Visiting gardens

Sunday, 07 June 2015

Spanish moss festoons an arbour in the garden of my sister Holly in Sydney, opened under Open Gardens Australia

Since becoming a gardener more than 30 years ago, I have visited probably hundreds of gardens, in Australia and overseas. My trips to the very first ones I visited were suffused with a sense of overawed, humble bewilderment and ignorance, and desire to know the name of every plant I saw - as I knew basically very little about gardening. I saw for the first time how gardening could be a form of artistic expression, with plants used creatively to form a thing of beauty. Not being able to paint or draw, I saw this as potentially my forte!

Many of the gardens I have visited belonged to friends and relatives, but when the Australian Open Garden Scheme opened in 1987 (later to be renamed Open Gardens Australia), this gave the general public the opportunity to see a wide range of fabulous properties throughout Australia. The scheme oversaw the running of open gardens, publicised them in a systematic way, and supported the owners with their events. I can still remember how excited my gardening friends and I were about the scheme, and we had many enjoyable outings over the years to a diversity of wonderful places.

I have learned something from and been inspired by every garden I have ever visited (whether it was a tiny cottage garden or a grand estate) - ideas of how to use a plant or where to grow it best, the name of an unusual plant, the solution to a garden challenge, a design feature, a planting or colour combination. Some of my favourite colour pairings were discovered in an open garden - such as lime and bright blue; milky blue and crimson; and dark red/purple with brilliant red (a combination first seen by me in the Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff', pictured above, at Hidcote Manor in England in 1987!).

In every garden there was the pleasure of being in a beautiful place, the beloved product of much hard work and dedication by the owners, who generously wanted to share it with others. I always enjoyed meeting the garden owners, who were uniformly delightful. Many charities close to the hearts of individual garden owners were supported by the proceeds of open gardens over the years.

I had the opportunity to be involved with two gardens opened under the scheme in recent years - that of my sister Holly in 2013 and that of my friend Linda Macaulay in 2014. I was able to experience firsthand both the amount of hard work that goes into an open garden event and the rewards to garden owner and garden visitor alike of the experience. I know that a huge number of people who visited Holly's garden left with a much better understanding of how to get Cymbidium orchids to bloom, for example; and Linda's garden inspired many people with how bromeliads can be used as an effective solution to what to grow under an enormous tree!

Open Gardens Australia closed last week after 27 years. To continue to bring people and gardens together, we have formed a new website, My Open Garden, which aims to be a hub of information about individual open gardens and garden festivals throughout Australia. The website gives garden owners and festival organisers a digital platform to promote their events, and provides those interested in visiting these events all the information they need to have an enjoyable day out, including a map showing how to get to the garden plus details of nearby nurseries, public gardens and regularly open gardens. Visitors are able to leave their feedback about their experiences on the website.

Obviously wintertime is not the peak garden-visiting season, but gardens featuring Camellia, for example, such as historic Eryldene in Sydney, have open weekends through winter to feature these beautiful blooms, and there are numerous regularly open gardens throughout Australia that can be visited during winter, such as Everglades in Leura. July sees the Queensland Garden Expo at Nambour - and is the ideal place to escape to in winter! There are lots of wonderful spring events to look forward to. Details of these events and more are available on the website. We hope to enable people to continue to enjoy visiting gardens. We hope you will visit the website and become part of the My Open Garden community.