Mind travels

10. May 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen
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Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung – Zur deutschen Version – Even though movement is restricted at the moment, nothing prohibits our minds from roaming around the world. Walking through my own garden, observing plants emerging in spring, coming into flower or turning into a glowing autumn display, often evokes memories associated with this plant.  Certain plants always remind me of particular gardens I have visited in the past. As the plants are seasonal, the mental visits to these gardens are defined by seasons.

Hillier Arboretum, Hampshire, England

Hillier Arboretum © Isabelle van Groeningen

Hillier Arboretum

The start of the year, when all still appears asleep in the garden my thoughts walk through the colourful winter garden at Hilliers Arboretum in Hampshire. Sparkling white birchtrees, reddish cherries and green acers contrast with the colourful winterbark of willows, dogwoods and ornamental brambles. A few evergreens provide an additional coulour contrast.

Caerhays, Cornwall, England

Caerhays © Isabelle van Groeningen


I have spent February holidays in Cornwall, where lunchtime temperatures would be mild enough to enjoy a delicious seafood lunch outside. Cornish gardens are famous for their breathtaking collections of magnolia and rhododendron and tender camellias growing as tall as houses. Caerhays is one of the most spectacular gardens with a long tradition of collecting and breeding these plants.

Caerhays Magnolia © Isabelle van Groeningen

Caerhays Magnolia


Wisley, Surrey, England

Wisley Alpine House © Isabelle van Groeningen

Wisley Alpine House

As a student I spent a year at Wisley, and later visited it on many occasions. I particularly enjoy it at the start of the year. In March, when outside life starts, and the first gentle puffs of colour are visible from early rhododendrons and magnolias, the alpine house is in full swing. I love the old-fashioned pot display, bedded into sand to keep the roots cool, of these diminutive plants, that normally grow in the dry crisp air of cool alpine regions at high altitude.

Wisley © Isabelle van Groeningen


Arboretum Kalmthout, Antwerp, Belgium

Arboretum Kalmthout Pavillion mit Prunus © Isabelle van Groeningen

Arboretum Kalmthout Pavillion with Prunus

This is “my childhood” garden, close to where I grew up, and where I started my gardening career as a student. Although this stunning plant collection is interesting at all seasons, it is particularly stunning at the start of the year. A must in January and February because of its world-famous collection of Hamamelis, I equally adore it in March and early April for its impressive collection of Japanese cherry trees and crab apples that flower in light white to pale pink clouds in amongst the tall evergreen conifers. Of course it does not stop there, as there are impressive collections of Rhododendrons and Hydrangeas that provide much colour and variety till the autumn colour starts.

Arboretum Kalmthout Rhododendron © Isabelle van Groeningen

Arboretum Kalmthout Rhododendron

Glenarn, near Glasgow, Scotland

Glenarn Rhododendron © Isabelle van Groeningen

Glenarn Rhododendron

The West Coast of Scotland is well worth a visit in May and early June when their gardens are alight with gigantic rhododendrons and underplanting of candelabra primulas and the magical blue Himalayan poppies start flowering. Thanks to the Gulfstream, the mild, cool climate provides ideal growing conditions for many species rhododendrons that originate in the Himalayas. Some of these attain great heights, producing leaves 50cm long or more, and flowerheads larger than my head. Glenarn is one of the few gardens where the collections continue to be expanded.

Glenarn Meconopisis - mental garden visits © Isabelle van Groeningen

Glenarn Meconopisis

Sissinghurst, Kent, England

Sissinghurst Rose Garden © Isabelle van Groeningen

Sissinghurst Rose Garden

Although England’s most famous garden is well worth a visit at any time of year, the rose season is of course one of the best moments. In the middle of June the ramblers are flourishing in the orchard,  Rosa mullighani looks like a large white flowery pillow in the middle of the white garden and the numerous historic roses in the rose garden are at their best. They are accompanied by coloured-matched perennials and numerous annuals, that will keep looking great together with many dahlias and other tender perennials till the end of the season.

Hermannshof, Weinheim, Germany

Hermannshof © Isabelle van Groeningen


Always worth a visit, but I love this garden particularly from high summer onwards when the different prairie-style plantings really take effect. In July this naturalistic mixture of perennials and grasses really looks stunning, even during hot, dry summers when many other gardens are struggling. The different planting combinations and maintenance regimes on display in this garden, make it one of the most informative gardens you can possibly visit.

Hermannshof © Isabelle van Groeningen


Ifford Manor, Bath, England

Ifford Manor Steps © Isabelle van Groeningen

Ifford Manor Steps

In contrast to most other gardens mentioned so far, Ifford Manor is one I choose to go to for its impressive architecture, rather than its botanical pallet, though there are interesting plants to be seen. It was the home of Harold Peto, and English architect, turned landscape architect, who was strongly influenced by Italiante architecture.  A visit to Ifford, feels like a journey to Italy. He had collected many sculptures and architectural artefacts which have been incorporated in the garden. A small mediaeval cloister, a pergola walk, a roman bath, small fountains and numerous urns are carefully positioned in the garden and comfortably blend into its landscape.

Ifford Manor © Isabelle van Groeningen

Ifford Manor

Jardin Plume, Normandy, France

Jardin Plume Wind garden © Isabelle van Groeningen

Jardin Plume Wind garden

Situated around a traditional Normandy Farmhouse, this garden consists of different garden spaces, each with its own distinctive theme and character. To the east side of the house lies the wind garden planted with wispy perennials and airy grasses, at its best in early summer, in front of the house lies a formal, box-enclosed parterre planted with warm colours. Yellow, orange and red perennials, dahlias and grasses frame the views out across the orchard. To the west of the building lies the autumn garden, which by September is filled with late perennials and grasses. The higher than average rainfall, combined with comparatively mild weather strongly influence plant development. These exceptionally tall perennials make me feel like Alice in Wonderland.

Jardin Plume Autumn garden © Isabelle van Groeningen

Jardin Plume Autumn garden

Insel Mainau, Baden Württemberg, Germany

Insel Mainau Dahlia Garten - mental garden visits © Isabelle van Groeningen

Insel Mainau Dahlia Garden

Those of you who think this garden is for those who look for somewhere with children’s entertainment and bold colours to keep granny happy, should think again. Yes, there are still areas with traditional bedding displays, but their scale and level pf perfection make them rather impressive. And yes, there are children’s play areas, but these are only parts of a beautifully situated garden and park landscape. A late visit at the end of October is stunning. The exceptionally mild climate created by the lakeside environment make a late season-visit a pleasure, when at home everything is already cold and dank. In amongst the majestic parkland trees there are many Katsura trees (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) trees, whose butter yellow autumn foliage spreads deliciously scented clouds of caramel across the island. Near the house there are several interesting and attractive garden areas with roses, perennials and of course also the impressive and interesting dahlia display.

Insel Mainau - mental garden visits © Isabelle van Groeningen

Insel Mainau

Foerster Garden, Potsdam, Germany

mental garden visits

Over the years I have had the chance of visiting this garden in all seasons. Each has its charm and interest, but a late autumn visit in November is the one that stays the most vivid in my memory. In the background the skies were filled with dark gray rain-filled clouds, but the garden was lit up by autumnal sunshine. The light was so extraordinary, that the photographs form this visit look abnormally garish. The acer by the pond was luminous red, the grasses golden yellow and the last of the asters provided extraordinary touches of reds and blues. But even without the unusual light, the garden image is a colourful one, showing autumn must not be dull, dark and grey.

Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech, Morocco

Jardin Majorelle - mental garden visits © Isabelle van Groeningen

Jardin Majorelle

In December when the days are at their shortest, and the long cold winter lies before you, a visit to the gardens of the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh does wonders for the spirit. Created by the French artist Jacques Majorelle at the start of the 20th Century, it only became famous after Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé acquired it in 1980.  The bold use of Cobalt blue for the walls give this garden its unique character. Combined with cacti, succulents and colourful bougainvilleas turn it into an exotic paradise, far removed from our leaden wintery skies and grey landscapes at that time of year.

Pack your travelbag

So, pack your imaginary overnight travelbag (one can travel light this way) and allow your mind to make a lots of journeys and revisit much-loved gardens. Delve into old photoalbums, or use the internet to refresh the mind and once-again absorb all those lovely details.

Bon Voyage!

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