Gardens provide some midsummer magic

Lawrence Smith pays a visit to Parham House to enjoy some midsummer magic.

Wednesday, 2nd August 2017, 12:26 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 11:30 am
Parham Gardens SUS-170623-154909003

The award-winning gardens were opened at dusk, allowing guests to walk around with a glass of wine (or Pimm’s) and enjoy the sights and scents at a cooler time of day.

Quintessential Music, an acoustic jazz duo, were at the Midsumnmer Magic event recently, adding to the laid-back atmosphere with their smooth and sophisticated sound.

Head gardener Tom Brown was also there to mingle with guests and answer their gardening questions.

Parham head gardener Tom Brown

He said: “At the end of every working day, as head gardener, I walk around the garden and put the garden to bed, if you like.

“Seeing the garden in the evening light, there’s something really quite special about it. If you get very intense sunshine during the day it almost bleaches the colours and it’s almost too bright. But when the edge is taken off in the evening light it becomes really magical.”

“As the head gardener I’m the only one who sees it,” Tom continued.

“So we spoke to Lady Emma (Lady Emma Barnard, chatelaine of Parham since 1994) and said that it would be great around June, which is when all the roses are out, if we could open the garden up for an evening.”

Artist in residence Polly Dutton

The Midsummer Magic event also offered the gardeners a chance to show off all the hard work they do.

“It’s very intensive at this time of year,” Tom explained. “We’ve got a historic link with the house. For example, the garden always used to produce flowers, fruit and vegetables.”

He continued: “So you’ve got wall-trained fruit and vegetables and cut flowers, which are incredibly labour intensive, and then you’ve got the greenhouses and the borders as well. It’s kind of like spinning plates. As as a head gardener, you’ve got to keep running around and moving all the plates all the time.”

By Tom’s count, there are six gardeners, four ladies that help with the nursery, and 25 volunteers.

Parham head gardener Tom Brown

Tom’s been fascinated by gardening since a young age. He previously worked at RHS Garden, Wisley, until 2009 and has been head gardener at Parham for eight years.

“I’ve always been into the outdoors and wildlife,” Tom said, “When I started to play with gardening and talk with my grandfather and look at vegetables and dahlias and that sort of thing I found that the more I found out about it, the more I wanted to know about it. It was a bit like a snowball effect. I was really fortunate when I came out of horticultural college to go and work at Wisley plant centre.

“I worked at with some really nice people.”

The gardens’ white and blue borders have been particularly challenging, and the team have created a naturalistic style and texture, planting a variety of flowers so they appear in waves.

Artist in residence Polly Dutton

Gardener Henry Macaulay, who oversaw the blue border, said: “This is the main border of Parham and its colours are blue, silver, purple and mauve. We replanted half of it last year and we finished the final half of it this year. The last half involved up to almost 3,000 plants – annuals and perennials – and it’s settling in.”

Blue salvia, caradonna, phlox, thalictrum, campanula – the team make sure it all comes up properly throughout the year.

Parham’s new artist-in-residence, Polly Dutton, was also at the event to talk to visitors and sketch.

“I’ve been here for the past few weeks, sketching and getting some idea of the gardens,” said Polly, “I’m doing an exhibition, which will be in the seed room in March when the gardens reopen.”

Polly has nine months to experience the gardens fully, working, sketching and trying to capture the essence of the grounds.

“I’ve got free reign to do any part of the grounds and the house,” she continued. “I’m a landscape painter, so realistically it’ll be the gardens that I’m interested in.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for an artist to be able to paint here and it’s also good for the house because it’s something different for people to come and look at and talk about.”

Polly, who is inspired by artists like Kurt Jackson, JMW Turner and Claude Monet, describes her style as expressionistic and somewhat abstract.

“There are lots of decisions to be made when you’re painting and sketching,” Polly said, when asked about the challenges in painting at Parham.

“It’s distilling it down, because there’s so much here, and it’s making all those decisions about what it is I want to capture.”

“For me this garden is about contrast,” she explained. “You’ve got the hard landscape with the walls and the paths, then the soft, frothy flowers and the plants. Then there’s the architectural looking plants and the hard landscape of the house.”

Those interested in viewing Polly’s work can see some of her paintings at the Candida Stevens Gallery in Chichester until August 26 or visit