More Keen and Keener This Time

010A return trip to Mary Keen’s garden was called for to see what we had been missing back in April. At that time we were disappointed and wondered if we had done the garden an injustice with our unflattering comments. This time was different and although it is still not one of our favourite gardens, it made more sense. I suspect the rather wild and unkempt look belies a lot of planning and hard work although some things did not make sense. The rhubarb and radishes allowed to go to seed for instance.053                                                 Was there a reason or was it just neglected? My inclination is that someone of Mary Keen’s stature must have had a reason though one doesn’t readily spring to mind.014

The Auricula Theatre in the old outside loo was now given over to Pelargoniums and lilies which also featured in the lean-to greenhouse attached to the old schoolhouse. A clever idea and an unusual attraction for visitors. Sometimes it’s the little things which make the most impact.023

The borders were stuffed with herbaceous perennials amongst the trees and large shrubs and made a good show although the weeding regime left a lot to be desired. 031

In the kitchen garden, next to the seeding rhubarb, I really liked this area of Delphiniums, Cornflowers and Ammi which, I assumed, were for cut flowers. There was a row of Sweet Peas too weaving themselves through hazel twigs which I preferred to canes or obelisks.038

Some areas of the garden were inspiring and no more than this small area, perhaps 6m x 4m next to the greenhouse.                                                                                                045Here the hot plants sizzled in full sun and Knifophias mingled with Eremurus, Heleniums and Eryngiums while white Lychnis coronaria ‘Alba’ cooled things down and provided just the punctuation needed. 040

A beautiful clump of Alstroemeria caught my attention and I made a mental note to try this as an occasional border plant in the hot border at home.049

This grass path bordering the church and graveyard and shaded by apple trees in the fruit garden was lined with wildflowers, mostly poppies but also with toad flax, corn marigolds and grasses.051

It had a certain wild quality about it but it could easily have been mistaken for weeds which had taken over fallow ground. However, who am I to say; Mary obviously thought it was a good idea and that’s what matters.064

This ‘wild’ area, on the other hand, was beautiful and purposeful; a charming place to sit and relax under the old trees and amongst tall waving grasses. Pass the gin & tonic!070

Finally, a lovely arrangement of an old chair, blue clematis and Lillium regale against the house wall which took my eye.


Sadly, Mary took exception to my earlier post about her garden in April and we exchanged comments in this blog. I thought it had ended there but no; Mary decided to mention the criticism again in the Daily Telegraph. She labelled me a spy, although as someone pointed out, I am not sure how you can be a spy on a public Open Day! I am sorry Mary was upset by my comments. At no time have I ever set out to upset her or anyone else I write about. However, as I said in an earlier blog post, if you are going to open your garden to the public, it is likely that not everyone is going to like it (or understand/appreciate it) and so you must be prepared for criticism and take it on the chin. I think it is very brave to open your garden and I applaud those who do. We have seen some wonderful gardens this year but it is clear that my wife and I prefer tidy well tended gardens with perfect lawns, neat edges, colourful planting at the peak of perfection and creative combinations of plants, flowers and foliage. We don’t like modernism in gardens, we are cottage gardeners at heart but we get confused when ‘wild and atmospheric’ actually turns out to be ‘untidy and neglected’. We think that gardening is all about taming nature, manipulating plants and flowers, artistic creations and a pursuit of perfection. Are we wrong? One for ‘The Big Debate’ I think!


4 thoughts on “More Keen and Keener This Time

  1. I’m with you all the way David on a neat and tidy garden, well planned structure, colourful planting and creative combinations of plants, flowers and foliage.

  2. only just caught up with this and I can only say again I wish you had introduced yourselves , but I am glad you had a slightly better time. I love the flowers heads of rhubarb – people do grow vars of this as an ornamental. I did have a lot of positive responses to the article that I wrote ( mainly it must be said from women) I think the tidy v romantic disarray will always run . One think I do want to clear up. I never said you were a spy. The reference( perhaps a bit obscure) was a quote from Hamlet. ‘When sorrows come they come not in single spies but in battalions’ meaning roughly once things start to go wrong you can expect others similarly bad things to follow Best MK

  3. I have just read this and your earlier review of Mary Keen’s garden. Much opinion on gardens is down to personal taste. But there is another issue here – time of year and climatic variability. David, I think you made a big mistake! Your mistake was to visit a garden in April 2013. We had just had a cold, prolonged winter and it was hardly surprising that there was not much to see. I have just consulted my diary regarding a walk I undertook roundabout Hyde, Minchinhampton on
    1 May 2013. Many trees showed no signs of greening up and the naturalised daffodils were at their best – in May! I will not travel to visit a garden before June without checking in local front gardens to see what is in flower.
    Regarding your September visit, maybe the garden was past its best. I have visited The Old Rectory 3 or 4 times, most recently in July 2013 (during the hot spell) and I have never thought it looked neglected. My preference too is for “colourful planting at the peak of perfection and creative combinations of plants, flowers and foliage”, but this is what I found on my visits. It is very informal, but perfectly fits the romantic setting. Having said that I was rather put out by the fact that MK seemed to be surreptitiously following me around as though she didn’t trust me – this also happened on my 2013 visit, although I have never experienced it elsewhere.
    Picking the time when a garden is at its best is important to me and I get the impression that it is to you too. Simply observing front gardens when you pass them is the way to see when a particular type of plant is at its best (e.g. are the mid-season tulips in flower yet or are the daffodils still peaking?).
    I visit lots of village Open Garden events, too. Some are NGS, some not. My favourite by far is Fladbury Walkabout in Worcestershire (Saturday and Sunday mid-July). I have been six of the last seven years and it has been my best weekend of the year every time except for one year when I was taken ill. The standard is so high it is almost like Fladbury is in another country! Do go next year (weather permitting ) and tell us about it in your blog. Stanton (Gloucestershire) is also excellent.

    • Hi Robert
      My ‘mistake’ if you wish to call it that, was to expect one of the UK’s foremost gardeners to have done everything possible to give visitors value for money on one of only a few open days in the year. As part of the National Gardens Scheme, the dates are arranged a year in advance in order to publish and distribute the Yellow Book. The fact that there was little to see was due in most part to mother nature but I am sure the owner could and should have done more.
      I agree about the village openings. I visited Stanton, Barnsley, Elkstone and several others this year and will certainly put Fladbury on the list for next year.
      Thanks for your comments and suggestions.

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