The love of an English Country Garden

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(This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times  on 27th June, & the Gazette & Herald on 29th June 2018).

I’ve just emerged from a busy but fun-filled weekend. On Friday night, I was out at the fabulous Velma Celli Show (Yorkshire boy turned West End star, highly recommended!) and then on Saturday, along with my children and a healthy posse of friends, I completed the St Leonard’s Hospice Midnight Walk in memory of Dad and my sister Tricia (as many of you know, both recently died in St Leonard’s). The theme was ‘Walking Royal Miles’ and we were encouraged to dress in red, white and blue, wear crowns, carry flags and enthusiastically embrace the royal theme. A sea of 800 or so patriotically-adorned men, women and children walked a seven-mile route around York between midnight and 2.30am to raise money for this wonderful cause.

The weekend was rounded off on a beautiful Sunday with a visit to the pretty village of Coxwold with my mum for the village’s ‘Hidden Gardens’ event. I haven’t been to many of these kinds of occasions before, and was amazed to see so many cars filling the local playing field which was acting as a make-shift car park.

According to the organisers, there were well over 500 visitors – and well over 500 cups of tea poured (according to my exhausted friend Sharon who was serving them non-stop all afternoon).

I am pretty much the kiss of death for most plants, so I steer clear of proper gardening, content instead to admire the handiwork of others (including my mum’s, who turned her garden of mud and rubble into a gorgeous oasis of colour and life).

But the Coxwold gardens were another level of horticultural excellence, hidden behind the quaint facades of the village’s yellow stone cottages. Borders were brimming with flowers of all colours of the rainbow, curving their way in and around the lawns which were surrounded by crowds of lush trees and shrubs. Creepers like like honeysuckles, clematis and wisteria twisted up wooden arches and gazebos and every so often, we came across a bench or a table where we we could sit for a while and appreciate the splendour that has come about thanks to years of hard graft and dedication by the owners.

Now, I’m not very good at naming cultivated flowers and shrubs, but one class of plant that I do recognise is the fern, and they were well represented that Sunday. They’re not what you would call the lead singers in the show, but more like a very reliable backing band, providing support by filling in the gaps and giving coverage in areas that other plants might not do so well.

As my dad explains in his column from 1st July 1978, the fern is quite an unusual plant in being a combination of leaf and fruit. In most cases, the fruit is carried on the underside of the leaf. He says that in autumn, “…you may walk in places where ferns are plentiful and find ripe spores on the undersides of the fronds…By carefully removing one of the fronds, you will acquire many spores from which new ferns can be gown.” So no digging them up, then!

I discovered a couple of rather interesting facts while writing this (thank you!) including that the fern is one of the earliest vascular plants (i.e. they have special tissues within them to conduct water and other essential nutrients through the plant). They are believed to have evolved over 300 million years ago, being very plentiful and growing to tree-like heights. They later died out and their compaction helped to create the coal which we use as fuel today (hence the term ‘fossil fuels’).

Open gardens have become a traditional way for the rural community to raise funds for their own local causes and charities. The first event was held 37 years ago in the Suffolk village of Walsham-le-Willows, and the idea quickly caught on. This year, there are 860 events taking place nationwide, with 42 in Yorkshire alone.

Villagers pitch in to bake cakes and serve teas, local musicians entertain, artists exhibit their works and artisan producers display their wares and, together with the gardeners, raise tens of thousands of pounds for local charities and community projects across the country.

To find out where and when your next local open gardens event is, visit the Open Gardens National Directory at

Visit my blog at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug.


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