Alan Titchmarsh's Garden Secrets
Whenever I’m looking for inspiration for my own garden, I find that one of the best places to look is in the gardens of Britain’s great estates.
In my new series Alan’s Garden Secrets I’m looking at 4 of my favourite grand gardens, revealing the secrets of their design, and examining how they continue to influence gardeners, including myself, today.
I’ll reveal how social change dramatically influenced each garden’s creation and meet the master gardeners who maintain them.
Each garden represents a critical period in gardening history, whether it’s the bold eccentricity of the Victorian garden at Biddulph Grange, the sweeping romanticism of the 18th Century Landscape Garden at Stowe, the formal 17th Century elegance of Hatfield House or the warm, intimate 'modern' garden at Sissinghurst in Kent. They are treasure troves of ideas and tips that can be translated to any modern domestic garden.
But where do you start? Here’s my guide to learning from 4 of our most cherished gardens:
Design Technique – The Espalier
From Hatfield House in Hertfordshire
The Seventeenth Century saw radical changes in growing fruit trees. At Hatfield we see elaborate fruit trees that have been trained to grow against a south-facing wall. This technique was imported from France and was known as 'The Espalier'. Before The Espalier, fruit trees were trained into mop headed shapes. But by growing a central trunk with a series of tiers against a warm wall, the tree could crop earlier and also be decorative.
Not all of us have a large south-facing wall that we can decorate with a beautiful fruit tree, but there is a cheap and easy alternative that looks good and can be just as productive. Here it is: the Step-over Apple Tree.
Design Technique – The 'Borrowed View'
From Stowe Gardens in Buckinghamshire
The 18th Century saw the arrival of the sweeping epic gardens created by the 'Landscape Movement'. The garden at Stowe is a classic example of this. Here we see how the original head gardener Charles Bridgeman used a technique to break down the formal barriers that existed from the previous century in order to open up the estate to the greater landscape. He removed hedges and walls and created a 'Ha-Ha', a ditch that offered unspoilt views of the surrounding area whilst providing a boundary to farm animals and locals. This enabled Stowe to 'borrow' views of the surrounding area, adding to the garden's naturalistic feel.
But Stowe’s gardens are hundreds of acres. How do you apply a borrowed view to a smaller plot? Here’s a clever way to use it to mask an unwanted sight in your garden.
Design Technique – Growing exotics
From Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire
The Victorians were obsessed with status and the great Victorian gardens are showpieces for elaborate design and exotic plants sourced from around the world. Biddulph Grange is a classic example. It was built by James Bateman, a wealthy industrialist with a passion for plant collecting. Here you’ll find some of the first Japanese maples to be imported to Britain, along with the glorious firebush from Chile and one of the oldest golden larches in the country. The Victorians were also using technology to help these exotics thrive. Biddulph is located in cold Staffordshire, so Bateman built rocky outcrops around his new plants to shelter them and help them thrive. But like many Victorians, his true passion was orchids. At the time this now common plant was rarer than hens teeth, but our love of orchids has stayed with us ever since.
If you want to grow hardy orchids in your garden then here’s my step by step guide:
Design Technique – The Garden Room
From Sissinghurst Gardens in Kent
The 20th Century saw a huge growth in British domestic gardens and a greater interest in garden design among the general population. Sissinghurst was very popular in both the pre- and post-war period because its large estate was divided into a series of 'rooms'. These rooms were designed to complement the lifestyle of the owners, Vita Sackville-West and her husband, Sir Harold Nicolson. Both passionate gardeners, they saw Sissinghurst as more than just a horticultural showpiece, the garden was integral to their lives. Each room was designed separately and served its own purpose, whether it be eating or socialising. Many see the design of these rooms as a forerunner of our modern barbecue or outdoor seating area.
Sissinghurst has inspired me to find new and interesting ways to create areas for relaxing or socialising in my garden. Here’s an example:
Alan Titchmarsh's Garden Secrets begins on Tuesday 9th November 2010 at 20:00 on BBC TWO.