In August last year we went Charleston House in Sussex, country retreat of the Bloomsbury group. It would be no exaggeration to say that I have thought about this place every day since. I had wanted to visit for a really long time and was looking forward to it so much, but the day didn’t start very well. We ended up being late, the weather made a turn for the worse and we almost didn’t make it before closing time. Let’s just say the atmosphere in the car was not the best but as soon as we arrived at Charleston, the mood changed. It was late afternoon and most other visitors were leaving so we could look around pretty much undisturbed. The sky brightened up and there was the most amazing glowy light. Even though it was a warm afternoon, there was a fairly strong wind which added to the experience of the garden by making the tall late summer plants sway and the long shadows of them flicker. I felt as though we got there just at the right moment. It was special. Here is the entrance to the house and just look at it – the gate, the rustic urn, all the climbers. What a welcome.
The front entrance with that wonderful powder blue door frame, flanked by two huge fuchsias. You can just about make out the baby pink door.
A place to sit with a view of the pond which I don’t seem to have a photo of. The upside down butterfly shape of the bench legs ❤️.
And looking the other way, the gate leading into the garden. The planting here gives a hint of what’s to come – the bold colours, the exuberance. And those lilies that add a touch of the exotic and unconventional to this rural idyll. They seem to perfectly reflect the people that lived here and made it into the Charleston we know. At this point I just have to point out that we have actually not even entered the garden yet. All this beauty is just in the one border in front of the house. Now, let’s go in.
The main part of the garden has long wide borders with gravel paths that lead to and from the house, most of them edged with dianthus.
Every bit of border packed full of gorgeousness, everything allowed to grow tall and towering. For me the height of the plants and the vicinity of them as you walk the paths was key to the feel of the place. It brought to mind childhood experiences of running through winding garden paths, hiding and getting lost among beautiful flowers.
A lovely pink corner with tonal japanese anemones and cosmos below.
The path leading from the studio, white anemones and one of many statues just visible.
This little bit right here completely stopped me in my tracks. That mix! Made me throw everything I thought I knew about colour out the window.
A clearer view of this incredible combination. Kniphofia, zinnias, tithonia, pompom dahlias, delphiniums and – lilies! It is the pale blue in the mix that makes it so amazing. Try covering that blue up with your hand and look at the photo. Very gorgeous but conventional ‘hot’ colours. Uncover the blue and look again – unbelievable, see! I love this so much and am attempting something similar at home but I am absolutely aware that it won’t be 1% as exciting as this.
The dahlia border, chock-a-block with blooms in every colour, white lilies thrown in on the sides for good measure.
Enough there to fill the house with bucketfuls of flowers.
This is the stuff of dreams if you are into dahlias.
There they are again, those lilies peering out underneath the hollyhocks that are flopping all over the place.
The back wall with a doorway leading to the greenhouse.
Squashes trailing along the old wall.
View of the house from the kitchen garden with sweet pea wigwams and artichokes in the foreground.
Happy me, strolling.
Most gorgeous tangle I ever saw. Crocosmia spilling out onto the path.
Behind the wall is a greenhouse with sunflowers, cosmos and sweet peas in front. Nothing fancy or grand, just a normal working greenhouse.
Perfectly beautiful if you ask me.
Chard, nasturtiums and calendula at ground level. A lovely apple at the back.
All garden visits are memorable for one reason or another, but some leave stronger impressions than others. I am generelly less interested in very grand stately homes with gardens spreading across acres and armies of gardeners to maintain them. Smaller settings appeal more, perhaps because they are easier to relate to as a gardener with an average sized plot and modest resources. But ultimately, I know that it is the people behind the places that make them special. Most of the gardens that I return to frequently, both in thought and in person, were created by people who were not afraid to break the mould. At Charleston, the spirit of the Bloomsbury group is tangible in every room of the house and every part of the garden. It would not look like this and feel like this if the people that founded it had been concerned with adhering to convention. Well worth remembering I think as sometimes, the gardening world seems so full of rules and advice on how things ‘should’ be done.
You can’t talk about the garden at Charleston without looking at the house too, it is just not possible to separate the two. But I will have to do that another day as it deserves its own post. In the meantime you can learn more about Charleston and the Bloomsbury group here.