Image by Annie Bee

Where would we gardeners be without inspiration?

by Annie Bee May 3, 2017

Where would we gardeners be without inspiration?

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Annie Bee is a gardener, blogger, mum and chicken rustler, living in north Oxfordshire, UK. She gardens on a one acre plot. Her blog, ‘Annie Bee ~ The Buzz Of A Like-Minded Woman’ can be found here.


Every few weeks I pick up my well-worn copies of Vita Sackville West’s three books of her collection of articles she wrote for The Observer in the 1940s and 50s (‘In Your Garden’; ‘In Your Garden Again’ and ‘More For Your Garden’). The chapters are sorted by month, so you can dip in and out of whichever month you are currently concerned with. After I had decided the topic of this blog, I happened across her wise words from April 1954:

“One can learn so much from visiting a garden…..; it offers a short cut to hard-won experience. How bitterly I regret that thirty years ago I never had the sense or the nous to go and look at what other people had done and had planted, but just blundered on in ignorance…”.

A year earlier she wrote, “Let us now praise famous gardens. It is salutary sometimes to move away from one’s own little plantings and to study the ambitions of the past…..They may arouse envy, but they certainly destroy self-satisfaction. Moreover, the contemplation of such accomplishment, far from producing discouragement, urges us on towards further effort. It is supremely worthwhile”.

Who would dare disagree with Vita Sackville-West on anything frankly? On this point, I am couldn’t agree more. I love visiting other gardens, whether they are neighbors’, friends’ or famous ones. So what are the benefits to the ordinary gardener?

They are twofold: learning and inspiration. So here are my thoughts on why it is a good use of your time.

What can you learn (particularly from gardens fairly local to you and therefore sharing similar aspects to your own)?

What grows well, where? What is in flower when you visit? Which color combinations work best? Is there good winter/evergreen structure? What landscaping ideas or elements appeal to you – brick, concrete, gravel, wood, stone etc? Are there particular or unusual plant combinations you admire? What garden furniture, ornaments and statuary are used to best effect? How is water used in the garden? How have vistas and proportion and boundaries been utilized? Are there scented plants that appeal to you? Is there an abundance of wildlife – why? What have they got successfully growing in shade/damp/dry conditions?

My tips for getting the most from any visit are to jot things down in a notebook and take plenty of photos. When you get home, set up photo subfolders to refer back to for inspiration. These could be Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Or you could organise it by colour, or types of planting – Flowers, Fruit and Veg, Evergreen, Perennials and Grasses, Annuals, Trees and Hedging.

What with books, websites, seed catalogues, blogs, Instagram, Pinterest, printed media and TV programs, we are none of us short of inspirational ideas to mull over. The trick is filing or noting them for future reference. I also use Reminders and Notes on my iphone and have even been known to text photos to myself, which are very important.

In the last couple of months I have visited three notable and inspiring gardens (all in the UK and within 25 miles of my home): Canons Ashby in Northamptonshire; Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire and the incredibly important and influential garden at Rousham, which is in Oxfordshire.

What did I learn from these visits? Well, way too many things to note in this short blog, but here are just a few:

  • Bellis is out in early April and gives very useful, early blasts of color to a spring border.
Spring planting at Canons Ashby, including the very colorful Bellis perennis.
  • Beautifully pruned fruit trees can bear a striking resemblance to coral.
Is it coral or is it a dormant fruit tree at Rousham?
  • Tool sheds can be beautiful and interesting as well as functional.
The tool shed, still as it was when Lawrence Johnston and his gardeners were working on the garden at Hidcote in the early 1900s
  • Vertical structure is crucial in any garden.
Look up and take note of vertical structure, like here at Canons Ashby.
  • Texture can be as important as color.
Bellis is left to self-seed in the gravel, next to a lichen-decorated stone ball.
  • Watering cans can be multi-functional.
Watering cans make pretty ornaments…
…and you can write on them too! Hidcote and Canons Ashby

We gardeners are always learning, always observant and always optimistic. Be on the lookout for inspiration – your own garden will benefit enormously.

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2 person already talking about this.
    Sarah
    Answered on May 6, 2017Reply

    One our Tuesday and Friday morning walks through our neighborhood, my friend and I watch the seasons arrive. Spring reveals itself with new flowers, sprouts, trees coming to life. Every day we see something different. The best part is that everybody is an urban gardener, no landscape designers or professional garden planners.

    Stacey Weichert
    Answered on May 5, 2017Reply

    What a great Guest Blog post! Love all the observations!

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