There are many beautiful gardens open to the public around the country, and there are many in East Anglia. Here are just a few that I have visited – Blickling Hall Gardens and Sheringham Park; these are both in the hands of the National Trust, as are the extensive gardens at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire; the Plantation Gardens in Earlham Road, Norwich, are owned by a local trust. We remain a gardening nation, or at least those of us who still live in houses which include a patch land outdoors are (a sadly vanishing number). In my own village some of the more attractive gardens are opened to the public once every year or two. Even the small gardens which would never be open to the public make a charming picture when glimpsed from the roadside.
There is so much more to gardens than just looking at them however; I am reminded of Kipling’s couplet: “. . .and such gardens are not made, By singing ‘Oh how beautiful’ and sitting in the shade.” Some people would be quite happy to do just that, but not me. It is not gardens but gardening that really excites me; whether I am looking round beautiful beds of ornamental plants, or smelling the flowers, what I would much rather be doing is getting down on my hands and knees, and busying myself looking for weeds. I could still smell the beautiful scents and look up at the surrounding vegetation, while I was at work with a hand trowel.
There are many different forms gardening may take; plodding round with a lawn mower, attacking a patch of grassy tussocks with a garden fork, weeding the vegetable plot or watering the greenhouse. These are all very different activities and there are others too, but they are all part of gardening. It is a job best not hurried. The gentle work of discriminating between the good plants and the bad weeds cannot be rushed; but with the sun on your back and a bird singing in the hedge, what could be more delightful?
I have always done my bit in the garden; at first as a six-year-old this just meant digging holes – huge ones, that went down two or three feet to the water table. I soon began to do more adult things like picking apples and slashing down stinging nettles. I began the long, hard learning process of distinguishing small dicotyledons, to be able to tell the specimen plants when they were still seedlings. When I was a student at university I relaid my landlady’s front lawn, and when I was first married we were living in a 2nd floor flat, but I still had an allotment where I grew fruit and vegetables. My garden is not pristine by any means, like many you can see on either side of mine, but those other gardens are mostly labour-saving ones, of slow growing shrubs and shingle. At least I grow real plants in mine, which need pruning and weeding and regular tending. I would never claim to be a good gardener, but I have always been an enthusiastic one.
I was very pleased when I bought my first greenhouse aged about 25; I was as happy as could be. With a paraffin heater I could then nurture tender plants throughout the year. Gardening was not like going out clubbing, which is what a young man of 25 should have been doing I suppose, but I think it may have given me more lasting pleasure. Gardening is one of the few activities that I can still participate in, although I now more often sit with a hand fork than stand with a spade. With the advent of the growing season I am again outside, grubbing about in the dirt.