May 2015

Spring has sprung in the Swiss Garden and the weather during April ensured healthy visitor numbers and one of the most colourful spring seasons the garden has ever experienced. Some of the new planting came into its own, highlights being the fantastic white sprays of Spirea (Bridal Wreath) and architectural Euphorbia characias ‘Wulfenii’, while some of the garden’s old favourites, Daphne ‘Jacqueline Postill’, Lonicera fragantissima and Sarcococca confusa provided heady scent. These were followed by the annual display of daffodils and bursts of colour from bedding displays around the Dolphin Tazza and in urns dotted around the garden. Cherry blossom did magical things to the Swiss Cottage scenery, and Rhododendrons have begun to take over with their magnificent colour, and in the case of R. luteum, knock-out scent. Lilacs are also out in force, and Darmera peltata on Daffodil Island is currently in flower – it will send up large rounded leaves afterwards which see the island through summer and then colour up beautifully in autumn. Climbing Rose and Clematis varieties have been planted on all of the garden’s arches, and will eventually clothe these ornamental features with scent and colour, just as they would have been in the days of Ongley and Shuttleworth.

The big story in the Swiss Garden at the moment is the re-planting of the Grotto & Fernery, which is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the garden. With its Regency design and later Victorian embellishments, including the dramatic Pulhamite lined tunnels, this stunning building provides the perfect setting for ferns and other shade-loving plants in one half of the structure, and a warm and sunny environment for more exotic flowering plants and tree ferns in the glazed extensions framed by Lord Ongley’s beautiful wrought ironwork. The descent to the Grotto & Fernery from the Swiss Cottage consists of two steep banks, which offer yet another micro-climate and opportunities for an altogether different type of planting, which acts as an introduction to the selection of plants inside.

Since the building was restored in 2013/14, plans have been afoot to plant up these three distinct areas of the Grotto & Fernery in a manner which will reflect the garden’s historical planting and balance it with the desire to provide year-round interest in one of the garden’s most sheltered locations. This is now in progress, and plants selected for each area include a selection of ferns which can deal with the lack of light in the Pulhamite tunnels, and for the much lighter, brighter, warmer environment of the glazed conservatory elements, four large Strelitzia reginae, contrasting beautifully with the more delicate fronds of tree ferns, Streptocarpus varieties and further light-tolerant ferns. As the plants mature, the Grotto & Fernery will once again become one of the Swiss Garden’s leading lights, adding extra interest to this stunning structure.

Grotto & Fernery plants sourced from:

  • Bowdens of Oakhampton, Devon
  • Dibleys of Denbighshire
  • Cottage Farm Nursery, Cardington, Bedfordshire
  • Europlants, Hatfield