Little did we know when we presented Raymond Evison with the Honorary Fellowship to the Kew Guild at last year’s Dinner that events would unfold whereby the Kew Guild would be in Guernsey for spring the following year. Raymond, very gracefully offered to host a visit by the Guild to Guernsey in the spring of this year. On the 6th April, 24 Guild members found themselves meeting in the car park of the Bella Luce hotel to begin an excellent visit to this horticulturally rich island.
Our first visit was to Le Vallon, the home of Antony and Jane Phillippi, a ten-acre valley garden, with views across the east coast of Guernsey that has evolved over many years. This wonderful garden is split into a magnificent formal area, a natural wooded area adorned with the English Bluebells dissected with moss pathways and a stream running into a large pond, surrounded by Lysachitum americanum. This was all framed by gentle rolling parkland with a great stock of mature trees. However, the best part was kept until the end, when we entered the superb walled kitchen garden with its cold frames and glasshouses stuffed with plants awaiting spring planting. The superb south facing wall was covered with trained Apples and Peaches just beginning to stir into seasonal life – a real gardener’s paradise.
Our next visit was to Forest Lodge the home of “Tattie Thompson,” the Chairman of the Guernsey Plant Heritage Group. This was a relatively new garden created from a virgin site and laid out like an artist’s palate with colour themes running throughout the garden. Even though it was early in the year splashes of colour where beginning to appear with the variegated Brunnera macrophylla and Clianthus paniceus albus catching the eye. Tattie was the ideal host who treated us all to coffee and a Guernsey speciality, Gache, a type of tea bread.
Our final visit for the day was to walk along the wooded coastal paths at Petit Bot, overlooking the rugged eastern coastline of Guernsey. When Raymond promised us Bluebells on our visit in early April I have to say I was a little sceptical, but how wrong could I be! The pathways were lined with a tapestry of native wild flowers including Bluebells, Primroses, Triangular stalked Garlic, Sea and Red Campion and Stitchwort.
This was definitely Mother Nature at her best and the mild Guernsey climate had given us a very early start to the year.
To end the day we met in our hotel before dinner to receive a presentation from Raymond titled “Clematis for today’s gardens” and an over view to our visit on the following day to his Guernsey Clematis Nursery. Over a fine dinner I asked Raymond to give me the definitive answer to that age old query, the proper pronunciation of the genus Clematis. Is it a soft or hard “a” – Raymond was very definite on the hard “a” and who am I to argue with the guru of the Clematis world.
The following day we visited Raymond’s Guernsey Clematis Nursery and at this point I think some facts are worth providing to give some idea of the scale of the enterprise. The nursery produces 25% of the world’s annual requirement of young Clematis plants, exporting as far afield as China and Asia. 60% of their production goes to America, with the other big markets being the UK and Europe. Production of Clematis by the nursery for 2017 is expected to be a massive 2.5 million plants, a very impressive set of statistics!
Raymond took us through all the stages of production, but the one area that most of our members were waiting to see was the breeding programme that produced all the new varieties. This area was a sea of magnificent colours from which the best cultivars are chosen and “bulked up” in numbers for marketing and release. This was a very “hush, hush” area where we were not allowed to photograph individual plants and where we saw the new varieties to be launched at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
I had never realised how important to the financial success of the company the marketing launch and branding was. This year’s Clematis varieties to be released at Chelsea are stunning, but you will have to see them for yourself, as we were all sworn to secrecy!
After a leisurely lunch at the Beauccette Marina (created by the military blasting a hole on the seaward side of a landlocked potential harbour) we then went to a completely different type of venue at Saumarez Park. The spring bedding in front of the large Georgian styled residence was superb and the shrubberies were ablaze with colour from a great collection of Camellias. This also included the very old Guernsey Camellia variety that when produced wasn’t quite stable and now has the unnerving ability to produce masses of different coloured flowers on each plant. Our main focus for the day’s visit was the Victorian walled kitchen garden which after years of dilapidation is going through a complete renaissance which started some ten years ago. The garden is being restored back to its 1875 – 1900 heyday and the present claim to fame is the 175 ft lean to glasshouses which have been rebuilt to their original style using traditional materials. The garden is managed by volunteers and a programme of growing fruit and vegetables has developed and become a regular visitor attraction exhibiting methods of growing and varieties from the Victorian era. The link with the Guernsey Plant Heritage Group has allowed the very popular sale of heritage vegetable seeds with many members bringing away ancient vegetable variety seeds to be later planted in English gardens.
The afternoon was completed with a visit to the Guernsey Folk Museum to view the exhibition of Island life in the 19th and 20th century with a special focus on the rise and failure of the Guernsey Tomato growing industry
Our final day started with a visit to Jennifer Monachan’s garden at La Pette Vallee. This was another valley garden with a superb collection of mature plants and at our visit there was a wonderful Paulownia tomentosa and groups of Melianthus major in full flower. Jennifer had made good use of sculpture throughout the garden and enjoyed introducing humour to put a smile on the visitor’s face.
We then travelled to St Peters Port to visit the Candie gardens which were resplendent in spring bedding with many fine trees, including a very large Ginkgo biloba which is the tenth largest in the UK. The garden also home to some very ancient lean to glasshouses built originally in the late 1700s and still giving good service.
Our final two visits were to two vastly different high quality private town gardens. The first was an amazingly large town garden developed at Grange Court by Patrick “Pat” Johnson who is the Chairman of Guernsey Floral. The garden was laid out in a series of interlinked “garden rooms” on different themes and often the setting for Pat’s other passion, sculpture. Pat didn’t stop at just placing pieces of sculpture in his garden, but with the use of topiary techniques he ensured that parts of his planted material became “sculptures” in their own right.
We then visited our final garden tucked away in the heart of St Peters Port which is the home of Huw and Sarah Evans. Having a very difficult slopping urban garden they have ingeniously created a superb terraced garden made up of a number of areas of different planting styles that defines what must be the best view of the harbour in St Peters Port.
At the end of this garden visit we had to say goodbye and thank you to our host Raymond Evison for organising such a magnificent tour of the sites of horticultural interest on Guernsey. We also were also totally amazed with his links to the “Weather Gods” who allowed the sun to shine and the skies to be blue for the whole of our time in Guernsey.
A truly memorable trip!
Alan Stuttard, 2017