Friday, 31 August 2012

Visits to inform and inspire

Gaining inspiration
All week, I’ve been editing a travel magazine, which you might think has nothing to do with gardening. But it has – for so many readers love to visit gardens, for ideas and inspiration for their own plots at home. Once urgent tasks in the allotment, veg beds and flower borders are done, you can perhaps feel justified in taking time off gardening chores and decide where to go. Where better at this time of year than gardens of the National Trust? There are so many aspects to discover, with volunteers often on hand to answer queries.


Shrub border at Barrington Court, Somerset
What might you be looking for? The WOW factor? (Autumn colours over the next couple of months are at their best.) Pleasant planting combinations? Colour co-ordination? Plant varieties? Ingenious frames or structures for supporting flowers and vegetables? Crop protection? One anticipates the need for protecting crops from the attentions of birds and other unwanted creatures, but we were startled to wake this morning to frost on the village green, ice on the wet roof and outdoor tomatos showing that Autumn has come early; in August! So frost protection is obviously necessary, and tonight I’ll be covering the tomatoes and squash with fleece, just in case.


Glorious perennials in a sheltered Cotswold garden
And I am also preparing a shortlist of properties I want to visit – or re-visit – locally. With many National Trust gardens undergoing restoration work (particularly some exciting vegetable plots), it’s always interesting to see how these schemes are progressing, particularly as many are planting heritage varieties of fruit and veg, as well as trialling new ones. And on the flower front, it’s always lovely to see that seedheads are not been cut down, for they add an extra dimension to decorative borders, and some are quite lovely.


Seedheads and Autumn colour on a sunny day in early September
There are hundreds of National Trust properties around the UK, and the beauty of their updated website is that you can search by county or by topic. Fascinating for instance if you wish to re-create a garden of an historic period, or visit those with spectacular kitchen gardens. And that’s even before you leave your desk!


Cabbages are king, so long as they are protected from pigeons
It’s an education I itself to walk around a garden; mid-week or weekends when there are usually family activities on offer as well. As the NT says of their new initiatives: “When it comes to self sustainability, we're leading the way at many of our kitchen gardens. From keeping rare breed chickens to growing organic Georgian prickly cucumbers, the fully working kitchen gardens on our estates are great places to witness the ‘plot to plate’ revolution. To experience a slice of the good life and learn how easy, fun and interesting it is to grow your own produce.” After your visit, it's good to sit with a catalogue and order what you want to try for next season - a fresh look at what you plan to do.


Writing down varieties in the squash trials in the
recently restored kitchen garden at Hidcote, Gloucestershire
Whether it’s veg, fruit or flowers, it’s essential to take camera and notebook / sketchbook with you to record what most interests you. A waterproof pen is a good idea, in case a drizzle sets in, and an anorak loose enough for a small digital camera to hang around your neck – again for protection from rain. If you are new to photography, any image will be more meaningful when taken as a close-up if you also take a ‘location’ shot to show it in context. Digital filing systems come in many guises and its your choice as to whether you file by garden visited or plant type – or on a prolific day, folders within folders. Once you have a library of images and notes to go with them, you might even consider starting your own garden blog. But that’s a topic for another post.

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