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A Garden Glimpse of England

A Garden Glimpse of England and the 7th Int'l Conference of Old Garden Roses
By Louise Clements

The question is not whether there will be weather but what the weather will be. In June of 1997 the weather in England was windy, rainy and cold, the coldest June in 129 years. Into this blowing, blustery damp stepped 22 intrepid rose gardeners. Well, 21 anyway. One of our company was not truly a gardener. She came to be a traveling companion to her 83 year old sister. (This non-gardener celebrated her 85th birthday while on the tour!) Her unequivocal observation was that we were all mad! We tramped through gardens with rain running down our necks, trouser legs wet and muddy to our knees, with delighted smiles on our faces all the while. Since we were all (nearly) gardeners with experience in the elements we generously brushed off the apologies of our gardening hosts as they ducked with us through the rain. At Kiftsgate the ground was so soggy in places that they had to lay boards on the ground so that we would not slide on the slippery grass into the sodden, muddy beds. It only served to heighten our sense of adventure and discovery. It will be impossible to tell you about each of the eighteen gardens we visited in such a short space but I will give you what were, for me, highlights of the trip.

This year our time was split between two central locations: Cirencester in the Cotswolds and Cambridge. Our first 10 days were spent in Cirencester at Stratton House Hotel which served as our very comfortable base. We made daily forays out to the scheduled gardens and returned each evening for wonderful meals and then a sharing of experiences from the day.

Many of the gardens are not open to the public and only through research and many weeks of contact and negotiating by Bill Grant, our leader, were we permitted entry. Such were the gardens of Highgrove at the home of Prince Charles. A once in a lifetime experience. After stem warnings about taking photos (Don't!). We were escorted through the extensive gardens by Mrs. Pyle. We all eagerly absorbed the vast variety of plantings and marked them in our memories. Some drew quick sketches of the various scenes. The thyme walk with many varieties of thyme spreading casually along both sides of a long stone walkway was lovely. It was accentuated by topiaries which Prince Charles had permitted his gardening staff to shape in any way they wished. This added a marvelous whimsical touch. The rose walk designed by Rosemary Verey was refreshing with its serpentine paths through a mix of roses, perennials and shrubs. The temple garden was casually serene with two faux temples constructed of tree roots. I only wish I had a picture to show you. I've never seen such an artistic result in such an unexpected medium.

I think that the most common denominator of the gardens this trip were Levels! It has been said that the three requirements of a good garden are levels, water and discipline. We certainly saw levels. Many of the gardeners we visited had made remarkably creative use of some very steep and daunting terrain. Stone and bricks were used to construct stairways and paths leading from one level to another. Often the next level was not even visible until we right upon it.

Sudeley Castle was a Medieval vision. The ruined castle walls, the rose garden, the beautifully kept grounds! Worth at least two days of tanying.

A surprisingly satisfying garden was that of the estate at Sizencote. There were, maybe, three roses planted there. The sun had come out and the vast green spaces and remarkable plantings of trees were serene in their splendor.

Stancombe Park, a huge estate owned by Mr. and Mrs. Barlow, was an experience of surprises. A lovely rose garden and then a challenging climb down a hillside on a damp path took us through twists and turns, tunnels and temples, flora and faux fauna, grand and glorious vistas. A garden I will always remember.

We moved on to Cambridge to attend the Seventh International Heritage Rose Conference 1997. Approximately 400 people from 22 countries attended. "Roses was the most common language spoken after English. The lectures were: Stimulating: Gwen Fagan, from South Africa, showed us through her slides how she created a paradise from ground that had previously sprouted only boulders. Sally Allison, of New Zealand, inspired us to plant climbing roses with her stupendous pictures of her own and several others garden. Bill Grant, California, stirred our longings for the originals, the species roses. Educational: Robin Fox spoke of DNA testing for certainty of rose identification. A huge new field of research for scientific rosarians. Elsie de Raedt gave us seldom heard information about the part Belgium and Holland played in the preservation and creation of roses over the centuries. Hazel LeRougetel took us to China via her slides and introduced us to another major part of rose history. Mike Lowe showed us how own-root propagation is done and his slides were of Heirloom's propagation procedures! Trevor Griffith's talk got down under as he the described planting roses with exotic perennials native to his homeland, Australia.

A final celebratory dinner at King's College left me fairly gasping with awe. The historic hall, the company, the elegance! Peter Beales and Rosamund Wallinger and their hard working committee are to be congratulated on a magnificent job well done.

I came away with enough wonderful memories to savor for many years to come. Though, believe me, I would go again at the drop of a rose petal.