On the Move

By Buchan, Ursula | The Spectator, June 24, 2000 | Go to article overview

On the Move


Buchan, Ursula, The Spectator


The life of the gardening writer is one of almost constant and unadulterated pleasure. Almost, but not quite. The greenfly in the ointment is that I have not managed to visit every garden open to the public in the country, nor am I ever likely to. This makes for some awkward social encounters.

The question `Do you know such-andsuch a garden?' is asked of me with predictable regularity. I know I am in trouble if my interlocutor continues: `Ochnadubh belongs to a great girlfriend of mine. It is so beautifully set, on an island off the coast of Scotland, and you get there in a darling little boat . . . We always plan our holiday around its open afternoon, the third Wednesday in August. You haven't visited it? How strange. It's frightfully well known. It's been written up in Your Lovely Garden.' With more honesty than social facility, I shake my head sadly. This gesture is met with a `hmph', and the subtext of this hmph is: `How can you call yourself a gardening writer if you haven't seen Ochnadubh!'

I don't suppose that anyone knows exactly how many British gardens open their gates to paying visitors. It is impossible to compute accurately. A figure of 5,000 is plausible but probably conservative, since at least 4,000 in the United Kingdom open at least one day a year, for the benefit of charities or local worthy projects. There are other gardens which open purely for commercial reasons, or as a public duty because they are scientific institutions, or because they contain a plant `national collection', under the auspices of the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens. The difficulty in computing stems from the fact that many commercial gardens set aside a day for benefiting the National Gardens Scheme (or Scotland's Gardens Scheme) and so appear both in the Yellow Books and also in other guides.

A substantial minority open regularly throughout the growing season, or all the year round, especially in Scotland. And an increasing number are accessible `by appointment only', a choice favoured by garden owners with limited parking facilities, or the wish to restrict the entry to those genuinely interested, rather than people just wanting to enjoy a cream tea or nick the statues. If I were to spend every summer's day for the next 40 years on the road, I would still not see every garden that is available to be seen. Apart from the geographical distances, there are logistical difficulties in catching a garden on the day, or days, it opens, or when the owners are available.

Although I consider visiting gardens to be the best fun you can have dressed in Husky jacket, stout shoes and a batty hat, I have, up to now, felt reasonably content to go to my grave without seeing the half of them. …

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