Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Small Garden Treasure in York, England

The Treasurer's House, on the grounds behind the famous York Minster Cathedral in York, England

has a small and simple, yet charming garden at its front entrance

with a view of the cathedral.

   It is a quiet space behind the historic York Minster where

old statuary still delights

old pots still have purpose

and a stone bench hints to an ancient past.  

The Romans and the Vikings populated these grounds 2000 years ago.  The city itself is still surrounded by medieval walls.  This house (traditionally occupied by the treasurers of the York Minster, hence the name) is now a mostly 17th century building that has been restructured a few times.  The position of the treasurer was abolished by Henry VIII and, eventually, the house became part of National Trust in 1930.

The garden is free and visitors can tour the house for a small fee, stop in for tea and scones, and perhaps run into a few Roman ghosts down in the cellar that still has a portion of an old road built by them.  The house  is said to be haunted.

So if you take a long weekend or even a day trip from London to marvel at this amazing and complex cathedral that was completed in 1472 and took 250 years to complete, 

make sure to hunt down this simple little garden nearby.  
Because it is often the simple things we treasure the most.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Getty Villa: A Slice of Italian Garden Heaven

               The Getty Villa--located on a hilltop of the Santa Monica mountains in Pacific Palisades, California, and with a glimpse of the Pacific ocean--is a long way from Italy.

          But the Getty is inspired by the Villa dei Papiri (Villa of the Papyri) that was located near the ancient city of Pompeii, Italy, and was covered by the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.  Oil tycoon J. Paul Getty built his version in Southern California in 1974. The villa itself serves as a beautiful museum for fine art and Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities, but I love it for the Italian style gardens. You probably guessed that already.

          The main garden is striking with its commanding pool in the center complete with statues on both ends. This formal garden is surrounded on either side with precisely trimmed boxwood and topiary shrubs, the acanthus plant, ivy, palm and pomegranate trees, oleander and damask roses. Roman control over nature. Order. Symmetry, with a focus on evergreen plants, not necessarily flowering plants.

        The herb garden (below) features the fruit trees and herbs that would typically grow at a self-sustaining villa of a wealthy Italian, whose father-in-law just happened to be Julius Caesar.

          At least one of several fruit trees was beginning to bloom the day I visited in January but even without a leaf, the bare bones and shape of this pomegranate tree is a beautiful feature in a winter garden.  

          It is a given that an Italian villa wouldn't be complete without grape vines and numerous olive trees and so you find those here, as well as lots of thick, shrubby--and one of favorites--rosemary (in bloom to boot).

               In contrast, the wispy papyrus plant flanks a wall fountain in the herb garden.

         Water, of course, whether in the form of fountains or pools, is featured in all four gardens on site.

          My favorite garden at the Getty Villa is the center courtyard (above and below), classically quartered with four beautifully shaped bay laurel trees in each corner and hedged with boxwood. It is also divided down the middle of the courtyard by a smaller version of the main pool. Ten stately columns on all four sides provide architectural eye candy and a beautiful segue to the rooms of the villa.  I can imagine a great location for my yoga practice in this lovely space.  The setting alone makes me feel calm and centered immediately.

          Finally, I couldn't resist photographing just a peek at the smallest, most intimate East garden through this paned window.  Viewing my garden through the windows of my own home is one of my favorite ways to do nothing, especially if it involves relaxing on a sofa.

        As I look into the East garden at the Getty, I know for sure that I could be completely happy with this little slice of Italian style garden heaven outside my window in San Diego.  This, signore e signori, is garden envy.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Whimsical Gardening On A Slope In San Diego

          This front yard slope in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego is (I'm going to risk saying it) the most unusual in the city. 

          On close inspection a visitor becomes aware that these are a series of random animal and geometrical shapes--topiary just carved into the honeysuckle growing on a steep slope at the corner of Union and Vine in San Diego.

                                 The home sits above at the right.

          I came across this garden quite by accident on the internet.  I Googled the words "topiary San Diego" because I was looking for a nursery in North County that I visited years ago and I was hoping to find it on the web.  Instead, this garden popped up and immediately I was intrigued. What? I grabbed my little camera and headed for the car. Of course I had to see it.

              Visitors liken it to cloud gazing and 'Edward Scissorhands,' to both of which I concur.

I read that the owners maintain this with the help of a gardener and that some of the shapes are based on their travels.  The garden includes pyramids, bunnies, elephants, a whale and what appears to be a person in a Mexican sombrero!

          I haven't seen this much whimsy in a garden since the last time I was in a Disney park.  As far as I could tell these are not on wire forms but appear to be cut free form, some shapes that I could make out and--well, honestly, some that I couldn't. I probably just needed more time to gaze into the shrubs. The pictures of green on green don't do justice to this creative slope.

          Unlike my photographs however, I think that the message from this garden is very clear: Don't take gardening so serious. Lighten up, people!