FIONA’S WINTER BLOG, December 2015


Having just returned from a trip to Australia, I am particularly aware of how the seasons and different weather can influence both landscape and gardens. Wandering round botanic gardens and forests in Brisbane, Darwin and Alice Springs was a transition from the sub-tropical to a tropical and then arid climate as summer – or the wet season as far as Darwin is concerned – get under way across eastern Australia. It was quite a novelty (and very draining) to be able to be able to appreciate such vast landscapes and look at bright blue sky through the bare branches wearing summer clothes and to be very thirsty rather than cold or wet!.

Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Alice Springs

At one stage, I overheard an American visitor comment that there was not much to look at when visiting the Olive Pink Botanic Garden on the outskirts of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. While I understand that for many people gardens are synonymous with flowering trees, shrubs and other plants, I hope that one day the gentleman concerned may ponder more on the amazing tenacity and artistic nature of these plants and also the inhospitable rocky desert terrains within which they survive. The picture above is an attempt to capture the delicate textures and shapes of some native trees, amidst which the metallic artwork or plant climber looks somewhat incongruous, grouped together at the same botanic gardens.


During a subsequent visit to the lands of an aborigine family we saw how even more artistic nature can be in its raw state. It was also interesting to be able to see in situ the sorts of plants which sustained the aboriginal, animal and birds populations for thousands of years. The ‘widgety grubs’ (as featured in the reality show I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here!) are found among the roots of one the denser shrubs. Other plants cater for practical needs from baskets and walking sticks to medicines, as well as musical instruments, hunting weapons range from the infamous ‘boomerang’, designed to flush out the prey to more complex weapons and are harvested to create a sustainable balance between nature and mankind.

Aborigine estate south of Alice Springs

Finally, it is worth noting how the botanic collections and garden designs throughout Australia are now evolving. For example, alongside literature encouraging visits to ‘historic gardens’ created by European settlers a hundred or more years ago, ‘native planting’ is being embraced with new gardens being created to celebrate the continent’s rich horticultural heritage and landscapes while recognising the need to maintain a diversity of habits and landscapes which will hopefully also help sustain wildlife and reflect climatic conditions. On this note, I look forward to a New Year seminar at which the English National Trust speaker will be assessing the heritage significance of plants in cultivation in botanic and historic gardens[i].

[i] The  seminar is part of a early evening series on Plant Introductions and perspectives on their importance and survival run by at the Institute of Historical Research the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. More information is available at or email

Fiona’s Spring Blog 2015


I have always been a strong supporter of sculpture , as well as other ’3-dimensional’ designs and plants . My trip to Brazil earlier this year provided opportunities to appreciate such features in parks and gardens as well as urban settings.

One particular destination, INHOTIM, west of Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s 3rd largest city, incorporated both modern ‘free-standing’ sculpture outside amongst a vast range of trees, plants and shrubs, including outstanding examples of 3-d succulents.


Influenced by the native bias of Burle Marx’s planting schemes for both public and private landscapes, this venue succeeds in marrying together natural and man-made designs in a relaxed setting, reminding me of the recent Henry Moore exhibition at Kew designed landscape. I was also struck by various geometric and more organic designs incorporated into tessellated pavements in cities and towns.


With Best Wishes for Happy Garden Visiting this Summer wherever you go!




Fiona’s Autumn/Winter Blog (December 2014)


As I type, winter is upon us and it is hard to think that it was only 3 months ago when those attending the AGM and Weekend Conference of the Association of Gardens Trust (AGT) were bathed in sunshine. The AGT weekend included visits to Port Sunlight, Thornton Manor and Burton Manor, all designed garden landscapes originally created for major industrialists as well as the long-established gardens at Cholmondeley Castle and Arley Hall, both seats of two historic Cheshire families. In these days of competing attractions and increased leisure time, they all operate in different ways to survive as we heard from a combination of the various estate owners, managers and head gardeners.

Arley's Walled Garden

Arley’s Walled Garden


The theme of survival also featured in the ‘business part’ of the weekend, especially concerning the proposed merger with the Garden History Society (GHS).In addition to my role within the Berkshire Gardens Trust, I have now been elected onto the AGT’s Council of Management and am a member of the Merger Transitional Committee considering the way forward on this, I am only too well aware of the 21st century challenges facing the world of garden history. In my view, if we wish to help conserve and enhance the varied parks and gardens which we all enjoy visiting and developing, then we need to be a vibrant body in touch with government and other relevant initiatives to ensure we get all the help we can in terms of political and public support, including funding and the chance to be heard.

Of course there are issues trying to combine two very different organisations and it is hard to keep up with some of the complexities. However, I hope that we will be able to put differences aside and take the best of what each can offer for the sake of ‘the greater good’. The Merger Transitional Committee has set up a website to help with the essential communication process ( and various matters will continue to be discussed at meetings involving the County Gardens Trusts as we go into 2015. Certainly the recent planning applications which I have been involved with in Berkshire illustrate all too clearly the need for a united ‘team effort’ from those who know about the history and care about the setting and features of our key designed landscapes, so that those deciding on such matters can take these into account as well as commercial imperatives. Here’s hoping we succeed so that all can ultimately benefit from our informed enthusiasm.

Fiona Hope, BGT Secretary

Fiona’s Summer Blog


There has been plenty of opportunity  this summer weather to admire our local parks and gardens. My recent trip to Cardiff for the recent Garden History Society (GHS) AGM & Conference. certanly included visits filled with exuberant, colourful herbaceous borders  as well as welcome, textured, shady shrubs and trees

Before mentioning some of the lovely sites we went to, a few words about the more formal part of the weekend. In particular,  the AGM debated the proposed merger between the GHS and the Association of Gardens Trusts (AGT). Although many GHS members also belong to their County Gardens Trust (CGT), we were all there as individual GHS members. There are obviously several legal and financial issues to still be resolved as well as ensuring that both organisations can continue to focus on different aspects of garden heritage while maximising their combined impact on government policies. It was also good to hear first-hand the genuine commitment from all who spoke to go on sharing expertise and exchanging information with the CGTs. A lot of emphasis was also placed on the need to continue the work of Verena McCaig and Linden Groves training members of the CGTs through help with developing expertise, in particular research activities and planning application responses.

The informal part of the AGT event started with a chronological resume of the wide range of historic designed parks and gardens in the Cardiff and South Glamorgan area by Liz Whittle, President of the Welsh Historic Parks & Gardens Trust and a former Inspector of Historic Parks and Gardens for the Welsh Government. Visits around the theme of A Prelude to the Great War then began by paying homage to Capability Brown with a brief look at Bute Castle (Grade 1 on the English Heritage (EH) Register of Parks & Gardens, where the results of  ‘land-moving’ works within the castle walls were impressive. Nearby contrast were Bute Park with remnants of the city dock-bound canal as well as several ‘Champion Trees’ and the ornate Victorian bedding near the War Memorials and Civic Centre.

Outside the city, our first, brief visit was to Craig-y-Parc, a “strongly architectural”  Edwardian Arts & Crafts garden and house with impressive terraces. Grade II* on EH’s Register, it was designed by C.E. Mallows for a local colliery owner and is now used as a residential school by the Scope charity. St. Fagan’s Castle, is better known for its museum which has collected examples of rural architecture from all over Wales. As well as remnants of an Elizabethan garden with several brightly filled ‘compartment’ gardens on the top terraces, there is also a replanted Dutch-influenced formal parterre garden to one side of the house.  Further down, the terraces are supported by impressive stone abutments. At the bottom, the dual Italianate, symmetrical balustrade steps lead down to tranquil, reflective lakes, grass dividing “bridges” and plenty of picnic spots (pictured below)!


St. Donat’s Castle, Grade 1 on the EH Register still has several intact, original Tudor terraces, one of which has a lovely rose garden similar to that at St. Fagan’s. However, following the American newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst’s 1930s acquisition of the castle,  these terraces, which lie below in a hollow between extensive deer parks and woods, then descend to an outdoor pool, beyond which still lie an impressive Cavalry Barracks, a slipway, the beach and the wider Cardiff bay.

Finally, Duffryn, now Dyffryn Gardens, again Grade I on EH’s Register and one of the key Edwardian gardens in Wales, was quite a contrast to the most of others we saw, as it lies more or less on the level. Seriously considered as the site for a National Botanic Gardens of  Wales prior to the Second World War, the gardens were designed by the landscape architect Thomas Mawson for the owner horticulturalist Reginald Cory, a wealthy philanthropist, ship and colliery owner. Dahlias, which Cory loved, feature significantly in the formal parterre immediately beyond the house’s stone terrace, with a centrally placed small ‘canal’  (see below).


To the west side of the house lie a series of gentle terraces along the higher of which are a varieth of gardens with herbaceous borders, Mediterranean plants and Physic and wild-flower gardens. Below these, a series of themed areas, include a Pompeian garden (inspired by Hadrian’s Villa) and a paved ‘theatrical’ garden with green hedge niches. To the east is a rockery and stumpery with an arboretum beyond. A red-brick ‘mill’ folly, meandering stream and meadows, feature at the garden’s south end.

Next year, the GHS and AGT are having ‘back to back’ AGMs based in Newcastle, when their proposed merger is due to be progressed, with another set of hopefully very pleasurable trips for participants.

Fiona Hope, BGT Executive Secretary


Fiona’s Spring Blog 2014

FIONA’S SPRING BLOG, 2014                       

After enjoying the alpine mountain scenery and wild flowers, the richness of the kauri forests, sub-tropical vegetation and the last of the summer bedding displays in the parks inspired by Victorian settlers in New Zealand, I returned to what has been overall glorious, mild spring weather here. Sunshine and mild temperatures have encouraged a veritable display of spring bulbs, shrubs and trees to blossom in our gardens and parks, with plenty of activity in orchards and on allotments too. In addition to this being a lovely time to visit gardens there also quite a lot on television about prominent gardens currently, exploring the historical origins and influences behind their respective styles.
Olympic Park LandscapingIn contrast to such established gardens, it was particularly good to visit the recently opened Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at the start of its life as a London park. The transformation process continues, with  positive signs that the legacy of the 2012 games is benefiting a wide range of London residents and tourists, as well as being a prime example of  ‘garden history in the making’. It is hard to believe that all of the very new planting and design features will survive the heavy usage the park is already getting. It is however currently well looked after, with plenty of space, even on a busy Easter Holiday weekday, to relax, stroll, play or picnic in.
Throughout the park, a wide variety of materials are used to provide seating, other ‘street furniture’, contemporary sculptures and infrastructure such as bridges across the Bow Back Rivers. Various sports facilities such as the Aquatics Centre (see above),  are also incorporated within the landscape, with terraces and other open areas punctuated by young avenues of trees, shrubs, perennial bedding and lawns. Although the butterfly-friendly planting, rejuvenated ‘naturalised’ habitats, wild flower meadows and copses adjacent to the River Lea will take time to mature into wildlife havens, they already provide an alternative, quieter landscape to the central park and its attractions.

The park’s website mentions a variety of tours as well as several ‘self-guided’ trails with informative leaflets. For example, the Arts Trail features sculptures, ceramics, story plaques and various exhibits incorporated into various pathways, bridges and other infrastructure around the different areas of the park, which covers a site akin to west London’s well-established Hyde Park. An Activity Trail encourages younger participants to explore, draw and think about what they see around them. This will hopefully encourage respect as well as enjoyment for the park’s diverse landscaping A series of outdoor ‘activity rooms’ are also available and differently graded rock-climbing walls, pre-programmed water fountains, abstract ‘cave’ sculptures to explore and a rock garden incorporating rope bridges and sandpits.

The Orbit and Water Fountains

And, while some await excitedly for West Ham’s new stadium, a highlight for me was the Arcelormittal Orbit red steel sculpture tower by Anish Kapoor, currently the highest sculpture in London (see above). The tower offers extensive views of the park and its hinterland, a key area during East London’s 19th century industrialisation and now central to its 21st century regeneration.


Fiona Hope, BGT Secretary


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