Formal Gardens National Trust Places

THOUGHT: Taking a longer look

Castle Drogo - Shady Border

There is nothing I love more than an afternoon, or longer, spent lazily exploring a new garden. It is a delight and I go home feeling a little jealous and very inspired! However, it has occurred to me that it takes much more than a lazy afternoon to really get under a garden’s skin.

I have been a volunteer gardener at Castle Drogo, in Devon, for several months. A comparatively short time; some of the volunteers have been there so long I think they have literally taken root. Although, it only took a couple of weeks to realise how giving a little of my time has given me a lot in return.

Listening to visitors as they step into the yew-hedged fortress that is the formal garden, few are underwhelmed by what they see. The garden is undeniably beautiful, but not many really linger long enough to absorb all the little things beyond the floral display. Did they stop long enough to hear the mouse rustling in the leaf litter? Or to notice how the sunlight makes a sharp thorn look smooth and guiltless? Once a week, whilst tending to the borders I am audience to all these lovely little moments. The biggest caterpillars I have ever seen devouring a Verbascum. My family of robins, who without fail follow me around the garden and the juvenile who sits in the greenhouse and watches as I pot-on seedlings.

Castle Drogo - Fragrant Garden

Volunteers get to watch as the garden changes between seasons. A look inside her wardrobe, right from her brightest summer dress to the naked winter soil. I have not experienced the colder months at Castle Drogo, but just seeing how much the garden changes week by week. It is unbelievable.

I hope garden owners won’t mind if they find me lurking in the backs of borders, my ear pressed against the earth. Or scribbling away madly in my sketchbook, trying to capture the shape of a path or the essence of their planting. I am simply looking for all the stories that make each garden unique.

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