Herbaceous borders and other ramblings

July 10, 2016

England in June: there’s no place finer – long days, some warmth, hedgerows brimming with foliage you have to snip, herbaceous borders bursting with life, colour and busy insects. Oh, and roses, the scent of roses in every corner.

No time better then for a flowery trip down the country, taking in the changing scenery as hills flatten into fields with big skies, and then onwards as the leafy verges widen out into broad sweeping downs heading off towards the sea. A few days away took me to Stamford and on to Sussex. Secateurs, scissors, apron, buckets, emergency gin and Yorkshire tea all rattling around in the boot.

En route to Stamford I stopped briefly at Doddington Hall near Lincoln, a place I have long wanted to see. Arriving at 4pm, only 15 minutes before the sound of the closing bell, I dashed off in search of roses taking quick photos of anything that took my eye. I must return there soon.

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Stamford is a bustling market town, with glorious Georgian architecture – a place I never tire of visiting. Jane Austen missed a trick when she settled for Bath; this town is full of romance and oozes gossip. Three days of wedding work was the reason for my trip here. Working with Miss Pickering – you know who I mean, cleverer than Miss Marple, as flirtatious as Marilyn Monroe and makes exceedingly good bouquets.

I love working for other florists/floral designers/floral artists (whatever the current term is). I enjoy being part of a team, joking, singing, lugging buckets, searching for water, dropping into bed at night exhausted, and I love to see the different ways in which people work. Also, there’s much to be said for not having to worry about whether you have ordered enough flowers.

Enough flowers had certainly been ordered in Stamford. I’ll never know how we fitted an entire flower market, four humans and a whippet into the tiny medieval shop but we did, and we managed to fit in urns, footed bowls and chandeliers too, only stopping each time a passer by enquired “is there a wedding?” and watching as they gamely tip toed inside to sniff the peonies. A short van ride into Rutland revealed a truly magical wedding venue: herbaceous borders in all colours and a white one with dancing foxgloves surrounding the gilt-tipped private chapel, three walled gardens, a lake (sadly no Mr Darcy), and, for unexpected storms, an orangery to work inside. Never happier than with a small collection of tub trugs, I loved helping to recreate those herbaceous borders in Miss P’s designs, filling the chapel windowsills, hauling huge urns outside and placing small gardens on top of the dove grey linen clad tables inside the magnificent marquee. As the bride arrived clutching the most beautiful of bouquets – I suspect crafted by Miss P just before dawn – we took a breather and ate a celebratory Mars bar!


And then it was time to head south to Sussex for a short break with the husband I hadn’t seen for days. The car smelled familiar – the scent of Grace, Gentle Hermione, Constance Spry and the Duchesse de Nemoires – and apparently my own Mr Darcy (some poetic licence used here) had decided that they needed to come along in a bucket as they wouldn’t be missed at home – a very generous gardener indeed!

What the English lack in political astuteness they make up for in one area – gardening. Sussex (and Kent) are home to some of the best gardens: Great Dixter; Sissinghurst; Nymans; Parham House. Also, for those who like me are quite nosey, there’s always a chance to catch a private garden included in the National Gardens Scheme. Sunday was a day of cake eating, tea drinking and gentle perambulation around the borders and awe-inspiring rose beds at Town Place.

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Monday was a truly memorable day, spent meeting an ex-Constance Spry ‘girl’ and I shall tell more about her separately.


Nymans is a National Trust-owned garden and house/part ruin created by the Messel family. Oliver Messel was a great friend of Constance Spry, which of course intrigued me. The current exhibition there is devoted to Vivienne Leigh: Oliver Messel designed the headpiece she wore as Cleopatra. The florists’ room at the end of the exhibition housed a hat worn by Ms Leigh, but of more interest to me were some covetable Wedgewood vases and a porcelain sink for buckets.


Great Dixter and Sissinghurst never disappoint and at the top of the tower at Sissinghurst I reflected upon the fact that this beautiful garden, created out of nothing, has been with us for years, and that despite the current political turmoil we will always have places like this where a moment’s peace can be found and where people from all over the World want to visit.

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In my humble and worthless opinion we saved the best ’til last. Parham House and garden is exquisite. Painstakingly-restored medieval rooms such as the Great Hall and Long Gallery again serve as tribute to everything this country has endured and survived. The painted ceiling in the Long Gallery was designed and made by none other than … Oliver Messel, presumably in the days just after he had been responsible for turning pillboxes into hay stacks and castles in an artistic attempt to outsmart the enemy during the war. We English are so clever!

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The gardens have it all – wild meadows; long thoughtfully-planted herbaceous borders; a greenhouse of scented pelargoniums; and 50 varieties of sweet peas (Richard and Judy at no.23 made me chuckle). A perfect place in which to spend a summer’s day.


And now, back to Yorkshire, home to our own garden – full of weeds, and roses.