Opening my weekend Financial Times, I was reminded by garden columnist Robin Lane Fox that garden tours are a must for designers. According to him, it's "the single best training" for discerning gardeners and designers. The biggest problem for new designers, he says, is that they've simply not seen enough gardens.
I would have to agree. And wouldn't it be nice if we could all afford a trip to Britain every year to see some of the 3800 gardens open to visitors through the National Garden Scheme (NGS), a group that lines up gardens for public visits and donates the proceeds to charity. You can order their annual "yellow book" listing dates and locations of open gardens, but if you plan on going this year, Lane Fox says you'd better hurry, because the flowering in Britain this year is running about three weeks ahead of normal.
Of course in this country, the cold weather has delayed almost everything. In my Cape Cod garden, the only things flowering at the moment are forsythia, daffodils, quinces and two Cornelian cherry trees. However, next weekend I'm off to my first Garden Conservancy Open Days tour in Connecticut, and although I'm not sure much will be in bloom, that's not why I'm going. As Lane Fox says, rather than asking yourself "What's here for me?," the better question about any garden you visit is "What would I have done with it?" (Or perhaps, "Could I have produced a design as good as this one?"). Therein lies many answers to memorable design, no matter what kind of garden you are visiting.
I saw this garden on a Boston tour last summer, and although I didn't much care for the plantings or the decor, I did like the fence and the way it sets off the evergreens. I keep a folder with photos of things I like and consult it from time to time when I need a little inspiration.
Look for local tours in your area, and check out the Garden Conservancy's Open Days, the closest thing we have in the US to Britain's NGS. But would that we had 3800 open gardens to visit.