Sunday, 8 April 2012

Galloping Gardener's best British garden memories after three years of blogging

"Gardens are a real gift of happiness and joy"
It's Easter 2012 and I've been blogging about gardens for three years! I'm the first to admit I've come a long way in that time, because I knew nothing and I really do mean NOTHING about gardens when I started. I'd never thought about them, certainly didn't appreciate the energy and love that went into creating them, and had no idea about structure, plants or the effect different soils and climatic conditions have on the way they grow!
Tremenheere - at the heart of the county that my father loved so much - we spent much time visiting gardens in Cornwall during his long illness and I learned that gardens are great healers for mind and spirit
My interest in garden visiting began when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. He was living in Cornwall and I lived in Sussex, but as his disease progressed, I spent more time with him in the West. And as we progressed through his illness (which had been diagnosed too late to save him), the pastime that gave us both the greatest pleasure was visiting gardens together. 
Cothay Manor in Somerset will always hold a special place in my heart. It's exotic, slightly chaotic and beautiful
We were able to savour the peace we found in those wonderful Cornish landscapes, sit together for hours and talk, and enjoy the plants that we saw together. And towards the end of his life, on the few occasions he was well enough to leave the hospice in a wheelchair, I couldn't help but notice how much good our garden visits did him. He came alive again, however ill he felt, and would return home to the hospice looking happy and relaxed. That was when I started blogging, during the long evenings that I spent alone at my hotel, between my visits to the hospice.
Great Dixter is one of the gardens that my husband and I visited regularly because it's close to our home - created by Christopher Lloyd, it now has iconic status because of its planting schemes ... and deservedly so
I hardly need tell readers how much I miss him, but he left me with a legacy that has continued to bring me pleasure even since - garden visiting - and there's rarely a day when I visit a garden that I don't reflect on those happy days we spent together at the end of his life.
Sussex Prairies, created by Paul and Pauline McBride, brings joy to my heart every time I visit
Three years down the road, I find myself in a similar situation again, but this time it's my beloved husband who is ill. He also learned the gift of gardens with me during my father's illness, and we then spent successive years enjoying gardens together - more than 100 here in the UK, plus many more in France when visiting friends and of course, in the US because we had a house there. As his illness has progressed, we've visited many gardens together with him in a wheelchair and what we've learned is however bad the situation is, gardens are a real gift of happiness and joy!
The Peto garden at Iford Manor - a surreal, steep, hillside plot filled with exotic statuary and a sense of pure theatre
Now garden visiting has become a way of life for me, and since giving up our home in Florida, I find the winter months very long, even though I'm lucky enough to spend some time in India working on my hospital project there. It's not quite the same as visiting gardens in Florida and California during the cold months, but gardens have now become such an important part of my life, that I spend the winter researching properties I plan to visit once spring comes.
Levens Hall, Cumbria is reputed to be the most magnificent topiary garden in the world - I visited with my husband last year on a tour of Cumbria, before he was confined to a wheelchair for garden visits
If I'm honest - gardens have brought me a huge amount of pleasure in the last three years - especially when dealing with the difficulties of illnesses suffered by those close to you. I know I can't make those people better, but I've learned that gardens have incredible healing properties, both for the people who are ill and for me as a carer. And it doesn't matter how bleak life looks at home because a garden visit will always put a spring back in my step and give me the courage to carry on.
John Brookes who created Denmans Garden, near Chichester, who has become a dear friend. We recently travelled to India together and visited gardens throughout Rajasthan. John is looking out over Chittaurgarh during our travels
And then there are all the wonderful people I've met along the way - garden owners, like John Brookes at Denmans, who recently travelled to India with me; Anne Wareham from Veddw, famous for her tongue (and creator of thinkinGardens), but charming when you get to know her and who's now a special friend; Paul and Pauline McBride of Sussex Prairies, who've travelled to India with me twice and taught me more than anyone else about perennials and planting; head gardeners and those who do the really hard work for them, plus garden photographers and fellow bloggers. Many of those friends, gardeners and photographers also have their own blogs.
Veddw captured my heart the first time I went there and met Anne Wareham and her husband, Charles Hawes for the first time. It has become one of my favourite gardens anywhere in the world because it has so much personality
In terms of photography, I've had the pleasure of working with Clive Nichols at Barnsley House; got to know Charles Hawes, who takes photographs that I covet (and is married to dear friend Anne Wareham); and am off to meet Andrew Lawson next week at Great Dixter. There are many others on my wish list who I long to meet to learn about their fantastic techniques, but I'm sure our paths will cross one day.
The famous laburnum arch at Barnsley House, former home of Rosemary Verey, where I spent a day working with Clive Nichols trying to improve my photography techniques! 
If I listed all the wonderful people I've met, you'd never get to the end of this post, but we all share a common interest and think nothing of getting our hands dirty, all for the love of gardening! And I've been lucky enough to make a lot of new friends too because I'm learning that gardening is no different to many other passions, whereby you graduate towards those you share the passion with. And special thanks go to my own wonderful gardener and friend, William, who has taught me about nurturing my own garden. Without him, I would never have understood anything about gardening and "growing"!
The Garden House in Devon - always a joy to visit en route to Cornwall
So to mark my wonderful adventures in the last three years, I've selected some of the gardens that I've really come to love during my travels - these are the ones that I return to regularly. Of course, it's a subjective choice, but each and every one is special to me. Many are in the south of England because that's where I live, and I need to be here to look after my husband. But I will be branching out in this fourth year of blogging in an attempt to satisfy my insatiable interest in visiting gardens.
This is me, taken on a garden visit last year by my beloved husband
Thank you all for your support in the last three years and Happy Easter.
Charlotte aka Galloping Gardener

24 comments:

  1. What a lovely post, full of wonderful memories and great photos. Congratulations on reaching 3 years and wishing you many more. I love the last one Charlotte! Ronnie xx

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  2. I have always loved your blog and probably one of the first blogs, I ever subscribed to. Your blogging story is inspirational and I wish you and your husband the very best.

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  3. Oh Charlotte, you have had quite a journey in the last three or so years. How wonderful that you were able to enjoy so many gardens with your father during his illness. That experience sounded like a true solace for both of you. Now you and your beloved husband continue to struggle through illness together. My heart goes out to you both. But the journey has certainly led you to many wonderful life experiences and to many fantastic people. Best of luck to both of you, and thank you so much for sharing your garden visits with us. Your blog posts are widely appreciated ... even over here in the Downunder.

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  4. What a wonderfully moving post. It's true being in a beautiful garden can bring such peace and happiness and we are fortunate to have such a variety in this country. If only the winter was a little shorter it would be perfect! I love your blog and hope you are able to continue to draw strength from garden visiting. xx

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  5. Charlotte your pictures are a work of art and bring such magic to these gardens...what a grand tour!!

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  6. I'm sorry to hear about your father. I think it is remarkable that you were able to see so many gardens together. Time spent with family is always precious. What a lovely legacy he left for you to pass on and share as you have with so many of us. More power to you and your blog.

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  7. Hi Charlotte,
    What a beautiful and inspiring post. And what a powerful legacy you have as a backdrop to your fine photos and garden tours. The garden is at times the place where we put our feelings for those we love and hold dear. I am certain there is no better time spent than to be with your husband (and in the past your father) than in beautiful gardens.
    It would be enough for most of us to just have those photos on our private computers and to savor the memories.
    But you've gone beyond that and shared them with the world. Thank-you!!!
    My family has no money to travel, so your gift of sharing these gardens is very precious to us.
    Happy Easter!
    David/ Tropical Texana/Houston :0)

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  8. Charlotte, I found your post very moving, thank you for being so open. Congratulations on your three year blog anniversary, and long may you continue to gain so much from visiting gardens.

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  9. To echo some of the sentiments above, firstly your blog posts and photos are an inspiration, we are looking forward to meeting you later this year.

    And secondly what a touching post, sorry to hear about your husband being ill, i hope you both enjoy the gardens you visit together.

    Mark and Gaz / Alternative Eden

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  10. People can ceretainly be full of surprises. it was geverous of you to share some of your story. I am hoping to get to England this summer and I know that I will be referring back to your wonderful posts for inspiration and suggestions.

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  11. What a wonderful post! Such a story to tell. I second David in saying that I am so appreciative for your sharing these gardens with the world. It is difficult to find nice pictures and information even about the most famous UK gardens.

    I hope that you have many years of gardens visits to come with your husband! I look forward to reading them. ~Julie in PA, USA

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  12. You may have known nothing about gardening, but your photo's have always had the ability to make me feel I was right there walking in the same garden that you photographed. My father too inspired my love of gardening and even though he has been gone 5 years I still feel that he looks down in my garden and enjoys it as I do. Thinking of you and your husband in this difficult time.

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  13. I agree, gardens are a gift of happiness and joy. This is my first visit to your wonderful blog. I am so sorry to read about your father passing away, and about your husband's illness. You and your husband will be in my thoughts. Thanks for taking us along to visit these beautiful gardens. :-)

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  14. Charlotte, this post says it all. It's hard for words in a comment to do it justice, but thank you for taking us along on your visits. When I've felt cold and frustrated by the long winters here, I've always been able to visit your blog and take a virtual visit to some of the most amazing gardens in the world. I hope you and your husband have many wonderful garden adventures ahead together. Congrats on three years of garden blogging! I look forward to following your extended travels in year 4!

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  15. May I tell you, how much I appreciate your blog and pictures and all the details you catch and share. Your blog is such an inspirational place to go to and I never get tired to read and see and soak in all the details. Because of you, we went to Nyman's last week and enjoyed it so much. I hope your husband will get better - it is true that gardens can heal and are so good for the soul. Wishing you all the very best and am looking forward to more discoveries. With best wishes from Belgium. P.S. I would never have thought that you started with knowing nothing about gardening!

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  16. Charlotte, as a woman from northern California,I have lived vicariously through the visits to each garden you have photographed. Each morning I begin my day with a cup of coffee and your blog. Your eloquent words capture the essence of each garden and brought so much happiness and serenity to your readers. It gives me inspiration to create something new in my own garden!! I must admit that my husband and I planned a trip to Cornwall last year because of you and are visiting another destination this June. Please continue your beautiful work and my thoughts and prayers are with you and your husband.

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  17. Thank you all for your wonderful comments and encouragement. Hope you'll continue to come with me on my visits this year - there are many planned to new UK gardens, plus some overseas!

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  18. Charlotte, sending you virtual hugs and understanding ... I lost my Dad last year. Too heartbreaking to talk, just hugs for you.

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  19. I have very much enjoyed your travels for the past few years. Congratulations on three years of blogging. I am sorry to hear of your husband being ill. Best wishes for his health to you and him.

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  20. Where to start... Your post brought a (teeny-tiny) tear to my eye. I'm glad to see how gardens have helped you and your loved ones cope with these difficult situations, and of course I feel privileged that you invite us - the internet - along with you on your garden visits.

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  21. Charlotte, I based my last English garden trip largely on posts from your blog, and am in the early stages of planning my next one. I immediately started going through your posts again for inspiration. I had no idea until this post that you were not a lifelong gardener, but now understand the emotional attachment you have to the gardens you visit.

    How lucky you were to spend those hours with your father in such beautiful places, and how wonderful it must be when you are able to do the same with your husband. Something tells me you've touched hundreds of spirits around the world through your visits, and I am honored to be one of those faithful readers.

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  22. Congratulations, and a lovely post. We lost my dad a couple of weeks ago to cancer. Gardening has been one of the few things I could still do in the blur of grief. There is something about immersing yourself in a simple solid task that takes enough concentration to hold the sorrow at bay, if only for a short time. He enjoyed visiting gardens too; I have many fond memories and pictures. Just last summer I explored several open gardens with my mum and dad, as well as a beautiful trip to Wisley. We will miss him greatly this year (we already do, of course. Heartbroken ).
    I'm glad though that you and your husband are continuing to find solace in gardens, and wish you both well.
    Sara x

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  23. Congratulations, and a lovely post. We lost my dad a couple of weeks ago to cancer. Gardening has been one of the few things I could still do in the blur of grief. There is something about immersing yourself in a simple solid task that takes enough concentration to hold the sorrow at bay, if only for a short time. He enjoyed visiting gardens too; I have many fond memories and pictures. Just last summer I explored several open gardens with my mum and dad, as well as a beautiful trip to Wisley. We will miss him greatly this year (we already do, of course. Heartbroken ).
    I'm glad though that you and your husband are continuing to find solace in gardens, and wish you both well.
    Sara x

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  24. Charlotte! I have just chanced on this post which I never saw at the time; it tells me more about you than all your other posts combined, and I reach out to you: gardening has been a solace to me too, during first the illness and death of my partner in the early 90s and then at the time of my mother's death on Sequoia during spring 3 1/2 years ago. I was aware that your galloping had slowed down and is again speeding up, and draw my conclusions accordingly. My thoughts are with you... Jack

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