Sarah Coles

VISITING GARDENS – Encombe and Alresford

Last year I don’t think I visited a single garden.   I was more concerned with carving areas of light and shade in my own garden than I was with anyone else’s.

But this year, I went to Encombe in Dorset last week, large and grand, and  to the gardens of Broad Street Alresford, which were open yesterday.

Encombe – a large & simple stone house embraced by hills, with borders created by Tom Stuart Smith (his signature tune of beauty and back breaking work for any continuity) – fields of ox eye daisies, a walled garden with  swathes of more ox eye daisies and at its centre a very small formal garden with topiary, lilies, bowers, a fountain and flowers.  I was reminded of Cordoba, with the tiny baroque cathedral at the heart of the forest of Moorish pillars.  All great, though wondering all the time, £££?   The most magical vision came looking down the lake, which twisted like a river and it seemed we could see it joining the sea which they said could be heard crashing in winter.  Conclusion?   The shape, the plan of a place, matters more than flowers.






Then, to the gardens of Broad Street in my home town of Alresford, Hampshire.  They all  seem to go on for ever and would never get permission for further building.  On the street side the houses are polite 18th century, but their garden sides sprout outhouses, conservatories, new kitchens and extensions.  The houses are so valuable you are a millionaire if you own one, and many have full time gardeners.  So we had herbaceous borders galore, & roses & peonies & delphiniums & lavender – all blooming their hearts out – and we walked on to the end, glimpsing trees and countryside beyond.  Prettiest were those with streams running through, at the bottom of Broad Street.

But what was there at the very end of  these gardens?  Sometimes a sad veg plot (rich people are rarely keen on growing veg) and, almost invariably, a pile of rubbish, a broken wheelbarrow, a shattered sieve, a rake without its handle and a dishevelled compost heap.  In two gardens, among this rubbish there were, inadvertently, glorious views of beyond – the lake, swans and trees.  Unseen by the owner.

Here, at the very end, in every one, there should have been a temple to the garden, a seat at the very least, a culmination of the journey, because this is what you can do with a long thin garden, you can arrive.  Where was the symbol of termination, of arrival, of being in a place for absorption, contemplation?  One garden redeemed itself – it was short and had a shed at the end with open doors, and a welcoming comfy seat.

If you have a narrow long garden, make the wander through it satisfying for you, and the visitor.  Make the end a culmination.  Invite the spirit in.


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