Clouds yesterday and this morning but we took advantage of a tolerable weather forecast and went. On arrival, almost as if to tease us, the sun parted the clouds but soon after retreated. All we saw thereafter was a chrome yellow glow on the eastern horizon.
We were not there for sunshine anyway, although it would have helped. Carol Klein’s visit on “Gardeners’ World” last Friday might have inspired us had we not already decided to go. That feature was just the icing, and indeed we did have icing on one cake as well as hot panini and coffee, which made an excellent lunch improved by two £5 reductions. I remember as a child being given a penny for going by a shopkeeper when I ran errands for my mother. A fiver for going probably matches inflation but this reduced the cost of lunch by 50% – splendid reward just for signing up to an email list.
Still, neither weather nor lunch was the motive for going, and we didn’t expect Monty Don to make good on his resolution to visit quite so quickly. He may not have been there for ten years; we were last there just after Beth Chatto’s death and found ourselves walking into a “Look East” news report as we descended the steps from her house into the main gardens. The reporter was explaining how Beth Chatto had always encouraged visitors to do just as we were doing.
There have been some small changes since that visit. The “private” garden is still free to all but there is a new entrance to the site with a presumably changing display of currently flowering plants before the ticket desk. The £5 offer is also new, as is the extended gravel garden that was the almost revolutionary innovation late in Beth Chatto’s life. In the nursery sales area there is a children’s corner, with kitchen play area, a bug hotel and balancing logs. It was obvious elsewhere that children love to visit the gardens: two hobby horses went galloping through the gravel garden and we found them later being fed in the woodland area at the far end of the site. Nearby was a quiet area, open for contemplation twice a week. This was not one of those times but it was still like being in a cloister.
Trees may dominate the site, if you look up. It is a very long way up to the eucalyptus in the gravel garden. At ground level though is an object lesson in the many shades of green an inspired gardener can achieve. The two varieties of magnolia need no looking up to: several specimens of magnolia stellata delicately punctuate the woodland areas and the more usual form stand grandly at the top of a slope. Mostly one’s sight is drawn downwards, to ponds and streams reflecting waterside plants or trees as well as the sky. Again briefly, sunlight was reflected in one of photos.
What more could we look for? Plants, each right in the right place as Beth Chatto sought and taught. How good to know that her teaching continues in a sponsored training scheme for young gardeners. For older gardeners – and their partners – no visit would be complete without time and much money spent in the nursery area. A laden trolley and an emptied purse were clear signs we should be heading home. No matter that the main road had a traffic jam: we took an exit on to a country lane and made a leisurely trip through villages and farms to Sproughton, Claydon and, with only two other cars in view until almost there, home.