Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Temptation Tuesday: Other People's Gardens

PHS Editor Michelle Styles confesses her thrill at visiting other people's gardens

Okay I will admit it, I love visiting other people's gardens. I love making my own garden, but when I am on holiday or needing a break, I like going and seeing what others have done with their outdoor space. Wandering about and seeing what plants they might have or what feature. Enjoying the garden without having to worry about deadheading, weeding or redoing a border.

It all started when my children were too little to go in big houses. Backpacks are not allowed. National Trust gardens provided great places for them to run around. Wallington also had a wonderful secret garden which until thieves got in, had marvellous lead statues that my children liked to say hello to. The walled garden with its great glass house and fountain still fascinates. They also had stone dragon heads (Not griffin as some like to say) on the lawn which the children climbed on.
It was also great to ring the changes and see how the garden changed. When we moved and had enough space, we put in a Tibetan cherry tree because my eldest first learnt to walk in Wallington's orchard under such a tree. The bark looks like metal. A membership of the National Trust gives you free entry to the house and gardens of all of its properties.

From there, we started going to other gardens, NT and privately owned, particularly when we travelling to see my in laws or friends in other parts of the country, aided and abetted by the Good Gardens Guide. The Good Gardens Guide is now in its 20th year. The best gardens are given 2 stars and there is also an explanation as to why the garden is good, plus its opening times.

Stopping at gardens meant the children could have a play, we could see some great plants and there was generally a place to get a good cup of tea. Once memorably at Newby Hall, the children were able to ride on a model railway through the gardens.
In this way, I have been able to see some of the great late 20th century English gardens from Rosemary Verey's Barnsley when she was still alive to Christpher Lloyd's garden at Great Dixter and Beth Chatto's. We even discovered the Garden House near Buckfast Abbey before its grass border became known. There is something special about being in a great garden. Many of these gardens have nurseries attached and so I was able to purchase interesting varieties for my garden. Thus my cannas have their roots in Great Dixter, my day lilies from Beth Chatto and my alliums from Rosemary Verey. We also ended up visiting gardens in other countries such as the Generaliffe at the Alhambra in Grenada -- a truly magical place.

The village where I lived also had a Garden Open Day for charity. Friends called it the Village snoop around as it was exciting to see what lay behind some of huge walls but the entire village was involved. Several of the bigger houses in the area also open for individual charity days as part of the Yellow Book or National Gardens Scheme. It has been going since 1927 and first raised money for District Nurses but now a number of charities benefit. The Red Cross also runs a similar scheme. It gives you a chance to good gardens which are not normally open to the public plus there is always a chance of finding a good plant on the plant stall. Or a different way of doing the borders...For example, the hostas in the old convent at Nunwick, a garden which is only ever open one day a year but worth seeing, gave us a better idea of what to do with hostas.
The other great thing is seeing the pride that the owners have in their gardens and what they have done with the space available. Sometimes an over grown garden is restored and other times, a once great garden becomes a shadow of its former self.
Because of the bees, we don't open our garden but I am always delighted to visit others' gardens.
So now that garden visiting season is up on us again, anyone been to a good garden lately?

Michelle Styles's latest UK release Compromising Miss Milton includes a scene or two with a garden.


  1. Okay, I'll admit I know absolutely nothing about gardening or plants and our postage-stamp sized patio garden in Islington is testament to that... But my mother who now lives in a small Wiltshire village deep in Thomas Hardy country has the most amazing garden and I love it. She's pretty quirky and her garden reflects that. The cottage she lives in is on a small hill and the garden goes down in three levels. The top one has a huge lawn and a vegetable garden, there's a parking spot covered by a bamboo trellis with climbing vines all over it, a holly tree with a special hideout for the kids and best of all an amazing swimming pond on the second level which has a deck and shallow planted areas on either side to filter the water naturally. It's full of newts and frogs who are nice enough to make themselves scarce if you want to take a dip on a hot summer day. We were there at the weekend with the sun out and the cherry tree blowing blossoms into the pond. Pure bliss. I'm most definitely a city girl through and through but it's wonderful to have a place to escape to.

  2. Heidi --
    That sounds like a wonderful, wonderful garden And the best thing about it is that you can escape there.