Sunday, 27 July 2014

Secret Gardens

I have an enduring interest in gardens. Well, I do when I think about it. Give me a book on garden design or talk to me about plants and I'm more than likely to glaze over. But take me to one - be it the smallest nook or the grandest, most fancy affair - and I'm ever so happy.

I think it started as a child. As may be unsurprising, I loved 'The Secret Garden' by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Tumbledown, part-abandoned gardens known only to a few seemed so exciting - satisfying in their suggestion of times past, the way that plants could reclaim once pristine ground. 
Our own garden is small. It's functional - erring over into looking pretty come early summer, but a standard stretch of grass and hedge for the rest of the year. It has been home to dens, a semi-treehouse and many afternoons lying outside with books - but it has never been somewhere I thought of as being magical or on the fantastical fringes of my imagination.

But my neighbours' garden? That was something else entirely. Little paths, a pond, herbs, vegetable patches - all packed into a long, thin strip of land hidden behind tall hedges. But it wasn't for any of those reasons that I used to visit. No, it was for the rose garden. I say 'garden' - it was really more of a little boxed in square patch of ground overrun with thorns and flowers. But I adored it. The chance to stand there and take in big lungfuls of that delicate rose scent. The sight of these bright explosions of petals, soft to the touch. The few pink roses we had trailing in our garden were paltry by comparison.

Maybe that's actually what I love - other people's gardens. I'm nosy as anything (park me in me a room that a friend is absent from and I'll be perusing the bookshelves in no time), and gardens are ripe with the possibility to explore. Growing up rurally, there were plenty of chances to go to 'Open Garden Days' - whimsical little insights into other people's lives. There'd be scones and jam at the village hall, and plenty of green spaces to look around. There's something very special about being invited into a space that's usually private - being given the privilege of sitting on a bench at the end of a winding walkway or peering around corners at greenhouses. From the smallest rockeries to the largest acres of field and garden, it would be hard to get bored. The normal boundaries of what's off-limits and what's on-view are lifted. You get jealous of gorgeous sheds or amused by odd gnomes hidden in the undergrowth.

Take it a step further - the grounds of stately homes. All those massive arrangements of flowers or architectural oddities or trimmed lawns stretching out on every side. There were a few I'd be taken to regularly when younger. We'd spend time looking around National Trust properties, marvelling at the stuffed birds and brocade bedspreads, then be let loose outside. Again, as with open gardens, there's something of a voyeuristic thrill - this space, once a family home or private retreat, now accessible to the public. Yet where once I'd run around and hide behind trees and beg to be taken to the cafe, now I enjoy a slowed pace - with time to take in everything. It's a kind of ripe pleasure, comprised of nothing much beyond the sights seen and hidden treasures sniffed out (and the occasional sigh of "imagine living here!")

Then there are other types of satisfaction. The garden pictured here was entirely new to me, but oh so familiar to my mum. It's part of the grounds of a farmhouse where her mum was once a housekeeper. Now a B&B, (though still in the same family), we booked to stay for two nights. At every turn there were things my mum recalled, or pointed out as having changed only slightly. We spent one of the evenings sitting outside in the golden light, drinking cava and picnicking as she went through her stories from the time she spent loitering there during the holidays while her mum worked. It was a space both old and new, beautiful in its own right but enhanced by these shared connections. We peeked in at the old cider press, sat by the massive pond and pushed open gates that my mum had swung on some 40 years previously.

The dress is an old favourite, first featured on the blog in 2010. It's hand made vintage, from eBay, here worn with second hand Russell & Bromley men's Chelsea boots (from a charity shop in Oxford) and a second hand bag. The necklace was also from a charity shop. 



Ivana Split said...

Your texts are always a joy to read! I love gardens myself, but I must admit mine is not in the best shape this year...still there is some beauty in it being a bit wild:)

The dress is a work of art...and the photographs are outstanding!

Anonymous said...

This sounds lovely: "Growing up rurally, there were plenty of chances to go to 'Open Garden Days' - whimsical little insights into other people's lives. There'd be scones and jam at the village hall, and plenty of green spaces to look around." I love the idea of "whimsical little insights into other people's lives." A somewhat similar experience that comes to mind is "open studios" in Brooklyn, when the public is afforded peeks into artists' work spaces.

Anupriya DG said...

Aaah! The fantastic and mysterious worlds of secrets nooks and corners in gardens!
Instantly reminds one of Alice in Wonderland! <3

Closet Fashionista said...

Such pretty photos!
I dream of having a fun little garden to escape too! But I'll be too lazy for all the upkeep, so for now I'll just have to visit other people's, ha ha.


It looks like a lovely place for a B&B. I've no green thumb of my own, but I have always enjoyed gardens, as my nan has a big garden that we used to go to for picking fresh produce. I can see why your dress is a favourite--the colour combination fits perfectly with the environment. :)

Vix said...

The Secret Garden was my favourite book as a child, I used to explore my Grandparents' garden (now mine) desperately searching for a concealed entrance or a rusty gate.
Love that dress , wonderful with the brown boots. xxx

Lally said...

Oh what a gorgeous post (and what an amazing dress!) I'm a big fan of other people's gardens too. When I was small my brother and I used to crawl through a hole in the hedge at the bottom of our garden into next door's and play with their lovely furry (and slightly dribbly) dog. My all time favourite garden was my Granny's, it was just like the secret garden, filled with interesting nooks and overgrown corners and somewhere beneath a carpet of peppermint a pond with fish! I spent many happy times there and even now it influences many of the choices for plants in my own garden.

How lovely to for you to hear all your mum's stories of the garden and her times there! It's so lovely that hardly anything had changed. XXX

Ivana Split said...


Anonymous said...

I too read The Secret Garden as a child. I read it in Kenya and was fascinated by the idea of a garden that for fun, adventure and flowers. Because where I was, people used every patch that they could to grow something to eat or that they could sell to eat. When I then moved to UK and visited some spectacular meticulously cared for gardens and I was just blown away.

Your dress is marvelous xx

Izzy DM said...

What a beautiful piece of writing! I loved its confessional tone, and I, too, share the sentiment. I love other people's gardens much more than working in my own, but because we bought a house which once belonged to a landscape architect, we now have this magnificent garden that is blooming and blossoming all by itself. I also keep thinking of "The Secret Garden" as, like Mary (I think is her name?), I try to do my little part to keep this other woman's garden alive, pulling up weeds and not quite sure what else to do.

I love the feeling the vintage dress gives the photos. A perfect garden gown! That's wonderful that the other garden is still there, the one where your mother grew up. That sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

Anova said...

The colors match just perfectly! I really like your dress xo

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