The English Love Their Gardens

Back Garden at Our B&B, Suffolk

Back Garden of B&B, Suffolk

Claydon, Suffolk, England

Whether in London’s great public spaces  or in small, private areas behind modest homes, the English love their gardens.

Just about everyone seems to have one, for all sorts of reasons.

Clive’s childhood friend Colin has been very ill for several years, but is still able to work in his garden. When he walked us around it, we were moved not only by its physical beauty but also by the obvious joy and happiness it brings Colin. It’s a temporary respite from the worry and pain of his illness.

The woman who owns the B&B where we stay regularly is to me the perfect incarnation of an ‘Englishwoman of a certain age’. She’s unfailingly brisk and cheerful (jolly good, quite so), has at least one large dog, is always coming and going to various local events (playing tennis, helping others, visiting friends), and, above all, is a keen and talented gardener.

Clive’s cousin Alan also has a garden. He says it needs work but we thought it was wonderfully haphazard. Alan has a full-time office job and his garden is a weekend getaway, where he loves pottering about and nurturing the numerous plant seedlings he collects as a hobby. Alan’s brother and wife have both just retired and want to do more gardening at their home in Felixstowe. 

Cousins' Front Garden, Felixstowe

Cousins' Front Garden, Felixstowe

On many of our walks, Clive and I find ourselves beside a private garden, often with the gardener himself or herself giving us a brief nod or ‘hello’. The exchange doesn’t go beyond that, but I sense they’re proud of their gardens and not averse to them being ‘on display’ and admired by walkers.

Every one of these British gardeners also has a greenhouse. It’s part of having a garden. Clive’s father, at almost 90, nurtures seedlings in his breezeway, a makeshift greenhouse right outside his back door.

U.S. Landscaping vs. British Gardening

This is all so different from my U.S. experience. My two U.S. towns, Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, and Darien, Connecticut, are filled with giant landscaping trucks and it’s all about suburban lawns, trees, and shrubs. You don’t see people gardening everywhere, like you do in England.

I have U.S. friends who enjoy gardening, and my grandfather had a summer garden at his house. My late husband Gary loved to garden, and is the only American I’ve ever heard mention wanting a greenhouse. Until I met Clive, I never knew anyone who had one, despite the similarity of the U.S. northeast climate to that of England. Many Americans do garden, but gardening isn’t an integral part of the culture the way it is in England.

Australia’s somewhere in the middle, closer to the English end of the scale. My closest friend in Sydney has a beautiful garden, as does my former next-door neighbour. Neither has a greenhouse, though I guess they’re not necessary in the warm Aussie climate.

Garden Appreciation

This trip, we came to Europe from U.S. streets lined with landscape trucks carrying large, loud machines that cut, mow, and blow, to streets lined with quiet, personal gardens. I can understand why artists are inspired to greatness by gardens, and why for individuals they are healing.

In a world where many have urgent, sometimes life-threatening concerns at multiple levels, whether global, national, or personal, I find something very special, and comforting, in the way the English love their gardens.

English Garden Blooms

English Garden Blooms

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7 Responses

  1. Hi Carol,

    I guess I must disagree with your comments about gardening in the United States. Our lot is over a half acre and Dave and I have done every bit of the landscaping, and we have a good many plants, trees, shrubs, and grass. Just this afternoon I bought a large number of plants to put in for the summer, but I have lots of perennials too. We have our tree work done professionally, but we have done lots of trimming.

    Many people in State College are big gardeners, and spend a good deal of time in their yards. Some people have just flowers, and other folks have both vegetables and flowers. We have both, and I can assure you that it takes a lot of time to manage the the flowers and vegetables that we have currently planted. I certainly enjoy the work I have done in the yard, and I get a good deal of pleasure by working in the yard. I won’t say that weeding is much fun, but it has to be done as well as admiring the flowers. For example this spring, Dave, Brian, and I have distributed 4 yards of mulch, which is a lot. I will be glad to get the last of the pile out of the driveway, but all our beds look very nice.

    While there are many fine landscape companies, and many older people need help to keep their grass cut and shrubs trimmed, I think those who are really interested in gardening do as much of their own work as possible, and perhaps rely on a landscape company for a large installation such as some kind of water feature. There is a designation known as “master gardeners” and a number of people I know in town have taken courses through Penn State extension and have received the “master gardener” designation. They are often people I might consult if I had a question about something in my yard. I have also often used horticulture extension at Penn State to identify a particular problem in a tree or a flower. While that is easy for me because I live in a university community, horticulture extension gets many, many samples through the mail from people all over the state who want an answer to some garden problem.

    I think gardening by the folks who live on the property is very popular in the United States, and many who live in an apartment or condo do a good deal of container gardening on their decks or terraces.

  2. Hi Carolyn,
    Nice to read your continuing travel posts !
    I can’t believe how long you & Clive have been on the road. My God ! I think the longest that we have been away was one month straight.

    I remember when our friends Anne & Caroline came to by burbs. When we met at my home, they were right away looking at our different plants with pleasure. They were reallt like the English gardeners that you described !

    Yes; we need gardens and flowers. Esp as things are more in concrete & steel and less in nature.

    Enjoy your trip !

  3. Hi Carolyn and Barbara ….Oh yes the British love their gardens, Carolines garden is stunning and mine is a mess …needs a lot of work on it…but I am too busy to do it…and I don’t like working on it , on my own….Arni is NOT one of the English that loves to Garden..My mother in law lives in London, hers is lovely and you would not think you were in North London..

    One thing they are so funny about is Mowing the lawns in straight lines..and also a lot of the houses round here have huge lawns on the front and nothing else or lawn and few areas of flowers…like the one above….I am going to take a few photos of a garden near me, no lawn…just flowers 🙂

    Thanks for comment, It was so great meeting everyone, I have not stopped talking about Paris…oh yes you never know I might get to Australia one day!!

  4. I hope to have some pictures up soon of the walk that my friend L-A and I took with our friend Lindy’s father in their village of Pirton in Herts. Everything was so lush and green, and the gardens SOOOOO gorgeous. Even though we only had a little time to soak up the beauty, it was certainly rejuvenating. I too enjoyed seeing the folks out working on their gardens (it was a bank holiday so folks were home). Just a real visual treat!

    My parents don’t have a formal garden as such, but they do have some azalea bushes in front of the house that are just about as TALL as the house! As well as tulips and some irises that were transplanted from New Mexico from my grandmother’s house. Mostly my father, I think, misses the vegetable garden he used to maintain at my grandparents’ home (it used to be my grandpa’s, but after he grew too weak to maintain it, my father kept it up for years, even after he passed away). But my grandma sold the house and moved into an apartment a few years ago, so my dad always tries to grow a few tomato plants in planters. Some years he’s more successful than others, but he won’t eat a store-bought tomato as they’ve no flavor!

    I love that Clive’s father is still gardening!

  5. The English do love their gardens. I’ve never seen anything like it. I have a garden, so to speak, but I’ve tried to plant it with things that don’t need much care which shows you my thinking on gardening.

  6. I think because everything is so green in the UK gardens just look that much more inspiring. When I lived in Scotland it was like that although shame it snowed for a large part of the year. I missed the outdoors. My sister tells me it is very hot there at the moment. Must be great. And I am glad Clives friend has his garden. Its true, gardening is very healing for everyone! There is something about putting your hand in soil that cannot be explained.

  7. What wonderful comments – thanks, everyone!

    Eleanor, I was thinking of you and my cousin Suzy as two of my American friends/family who love gardening. Otherwise my experience is quite different from yours. It’s great you do so much with your garden! Barbara and Anne, I love seeing your photos of flowers in France and England 🙂 Kim, so nice your parents have kept up (somewhat) your grandparent’s tradition, and Linda I like your approach re ‘easy care’ gardening 🙂

    Lilly, sooooo true about everything being lush and green in the UK. How cool you lived in Scotland!

    Cheers all.

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