I recently (mid May) visited Levens near Kendal in Cumbria which is one of my favourite gardens. I took Emma, a good friend who is doing an RHS course in practical gardening. Her tutor, who once worked at Levens, had told Emma how much she loved it too.
Levens date back more than 300 years and are most famous for their wonderful, ancient, wonky topiary, and the vast beech hedge and circle. It is magical at any time - early in the morning, under the mid-day sun and when cast with long shadows at dusk. It is such a mixture of structure and surprise, formality and freedom.
The topiary is underplanted with blocks of colour and the winter bedding was about to be taken out and replaced with verbenas, double daisies and antirrhinums for summer.
It was the first time I have been there so early in the year, and we picked a perfect two days when the beech leaves were out, still soft, and bright, bright green, and the topiary still sharp from winter. The sun was brilliant and we sat outside while the south of England was grey and damp - that was another first for me because it can rain in Cumbria like nowhere else, hence the number of fantastic gardens there.
Before breakfast we walked in the Park, once a medieval deer park (modernised around 1700!), along the great avenue of oaks and where the river Kent wends its way. I could just see myself in my neat button boots and my bonnet, passing the deer and the sheep and the rare breed Bagot goats on my way to meet the militia at the top of the Park...
(Lovely pictures Emma!)
Levens is only 5 minutes from J36 on the M6 and well worth a visit. It has an excellent cafe too. Check the website for opening hours.
Much closer to home, near Petersfield, there is a house I frequently pass with a table of plants and an honesty box outside the gate. The table looks tempting and I always mean to stop - neat rows of canes and pea sticks sticking up behind the wall promise confident crops of beans, etc.
Last week I did stop, in a bit of a rush, and bought a couple of courgette plants and a hardy geranium. No one was about but over the wall I could see how perfect it looked ... healthy beans as I suspected, and sweet peas, well advanced.