So after the upheaval of Beth Chatto's garden, would Hyde Hall be the disappointment instead? I am a westerly and northerly living person. London is familiar territory but outside the city I feel at home in Devon and Wales and the North West of England. East is a bit alien to me. I have been to Rosemoor in Devon a number of times and to Harlow Carr in Yorkshire. I liked Harlow Carr, loved parts of Rosemoor, and made a rushed and disappointing trip to Wisley. I don't know whether the disappointment was a result of the rush and I won't find out until I have the opportunity to go again.
So Hyde Hall was off my patch. I knew very little about it. I had no real expectations. I remembered something about the garden specialising in plants for drier conditions and I thought Matthew Wilson had been curator of the garden in the early 2000s but that was about it. Both of those things made me inclined to be interested in it but I came with an open, even vacant, mind.
The garden lies on a huge and windy site in Essex, one of the driest counties in Britain. As we arrived the sun was shining but the wind was streaming in the trees. Ox eye daisies were blowing on either side of the drive up to the carpark. You could see shelter belts and hedges all over the place.
But inside it was just gently breezy and quiet too.
There were things I loved: huge beds with great sweeps of colour, challenging your sense of how much of a single plant your eye wants to see. In the case of this salvia (nemerosa caradona I think) the answer was loads. There were easy things done very well: alliums with nepeta, alliums with hardy geraniums. Sometimes simple things done on a grand scale are better than self conscious attempts at cutting edge.
There was a beautiful shrub rose garden where most of the roses were higher than your head. We walked right inside it on a tiny and inviting path and were amazed to find that no one else did. It was exhilarating being right in the middle of the scented tumble of flower, soft and messy and lush. I am not really a rose person and the more formal rose garden and rose walk left me cold but this was a sensual treat, colour and perfume trailing in your face as you walked.
The dry garden was interesting rather than moving and I do like to be moved in a garden. The interest came from the relevance to my own garden with its stony soil. Not everything that will grow in Essex will grow up a hill in North Wales but a surprising number of deeprooted plants will (docks again!). So there was a lot to look at and think about but the planting was bitty and unsatisfying. Perhaps it was the contrast with the tour de force which is Beth Chatto's gravel garden where the movement and shapes of the planting were as powerful as the colour.
There was also some exotic planting (cannas and the like) which looked thin and sad to my eye. I am always acutely aware that a photograph taken one day or one week cannot be taken as anything more than a passing moment, not a judgement. Heaven knows there are enough occasions in my garden when last week's fleeting beauty has morphed into this week's empty hole and sagging, snail snagged foliage. Exotic planting is not my thing either, fortunately you might think, living where I do. Which came first, the hill or the affection for hardy geraniums, the chicken or the egg? So with that health warning, and accepting that by the end of July it will all be utterly transformed, let me show you what I mean:
But generally Hyde Hall was intriguing, occasionally exciting, sometimes dull but definitely worth visiting. I might not be back because it is so very far away from home territory, but I am glad I went.