Trained fruit at West Dean Gardens

  • Free standing trained forms – pears in spectacular open drum and cone formations
  • Wall-trained forms – pears, apples and gooseberry in varied espalier forms
  • Arched pear pergola – pears trained in a series of arches to create a pergola tunnel
  • Glasshouse fruit – desert grape vines in several forms and glasshouse peach fans


West Dean Gardens in West Sussex include one of the finest restored Edwardian kitchen gardens anywhere in the world. If you want to see trained fruit (and veg) at its best it should be on your itinerary.

The photo above shows a view down one side of the walled fruit garden, which is laid out in quadrants, transected by two long paths. Each quadrant contains a small orchard of free-standing apple trees, growing among rough grass and wildflowers (right hand side of image above). Continue reading

Visiting Great Dixter

This May bank holiday I went to East Sussex – the county I grew up in – and to my mind the most beautiful county in England. My destination was Great Dixter – the house and gardens designed by Edwin Lutyens, and made famous by the expert gardening of the late Christopher Lloyd. However, I was in no hurry to get there as the country lanes that wind endlessly through Sedlescombe, Bodium and Ewehurst towards Northiam are as picturesque as one could wish.

They certainly reinforced my childhood memories of an unspoiled human scale landscape of small fields, hedges and copses with footpaths and farm tracks leading off, invitingly, in every direction. The road plunging through tree-arched ravines, festooned on each side with fern-encrusted banks, only to rise again into the sunshine revealing cottages and converted oast houses with pretty country gardens, tucked comfortably into the land, as if they had always been there.

Great Dixter

The house and gardens at Great Dixter were created by Edwin Lutyens from 1910 for the Lloyd. Lutyens was reponsible for renovating and extending the mediaeval Great Hall that stood on the site at the turn of the 20th century. Having been a working farm the surrounding oast houses, barns and outbuildings were retained and the gardens designed to make the most of their architectural presence. Continue reading

Cloud pruned hedges & topiary fun


Out and About in Sussex, England: musings on creative pruning

Cloud pruned lonicera nitida hedge

Most of the hedging in my garden is in the formal, rectilinear style, but I really like cloud-pruned hedges too. Here are a couple that are on public display, that I pass on my travels around Sussex…

The playful Honeysuckle hedge (Lonicera nitida) above had just been clipped. I drive past it every day on my way to work. It forms the boundary to a long thin garden of an isolated cottage near Chichester, West Sussex. It is all the more striking as the plot sits, bravely isolated, in a sea of featureless farmland.

The random curved mounds are interspersed with more angular forms, producing an effect reminiscent of the stone work of an ancient civilisation. I like the contrast with the looser form of the young oak tree that rises above like a storm cloud. Even the odd-length bleached wood poles add to the composition, whilst preventing drivers churning up the turf as they pass on the narrow lane. Continue reading

The Trundle, Goodwood

‘The Trundle’ is a locally famous hill 3 miles north of Chichester just outside the Goodwood racecourse. It is the site of an iron age hill fort of which only the circular earthworks remain. As well as the bracing climb and wonderful views of the Sussex countryside that are afforded from the top, the Trundle offers the plansman or botanist a real treat, for it is clothed in a herb-rich turf over a thin calcareous soil where the low fertility and lack of agricultural improvement produces one of those magical spots scattered along the South Downs which are home to many interesting plants.

I set off before dawn at about 4:30am. It was bitingly cold and there was hoar-frost on all the foliage. The sky was clear and fresh. Not a soul about.

I arrived at the top just in time to witness the sunrise away to the east beyond Goodwood, across the rolling Downs.

Walking around the circular earthworks, one of the first species to catch my attention were the Early purple orchids.

On the lower slopes, cowslips had formed extensive colonies. Although none of the plants were individually impressive the loose carpet of them spreading out in all directions was striking. The effect of shallow poor soil and occasional grazing keeps them short (10-15 cm), with just a few flowers per plant, whereas back in the rich loam of my woodland garden  the same species becomes a stout clump twice as high with hundreds of flowers per plant.

The ribwort plantain is one of those ‘weedy’ flowers that deserves closer inspection which will undoubtably lead to admiration, fondness… then love. To me the inflorescence is a thing of beauty – a fine white skirt of ‘petals’ around the dense dark central head. I’ve never found a place for it in my garden, but here on the Trundle it is graceful, refined and completely at home.

I had to include this close up image. There are few other flowers that come close to its striking form.

So what’s with the dandelion? Well, firstly, is it a Dandelion? I’m not sure. The leaves and colouration are different to the Dandelions in my garden, or for that matter, anywhere else I can remember. But it’s not a Hawkbit, Hawkweed, Cats ear or Hawk’s-beard as far as I can tell.

Here is a clump of the Dandelions still iced with frost. They have distinct yellow and pink colouration in various parts, and even the unopened seed heads look strange. I suspect that it is a local genetic variation of the common Dandelion, or, alternatively it may be simply the effect of the chalk soil on a quite ordinary dandelion.


On the way back down I passed one of my favourite trees: a Whitebeam. This specimen has a wonderful rounded geometric form. Its branches are dark and the leaves contrastingly bright green backed with silver down, ribbed and clear. It somehow stands the strong cold winds that whip around this hill, whilst growing so healthily and symmetrically. The tight clusters of flower buds will open in a few days time.