The Cutting Garden Diaries

Uppark garden

Uppark House and East Pavilion taken by recent visitor, Jonathan Ring. 

One of the Uppark garden team’s newest ventures is a Cut Flower Garden where we’re growing flowers to cut and display in the house. The cutting garden is a project that has been gaining momentum since summer 2013 and in the last few months it has really taken off.

Uppark garden

Above, Judy and Jenny Swatton sowing seeds for cut flowers in Uppark House (image Michael Weldon)

We are now looking to recruit some volunteers to help us cut and arrange the flowers each month, but first a peek at what we’ve been up to:


One of our first tasks was to decide what to grow in the cutting garden. Judy and I had already met with Sarah, House Manager at Uppark to find out what sort of cut flowers would be historically appropriate for display in  the house. The meeting left us full of enthusiasm and with a very long list of potential plants to grow.

It proved to be more difficult than expected to work out what not to grow, but in the end we were fairly ruthless. For 2014 we decided to concentrate on annuals, especially hardy annuals which can be sown directly in the ground, among our selections were Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-Mist)and Helianthus annus (Sunflower). We also chose a few perennials which Sarah was really keen to have in the house because of their historical significance. These included Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley) and Campanula Pyramidalis (Bellflower).

We duly ordered our seeds and bulbs and then we waited….


A few weeks later, on a bleak and rainy day, a box was delivered to the garden office. It turned out to be full of tiny rhizomes of Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley). We set about potting one third of the rhizomes, which we hope to display in pots in the house. Judy and Joy planted the remaining two thirds of the rhizomes in the cutting garden. Once the rhizomes are established we should have plenty of beautifully scented Lily of the Valley to cut for the house.

Not long after the box full of rhizomes, another exciting package arrived, this time full of seed packets. Over the next week or two, Judy, Joy, Rae and I spent some time in the Glasshouse at Alitex sowing seeds to try and get a bit of a head start before the ground warmed up enough for outside sowing. We sowed Antirrhinum ‘Sonnet White’, Antirrhinum ‘Rocket Mix’, Helianthus ‘Sunbright’, and Lathyrus odoratus ‘Mammoth Mixed’. As the weather improved and the seeds started to germinate we started to prepare the ground in the cutting garden, including building a slightly eccentric sweet pea support nick-named ‘The Taj Mahal’.

At the end of March we created our first floral arrangements for the Mother’s Day Flowers event. Although we didn’t have flowers ready in the cutting garden, it was amazing how many flowers, foliage and branches were available in the garden and woodland so early in the year. Judy, Susie and I had a great day working in the tunnels to create a dozen arrangements for the house. On the morning of Mothering Sunday Sarah and I placed the arrangements in the house and had a chance to admire the effect. It was really rewarding to receive some lovely comments from volunteers and visitors alike, and we couldn’t wait to get sowing outside so that our future arrangements would be composed of flowers we had grown specifically for the house.

Uppark garden

Above, Jenny Swatton’s Still Room display in Uppark House for Mother’s Day


With the arrival of April we’ve had some beautiful warm weather and have finally been able to get sowing outside. Last week Judy and I prepared our first seedbed in the cutting garden, digging, raking, forking some organic matter, shuffling over the soil to consolidate it and then raking again. We then made drills and sowed our Consolida ‘Sublime Azure Blue’ (Larkspur) seeds.

This week Liz and I have been doing a bit more seed bed preparation and sowed Nigella ‘Miss Jekyll’ and Nigella ‘Midnight Blue’ which should be flowering by August. As it’s our first year of cut flower production, there is certainly a bit of trial and error involved and we’re already talking about what we would like to do next year, including sowing some of the hardy annuals in autumn so that we have flowers ready earlier in the year in 2015.

Uppark garden

 Above, Jenny Swatton and Liz preparing the seed bed by lightly firming the soil. 

In other April news, Judy and I spent Good Friday afternoon arranging a few flowers for the house for Easter Sunday and Monday. After Easter, the next time we are planning to have flowers in the house is the end of May.

Get Involved

At the moment we are looking for a few more volunteers to get involved with the cut flower project, particularly the cutting and arranging of flowers and foliage for the house. This year we are aiming to have flower arrangements in the house once a month and so would be looking for people who could commit to one day a month, typically a Friday.

If you are interested, please get in touch (click here) or e-mail .




Spring Bonus


Hyacinthus orientalis 'Anna Lisa'Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Anna Lisa’

Planted last year, these Hyacinths in the scented garden are a beautiful colour, they have a heady scent and combine wonderfully with the deep blue H. ‘Double Crystal Palace’ in the background. The striking hazel screen,  on the right of the photo was fashioned with woody material from the wider estate by the garden team last year.

Narcissus canaliculatus

Narcissus canaliculatus planted last autumn, basks in the spring sunshine these enchanting miniature Narcissi have been a charming addition to the garden this Spring.

Narcissus 'Jack Snipe'

Narcissus ‘Jack Snipe’ planted a couple of years ago are a lovely sight at the garden entrance.

Assistant Gardener Jenny Kimmis:

“Among my favourite early flowers are some of the members of the borage family: Pulmonaria, Brunnera (below), Trachystemon orientalis, and the fantastically-named Omphalodes.

(Image Andy Lewis)

Pulmonaria (lungwort) are excellent ground cover plants for shady areas with moisture-retentive soil. They have beautiful spring flowers in a range of colours including blues, purples, pinks and white. They also have lovely foliage, often with interesting markings in silver or soft green.

Brunnera also prefer some shade and a moisture-retentive soil, and again make great ground cover. They have attractive heart-shaped leaves and delicate sprays of blue forget-me-not like flowers.

Trachystemon orientalis (Oriental borage) is a very useful ground-cover plant as it tolerates a range of conditions including dry shade. It has big, coarse-textured, bright green leaves and striking, delicate blue flowers.

Trachystemon(Image Jenny Kimmis)

The appearance of early spring flowers motivates lots of us to get back in our own gardens and to visit others for inspiration. We hope the garden at Uppark will inspire you this spring and that you’ll be tempted to take home a lovely plant or two from our plant sales area.”

Plant sales


Spring Flowers for Mother’s Day in Uppark House

Uppark garden

Wild Primrose (Primula vulgaris) and Siberian Squill (Scilla sibirica) in the Stone Hall, Uppark (Judy Culhane and Jenny Swatton)

Uppark garden

Hybrid Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus) flowers floating in a bowl of water in the Stone Hall, Uppark (Jenny Swatton)

Display in Staircase Hall, Uppark (Judy Culhane)

Uppark garden

Above, Display by Susie Culhane in the Red Drawing Room, Uppark and below, her arrangement in the Saloon.

Uppark garden

Uppark garden

Jenny Swatton’s herb bouquet and arrangement for the Still Room, Uppark

Uppark garden

Posies gathered by children for their Mother’s Day gifts with help from Susie Culhane, displayed in the Dolls House Room, Uppark

The Underground Flower Dwellers

Uppark garden

Flowers being gathered for our event at Uppark in celebration of  Mother’s Day

In the wonderfully atmospheric setting of  the Uppark tunnels, three garden team members have assembled beautiful and heart-warming displays for Mother’s day. These tunnels are believed to have inspired former Uppark resident H.G. Wells for some of his novels, come and see how the garden and setting has inspired us.

Uppark garden

The underground flower dwellers: Above Assistant Gardener Jenny  Swatton arranges flowers for display, in the foreground Susie Culhane‘s completed arrangement, visit us on Sunday to see where these beautiful arrangements are displayed in Uppark House. Below Judy Culhane’s beautiful Spring display .

Uppark garden

Uppark garden

Spring Flowers for Mother’s day 30 & 31 March 2014 Uppark House and Garden Open from 11am

Spring Flowers for Mother’s Day

photo 2

Erythronium dens-canis (Dog’s Tooth Violet) in flower in the scented garden, Uppark

After the warm sunny weather of the last few weeks, spring has definitely arrived at Uppark and with it some beautiful plants are beginning to emerge.

Uppark gardenSiberian Squill (Scilla sibirica) in the garden at Uppark in 2013

On Sunday the 30th and Monday the 31st of March we’ll be using some of these lovely spring plants to decorate the house with seasonal flowers and foliage for Mother’s Day.

Uppark gardenBeautiful displays last year, for our Grand Tour Flowers event

The garden and house teams will be joined by several mothers and their children to create the floral arrangements for the house, keeping up the tradition of children collecting posies of flowers for their mothers on Mother’s Day.

Uppark gardenChildren from Harting school in July 2013 arranging flowers for our Grand Tour Flowers event

Uppark garden

Narcissus ‘Jack Snipe’ in flower at the garden entrance

Uppark gardenVases on display in Uppark House, that could be used for our flower arrangements

As well as celebrating the arrival of spring and Mother’s Day, the floral arrangements mark the start of a joint project between the house and garden teams to grow more flowers in the garden for cutting and display in the house. This follows on from the success of last year’s Grand Tour Flowers.

Uppark garden

We hope you’ll enjoy the spring flower and foliage arrangements in the house and come back to see more floral displays later in the year.

Uppark gardenScilla sibirica

Behind the Scenes

Uppark garden

Can I be the only National Trust visitor who imagines “If I lived here……” as we wander around the larger than life houses and gardens? So when Andy, the Head Gardener at Uppark House, invited us for a “Behind the Scenes” look in the weeks leading up to the house opening to the rest of the general public we jumped at the opportunity. Especially keen gardener, allotment holder and enthusiastic pruner TDO (our family blog shorthand for The Daddy One) who had yet to visit Uppark. We have home educators National Trust Membership which is valid week days in term-time only and TDO often has Fridays off work; Uppark is currently closed on a Friday so consequently we simply hadn’t made it happen.

We have collaborated with Andy before on this post “Home Educators at Uppark” in which Orin, who is 4 now, remembered about the amazing water at Uppark and in the Autumn when Sapphire and Etienne, now 9 and 7,  road tested the Halloween trail.

TDO, Etienne and Orin were really impressed with Andy’s super-tidy, well organised tool shed and also his giant solar panel. We have a small solar panel at our allotment which powers a small pump that feeds our irrigation system and a greenhouse heater. Similar principal, different scale so it was great for the Trio to see a more ambitious project in action.

Sapphire was keen to show  TDO the grids covering the underground service tunnels and I talked to Andy about how, during a recent Aliens exhibition featuring War of the Worlds at the Lightbox in Woking, we had remembered the H G Wells / Uppark connection and how, as home educators, not following a subject/pigeon-hole curriculum gives us the opportunities to make such connections.

As we rounded the corner Etienne remembered the fun we had playing cricket last summer both with his grandparents, who are also big fans of the delicious crystal clear water at Uppark, and some of our home ed friends and so headed straight for the green box containing the bats and stumps and, for the first time since last year, in the lifting mist, we played outside.

Uppark garden

Andy asked the trio if they could guess how the grass had been kept short during winter and eventually Sapphire guessed it was sheep who had munched away at it. 

Uppark garden

Before we left this morning I did ponder whether to go with wellies or regular boots but incredibly, almost certainly thanks to the free draining chalk soil, Uppark is amazingly unmuddy in comparison to other places we have visited recently. Some of our local nature walks are still under water.

Andy left us to enjoy our lunch then, from the wind break of the Gothic temple, we started doing some sketching, something that regular viewers of our family blog will know we have been doing more of recently. Whilst looking for some pheasants Sapphire saw her first butterfly of the year. TDO enjoyed the way the garden had been shaped to frame the beautiful vistas.

Uppark garden

In the sunshine today felt full of growth and promise. We were afforded the rare chance to see the snowdrops which will probably be past their prime when the house reopens on March 16th.

uppark garden

Very special memories.

Uppark garden

Rosy Glow

Uppark garden

Spring is definitely in the air here at Uppark and our revamp of the Scented Garden is coming along well. In my previous post, we looked at some of the existing plants staying to form part of the new design. Now we’re turning our attention to the new planting – particularly the roses.

Uppark garden

Rosa ‘Old Blush China’ (image David Austin Roses)

In keeping with the Scented Garden’s peaceful, intimate feel, the planting style will be informal and the colour palette calm, using whites, blues, purples, pinks, and the odd touch of soft yellow.

Uppark garden

The intimate scented garden in March

Old roses and aromatic shrubs such as lavender, rosemary and sage will provide structure. An informal look will be achieved with herbaceous perennials, most of which are scented and either introduced to the UK by the early 19th century or of British origin. These include Hesperis matronalis (sweet rocket), Dianthus plumarius (cottage pink), Crambe cordifolia (flowering sea kale) and Valeriana officinalis (common valerian).

Scented garden planting plan

Scented garden planting plan key

In mid February, the bare root roses arrived and an excited garden team began planting straight away.

Uppark garden

For the southern end of the two beds, which is pretty heavily shaded by surrounded trees, we selected Rosa ‘Madame Hardy’ and R. ‘Maidens Blush’ as both these varieties are recommended for shade. Both are summer-flowering only. ‘Madame Hardy’, introduced in 1832, is an elegant, white Damask rose with a rich, old rose fragrance.

Uppark gardenRosa ‘Madame Hardy’

‘Maidens Blush’, which has been around since before the 16th Century, is an Alba rose with lots of sweet smelling, delicate, blush-pink flowers.

Uppark gardenRosa ‘Maidens Blush’

For the other end of the two beds, we selected R. ‘Queen of Denmark’ and R. ‘Old Blush China’. ‘Queen of Denmark’, introduced in 1826, is another strongly fragrant Alba rose with large, beautifully-formed, soft pink blooms.

Uppark garden

Rosa ‘Queen of Denmark’

‘Old Blush China’ is one of the repeat-flowering China roses brought to Britain at the end of the 18th century. It produces clusters of beautiful, pale pink flowers with a delicate sweet pea fragrance throughout the summer.

With the roses in, we can’t wait for the herbaceous material to arrive so we can carry on with the planting. If you’re visiting Uppark House and Garden over the coming months, do visit the Scented Garden to see our work in progress.

Thanks to David Austin Roses  for the gorgeous rose images.

Lancelot, Humphry and Me

Over the last couple of days the garden team have enjoyed a bit of sunshine. So, instead of scurrying across the garden with our heads down and hoods up, we’ve been able to appreciate the spectacular views framed by the garden.

uppark garden

As I wrote in my last blog, a key feature of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s work at Uppark the late 18th century was the creation of carefully orchestrated views for the garden’s users to explore and enjoy. However, the story of Uppark Garden does not end with Capability Brown.  In this blog post I’m going to explore the period from the 1790s onward, and particularly the work of Humphry Repton, which is the basis for much of our current restoration work.

1790s – 1820s
After Sir Matthew Featherstonhaugh’s death in 1774 and Brown’s subsequent death in 1783, the new pairing of Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh and landscape gardener Humphry Repton, heralded a second major change in the layout of the garden. It seems likely that a series of circuit paths date from this period. We have found traces of these paths in the garden and during the summer of 2013, archaeology students Sam (below left) and Jack (below right) carried out some excavations.

uppark garden

Repton is often referred to as Brown’s successor.  However, Repton’s designs were often less natural than Brown’s and included the sort of garden features which might have been seen in Rococo gardens.  An example of this type of feature at Uppark is the Coade Urn on the mound.

uppark garden

uppark garden

Repton’s work at Uppark also included the Portico and new north drive.  Plans for the new north entrance to the house are shown in the ‘Red Book’ of Repton’s designs for Uppark.  Intriguingly plans for other features which may not have been built included an informal Cottage Garden and a formal Rose Garden.  What does seem tantalisingly evident from Repton’s correspondence with Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh is that there would have been flower gardens at Uppark.

Repton’s work at Uppark, while not fully understood, is regarded as the most significant phase in the history of the garden.  This is why the section of border former Assistant Gardener Jo designed has been restored to the period 1810-1830.

uppark garden

Jo supervising the planting in September 2013

Later 1800s

After Repton’s alterations at Uppark, it seems that the garden did still undergo change.  Inevitably older plantings grew substantially over the years and new planting was also added.  A Country Life photograph from 1910 shows bedding in front of the East Pavilion which Dr Sarah Rutherford has identified as ‘typical of mid-late C19 schemes’.


By the time the National Trust received the garden in 1954 most of the 19th Century path system shown in the 1873 OS map had vanished. The ‘Island Beds’ in the area north of the East Pavilion were added between 1991 and 2005 to add interest to a garden that had originally been ‘simplified’, an unfortunate reflection of the limited resources available at the time.

Uppark garden

There are a lot of things that we can’t know for certain about the history of Uppark Garden. There has been a gradual change in the structure and use of the garden over three centuries, glimpses of which we see in the garden today.

In some areas, the garden team have been working to restore the 1810-1830s character of the garden. In the last few weeks we have begun to work on the next 20m section of the border which sweeps round inside the garden wall, following on from Jo’s work last year. We plan to complete the preparation of the area and the design work in time to plant in the early autumn.

However, just because we are restoring some areas to one short period in the garden’s history, does not mean that the earlier or later phases in the garden should be seen as insignificant. The garden is now enjoyed by many more people than at any other point in its life, and consciously or not, what we enjoy now is the result of centuries of change, and we’re not finished yet!

uppark garden

uppark garden

Ever-present Evergreens

Uppark garden

We have many evergreens at Uppark and they perform a variety of functions, they’re versatile plants that often get over looked. In the winter or summer garden, we feel they have their place.

Taxus baccata (Yew)

These wonderful conifers form the spine of much of the planting at Uppark, they respond really well to pruning. The Yew hedge below was reduced by 50% in height and the same again in width in November 2010. In Spring 2011 we planted up the border and it has continued to develop as has the hedge. Over the last week we’ve also reduced the height of the Yew hedge in the distance and cut down the Bay tree (Laurus nobilis) in front of the hedge. The view is superb, we’ve had some fleeting sunshine over the last week emerging through this ‘window’ and it’s lovely to see.

Uppark garden

Zooming in…

Uppark garden

Prunus laurocerasus (Cherry Laurel) is really good for providing a mid-green foil for some more sympathetic planting or as a screen. Below, this cherry laurel on Uppark estate is used to screen an unsightly utility area.

Uppark garden

Cherry laurel is vigorous, quick to establish and will tolerate most soil conditions. Due to its vigour, it needs quite a bit of pruning, this is best done after it’s put on the majority of its annual growth. The great thing is it’s tough as old boots and you can prune from August onwards once any nesting birds have flown their nests. We’ve still got quite a bit of pruning to do at Uppark and we’ll do this until the nesting season really kicks in in early March. We prefer to cut it by hand using secateurs, it’s labour intensive and gives a more pleasing finish than a hedge cutter. During our visit to Stourhead last autumn, we learnt how the garden team manage their ‘laurel landscape’ – they cut the areas close to the paths by hand and hedge-cut further in, an excellent compromise.

Prunus lusitanica (Portugal laurel)

This has been planted extensively at Uppark, it’s very common in many historic gardens and it’s easy to spend many happy hours pruning this laurel for shape with secateurs and renovation with a pruning saw and sometimes a chainsaw (see below). It’s remarkably resilient and even though the treatment below looks severe, it bounces back well.

Pruned frequently with secateurs, it provides an excellent backdrop for a border or a hedge. It has very attractive red leaf stalks, the leaves are darker, smaller and some feel the foliage is more subtle than the cherry laurel.

Uppark garden Uppark garden

Sarcoccoca confusa (Sweet Box)

These plants have the most fabulous fragrance right now. We have a small group planted near the scented garden at Uppark and they’re producing a perfumed explosion of scent, if you’re looking for an unusual, classy fragrant Valentine’s gift for your loved one, consider buying a group of at least three of these to plant near a gate, doorway or path, under-planted with a generous drift of Galanthus sp.(Snowdrops) you’ll have a Valentine’s gift that keeps on giving year on year!

Uppark garden

Uppark garden

Uppark garden

We shape our Sarcoccoca shortly after they’ve finished flowering at Uppark. We leave pruning until April or May so any new growth doesn’t get frost damaged. If they’re newly planted either leave alone or if you feel the urge to prune, tip prune them to encourage more secondary growth further down the stem so the plants fill out more.

Viburnum davidii  (David Viburnum)

V. davidii is a small spreading evergreen shrub, with elliptic, deep green, leathery, three-veined leaves and flattened heads of small white flowers followed (on cross-pollinated plants) by long-lasting ‘metallic’ blue-black berries. We have groups of these shrubs planted within our island beds in the wide glade area of Uppark garden. Their leathery leaves provide great colour and contrast of texture in the border.

Uppark garden

Laurus nobilis (Bay)

L. nobilis is a large, erect evergreen shrub with aromatic, narrowly ovate, leathery leaves, useful in cooking. Its flowers are small, pale greenish-yellow, in dense clusters with oval fruits that are glossy black when ripe. When pruning, we wait until the growing season between May -August to shape so the new growth has a chance to ‘harden’ up before winter. You’ll see in the image below, taken in the garden at Uppark, the foliage is very decorative and the leaf stalks are flushed with red too.

Uppark garden

Danae racemosa (Alexandrian Laurel)

A beautiful foliage plant, much admired, valued and coveted by flower arrangers. We’ve planted the Alexandrian laurel in two semi-circles at the garden entrance. At the heart of this planting are many different ferns and a lovely clump of Buxus sempervirens (Box) that we’ll formally clip in the future.

uppark garden

Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree)

These are very similar in appearance to bay and are often mistaken for them, here they’ve been trained at the nursery into topiary forms on a clear stem, they contrast beautifully with the pillars on the Portico at Uppark. This type of training does come at a cost, but you could try it yourself, if you were feeling adventurous.

Uppark garden

What is it about pruning? A volunteer’s perspective on the meaning of snipping Jasmine.

It’s one of those misty, Up Park up in the cloud, type of mornings. The house rises out of the grey gloom like a location manager’s dream (a great one for the Photography Workshop on 28 February) but our wonderful view has completely disappeared. Just about everything’s dripping and our footsteps leave a trail of green through the mist silvered grass.


What to do with this Jasmine?

Andy, Jenny and Jenny and I are contemplating  a group of Yellow Nepal Jasmine (Jasminum humile ‘Revolutum’) which require some judicious pruning so we rub our metaphoric chins, walk around the plants, take in all the angles and quietly consider the best course of action. Actually, it’s quite cold standing out here up in this cloud and a cup of tea, further discussion and a slice of cake (there’s always hope) back in the garden mess room wouldn’t go amiss before we get started.

The Yellow Nepal Jasmine was in need of some drastic treatment, a 50% reduction to remove the excess growth, then further pruning to thin out the old, tired wood to regenerate this attractive, summer flowering shrub. In the end, the three J’s – Jenny, Jenny and Joy did a lovely job (I happily went and dug a bed to keep warm when the intricate stuff got going!).

Uppark garden

The Yellow Nepal Jasmine is planted in the island bed to the left of the one shown here at Uppark.

Uppark garden

 The Greeks knew a thing or two.

Uppark garden

I’ve done a fair amount of pruning at both Uppark and Hinton Ampner recently. I’ve found this to be an enjoyably quiet and reflective occupation which tends one’s internal monologue towards the abstruse. Some sunshine would be lovely but even in the absence of this, intermittent conversation and the secateurs’ sharp snip and click combine with the sound and feel of the wind to create, for me at least, a sense of great contentment and ease. Whilst concentrating on what I was doing, naturally, the other day I found myself drawing parallels between pruning plants and probing away at one’s own life.

Socrates knew what he was saying when he suggested that “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being”. To maintain the pruning metaphor, we can gently dissect thought, motivation, emotion, dilemmas and relationships with a sharp pair of secateurs or we can have a go with a pair of hefty loppers if necessary. Some well considered cutting away will reveal what lies beneath and this revelatory process will, in turn one hopes, result in renewed and vigorous growth. Without it, life becomes cluttered, complicated, disproportionate and, ultimately, diseased. Reveal your heart, I say, it must be good for you.

And roots? A blog topic for another day, perhaps, but my feeling is that you can cut and snip up top to your hearts’ content but I try never to forget where my roots and friends lie and I’m always able return to them with faith.

I knew all this already, it’s not a unique insight by any stretch of the imagination, but I haven’t always been able to follow my own set of priorities. The last few months at Uppark, and at Hinton Ampner also, have acted as a wonderful focus-puller and I’m very grateful for that.

Uppark garden