Garden School:


Garden School:
Teaching this week: Rose pruning (as always!) and leaf mold.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Bourton House Garden

"The best kept secret in the Cotswolds" says their website.

Actually, I would say that Cerney House deserves that award, considering that Bourton House is slap bang on the main road from Moreton in Marsh, and almost directly opposite Batsford Arboretum: not exactly a secret location.

I visited this garden a few weeks ago, as it was another in the book The Cotswolds' Finest Gardens by Tony Russell, lent to me by a kind client, and the source of all of my garden visiting this summer.

The car park is on the other side of  the main road from the garden, which is novel: a brief dice with death across the road and a rather forbidding entrance to the house awaits, but if you are brave enough to walk into what is clearly someone's home, but not a home as you and I would know it, there is eventually a sort of sunken room with items for sale and, finally, tickets.  There wasn't a map officially available, other than the one in the "buy our expensive glossy book" but the kind lady on the ticket table let me take a battered old laminated one round with me, as long as I promised to return it.

To be honest, the garden didn't need a map: it was very much a one-way trip with one section more or less leading into the next, taking you round the house and back again.

Individually, each section had merit, but overall the garden seemed to lack something.  I've just had another look at their website, and the gallery is very cleverly put together to make the garden seem a lot bigger - for example, they use the same corner, photographed from different angles and with different items flowering.

Positive thoughts were that the knot garden was very well kempt indeed, and the central pool was quite nice.  The white garden was not bad, it had some interesting variations on the theme of "white", although from memory, practically nothing was labelled.

What's the point of opening your garden and not labelling the plants? I mean, visitors either know the plants, and want confirmation that they have the name right, or if they don't, they want to know what it is, so that they can get it for their own garden. Or avoid it, depending on the circumstances.

I do know that garden owners have a lot of problems with visitors stealing the labels - which astounds me: what rational person would think it's ok to steal plant labels? - but there are ways round the problem, and I don't think that simply refusing to label anything is the answer.

And the bad points? Every path in the garden leads to a dead end. In the white garden - nice paths leading out left and right, dead ends. Back to the centre. Onwards. Ah, more paths to left and right. More dead ends. Ooh, what's that over there - looks like a raised walk at the far side of the big lawn, with planting, and views... how do I get there? I wandered guiltily across the big lawn, hopping quickly off the grass onto the walk. I strolled to one end - ah, dead end. I went the other way - guess what? Correct, another dead end.

And this was on a day when it was drizzling, and I was only competing with a coachfull of Belgian tourists. I hate to think how annoying that would be on busy days: no matter where you go, you end up turning round and walking back ("Excuse me, thank you, excuse me, can I just get past, excuse me, oh, you again, hello, excuse me,") or having to walk across the immaculate lawns.

Now,  I've been round quite a few gardens in my time, and good paths are such a basic requisite that I shouldn't even be needing to write about them. Garden owners, if you don't want people walking on your lawns, you will need to provide paths. If you don't want visitors overflowing from the paths, you need to make the paths wide enough for at least two people to walk abreast, or pass each other comfortably. If you find that visitors are forever taking a short cut across a particular spot, don't try to head them off with nasty plastic tape, heavy-handed temporary obstructions or irate signs: work out why they are cutting across, and either change the layout so they no longer want or need to go that way, or accept the inevitable and install a proper pathway, so at least you can direct their trampling feet away from your precious plants.

In a large scale garden, people can be sent out from the ticket area in random directions ("Fly, little birdies, fly!") but in small gardens - and Bourton House is definitely on the small side - then a planned route around the garden works best. I think it's nicer if the visitor gets a choice of which way round to go, but I accept that in some situations, it is better to dictate the direction.

Bourton House have managed to get the single route all right, but all those dead ends! I suppose it would make sense if there were an "object of interest" at the termination of each path, but that did not appear to be the case.

With regard to the flower content, well, maybe I picked a bad week, but apart from the white garden, the only things of note were the Abutilons, and frankly, they all looked as though they needed ironing. And had been through a mixed-wash accident.

I love my Abutilon megapotanicum, seen here in unrealistic internet perfection, but I really don't like those more mallow-like forms. Presumably the garden owner was going for a National Collection, or had been sold a job lot by their local nursery? Who knows... there was no-one around to ask.

So, Bourton House, to sum up: only worth visiting if you are already in the area, only need to fill half an hour, and if neighbouring Sezincote House and Garden (highly recommended by me) is closed.

 And, trying to end on a good note? They don't allow dogs, which is great - we can look at the garden, instead of watching where we put our feet - and they did give me a "free entry for one adult with another fee-paying adult" voucher for Batsford Arboretum, although I am not sure if that's a regular thing.

And yes, I did return the map.

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