2015 was a bumper year for garden visits. I’m almost overwhelmed when I realize how many gardens I visited — well over 100 by a quick count. Some days, I found the experience exhausting; every day it was fun.
My year of visiting gardens started in February when I saw two outstanding gardens in South Carolina. Middleton Place lived up to its reputation as one of America’s premier historic gardens. Begun by Henry Middleton in 1741, the garden follows the principles of André Le Nôtre — which means that order, balance and focal points enlivened by the occasional surprise guide its design. Still, the garden’s most distinctive feature is very much its own. Where else can you find terraces and artificial lakes laid out like butterfly wings?
Next up was a wander through Magnolia Plantation, a romantic garden that has been open to the public since 1870. The azaleas weren’t in bloom when I was there, but the gardens themselves offered views into a past that would have been romantic for some, difficult for others.
The Audubon Swamp Garden next door to Magnolia Plantation was equally interesting. Although the bird life was not at its best according to regular visitors, for me it was fascinating to see herons building their nests and ducks paddling through waters that for them were full of tasty morsels.
Pearl Fryar’s topiary garden was the eye-opener in March. Who would ever have expected to see a galleon sailing across the lawn in a small South Carolina town?
April found me home in North Hatley, Quebec, where the crocus were blooming and I lay back to enjoy a rest.
But in May I was on the road again. Three weeks in Italy took me to city and country gardens that dated from Roman times to the 21st century. For ten of those days I was leading a small group through gardens between Florence and Rome. Highlights of the 19 gardens we visited included Bosco della Ragnaia…
and I Tatti.
June was another incredibly garden-rich month. Not only were things popping at home at Glen Villa, they were in full bloom at gardens in and around Toronto. Over the course of three jam-packed days, in the company of garden bloggers from Canada, England and the U.S., I visited some three dozen parks and gardens as part of the Garden Bloggers Fling. (And yes, that does average about a dozen gardens a day. Did I mention that I was tired on some days?)
Before the Fling began, I spent a day at a delightful garden north of Toronto. Lilac Tree Farm is the creation of Brian and Marian Bixley. They’ve been working on the garden for thirty or more years now and have created an amazing abundance of flower-filled spaces.
Also in June I saw some eye-popping gardens on New York’s Long Island when my sister and I visited private gardens on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Day. One, with a wildflower meadow recently showcased in Garden Design Magazine, was quite grand.
Another one, much simpler, was bursting with blooms, including this crazy-haired allium, just about to pop.
We visited some public gardens as well — The Madoo Conservancy, The Bridge Gardens, Longhouse Reserve, Old Westbury Gardens and the Marian Coffin-designed garden at the Nassau Co. Museum. My favourite of these was the Longhouse Reserve, although Old Westbury was an unexpected pleasure.
From Long Island we travelled into New York City where we walked the High Line and peeped through the fence at the then-threatened garden designed by Russell Page.
In July and August I stayed closer to home, visiting the country garden of friends in Quebec …
and working diligently on my own.
September saw me travelling again, leading another group to visit gardens in Scotland and England. The highlights on this trip were very high and very bright. Among my favourite gardens were Broadwoodside,
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation,
and Scampston Hall’s Walled Garden.
Garden visiting continued in October when I travelled to Massachusetts to re-visit Naumkeag,
and some art-rich spaces, including Fruitlands, the Clark Art Institute, the DeCordova Museum and the courtyard garden at Boston’s Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum.
I can think of some dozen or more places I haven’t mentioned. James Madison’s garden in Montpelier, Virginia, held special memories for me since my mother served for many years on the Board of Directors of the University named after him, and the gazebo in the garden was similar to one I knew and loved as a child.
The tiny gardens in Toronto’s Cabbagetown captured my heart, as did the cloister gardens in Ravenna, Ferrara and Bologna, Italy. My friend Gill’s garden in England gave me a chance to rest after hours of travelling and to breathe between hours of intimate conversations.
No doubt, visiting these gardens was enjoyable. But was it more than that? Did I learn anything from them or glean ideas that I can apply at Glen Villa?
I did learn from them, and what I learned wasn’t always obvious. But that’s the subject for another post.
What about you? Did you visit gardens in 2015? Do you have favourites? What do you look for when you visit a garden? Do you expect to get ideas you can use in your own garden or do you simply enjoy the experience?