In the Garden:
Middle South
August, 2012
Regional Report

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Holehird, home of the Lakeland Horticultural Society, offered 17 acres of breathtaking gardens, including a remarkable rock garden.

A Traveler's Ruminations

I'm still spinning from my recent trip to England and Scotland, and though I haven't sorted out my thoughts or "lessons learned" just yet, I'm eager to offer a few unstudied impressions.

First, I always give my travel groups a synopsis of growing conditions, comparing home vs. destination, but it's a shock (even to me) to see hostas growing in full sun and impatiens and pansies spilling from the same window box. Noting and understanding the variables of temperature, rainfall, and hours of sunlight on paper is one thing, but seeing the effects firsthand can be mind boggling.

It's also surprising to acknowledge the number of plants I don't recognize, not because I expect to know everything, but because it's difficult to formulate perspective if you don't know a plant's origin, native conditions, and typical growth. Roughly 70 percent of the plants grown in Great Britain are nonnative, so trying to grasp this amazing amalgamation of plants from around the world is not only an eye-opener, but also a bit unnerving.

As usual, I enjoyed touring the countryside and small villages far better than forays into urban areas. The Lake District, in particular, is indescribably beautiful. I wouldn't hesitate a moment to return to this region, especially to the tiny hamlet of Grasmere, which can only be described as a honeypot of beauty, history, and charm.

I was equally smitten with the Scottish village of Melrose. The few hours spent exploring its environs were not nearly enough to appreciate the dramatic ruins of Melrose Abby or the town's pleasant gardens, much less its tempting shops and enticing tea rooms.

It took several days of mental readjustment, as well as the knowledge and insight of an expert guide, however, to foster an appreciation for Edinburgh. The fault, I acknowledge, was all mine, as my preconceived notions of this unique (and ultimately intriguing) city were far from the mark.

Rather than the sedate university town I had pictured, the capital was diverse and gritty, in every sense of the word -- from plucky, resolute, and fearless to uncompromising, full on, and grubby. And though I found plenty of high-minded culture and upscale grandeur when I searched for it, I determined the essence of this place is wild and untamed.

In retrospect, the urban experience was invaluable as a reality check. I have a tendency to idealize the countryside (what gardener doesn't?), but the city helped me see and understand the region as a whole in broader context.

So many of the gardens were truly brilliant it would be impossible to name a favorite. Top contenders in England include Levens Hall, famous for its topiary but chockfull of extraordinary spaces; Hutton in the Forest, with its unmatched walled garden and expansive wildflower meadow; and Holehird, home of the Lakeland Horticultural Society and a knock-your-socks-off rock garden. Best rated Scottish beauties were Broughton House, an old-world cottage garden on the River Dee with a Japanese influenced courtyard; and Portmore, a lovingly restored Edwardian Estate with a carefully contrived walled garden and a fascinating glasshouse grotto.

The visit to Hill Top Farm, the home of Beatrix Potter, was a life's event. Though the weather was rainy and the tourist crowd was thick, the tiny museum house gave testament to Potter's reverence for nature and agrarian life with its rustic charm, antique furniture, many collectables, and the author's farm clogs tucked just under a fireside chair.

A quick perusal of my photos and notes provides a long list of topics that could be explored in detail. I was particularly struck by the many clever structures that support flowers and vegetables, the value of topiary and clipped hedges, the splendor of rock gardens, the diversity of long borders, and the cultivation of North American plants.

If any of these topics, or others, appeal to you, let me know, and we'll jump down a rabbit hole to see what we can discover.

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