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English Gardens of "Bloomsbury Country"

Last week in London I was happy to see magnolia trees in full bloom, bright yellow tulips, and other signs of spring arriving throughout the city. If you've never been to any of England's exquisite gardens, you're missing out! The English style of gardening is known for its pathways, naturally wild features, and an overall structured informality, and we can curate a truly delightful tour of English gardens! Here's an article to plant the seeds for your next trip to England! 

Excerpt below from 1/22/2024 Virtuoso article by Amy Merrick can found here. 


If you go on a pilgrimage to see English gardens, please let it be in June, when the rural lanes sway with wild roses, and hedgerows of white hawthorn and frothy cow parsley lead the way. And if you do go in June, you really should head to the bucolic corner I think of as “Bloomsbury country” (for its ties to the early twentieth-century literary and intellectual group), just an hour-and-a-half drive south of London. There you’ll find the most soulful and charming gardens Britain has to offer – that is, if you don’t mind the white-knuckle drive through those same impossibly narrow, flower-strewn lanes.


England is a country of gardeners, and the electrifying Great Dixter is the first port of call for all those serious about seriously outrageous plants. Home of the late twentieth-century garden writer Christopher Lloyd, Great Dixter is set against the backdrop of a fifteenth-century manor house, with oversize, abstract topiary atop a meadow studded with wild orchids. Flower borders bloom chockablock with annuals, tropical banana trees, snapdragons, and towering fennel, each more glowingly Technicolor than the last. An orchestrated riot of nature, Great Dixter elevates the eccentric ethos of English cottage gardening.


Half an hour down the road and off a small dirt track is poet and gardener Vita Sackville-West’s famed Sissinghurst, perhaps the most romantic garden in England. At this abandoned Tudor castle transformed into a voluptuous secret garden in the 1930s, I found its famous white garden heaped with roses, foxgloves, and lilies, all in shimmery shades of silver and white. Billowing masses of flowers softened the formality of the yew-hedged garden rooms surrounding Sackville-West’s writing tower, especially her collection of 200 heirloom roses. It’s hard not to fall in love with Sissinghurst, where romance literally scents the air.


Charleston, less than an hour’s drive southwest, is the true center of Bloomsbury country, as it was home to two of the group’s linchpins, bon vivant artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. The walled garden acted as a living canvas for the pair, old-fashioned flowers rubbing shoulders with fruit trees and vegetables joyfully crammed in higgledy-piggledy, elevated with sculptures made by friends and visitors after World War I. The garden’s spirit isn’t bound by convention to remain outside; its artistic owners bedecked each surface in the farmhouse with murals and handiwork, from bathtubs to lampshades, each a work of art in its own right.


A trip to Charleston wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the nearby former home of Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Woolf, which is open from late March through mid-November. With its perfectly formed small flower beds, orchard, and greenhouse, Monk’s House is perhaps the humblest of all, and the most tender too. A simple mown path through the apple trees leads to Woolf’s writing room, and it’s easy to picture the quiet mornings she spent in the shade of that same chestnut tree, her words infused with the grace of her meadow beyond. What a gift to be a houseguest of the ghosts of these greats, wandering down their garden paths, smelling their roses, if only for an afternoon. 



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