If you saw my previous post this month, you’ll know I recently got an allotment plot and have begun to clear up its neglect with help from my other half. But what I haven’t revealed is why I chose to take on an allotment, and […]
Every Friday since June 2017 I have had the honour of doing work experience at a garden design firm based at Renishaw Hall and Gardens in Derbyshire. This fine house stands just a short drive from the hustle and bustle of housing estates and main roads. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of a tour of the hall, although did see the reception room on a bake sale morning. I’m far from dismayed, as the manicured gardens behind make up for missing out on the interior.
You can visit Renishaw into November now – an extended season – Friday to Sunday between 10:30 and 16:30. Christmas open days are also planned, so check out the official website for further information. RHS members get into the gardens for free, although parking still costs £1.
On a fine day it’s possible to while away the time enjoying the grounds, and on any day you can partake of the scrumptious food and drink served in the café (found inside the Stables Courtyard).
The exterior of Renishaw Hall may be breathtaking. The house’s interior, I hear, boasts an array of artwork and antiques. Yet it’s the property’s people that spark the interest more than anything.
The hall was constructed in the 1600s by a landowner who made his fortune in colliery and ironworks, George Sitwell, High Sheriff of Derbyshire. As with most grand houses, Renishaw has been tinkered with since. The most recent structural alterations were performed under Edward Lutyens‘ direction in 1908.
Sitwell blood still possesses Renishaw, in the form of Alexandra Hayward. A baronetcy was tied in with the property until recently, having been created for Sir Sitwell Sitwell back in 1808.
The Sitwell family had its fair share of fall-outs, with disagreements over marriages and sibling solidarity. It’s said that Osbert, 5th baronet, couldn’t forgive his brother Sacheverell, later 6th baronet, for having married.
These two were part of an infamous literary trio, along with sister Dame Edith Sitwell. Their artistic flare and outlandish manner stemmed from distant and eccentric parents. Their mother fell prey to both blackmail and debt in her lifetime, and their father George purchased an Italian castle requiring much renovation… Not to mention the expulsion of around 300 peasants sheltering in its walls.
But, when considering the gorgeous gardens at Renishaw Hall, it is Sir George Sitwell that we must thank. He ordered the formation of the Italianate grounds closest to the hall, although it took Sir Reresby, father of Alexandra, to bring them from their state of disrepair.
We’re very lucky Sir Reresby did take the time to reinvigorate the gardens, and that his daughter puts so much emphasis on maintaining them. For starters, the view of the house from the rear of the property wouldn’t be anywhere near as perfect as it is.
We enter the gardens from the timber ticket office by walking alongside some magnificent Hydrangea (some the white-blooming Annabelle, others more traditional pinks and blues). The view of the whole is cleverly hidden away at this stage, tucked behind the prominent yew hedges which divide all into smaller “rooms”.
The gothick aviary/pet cemetery is over to the right of the path, as well as access to a small woodland trail with some literary wooden cut-outs to engage young visitors. Children will also be delighted to take a look at the carved drove of hares gazing up at the moon beneath the Davidia involucrata, or “handkerchief tree”.
Beyond these you’ll come across the Agave house, a former orangery. This doesn’t quite float my boat as I’m not an Agave fan. Don’t let that put you off exploring every corner of these gardens though. One of my favourite pieces of Renishaw artwork relaxes down by the Agave house: a wooden lion. He isn’t especially majestic. I feel a sort of sadness for him, that he isn’t going to endure as long as stone, nor is he probably as meaningful as other pieces. Perhaps we all feel like that as humans from time to time.
Lee Bestall’s Silver-Gilt award garden from RHS Chatsworth Flower Show is now just behind the Yucca House. Inspired by the landscape and fine gardens of Derbyshire, this is its perfect permanent home. Its clipped yew cones harken to the high hedges of Renishaw. The eroded classical statue in the centre of the courtyard fits in alongside other sculpture. The pastel shades within each quadrangle, demarcated by box, echo the floral tones employed by Arne Maynard elsewhere here.
The Italianate terraces absolutely steal the show. Its sturdy walls are cloaked in vegetation for much of the year, softening the structure. You still feel the strength of the site beneath it all though. Tantalising glimpses into other garden rooms are offered up on the terraces. You’d be forgiven for not looking that far, however, as you focus on the plants arranged around you. There is variety for every season. Wisteria blooms earlier on, as do rows of vibrant and welcome tulips. Further into the year vines, Phlox paniculata, roses and buddleias come alive, just some of the plants soaking the senses.
There are strong architectural elements provided by foliage variety in the Italianate area too, as photos well reveal.
Potted cerulean Agapanthus watch over the lower paths from on high:
The herbaceous borders go on flowering for months, in their pastel shades of blue. These are the borders designed by Arne Maynard, and the coolness is a theme running through much of the garden. It contrasts effectively with the Italianate terraces’ hotter hues.
That said, the garden does employ vivid pinks around the fountain, in towering Oriental lilies. I don’t use lilies enough in my own planting; they always bowl me over.
The white garden hides just beyond the herbaceous borders. I say it hides, although it’s more that I never noticed it until this summer. I stumbled upon it by chance, it seemed, while eating a wrap. Classy. A large white Astilbe catches the eye at the right time of year. Actaea matsumurae “White Pearl” – I believe – holds its own alongside this, and small white dahlias glint in the recesses. Roses, this time their petals blanched, again play their part, adding scent to the foam.
If you hear the “call of the wild”, then there is a woodland walk with paths winding their way down to two lakes. The waterpower here once fuelled a sawmill, now fenced off. I’m pretty sure myself and my friend Fiona ventured into this building on our first visit years ago.
Enough of the wild though; that doesn’t do much for me at Renishaw, even if it does serve as a pleasant palate cleanser between garden rooms.
The first and simplest inspiration granted by Renishaw Hall is the use of lighter plastic containers to house plants. The gardeners here keep the Agapanthus in plastic tubs, but these are sat within decorative stone pots on the Italianate terraces when summer comes. This allows us to change our displays much more quickly and less messily.
On a larger scale, the greatest point to take away from Renishaw, for me, is lining up your views. We should ponder carefully where windows and doors are in the house, and what we want to look at across from that. Something should always draw the eye instantly, but then the edges should also come into focus. It’s not by chance that Renishaw’s fountain is lined up with the rough centre of the hall, the wide steps from the herbaceous borders, the yew hedge portals and the semicircular bastion overlooking the fields beyond.
A limited colour theme is another aspect of Renishaw to keep in mind. If you’re a plantaholic like me, it’s all too easy to throw a menagerie of lovely plants together. This is often regardless of colour, unless you really despise a certain shade. I hear orange has its enemies… There is a real power to restricting palette. It makes the garden cohesive, like it has all been carefully considered beforehand. It turns passionate abandon into refined artistry.
Colour limitation also avoids confusion. It can be overwhelming walking into a garden of riotous, rebellious colour. Nothing in particular is noticeable, therefore we can leave said space feeling empty. Unsatisfied.
Align these two elements – strong lines of sight and limited colours – and our gardens can be strong statement pieces worthy of quiet contemplation. Until the prosecco starts flowing…
Which other gardens can you visit and find yourself walking leisurely from one country to another? Biddulph Grange is that garden. Of course, all gardens in modern times are a journey across continents. Even our most pedestrian suburban plots probably have several international guests. Rudbeckia […]
Last time I wrote about dropping in on London and a trip over to Matt’s parents’ holiday home in Tuscany. From there we drove over the mountains for a couple of hours to the area around Lucca. It was a nostalgic trip for several reasons.
First of all, we flew out on the same date as my first ever flight 10 years prior. Back then, my brother and sister-in-law had accompanied me over to Rennes for the start of my uni year abroad.
The second nostalgic note was that I’d visited Lucca with my friend Lucy in 2008, so it was good to go back to that region. Lucca is also very similar to Ferrara, where I’d studied for over five months.
Thirdly, Matt and his friends Sam and Sharon were celebrating the 16th anniversary of first meeting and becoming housemates at university. Fantastic that we were all “roomies” for that – what better way to celebrate? Well, besides Sam and Fabio’s wedding of course.
Arriving at Fattoria Colle Verde on Wednesday
We made it to the accommodation just in time for lunch. I may have harped on from arrival to departure about the lack of iron and ironing board in each apartment… Sorry to all present that week! I smartened up as best I could to meet the groom and his parents plus Sam’s family for lunch on the terrace.
What amazing food we were treated to. There’s something simple about Italian dishes that blows you away. Less ingredients are used, but their essences are really brought out. That’s what cooking and eating should be about – even if I do forget this from time to time.
Fabio and his parents had prepared fresh salad with meats and cheeses, breads, and a delicious pasta (with a veggie version for Matt and Victoria, the bride’s sister).
It was a brilliant means of meeting people for the first time too. Sam and Fabio’s relatives were all lovely people, and full of character! Even better for relaxing and making new acquaintances was the olive- and wine-tasting tour at the accommodation. The guide was friendly, funny and had excellent English. We visited the wine cellars too – the smell was exquisite. The perfect mélange of rich wines and aged oak.
La Luminara di Santa Croce
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that the bride and groom in Italy organise several days of festivities around a wedding. Fabio and Sam certainly did. Wednesday evening saw all us Brits heading into Lucca old town with Fabio as guide to see the lighting of candles and medieval procession. This was for the most important local festival: la Luminara di Santa Croce.
Fabio gave us some background. The Volto Santo is a carving of the face (and body) of Christ on a wooden crucifix. It landed in Italy and was contested between Pisa and Lucca. Lucca took possession and every year the local villages came to the city to show their allegiance by accompanying the crucified Christ through the streets by candlelight. It seems the carving is no longer part of the procession, but at its end the throng enters the cathedral to see the effigy up close and display their reverence.
Afterwards we bought wine and headed back to the accommodation. Just to note – don’t buy wine in bars in a town centre at night. We were well and truly ripped off! €16 for a bottle of prosecco (two for €5 roughly in the Esselunga supermarkets that week).
The day before the wedding
Thursday was meant to be beach daytrip time. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. Grey, foggy, wet… Nonetheless, it was lovely to relax around the accommodation after going to bed in the small hours. Matt, Sharon and Tony and I woke to a brilliant breakfast box, prepared by a local bar. Matt sorted it all out for us. Pastries and breads and bucks fizz to begin the day – gnam gnam.
We then had a bruschetta lunch just before Fabio arranged for us to have a salad lunch down at the bar which prepared our breakfast boxes. We were expecting a basic affair, as the bar’s kitchen had closed just before arrival. Instead we had the best salad I’ve ever eaten, chased down by prosecco, thick Italian hot chocolate and sweet tarts.
None of us had long to digest this before the next gustatory event: an evening meal of several courses at a restaurant down the hill, where we met more of Fabio’s family (his sister, brother-in-law, brother, and an old friend).
I persuaded Matt, Sharon and Tony to visit la Villa Reale di Marlia with me as it was just five minutes from the accommodation – what a stroke of luck! Its estate featured on Monty Don’s Italian Gardens and I knew I wanted to stop by while over in Italy. But more about that experience in a future blog post…
We learnt at the evening meal not to over-indulge on one particular course, as more will surely follow. This is a word to the wise, take heed! It was difficult to do however, as the food was excellent. Such a good job the walk around the gardens burnt off a little of the earlier stomach-filler. I could barely stay awake post-meal, but we had a job to do: helping Sam and Victoria scroll up and bind the wedding reception menus with ribbon. Oh, and there was the slight happening of Fabio turning up with a guitarist to serenade Sam from our apartment window. Unique and beautiful.
Let me just add, the bouquet of roses he threw up to her three times before successfully caught were indestructible! Not a single petal fell off, not a single bloom damaged!
Friday arrived and everyone seemed remarkably calm, Sam more than anyone. The sun was out and we headed down to the poolside to relax. We were even joined by Bianca, one of the two on-site pooches and a friendly soul who liked holding hands/paws.
Lunch was again organised while the ladies had their hair and make-up done. We men ended up cracking open some more booze in the meantime…
Suited and booted, and the donne looking superb in their floral dresses and circlets, we headed off to the little chapel nearby. The skies darkened, but the happiness around lit the place up. It was a shorter ceremony than I expected, being Catholic, but the couple had opted out of a Mass. Much of the service was performed in Italian and English to assist both family parties.
It is only right that I point out how stunning Sam looked with her hair and wedding dress. It all seemed very 1920s to me, like English gentry taking on the Italian lifestyle.
This was reinforced after the ceremony by a jazzy swing trio and some swing tunes at the reception, held at Ristorante Enoteca la Torre. There was the issue of the sudden torrential downpour that swept in and didn’t leave for hours. The staff busily set up an indoor room and dinner was served. We had several more hours of eating fine Italian food, and then some dancing to swing music.
Kicking back on Saturday
After an even later (or rather, earlier) night post-reception, I don’t think any of us could manage a trip to Pisa for the day. More relaxing by the pool was called for. There was napping indoors and the celebrations were topped off by an evening meal at Fabio’s parents’ house. They cooked up great cuisine, but Matt and I as well as Sharon and Tony had an early start on Sunday to fly home from Pisa airport.
What an unforgettable week. I feel so honoured to have been a part of it thanks to Sam and Fabio’s generosity of spirit, and to have made great new friends through having Matt in my life. I also need to thank Matt’s parents for allowing us to stay at their beautiful place in the mountains. We were so in love with our Italian adventure that we have another week booked already for next year.
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Italy in September:
How does your garden grow? Full of spontaneous plant purchases? Despite not having my own garden at the moment, I’m still dabbling with plants and produce in my poor parents’ outdoor space. They’re inundated with plant pots, and I’ve only gone and picked up even […]
Picture the scene: rolling hills in various shades of green, embracing a soft valley as its river gently meanders through. Trees stand here and there as sentinels at their various posts. Their charge? A magnificent golden edifice hundreds of years old.
The location? Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. It’s a place I always slightly took for granted when younger, not growing up all that far from it. I could never quite understand the reverence shown around the rest of the nation.
Strolling into its grounds on June 7th 2017, I now comprehended. At the building’s feet lay the bubbling spring of attendees to the inaugural RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, and boy was I overjoyed to finally have another RHS show happening “up north”. I took Matt along with me to experience the spectacle.
The idea behind the show was pioneers in design, reflected in the modern day interpretation of Joseph Paxton’s long-gone Great Conservatory (the centrepiece of the show, if Chatsworth House didn’t completely steal the limelight) and embedded in the naturalistic landscape crafted by Capability Brown. Along from the show’s entrance gates were the extraordinary and somewhat extravagant free form gardens. I have to confess myself not au fait with these; I like my designs more traditional and down to earth, like my architecture. I rarely like to analyse a garden, preferring simply to soak in its beauty. The studded dinosaur skull I really did not get. More a failing on my part, I suppose.
The show gardens, though few in number and for the most part smaller in dimension than Chelsea, were much more up my street. The IQ Quarry Garden, designed by Paul Harvey-Brooke’s, won Best Show Garden and a Gold medal, although it was not my favourite. I loved the more planted up end of the space, but am no great fan of metal objets d’art or walls. Sorry.
I liked the whimsy and wildness of the Belmont Enchanted Gardens, but did not echo the judges’ sentiment of it warranting a Gold medal, and the wooden spiral staircase in its centre was a design piece too far for me. Pointless and rather distracting, and I overheard quite a few others say the same.
I didn’t much love the Moveable Feast garden either, yet have to admit that I felt the concept was inspiring and important. It was the grey plastic planters that just didn’t float my boat. Sadly, I found the inflatable Great Conservatory a letdown as well. It all appeared a bit giant-kids’-party-setup to me… Maybe the central “paddling pool” didn’t help…
My top three gardens on display were right next to one another. The Cruse Bereavement Care ‘A Time for Everything garden’ had an eye catching range of foliage colours and forms, flowing around the central stone wall and water seating area. Next up was ‘Just Add Water’ by Jackie Sutton (or is it Knight? I’m a little confused). Rockeries aren’t my cup of tea, but the addition of water to enliven the sandstone and naturalistic perennials to soften the construction really won me over. Thirdly was the ‘Experience Peak District & Derbyshire’ garden designed by Lee Bestall: a brilliant amalgam of the region surrounding Chatsworth, comprising its cattle, trees and wildflowers, haa-haas and neoclassical elements of Derbyshire stately homes’ cultivated corners. It also played with perspective subtly yet cleverly – you had to see from both ends to really appreciate the design.
We passed Adam Frost and Joe Swift on a couple of occasions outside, and we then headed on over the blossom-bedecked temporary bridge to seek out the floral marquees and perhaps Carol Klein.
Well we found the marquees – and they did not disappoint – although sadly Carol was nowhere to be seen. No time to dwell on this anyway, as there was simply so much to take in undercover and time was swiftly slipping away. I was determined to leave with something, and my plant of choice was the Dahlia ‘Karma Irene’, whose magnificent, flamboyant colour on the display stand just drew me in immediately. No flowers as yet in my specimens, however!