 1685-8 for Sir John Brownlow. Sir John employed first-class craftsmen to create a series of rich and opulent interiors which rank with the finest Baroque decoration in the country. Neo-classical alterations were made in the 18th century and early 19th century; but in the 1870s, the 3rd Earl Brownlow decided to restore the house to its original splendour and commissioned some remarkable neo-Caroline interiors.

In the BBC's 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s magnificent home was filmed at Belton House. The house contains the famous desk where Darcy sits and writes his letter to Elizabeth after she has rejected his proposal of marriage.


The park was designed by William Emes, who has been described as 'obviously strongly influenced by Capability Brown'. A canal and temple survive from an earlier layout. Between 1810 and 1820, Jeffry Wyatville added a conservtory with a 'formal garden'. It has clipped yews, urns and statuary. 

An 1838 commentary noted that 'The grounds have few natural inequalities; but the river Witham runs through them, and this feature has been made the most of, especially near the house, which is a fine old French mansion, with stately avenues'. 

Belton House and its 35 acre garden are now managed by the National Trust. Wyatville's formal garden is now described as an 'Italian Garden' and is planted with soft yellows, intense blues and deep reds. There is also a 'Dutch Garden' with clipped yews, fronting the North Terrace, a statue walk, a temple, a mirror pond, a maze and an informal area with naturalised wildflowers leading down to the lake.

The facade of the house is an arresting sight, and the gardens unfold behind it.  A rewarding day out, with plenty to see in the gardens.

Hortus Botanicus, Leiden

The Hortus botanicus Leiden is the oldest botanical garden in The Netherlands. The oldest section of the Hortus, dating back to 1590, is the current Front Garden. 

It has been renovated with new plants and in 2000, a new glasshouse was added to form the Winter Garden. 

The Clusius Garden gives an impression of what the Hortus was like around 1600, when the bonds between the Netherlands and Asia were formed. 

The exchange of plants and knowledge between these cultures can be seen in the Japanese Garden. The Hortus’ pride, Victoria amazonica, can be admired in the Victoria Glasshouse.

In 1587 the young University of Leiden asked for permission from the mayor of Leiden to establish a hortus academicus behind the university building, 

for the benefit of the medical students.

The request was granted in 1590, and the famous botanist Carolus Clusius (1526–1609) was appointed as prefect. Clusius arrived in Leiden in 1593. 

His knowledge, reputation, and international contacts allowed him to set up a very extensive plant collection. Clusius also urged the Dutch East India Company to collect plants and dried plant specimens in the colonies. 

The original garden set up by Clusius was small (about 35 by 40 meters), but contained more than 1000 different plants.

The collecting of tropical and sub-tropical plants was continued under Clusius' successors. 

The first greenhouses appeared in the Hortus in the second half of the 17th century, the monumental Orangery was built between 1740 and 1744. From its original plan the Hortus was expanded in 1736 by Adriaan van Royen and Carl Linnaeus, and in 1817 by Theodor Friedrich Ludwig Nees von Esenbeck and Sebald Justinus Brugmans. In 1857, a part was used for building the new Leiden Observatory.

The Hortus is a wonderful place, with greenhouses, carefully planned gardens, and an astounding variety of plants.  It is on a canal, with walkways through densely planted areas and more open stretches. The Japanese and Clusius gardens are especially well laid out.  A real treat for the horticulturalist or botanical artist!

Tulip Tops Garden

Tulip Top Gardens is located  20 minutes north of Canberra, over the border into New South Wales. 

These gardens are open once a year in spring for a festival of spring flowers, held on a 10 acre private property and run by a local family, who spend all year preparing for this month-long event.

Built over four hectares, Tulip Top Gardens is the creation of Pat and Bill Rhodin, an endeavour they commenced in 1994. 

Having lived in Canberra for 20 years, where they created two award-winning gardens, the Rhodins were looking for a new challenge. 

They purchased a bare valley of farmland and transformed it into a beautiful landscape with one thousand blossom trees, including crabapples, peaches, plums and weeping cherries fringed by massed beds of annuals, tulips and many other spring flowering bulbs.

Arching shade trees frame the garden well and a watercourse meanders through the scene, complete with a waterfall constructed from local rock.

There is a 70m high lookout, carved out of the property’s natural hills, providing sweeping views of the valley beyond, to which there is a steep but rewarding climb.

The potager - first attempts

In another mostly unplanned move to accelerate a new aspect of The Priory garden, the potager went through a trial run this past summer, with surprising successes and a few failures.

The plan had been just to clear it this year (the area had been strewn with the detritus of vegetable gardens past, brambles and a very persistent goji berry bush). With mounds of wire, plastic, timber supports and rotted weed matting, the potager was slowly cleared for planting.  A working bee saw the soil turned in the areas earmarked for planting (the remainder later!).

But then the temptation of growing things from seed became too much, and I opened the treasure chests holding the seed packets safe from mice.  

I made an extravagant plan for planting everything I could think of.  

Then I did a reality check and became somewhat more realistic... I chose tomatoes, corn, lettuces, strawberries, and beans, beans, beans. 

Plus three kinds of blackberries and three kinds of raspberries and three kinds of currants... thanks to the RHS Plants offers which included varieties fruiting across the season: early, mid and late.

Most crops were an unexpected (and possibly undeserved) triumph!

It was so exciting to bring plants to life in a neglected part of the garden.  The beds had been purpose-designed by a previous owner, and although I added no raised beds or new soil, there was plenty of good quality support for strong growth.

The photographs show the potager being resurrected from beneath its layers of broken supports and mess, and the new plantings.

By the end of the summer, with solid watering in the drought, the tomatoes were triffid-like, the potato leaves had exploded over the paths and the beans were reaching for the sky.  

The corn was superb. 

The raspberries were a delight, if not very plentiful, though the blackcurrants failed in the heat and dry.

The asparagus crowns went in around May, and we are waiting until 2021 for a crop.  

A great start to growing straightforward crops.  Now for the next stages...

The Priory garden in late summer

The second half of summer was spectacular in parts of the garden. Beautiful displays of flowers in the herbaceous borders, with some dedicated watering by the under-gardeners as the rain dried up.

As the weather turned and the leaves dropped, the Priory Garden put on a continuing show of dahlias. But disappointingly, the stock purchased this year had mostly failed.  

This was a bit of a blow, as I had looked forward to an exuberant display of flower at this time of year.  The tubers had never flourished at all, and the proportion of failure was high.  

Happily, as it became clear, once I checked my garden notes that the failed tubers had mostly come from the same supplier, I approached them and was given a refund.

So that’s meant a fresh opportunity for next year, and planning is underway for new tubers for April/May.  

I’m looking forward to the chance to try new options, though sticking to the same colourway of pinks and dark chocolate reds. 

The standard ilex plants across two borders in the secret garden have been disappointing, losing even more leaves. They were an attempt to replace the use of box, but have been an abject failure and have put that backbone of these beds two years behind.  

They will need replacing with box after all, and there are ten of them. They look scrappy and miserable. And in the meantime they are not doing the job of stitching those beds together throughout the seasons. 

By this stage, box would have flourished and grown, and would have been trimmed into solid balls of green at eye height. I will move them into the potager to see if they can recover, thus adding some some structure to those vegetable beds instead. Just one of the learnings from experimenting in the garden.  I've put it down to experience.

The repeat plantings elsewhere are working very well.  The box cones in the white garden are drawing the eye and holding a steady line across a messy part of the house.  They are growing slowly, as they are in a rain shadow and require attention in the dry.

The new half-teardrop shape bed of spiky greys has been a real success, with cardoons reaching for the sky from mid-summer, and artichokes, acanthus and echinops holding it all together while the white lilac tree grows.

The lawns have exceeded all expectations, with a beautiful green furze within ten days of seed-sowing coming together over the months to a felt-green, springy turf.  The lawns suffered in the dry of summer, but some re-seeding and the wet months will help.  The seed we used has been surprising.  The pigeons don’t like the taste, and it’s incredibly resilient. 

The new delphiniums from Blackmore and Langdons were superb, and I have high hopes for them in coming years. 

The white garden looked a bit messy and unstructured, so I have just planted a series of David Austin white standard roses to give the garden more form next year.  The variety is new: 'Desdemona', one I saw at Chelsea Flower Show this year and it's perfect - fragrant, softly formed with all the glamour one could desire of a white rose. Against the high stone walls, it will be lovely.

Autumn days

I’ll leave you with a few images of autumn in Wiltshire, as the seasons changed.