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.