May gardens to visit
Plantsman Keith Wiley recommends the best gardens to visit in May to see their plants in full bloom
May gardens to visit 2022
Close to the beautiful, rugged Côtes-d’Armor, on Brittany’s northern shore, Kerdalo is a garden that will steal your heart the moment you walk through the gate. The 35 acres of grounds were designed by Prince Peter Wolkonsky in 1965 with Italian and Chinese inspiration. Some wilder parts feel like lush, tropical jungle, thriving in the mild Breton climate, and the garden is packed with stunning specimen plants. After the death of Prince Wolkonsky, the garden was neglected until 1997 when his daughter, Isabelle Vaughan, moved in and revived it. In 2021, she sold the garden to shoe designer Christian Louboutin, who appointed Tangi Rabin as head gardener. Tangi started his career at Kerdalo and was mentored by Isabelle. Now he’s returned, it will be exciting to see how the garden responds. 22220 Trédarzec, Brittany, France. Tel +33 (0)6 84 17 52 26, lesjardinsdekerdalo.com
Brittany has a number of great gardens. On the Jaudy estuary, opposite Kerdalo, is the magical Kestellic. This 20-acre garden is in a steep-sided valley where many of the plantings cling to the slopes and engulf you as you pass through. At the bottom of the valley are lush, jungle-like plantings with excellent Japanese maple specimens, gunneras, rhododendrons and some of the tallest Dicksonia in France. On steeper, south-facing aspects succulents and alpines are used in
beautiful plantings. 22220 Plouguiel, Brittany, France. Tel +33 (0)6 60 83 66 05, kestellic.fr
West Sussex is well known for rhododendrons, which flourish on the heavy, acidic soil. There are many collections worth visiting but Leonardslee Gardens has to be the most impressive. Set within 240 acres of steep, wooded valley and lakes, it is packed with thousands of incredible specimens. To witness them in full flower on this scale is breathtaking. Much of the collection was planted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries after Sir Edmund Loder bought the property. He was a passionate plantsman, collecting and breeding for most of his life, most notably producing the rhododendron Loderi Group hybrids. Many of his original specimens still flourish in the garden and some cultivars can still only be found at Leonardslee. After Sir Edmund’s death and the Second World War the garden fell into disrepair until it was reinvigorated by his grandson, Giles, who developed it and opened it to the public. He retired in 1982 and in 2010 the gardens closed after Leonardslee became a private estate. The garden was left to run wild until Penny Streeter bought it in 2017. She’s invested heavily in restoring it and reopening to the public. Brighton Road, Lower Beeding, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 6PP. Tel 0871 873 3389, leonardsleegardens.co.uk
Loder Plants, the nursery in Leonardslee’s old kitchen garden, has been owned by Sir Edmund’s great, great grandson Chris Loder since 1989. It has
an excellent collection of camellias, rhododendrons and hydrangeas. The team are very knowledgeable and love sharing their passion for plants. You can order online but it’s always fun to visit and talk to the growers. Market Garden, Lower Beeding, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 6PP. Tel 01403 891412, loder.co.uk
Keith is a proponent of the ‘new naturalism’ movement in gardening and runs Wildside in Devon. He has written several books and lectures on both sides of the Atlantic.
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