We're approaching summer here in Australia. The spring rains have soaked the soil so much that the garden has that lovely scent of damp fertile earth, and the sun has sent the plants soaring skyward. We have spent the past weekend weeding madly but Mother Nature is far ahead of us. She has already sent out more agapanthus seeds, so the long driveway is now full of their bobbing white heads, and she seems to have given a few words of encouragement to the English box hedges, the beds of hydrangeas, the Chinese wisteria and the beautifully fragrant star jasmine as well. Everything is growing like a teenager with hormones.
Here, as inspiration for all you avid gardeners, is a small selection of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen, photographed for a book called The Modern Kitchen Garden last year. Two months of nothing but shooting flowers and petals and produce and leaves. You can't imagine what bliss that was. (Okay, you probably can.) Next week I'll feature Villandry (WAIT until you see that!), the King's Garden at Versailles, Petersham House and images from Stuart Rattle's and Paul Bangay's gardens, which I'm visiting tomorrow.
Prieure d'Orsan, France
One of my all-time favourite gardens, this garden (pictured above and below) is legendary, and spoken about among gardeners with the kind of reverence that fashion folk speak about Karl Laferfeld's shows for Chanel. It's an extraordinary, medieval-inspired garden in the heart of France, created using hand-made structures made from willow grown on site. Even the herb garden and the Berry Walk (pictured here below) feature intricate supports that look more like art than twigs and bits. With hearts created from ivy and espaliered splendour everywhere, it's the kind of place you walk around in a daze, for hours and hours and hours. www.prieuredorsan.com
Barnsley House, Rosemary Verey's garden in the Cotswolds (Below)
I once met the renowned Ms Verey on Media Day at Chelsea. I chatted to her for half an hour about Prince Charles' garden at Highgrove (which she had a hand in) before realising who she was. That's how beautifully unassuming she was. Her own English country home (below), which I was so incredibly fortunate to stay in last year, is a poem to prettiness, with peony borders, a world-famous potager, knot gardens and a stunning laburnum walk. If you stay here, book into the Potting Shed suite (which I did). Accessed via a path through the potager (bottom image), it's one of the most glorious hotel rooms a gardener could ever wish for, with a deep clawfoot bath, a super-luxe living space and your own courtyard garden looking out to the Cotswold fields. Even the lights are made from terracotta pots. Elizabeth Hurley's property borders Barnsley House, so if you're lucky you might see her pottering about as well. www.barnsleyhouse.com
The kitchen garden at Daylesford Organic, Cotswolds (Below)
Daylesford Organic won a lot of acclaim at Chelsea's 2008 Garden Show for this gorgeous garden (below). A superb example of a small walled kitchen garden, it features beds of delicious produce enclosed by woven willow, a modern summer house (dubbed a "garden kitchen") that's designed to be an indoor/outdoor space, and delightful views of the wheat fields beyond. Lady Carole Bamford has achieved a great deal at the much-visited Daylesford, but this is undoubtedly the best. Love the hearts fashioned out of twigs. And notice how the gardening aprons match? That's how strict the branding is here. www.daylesfordorganic.com