As I prepare for another season at Glen Villa Art Garden, I’ve been thinking about other gardens I’ve visited. What lessons can I take from them, that I can adapt and apply to my own?
Asking those questions has led me to reflect on something different. Why do some gardens stand out as clearly as if I visited them yesterday while others have become a blur? In effect, what makes a garden memorable?
Memorable does not necessarily equal good… a disaster of a garden may well stick in the mind because of its faults. But more often than not, a memorable garden has some quality that keeps it fresh in the mind. Maybe it’s the plantings.
Maybe it’s the weather …
or who you happened to be with.
But maybe it’s something more elusive, some combination of qualities that makes one garden stand out from the others.
Personal preferences come into play, since people respond to different qualities and styles.
I like plants and seeing the impact of different design combinations. I like historic gardens as well as contemporary ones, formality as well as informality. I like originality and gardens that incorporate art. I like gardens that use words to expand the garden’s scope and the viewer’s mind. But most of all, I like gardens that are meaningful as well as beautifully floriiferous, gardens that contain some ineffable element that is hard to describe.
So what are some of my favourite gardens? When I started this post, I intended to include gardens from many different countries. But I quickly discovered that the list was too long for a single blog post. Instead, I’ve limited the list to a baker’s dozen from the UK.
I haven’t listed the gardens in order of priority, since each stands out for a different reason. Nor are they arranged historically or in any other systematic way. They simply appear where they appear.
Here’s the list. Take from it what you will.
- Veddw, for the multiple visits where friendships were formed and history is honoured.
2. Rousham, for its ability to make time appear to stand still.
3. Levans Hall, where the past remains present in a way that feels light-hearted and contemporary.
4. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, for its name and its extraordinary land forms.
5. Hestercombe, where the combined talents of Lutyens and Jekyll are laid out before our eyes.
6. Plaz Metaxu, for its brave individuality and its mysterious glimpses into other ways of seeing.
7. Iford Manor, for the way it incorporates Italian design and art into a rural English setting.
8. Little Sparta, for the way it uses words to inform and illustrate.
9. Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede, for the simple and forceful allusions it makes.
10. Linton House in Richmond, Yorkshire, for a design that melds ruins and contemporary plantings to the advantage of both.
11. Scampston Hall, for the inventiveness of repeated elements.
12. Througham Court, for the discussion it provoked after a group I was leading visited it.
13. Broadwoodside, for its delightful combination of humour and outstanding horticulture.
The difficulty with any list is ending it. You may notice that I haven’t included some of the best known and most iconic gardens. This isn’t because I don’t like them or find them inspiring. I do. Visiting Great Dixter or Sissinghurst, for instance, is always rewarding and I have clear memories of multiple visits to both. I also have remarkably clear memories of several gardens I visited where photography was not allowed.
But the gardens I’ve named stand out in special ways, so they are the ones that made my list.
I have equally clear lists of American, Canadian and European gardens and I may single out a few in the weeks to come.
What are your favourite gardens? I’d love to know which stand out in your memory, and why.