Monday, 9 March 2015

The Great Garden Challenge - Anglesey Abbey

I like an easy life; the sun on my back, well-behaved weeds and a garden fitted with wall-to-wall perfect tilth. Instead I get iron-willed weeds and fifty shades of clay with a few bits of ironmongery thrown in for painful spade-jarring.


Digging clay isn't The Great Garden Challenge though; nor am I planning to scramble up and down mountains, camel it across The Sahara, or make some unspeakable effort on behalf of my abs. My challenge involves industrial quantities of tea, cake and gossip. For I have pledged to visit 50 gardens with 50 different people or groups of people in a year. Tough, isn’t it?

Sunshine and Viburnum
Training for this Herculean task has been demanding. Exhaustive research involving salivating over beautiful garden photos was taxing enough without the arduous trial runs I endured in order to hone the vital skills of packing supplies (money) and equipment (camera). 

Acer griseum
It hasn’t all been plain sailing: one friend was refused entry to a garden thereby rendering the visit invalid, and I missed a tour when my chickens were attacked by dogs just as I was about to leave the house. Then there is the ongoing issue of my garden-loathing offspring. When asked where she would like to go on holiday, my youngest child googled this: 


Is there any hope? 

On a positive note, The Great Garden Challenge is an opportunity to catch up with friends and meet other gardeners. A group of friends who live nearly 100 miles away from me came along for my first ever visit to Anglesey Abbey, where The Winter Garden is in full swing. 

Chimonanthus praecox 'Luteus'
The design of The Winter Garden makes inspecting little Iris, Crocus and Galanthus flowers or stroking the bark of Acer griseum so easy. The scent of the great swathes of Sarcococca growing by the path is stronger than ever thanks to the enclosed, sheltered nature of this area. It is as if the plants are coming to us, rather than us having to seek them out. So often we scatter our winter flowers around the garden, filling gaps hither and thither, but having them all cheek by jowl and sited by a path adds to the wow factor of these early beauties and it must be a flashing fast food sign for any pollinators on the lookout for sustenance. It is a lesson I will apply to my own garden. 

Rising to the challenge of visiting Anglesey Abbey's wonderful
 Winter Garden with dear friends (can't imagine why I'm laughing)
Unexpected turns in gardens are always good fun. I will never forget the first time I clapped eyes on the Desert Wash at East Ruston Old Vicarage and yelped with surprise (I am not the coolest, calmest garden visitor). At Anglesey Abbey, the way in which The Winter Garden path opens out into a grove of Betula utilis var. jaquemontii is a quieter, but nonetheless lovely surprise. There is an other-wordliness to this area and I am delighted to see that saplings have been planted to extend it. I am not sure what unexpected turn I shall plan for my garden; a patch of flint free soil would be surprise enough at the moment.

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii
So The Great Garden Challenge is underway. My brain is already reeling with ideas for my own garden and there is a long way to go. It was a lovely day out, but physically demanding on our jaws and we had to stop for no fewer than three coffee/lunch/tea breaks. Tough times indeed, judging by the big smiles on my lovely friends' faces. 



36 comments:

  1. What a great challenge. Your daughter must have taken Googling tips from my kids, it's only now that they're grown that I get to garden visit, it really wasn't worth dragging them round with me, I'm not fond of constant moaning. Having like minded friends to visit with is a good idea, and not only do you enjoy these beautiful gardens but you get to sample the wares in the tea rooms too.

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    1. It wouldn't be a garden visit without a cup of tea.

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  2. What type of friends have you that are redused entry into a garden. 50 in a year us epic! Love the birches

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    1. She's normally very well behaved, but on this occasion she had a paper knife in her bag and she didn't want to hand it over, so she wasn't allowed in.

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    2. They had airport style security.

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  3. What a very nice, and rather unique challenge to undertake Sarah! Hope you manage it, very nice if you do :) just imagine all the beautiful things you'll see and the many people you will who will enrich your experience. Quite fancy doing something similar someday!

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    1. When you do, let me know as I'd love to join you!

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  4. Your garden tour journey will be so much fun to follow especially with the changing cast of characters.

    The birches are fantastic!

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    1. They are! There is a rather lovely silence in that area of the garden.

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  5. Your daughter reminded me of a time I was very into 'genealogy' and I used to traipse my son around the country each and every Sunday to visit grave yards - he is now 26 and still hasn't forgiven me!
    What a great challenge and I'm sure we will all enjoy reading about your days out.

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    1. Haha! I once took my googling child to a graveyard. It wasn't intentional - we had been hoping to go to the coast, but couldn't find it (!). Then I realised that we were near villages where my ancestors were from so I trundled around a graveyard with her accusing me of applying my garden visit tricks (white lies) to genealogy!

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  6. This sounds like an amazing challenge!! You better post tons of pictures from your journey friend! And you had me rolling with the google search up there! My beans are getting to the age where I think they may just be on to me about our garden visits!!! Happy trails friend and I hope your chickens are ok!! Nicole xo

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    1. Thankfully your beans are still at the age when ice cream bribery is still an option. Enjoy the ice cream years - they are over too soon.

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  7. That's a great challenge, I'm looking forward to the pictures and stories about the gardens. Anglesey Abbey is a wonderful garden, we visited this garden in June some years ago. I'm sure you will have lots of fun and tea and cakes with your friends.

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    1. It is a wonderful garden, Janneke. I didn't realise that it is so close to where I live, so when I was scouting around for good winter gardens within an easy driving distance, I was delighted!

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  8. I smiled than laughed as I meandered through this charming post...
    thanks!

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  9. This is an amazing challenge. I laughed out loud at your daughter's googling. I probably wouldn't have been game as a child either. You described the scent of sarcacocca and made me smile. It's too cold for that shrub where I live now but I miss it very much. Such a gorgeous plant and an amazing scent.

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    1. It is one of those quiet plants which grows so well in challenging situations. I have a shady border beneath my kitchen window where I have planted a group and the scent really packs a punch. I'm sorry that you can't grow it - I would miss it too if our climate didn't suit it.

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  10. Sounds like a marvelous, outing especially when you include all these coffee/lunch/tea breaks.

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    1. They were absolutely necessary, Alain.

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  11. I've never forgotten those birch trees and in fact, tried to paint them from my photographs when I came back to Canada. How lovely to visit this garden again, with you, but oh how challenging your soil is!! Goodness.

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    1. It's hideous soil, isn't it? Yesterday I discovered my first patch of decent top soil. Frustratingly, it was underneath 30cm of clay subsoil.

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  12. I keep reading about Anglesey Abbey and those birch trees must be quite magical. 50 gardens in a year? How wonderful! I doubt if I would find that many open to the public in southern Germany. Have fun!

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    1. That's a pity. At least in the UK we are spoilt for choice. Also, with many of them, if we are members of RHS, NT etc, we can often see the gardens for free. Actually, come to think of it, I haven't paid to see a garden yet this year.

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  13. Oh my what a tough strove....lol. But I think that you are more then up to it!!

    Jen

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    1. Thank you, Jen. I am encouraged by your optimism!

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  14. I thought all the soil in Norfolk was wonderful and easy working!
    We enjoyed a holiday in Essex and East Anglia 3 years ago visiting some of the wonderful gardens. Bressingham and Houghton Hall were very impressive.

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    1. I suspect the soil everywhere else in East Anglia is wonderful and I have drawn the very short straw. Houghton Hall - I must go there. I haven't been to Bressingham for ages, which is typical as it's only 20 minutes down the road!

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  15. Hello Sarah, I love Anglesey Abbey and we used to visit it about once a month as we were only 15 mins away. It has so much going for it, the Winter Garden, rose garden, herbaceous border, naturalised lawns, massive wisterias, the fragrant weeping silver lime, the list goes on an on. We do miss it very much. I'm glad for you that you managed a visit.

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    1. What a wonderful place to have had on your doorstep - no wonder you miss it. I will certainly be visiting again in the summer.

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  16. I LOVE your Great Garden Challenge! I am afraid I would fail miserably but enjoy myself immensely while trying. I love the betulas! I really like the idea of an unexpected turn in the garden. I need that for my own space…I will have to think about that; it is another kind of challenge.

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    1. Yes, the unexpected turn in a garden is a tricky one to choreograph, I am giving it a lot of thought at the moment.

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