Fran Pride and Colette Walker, who operate Sisley Garden Tours, wondered if the September tour they had planned for gardens in Yorkshire and the Lake District was such a good idea. It is generally acknowledged that the best time to visit British gardens is either spring or early summer and that the best gardens are located in the south of the country. Would there be ample interest to fill a more northern tour and would September gardens have sufficient appeal?
Their concerns were unwarranted. The 2015 September tour quickly filled up and the one scheduled for this year has long been sold out. The Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancaster regions are bursting with worthy historical and cultural sights as well as stunning landscapes. The properties themselves, varying from small and charming to massive and impressive, offer as much visual satisfaction as the ones in the south.
As on other such tours, a small group of the participants soon identified themselves as ‘gardeners in pursuit of ideas’. They are the ones who study a group of plants and then look off into the distance as they try to visualize that vignette in their garden back home. To be inspired is good; to compete with, or try to copy gardens in Great Britain rarely works for those of us who garden in central Canada. Sadly, the stone walls and variety of hedging that provide structure and character to British properties cannot be duplicated in our harsh climate.
Although our spring and summer gardens have their own special beauty, they do not exhibit the lush and verdant growth we clamor to see in Britain. On the other hand, our fall gardens can both compete with, and, if I dare say, surpass British gardens in colour, texture and interest (and that’s even before our maple leaves turn red, orange and gold). Much of the beauty of our North American September gardens can be attributed to our increased use of prairie flowers and grasses. Although many of these flowering plants are native, the grasses are a combination of native and imported, often from Germany and the Netherlands.
A number of properties on the tour embraced the same prairie plants and grasses that we depend on to inject life and colour into our landscapes. The influence of Piet Oudolf was often evident in large and small scale properties, in particular the one at Scampston. The private estates of Arabella Lennox-Boyd, a professional garden designer, and Felicity Bowring, who manages Lawkland with her husband, both included plants very familiar to North American gardeners.
The lovely and complex garden at Littlethorpe Manor beautifully combined the traditional features and plants we are used to seeing in England with those that have emigrated from Europe and far away shores. A most effective September mix.
By Barbara Reinhardus
Photo credits Barbara Reinhardus
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