Is it better to enter a garden, be immediately bowled over by the experience but be disappointed with the garden as the visit progresses or to begin on a low note, feel a little disappointed, but end with an experience of garden beauty that demands you simply sit, look and attempt, even if this is a vain effort, to take in the magnificence and beauty that is presented to you?
Perhaps, it is better to learn from experience to be patient and to be forgiving, to be less demanding and less critical and to give every garden time to tell its story. I must confess to being quick to judgement, to being influenced by the initial impact of a garden and to being slow, reluctant, stubborn even to ameliorate my opinions. It has been suggested in this household that the Victor Meldrew character in the television programme, “One Foot in the Grave” was undoubtedly based on me or certainly presents a reasonably accurate reflection of my behaviour.
I genuinely do not intend nor wish to be harsh or unreasonably judgmental of gardens I visit but can easily feel disappointed, annoyed and even angry when I have paid for admission and find the garden visited is of a poor standard. My friends should be reassured that I do not carry such demands when I visit their gardens – such occasions are for the pleasure of their company and the sharing of gardening chat and the enjoyment of plants and garden.
A recent visit to Arley Hall (Cheshire, England) was a mixed experience when some areas delighted me and others disappointed. Given that it is an eight acre garden it is not surprising, I suppose, that some areas will appeal while others will not. The entrance is hugely impressive as one walks through a fabulous avenue of pleached lime trees with a view to the clock tower above the Cruck Barn, dating from 1470. It speaks of a place well established, well settled and comfortable in itself, of generations who have lived, worked and gardened here and promises that the visit will be enjoyed.
The entrance is via what was once the farmyard and the impressive outbuildings still stand proud and in excellent condition. This yard now has three garden areas wrapped around it – The Flag Garden, The Kitchen Garden and The Walled Garden. Each area in turn disappointed; each had the promise and the facility to be excellent but none reached that standard. The Flag Garden was tired and past its best though a Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’ grown on the wall was very attractive. The Kitchen Garden was well organised but also weedy in places – something which irritates me very much! The Walled Garden was in need of rejuvenation with many plants, mainly shrubs and small trees, in need of replacement – the borders were gappy.
The impressive gates of the walled garden led us to an area which at once surprised, delighted and took one’s breath away. Here was one of those rare gardening experiences where one saw genius and beauty combined to perfect effect. It is without doubt the jewel of the gardens at Arley Hall and would a jewel in any garden in the world. It was quite simply outstanding, a combination of structure provided by the yew hedges and the colour of the herbaceous planting. It was a situation where the overall effect far outweighed the sum of the parts and I reflect now that I did not walk the borders to pick out the various plants included in the planting because the individual plants were only of significance in that they contributed to an overall picture. The gardens were very quiet – only two others that we say – and we sat for a long time in The Alcove to enjoy this marvel of gardening.
With my spirits raised I moved along to enjoy the Tea Cottage and its garden, built for the children of a previous generation of the family, and the Fish Garden, a small sunken garden and The Ilex Avenue, an impressive planting of clipped hollies. The Rootree was rather a wilderness and I did not dally before making my way back to the house along the Furlong Walk, a pleasant straight walk with garden to one side and farmland to the other.
We made a quick visit to the Plant Nursery – closing time was quickly approaching – and found a few nice plants to bring home. Our final impression of Arley Hall was that of the man who served us in the Plant Nursery who went to generous lengths to ensure our plants were well packaged so as to travel safely on our return journey to Ireland.