Jun 192011


I met a French woman at a party earlier in the year. She was married to an English chap and said that she’d heard that in Dorset (where her husband comes from) people open their gardens to the public – an idea she found amazing. I explained that it doesn’t just happen in Dorset but throughout the whole country (and Scotland too).

We Brits are pretty reserved on the whole, so opening our gardens to complete strangers is a pretty un-British thing to do. And yet thousands of people do just that for the National Gardens Scheme every year, and are listed in the Yellow Book. Many garden owners provide tea and cake and seating, so you can basically have an afternoon out in someone else’s garden. All of the money raised goes to charity.

I went to my first Yellow Book garden of the year, in Highbury, north London, last night. I haven’t done it justice in this pic, but the layout was clever and did what all good designs should: it didn’t reveal the whole garden at once.

What was essentially a big square at the back of the house had been cleverly transformed into something altogether more intriguing thanks to a sweeping semi circle of planting surrounding the seating area and a path around the garden behind it. It had the mark of a professional and sure enough, it was designed by the owner’s sister when she was training to be a landscape architect.

The lamps in the trees were due to be lit as night fell. Needless to say, instead of a balmy, romantic midsummer evening, it was chilly and damp. But there was a good turnout anyway and wine on offer too.

I’d love to know if any other countries have an equivalent of the National Gardens Scheme and Yellow Book. Does anyone happen to know?

May 032011

St John's Wood

In the course of doing this blog I’ve noticed that whenever I take pics of someone’s garden, there’s a pretty high chance that the owner will be around. Just as I had got my camera out to take pics of this garden, the man of the house came home. Far from being alarmed that someone was snapping his property, he invited me into the garden so that I could get a better view, and then went off to find his wife. Funnily enough a similar thing happened earlier in the year in the same road – clearly nothing fazes the residents here.

Anyway, the garden, which is packed with colourful pots and topiary, looked vaguely familiar, and the greenfingered lady of the house, Jan Morgan, told me that it’s been featured on TV and has won numerous awards. Jan is a property consultant by trade but designs gardens as a hobby. The front garden is a riot of colour but Jan said that not everything she plants turns out as expected – the purple wisteria against the house was supposed to be white, and the white hyacinths that she planted in the front bed turned out to be pink! Sadly some of the topiary has been stolen recently.

Jan also kindly took me into her kitchen to show me the view of the back garden. It makes clever use of the space, with a covered walkway down one side, an arbour at the back, lots of deep beds and a pond. And as you’d expect, it’s packed with plants, which create various colour themes throughout the year. Jan used to open the garden for theĀ  Yellow Book but is taking a break now, so I was unexpectedly lucky to glimpse it.