Posted tagged ‘English gardens’

The Water Terraces of Blenheim Palace

November 19, 2011

It was supposed to rain the whole week I was in Oxford.  Fortunately for me, it didn’t. So each day, my friend Jill would pile us into her car and take us sightseeing. Living in Oxfordshire, she suggested a “side trip” to nearby Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born, and a variety of gardens could be seen.

Blenheim Palace, Column of Victory, Capability Brown

Approaching Blenheim, one can see the Column of Victory, which commemorates the Battle of Blenheim.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Somewhat overwhelming in scope, Blenheim Palace is called "Britain's Greatest Palace" in its 2011 brochure. Sir Winston Churchill was born here, and proposed to his wife on its grounds.

A small bit of background: The palace was constructed around 1705; but the 2000 acres of parkland surrounding it did not come into their current glory until the arrival of Lancelot  ‘Capability’ Brown in 1764. He was responsible for the creation of a giant lake, man-made undulations and a series of water cascades. Churchill himself wrote that Blenheim’s unique appeal lay in its perfect adaptation of English parkland to an Italian palace. The “Italian palace” reference seems peculiarly relevant to the part of gardens I saw – the western water terraces, designed by the French landscape architect Achille Duchêne.

Blenheim Palace, Upper water terrace, Achille Duchene

The upper water terrace at Blenheim, designed by Duchene

On a second terrace below the upper terrace were placed two great fountains in the style of Bernini, modeled after those in the Piazza Navona.
Blenheim Palace, Water terrace gardens, Achille Duchene

Blenheim Palace, water terraces

The lower water terraces in late afternoon light.

The water terraces took five years to build, from 1925 to 1930, during the stewardship of the 9th Duke of Malborough.  The sphinx sculptures seen in the photo above have heads modeled after Gladys Deacon, his second wife. As I walked around, appreciating the late afternoon light and trying to keep stray tourists out of my camera’s viewfinder, I was struck by two thoughts. The first one was  how unexpectedly much I liked the lower terrace area, in particular the choice of electric-orange cannas for the large urns anchoring the corners of the pools (who knows what these containers hold in other seasons?). The second was how incredibly different this garden is from Chartwell, Churchill’s personal, country home and garden, with its walled garden spilling over with classically British, lush, herbaceous borders. He loved both, but I like to think he loved Chartwell more.

For more information on the gardens at Blenheim Palace, please visit its website. I’d love to go back and explore the Secret Garden, the Temple of Diana (where the Prime Minister proposed to his wife Clementine), and the wide scope of Capability Brown’s work.

Magdalen’s Deer Park and the “Y” Tree

November 4, 2011

In my last post, I shared some images from the “inner” garden areas at Magdalen College in Oxford. Beautiful, lush late-summer borders, meticulously maintained, and so forth and so on. The friend who toured me around, however, had other parts of the grounds she wanted to show me. So we passed through those beautiful blue iron gates and out to Addison’s Walk.

The Walk is hushed and meanders along two routes. We took the one that leads to the Fellows’ Garden. En route we spied a meadow which famously houses Magdalen’s Deer Herd.

Deer Grove, Deer Park, Magdalen College, Oxford England

Deer grazing in Magdalen College's Deer Park in August.

The Deer Park or Deer Grove is home to approximately 60 deer, which graze in the meadow from mid-July to December. Here, of course, I would have cursed them roundly and muttered imprecations about the damage they can and will do to my garden. In the Park, however, they seemed positively bucolic and appropriate. (I’m sure they are never allowed inside the blue iron gate to munch on the herbaceous borders I saw). A middling-sized iron fence keeps them inside the Park, but its height wouldn’t stop them if they wanted out. On the other hand, with a life as idyllic as theirs, why should they want to leave?

Ultimately, we ended up at The Fellows Garden, where we admired an oval pond with a heron sculpture
Fellows Garden, Magdalen College

and a beautiful, hand-carved wooden bench (with an inlaid quotation) in a sinuous shape.
garden bench, Magdalen College, Fellows GardenIt was a sculpture that we saw on the way back, however, that I found the most arresting. Ten metres high, a steel tree-shaped form presides over a meadow (Bat Willow Meadow, to be precise). The sculptor, Mark Wallinger, created it as a commission to commemorate Magdalen’s 550 anniversary.

Sculpture "Y", sculpture in the garden, Magdalen College, Mark Wallinger

A view of "Y" as one enters Bat Willow Meadow

The sculpture is difficult to photograph because the polished steel is hard to distinguish from the background of the meadow’s trees, and the edges of the “tree branches” are finely wrought in their design – to evoke, the sculptor has said, the shapes of deer antlers on the College’s nearby herds.

Mark Wallinger, sculpture "Y", sculpture in the garden, Magdalen College

Y's "branches" suggest the curved horns of deer, in honor of Magdalen's Deer Herd.

The sculpture’s setting, however, is perfect – no busy “gardenesque” plantings, just simple meadow grasses and a few wooden benches here and there. A lovely spot for a picnic, or quiet conversation.

For more information about the sculpture visit Magdalen’s website or Wallinger’s “microsite” there.

Magical Magdalen, Part I

October 21, 2011

Right across from the Oxford Botanic Garden lie the hallowed grounds of Magdalen College, one of Oxford University’s most renowned colleges. The college is over 550 years old and counts among its alumni nine Nobel laureates and numerous other notables. But it was its extensive grounds and the wide variety of its landscapes that fascinated me most the day I visited.

The gardens closest to the academic buildings include a long herbaceous border that is part sun –

Magdalen College gardens, Oxford University

Part of the sunny herbaceous borders on Magadalen College's grounds.

Magdalen College gardens

Same border, wider view. The gate leads to the outer grounds and the Deer Park.

and part shade in its composition.

Magdalen College gardens, Oxford University

The shadier part of the main borders.

I even spied a throwback to an earlier time – a bright red telephone box, next to one of Oxford’s ubiquitous and beautiful hanging baskets.
Magdalen College gardens, summer containers, hanging baskets

These borders flank a gate that leads out to the more bucolic parts of Magdalen’s grounds (more about which in the next post). But wandering around on my own in the Cloisters building, I saw crews pruning massive wisteria on the interior walls – and a serene, carefully composed planting scheme of Annabelle hydrangeas still looking quite fresh below them.

Magdalen College Cloisters, Magdalen College gardens

Wisteria and Annabelle hydrangeas create a rhythmic pattern in the Cloister quadrangle.

That’s all this time – next post, a look at an intriguing steel sculpture in another part of the College grounds, and its deer park . . .

For an interactive “virtual tour” map of Magdalen’s grounds, click here.

A Visit To the Oxford Botanic Garden

October 7, 2011

High on my list of gardens to visit while staying in Oxfordshire was one close to my friend’s flat – the Oxford Botanic Garden. Located directly across from a splendid garden at Magdalen College (more about that soon), the OBG is a Walled Garden that contains the national collection of euphorbias,

Oxford Botanic Garden, euphorbia

Aren't these euphorbias in the OBG splendid?

various plant-specific beds such as the one with ornamental grasses,

Oxford Botanic Garden, ornamental grasses

A view of part of the ornamental grasses bed at the Oxford Botanic Garden with Karl Foerster and Miscanthus grasses, among others.

and the “Tolkien tree.” This Austrian pine (Pinus nigra sp. nigra), which must be at least 60′ high and has grown from a seed planted in 1790, was described by one of the OBG gardening staff to us as the one that inspired J.R.R. Tolkein (a fellow at both Merton and Exeter Colleges during his many years at Oxford University), to create the Ents, massive anthropomorphic tree characters in The Lord of the Rings.

Oxford Botanic Garden, Pinus nigra var. nigra, Tolkien tree

The "Tolkien Tree" inside the walled garden at the Oxford Botanic Garden.

All these wonders (and many more, including poppies in bloom in August, lucky Brits!) can be seen inside the walled portion of the OBG. Pass through the door in the wall beyond the Tolkien tree, however, and you encounter another feast for the eyes – the Autumn Borders, designed by the husband and wife design team of Nori and Sandra Pope. I’ll let the photos tell the richness of this scene.

Oxford Botanic Garden, Autumn Border, Sandra Pope, Nori Pope

A section of the Autumn Border that sits underneath the Tolkien Tree on the other side of the wall.

Oxford Botanic Garden, Autumn Border, Sandra Pope, Nori Pope


Oxford Botanic Garden, Autumn Border, Sandra Pope, Nori Pope

One section of the Autumn Borders had an amazing variety of dark-leaved dahlias in full bloom. Above, the orange and yellow dahlia is 'Moonfire.'

Oxford Botanic Garden, Autumn Border, Sandra Pope, Nori Pope, Dahlias

Another variety of orange dark-leaved dahlias in the Autumn Border.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Popes and their work with color in the garden, I can recommend their book Color by Design: Planting the Contemporary Garden,  with photography by Clive Nichols, whose work I greatly admire. And if you are ever fortunate enough to visit Oxford, be sure to leave time to visit the Oxford Botanic Garden.

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