Recently we had the treat of visiting another garden. This one was attached to a castle which served as a wedding venue with bed and breakfast accommodation in the historic castle. We had been looking forward to visiting here for quite some time. I suppose without knowing it we had high hopes. We anticipated seeing landscaping and plants that would really blow us away and even inspire us on our own gardening journey. We even discussed ahead of time how we shouldn’t get too carried away by comparisons with another garden. This one would perhaps have a full staff team of gardeners resulting in a more professional and polished end product that could easily leave us with unrealistic impressions about what we should be achieving in our own humble context.
We hadn’t parked the car before the comparisons rolled in. “Ooh I like their gates” and “What animals are they keeping in there?!” By the time we reached the on site cafe and gift shop to buy our ticket into the garden, Jeremy had announced his desire to get peacocks and I had begged him to limit the amount of times I could say the phrase “We could do that!!”
The fact is, it was impossible for us to visit this place with a garden and old property without drawing comparisons. As surely as a doctor would be unable to visit a hospital without being acutely aware of the work going on behind the scenes. We found ourselves being rather nerdy about everything from the wiring used to construct the hen run to the weed control methods on the gravel pathways. Which leads us nicely onto the unexpected highlight of the garden visit. Weeds. Yes, weeds. Lots of them. In this ‘other’ garden, there were weeds. The bench we sat on in the rose garden was backed by a bank of nettles. The gravel beneath our feet had a grand smattering of green matter. Some self seeded wild geranium and trailing lobelia, but other more traditionally unwelcome guests appeared too. Indeed, more than noticing plants and shrubs and flowers to inspire our own planting scheme, we found ourselves wandering the garden triumphantly exclaiming to one another as we identified one weed after another. “Look at all those Dock!” and “Look, there under that tree, ooh that’s a particularly invasive one; ground elder!”
We were giddy with delight at the sight of these weeds. Sure, there were some beautiful plants to admire and inspire, but it was the weeds that stole our hearts that day. We could appreciate the work that had gone into the repair of old stone walls, the neatly manicured lawns, the careful planting of annuals. But the glory for us came from the weeds, the wilderness, the broken fences and the unfinished edges. We identified most deeply with these aspects of the garden. We were even a little bit over enthusiastic at the sight of a ripped polytunnel with haphazard makeshift bamboo trellis for a handful of tomatoes inside. I’ll admit, there wasn’t an absence of smug faces at points in our garden tour. There may also have been a question raised as to where the vegetable garden was, and more than a slight aspersion cast on the fact that none could be found.
Perhaps it was the fact that we were in the middle of a particularly arduous season of our own garden. A time when it felt impossible to keep on top of the plants and the weeds. A time when we were feeling the pressure of creating and maintaining and restoring gardens with both flowers and vegetables all at the same time. It felt impossible to manage, to control, to maintain and also to grow, to harvest, to create. So, it came as a glorious relief to find this other garden a haven of equally unfinished, weedy beauty. Suddenly the weeds in our own garden didn’t seem such a noxious threat to our identity as they had been the day before. We went home feeling vindicated.
This garden was well known, people pay money to come and walk here, to have their wedding day here, to stay here. This is a place that is seen, even shown off, and it does not try to hide its entire contents. There is no shame in its limitations and incompleteness. There is space for weeds. We could learn a lesson or two from this place.
And we could get peacocks.