Over the summer we have managed to visit a number of gardens when we have not been preoccupied with preparations and opening of our own. If we are travelling to another part of the country we will always try to find a garden to visit on our way (when I say ‘we’, that really means ‘I’, as the Golfer is happy to go wherever I go, as long as we can also call in at any nearby golf courses so he can collect their scorecards. OK, I know collecting plants is far more interesting than collecting golf scorecards, but each to their own…).
The UK has a wealth of gardens open to the public and as well as the more well known gardens numerous villages host open garden weekends and our wonderful National Garden Scheme has hundreds of private gardens opening on one or more occasions to raise money for charity. Village openings showcase a wide range of gardens, with those that you politely walk round as slowly as possible to avoid feeling rude for being in and out of in 5 minutes to tiny or not-so-tiny gems. The NGS gardens are described in the iconic ‘Yellow Book’ so you know in advance whether it is something that is likely to appeal, and having been vetted should therefore provide at least 45 minutes interest.
Whatever the size of garden, or the reasons for opening, or the number of minutes of interest, there is always the chance of finding an idea you would like to take onboard yourself or an appealing plant you have never come across before. It was certainly gratifying to have visitors to our own garden seeking to implement some of our ideas; sometimes they were mentioned to us, sometimes written down in the comments book, and no doubt some were still just a seed in someone’s head. The woodland, the stream, and the general informality are just three of the features taken home as potential projects for our visitors.
Early in June, we visited Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire, a favourite of Karen of Bramble Garden, where I admired the colour of these bearded iris (even though I still didn’t like them!) and the sturdiness of the sweet peas for which they are well known. My sweet peas are always relatively weak and feeble looking and I resolved to be a bit tougher with them and put them outside much earlier than I do.
Later in June, a chance conversation whilst visiting open gardens in one of the many nearby villages resulted in a reciprocal and enthusiastic visit to ours and a reluctance to leave at the end of the afternoon. The nearest village to us, however, had their annual open garden event the same weekend as our Sunday opening but any conflict was irrelevant in the face of England’s World Cup match. I have visited these gardens more than once already but went again on the Saturday especially to see the garden of a friend’s sister and her ‘sculptures’. I had seen photos of her work before and if I had come across it earlier there would have been similar items in my own garden by now! They are created from ‘draped cement’ and are far easier to make than you might imagine although may appear daunting to those who are not ‘have-a go-at-anything’ types. You can find examples on YouTube and I have already sorted out some old towels to get creating myself – when the weather is less conducive to all my other garden tasks, that is!
The first photo shows the various stages of creating a draped pot, and an unpainted ‘bird bath’ made from the imprint of a rhubarb leaf impressed into moist cement, whilst the second shows a painted bird bath and an astonishingly clever ‘statue’ made using the draped cement technique which has been applied to a shop mannequin. I am not sure I am artistic enough to achieve the latter, but my creativity would certainly extend to the pots and the bird bath idea – anybody else fancy having a go?
The weather in June and July was almost too hot to do village garden open gardens justice, and each time we were selective in the gardens we visited as sometimes there is a lot of walking in between gardens. Early July saw us at another village, or small town really, but we only visited 3 or 4 here – one the garden of a friend, two we had visited before and enjoyed, and another which was opening for the first time. One of the ones we had visited before was full of the sort of quirky things that I like, in this case a mosaic of broken pottery with half cups and saucers for an added dimension, a section of wall built as a ‘folly’ with the open frogs planted up with succulents, pottery mosaics incorporated into paths, and a fence using the principal of pallets to create planting spaces, like a living wall.
The same weekend I visited garden about half an hour’s drive away which was opening this year for the first time for the National Garden Scheme. It was open on the same weekend as ours had been but a second opening gave me another chance to pay my respects. It was only a small garden but dense planting and the creative use of pots made it sensational – it was featured on Gardeners’ World a few weeks later so some of you may remember seeing it. The owner put his success down to irrigation and the generous use of blood, fish and bone (or was it just bonemeal?) – and no doubt many hours of work too. Inspired planting made for a wonderfully colourful border at a time when many other gardens are fading and there may be a lot we can learn from studying his choices. The GW programme did not mention the serried ranks of pots at the front of the house, bringing additional colour to a large expanse of brick paviors.
In August we had the pleasure of going down to Hertfordshire to support blogging friend Dorris, also opening her garden for the first time for the NGS. Dorris is very modest about what she has achieved in her garden in such a short space of time and if you remember the first photographs she showed of the disused goat pen that it started life as you certainly wouldn’t recognise it now. After only seeing edited snippets it was a real pleasure to see it in its entirety, as those of you who have visited other bloggers’ gardens will appreciate. I especially liked the use of grasses and Verbena bonariensis amongst the other planting, and would willingly tolerate the gay abandon of self-seeding of the latter if only it would be happier in my own garden! I also loved the garden shelter and how it was created but sadly don’t seem to have a photograph of it.
The following weekend saw us at another local NGS garden, also opening for the first time. We were intrigued by a notice in one section of the garden, indicating that there were plans to construct a stream here for 2019 – having visited our garden two months previously they confirmed that they were indeed inspired by our stream and had been mulling over how to make it work in their own garden. A return visit next year to see the outcome is a must! Current highlights of their garden were a standard hydrangea and half a dozen cloud pruned Japanese hollies – having hinted that the latter were not cheap, we teased an approximate price out of the owner…can you believe, around £1000 each…?!
Finally, there was our visit to Ireland early this month. I have already shown photos from the beautiful Bodnant Gardens in North Wales that we visited on the way, and some of the Japanese Gardens at the Irish National Stud, but there were a number of others too. A big disappointment, however, was missing out on Helen Dillon’s garden in Dublin and Jimmy Blake’s a little to the south of this, both well known gardens, the result of a change to our scheduled ferry time. We still enjoyed other gardens, especially the friendliness of the owner of the past-its-summer-best Woodville Walled Garden at Kilchreest and Brigit’s Garden at Roscahill with its symbolic gardens representing the four Celtic fire festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa, and its Sun Trail with unique sun features and interactive energy installations. And it is undoubtedly a distinctly green country – they certainly don’t call it the Emerald Isle for nothing!