The Secret English Gardens and I Mean Secret!

Hey Chaps/Mates! :]

Well, I’m frightfully early for my flight back to the states… But, I’m sitting in a lovely little cafe at Heathrow, munching on a little fruit salad with sweet yogurt and washing it down with a spot of English Breakfast tea.

I’ve drunk a lot of tea in the last 8 days.

And, I’ve traveled hundreds of kilometres.

If I have the strength, I will make a map just now.


Oh com’on Laurel, are you for real? What’s with the trying to sound British?


I dunno. It feels jolly-well comfy here, not to mention phenomenally civilized. The road to the airport is actually attractive, not the phenomenally embarrassing abominable bastion of UGLY one is bombarded with when in New York.

And the people… are warm–very friendly. They smile.

Quite refreshing actually.

And then, there’s the beauty.

Yes, yes… America is quite beautiful too, but here, in the UK it seems to be everywhere; or at least everywhere, we were shuttled to.

And believe me; we were shuttled. ALL over southern England and five different hotels. Have to say, I didn’t mind. Every day was a new exciting adventure.

In fact, it’s a bit difficult to know where to begin.




Yes, what is it? I put on deodorant this morning… Do, I have a bugger hanging out of my nose?


What do you mean, you don’t know where to begin???


Did you go?

What’s he like?

Is he as nice as he seems?

As handsome?

Was lunch okay?

Did you need the muzzle???


Guys, guys, guys!

Blimey! I think that some of you need muzzles! ;]

Please. You MUST calm down. If I can, you can!

There will be a comprehensive report on Ben on Sunday.

Thank you for your patience.


WHAT??????? You can’t make us wait!!!


Actually, I can. ;] But fine. I know that you’re all dying to know what happened, so I will give you part of the report as we spent several hours with Ben Pentreath and not just at his A-mazing home.

But please know that it was everything I had hoped it would be multiplied by a 1,001.

Ben Pentreath is impossibly handsome, warm, boyish, charming. In short. Adorable and quite tall! And his equally darling Charlie McCormick is even taller! Such handsome chaps, they are.

The day we went there, was beyond sublime.

God fulfilled one request for the most perfect autumn day imaginable.

However, He did ignore my request for banana cream pie or the like. (Dang. God knows that it’s not really good for me.)


There was no need for banana cream pie, or any dessert whatsoever because Charlie (who definitely needs to have his own TV show– stat), whipped up the most glorious meal I’ve ever eaten.

Yes, the most scrumptious, delectable meal I’ve ever eaten.

And I reckon by now, that I’ve had approximately 67,795  meals.


Oh, do tell. What was it?


As a matter of fact, I have it right here.

I knew that you’d want to see it. Very simple, but as I said, perfect in every way.

And the lovely buffet table after 25 hungry travelers had ravaged it.

Okay, okay… did you take other pics?

Yes, I took pics. Ben, very generously said that we could take all of the photos we liked.




Ben Pentreath and Charlie McCormick.


The rest, my loves, except for a few of the garden, will have to wait until SUNDAY.


(well, the link is below for more of the house, added later, of course.)


For the house and much more,  click here to see it!


It is every bit as lovely as you think it is. :]

In fact, for me– surreal, like the sweetest dream I didn’t ever want to wake up from…

And yes, I did have a few words with Ben, but only a few.

Like I said earlier. There were 23 other people also wanting a word with him. :]


Okay, but did you at least get the paint colors?


Well, yes and no.

I did not dare ask because, well… it would’ve been highly inappropriate. Not that I think Ben would’ve minded, but it just isn’t the right thing to do, in these situations.

However, hehehe… I burned those lovelies into my brain.

I will try to come up with a Ben Pentreath paint palette. Or at least as close as possible.

Oh damn!

That reminds me…

I realize that I owe paint/palette collection owners a board and palette for September. And believe me, I had every intention of getting it off to you before I left. Obviously, that did not happen, but it will be coming very soon. Pinkie-promise.


And one other thing before I continue.


Remember my little health issue?

Can’t say that I wasn’t a little anxious about it but figured that worst case scenario, I’d have to pop a Bonine, munch on pretzels and sit it out on the bus for a time.

Well, not only did that not even come close to happening. I felt absolutely fabulous the entire time.

And except for the first night, only averaged about 5-6 hours of sleep– max.

However, I did take a melatonin every night which works beautifully for me. I think that I’m going to continue that because maybe it’s something beneficial?

Or maybe I was on such an adrenalin high for the week, that it did not matter. Nothing was going to bring me down.


One last thing.


The weather.

Largely fabulous. Sure, we dodged a bullet. Several bullets in fact.

It did rain, but not when we were out and about, except for a very light sprinkle or two and not for very long. No wash-outs whatsoever.

I am not going to talk any further about my feet. I was comfy if not fashionable.

Otherwise, I wore everything I brought. All worked out very well.

Form follows function every time.


Now, what is it with the secret English Gardens and when are you going to spill the dirt?


Well, if there’s any dirt being spilled, it’s going straight into the flower beds!

You thought I was going to kiss and tell?

Oh hahaha! No, what happens in England stays in England! lol

(Sorry, I realize upon writing that, that the saying originated in Vegas. Such madness is getting old now. My heart goes out to the victims and their families.)

However, a lot of what I’m going to share is secret in that I am not at liberty to share where it is or who might live there for privacy reasons mostly. And of course, that is understandable. And other places, I’m not allowed to share at all.

But please know that this was a very special tour. Many of the stops on the tour we were exceedingly privileged to visit are private homes. And only because of the high connections of this group did we have access.

As a matter of fact, some, but not all of the homes we visited did not allow us to take photos– especially of the interiors. But rest assured, there is a wealth of beauty, both inside and out. I promise not to disappoint.


Some of you have asked who the tour group is.


It is called Classical Excursions and is run by the delightful Lani Summerville and her equally delightful assistant for this trip Oscar Fernandez.

Classical Excursions is a separate entity, but affiliated with The Institute for Classical Architecture and Art of which I’m a member. I cannot recommend them highly enough!

And finally, we would could not have asked for a more erudite, charming, tour guide than author Clive Aslet.   His knowledge of all things classical architecture and beyond brought everything to life as we traveled through the country-side.

He made me chuckle to myself with his frequent use of the word HIDEOUS.

However,  when Clive says “hideous,” in his mellifluous upper-crust English accent, it sounds like something delicious one would smother over ice cream, not something that is in exceedingly poor taste.

Well, guess what? I am on the plane and there’s no freakin electricity for my macbook.


I began with a full-charge, but after 10 minutes am already down to 92%.


So, I better shut up and get going with the exquisite English gardens.


The first lot are of Ben and Charlie’s home in Dorset.


Charlie sells the cut flowers! Very talented lad, he is. This is all his! Please check out his insta!

I told this lovely couple in the group that I was going to crop them out, but I think the colors look so fabulous, I kept them in. shhhh… ;]

love this shot with the church.

The house is actually a rental and it was the home of the church’s parson, henceforth, its appellation, the old parsonage.

Another row in the garden. Do you see God? He posed for this one, for sure!

I borrowed a different version of this for my instagram a few months ago. It was just before I found out about the trip! And it was why I had to go. That’s what I told Ben.

He’s terribly lovely, you know.

Moving on…

I’m at 49% power. hmmmm… There is actually a power plug in the loo.

Yes, the plane loo. Do I dare? Two minutes?


Speaking of loos, you will need one here because the only reason I could tear myself away is because I was told to. Otherwise, I would’ve been there all day long.

So, please hang on onto your hat, because it’s about to be blown right off of your head!

Forgive my lameness, I did learn (a little) something about the owner (okay, I have it now, Sir Roy Strong) who had a wife who died, but before she died, they cultivated acres of this amazing place called Laskett Gardens.

Oh, they had these speaker things for us to listen to it all, but I was too busy taking photos and picking up my eyes off the ground!

Please enjoy the exquisite beauty, art and classical designs of Laskett Gardens!


It did not rain one drop, but the weather went from blindingly sunny and bright to quite over-cast and everything in between. You will see the changes of light in the images.

One of my trip-mates. Couldn’t resist his red jacket against the endless wall of green.

As you can see… It is fall in the UK. The colors are not as vivid as in the states, or maybe it’s just too early.

Believe it or not, I did nothing to the color of this image. The yellow-green IS that bright!


Next we went to an amazing garden where we were not allowed to even bring phones or cameras in.

Well, it belongs to the prince who will most likely be the next king of England.


But not being able to take photos didn’t stop me from finding a beautiful one off of the internet. High Grove Gardens they call it. And they are taking reservations for Christmas dinner. I can’t think of anything more glorious.

Prince Charles purchased this estate in 1980 and cultivated the 15 acres of English Gardens of all kinds into a lush series from formal to eccentric. Quite extraordinary!

The house was quite plain and required some embellishments like the pilasters and balustrade on top. But now I think it’s perfect! But, dang. Off the top of my head, am not positive which of the illustrious architects did the work.

I know… I know! It doesn’t look quite real, does it?

I had permission to take this image from an upstairs window in the home of legendary English classical architect Quinlan Terry. We had a fabulous tour of his home and a wonderful tea. I have a few lovely images from that visit.

The rest of the images are random uncredited images from some of the homes we visited and properties we drove past.

Sometimes less really is more. Wait until you see the house! Soon!

This actually looks frighteningly the same as northern Westchester County (where I used to live) or Fairfield County in Connecticut.

This is from the last day. That was yesterday but it feels like three days now!

From the same home, I believe.

Classic, isn’t it? We saw sheep grazing– everywhere!

Well, I’m at 32% power.

There might still be a few more gardens, but I’ll work them into another post.

I’ll see if I can edit and get this out to you guys.


Oh, before I forget.


Thank you, thank you, thank you to so many of you who voted for me for the Design Hounds Modenus contest.

First prize is a trip to Milan. WHOA!

Well, thanks to you guys, I’m in first place!

Not being even a little complacent, because there are some HUGE names out there, like Apartment Therapy! They could turn me into mincemeat if they wanted to, but they probably don’t know or care that they are in the running.

Thanks again! I’m very appreciative, but I have always felt that all of you and I are in this thing together; like a family.

And you can vote once a day through the 10th of October. And please vote for any other designers you like as well. It’s the easiest voting system ever.




PS: Oh, I have so much more to share with you. And what I love is that it echos everything this blog is about. Authenticity. Beauty. Proportion, Form, Scale and Color.


Wait until you see the English “unkitchens!”


PPS: Well, I’m back home. The people working at JFK are uniformly RUDE. Does it really have to be like that? But I had an awesome Uber driver.

It’s good to be back!

46 Responses

  1. Great photos and comments, as always!

    Definitely voted for you but should you not take 1st place, don’t fret, rest easy, you’ve reached an enormous amount of readers that enjoy your sense of humor and design sense. Sometimes connections to others is equally or more important than other seemingly distinguished honors.

    Glad you had a successful trip!

    1. Hi Ana,

      Thank you so much!

      I agree with you completely. There is always going to be someone better, more successful, prettier, richer, blah, blah… but in the end, it’s the honest connections that one make that count. The rest is all window dressing.

  2. I’m glad you had such an epic trip, Laurel. Wonderful photos.

    I think I voted for you. If it involved clicking the “thumbs up”, then I voted for you.

    There is some serious competition there, so you should feel great about being on top!

    1. Hi Lorri,

      Thank you so much! Yes, that’s all that’s required. Easiest voting system ever. I think that many of those big names have no idea that they’ve even been nominated.

  3. Welcome back Laurel. I’m delighted to read that you had a fabulous visit to the UK. You’re correct, the fall colors are less vivid and spectacular than here. It’s a gentle climate and a gentle island, isn’t it?! Thanks ever so much for sharing the stories and the really gorgeous photos of your trip with us. I was born in the U.K. and I have really enjoyed these great posts, as I do all your posts. I’ve been voting for you and I’m going to keep voting for you too! And isn’t having a cup of tea a wonderful thing to have over there?!

    1. Hi Maggie,

      Yes, gentle and genteel too! And funny, but when I came back to New York, it was actually HOT! 28 degrees celsius, they said. I just used my converter. That’s 82 F! Indian summer it is!

      And thank you for your votes!

      Yes, the tea, the gracious, homeowners and architects that I met, just lovely, lovely. I really did not want to leave.

  4. Hi Laurel,
    So happy your trip was such a joy filled experience! Today’s preview was such a joy to read; can’t wait for the Sunday post. One of our daughter’s did a semester abroad in Britain 20 yrs ago. She lived with a wonderful couple who send a Christmas card and note each year! You have a gift for sharing that really takes your readers along with you. Best of luck with the votes!! Welcome home!!

    1. Hi Leslie,

      Thank you so much for your kind comment! And I love the story about your daughter. They are lovely people in Britain! And especially after living in New York for so many years, the difference is shocking! But I also feel like that sometimes when visiting other parts of the US.

      I guess that begs the question. “Why do you stay here, then?” I don’t have a solid answer to that one except the only good reason to move would be because of a person or people. Oh well… no place is perfect.

      1. Move on down to the southeast where I live, Laurel! Of course, you’d probably miss a lot of things too.

        My younger sister spent two weeks roaming the northeast when she was invited for a wedding. She was in Boston, a country inn in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Martha’s Vineyard . . . the latter was her favorite.

        However, she was so appalled by all the rudeness that she swore she’d never return! :O

  5. I wish Americans would spend less time building McMansions and devote more time to creating exquisite gardens. Welcome home.

    1. Hi Susie,

      I’m with you there! Especially with the stop building mcmansions. Gardening is a lot of work and made all the more difficult by extremes of climate in some areas.

  6. Welcome back! Your photos are beautiful and I can’t wait to see more! I didn’t know you were in the running for the contest. I just voted. I hope you win!

  7. It`s 5 a.m., I haven`t been to bed yet, but your post had me drooling and checking out Google for even more shots of some of these amazing gardens. Thanks so much for sharing, happy you had such a fabulous trip. I just voted for you and you are way out in the lead, so the best of luck to you, I hope you win the trip!. Will vote again tomorrow…. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Lisa for the votes! Hope you can get some rest. I struggle with that sometimes too.

      Highgrove, the prince’s estate was quite extraordinary. And you can get quite close to the house, actually, I tried to find some interior shots and think that I found a few.

      I know that he has a few residences and this one is large of course, but not palatial in scale. Very elegant home and 15 acres of gardens is immense! We had a fabulous, quite energetic guide as well.

  8. Sounds like you had a great time. The garden pics are very pretty. Look forward to seeing more from your trip. Portugal also has a lot of charm.. I live here part of the year and would be happy to show you around if you should ever decide to come.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      That is a very kind offer! Thank you so much! These types of tours are wonderful, but traveling with a large group means staying on their schedule. Still… it’s wonderful to be able to turn off that part of the brain that sorely needs a rest!

  9. It’s just wonderful to be able to live vicariously through your amazing, stunning and soul lifting trip! I can’t thank you enough for sharing all this sublime beauty with all of us.
    And I agree- it’s when I’m in England that I ‘know’ God exists; I just wished I could find him here too..:-)
    Maybe you can find him in Milan as well..

    1. Hi Dolores,

      Traveling, I have found is always a life-changing experience. It gives an entirely new perspective on things; it’s like a jolt of knowledge that can’t be found in any other way because, inherently, we have no choice but to encounter something different.

      This morning, I was trying to remember where we had lunch for the six full-days, but there are two that I have absolutely NO memory of the place or what I ate. I remember that all of the food was good, so I guess if it wasn’t, I would’ve remembered that!

  10. Hi Laurel, I do feel like you are family… I thought about you most days while you you were away, and excitedly anticipated your safe arrival back home. I am so happy your trip was all and more than you hoped for. Appendages crossed for Milan! Thanks for these lovely images… visual bliss. BTW, my friend and I were just bemoaning the ‘hideous’ weather here (Ontario, Canada) a few days ago. teehee

    1. Hi Michi,

      Yes, hideous is the word for much of the north American winter. And Ontario is especially harsh.

      Thank you so much for your good wishes! It means so much to me!

  11. Wow…these beautiful gardens just take my breath away. I can’t look at them enough. So happy you had such a fantastic trip in every way! I felt like I had a dear friend in England this past week.😀 Thank you for such a delightful made me smile. i can’t wait to see more! I’ll be voting for you daily!

    1. Hi Karen,

      Well, that warms my heart, because my aim was to try and capture the beauty. I don’t in any way consider myself to be a professional photographer, but I’ve taken a LOT of photos and think that I’ve gotten better at composition and editing. For the gardens, most of the editing is in the form of cropping and occasionally, a little brightening up. Most photos need brightening and contrast correction.

      Those bright greens really ARE that vivid! The Laskett gardens in particular were one of the hi-lights of the trip. As you can see, they are like exterior rooms. And every time I turned a corner, it was one WOW after another. I can only imagine how I looked, prancing around with my phone.

  12. loved this post and want much more!

    our paths had to be close, as I am still here in Dorset and went to high grove and drove thru Beaminster….love that village but, I DID NOT GET TO BEN’S!!! woo hoo, lucky YOU

    it’s a glorious time of year to visit England and cannot wait for much much more

    1. Hi Debra,

      Oh wow! Too funny! And lucky you! Have you been to Poundbury? We went on a fascinating tour there with Ben who has been one of its principal architects. I will be reporting on that and much more for Sunday. Over-all, that was my favorite day because after Poundbury and lunch at Ben’s we saw this other home which is the most extraordinary place I’ve ever seen! And oh man… I lost my cell phone charger and it quite possibly might be in Ben’s garden!!!

      I rather like that idea. Fortunately, I was able to borrow one at the hotel.

      1. laurel, I have a great idea……i’ll go to bens and hunt around for it, brilliant right!!!!

    1. Haha! Yes, God gets around! Well, he lives inside everything, of course, but some things on this earth have the mark of the divine unquestionably.

      I tried to capture as much of that as possible, without annoying my trip-mates! (too much) haha.

  13. Oh Laurel!! The glut of beauty in these photographs has me all choked up. Stunning. Classical gardens get to me in a way that classical homes don’t quite manage to. Not sure what it is, the juxtaposition of order upon wild nature, the mix of organic shapes within a structured layout… squeezes my heart!

    On another note it’s so fun to read your posts with your knowledgeable enthusiasm and your saucy voice. Reminds me of my very energetic, very bohemian aunt whose opinions and verve are about as strong, if pointed in another direction.

    1. Hi Julie,

      Thank you so much! And the funny thing is that on this trip, I had SO much energy. Got up early every morning. Well, I had NO choice! And then, it was go, go, go! One day, we must’ve been on the bus for six hours! Other days were a LOT of walking.

      Your aunt sounds darling! Oh, how I wish I had, had an aunt like that. I only had one and well… let’s just say that she was not anything like yours, although she was a talented artist.

    1. Hi Carla,

      Yes, incredible beauty. I could’ve happily left after one day and it was six FULL days. My biggest problem was taking pics where there weren’t half a dozen people (or more) milling around.

      I often would wait for them to all clear out and quickly snap a few and then catch up. Or go back a little later.

      And I voted for you too!

  14. Cheers! So glad you found England! 🙂 I have family and friends a whole different take eh? lol..might be why I love my little cottage house here in Canada..built in 1912..gorgeous home..but my gardens..oh my gardens!!! My home never looks like something from a magazine.nor have i followed any “rules”..its a home its happy..:)

    1. Hi Liz,

      It’s funny, but there was one home which is one that we were not allowed to photograph. Oh, it’s been published; the home AND property are UNREAL! And decorated by a prominent designer. Wasn’t picking up “happy,” however. They did have an extraordinarily kind butler, if that’s the word.

      Yes, in true klutzy form, Laurel spilled some tea on the Aubusson rug. (not the entire cup, but maybe a couple of teaspoons or so.) He was concerned about me and I couldn’t have cared less about the few drops that landed on my jeans; I was mortified about the rug which fortunately has a light brown background. He said, with a wink, “no matter at all; we’ll say the dog peed on it.” LOL

  15. Ooooooohhhhhh. Myyyyyyyyyy. This landscape architect most appreciates this post. How truly truly beautiful! I’m so glad you got to experience this. Gardens imprint on us like nothing else. You will never forget them.

    1. Thanks Laura. The other thing is that some of the homeowners had these vistas that went on for years. I really felt like I was in the middle of a movie or Downton Abbey. (but not dressed right) We didn’t go anywhere on that scale, but not small either, by any means.

  16. Oh Laurel! I am so happy for you! It seems your trip was something surreal, like a trip to Beautiful because Beautiful must be an actual place.

    I know that feeling you described when you saw the gardens. I remember my first time seeing English gardens. Every time I see them I feel a little naughty. You see I grew up in a small town with beautiful Victorian homes and Southern architecture with postage stamps lots next to mansions. There was one perfect English manor with a brick walled garden – totally secret and too much for my little appetite to resist. So I did even though I was totally old enough to know better. I snuck into that garden! and never had I seen such beauty. Some moments I forgot to breathe. Or maybe that was the fear of getting caught. But whatever it was I have been forever impregnated with a guilty pleasure (I still feel guilty) over any English garden and your pictures just poured kerosene over that naughty little lust of mine. Beautiful!

    1. Hi Katie,

      Love your charming story!

      There was so much beauty and of course, we only saw a fraction of it. And the houses! Some relatively modest and some, phenomenally lavish and grand.

    2. What an lovely story! I grew up in Louisiana and visited cousins in Baton Rouge. We would *sneak* over to a lovely home and garden in Spanish Town and practically drool. We didn’t know exactly why and of course, we drooled over the graffiti under bridges too, but still. Oh what guilty pleasures!!! So beautiful!

      1. Hi Nancy,

        Well, drool-worthy art can be in many forms. I love those kinds of child-hood memories.

        We were in two “hard-hat” construction areas. Made me laugh because growing up, I lived in an up and coming neighborhood and there were always new homes being built. And yes, we played in them! Walked planks, got COVERED in mud– head to toe. Don’t recall anyone ever getting hurt.

        It’s a miracle any of us survived the 60’s. lol!!!

  17. Laurel
    Not only are you in the lead but your kicking butt:). I voted again of course. Love the photos you’ve shared so far and look forward to more stories and photos from your trip. How wonderful.

  18. Welcome back Laurel. So happy you had a glorious (and safe) trip. Shall be tuning in for the follow-ups. -Brenda-

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