It Irritates Me!

There are things which irritate me when I visit gardens – but, I must confess, that I am easily irritated. Nonetheless, oftentimes, these are things which could easily be avoided and it is the fact that it would not have taken any great effort on the part of the garden owner or gardeners to remedy such situations which adds so very much to my annoyance.

Those who know me will now be thinking that Paddy is off on one of his Victor Meldrew (TV programme character in “One Foot in the Grave”)  moments and…they may be perfectly correct!

We are back, my long-suffering garden-visiting partner and I, from a week of garden visiting in Devon, a beautiful area of England and, based in Exeter,  a delicious area of restaurants – something we find quite lacking in England but, on this visit, were absolutely delighted with the quality of food in local restaurants in the centre of Exeter. To mention just one, my favourite of the holiday, “Ask Italian”, in view of Exeter Cathedral was outstanding, delicious, fabulous, with welcoming and friendly staff and food that made me want to marry the chef, though his beard didn’t really appeal! Ah well!


But, back to the gardens and that which irritates me. It is an unfortunate truth that gardens alone, regardless of how beautiful they may be, will not attract sufficient visitors to make a significant financial contribution to their upkeep and the most usual venture to bring in the cash is a cafe or restaurant. There’s a lot to recommend a nice cuppa and a slice of cake to replenish the tired garden visitor and some gardens we visited went well beyond such offerings and had extensive lunch menus available, something which rarely attracts me as I am happy with a substantial breakfast, a midday snack, and a good dinner, after scrub-up and drinks, on return to base. These restaurants, judging by the huge numbers seen in them, are attractive to a great many people and I say, good for them and long may they enjoy it. However – you knew there had to be an “however” on the way! – However, I do not wish to have the smell of the Sunday roast beef overwhelming the fragrance of the roses in the garden nor malingering, as unwelcome as an open-sewer pong, among the herbaceous borders. It’s a needs-be situation, perhaps, but I do not visit a garden for its food and would prefer not to include it as part of the garden experience.

Coleton Fishacre 20190810 (75)
A beautiful border at Coleton Fishacre but the aroma was from the kitchen rather than the flowers. 

Of a more immediate horticultural nature, a lack of maintenance is always a disappointment – more than a disappointment, to be honest, for any garden charging an entrance fee should make the effort to present the garden at its best and, though I have grumbled about the poor efforts of the gardeners, it has struck me in more than one establishment that there were more employed in the reception, restaurant, gift shop and plant-sales areas than in the garden itself. The garden is often no more than the lure to bring people to the various cash registers and over time the garden is often neglected. It saddens me, but it is true, for I go to a garden to see the garden first and foremost and these other areas hold little attraction for me. It has struck me that when such conditions develop – the emphasis moving from the garden to the non-garden areas – that the gardeners may well become disenchanted, demoralised and less than diligent in their work. It’s a pity but it is true and the garden and the garden visitor are the losers.

Killerton (7)Killerton House in Devon with beautiful views to the surrounding parkland with its mature trees. Using Photoshop I have spared you the littering of picnic tables which the National Trust thought were appropriate in this view and I have framed it to exclude the games area! 

Is it this, I wonder, which leads to a lack of weeding, a lack of general maintenance and a general lowering of standards? I would hope that those in a management position in gardens would realise that the garden is at the centre of the enterprise and that sufficient resources be allocated to their maintenance and development.

At the Royal Horticultural Society’s Rosemoor Garden in Devon. We visited on a Sunday; there were no gardeners active in the garden, that I noticed, and, surely, the last person to use this hosereel could have put it away. 

16 thoughts on “It Irritates Me!

  1. I agree 100% Paddy – sadly all of the National Trust gardens and probably the RHS ones too, rely on volunteers, and paid gardeners are few and far between! It works ok in some instances but it is not the same, and it’s sad to see they are going in this direction! So true, all the eating areas are stuffed full of people, but hardly anyone looking at the garden. I love to visit NGS gardens, but even there it is a race to get to the cakes!! I never bother to stop for these as quite often I am on my own, and have gone (like you) to look at the garden. These places, especially the RHS, should be investing more into training students, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case – who better to get on with all these gardening tasks! I hope you managed to find some good examples on your trip Paddy? There are certainly a few here in Somerset – including the newly opened The Newt in Somerset which is where Hadspen used to be – it doesn’t have the wow planting that it used to have when Nori & Sandra Pope were there, but they have certainly made a major investment in horticulture in Somerset and are employing 18 full-time gardeners!

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  2. I have to say that this time I’m with Victor Meldrew! As someone who opens my garden occasionally I weed to the very last moment on an Open Day and will still find the “one that got away” much to my embarassment! I feel that this very trend has destroyed garden shows too – Bloom is a prime example with the emphasis more on grazing the food stands rather than the flowers!

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    1. Some of these large gardens need to become businesses or enterprises but when management judges success by the number of entrance fees collected and the income generated by restaurant and sales areas rather than by the continued development of the garden then the gardens will run into decline.

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  3. Thoughts about the Newt –

    Your irritations left me bewildered. Do we care about the aesthetic? The soul of a garden? Or the weeds? We go to great lengths not to have visitors and any garden making noise, but this is a matter of indifference to most Commercial gardens, it seems.

    But it does seem that what most people want is the food and gift shops and you have to seek out the personal gardens offering more. Hard to do, when every open garden is ‘lovely’ and (worse) ‘stunning’. But I’m not altogether clear about what would make you happy, Xxx

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  4. Dear Paddy,

    I only recently discovered your excellent blog (quite by chance, you definitely deserve to be wider read). I have very much enjoyed reading recent posts & trawling through the archives reading your reviews of new publications & getting inspiration of new gardens to visit.

    I wholly agree with your comments above. I feel those involved in the management & promotion of gardens very much need to reflect on what constitutes a garden. It may seem punctilious to quote a dictionary definition of what a garden is, but nonetheless many of those involved in the gardens you visited could do well to reflect on this.

    The issues you raise are of course not particular to English gardens. On a recent visit to Birr on a fine summer day, I had to pick my way through children in the play area & picnickers in order to actually find the garden. Nor are these problems particular to gardens alone. A visit to many historic buildings, Cathedrals, heritage sites &c, reveal, an often hideous structure, housing retail, cafes & the inevitable ‘interpretive centre’. All this gimmickery greatly distracts & detracts from the actual thing one came to visit in the first place.

    I do understand that gardens rely on the income stream generated by these ancillary endeavors, but I wish they could be executed more sensitively. At one recent visit to a landmark Irish garden, I watched a group of visitors disembark a coach. They all hurried to the cafe & shop, snapping up Irish souvenirs (probably fresh off the last container ship from China!). Few, if any, actually made it any further than the parterre.

    Keep going Paddy, I await your next observance.


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  5. I was shocked and saddened to realize that you are correct when you said the gardens in themselves are not enough to attract enough admission fees to cover their upkeep. I had always just assumed the shops and cafes were just add-ons for people who stayed past mealtime or wanted a lasting momento of the visit, and not primary income generators. How sad to think that the gardens could probably be reduced to bedding and low maintenance plantings and the bottom line would probably improve… even if the true garden-obsessed like myself then chose to stay home.
    I guess that explains why a local historic site abandoned their gardens in favor of a larger sales area and eating area.

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  6. Paddy,
    Your article is very well expressed. I agree that open gardens should keep the garden at the centre of what they’re offering the public even if they have to provide other products in order to make money.
    However, I think we are on the cusp of a change in the gardening world where in the future untidiness will be seen as supporting the environment and part of what people are doing to restore the natural world and our ecosystems.
    I’m not sure the gardens you mention have deliberately taken this approach- probably not – but others are taking it e.g. Mary Reynolds and Seamus O’ Donnell.
    I love a beautiful garden with full and luscious perennial borders and nice straight hedges and edges but I think we need to challenge ourselves about this aesthetic because of the destruction that’s going on in our environment.


    1. Thank you for you comments, Moya. There is certainly a huge increase in the use of “wildflower meadows” and, often I believe, it is as much for the savings in grass cutting that this allows as for any environmental benefit or even for any aesthetic advantage to the garden. The parkland at Killerton is laid out to be a pleasant scene from the house and I was taken aback that the National Trust thought it appropriate to sprinkle it with picnic tables and a games area. These could have been better positioned so that those using them could enjoy the view without impinging on it without any great effort. Likewise, it only takes a sense of tidiness and a desire to present a garden at its best to ensure hosepipes are not left lying about in the garden when not in use.
      The environment card is being used as a great excuse for avoiding work at times!


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