Quirky Garden Art

Although nature always out-performs human artists, for millennia people have placed artworks in outdoor settings.  Some are just statements of wealth and power but the most effective are the ones that show a quirky sense of humour.

Hare sculpture wisley

My favourite (currently) is at RHS Wisley in the UK – Spring Hare – which is bursting with so much natural energy it demands a second look just to make sure it isn’t real.

The Eden Project in Cornwall, UK is renowned for making political statements via its sculptures and ‘outdoor exhibits’ and one that deserves the widest exposure is in defence of the Bee – pointing out that life as we now know it would’t exist but for the bumble bee.

Eden Project Bee

Water Birds sculptureOthers are less famous and deliver on a different level, sometimes with just a gentle charm like these waterbirds from a spring garden in the NSW Blue Mountains.

And it seems that all baby animals mimic their parents !

Two dimensional metal art is increasingly popular and allows the artist to express themselves with only a sheet of steel and a cutting torch – this cat and wren from artist Natalia Broadhurst being a good example of simple and amusing garden sculpture.

Cat and Wren sculpture

Most big ‘garden destinations’ (e.g. aimed at attracting large numbers of tourists) have embraced the concept to add to the entertainment factor.

Though there is one in the Loire Valley of France – Chaumont sur Loire that has crowned itself as the art capital of the garden world.  Their ‘International Garden Festival’ is a bit of a misnoma in that it is all about “Art” and just so happens to be outside.  However some exhibits could not be seen anywhere else.

Chaumont Wicker Houses

These Wicker-Thicket-Houses remind me of the wonderful children’s book by Maurice Sendak called ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ which was recently made into a superb film by Spike Jonez.

But no article on quirky garden art could conclude without the Lost Gardens of Heligan ‘Mud Maiden’.

Heligan Mud Maiden

The gardens themselves are a great place to visit delivering on so many levels, but it is perhaps the Mud Maiden that has become the icon of Heligan and the few thousand pounds it cost to commission has translated into hundreds of millions at the entrance gate.

Congratulations to creator/curator of Heligan, Tim Smit for re-envigorating quirky garden art.

Claude Monet’s Garden at Giverny

Visitors to Paris will see some splendid ‘grand avenue’ gardens which celebrate the status of France in the modern world and are quite spectacular.  But for those who like their gardens to be a more romantic experience, you cant go past a short train ride to Giverny, just 45 mins west of the capital.

Giverney Artful BulbsThese are the gardens of the great impressionist master, Claude Monet who lived here for 43 years and now attract over half a million visitors a year.

Its a place he was drawn to and found so much inspiration that he stayed the rest of his life here.  Monet once said “I am first and foremost a painter and a gardener, I’m not much use for anything else.”  Well, we all know what a great artist he was and now we know what a great gardener he was too.

Giverny Flower BedsThese gardens are his creation, though he did have some assistance, and are split into two parts by a road (which is a pity but doesn’t detract too much).

Monet's HouseThe charming pink and green shuttered house sits at the top of the property with sweeping views down across the semi-formal gardens that are intensely planted and chock full of areas of delight and colour.

Daffodil at GivernyThe gardener teams put a lot of effort into selecting the most Monet-reminiscent colours and also pay great attention to detail while retaining a very casual feel for a formal garden.

Monet's LakeA small tunnel takes the visitor under the road to the lake – probably one of the most famous pieces of water in the world, thanks to the great works of art that have been inspired here.

Monet's StreamA bubbling stream feeds the lake and plantings of bamboo provide a useful backdrop to keep the eye focussed within the garden grounds.  Again the plantings are intense and immaculate, always providing colour palettes to match the romantic nature of Monet’s work.

Monet's PansysFor those who like to know more about the man then the house is also open.  This provides a wonderful insight into life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in rural France and it is not difficult to imagine the gatherings of the ‘artistic elite’ who often met here to talk and exchange views.

Monet's Bedroom ViewMy only gripes would be the sound of traffic dissecting the garden now and again – and of course you do have to share these lovely grounds with a few other tourists.

See full Gardens of the World entry here.

Author: Bob Saunders (www.gardensonline.com.au)

Patsy Durak’s Rose Garden

On a recent visit to Perth I was lucky enough to be recommended to visit a garden that will go down as one of the “Best Garden Days Out”.

Patsy Duraks Garden

The back garden of Kareela

This is not a huge tourist trap garden, but a specialist rose garden lovingly created and nurtured by Patsy Durak in the Gooseberry Hill region of the Perth Hills.

In 1988 she and her husband Ian Kirton bought Kareela, the old Archbishop of Perth’s house and promptly went about demolishing the existing garden to build a totally new one dedicated to roses.

Floribunda Rose Aspirin

Floribunda Rose Aspirin

They had such success that they then purchased the house over the road to extend the gardens even further.  Today Patsy looks after over 900 rose bushes spread over the two properties.  They include fabulous collections of Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras, Floribundas, Climbers, Delbart and David Austin English roses.

Roses Radox And Carson

Floribunda Roses #1. Radox Bouquet #2. Violet Carson

Her dedication is apparent at every turn with all plants kept in tip-top condition – yet she manages to do this without spraying, just by being diligent in removing any signs of disease or infestation immediately and following best practice in garden hygiene.

Floribunda Rose Magic Fire

Floribunda Rose Magic Fire

She ensures all plants are promptly dead-headed (e.g. around 40cms worth removed) to minimise plant energy wastage, and regular fertilising plays a vital role as well in maintaining plant vitality – a healthy plant is less likely to succumb to infections or infestations.

Hybrid Tea Rose - Helmut Schmidt

Hybrid Tea Rose – Helmut Schmidt

Our visit was not perfectly timed, being at the end of one of the most scorching summers in recent memory, followed just days earlier by heavy rain and blustery winds – so the plants were not necessarily at their peak.  But if these blooms are considered a touch below par then I cannot imagine how good it would be to arrive on a perfect day.

David Austin English Rose Heritage

David Austin English Rose Heritage

Patsy donates a portion of the small entrance fee to the Cancer Council and in doing so has created excellent value for visitors.  There is a delightful shop at the entrance selling many of her unique products and she also serves wonderful Devonshire teas on the splendidly shady Old Colonial verandah.  But there’s also something extra useful you’ll not find in many open gardens – she has labelled most of the plants so if you like a rose you know what to look for in your local garden centre.

Patsy Duraks House

Devonshire teas served on the verandah.

The gardens are open every Sunday between 10am and 4:30pm from October through to May.  But she will, if possible, open up for you if you call in advance to request access on other days of the week.

Hybrid Tea Rose Lovers Meeting

Hybrid Tea Rose Lovers Meeting

The Perth Hills enjoy a mediterranean type climate which is ideal for growing roses due to the hot and dry summers.   But perhaps its the combination of ideal climate and dedicated gardener that makes Patsy’s garden such a delightful place to visit.

Grandiflora Rose Tournament Of Roses

Grandiflora Rose Tournament Of Roses

Here’s her website to help you plan your visit:-  http://www.patsydurackrosegardens.com

Author: Bob Saunders (www.gardensonline.com.au)

Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam

Hortus-CurvesAmsterdam seems to be famous for many things . . with the exception of botanic gardens, yet ‘De Hortus’ was the world’s first, so I’m especially delighted to visit.

Hortus-Botanicus-AmsterdamIt is probably the smallest botanic garden I’ve ever been to, but at 1.2 hectares it remains a tranquil and refreshing oasis in the midst of a busy city, thanks largely to the curving layouts, always focusing the visitor inwards.  It also reeks of authenticity, probably because it is was originally scientifically motivated, though today aesthetics have been added that make it a delight to wander through.

Lily-PadsVarious glasshouses hold important collections of exotic species, including Agaave in the impressive Palm House and Butterflies and Cactus also have their own enclosures.

Tropical HouseAnd a three climate hot-house would have you believe you are somewhere near the equator rather than chilly northern Europe.

Palm-HouseOriginally created in 1638 as a medicinal herb garden to supply the local apothecaries and medics, this very centrally located garden has grown to now contain over 4,000 different plant species from all over the world.

Hortus-VenusThis was initially due to the connections with the Dutch East India Company which brought back untold botanical delights from far flung shores and needed some knowledgable people to nurture them.

The most famous case in point being the Coffea arabica plant.

Koffee-SignHaving built a lucrative trade in coffee beans with Arab traders the Dutch decided to cut out the middleman and grow their own, starting here in the De Hortus greenhouses, then exporting young plants to Batavia (Indoneisa) to grow large scale plantations.

The coffee craze was sweeping Europe and a gift of coffee bushes was made to Louis 14th of France who then exported cuttings to colonies in the Americas, where it eventually found its way down to Brazil.  The rest, as we say, is history.

CoffeeSo as we sit and enjoy our double-shot espresso in the elegantly imposing Orangery cafe, we remember that  it all started here at Hortus Botanicus, over 375 years ago, just outside the old walls of Amsterdam, on newly reclaimed land in the world’s first botanic garden.

As they say here . . “Dank U Well,” or thanks a lot.

P.S. the Dutch are also to be thanked for bringing so many natural delights to the world apart from coffee – like tulips, carrots and a plethora of shrubs, flowers and bulbs.

Author: Bob Saunders (www.gardensonline.com.au)

Tasmanian Garden Paradise

This largely photographic blog entry is all about Jubilee Gardens in Cascade, Hobart, Tasmania.  It is literally someone’s suburban back-yard, albeit a half hectare backyard, that is so incredibly jam packed with plants the visitor is liable to ‘nature-overload’ (a.k.a. very happy).

Jubiee gardens lawns

Jubiee gardens – a rare open space

Ted Cutlan and Joy Stones have collected thousands of plants and put them together into an extraordinary display that takes a wonderful few hours to enjoy to the full.  It’s very orientally inspired and has been only opened at peak flowering season around early November.  However since 2012 Ted and Joy have found that the demands have exceeded their capacity and it will not be open to the public from 2013 onwards and therefore this photo record will have to suffice from now on.

Purple rhododendron

One of the many fabulous rhododendron

Its a massive undertaking that is the result of years of plant collection and nurturing with the main plants being Rhododendrons and Azaleas, all of which are in superb condition and make a wonderfully colourful display.

Orange Red Rhododendron

Rhododendrons in all colours

As you wend your way down the property through narrow, twisting pathways the higher trees provide the necessary dappled shade for many of these delicately featured oriental plants to thrive in peak conditions.

Wonderfully delicate Acers

Wonderfully delicate Acers

Ted and Joy are experts with ornamental Maples as can be seen by the collection of over a hundred different varieties especially Acer japonicum and Acer palmatum  (originating from Japan) that feature extraordinarily dissected and multi-coloured coloured foliage.  They propogate Acers in their well equipped greenhouses and continue to sell them to locals.

Red and orange acers

You don’t need to wait for autumn with these delicate acers

Then there’s the Camelias, many different varieties and species but because this garden is well sheltered from cold winds and sun-scorching, just about every plant you see is in perfect condition (a rarity even in the big botanical garden).

Full bloom camellias

Camellias in full spring colour

Another potent symbol of springtime are the cascading Wisterias, to be found at many turns of the twisting pathways or drooping elegantly over pergolas or garden archways.



Jubilee Gardens also has a splendid collection of Clematis too, again climbing over trellis or fences.

Striped Clematis

Many varieties of Clematis on show

Jubilee Gardens boasts a fascinating collection of trees of all kinds including many conifers and some very elegant cooler climate deciduous trees.  They provide the needed shade whilst also adding to the overall rich textures of the gardens.

Confier cone

All plants are in superb condition

Water features seem to be such natural bed-fellows with any ‘Japonicas’ and ‘Sinensies’ and of course they also attract birds and frogs and a plethora of other bugs and insects – all part of the self-sustaining natural environment that is celebrated here.


Striking water features are used for contrast

But we shouldn’t forget that very special foliage plant that is scattered in amongst the footings of the more spectacular blooming shrubs – I refer of course to Hosta and no end of colourful, ankle high spring flowers.

Hostas in shade

Hosta love this dappled shade

With so much to feast the eyes on at ground level you may not find time to look upwards – but if you do you’ll see Mount Wellington towering above – Jubilee Gardens being set in its foothills in Hobart’s south – as discovered by some of the GardensOnline team recently.

Author: Bob Saunders (www.gardensonline.com.au)

GardensOnline team hard at work

Some of the GardensOnline team hard at work

Keukenhof – a floral extravaganza

Without doubt one of the world’s greatest annual flower events, Keukenhof never disappoints, even if there’s an unseasonably cold spring season.   At Keukenhof this just means that the outdoor growth is retarded, but there’s still a floral extravaganza awaiting visitors inside the many pavilions.


The Vast Tulip Pavillion Keukenhof

This is a place dedicated to tulips, in fact it is almost a shrine, but then the humble tulip has probably contributed as much to the Dutch economy as any other commodity over the centuries, so it does, perhaps deserve more than a little reverence.


Tulipa Triple A

The refined and intense skills of the horticulturalists are all on display here with a mind boggling array of varieties, many of them stunningly beautiful, especially in the soft light of these huge display greenhouse pavillions.

TulipsYellow - otherwise known as Strong Gold

Tulipa Strong Gold

It is quite amazing how many variations of colour can be coaxed out of the classic vase shaped blooms and every year new varieties appear to delight the eye and boost the export coffers of the growers.

Tulipa Queensland

Tulipa Queensland

But sometimes, cleverness just goes too far.  I’m sure some will say this Tulipa Queensland is beautiful, but for me . . . well its just plain silly, having created something that belies the character of the tulip.

Narcissus Hea Moor

Narcissus Hea Moor

With over 7 million bulbs planted at Keukenhof every year there are plenty of other spring flowers included.  Daffodils are always the beacon of spring and again, the flower breeders manage to discover new facets of these vibrant blooms.

Narcissus Trepolo

Narcissus Trepolo

Narcissus being their botanic name, this variety seems to typify why they were given that name.  This one is called Narcissus Trepolo and its as if it knows its got’ it’ so its going to flaunt it.

Later blogs will show you more of the huge array of flowers at Keukenhof this year, but for now I’ll sign off with one of the most simple, but for me the most stunning.

The humble crocus

The humble crocus

The source of all saffron – the humble crocus.

See a selection of latest hybrids tulips from this year’s exhibition here.

Author: Bob Saunders (www.gardensonline.com.au)