Other People’s Gardens

September 27, 2010 § 6 Comments

In my last (and first) post here, I mentioned that I gardened, not for other people, but for myself and the various creatures that live outside the front and back doors. In just a few hundred words I managed to sound holier-than-thou in a lonesome communing-with-nature way, while also giving the impression that I am dismissive of those who garden for other people. What a great start to a blog.

The truth is that I am constantly and hugely grateful to gardeners who welcome other people onto their plots. They are benign and brave souls. It takes courage to open your garden to scrutiny — and to the inevitable criticism that pours merrily out of visitors’ mouths. Or is that just Irish visitors? Are garden visitors in other countries less bent on picking holes, and more interested in immersing themselves in the experience, and in trying to understand what the gardener is doing? (Having said that, there are a few owners who open their properties with the sole intention of securing tax relief, which is a little mean-spirited. But more on that another time.)

In the main, people who open their gardens are generous humans, giving freely of information, and often of plants or cuttings. Some of my favourite plants were gifts from other gardeners, or were purchases at their sales tables. These are often varieties that are not seen at garden centres, because they might be difficult to transport, or tricky to propagate on a commercial scale, or they may be ugly ducklings while in the pot (turning into beauteous swans only when they get into the ground). Or — best of all — they might be strains that are local to that particular garden or locale, carrying a unique and historic set of genes in their green fabric.

The Bay Garden, Camolin, Co Wexford: a lovely place to visit

For me, life would be flat without other people’s gardens. They are a place to meet other gardeners, to talk about plants and growing, to unwind, to be amazed, and to learn something new. I’m perennially curious, as are most gardeners. You can ask ten gardeners how they propagate penstemons, or whether they put dandelion roots in their compost, and you’ll get ten, opinionated answers. I find this exhilarating — which probably seems a bit sad to non-gardeners.

Ornamental potager at Ballymaloe Cookery School

At the end of August I visited Ballymaloe Cookery School gardens in east Cork, and Tanguy de Toulgoët’s Dunmore Country School garden in Durrow, Co Laois on the same day. Both gardens are doing the same thing: growing good food, using organic systems. But the methods are quite different. At Ballymaloe, for instance, seedlings are started in modules, under artificial lights; and in Tanguy’s Laois garden, seeds are germinated in seed beds in the polytunnel. At Ballymaloe there is an acre of greenhouses (lucky them!), and in Laois, an acre is the size of the entire garden. The greatest difference I noticed, however, was the climate. The two places are only 130km (80 miles) apart as the crow flies, yet it was like stepping from early autumn in Ballymaloe to mid-summer in Durrow. The first has a coastal temperate climate, whereas the second is much more continental.

Good things to eat in Tanguy de Toulgoët's garden

Our small island of Ireland has hundreds of gardens that are open to the public — where an overwhelming amount of growing goes on. When I’m not being lonely and mawkish in my own garden, I’m usually snooping around someone else’s.


The garden photographer's job demands a certain amount of versatility

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§ 6 Responses to Other People’s Gardens

  • I love the last picture.
    Altogether a great post to read – and I dont know if garden visitors in other countries are less critical – but I do think that gardeners are by and large a wonderfully generous bunch.


  • patientgardener says:

    I am always impressed that people have the courage to open their gardens – I dont think I could, I’m just not confident enough in it. I do think some people are overly critical of gardens they visit, they seem to forget that the garden is a personal creation of its owner.

    Love your last pic – can your dog jump that high or was the photographer bending lower when dog got on?


  • Jane Powers says:

    Yes! Artistsgarden, gardeners are so generous. I’ve just come back from a visit with 4 strawberry plants and a division of a very posh canna. The friend who was with me was given the same loot too.

    Helen, the dog belongs to the de Toulgoët family. She is a mountaineer of a dog. If you let her, she will climb until she reaches your neck, where she settles down. The dog-prop, sorry, I mean to say “photographer”, is my husband.


  • Hey neat views, but I have got a quick question, thus the reason I am leaving a comment. Are you using the WordPress platform? I have it and I am contemplating acquiring a premium theme and yours looks really good. Is it a high quality design?


  • rosemary power says:

    The bay garden in camolin is a fabulous place. I really should visit it more. I promise i will try to get there in 2011.


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