Pieces of the puzzle

Putting together a garden tour is like fitting the pieces of a jigsaw together.  I found this out when I arranged a tour of Seattle-area gardens for a group from out of town, and I’m going through it again now as we finalize the draft itinerary of next May’s England trip.  It isn’t just how long we’ll be sitting on our small coach to get to the garden, it’s our experience when we get there, and making sure there’s a good mix of landscapes.

I could just slap together a list of names — all the most popular tourist stops — but our tours have never been the kind of trips that Chevy Chase’s character in the Vacation movies would enjoy (“Don’t you want to see the Grand Canyon?”).  All of the big, famous gardens are big and famous for a reason — Kew, Wisley, Sissinghurst are all fabulous — but you never get to sit down and have a cup of tea with the gardener.  I like personal gardens mixed in with the big and famous.  It’s seeing the Lutyens/Jekyll design and plantings at Hestercombe, but it’s also hearing Judy Pearce talk about how she turned Lady Farm from a muddy dairy farm into the incredible garden it is today — and then having tea in her summer house.

Of course, getting the good stories about the big gardens makes those visits more personal, too.  Mrs. Cartwright Hignett talks about keeping up appearances at Iford Manor so that Harold Peto’s creation doesn’t go sliding down the hill into the Frome.  Mike Beeston, property manager at Hidcote Manor Garden, tells quite a tale of just why it’s taken 60 years to find out what Lawrence Johnston had intended.  It’s a story that I love to pass along, and will do so when I herd our small flock of gardeners through next May.



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