"O to be in England now that April's there" was Mr. Browning's sentiment. The month wouldn't really matter to me. Gardens and England go together at all times in my mind. Some of my favorite authors are or were English gardeners. Among these, Beverly Nichols who was journalist and humorist as well as a sensible gardener. In more recent years, the late Rosemary Verey left a delightful written record. Prince Charles and his writings of his gardens at Highgrove are not only beautiful but inspiring. A "friendly" writer, a good-humored and practical man, one who has been on the cutting edge of the ecological greening movement. He may be royal but he is one fine plantsman and gardener as well.
As for the gardens themselves, don't offer me the formality of Blenheim and those formal parterres of the other grand estates. They are impressive to be sure with their tidy lines and sweeping designs. But they are cold. They have no soul. Give me the blowzy cottage gardens with no purpose other than to delight these senses.
Every Englishman is a gardener it seems. Even when there is but a wee strip of space between sidewalk and front door there is something potted or planted. Many stories up there are window boxes with bright blooms. And if possible, hollyhocks, always hollyhocks.
But today? I should enjoy strolling through William Cowper's gardens at Orchard Side, Olney. There is order in layout, yet fragrance and color are masters. The first garden is all flowers. The smaller one behind the fence is where herbs and vegetables grow. And the centerpiece of this is his charming little writing shed. It is white stucco, one door and 2 windows, one on each side directly opposite. Inside are two built-in benches facing each other. In the mind's eye you can see him, tablet and pen in hand, perhaps accompanied by one of his pet hares as lavender fragrances the air.
Another garden favorite is that of a friend, Lorna. Her front strip is all boisterous color of penstemons, lavender and such like. This is for the world to see as they walk by. But her private garden in back of the house is subtle. It seems at first look to be all greens. That is because of her love for tiny alpine varieties. Walking slowly and looking carefully is needful to catch the little color pops. Here food crops are grown as well. It is sanctuary, soothing and peaceful, much like the gardener herself.
My own garden spaces are a blend of these two, hopefully, though I have no charming writing shed or pet rabbits, alas. Also in my own there is a little bit of actual England. When the seeds were collected and pocketed I did not know it was illegal and vandalism of a most serious nature. Nor will there be an admitting from which gardens the seeds were collected lest the International Seed Police hunt me down. Yet the plants that grow from the ill-gotten gain delight me each year when they show off their colors. They are ever reminders of a trip of a lifetime. Perhaps by the time they bloom this year, I will have figured out how to photo and post.
In the meantime, it's into the Farmer Brown overalls and clogs. The weather is perfect for gardening this April day. Stop by later for tea, if you're in the neighborhood.