Treks to gardens seem to wind their way into my travel itineraries. On my recent trip to England, I managed to squeeze in visits to 11 gardens – an eclectic menu from the intimate to the epic. And we know no one does it like the English.
Home base for me was Salisbury where my church choir was in residence at Salisbury Cathedral for a week while their legendary choir was on vacation. This lovely town possessed the small public path gardens along the riverbanks (site of one of John Constable’s famous paintings of the Cathedral); Mompesson House (a location used in the 1995 film version of Sense and Sensibility); and Arundells (home of the former prime minister Sir Edward Heath). A few day trips included viewing the parterres, the walled garden and everything else at Osborne House, and Princess Beatrice’s Garden at Carisbrooke Castle, all on the Isle of Wight; the Dean’s Garden at Winchester Cathedral (a 1990 garden to commemorate Thomas Garnier, Dean of the Cathedral 1840-1872); and Henry Hoare’s ‘magnificent’ Stourhead Gardens. London offered the varied, royal and monumental Kew Gardens; a stroll to visit the entrance borders at St. James Park; the very special volunteer-staffed Garden Museum; and the surprising Chelsea Physic Garden.
Volumes of information are available about most of these and in some effort not to bore, I am going to resist writing a travel log and with your permission, tell a tiny bit about the last two.
Just prior to traveling, the Garden Museum appeared on my radar. It is located in the deconsecrated St. Mary’s church next to Lambeth Palace, home to the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the exhibition, I genuflected at Gertrude Jekyll’s desk and was fascinated at a centuries-old clay watering jug (with a perforated bottom and finger release hole at the handle — genius!). In the churchyard, a 17th century inspired knot garden gave me pause and I delighted at the alligator festooned tomb of John Tradescant (elder and younger), the great plant hunters, collectors and gardeners. When asking directions to my next garden venue, a volunteer manning the desk rerouted me to the Chelsea Physic Garden, a garden, in my ignorance, I had crossed off my list. This walled, parterred, bedded, and bordered historic medicinal and apothecary garden blew my gardening clogs off. For the sake of brevity, I’ll skip everything I really want to say about this garden and get to a point. While meandering its paths, I stumbled upon an exhibit cart on Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who developed the classification of species we know today. His motto was emblazoned across it: “Omnia mirari etiam tritissima” (wonder at everything, even the most everyday things). There was the truth in the mirror looking back at me. It easily was my motto of the previous 10 days. As our old friend Dodgie Shaffer was known to say, “it just tied the bow on the box.”
At the top here I said I simply can’t get enough gardens. While still true, I will confess I became quite satisfied after seeing all these divine creations — and my pulse did eventually slow. I love the line from My Fair Lady and Pygmalion: “Such a faraway look, as if she’s always lived in a garden.” This quote resonates with me – although unlike Miss Doolittle I’ve yet to sell flowers on the steps of Covent Garden. I try to live as much life as possible in a garden and with any luck I look as if I do too. I am certain after prowling these gardens I achieved it. Contentment indeed set in. These gardens worked their magic.
Please, join me: visit a garden. Wonder at everything, and let the magic cast a spell on you.
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