Not so Keen Garden

013 I recently took my wife to see Mary Keen’s garden on one of her very limited open days but, I have to confess, we were a bit disappointed. The beautiful old rectory in the tiny hamlet of Duntisbourne Rous near Cirencester is an idyllic setting for a classic country garden which Mary herself describes in this month’s The Garden magazine as “a bit on the wild side” and “more about atmosphere – a place to be, not one to impress.” I agree entirely, we were certainly not impressed.                                                                                                                                           012

It is not for me to suggest that any garden, particularly one which is owned by an eminent gardening journalist and author is not up to the mark. I have no right to say that. However, I do have the right to speak as I find and, in our opinion, it was a waste of £10 on 22 April when we visited under the auspices of the National Gardens Scheme. Mary Keen herself was there and I fully expected her to apologise for the lack of interest but she didn’t . In fact, apart from a few bulbs and woodland anemones which were going over it was all very green and boring. Even the green was disappointing. I have never seen a lawn so full of moss. My wife, who is far more balanced and forgiving than myself, said she found the garden “rather unkempt” which I think is an accurate description.019

If I say that the highlight for me was the compost heap, it might put the visit into perspective. I don’t think the garden should have been open for paying guests. I suspect that the opening dates were agreed last year in order to meet copy deadlines for The Yellow Book and had not been altered in spite of the appalling spring weather which has delayed everything by at least a month. It just shows that gardening must be flexible and adapt to the conditions, and opening a garden with very little to see or impress is a waste of people’s time and money. It does no-one any favours and, in fact, does the garden owner and the National Gardens Scheme a disservice. 003

Having said that, I liked the Auricula theatre in the old outside loo, as featured in the Daily Telegraph 4 years ago by Sarah Raven, though there were was not a single flower open. I am sure they were intended to be a wonderful feature and probably would have been in any ‘normal’ year.049

I also admired the climbing path to the old schoolhouse where the tea and coffee was ‘available’ rather than served, something else which irked us.

Sorry about the moan but I had to get it off my chest!

‘Good’ Garden Visits

I generally find that visiting so-called ‘good’ gardens which open for charity is great therapy. Some are better than others but they are all usually better than mine. They provide me with inspiration and motivation, a living catalogue of plants and design ideas I may like to try and, normally, a mixture of admiration and envy. We only visit a handful each year but I look forward to them all with great excitement and anticipation. Coming from a background of launching housing developments, showhomes and new products, I know first hand what goes on for weeks beforehand. The work rate is frenetic, all hands are at all pumps, long lists are made and worked through, lots of midnight oil is burnt all with the aim that at 10am on a certain day, everything will be perfect. So, I always imagined similar effort and energy going on behind the scenes in the weeks and days leading up to a garden opening, the immense pride and  satisfaction achieved when the gates opened and people flooded in to admire and coo over beautiful plants at their peak, a manicured lawn cut early that morning, and not a weed in sight.

Perfection! Hidcote Manor Garden in July

However, this weekend we donated £10 to charity to spend an hour in a well known Gloucestershire garden and came away bitterly disappointed. If it had not been for charity, I would have been sorely tempted to ask for a refund. And the reasons for our disappointment? An almost complete absence of colour except green, rampant Alchemilla mollis everywhere , an uncut lawn infested with clover and daisies, borders awash with woundwort, nettles, brambles, sun spurge, chickweed, hairy bittercress and ground elder, and nothing unusual, special or experimental. In short, and my book of humble opinions, not a garden to be particularly proud of and certainly not a garden to put on show for money! My wife and I walked around the garden without a word, occasionally glancing at each other with a grimace or a look of disbelief, but mainly listening to the sycophantic and obsequious comments from what I call the ‘Emperors new clothes brigade’ who either couldn’t or wouldn’t bring themselves to believe the awful truth – the garden was dreadful!

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any weeds in my lawn and borders, of course there are; but I’m not opening my garden to the public and believe me, if I was, there wouldn’t be any weeds! Talking it over with my wife on the way home, we assumed we must be wrong and that the rather unkempt and bland appearance must have been characteristic of a ‘country cottage’ garden at the end of August. In which case, we both agreed, why bother to open it? If it is a spring/early summer garden past it’s best and with few virtues to show, surely it would have been best to stop opening it in July? I looked at the leaflet when we got home and to my absolute horror, I noticed that the garden has further opening days until end of September!

The garden concerned was not open under the auspices of the National Gardens Scheme but according to them, the top two criteria for opening a garden are:

  • are the plants, landscaping and design interesting and attractive?
  • is the garden well maintained?

Those are the very least I would expect of any garden opening to the paying public. I would go further and suggest that anyone who takes the time, trouble and expense of visiting an open garden is going to be a pretty serious gardener themselves and it had better be at least as good and preferably a lot better than their own!