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The Gardens of Villandry

Monday, July 28th, 2014

By Tim Sykes – 28/7/14

Whenever the name Villandry is mentioned it conjures up hazy memories of long boozy lunches during my advertising heydays! A restauranteur rather cleverly created an excellent restaurant, come wine shop, come bar, come specialist food store in Great Portland Street. I’m pleased to say it’s still thriving today, some 15 years after my last lunch! Do pop in if you are passing that way. The food I’m sure is still very tasty, and the wine list even better.

Somewhere equally appealing are the Gardens of Villandry, situated just 15 kilometres west of Tours, France.

I recently persuaded my wife and teenage son to call in on them enroute to the Dordogne. “Yes, OK”, was the response.”But, you are only allowed exactly one hour!” This may seem rather stingy on their part, but believe me these things take some negotiating!

My main interest were the potager, or kitchen gardens, as I’m currently involved in designing a scheme for one of my key clients. So this focus helped whittle down the tour.

We arrived at Villandry at 10am and it was already blisteringly hot. We paid for ‘Jardin’ at the entrance (€6 Adults, and €4.50 Youths). The Chateau looked equally enticing, but not this time!

Villandry is reputedly the last of the great Renaissance chateaux of the Loire to be built, in 1536. It was not a royal palace, but instead the seat of a royal minister, Jean Le Breton. Despite being a Finance Minister, Jean’s architectural expertise was incredible, and he was noted for his works, including the creation of Chambord, which he oversaw before he built Villandry.

As part of the scheme Jean conceived of a garden landscape that would blend the chateau into the surrounding Loire countryside.

The Chateau and grounds remained in the Le Breton family until 1754, when Villandry became the property of The Marquis de Castellane. He was the king’s ambassador, and he brought the castle up to date with modern 18th century standards of comfort and design.

In 1907 Villandry was purchased by a Spaniard, Joachim Carvallo. Carvallo and his American wife were scientists. The house and gardens had fallen into disrepair, so Carvallo set upon a complete programme of renovation. The Chateau was transformed, but it was the gardens that most of his energies and imagination went into.

These are vast, and truly magnificent.

Laid out over 5 hectares. Today they are looked after by a full-time team of nine gardeners.

Given the size and complexity of the gardens, careful planning and a rigorous timetable are required. This all sounds very familiar!

There are 7 distinct areas of the garden:

1. The Ornamental Garden

Stretches behind the Chateau, and features some incredible topairy depicting different takes on the theme of love. Unifying these gardens is the use of box hedging borders set to a Moorish theme, and sixty yew trees, all carefully shaped to a standard size and design ( I have the specification)!

Whilst we were visiting, we were treated to the gardening team out in force tweaking these designs.


Inside each shape are flowers. These are all planted in blocks of colour to enhance the dramatic pattern of this area. My guess is that this part of the garden was also used for cuttings, so at different times of the year plentiful supplies of fresh flowers were available to the household. Something to remember for a cuttings section to my own designs.

At the end of my ‘hour’ , I visited the garden shop and have purchased topairy ball guides, so will experiment as soon as we get home! I also managed to pick up a selection of seeds from the ornamental garden area, including Coquelicot ‘Rouge a Coeur Noir’.

2. The Woods

If you have the time, and the inclination to climb up into the adjoining woods you can gain some stunning views of the Chateau and Gardens. Also situated up there are the greenhouses.

3. The Water Garden

An ingenious watering system for the entire gardens eminates from a large ornamental pond on the upper terrace. This is shaped in the form of a Louis XV mirror. From this water cascades down a staircase of waterfalls into a moat which then distributes water into the planting areas below.

4. The Sun Garden

This is the most recent of the gardens, set on a plateau above the Water Garden. It features a series of herbaceous beds, set out in a formal pattern, but planted with varieties and allowed to grow in a more informal fashion.

Whilst we were visiting we bumped upon an artist recording the beauty of the gardens in oils. With his Van Gogh hat he seemed to be enjoying the mid morning sun.


Another artist who has recently had their sculptures added to this area of the garden is Marine d’Harcourt.

5. The Maze

Is planted with closely cropped hornbeam hedges. The correct pathway leads to a lookout post in the centre from where you can work out your safe retreat.
Probably easy to get out of in the winter!

6. The Herb Garden

Adjoining the Maze is the long, corridor like herb garden. This is the traditional garden of the Middle Ages full of aromatic, cooking and medicinal herbs.

7. The Kitchen, or Potager Garden

This is what we were here to see. And wow! What a display. I counted 9 areas, featuring different geometric patterns, set in a series of squares, all in one huge quadrant, with wide gravel avenues between them.

The designs depict Medieval crosses, all different. The structure of the potager gardens is created by using low closely cropped box hedging, that is in a constant process of clipping and replacement. Planted amongst these in symmetry are standard roses. These reputedly symbolise the monks who in Middle Ages would dig their squares.

Within the box borders a combination of flowers and vegetables are planted in concentrated bands of alternating colours, which together help create the magnificent vistas you can achieve by looking across the Potager Gardens.

To this day the Carvallo family are actively involved with the gardening team in the design and maintenance of this section. In the garden I could see bands of Chard, ornamental cabbages, beet root, tomatoes and pumpkins.

Time nearly up and a quick detour to the Garden Shop. This took 10 minutes, an all time record! Then out we rushed to the cafe to pick up a much needed diet cola.

One hour exactly. But what an hour!

You can see more about Villandry at www.chateauvillandry.com

For further information please contact Tim Sykes on 07725 173820, or at info@reallygardenproud.com

A real treat at Chelsea!

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

By Tim Sykes of  Gardenproud,

We set off to the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show today with great expectation! Our journey took us via M&S at Charing Cross, where we picked up some delicious sandwiches, then onto the District Line to Sloane Square.

On our list of must sees were:

- The Extending Space

By Norman Fischer & Daniel Auderset

The idea of creating the illusion of a larger space by careful planting is one thing, but the use of architecture in a garden to elongate perspectives is brilliant. This garden gets my vote. It is executed brilliantly. There are parallels with a recent project we designed and I can see their ideas inspiring gardens for us. The very wide span of the feature arch is awe inspiring. Please tell me how you did it?

- The Telegraph Garden

12 roof trained lime trees provide a beautiful canopy for this garden. A mix of formal planting among herbaceous borders are carefully placed around a rectangular lawn. The whole concept is reminiscent of many Italian gardens we have visited.

All very well executed. Not surprisingly this took home a Gold.

- The Laurent-Perrier Garden

Designed by Luciano Giubbilei, this stunner won Best in Show. And it’s well deserved.


The judges liked the way it played with texture, light and form, with a cool contemplative design.
The planting features delicate forms alongside stronger, bolder leaves, stone surfaces, and reflection patterns in the water features.

Nice surprises included:

- The Barron Knights


This spectacle dominated our lunch break when we sat back and enjoyed our M&S sandwiches, washed down by a rather expensive (but very refreshing) two glasses of Champagne Laurent-Perrier. The Barron Knights were slightly more mature than yours truly, but close your eyes and the sound is amazing! A really good move by the RHS to get them on the bill. They played ( and we sang along) to all the old favourites, plus one or two BBC banned tunes, including a rather amusing one about David Bowie! They’ve got a new album out too, you can see more about it at www.barronknights.com

- The Topiarist Garden at West Green House


This garden is designed by Marylyn Abbott. You can see it in the Artisan Gardens. You Must see it! Marylyn is one of my all time favourites, and her book “Gardens of Plenty” which talks about the art of the potager garden is an all time great. It is my favourite garden at the Show and embodies an eclectic mix of fantastical topiary among lovely perennials. I want it!

- David Harbour


David Harbour’s sculptures continue to be incredible. If you’ve got a big landscape and large pockets then call me first, then look at David Harbour.

His larger than life mirrored spheres and painstakingly produced stone sculptures are a real spectacle.

But be prepared to invest over £20k for something of real scale. See more at www.davidharber.com

- Paul Vanstone
If you are in the market for something out of the ordinary, then visit Paul’s stand. You’d probably need to have deep pockets too! Paul and his team are brilliant sculptors. But brilliance comes at a price.
They work in stone and create large torsos that will look the business in your formal, or informal garden setting.

I was amazed by their polished pair of faces, called the “Kissing Profiles” which stood some 3m high in Italian Carrara Marble.

Pop them into a meadow and wow what a focal point.

See Paul’s portfolio at www.paulvanstone.co.uk

- Outdoor Living

Al fresco living is the name of the game. Fire pits, barbecues, weatherproof loungers, swish terraces and bi-fold doors seamlessly leading from dining rooms and kitchens onto outside spaces.

What if it rains?

Well these Outdoor Living people have thought about this.

They have designed a smart modular system that looks stunning. One minute it can look like a contemporary pergola, open to the sun and fresh air. The next at the touch of a remote, smart shutters close up above you and hey presto you are protected from the elements.

See more about these clever people at www.outdoorlivingdesign.co.uk

- Hope on the Horizon

Designed by Matt Keightley this garden is a contemporary space that represents the journey of injured servicemen and women through to rehabilitation. So it’s got a strong theme that Matt has expertly executed in both the hard and soft landscaping. All the more impressive when you consider that at 29 this is Matt’s first attempt at a Chelsea  show garden and he take’s home a Silver Gilt Medal!

Other focal points:

It was a great day out. Lots of inspiring thoughts to take into our thinking. Okish weather, and very pleasant company.

For more information about The Chelsea Flower Show, or to discuss your design requirements for your garden please contact Tim Sykes on 07725 173820, or email him at info@reallygardenproud.com

Magnificent! I don’t need to go to Chelsea now!

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

What a lovely thought!

But that was our dear client’s reaction was when she returned from holiday recently.

She found her Tunbridge Wells town garden transformed from the grass bank it was, to the contemporary space that she can now enjoy with her friends and family.

The new garden was designed by Tim Sykes from Gardenproud. A modern and tranquil space with interesting features and terraced planting, plus entertaining and relaxing areas designed to mask the natural topography, and create the illusion of a much larger garden than the town location affords.

“The basic design concept uses a series of offset rectangles, that both interact and interrupt each other, plus are layered. This helps create different points of focus and different compartments within the garden, ” comments Tim.

Even the rather swish terraced pond reflects the concept.

So does the bespoke pergola that now frames the pastel blue painted Lutyens bench.

First things first, the terrace was enlarged, so that it now accommodates a large table and chairs for at least 8 people in two possible locations.

Cedar strip panelling was used to help accentuate features and create vertical blocks.

The grassed area features two offset oblongs that leads the eye round to an interesting mirror.

This feature reflects the terraced planted up platforms on the opposite side of the garden.

Here is planted what will become a grouping of buxus balls that will eventually merge to form a cloud formation.

“The terraced pond was a labour of love!” states Sykes. “We wanted to create a slate clad vision that contrasted with the adjoining cedar and oak materials. But slate was potentially a problem from a frost perspective, so we eventually went down a route that used  slate coloured and textured porcelain tiles. A lot of research later and we found the perfect finish. Thank goodness!”

A textured slate strip forms the basis of the outer walls, and a riven traditional slate tile is used as the copings.

The whole garden, including the workings of the pond, all run off a clever wireless remote control system that has become the hallmark of Gardenproud gardens. “These days it’s important to be able to use the outdoor space in the evenings as well. So we try wherever possible to incorporate lighting with schemes and create zones that can be illuminated in isolation, as well as fountains and other water features that can be remotely controlled. It can all contribute to some quite dramatic results, and reasonably green too as they employ LED low wattage fittings, or bulbs. “

The planting plan also played a major role in this garden. A colour palette featuring blue, lilac, purple, white and of course various hues of green was featured throughout. Gigantic lilac alliums helped create a linking theme between different areas, bamboo columns form the basis of what will become the rear wall of the garden, a salix half standard tree links with planting of euonymous, salvias are repeated in different places in contrasting colours. Miscanthus sinesis flamingo sits among giant verbena bonariensis. Beautiful white agapanthus frame the black steel obelisk that tops the upper terraces. And behind this a wall of white jasmine will adorn the trellis background.

Two beautiful wisteria will eventually trail over the contemporary pergola. A border of lavender softens the link of the pond with the lower terrace.

Anyway, whilst our client may not feel she needs fresh inspiration from our Chelsea peers, I always do!

So I’m looking forward to my trip tomorrow to London to the Chelsea Flower Show 2014.

I’ll see what I can pick up and incorporate in our thinking for 2015!

For further information about Garden Design contact Tim Sykes at Gardenproud on 07725 173820, or via email info@reallygardenproud.com


A Spring time visit to Nymans, West Sussex

Monday, May 5th, 2014

By Tim Sykes

Nymans house and gardens is on the ‘must see’ list of many a horticulturalist.

It incorporates a beautiful house and ruins into a romantic woodland setting.

Only 45 minutes drive from Tunbridge Wells, travel via East Grinstead and Turners Hill.

Nymans was the family home of the Messels who bought this West Sussex Wealden retreat in the late 1800′s. Inspired by the woodland surroundings Ludwig Messel set upon creating a garden with plants and specimen trees collected from around the world.

On our list of favourites were:

- a handkerchief tree from China

- a magnolia tree from Japan


- the beautiful wisteria pergola

- a handsome water feature at the centre of the walled garden

- the pieris japonica bordering in the rear rock gardens


- the many beautiful Rhododendron and Azalea specimens that surround the gardens

- the castellated yew topairy surrounding the house

Wherever you looked there were some beautiful vistas:

There was an excellent nursery at Nymans. Among our purchases were:

- beautiful Nectaroscordium Siculum’s - a bulbous perennial with attractive bell shaped pink and green flower heads on long stems of c 1.2m
- Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ – a hardy perennial that grows in clumps, with deep lavender blue flower heads that bloom throughout summer
- Hosta Francee - brilliant white edged leaves are the hallmark of this Hosta which pale lavender flowers appear mid to late summer
- Veronica Ulster Blue Dwarf - a compact hardy perennial with deep purple/blue tall conical flower heads

We visited early May, but we could see from the herbaceous borders that there was a lot of colour yet to spring forth, so late May early June could be a good time to see the garden in all it’s glory.

It was a very enjoyable day out and we can recommend a visit. We plan to go back soon and walk around the house.

If you are a National Trust member then you get in free. Otherwise entrance fees are £10.50 adults and £5.50 children. Don’t take your dog. We suggest you visit early (opens at 10am) as the car park is restricted, then leave by lunchtime ( the restaurant didn’t look brilliant)  and find a good local pub.

On your return trip, pop into Pots and Pithoi at Turners Hill for some real Cretan pots and further inspiration! See more at www.potsandpithoi.com

For further information about Nymans go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Or, contact Tim Sykes at Gardenproud on 07725 173820

Visit Sissinghurst Castle Gardens this April

Monday, March 17th, 2014

By Tim Sykes

It was interesting to watch on BBC’s Countryfile recently the feature about Vita Sackville-West and her upbringing at Knole. As the daughter she unfortunately didn’t inherit Knole but with her husband Harold in the 1930′s she went onto buy Sissinghurst Castle and began a transformation of the gardens. Harold mainly planned the garden structure, whilst Vita turned her attention to the planting schemes.

Today the house and grounds are looked after by The National Trust. It’s only a short drive (half an hour) from Tunbridge Wells, along the Biddenden Road, near Cranbrook.

The gardens are open from 11am – 5.30pm. The Castle and Grounds are surrounded by a working farm, ancient woodlands and parkland of c 450 acres. The house dates back to the Middle Ages. It was bought by Sir John Baker ( one of Henry V111′s Privy Councillors) in 1530, when it was greatly enlarged by him and his son.

The Castle and Gardens are well worth a visit and during April are bursting with colour.

A brilliant vantage point is to climb the Tower and see the structure and beauty of the garden, then plan your tour accordingly. You will see from the Tower that the garden is split up into a whole series of rooms, all with their own unique planting schemes.

The Lime Walk is among my favourites, but you must spend time in The White Garden. The White Garden was originally planted as a rose garden in 1931, but later altered in 1950. Vita referred to it as her grey, green and white garden. There is no escaping the brilliance of her focus, and the end result is a captivating space, that’s very romantic.

For a good lunch, nearby Biddenden is a picturesque Kentish Village with pleasant pubs. Alternatively stop off at Goudhurst on route. I’m reliably informed that The Vine, Goudhurst has just undergone a restoration and offers excellent fare. I must treat myself to a visit!

You can see more about Sissinghurst Castle and Grounds at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle

Further details about The Vine at Goudhurst can be found at www.thevinegoudhurst.com

For further information about Gardenproud please contact Tim Sykes, on 07725 173820,  or via email at info@reallygardenproud.com


It’s February already, so what’s going on in the garden?

Friday, February 7th, 2014

It’s February and it seems like we are getting a similar dose of  weather to January, with a mixture of rain, sunshine and low temperatures. At the point of writing there’s no promise of snow, although cold air above Scandinavia may move southward and bring with it a colder spell.

So I’m afraid you need to wrap up warm in the garden, plus watch the weather forecast for frosts and keep your less hardy shrubs wrapped in fleeces.

The RHS provide a really useful list of jobs for you to consider in February. This covers work you can be getting on with, both in and out of doors:

  1. Prepare vegetable seed beds, and sow some vegetables under cover
  2. Protect blossom on apricots, nectarines and peaches
  3. Net fruit and vegetable crops to keep the birds off
  4. Prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering
  5. Divide bulbs such as snowdrops, and plant those that need planting “ in the green”
  6. Prune Wisteria
  7. Prune hardy evergreen hedges and renovate overgrown deciduous hedges
  8. Prune any climbers in conservatories or greenhouses
  9. Cut back ornamental grasses left uncut over winter

Other things to be considering….

-       Cut back any dead foliage you’ve left over the winter period

-       Prune back Hydrangeas to their new shoots

-       Prepare the borders for planting

If the weather starts to improve you may find it’s necessary to cut the lawn, although don’t cut it too short, and avoid going on the lawn if it remains sodden. One job you can do is to tidy up the edges as this will help reduce your tasks for March.

Turf can be laid provided that the soil is not too wet or frosty. If you have to carry this out then work from planks to avoid localized compacting and creating an uneven surface. Whatever you do, avoid walking on the new surface for a number of weeks to allow the root structure to establish.

When preparing the beds look at the soil conditions and consider improving these. For example given the heavy rains of December and January you may have noticed a drainage problem. If you have heavy soil work in some organic matter and horticultural grit to help improve the nutrients and drainage.

Mixing in a deep layer of organic matter helps to condition the soil, can help suppress weed growth, protect plants from fluctuations in temperature, and

retain moisture during the warmer months.

Last month we talked about garden repairs. If the dreadful weather we’ve all experienced hasn’t allowed you into the garden yet, then don’t forget to get these projects out of the way before the growing season! So this includes broken fences, damaged shed roofs, rotten pathway gravel board edges, plus compost and raised bed repairs.

Talking of repairs. During these more dormant periods it’s also worth tidying out the shed, and clearing out any broken tools that can’t be fixed, broken pots etc. Also remember to have serviced any power tools including the mower, hedge trimmer, strimmer and blower. Always ask your repairer to sharpen the blades, or replace them in the case of a heavily utilised mower. If you haven’t used the tools for a while it’s worth remembering that the fuel can go stale, so when you take any items in for servicing ask them to refresh this.

Flowers to look out for in February include; Snowdrops, Hellebores, Violets, Winter Jasmine and of course those early Daffs.

Please do let me have your thoughts and contributions.  Also feel free to fire any gardening questions at me and I’ll do my best to answer these for you in the next edition. This is my email address    reallygardenproud@btinternet.com

I hope you enjoy February in your garden.

Best wishes

Tim Sykes, 07725 173820

It’s nearly Christmas and what’s going on in the Garden?

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Is there a gardening angel in you?

If so don’t forget to feed the birds this month.

With all the preparation for the Christmas festivities it’s all too easy to forget who’s braving it out there and what’s going on out in the garden.

If you haven’t already done so then get the fleeces out and protect the more vulnerable shrubs. Some examples to look out for are bay trees, tree ferns, cordylines, olive trees, in fact any of the less hardy shrubs in your garden.

Remember to rake up the leaves from the grass. If you haven’t done this already there are probably a lot, especially following the storm of 28th October.

If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse then give the plants and seedlings a water and remember to ventilate on warmer days. You can also clean and prepare all the seed trays and make ready for sowing the spring seedlings.

December is always a great time for indoor plants, including Hyacinths and Poinsettia. In our house the Hyacinths always adorn our upstairs landing window sill, they look and smell really super. The Poinsettia give a warm festive welcome in the Hallway.

Other thoughts to help lift the spirits include planting out a couple of smart pots close to your front door. Looking good could be miniature Christmas trees,  or small box pyramids surrounded by a sea of cyclamen. Make sure you fill the base of the pot with small rocks, or broken old pots, then create a mix of potting compost and topsoil. Water the plants before you pot them and remember to water them once they are in situ. It’s always satisfying to come home to a bright welcome, and your Christmas visitors will also appreciate this.

A couple of years ago we test marketed the idea of creating real live Christmas Wreaths. I really dislike the cheap plastic imitations, so don’t fall into this trap. You can easily make your own. They look so much more inviting. To start with you can buy inexpensive conifer based rings from most garden centres, or flower shops. These come in different diameters and the conifer cuttings are usually held together in a moss and wire frame. Go for this variety as they will last longer and keep the ring damp.

Then select your embellishments. If you’ve got a well stocked garden a few items such as pine cones, holly sprigs, berries, ivy, dried fruit, fresh flowers, cinnamon sticks held in place with some thin green wire (or a heated glue gun) will look a treat! If you haven’t got access to these, you can usually buy similar items at Hobbycraft, or your local garden centre. It’s good to keep it simple, so maybe have a theme. Think about where it’s likely to go. If it’s a red front door then something that contrasts and has red in it, will always look good etc, etc.

Anyway have a go.

Christmas wreaths look smashing on front doors, above hallway and lounge mirrors, on outside trellis, even on the potting shed door!

For further information about Christmas Wreaths, Logs for your fire, or woodburner, or any gardening advice for 2014, contact Tim Sykes on 07725 173820.

Have a super Christmas and New Year!

So Spring is nearly with us. What’s going on in the garden?

Monday, March 18th, 2013

By Tim Sykes – March 2013

As we approach Spring the bulbs start bursting through and for many of us this is the signal to focus on getting the garden sorted for the Summer.

In reality looking after the garden is a year round thing. But after the dreariness of the winter those daffs coming into bloom are a great moral booster and really help to re-engage us!

Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party” – Robin Williams

I can’t believe it, it’s March already and 2 months have passed since the festivities of Christmas and the New Year.

If we are all agreed it’s time to party, what should we be focusing on in the garden?

-       If you haven’t got the mower serviced yet you need to get it seen to, just getting the blades sharpened will help ensure that you achieve a nice cut.

-       You need to prune the roses before the buds burst into growth.

-       If you’ve got any patches of lawn that are looking sad then now’s the time to sow some fresh seed and apply a dressing, or re-turf sections.

-       If you haven’t already done so then prepare your borders, removing any old weed growth and dead foliage and apply a mulch or well-rotted manure. This will help add nourishment and suppress fresh weed growth.

-       Prune back any climbers such as clematis before they get going.

-       Choose and plant out your Summer bulbs and sow the seeds of your herb garden (in particular Basil, Coriander and Parsley).

-       Plant out any new perennials.

-       If you have a fruit section in your garden then now’s the time to plant the raspberries and strawberries.

These are just some of tasks that spring to mind, but please let me have your thoughts and contributions.  Also feel free to fire any gardening questions at me and I’ll do my best to answer these for you in the next edition. This is my email address    reallygardenproud@btinternet.com

Flowers to look out for in March include; Daffodils, Primrose, Hellebores,  Cyclamen,  Crocus,  Hyacinths, Dwarf Tulips, Violets and of course Bergenia Cordifolia (Elephant’s Ears).

Enjoy the awakening of your garden this March.

For further information about Gardenproud’s design, landscaping or garden maintenance services please contact Tim Sykes on 07725 173820, or at info@reallygardenproud.com