Of all the delectable islands, the Neverland is the snuggest & most compact…… not large and sprawling, you know, with tedious distance between one adventure & another, but nicely crammed.
J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan.
When it comes to gardens I like nothing better than to stroll, admire the collections of beautiful flowers, and imagine the inhabitants of the house and how they like to garden. I especially like the messy, scattered garden with vines dripping over the garden gate, and paths that invite you to explore. It’s even better if there is a flower box of riotous color haphazardly framing the window ledges of the small cottage, nestled in the garden, as if just plunked in, as an after thought. Pieces of art and sculpture placed in a specific spot draw your eye and add to the charm of the garden. I have just returned from several weeks in the United Kingdom, specifically in Kent and Sussex, traipsing through local gardens and visiting magnificent estate homes with acres and acres of gardens. Whew! We lodged in a barn in the middle of the weald, down a mile-long gravel road, wide enough for one car at a time, passing by the field of rabbit warrens and watching for the hop of a bunny on our daily treks into the countryside.
Planning our adventure was one of the fun “bits.” I love the “planning” part! Where to go, what to see? One thing leads to another. First, I looked for places I knew would be of interest. What about the Chelsea Flower Show? No, too crowded and I wanted more rural. Hever Castle during Rose Week? Closer, but not quite right. Then I read a wonderful book, called A Fine Romance, by Susan Branch. It’s about falling in love with the English countryside and her adventures when visiting England.
I loved it and the more I read the more I was drawn to Kent and the village of Tenterden. So, I set out to learn all about Kent and especially Tenterden. I also learned more about the National Trust. The National Trust, since 1895, has been preserving the countryside and hundreds of historic properties in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. I first heard of it when reading all about Beatrix Potter and her home in the Lake District, which was left to the National Trust. The properties restored include huge estates to the small and quirky. Just right up my alley. So our first priority was to join the National Trust, (it’s called the “Royal Oak Society “ in the U.S ) which allowed us to receive a handbook with maps of all the places to visit with the National Trust and a pass to get in all of them for a year and a pass for parking at the different locations.
What a must this is! You don’t realize all the places available to visit until to see them on the maps! So that was a reference point to start with. Where could we set up our “base camp” closest to the sites we wanted to see? Well it still remained Tenterden for us. Then I heard about the National Garden Scheme. What in the world was that? Had to research it before final decisions were made!
The National Garden Scheme was founded in 1927 to open “gardens of quality, character and interest to the public for charity.” Originally the admission fees raised money for district nurses. This was changed in 1948 with the formation of the National Health Service. The National Gardens Scheme has given more than 43 million pounds to nursing and care facilities since the time it opened. Since I am a retired RN this was near and dear to my heart. These are “local” gardeners and their gardens. No big estates, (but some seemed to me like they were!) One woman I was chatting with on our walk through a local garden invited me to her garden, as well, which was not on the list, but exclaimed, “it’s only 12 acres, of course.” So as you can imagine, we visited the “potager,” snuggled behind the small cottage, to large landscaped gardens with “rooms” of flowering blooms. All gardeners were proud of their gardens, more than willing to tell you about them and happy that they were able to do their “bit.”
In 2013 there were over 3700 gardens open, which were all vetted to make sure they are all of sufficient interest. Each gardener opens his garden (usually on a weekend), one or two days during the year. I was so excited! But, it takes some planning! “The National Garden Schemes, “Yellow Book”,” can be purchased each year, which lists all the gardens and when they will be open.
Maps, directions, type of garden, and particular interest are included. We were really in the thick of the countryside when directions would reveal, “just go down the gravel road for a mile and then when you get to the yellow mailbox turn right on that gravel road and proceed on to the canal road and windmill place. Light refreshments offered.”
This as going to be one of our best adventures! So after months of looking up gardens and coordinating them with places on the National Trust we were ready to make our way to the “Garden of England,” Kent. We were about to set off on a gardener’s dream! See you tomorrow on our way to the garden!