Sunday, June 15, 2008

A passion for Pashley

I may not grow many roses, but that doesn't mean I don't like them. I think for most people, the fragrance of a rose garden, along with new-mown grass and lavender, are the quintessential scents of summertime. I even like the smell of box and flowering privet for the same reason: it reminds me of childhood summers.
So a weekend in the middle of June has to mean a visit to a rose garden, and we chose Pashley Manor Gardens in East Sussex. Pashley is a privately owned garden, which means that its owners, Mr and Mrs James Sellick, have been free to set their own stamp on its 11 acres, rather than have to adhere to an historic template. The manor house dates from 1550, however, and the grounds include a walled garden, so they have retained a traditional English feel to the planting, with touches of theatre here and there. One of the most dramatic ideas is a red border, which you enter either from the walled garden or from the shade of the trees. Vast thickets of Rosa moyesii 'Geranium', the colour of the lipstick worn by 1940s film stars, rise above dark-red alstroemerias, cotinus and mahogany heuchera. The view from this bit of the garden, looking back towards the house with its typically tall Elizabethan chimneys, is spectacular.

The vegetable garden also uses red effectively, picking up the colour of the roses around the walls with deep maroon lettuce. Unfortunately, I was so busy admiring this combination I forgot to note the name of the rose, or of the crimson sweet peas.

You enter the vegetable garden via a walk lined with pale pinky-peach 'Irene Watts' roses and pear trees trained in what I think is called 'palmette' style, or trident shape, so they form a screen above the roses.

Pashley isn't just about roses. There is a woodland area, with a walk that leads around a lake, and the terrace where the teas are served extends from a classic herbaceous border into a yellow-themed border featuring climbing roses such as 'Graham Thomas' and 'Alister Stella Gray' There's animal life, too, in the form of importunate ducks, who cluster round you as soon as you sit down with your tea and cake. Visitors are under strict instructions not to feed them, probably because the ducks are so greedy, they would eventually explode. The selection of cakes was amazing, from traditional sponge cakes with rose-flavoured icing, to Victorian peach and fig. I think if I stayed at Pashley for any significant time, I would probably explode too.