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Magical Gardens to Inspire

'I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine...'

Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream

There is such wild beauty described by Oberon in Midsummer Night's Dream, so evocative; wouldn't we all like to discover this secret wild bank, such an enchanted place? It is the very wildness of this fairy glade, the abundant voluptuousness of nature's tapestry of flowers and plants that gives it it's magic. Yet often today people strive so hard in their gardens, to create strict order, forgetting that sometimes it is the very disorder, abandoning our efforts to control, giving into that indolent luxuriance of allowing nature to do as it pleases sometimes, that can give us something more beautiful than man's schemes can imagine. It is like the artist who allows himself to let to go in his work and then finds the best part of the piece are his 'happy accidents.' What is more lovely and truly relaxing and refreshing, than the sight of a wild flower meadow, dazzling with brightest flashes of colour against the contrasting richness of tall and swaying green grasses? The medieval idea of a perfect garden was 'a meadow starred with a thousand flowers.' When we look at the almost mathematically precise grids of some manmade gardens, the flowers standing to attention like soldiers, each sort of the same height, as though measured, everything arranged with the exactness of an obsessive compulsive, we are reminded of the world, striving, work, there is none of that relaxing and peaceful feeling of letting go, being part of nature as it enfolds us in it's luxuriant beauty, of abandoning ourselves to pleasure or dreams as we must to really enjoy.

magic lake

The reawakening to the wild & magic garden began with Gertrude Jekyll and the Arts and Crafts movement in the latter half of the 19th century and the gardeners who followed in her path and took it further, such as Christopher Lloyd, who created that haven of delights, Great Dixter. Great Dixter is a manor house in east Sussex, where the great planter and saviour of unusual plants, restored the garden of his parents home and created an idyll for those who love the wanton beauty of the natural garden. His gardens, there are many, include dazzling wild flower meadows and slightly more formal gardens that are sumptuous in the opulence of colour and planting, at once very English and familiar but with a flourish of ripe and overspilling beauty that leaves one breathless and that few gardens match except those created by nature alone. Great Dixter is open to the public.

Highgrove gardens, the gardens belonging to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, are a poetic dream for those who enjoy the romance of wild gardens. At Highgrove, the Prince, being a famous advocate for the preservation of our environment, made the decision to create a wild flower meadow in order to provide a sanctuary for our rapidly declining wild flowers. These plants and flowers have sprung to grateful life, with thirty two varieties of native plants. You can see meadow cranes bill, ragged robin, ox-eye daisies and a floral feast of plants that were common to our ancestors but sadly now are becoming as rare as jewels. HRH's purely organic gardens at Highgrove, are stunning with the magic that comes when inspired by a real passion for the natural world, contrasting, as his gardens do, with the sumptuously formal and elegant. Graciously, HRH allows us all to enjoy his gardens upon application.

Another garden of real enchantment is that of Sissinghurst Castle gardens in Kent. Created by the authoress Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson in the 1930's. Vita stumbled across this Rapunzel turreted ruin of a 15th century castle by chance and instantly an enduring love affair began. She restored the castle into her family home but her real passion was its gardens. For the rest of her life, Vita worked to create lush, headily romantic gardens of such halcyon charm, that it has gained an international reputation for its beauties. Vita had been brought up in the stately home of Knole, in Kent, said to be the largest palace in Britain. Vita adored Knole, it was almost a living, breathing presence to her, a family member that she felt wrenched from by her gender, being the daughter of the home, she could not inherit and so Sissinghurst became her new Knole, her new love. Her devotion to Sissinghurst gardens shows to this day, in the romantic rooms into which she has divided the gardens, her most famous being the white garden. The white garden, where every flower is white, spawned a fashion for garden plantings of all one colour. Sissinghurst is also open to the public but so busy that visitors who wish to allow the spell of these gardens to captivate them, should try to visit during the less busy times of the year.

Follies are an ingredient that infuses any garden with a feeling of excitement, bewitching wonder and surprise. Westonbury Water Gardens is a spellbinding folly paradise, set in the Welsh Marches, where the owner, Richard Pimm, has filled his garden with his ingenious imaginings. The 2 acres of gardens are an odyssey of streams, ponds and unexpected follies beside a venerable and picturesque old corn mill. Children and adults alike, enjoy discovering what is around each corner; a tower greets you as you enter the garden, it's gargoyle's heads spouting water, as the cooing of white doves flutter around their turret home, like pale ghosts in the sky. Richard has opened his gardens to the public and provided a cafe.

If you like your follies with a touch of decadence, then West Wycombe Park has the gardens for you. This eighteenth century rococo landscaped garden, was the home of Sir Francis Dashwood, yes, that Dashwood, the exuberantly colourful founder of the Hellfire Club, who was born in 1708 and died in 1781. Nearby you will find the Hellfire caves, where he and his bored friends, the elite of England, liked to summon the devil and enjoy a timetable of Saturday night orgies with professional girls whose sartorial habits were ecclesiastical. Dashwood it seems liked to cock-a-snook at anything that was revered in his day, a rebellious schoolboy who never, it seems, quite grew up and got all the other boys, statesman etc., into trouble. But for all his roistering and bad taste he did have a sense of the sublime, which is what his gardens can be called. You will find an enchanting grotto, a lake, statues peaking around many a corner and little temples of serene splendour, whatever bad jokes he may have inscribed upon them. West Wycombe Park is open to the public, as is the sumptuously gorgeous house, still thankfully inhabited by the Dashwood family, ensuring this is a place that is still alive, not a mausoleum.

Further afield in Italy, there is one of the world's most exciting enchanted gardens, the gardens of Bomarzo, known as the Bosco Sacro or Sacred Grove. When this garden was created, in 1552, it was called the 'Villa of Wonders,' no other like it anywhere in the world, nor is there to this day. These gardens, like a sleeping beauty, fell into neglect, became lost amid undergrowth and were eventually forgotten for three hundred years. One day in 1938 the artist Salvador Dali discovered them by chance. Dali's heart was instantly captured by this secret and lost magical kingdom and he painted the gardens and brought them to the attention of the world and so renovations began. Today they are as astonishing as when they were first created by Pier Francesco Orsini (1528 - 1588). Orsini was a hunchback, which may give some clue as to his finding beauty in the monstrous; he was also a mercenary leader, employed by the state and most touchingly a devoted husband to his wife, Guilia Farnese. Giulia, died and like the wife that inspired her mourning husband to build the Taj Mahal, Orsini's love for Giulia inspired the Sacred Grove. Orsini's ideas were to create a garden that would astound his guests, delight amuse, perplex, puzzle and stun, this he did, to 'Sol per sfogare il Core,' to 'give vent to his heart,’ as he inscribed on one of the statues. The gardens are studded with huge stone sculptures, they are bizarre, surreal and they all have meanings, the mystery of which perhaps was only ever known to the bereaved Orsini. If you visit Bomarzo, you too will be captivated as you walk through the giant's mouth into a grotto, see the Herculean figures in their attitudes and read the arcane inscriptions, the meanings of which the greatest artists of our times have tried to decipher and failed. The magic of mystery and the landscape of dreams, dreamt four hundred years ago await the visitor to this conundrum of a garden, which has been called the eighth wonder of the world. The locals call it the Bosco dei Mostri or the Monster's Grove because over time, myths and stories have woven around this ancient grove, but none as compelling as the real secrets the garden still hides today. Bomarzo gardens are open to the public.

Bomarzo

Beauty has it's own magic and one of the most beautiful gardens in the world was created by the impressionist painter Monet. Monet moved into this house and garden in 1883 and was inspired to create beauty in both the gardens and reflections of its delectable delights on his canvases. This garden at Giverny in France, inspired so many of his lusciously calm and beautiful paintings, his water gardens amongst many, inspiring the water-lilies paintings and the green Japanese bridge, which we think of when we think of Monet. The gardens are still open to the public.

These are amongst some of the most magical and beautiful gardens in the world, inspiring you, I hope to create some real enchantment in your own acres of God's earth.

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