Gardens and their houses have often been the focus of my travels, in Europe and the United States. The gardens are most important, the houses also of great interest to me, but a bulky camera and the body of work built with it proves my priority.
Much has been written about houses and the gardens that seem to be an accessory to them. But during my years of travels I’ve come to believe that, in many cases, the opposite is true, that gardeners have often looked first for a place to create their gardens and the houses have simply been shelter for them or to provide a focus for the landscape.
In the 1930s, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson searched for a location in Kent to create a new kind of English garden and chose a property, Sissinghurst Castle, that included the remains of a modest ancient house. While the garden grew and still thrives, the house never progressed a great deal deal beyond what was there when they found it. They made it comfortable and the tower housed Vita as she wrote, but the garden was the real reason they were there.
Sissinghurst is a good example of my preference for gardens cultivated by individuals and my belief that gardening, like other art forms, is expressed most purely by a single designer, rather than by committee, the results from which often resemble municipal parks, rather than art. In the case of Sissinghurst, Vita was the designer and plantsman, Harold, her husband, was builder of the garden rooms for which it’s famous. I’m willing to travel well out of my way for glimpses into such private worlds of artist-gardeners whenever and wherever I can.
Many famous gardens are documented in the usual places, such as general travel guides. But with any focused travel, to find one’s heart’s desire amid the chaos that travel can be, the enthusiast must look harder to go beyond the general. There are books on the subject, from encyclopedic tomes to annual directories of open gardens, in print and online, very important for visitors to private gardens, often only available to visit a few days a year.
Sometimes, opportunities to see otherwise private places are on self-guided tours to benefit charity. In anticipation of visits to England, I’ve ordered the ‘Yellow Book’, the National Gardens Scheme’s well-known annual directory of gardens and the dates they’re open for just that reason, to contribute proceeds to charity. Large and famous gardens, open already to the public, as well as private ones, participate. Scotland has it own organization, Scotland’s Gardens.
In the United States, the Garden Conservancy, for the preservation of historic and notable gardens, is similarly funded by visits to private ones, with open days organized in proximity to one another all over the country. And local organizations host similar events that may not be listed in national publications, so online searches will turn up opportunities, spring to fall, almost everywhere.
Worthwhile gardens aren’t always the easiest places to get to, even after one has located them and determined when they’re open, especially those treasures of contemporary artist-gardeners, sometimes deep in the countryside. There are guided tours for those who want to make the best use of limited time or with less inclination to hunt them down themselves and even bed & breakfast establishments run by gardeners that make themselves known to garden-loving travelers.
Searching online recently, looking for possible springtime garden viewing opportunities, I was pleased to find there would be a 2 day open gardens event in my own community, Grass Valley & Nevada City, California, the 22nd annual tour to benefit Soroptimist International of the Sierra Foothills, whose mission is “improving the lives of women & girls”.
Six gardens were presented the weekend of May 16th & 17th. Located well off the beaten path, even for residents of the community, I visited 4 on Saturday, and the remaining 2 on Sunday. I found 2 of the 6 particularly worthwhile, and of a scope sufficient to reveal the creativity of these gardeners. I’ll show you one this week and the other, next. The photos at the top and bottom of the page are from the others on the tour which, I have no doubt, will mature and “flower” as the years go by.
Patricia Silva’s Expansive Garden Domain
Search the Garden Conservancy’s Open Gardens website for
opportunities to visit private gardens in the United States.
And here, for National Gardens Scheme in the UK.
And the UK’s Red Cross garden visits listings here.
Bed & Breakfast for Garden Lovers:
An old article, but worth reading:
The English Garden
Some commercial garden tours:
Examples of local garden visit organizers in the United States:
Rhode Island: http://secretgardentours.org
To read others of PortMoresby’s contributions, click here.