Sunday, 17 July 2011

Devon gardens

I have just had a week out of time, a week to wander gardens in great company, a week of sunshine and flowers by the ton.  My head is still spinning with colour and light and fizzing ideas.

Way back in February when I planned a visit to some gardens in Devon the idea seemed like a lifeline.  Life was hard, my brother was in hospital, we were all adjusting to having my father in law to live with us and I was buffetted by how much I wanted to be able to put things right and how little I could do.  As I sat at Karen's table on a wet and blustery winter day I felt stretched out thin like an old handkerchief, pale and see through and just as likely to tear.  On a July morning as I left home in the sunshine life had moved on.  We adjust, we human beings, we get used to things, even difficult things.  Now it felt not like a necessity but like an indulgence to drive away and leave Ian looking after domestic life and his father.

I was travelling with Karen and staying with one of her oldest and best friends who lives in Devon and has a fabulous garden of her own.  It was a long and tedious journey down the border with England, via Chepstow briefly to see my brother, and on through Somerset and into Devon.  One of the great things though about newer friends is that there are all sorts of things you don't know about each other so the journey passed away in filling some of those spaces in the jigsaw of an unshared history.

I had wondered whether I would feel rather in the way when two such good friends got together after a long time but L and her husband were so welcoming and somehow it all felt very easy and natural.  L has made a stunning garden in not much more time than we have been here.  Mine feels very much a work in progress in comparison.  I loved her planting, particularly a very beautiful spiral garden, and consoled myself by observing that her soil and mine could have come from different planets.

A day out to spend with my parents and catch up with my sister and then a day for garden visiting, starting with Glebe Cottage, Carol Klein's garden and small nursery in North Devon.  It's always a surprise somehow to visit somewhere you have read about and seen on television.  Television in particular plays tricks with space.  Just as the newsreader you see unexpectedly on the street in London is often surprisingly short, the garden was surprisingly small.  First impressions: packed (maybe overpacked? and that is an odd observation coming from me) with paths so narrow and planting so full that you squeeze through and bend under branches and would be soaked to the skin by plants after rain.



There is a generous amount of the garden open: a wooded area which must be fabulous in spring where the clumps of epimedium are like huge piled pillows of plants.  I tried hard not weep when thinking of mine, sitting daintily about six inches square in their bed of bare soil.


To the other side of a central path, terraces take you up towards the house, through Alice's garden and Annie's garden towards the big beds where I think the hot plants will go out in another few weeks.  On the top terrace, beyond the private sign, were pots full of cannas and dahlias wating to go out.


There were some inspired bits of planting




and an inspired use of zinc buckets!


And there were some very beautiful individual plants which got under my skin to the extent of coming home with them:

It was a pale soft morning, gently overcast but warm with the promise of sun to come.  I was very glad to be there, looking and thinking, in sparky and knowledgeable company.  It felt like a very personal garden and although we didn't see Carol Klein, the woman weeding in the borders and the other taking plant sales in the nursery clearly loved the garden and knew and loved its plants.

I liked the fact that, although there would have been vast scope for making a money making enterprise out of the garden and the nursery with tea rooms and bookshops and a greatly extended plant sales area,  there was a strong sense that this was not what they wanted to do with it.  Signage was minimal, although there was a helpful sign pinned to a telegraph post at the point when satnav insists you have reached your destination and you clearly haven't.  There were no loos.  The plant sales area was tiny.  There was no tea room.  There was nowhere selling copies of Carol's books.  It was just a garden, her garden.  I liked that.

28 comments:

  1. I think I'd like everything except the absence of a loo. I even like the zinc buckets. They remind me of wellington boots - and I feel much more at home in them than in heels.

    Esther

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  2. It sounds like a garden well worth visiting, I quite like that it lacks some of the more commercial elements of some gardens. It is a long way to Devon for me but hopefully I will wander down there again at some point.

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  3. Esther - I have to admit that I did rather have to rush away in response to the absence of a loo. Of such base metal are we made. Perhaps it is a deliberate ploy to ensure that women of a certain age don't stay too long.

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  4. In a real emergency, I suppose you could tip the plants out of the zinc buckets and use them. (Well, one of them. It would have to be a very emergent emergency for anyone to need to work their way along them all.)

    By the way - I like the picture in the header. My hollyhocks have fallen over - and they were a lovely, delicate peachy colour - so I'm cross!

    Esther

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  5. You are so lucky to have so many gardens withing driving distance - lots of inspiration.
    These days I'm struggling to amend the soil. It's become clear that the soil that was delivered last year was pretty much just fill. I can see the difference where I dug in compost and sea soil this year. Those areas are thriving while the others are quite sadly not.

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  6. How nice to see the summer gardens when I'm down here in winter. Thanks!

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  7. Lucky you to get to squeeze into Carol Klein's garden! And how wonderful that it is so unspoilt by crass commercialism. I too am a little worried by the lack of a loo though !

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  8. Sounds lovely - I like watching Carol Klein when she is just being a gardener, which she does incredibly well and naturally, and not 'dolled up' for the telly.

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  9. ohzene - definitely worth visiting especially as there are quite a number of good gardens nearby. This blog might be the first of a series!
    Esther - I suppose one could take to carrying one's own zinc bucket.

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  10. Pondside - it depends what you mean by "driving distance"! This part of Devon is about a six hour drive from my bit of Wales and it did feel like a long haul. And yes as to soil. The difference between what grows in the parts I compost and what grows where I don't could be a botany lesson.
    M over M - despite my years living in New Zealand I still struggle to get my head around the idea that your winter is my summer and vice versa!

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  11. I loved the TV programme and I love her programmes anyway - she is such an enthusiast. Interesting that it is so small - I agree one often gets the wrong idea about things from TV.

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  12. I loved this post Elizabeth - just my kind of break too! The pictures are gorgeous!

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  13. Annie - well I think Esther has solved the loo problem with the zinc bucket solution. In the highly unlikely event that Carol Klein is reading this, we don't mean it, honest.
    Rachel - Wouldn't it be good if you could be an older woman on the television without needing to be primped and pruned?

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  14. Oh, I like the blog makeover.

    And I like North Devon too, though I go there too seldom. It sounds like a great garden to visit and I guess men have less of problem with the 'no loo' thing - my six year old certainly doesn't seem to mind where he wees!

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  15. I'm not really one for wandering around gardens, but if there was a bench, and I had a book with me, and the sun was out, I'd be sorted.

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  16. Weaver - I like enthusiasm. Cynicism is easy.

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  17. This was beautiful. Your writing and your photographs together are like a tonic for me. I so desperately miss the daily rounds of my little garden back in Texas, which was nothing like all the lush gorgeousness in your garden and the gardens you visit - but was still such a pleasure for me! Our present soulless high-rise has some lovely landscaping, including plants I hadn't seen since moving the Southwest of the US in 2000, so there is some compensation. I don't know if you have ever heard of Patrick Lima and John Scanlon's garden "Larkwhistle" in Canada http://torontogardens.blogspot.com/2009/07/garden-daytrips-larkwhistle-bruce.html
    but years ago, I bought a book of theirs, 'The Harrowsmith Book of Herbs' which featured many photos of their garden, which I loved. Your blog has the same effect on me - of being somewhere quiet and peaceful, surrounded by interesting and beautiful plants and nature...I can almost smell it.
    However, in my daydreams, there is always a loo....; )

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  18. Lovely trip into Devon.
    Thank you.
    Chris

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  19. That's a wonderful shot on your post header Elizabeth. Wish I had a border like that. In fact it's given me the inspiration to give it a go for next year, so many thanks.

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  20. I'd love to visit Carol Klein's garden. When I used to go to Chelsea regularly it was invariably her stand in the marquee that I liked more than anything else. It's good that it's still a private and personal garden and not a money-making enterprise. In a way I'm not surprised that the garden is smaller than the impression given on TV - professional photographers and TV cameramen can give completely false impressions of places if they choose to:)

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  21. The garden looks fantastic, Devon is a lovely palce.. and I loved the zinc buckets, not so sure about the absence of any loos though!

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  22. Molly - hi, and glad you liked it. It is well worth a visit, if you can find it that is!
    Karen - yes yes yes.

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  23. Mark - I think those of us who love Wales probably like North Devon. It is a lot less soft than the South of the county. No comment as to loos.
    Fran - there were benches and, eventually, sun. No cake though.

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  24. Caroline - the book of herbs sounds just my thing. Thank you. I am not sure I could live without a garden of my own although I suppose if there was no choice I would just have to get on with it!
    Chris - don't forget Devon when you come to the UK although obviously if you can't fit it all in then coming up to North Wales has to be the priority!

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  25. Chris - it is a fab shot isn't it. It is Rosemoor I should add, not mine! I am intending to do it at home next year though, in some fashion or other.
    Rowan - it was a very strong impression that the garden was not there to make money. I suspect this is more unusual than you might think!
    Aaron - thanks! I think I would have accepted the addition of a loo as a non-commercial improvement!

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  26. That was a lovely post, and I am drawn to those spiny purple thistle-like plants you photographed... what are they?

    Also - LOVE the new look for your blog! It's like jumping out of a plane into Wales! Wheeeeeeee!

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  27. Lucky you, I would love to visit Carol Klein's garden. My friend (from London) and I have talked about meeting in Devon and taking in a few gardens but it does take planning doesn't it!

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Comments are great. Thank you for taking the time!