Visitors to Parham House were offered a very special experience on Thursday, June 22, at the estate’s Midsummer Magic Evening.
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 event, 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
“We’ve been trying to dig out a lot of what’s called bindweed,” he explained. “A very horrible weed.”
“I also wanted to bring the blue back. That sounds odd but it’s a blue border and in planting and gardening a lot of colours that they say are blue are mauve...and the mauve is actually pink.”
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 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 www.pollydutton.co.uk.
Summer Planting Trials 2017 at Parham House and Gardens
This summer will be the third year that head gardener Tom Brown and his team have carried out planting trials at Parham to find the best varieties of cut flowers and plants for the borders.
Tom managed the Trials Field at RHS Wisley and has continued his interest with plant trialling at Parham.
A Parham spokesperson said: “Sunflowers, tulips, alliums and sweet peas have been displayed and trialled previously and this year it is gladioli, zinnias and dahlias.
“To celebrate the year of the zinnia, 50 cut flower types from the UK and America are being trialled to find the right variety that best complements the fresh flower displays used throughout the House, a tradition since the 1920s, which is still maintained today.
“Some 50 different dahlias have been planted in association with Witypitts Dahlias (who supply cut flowers to Covent Garden) along the outer border of the Walled Garden.
“The garden team will experiment with the traditional method of dis-budding the plants to see whether this produces the best cut flower. It is important to the team to grow and promote a diversity of cultivars old and new to ensure we maintain a healthy range of types for our gardens and domestic gardens in the future.
“We are trialling 80 types of gladioli this year, with 100 bulbs of each type in a 1sq/m plot. Favourites will be selected to grow in the garden in the future.
“In August all three main trials of dahlia, zinnia and gladioli will be providing the garden with an unrivalled spectacle, which will result in a celebration in the form of opulent flower displays throughout the house in late summer.
“There will be an informal talk about the trials as part of our Parham Garden Weekend event on Saturday and Sunday, July 8-9.
“The Garden Weekend is Parham’s flagship event, showcasing high-quality specialist nurseries.
“It is also one of the best garden weekends in the South East of England for viewing and buying really top quality plants.”
Parham can be found midway between Pulborough and Storrington on the A283.
Visit www.parhaminsussex.co.uk to find out more.
Pictures by Lawrence Smith