It was raining on Thursday afternoon, so I wasn't able to work: but I decided to go and visit a garden instead.
"Garden visiting in the rain?" I hear you exclaim.
Oh yes, I love visiting gardens in the rain - or at least, in threatening weather, or cloudy weather, or slightly-drizzling weather.
For several reasons: firstly, the colours are always much better on an overcast day - in bright sunlight, you get a sort of technicolour flash, but you can miss the subtleties of the planting, and a lot of flowers are quite washed-out in very bright light. Plus you have to squint into the glare to see them all, particularly climbers or tall shrubs. Secondly, although heat does bring out some scents, more are brought out on a damp day. Thirdly, and most importantly, you tend to have the place to yourself.
The first time I went to Hidcote, having heard so much about it over the years, it was a pleasant experience because it was a filthy day. I'd gone with my good friend Irene, who is an experienced garden-visitor, and we drove through some waterfall-quantity downpours to get there. On arrival, it had stopped actually raining, but the car park was pretty well empty, much to her surprise. We enjoyed our visit, it was a nice garden, and I could see why it was so popular. By the time we were leaving, the sun was breaking through and the car park was starting to fill up.
Repeating the visit by myself a year or more later, on a "normal" weather day, it was a truly horrible experience. The car park was packed, the paths were packed, the garden was packed, there were staff everywhere, but all were too busy to answer questions (not to mention the constant whine of power tools as they trimmed various hedges), I spent the whole time moving aside to allow people past, or squeezing past other folk, not to mention having to queue for every bridge or narrow section.
So now I actively choose to go garden-visiting on cloudy, rainy days: most open gardens keep their grassy paths very well trimmed, and if you take a big umbrella (and a spare pair of shoes, just in case) it makes a lovely peaceful afternoon. And there is the pleasant lack of guilt - I'm not skiving off from work, I am doing research visits on a day when I would not be able to work. ( Kindly imagine me smiling smugly at this point.)
So where did I go?
My plan was to visit Mill Dene Garden in the cotswolds: I'd read about it a couple of months ago, and had added it to my list of "gardens to visit on rainy days". I'd checked the website, obtained the opening days and times, and cost, and directions, had programmed it into my phone's sat-nav, so off I went. 50 miles later, I was greeted with a sign saying "closed for the whole of July."
They could have put that on the website earlier in the year.
OK, yes, I should have checked the website before leaving home.... will I bother to try again? Well, maybe sometime.
So, there I was in the cotswolds: where now? Aha, another garden on my list is Chastleton, only 10 minutes away on the other side of Moreton in Marsh. So I headed off that way, but as I drove down the Bourton on the Hill hill, the car in front of me started driving a little erratically.
"Aha," I thought, "they are looking for the Bourton House turning." I've been there before - not impressed, a garden full of dead-ends - so I wasn't going to re-visit that one. However, the car continued past their signs.
"OK," I thought, "must be looking for Batsford Arboretum, then, next turning on the left, no problem." I love the arboretum, but I wanted to see a garden today, I wanted flowers!! so I wasn't tempted to follow the car. However, again, the car slowed right down, but didn't turn left into Batsford: it turned right, instead.
"Wow, lucky them, they must live in that cute little lodge house."
As I started to pick up speed, glancing enviously at the lodge house (don't ask me why, but I have always, absolutely always, wanted to live in a lodge house. It's something about the big gates and having walls all around - I'm beginning to think that I might have just a teensy element of agoraphobia in my constitution?) and saw the words "Garden Open".
It took me a couple of miles to find a place to turn, but on getting back there, the signs said Sezincote House and Gardens, Open. So in I went, thinking that it sounded oddly familiar, but pleased to have found something new to go and visit.
After a considerable drive through parklands, including several cattle grids and yet another edible lodge house, I parked, paid and went in.
What a lovely place! I can highly recommend it. It's had some mixed fortunes - during the war it was used as a billet for Canadian troops - but is now back in private hands, and you would never guess from the lush, mature planting and truly enormous specimen trees, that it had ever been other than privately owned. Lots of water, several fountains, lovely stonework, lots and lots of plants.
Alas, not a single label: do you really want to hear my views on that again? In brief, why open your garden without labelling the plants?
Either people know what the plants are, and want to be reassured that they are correct: or they don't know, in which case they will want to know, either out of horticultural interest, or to purchase/avoid one for themselves, depending on what sort of monster it is turning into.
Anyway, despite the total lack of labelling, it was a lovely garden and well worth a visit. Lots of water, always a favourite with me: bridges with stepping stones to cross under, fountains, a formal garden, a wild garden which was clearly been done in stages: lots of areas of "work in progress" which, as a professional gardener, are always interesting to look at: huge great leaf-mould pens, cunningly hidden: an island, with not one but two bridges to get to it, and a viewing platform! How's that for cunning? I just wish that I had remembered to take a photo or two.. but if you google it, and look at "images", you can easily find them for yourself.
And surprisingly busy for a rainy Thursday afternoon, until I found out, in conversation with a very nice elderly lady, that it had been featured in the Telegraph's gardening section the previous week. Which one of my clients kindly hands on to me every week. Which I had sat and read at breakfast, just a day or two ago.
Do you know, there are times when I think I'm not quite as bright as I think I am.