A Week of Two Gardens

I am on annual leave this week using  up the last of my leave allowance and enjoying the late summer sunshine.  It has been a strange week and dominated by visits to two very different gardens.

As some of you may have picked up a group of 25 of us  UK garden bloggers/twitters visited Prince Charles’ garden at Highgrove yesterday.  Due to security no cameras etc were allowed so I can’t entertain you with photos.  It was fascinating to see the reactions of a group of knowledgeable gardeners and particularly fascinating as I had visited the garden two years ago with a very different group. On my previous visit I had felt frustrated as no  one was really engaging with the garden apart from in the ‘isn’t that nice’, ‘what’s that plant’ way.  I felt strongly about some aspects that I didn’t like but was a lone voice so had to just shut up so to speak.  Yesterday with a very lively group who weren’t afraid of saying what they thought I discovered that my impressions from two years before where shared by  others which was nice.  We had a lovely day, very entertaining and fun and no doubt there will be future trips.

In complete contrast the day before I visited a small  local garden – Picton Gardens. This garden is well known for housing the national collection of Michaelmas Daisies and only really opens for visitors from mid August to mid October.  The garden is only 10 minutes drive from my house and despite living in Malvern for 10 years I am ashamed to say I have never got there.  So as I had some spare time and I wanted some Asters for my bank I decided to go  and see what it was like.  To be honest my visit was several weeks too early as the majority of the flowers were still in bud.  They are after all called Michaelmas Daisies because they open around Michaelmas Day at the end of September!  However there were some open along with Echineacea, Solidago and Heleniums.  The garden also has a lot of grasses, bamboos, acers amongst other shrubs and it was interesting to see how these worked with the perennials.  There was one small area which really jarred for me – the Centenary Garden.  This included a lot of clipped purple berberis and I don’t know whether it was the colours of the berberis or the fact that I am not keen on topiary and low clipped hedges but I really didn’t like it.

The garden is not that big and doesn’t take long to go round and I spent nearly as long in the nursery selecting my Asters.  I don’t think I have ever seen so many in one area at the same time.  The nursery does a mail order service and I presume the vast quantities are to accommodate this.  I selected a Sanguisorba canadensis, I know that’s not an Aster but it is fab looking plant and will add height to the border.  I bought three Asters as a starting point – Sonia, St  Micheal and Umbellatus, hopefully they will do well and I can add to them in the future.

Unlike the merriment of visiting Highgrove I visited the Picton Gardens on my own and I always find that these solo visits are much quicker as there is  no one to say ‘What do you think of that?’ etc to.  However, my primary reason for visiting Picton was to buy Asters so going on my own was fine but I am so glad that I  spent yesterday with the group I did as  I havent laughed so much in ages. Thank you all – you know who you are!

Author: Helen Johnstone

I live in Malvern, Worcestershire and am a very keen gardener. I started the Patient Gardener Blog in January 2008 as a way of recording what was happening in my garden and connecting with other like-minded people. I started a second blog PatientGardener 365 January 2013 in order to try and post a photo a day to capture what is growing in my garden or places I have visited

18 thoughts on “A Week of Two Gardens”

  1. Very fed up I wasn’t on the Highgrove trip…and brilliant you all had such an obviously great time. It was never going to be quiet though, given the people who went…..I hope squabbling was kept to a minimum

  2. You’re very lucky getting to visit Highgrove. At this time of year the kitchen garden ought to be ready for harvest. I can’t help wondering how much time Prince Charles spends in the garden – Gardening ?

  3. Dear Helen, As I remarked to Anna recently, the problem as I see it with Highgrove is the input from too many different designers with too many different ideas to make for a satisfying whole. Or that is what I thought when I visited the garden some fifteen years ago.

    As for the Picton Garden, it is wonderful if one wishes to see Asters in great number and very well grown. Otherwise, it is a teeny bit ordinary in my view. It is, as you say, so much nicer to visit places with a sympathetic companion.

  4. Having read everything I could lay my hands on over the years about Highgrove, I’d love to hear more of what an honest, sensitive and knowledgeable English woman (that’s you of course) actually thinks of Highgrove. Or is your silence that telling? I get the feeling that like all gardens it is gorgeous when photogaphed just right, only more so. And finally that it is a bit of a charicature of what English gardening is all about.

  5. Hi Sequoia – we were asked that if we were writing about Highgrove to get approval but I think that was aimed at the garden writers amongst our group. Personnally there were some bits I liked such as the thyme walk which is the frequently shown view and I quite liked the newish tree fern grove especially as when we saw it the light was shining through it. However, there are a lot of temple like structures, statues which were not my cup of tea and I, as did many, felt that the garden lacked cohesion. Too many different ideas trying to be brought together into one garden and jarring. The thing I really did not like was how the Cedar of Lebanon tree which had to be taken down had been treated. A hobbit house had been built around the base and the whole thing topped off with a very tall spire of wood topped with a metal ornament. For me it was out of context with its surroundings and out of proportion and I think this feeling was shared by others. But at the end of the day I kept reminding myself that this was one man’s garden and after all a man’s home is his castle and if this is what he likes so me it.

  6. Helen – first & foremost the Highgrove trip was excellent . Thank-You
    I am no garden designer so my comments are purely those of a seasoned garden visitor & hunting for the correct words to describe Highgrove is not easy. I think by describing it as idiosyncratic I may be as close to the truth as I can be without causing rancour.

    1. I agree idiosyncratic is a good word as is eclectic. I do think that people should remember that this is someone’s personal space and he opens it for charity. It might not be our taste or what we would choose but we should respect other people’s preferences, after all garden ‘design’ is very subjective and personal.

  7. Thank you, Helen! Jack (I must admit to endless admiration for the Prince of Wales – I believe history will, on many levels, vindicate him. And I LIKE his idiosyncracies!)

  8. Jack – there was also a recurring theme of gifts that HRH had received and which had to be accommodated somewhere e.g. 60 tree ferns, large lumps of stone etc which does also affect the style and appearance of the garden

  9. It’s true that the place has no coherence. It’s true too that there is far too much random gift scattered around and that a lot is dank and depressing. There are bits and pieces from other cultures bunged in for no apparent reason and out of context and there are totally awful things like the hobbit house with a dead cedar branch laden with bird feeders sticking out of it.
    But the worst for me was that there was no view anywhere that gave me any pleasure or provided any real interest.

    And, sure, it’s just one man’s backyard and taste but people pay a great deal of money to get there and to see it. And it gets talked up until there must be some people with eyes and sensibility who think they are maybe a bit crazy when they think ‘but the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes’.

    I’ve had a few barneys online with people for being critical of garden and asking for more discernment so it was a joy to find our group so refreshingly clear sighted.

    A friend of mine came away very angry some years ago and now I understand why. But we had a great time because it was such a fun occasion with great tweeps, the guide was excellent AND we all got cake, unlike at some inferior establishments I could mention….

  10. Enjoyable post and comments Helen. I giggled at your description of how the remnants of the cedar tree had been treated. Would have been interesting and fun to have been with you all on Wednesday – most of remarks as we went round the week before were of the as you described ” ‘isn’t that nice’, ‘what’s that plant’ ” variety 🙂 Mind you most of us were soaked to the skin so our critical facilities were probably somewhat dampened too. As you say though it’s his home ground to do with as he wishes. Will you go back to Picton when the asters open?

  11. Hi Helen. I visited Highgrove about 8 years ago. I enjoyed seeing it but I felt just like you. I didn’t like a lot of it but I loved the Thyme Path except you weren’t allowed to walk along it (which was sad). Lots of very interesting comments above. I agree so much about his being ‘Organic’ but I agree with all who thought too many designers had been involved. I would also stress that a good designer will listen carefully to the client’s wants and needs and just maybe here they all wanted to leave their own mark. Christina

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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