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English Garden Tour
by Daryl Pulis

As I write this, I'm barely a dozen hours home from England where I spent an intense week viewing and photographing gardens with my friend and hostess, Fran. Here are a few notes from my trip to take your mind off our hideously hot and dry summer.

I arrived on a beautiful June morning, and after a quick stop to drop suitcases, we headed out to Frost's garden center to have lunch with another friend. American garden centers can take a lesson from Frosts. Good food on the premises so that you don't interrupt your plant shopping for a growling stomach. Perfectly groomed plants labeled "Pots of Pleasure" stood next to planted gardens including low maintenance gardens, perennial gardens, and water gardens (with a new product - a liner already covered in gravel for that stream- never mind that Fran found a hole in the liner still on the roll!).

After lunch and some plant shopping, we headed for a tour of Fran's tiny village, Aspley Guise. The village is beautiful, old enough to have been included in the Doomsday Book. Needless to say, the village has its share of thatched cottages, old woods, quiet lanes between yew hedges, and beautiful gardens. The "New Manor" dates from the mid-1800s. It's got an enormous Copper Beech that I fell in love with immediately. The old manor? Well, a quote from the tourist book says, "The first known Lord of the Manor at Aspley was Alfwold, who was granted 15 hides in 969 by King Edgar."

Wednesday's tour was a trip to both Wisley and Waterperry Gardens. Wisley was unexpectedly hosting an RHS flower show, so we were able to peek in on it, including the Sweetpea Society special exhibit. Oh, the fragrance!

Wisley's famous sweep of hill included garden beds of the most enormous Gunnera imaginable. It dwarfed Fran, being nearly twice her height. As far as I know there isn't a common name for Gunnera, perhaps because it's so difficult to grow well. Imagine green leaves the size of a Volkswagen in clumps the size of a semi-trailer.

Penelope Hobhouse' Country Garden displays were beautiful (Lily regale all over the place, Geraniums, Delphiniums, Foxgloves, white Cosmos), nearby an awesome display of white Calla lilies around a pool.

Wisley's Rock Garden needs toincredible. Mature conifers dotting a hillside with lily pools at the bottom. A bit farther beyond, a pair of Kousa dogwoods were in full bloom against a background of purple Smoke trees at their best.

Waterperry was completely different, starting with the Saxon church ruins at the entrance. The garden was started in 1932 as a ladies' horticultural college and is now a public garden and nursery. Waterperry is known for its introduction of Delphinium cultivars, and I was blown away by the display of hundreds of them in all of their regal glory, standing up to 8 feet tall in shades of blue and purple. Waterperry uses an amazing framework of bent twigs to hold the plants upright. Not just a few twigs, but large prunings - a great idea for us to copy for our floppy plants.

The Delphiniums were set off in a 200-foot long herbaceous border backed by a beautiful brick wall. A bit farther along, a mixed shrub border was a lovely change from our stiff rows of Leyland Cypress. Just past the border, the rose garden was beautiful and snifflicious, though past its prime. Across a wide lawn, island beds of evergreens, serene contrasts in green, gold and blue. Topping all was the Copper Beech that was taller than the 2-story manor house.

I hope you've enjoyed the first two days of my trip. In future articles I'll describe more of the gardens I saw, and share ideas that you might use in your own garden.

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