By Charleston’s Gardener, Harry Hoblyn
We have had few visitors to the garden this season, fewer still to the house. Yet, the promise of spring is gradually awakening at the forefront of any gardener’s mind, and the recent generosity of Charleston’s supporters, demonstrated through the favourable outcome of our Art Fund Art Happens campaign, signifies a change in fortunes. The house and its garden will be open to visitors again in April 2021.
By Charleston’s Gardener, Harry Hoblyn
The first weeks of June have finally brought us some rain; the sky undulating between an ominous spectral grey, and that bright-eyed, azure clarity so generous throughout the previous months. All this time I have been gardening in privileged, paradisiacal isolation, left for the most part to my own devices, nurturing a sanctuary that has seen few visitors.
At Charleston we’re thrilled to be named among the UK’s top places to visit by Lonely Planet in their #UltimateUKTravelist of the most memorable, beautiful, surprising and compelling experiences to be had across Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands.
The only complete preserved Bloomsbury interior in the world, Charleston’s individually designed and hand-painted rooms were inspired by Italian fresco painting and the Post-Impressionists. Visitors can take a tour around the unique spaces and explore the stories and lives of the artists, writers and thinkers who made it their home. Alongside the house, Charleston runs a programme of exhibitions, workshops, talks and events throughout the year, as well as a portfolio of literary festivals.
Charleston is one of just 34 attractions from the South East of England to make the Lonely Planet’s ‘Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist’.
The UK’s four constituent countries and countless small islands comprise a powerhouse of history, culture and intrigue. Now for the first time, Lonely Planet’s community of travel experts have chosen the best sights and experiences and ranked them in order of their brilliance in Lonely Planet’s ‘Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist’.
Lonely Planet’s VP of Experience, Tom Hall, said:
To create Lonely Planet’s ‘Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist’, the Lonely Planet team compiled every highlight from the Lonely Planet guidebooks for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Every sight, attraction and experience that had caught their writers’ attention over the years were included. Everyone in Lonely Planet’s London office, plus 20 leading figures in the country’s travel sector, were then asked to reveal their favourite spots and experiences before the voting began. Everybody in Lonely Planet’s UK community was asked to vote for their top 20 experiences. With hundreds of votes cast, Lonely Planet ended up with a score for each of the 500 experiences in the book.
The garden has looked as well this Spring as I can remember it. The last eight years of steady renovation of the soil and planting now means that only a small percentage of the planted areas still need to be upgraded. The dreaded ground elder now holds sway in only a few isolated pockets, It is hard not to be reminded of Jimi Hendrix’s song Purple Haze, on entering the Walled Garden, as Foxgloves, Sweet Rocket, Siberian Iris and wild Aquilegia, among others dominate the colour spectrum.
There now approaches the different transition form the Spring to Summer Garden, out with the tulips, wall flowers, Forget-me-nots and Honesty, to be replaced by Zinnias, Dahlias, Nicotania and Cosmos. In the meantime, if the conditions are right, the many climbing and shrub roses, will put on a fine show until the end of June.
I am often asked by visitors to the garden during the months of July and August whether I like Hollyhocks. Like is not nearly a strong enough word. The Hollyhock is far and away the most important plant to the fabric of the garden, especially the walled garden at Charleston. By accident and design, a wonderful community of tones and colours have emerged during the last thirty years.
Where such a varied community have come from remains somewhat a mystery, but can it be a complete coincidence that an equally varied collection of single flowered Hollyhocks also line the long pathway as one approaches Berwick church? There is hardly a single one of the many letters that Vanessa Bell wrote in which she describes the summer garden, where the Hollyhock is not mentioned, and it appears often in her paintings of the garden.
It reigns supreme at the moment, carrying its varied colours high above ones head, providing a strong element of elevated structure, complementing other more rounded elements. Then we come to its importance to bees, especially the bumble bee. All the Hollyhocks in the garden are of the single flowered variety, making themselves far more accessible for bees to access the abundant pollen. I have noticed that with the wind battering the garden in recent days, it has not been unusual to see the odd bumble bee clinging to the centre of the large open flowers as the tall stems flail about. Food and sanctuary. No other plant in the summer garden offers such an agreeable haven.
AL Kennedy has recently challenged the notion that April is the cruellest month by putting forward August for this accolade. Expectations are set impossibly high, but often those 31 days let us down in so many ways. From the garden’s point of view, we went from the early days of August, where prayers were offered up for a decent shower, just for a brief respite from the tedious business of pointing a hose pipe at a wilting plant, to the end of the month when similar prayers were being chanted for the deluge to stop.
Growth and flowers held in check by the sècheresse were unleashed by the rainfall, and flowering annuals such as Cosmos, Zinnia, tobacco plants and nasturtiums have grown with gay abandon. For example, on the seed packet for the Cosmos plants, an ultimate height of 36 inches can be expected; in reality my arms begin to ache when reaching up to dead-head these ferny giants.
As often happens with nature, all is not as it seems. Today, enjoying the sight and perfume of the towering tobacco plants, my attention was drawn down to their base. Here amid the warm and humid air, the first signs of decay are taking hold, a reminder that before long the unequal quest to hold back the inevitable will be lost.
An apple’s soft thump on the grass, somewhen
in this place. What was it? Beauty of Bath.
What was it? Yellow, vermillion, round, big, splendid;
already escaping the edge of itself,
like the mantra of bees,
like the notes of rosemary, tarragon, thyme.
Poppies scumble their colour onto the air,
now and there, here, then and again.
the heart’s impulse to cherish; thus,
a woman petalling paint onto a plate –
cornflower blue –
as the years pressed out her own violet ghost;
that slow brush of vanishing cloud on the sky.
And the dragonfly’s talent for turquoise.
And the goldfish art of the pond.
And the open windows calling the garden in.
This bowl, life, that we fill and fill.
Written to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Charleston festival.