Sarah Coles



The gardens in our village are open today. Broad Street is lined with sedate Georgian houses all built within decades of each other because two massive 18th century fires burnt their predecessors down. Their gardens extend behind, some as far as 75 yards.

Every house, in fact the whole area, is listed, which means the owners can’t alter the front facades but behind they can erect garden sheds or summer houses or conservatories. The backs are a contrast, relaxed and higgledy piggledy.

You enter a garden, via a gate or garage which was formerly a coach house. Delphiniums and roses are the order of the day.

So so

Maintaining a garden, having it look splendid in June, is an English thing. It’s about prestige. But many owners, although wealthy – and you must be wealthy to live in Broad Street – are not gardeners, just employ gardeners. It shows. They have no idea what to do except buy plants and then more of the same – and keep the place well weeded with each plant and shrub in its uncrowded circle of earth. Typical is a long swathe of lawn with herbaceous plants either side, punctuated here and there by a bench or a closed summer house, going on and on until you reach trees and, say, an urn or a statue, with behind a rope saying No Entry. Nice enough on a sunny day when you’re sitting with a glass of wine in hand, but otherwise, when you’ve just seen a lot of other gardens, dull.

A garden which leads one on should lead somewhere.


The good.

Better are the smaller gardens with plants crammed in every available pocket, giving richness in a limited space. Some display traces of previous occupations, like the site of a forge with rusted implements, or mill stones near the mill. They have a dimension of time.

You have to walk through the house of one garden to the Marriage of Figaro which floats with you into a tiny garden with a rose or two and a raised veg patch, and then a shed with comfy chair and tomato plants with a notice ‘Please help yourself’.

Another has a corner by the busy street – you walk through pinks and blues to find a fountain absorbing the sound of traffic. Water falls into a pond squirming with tadpoles. ‘Oddly, I’ve never seen a frog.’  Surrounded by roses, completely private, you glimpse the town beyond.

Another has a mass of loathsome things, not just chickweed, herb Bennett and cleavers but vile ones like ground elder and enchanter’s nightshade underplanting the shrubs and roses.  ‘Stop! They’re my friends’ shouts the owner at her helper who’s pulled out a handful of chickweed. Wow! Wish I’d progressed that far…love em all.

The lucky

The last gardens face Broad Street by the river. One has looming over it a 15th century bridge where you look through its arch to another world of light and greenery. Another, facing an ordinary modern house, has a mass of streams running in, merging and rushing on. The urgency of running water! Energy and life. Perfect.




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