Jul 192012


I’ve been on quite a few work awaydays over the years, and one – a day trip to Ghent, Belgium, for the Floralies in 2010 – will be forever etched into the memory of those involved. Sadly I can’t divulge what happened (what happened in Ghent, stays in Ghent) but let’s just say that it’s strictly UK-only trips from now on.

This year we went to Buckinghamshire (nothing bad ever happens in Buckinghamshire) for a brainstorming session. We discussed the schedule for 2014 (that’s how far ahead gardening magazines work) and then we visited Mary Berry’s garden.

As you can see, it’s rather large. The highlight is most definitely the pond, designed with the help of the former head gardener at Longstock Park Water Garden (Mary has friends in all the right places). It also has a rose walk, tennis court, meadow, lots of herbaceous borders and, not surprisingly, a large kitchen garden. Mary is a knowledgeable gardener and highly recommends Rose ‘Chandos Beauty’ (below) for scent, disease-resistance and flowers until November. I had a sniff and wasn’t disappointed.

And yes, there was cake. Mary was going to give us tea in the conservatory but as it was so cold and wet, she invited us into her kitchen for a cup of tea and a chat. She’s got the biggest Aga I’ve ever seen and the biggest teapot, too.

Apart from us cleaning Mary out of lemon drizzle and chocolate cakes (both delicious, of course), I’m pleased to say that the afternoon passed without incident. Clearly the new awayday policy of venturing no further than 30 minutes from London with no need for foreign currency/a working knowledge of Flemish/valid passports/train tickets/tram tickets/timetables/maps/ash cloud diversions has paid off.

May 192012



‘I don’t think there’s much to see there,’ said the taxi driver when he dropped me off at Longstock Park Water Garden. That proved to be something of an understatement.

The International Water Lily Society once called Longstock Park the ‘finest water garden in the world’ and I’d go along with that. Two and a half acres of lake, fed by the River Test, are interspersed with islands linked by little wooden bridges. The garden is expertly planted with aquatic and moisture loving plants and it’s immaculate: the entire garden is weeded once a week and two and a half miles worth of lawn edging is perfectly clipped. The hostas are entirely untouched by slugs, thanks to the ducks who munch on their eggs.

On a rainy day, the garden was overwhelmingly green thanks to the lawns and lush new growth, set to explode into colour any day now. It was also incredibly tranquil. For a few minutes I sat in the thatched summerhouse, watching the rain falling softly into the lake and ignoring my phone, which was gently beeping at me.

On the train back, I read that John Spedan Lewis (of John Lewis fame – the garden is owned by the John Lewis Partnership) had a phone installed in the summerhouse so that he could work there and enjoy the view. If he was still around today he would no doubt be sitting there with his Blackberry.