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!


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!