The Isle of Wight has a longer growing season than most. Thanks go, in part, to the Gulf Stream and to the fact that the Island enjoys more sunshine hours than anywhere else in the UK. No wonder the Island boasts seven national collections, including the National Collection of Puya, growing at Ventnor Botanic Garden (VBG).
These savage Andean beauties produce stunning flower spikes pricked with blooms of peacock blue, jade and emerald greens. Nestled in the microclimate of the Undercliff area, VBG can grow tropical plants with impunity. The imposing echiums, with blue, purple and pink flower spikes, are not to be missed. See, too, the tree ferns, palms, tall yellow verbascum and the blousy hydrangea dell.
For more formal planting, a visit to Osborne House is a must. Its terrace boasts a host of annual flowers in ribbon-planted geometric beds, as they would have been when Queen Victoria was in residence. Daffodils frame the sea view in spring. Behind the house sits the beautifully tended walled garden with its pathways framed by roses and lavender and walls supporting expertly trained fruit trees.
Also see the children’s vegetable and fruit gardens around the Swiss Cottage.
Carisbrooke Castle has a formal Edwardian-style garden, which was designed by TV gardener Chris Beardshaw to celebrate Queen Victoria’s daughter’s residence at the castle. Based on the layout of Princess Beatrice’s original privy garden, its herbaceous borders echo the colours of Beatrice’s heraldic crest.
Mottistone Manor has a mix of formal and more relaxed planting, with two magnificent herbaceous borders and a rose garden to the rear of this Elizabethan house. In spring, there are carpets of daffodils, primroses, crocuses and bluebells tumbling down the banks that border the valley behind Gardens
David Rosewarne was a top fabric designer and a former silver-medal winner at Chelsea Flower Show. His garden is a fantastic pattern of colour and form. Huge cordyline palms, white-barked lemonwood trees and bushy tree palms frame the planting on each side of the red-brick pathway that wends its way to a pond and decorated gateway at the seaward end. “What happens to leaves is much more important than the flowers,” says Rosewarne of the planting, which has a predominance of purples through to vivid pinks and all shades of green, from deep emeralds to livid limes.
There are lots of quirky touches such as the well waterfall, full of willowpatterned plates, a perky purple-and green succulent theatre spilling from antique terracotta pots and the table laden with shells and candelabra – it could be a mermaid’s supper. A feast for the eyes, the garden is obviously influenced by Rosewarne’s love of pattern-making and an inspiration for budding gardeners.
Top tips from David Rosewarne:
1. You do have to ‘tune’ a water feature. I have various stones and pieces of broken crockery to break the fall of the water.
2. Don’t forget about the variety of leaves, because they last for a very long time.
3. Repeat forms and colour. This gives integrity and sense to a garden as your eye likes the rhythm.
Louise Ness’s hedged and walled gardens evolved gradually as she ventured further into the land surrounding their former rectory home, but it is for her roses that she is especially known – more than 200 of them. They are planted sculpturally within the garden and the roses are especially chosen for their scent. Weeping standard rose, François Juranville, sits among the strawberries, onions and globe artichokes in the walled garden as hosts of blue cornfl owers seed around the pathways. “I tend to let things seed where they wish as long as I want them there,” says Ness of her verdant garden.
A vine-covered pergola seating area by a formal pond sits beyond the new garden of pastel-themed borders with huge cardoons, daisies, alliums and tall splayed grasses such as Stipa gigantea. The Well Garden is boisterous with bright pink and vivid orange fl owering and an orchard skirts the garden. The wildflower meadow above will be full of ox-eye daisies by summertime – it’s a romantic idyll.
Top tips from Louise Ness
1. Encourage wildlife by not being too tidy; think before you clear things about what may use it for food or shelter over the winter.
2. Don’t dismiss native trees and shrubs as being boring. Some, such as Viburnum opulus or the spindlebush, have wonderful berries or autumn colour and benefit wildlife, too
3. Think about how light catches things and how they will move. A good garden is never finished!
Blue Haze, Bembridge
For Gerry Price, opening her gravel-laid garden under the Open Gardens Scheme led to a successful career as a coastal gardener. Quirky sculptures made from Price’s beachcombing walks sit between the flowers and shrubs. Her specialist coastal garden isn’t open this year under the scheme, but can be seen by appointment.
The nursery side of her business has moved to Fakenham Farm up the road in St Helen’s, where the raised beds of flowering plants will have the backdrop of Bembridge Harbour while the shop will double as a venue for her courses. “All of my plants are grown from my seeds and cuttings so we know they’ll be suited to our windy and salty conditions,” says Price. “It’s all tough stuff!” “Echiums are always popular and we have British native varieties such as Echium vulgare. Other plants, such as sea kale, sea campion, sea lavenders and evening primrose, do well and we have an increasing range of grasses and scabious.”
Top tips from Gerry Price
1. Put the right plant in the right place – it will make your life a lot easier – and get your soil conditions right
2. Most coastal plants need good drainage, so you need to dig in a lot of grit
3. Do your research and, best of all, visit a garden that specialises in the sort of gardening that you like