The Garden Path: Back to reality as tour ends

The Garden Path: Back to reality as tour ends

Posted: Tuesday, November 15, 2011 9:16 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

The Messenger 11.15.11

The last day of our two-week Perennial Plant Association English garden tour was Sept. 3. Tour directors Steven and Carolyn Still saved some of the best for last.
The Garden House is an eigh-acre garden at the edge of Dartmoor, where Keith Wiley labored 25 years in designing (and re-designing) the grounds in what he terms the “new naturalism” movement. Plants are grown in an environment that works in harmony with nature, allowing plants to grow as they would in the wild. A similar term is naturalism, where plants — and most often mentioned in this context are bulbs — are grown in such a manner that they appear to have reproduced on their own, though the astute gardener’s hand was responsible. More on Wiley later.
The house here is a Georgian mansion dating to 1840, but numerous stone outbuildings with thatched roofs go back to the 16th Century. Terraced herbaceous borders are stupendous, and bright reds were abundant. I particularly noted our native Lobelia cardinalis, the cardinal flower, found throughout this area and much grown in European gardens.
While my miserable two-foot lobelias were just beginning their autumn flop when we left home, the ones at The Garden House were fully six feet tall with stems an inch through. You couldn’t have knocked them down with a mace.
British Broadcasting Co. “Gardener’s World” host Rachel de Thame has described The Garden House as “perhaps the most breathtaking of all gardens.” I wouldn’t argue with her.
Keith Wiley and his wife, Ros, an artist, moved just down the road six years ago and started their own garden and nursery.
When we arrived, Keith was manning heavy equipment to move tons of earth. He has totally rearranged the landscape into a series of berms and slopes, over which is planted a melange of woody and herbaceous plants from South Africa, Crete and numerous other places. How they have done it in six years is beyond me.
Keith Wiley is in demand on both sides of the Atlantic for seminars and lectures. He wrote the book “On The Wild Side,” published by Timber Press.
A farewell dinner at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in London appropriately finished our touring. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” and indeed it was, as we parted (and partied) with friends new and old. There was the anticipation toward returning to our own gardens thousands of miles away, but tempered with a degree of nostalgia remarkable for its life of only two weeks.
Next day, tour participants boarded various aircraft for journeys in four directions. Our plane flew to Washington, D.C., for a stopover where, thank Heaven, we didn’t need to leave the airport. I didn’t have my AK-47 with me.
Then on to Nashville, where No. 2 son picked us up for the ride home. We were met with a half-inch rainfall, the only precipitation that had fallen since we left.
The immediate result of this trip, as with the other three British Isles garden tours we have taken, was a precipitous swoon into a delirious degree of disgust and angst. Looking upon my burned out borders and drought-debilitated (many dead) trees and shrubs sent me to bed with a heavy dose of anxiety medication. I sulked there, sucking my thumb, until recently, when our garden perked up a bit with rain and cooler temperatures.
A few cushion mums and a flat or two of pansies did some good, once they were planted. But there’s no escaping the fact that famous gardens in the U.S., not to speak of ordinary ones like mine, are about 1,000 years behind the Brits.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

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