RHS Garden Rosemoor is a garden of two halves. The first, a preserved, real life, family garden extending to eight acres around Rosemoor House, the home of Lady Anne Palmer, who donated her property to the RHS in 1988.
The second, a newly created set of gardens within Lady Anne’s 32 acres of pastureland across the road from the house, was developed from 1989. Both are quite wonderful, but for completely different reasons.
We were lucky enough to be staying at the main house – now divided into holiday cottages – which meant we could roam the gardens after closing time, to our heart’s (very full) content.
Lady Anne’s garden had a wonderful feel; her presence still felt through her personal style of gardening. You could almost imagine bumping into her round a corner, hoe in one hand, weeds in the other.
She had first discovered gardening upon meeting the noted plantsman, Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram, in Spain, whilst recuperating from a bout of the measles. He opened her eyes to the beauty of plants near and far, and it appears she become quite hooked on chasing interesting species around the world.
This is reflected more than ever in her Mediterranean and Exotic Gardens but her informal plantings alongside the croquet lawn also provide further insight into the life of the former Earl of Orford’s daughter.
The newer garden, developed by the RHS, has a much more regimented feel, not least due to the 13,000 tonnes of soil that were moved to level the site, followed by the planting of 1,200 yew hedging plants to form orderly garden rooms.
But what it lacks in history and spontaneity, it goes a long way to make up for with its huge variety of immaculately maintained designs. The map of Rosemoor has a key, starting at A and going all the way to T, each letter denoting a quite separate garden concept.
The Hot Garden was at the top of my list to see, the yellows, reds and oranges of so many plants coming to their peak in mid to late summer. I loved the sobering, burgundy beech trees, which complemented the bright flower colours and punctuated the primarily horizontal outlook.
The fruit and vegetable garden was also very inspiring; it made me want to rush out and buy some grow-my-own seeds immediately! Of course when I do grow vegetables, I get fed up with all the pests and diseases and their insatiable need for water (not to mention the fact that it’s much easier to reach into the fridge for Waitrose pre-prepared versions at dinner time), but I think we all have to go through this cycle of excitement and failure every few years!
The ‘Foliage and Plantman’s Garden’ also had a definite Australian feel to it, with its muted tones and drought tolerant selections. There was even a Eucalyptus looking perfectly in place amongst its neighbours. It was another good example of using form and texture to create interest in the absence of bright flowers and hues.
Some 2,000 roses were planted in 1990; perhaps apt for a garden named ‘Rosemoor’. But despite my love of roses, these were the biggest disappointment of the gardens. I’d be interested to know what you think, but I increasing find roses en masse quite depressing. All bare soil and lanky stems and either boring uniformity or, more often, incohesive randomness.
For me, roses are at their best when planted amongst other species: gorgeous, fragrant, bold flowers popping up above generous, dense forms of complementary perennials. Dare I say it, pretty much as the Rose Garden displays at Sissinghurst. I adore a climbing rose embracing an ancient wall as it twists and turns around a downstairs window (yes, Sissinghurst, again!) but rows and rows of shrubs roses? They just don’t do it for me.
To the north of the formal gardens, an ornamental lake holds water for irrigation and the natural, large scale planting in this area is beautifully done.
But perhaps my favourite of all was the Stream Garden, which I caught in the morning light before anyone else arrived at the garden, with its lush, dense planting, pretty stone focal points and graceful, statuesque trees. This was very definite inspiration for my future garden, which continues to be created and planted in some detail in my head!