Here’s what stole the show at Hampton Court for me this week:
Much to my surprise, as I’m aware I’m usually a bit more conventional – even, dare I say it, square – about these things, it was this tiny experimental garden from Rebecca Butterworth, Victoria Pustygina and Ludovica Ginanneschi which for me beat into a cocked hat all the bells-and-whistles big show gardens and even the quirky Henry VIII’s Wives gardens (not sure jawbones will catch on as garden ornaments but you never know).
The thing I liked most about it was that as you approach, the mirrors create the illusion that the planting is stretching away underneath the ground like some subterranean cavern. It’s a truly lovely effect.
The planting was fabulous too – all big gorgeous colocasias (alocasias? never could tell the difference) and the slender elegance of Cyperus alternifolius: there were some very understated hemerocallis in there too in just the right shade of dusky pink and butterscotch. It was all beautifully well-judged and deservedly won not only a gold medal but also Best Conceptual Garden.
The garden has a painfully pretentious official write-up – presumably originating from the designers themselves which is mildly worrying – but I got around that by not trying to ‘understand’ it too much. For me it worked simply as a small but exquisite little piece of planting heaven.
One of the last gardens we went to see was also one of the most beautiful. The Tower is an extraordinary relic of the past: an old Victorian house built by an Englishman purely so that his wife would feel at home when she came out to the West Indies.
He perched it as high up on a hill as he could, 250m above sea level, to keep her cool, and filled it with every comfort of the day, from stained glass windows to great airy dining rooms so that she would have nothing to complain of. You can only guess how much he must have missed her while he waited for her to arrive.
Unfortunately she didn’t feel at home at all and hightailed it home in disgust after a few months. He was probably well shot of her – anyone who’s not capable of falling in love with Grenada is a few sandwiches short of a picnic if you ask me. But you try telling him that. Obviously addled by the wonky logic that is love, he was so broken hearted he couldn’t bear to live in the house and moved back into the town at the foot of the hill. A few decades later, in the 1940s, he sold it to the father of the current owner, Paul Slinger, for a mere £4,000. It’s now home to Paul and his wife Victoria, plus three more generations of their family: at last it’s being lived in as it should be.
The house is preserved almost exactly as it was built, even down to the stained glass, made of individual grains of coloured sand held in place between sheets of glass. But even more spectacular is the garden: eight acres of beautifully landscaped tropical paradise.
See those philodendrons just behind the chairs?
Now I was going on about John Criswick’s ability to weave coloured foliage through the greenery in the rainforest at the St Rose Nursery the other day: well Victoria has done something similar here. A little more deliberate, perhaps, but nonetheless effective: she’s a painter by trade, which explains the very colour-led approach. She’s threaded coloured crotons through different types of Graptophyllum pictum – yet another plant new to me but the ones I liked best were deepest green with subtle white splashes on the leaves.
Now these are definitely alocasias. Or maybe colocasias. They’re all over the place in Grenada – they eat the leaves of colocasia (a bigger-leaved variety than this one, if it is colocasia, which I doubt) like spinach, and call it callaloo.
This confused me no end. I’d always thought that callaloo referred to amaranth, and in fact I’m positive I’ve heard people on allotments on the telly here referring to amaranth as callaloo – but everyone was adamant here, it refers to colocasia.
Anyway, these were growing in a copper – the same as the one the pond was made of at Sunnyside (and countless other gardens too). Lovely, aren’t they? The kind of thing your average architectural salvage merchant would eat his own arm for.
I loved this group – a huge torch ginger, around 30ft or so high, with those bright bromeliads flowing across the ground in front. There were blooms like fat orange tulips coming up, rather wierdly, straight from the ground among those huge great stems, too.
This was a beautifully flowery garden all round, in fact – just the right balance between foliage and blooms. Here it’s the heliconia – a flower so ubiquitous here as to be common. Nothing common about this: Victoria tells me it’s the variety ‘She’, and I was very taken with those oh-so-subtle green-tipped flowers. The bright orange bits are bracts – it’s the sticky-up bits which are the flowers (usually much smaller than in this variety). They’re pollinated by hummingbirds. Obviously.
Another nice vista (despite the hosepipe: we were coming into the dry season so they have to water things endlessly if they’re not to look out on a brown and crispy desert of sleeping plants). Bougainvillea to the left, palms to the right: and they had some nifty crotons along here which had half the leaf missing in the middle:
One last one to finish: this might look like a greenhouse, but it’s actually a chicken shed. Some chicken shed. The disastrous hurricane, known as Ivan, which struck the islands in 2004 and flattened much of the vegetation (as well as countless houses, several churches and a lot of people’s livelihoods) did for most of it and it hasn’t been repaired since. I quite liked it as it was, in fact: spookily atmospheric, somehow.
Thanks to Paul and Victoria and their family for giving us such a very memorable day, and to Paul’s father who makes a mean rum punch. They do occasional tours, though you have to go through an agent to organise it: Suzanne’s web page has the details, just scroll down to the bottom.