Gardens are open up and down the country. Every week during the spring and summer thousands of private gardens are thrown open as part of the National Gardens Scheme, with private homeowners kindly sharing their garden with the general public. Often a village will have co-ordinated opening, to make a visit well worthwhile.
My nearest village had an open day on Sunday, with a number of gardens on show and teas in the church hall. Variety is the key to open gardens - size of plot, planting style, plant collections and mood are all different, and there is something for every visitor to learn. With a couple of designer colleagues I spent three hours logging hard-landscaping details, some intriguing plant combinations and a couple of very distinct design approaches.
The dominant theme is, of course 'English Country' - roses are at their pristine best just now, with Nigella, catmints, Alchemilla, Campanulas and Geraniums all contributing to the look which is an essential part of the cultural scene both here and abroad, where it has so many other adherents. There is a welcome move to extending the season in herbaceous gardens, with grasses and the later flowering families of perennials, but there is little to beat the early summer combinations which have defined the English style for the past century. This is the look that has made British gardens famous, desired and emulated across the globe, wherever conditions allow.
There are garden makers with very different ideas and priorities, however, and the most striking of these yesterday was a garden, now about five years old, created in oriental style. Working from an existing Japanese maple and a horizontally trained juniper, this garden was in a distinctly Japanese idiom, without being an exact copy. No stone lanterns or bamboo water pourers were involved, but the scale and arrangements of the planting, the use of paving and pebbles and, particularly, two beautiful rectangular boulders, smoothed by river water, serving as steps between the levels of the site all contributed to the mood, evoking the contemplative gardens of the East without being a slavish fake. It felt the most coherent in design terms, as one would hope - a single aesthetic and concept, followed through faithfully and maintained by the owners in the true spirit of the original design.
In another garden on a sloping site down to the river, bold terracing allowed for areas of very different feel - some formal, others less so, with the riverside meadow space home to large single-species groupings of shrubs, with pathways meandering between. The image is from this same garden - the fruits of Chaenomeles, brown-purple in their immature state, against a sunny wall.Paul Ridley Design