My 30 by 30 posts are done and dusted. They took up almost all of my November posts, so it’s time for me to reflect on a noteworthy November. It certainly brought a lot of notable events. I already published a look at the Bonfire […]
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 […]
Sometimes it’s easy to get swept away in the hustle and bustle, and the excitement of constant activity too. Sometimes it’s soothing just to relax, no plans, no deadlines. How many of us are guilty of forgetting that?
From Friday evening to Sunday night, the only plan Matt and I had were “getting off the grid”. Letting go of being live wires. A weekend in North Yorkshire was on the cards (as were other board games, although I think we only managed a few rounds of Connect Four). Ok, so Friday evening didn’t begin completely chilled. The SatNav took us directly through Leeds and out via Otley. Not the most straightforward route, though thankfully the Leeds roads were quiet.
In a way it added an extra layer of pleasure when we reached our destination finally, as we couldn’t wait just to relax. I cooked up a simple bruschetta with some tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, garlic and basil, plus slices of heated halloumi and dollops of balsamic glaze. We may have washed it down with a couple of bottles of prosecco…
Saturday was where it was at! We’ve had some brilliant days out visiting open gardens and National Trust estates over more recent months, and I would never tire of that. However, both of us love country walks, and that’s certainly what we got. Nothing revives the soul quite like a stroll over hill and dale, admiring the spectacular scenery.
Our walk took us out from Pateley Bridge, up the hill along a stretch of the Nidderdale Way and through small settlements such as Blazefield, Low Laithe and Glasshouses, before we returned to Pateley for a couple of pints at The Royal Oak pub.
Our halfway point, as such, was Brimham Rocks, a National Trust location. It’s all about the landscape. Amongst the trees, heather and wildflowers stand remarkable rock formations, ancient and sometimes mind-boggling in their anti-gravity feats. Check out Idol Rock, for example!
There’s a lovely little gift shop with a gallery space up above, and a small coffee bar in a separate outbuilding.
By the time we returned to our lodgings (for yet more prosecco), we’d walked around 10 miles. I have to say, it felt further, but I put that down to the constancy of our climbs. Unlike our usual walking weather, the sky was good to us, with just the occasional short shower and plenty of warm sunlight.
This clambering clematis, struggling for freedom from its overgrown garden confines, caught my eye…
…as did the spontaneity of being able to hire a llama companion in Nidderdale…
…and how plainly pretty is this row of terrace houses?
After a long day and a late night of, whoops, more boozing, Sunday morning was a welcome lazy lie-in. We followed this up with a steady jaunt across to Grassington for lunch in a quaint little tearoom/bistro called The Retreat. Its staff were absolutely some of the friendliest and most positive ever encountered, and we had the added bonus of chatting briefly in the courtyard with an Australian lady touring Europe and the U.K. with her partner. The food was delicious. I’d ordered a goats cheese and tomato panini with chips and salad, while Matt had a vegetarian lasagne which looked and smelt fantastic. Apparently it tasted just as great! Highly recommended to anybody visiting Grassington.
We followed up our lunch with a quick stop to glance in the unassuming entrance to Stump Cross Caverns, describing itself as a 30-40 minute walk through primordial caverns bedecked with fossilised remains. We had never heard of the place and were tempted to go in, but time was ticking on and we had to get back to Pateley Bridge… for scones! I’m adding the caverns to my wish list for a future adventure.
Where did we eat scones? At The Old Granary, a tearoom which gave you the impression it hadn’t altered in years and years and years. Nor would one want it to. The scones were exquisite too. I loved the fact they had a Gluten Free options – something I’m much more aware of these days as a colleague and her daughter are coeliac and are often on the lookout for suitable eateries.
Sunday evening was, for me, as brilliant a part of the weekend away as the long walk on Saturday afternoon. Why? Because Matt and I had a leisurely drive out towards the moors past Gouthwaite Reservoir, in time to watch the sky meld from pale blue through pink and purple to dusky deep hues. We came across a gorgeous little village called Ramsgill with its stately hotel…
…could see out towards Middlesbrough from one hilltop and gaze on a sea of lavender heathers up there…
…and stopped for a nippy nighttime walk around the lofty village of Middlesmoor.
Such a brilliant weekend, I didn’t want to head to bed on Sunday night, but work beckoned the next day and thus an early early start…
I hope you all had a lovely, relaxed weekend with some “off the grid” time. Now you’re back on it, feel free to subscribe to my blog or follow my social media =D
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!
I could easily have spent a second day dawdling around the event, but it was not to be. I can say without a word of a lie that the show seemed a roaring success, and I’d urge you to get your tickets to 2018 if you get the chance (on sale from early August). Hopefully I’ll make it again!
I read on the Pentreath & Hall Inspiration blog earlier this year how the author, Ben Pentreath, was aiming to do one new thing every weekend. Unintentionally I have been doing much the same thing.This weekend just passed was a much more sedate affair, but […]