I have been garden visiting.
In fact, not only have I been garden visiting but I have done it in the pouring rain in the company of my young friend (and eminent Editor) Christopher Young. This is something we do too infrequently. It gives us the chance to be wildly indiscreet while in the open air and therefore less likely to be overheard while, at the same time, looking at interesting gardens.
The thing we seem unable to get right is the weather. Last time we went to look at Kim Wilkie’s Orpheus in the depths of winter, this time we went to Easton Walled Gardens
in a torrential downpour. Fortunately we were provided with large umbrellas by Ursula Cholmeley (who is, as you probably know, the brains behind the outfit). She also gave us a bit of a guided tour.Here is Ursula and the young editor dripping colourfully.
The gardens span a very pretty valley in Lincolnshire and used to belong to a stately pile which was, as were so many large houses, demolished in the early 1950s. It was all about post-war austerity and lack of domestic staff. When Ursula and Fred arrived in 1994 it was a sprawling mass of overgrowth and mess. The only building remaining was a very handsome gatehouse (which now contains the necessary shops and tearooms etc) which was only saved from demolition because the designated bulldozer ran out of diesel at the crucial moment.
It is an effectively simple layout: a series of steep terraces tumbling down to the river. A handsome bridge across said river and then a walled garden going up the other side. Ursula is big on meadows: wildflower meadows on the steep parts of the terraces and grassy meadows studded with fruit trees and roses in the walled garden. This is most effective: the flowery bits on the terraces are brilliant as you are eye to eye with cranesbills and burnets and all that stuff. Longer stuff on steep bits is always sensible as then there is less annoying mowing: at that angle mowing usually involves a Flymo on a rope. Mind you, I have no idea whether Flymos still exist? Or are they considered too dangerous? They certainly injected a bit of jeapordy into gardening:I used to have two large petrol driven Flymos. For some reason only one of them ever worked reliably but the problem was that you did not know which from one day to the next. They rejoiced in their rebellious inconsistencies.
The roses in the walled garden are groups of rugosas and something else trained rather beautifully on wasp waisted supports. Elsewhere are sublimely patterned railings, little lodges and specially grafted local fruit trees.
All in all a rather magnificent bit of work- even in the rain. There is also a very neat vegetable garden,a fine collection of very happy sweet peas and various other borders full of flowers for picking and general herbaceous wondrousnesses. In particular some pale yellow lupins: I always forget about Lupins which is a pity as they are handsome plants in the right place. Provided they don’t get carried away. Same with Irises, they are unutterably gorgeous in their simpler forms but when then start getting idées au dessus de leur gare (ii) then they quickly lose their appeal. In particular the Cayeux irises which I find very hard to love.
If I was to pick a bit I worry that without a house a garden always seems a little aimless. The area right next to the gatehouse lacks a bit of oomph. There are two hedged gardens (presumably for the people who live in the gatehouse) which is perfectly understandable but takes away from the initial impact of walking through the arch into the garden. I would like a bit more of a tarant-ta-ra moment as the site definitely deserves one.
Another site which lacks a fanfary entrance is the NEC Birmingham (iii) which is my home until Sunday night for I am on frolicking duty at Gardeners’ World Live. All the requisite Garden Slebs will pass through my hands twist now and then, the fact that I am already losing my voice, however, doth not bode well.
The picture is of a Honeysuckle. I am listening to the bass line of a band doing a soundcheck in a nearby arena.
(i) I once had a magnificent umbrella which was a conventional black but had a really fine pointy end. This meant that not only could one deliver a very effective prod to anybody who deserved prodding but it also made a very satisfactory javelin which stuck, quivering, into the ground. It was a very respectable looking offensive weapon. Eventually some bastard stole it and the one I stole to replace it was much more health and safety conscious. There used to be strange rules about tightly furled umbrellas and officers from the Brigade of Guards the exact details of which are unclear to me. On that subject Guards officers were also not allowed to be seen to carry parcels, even when not in uniform.
(ii) I think this is from French Without Tears, a play by Terence Rattigan set in a school teaching French to businessmen. There are many misquotations and pidgin Frenchness. I saw it ages ago but for some reason that phrase has lodged in my brain.
(iii) The similarities, I hasten to add, end there.