A Snoop Too Far
June 24, 2011 § 20 Comments
A couple of weeks ago I was visiting a garden that is rarely open to the public. For a few days each year the owners gamely allow people the run of the place, and they give the takings to charity. It is a beautiful piece of Ireland, with water and woodland, and the daintiest walled garden I’ve ever seen.
There was much to see in the extensive acreage: a polytunnel crammed with vegetables, more vegetables in the walled garden, congenially intermingled with perennials; a gravelly courtyard, where plantings of the pinky-grey-spired toadflax ‘Canon Went’ swayed in the breeze in a most agreeable manner; an avenue of chalky-barked birch; a boathouse overlooking a tidal river; a compost area with dark and crumbly vintage humus. A display of newly planted nasturtiums, in twenty-four pots, was just one of many pieces of evidence that this space was continually and carefully gardened.
There was, as I said, so much to see. My fellow visitor and I dodged and darted from tableau to vista, oohing and aahing with delight. We ran into another couple several times, sharing with them our cries of appreciation (as you do when you’re visiting a private property and are feeling a little awkward). “Isn’t it lovely!” we gushed, and “Oh! Look at that!”
Despite our moments of mutual enthusiasm, I wasn’t paying much attention to them, until this interchange: “Is there anything up there?”, I asked one of them, as we passed on a narrow corner. “Oh, yes! You can see right in the window!”, she exclaimed. And indeed you could: there, for all the world to see (or those who had paid their contribution at the gate, and were bent on pressing their noses against the glass), was a view of the owners’ private space. I remembered the words of a friend who opens her garden, and who is fed up with the nose-marks on her kitchen window: “Sometimes I feel like leaving a sheep’s head on the table.”
After that, I kept an eye on Mr and Mrs Nosey Parker, watching them move around the exterior of the house and clinging to the panes like those sucker-toed toys that you see stuck to the windows of cars.
Their curiosity was undisguised and unending. It reminded me of the need for a Garden Visitors’ Code of Behaviour (there’s a parallel code required for certain garden owners, but that’s for another day). It is something I’ve written about on occasion in my Irish Times column, and which I’m wheeling out again here.