My friend Lesley who is into garden antiques (limeavenueantiques.co.uk) has found me the perfect bird bath for my garden. So last Wednesday I headed down to Essex to collect it and incorporated a visit to the nearby Dragons, a 3/4 acre garden near Chelmsford.
Well, why would a garden be called Dragons? It is a legacy from the former owner’s children who used to play dragons in the garden and hence the name stuck. No children now but there is still a dragon who greets us at the entrance:
Curved paths lead us round from the neat front garden which is packed with an assortment of shrubs underplanted with snowdrops. The path emerges into a dry shingle area where herbs and evergreens are resting in the weak sunshine. Bare twigs, like the rest of us, are longing for the summer warmth. Even at first glance it is obvious that this is a plantswoman’s garden.
Bare wooded shrubs are in evidence. Some are looking distinctly oriental with slender shoots stretching and twisting outwards above bright aconites. A Red cornus grows guardsman-straight in contrast behind,
others appear bright against the evergreen hedge.
A black willow looks very striking.
And the corylus is tangled and gnarled.
As a child on rare visits to London, my mother would encourage me to look right up to the tops of building. It is a practice I continue to adopt but nowadays from beneath the trees in winter.
A good sized ditch full of water is the boundary at the bottom of the garden, and here is a wooden gazebo hidden away and perfectly sited to admire the farmland and landscape beyond.
It is not all bare branches. At the base of a mature tree I find a tapestry of green emerging up the trunk.
We circulate around the garden admiring the well cared-for beds. In my most recently visited garden, John’s paths were straight. Here, Margot’s paths bend. It just occurs to me to question if this is a gender thing? Do the men make straight paths whilst the ladies curve theirs? No doubt I will be proved otherwise.
There are more places to sit but I wonder if Margot ever has time to enjoy such a luxury.
At first glance I thought this was a man-made garden sculpture. The seed heads of the cardiocrinum giganteum look as beautiful now in winter as their flowers must have done last summer.
The seed heads do not detract from the tidiness of this garden. My camera begins to use its flash as it detects the darkening skies. I introduce Lesley to the lovely Sue and Doug who, with a wonderful sense of humour devote their lives to the NGS and not just in Essex.
Rain has been forecasted for 3pm the exact time when Dragons is closing. Spot on cue the first drops appear. We head for the exit. Passing the back door there are raised beds cunningly hiding all those necessary things that need to be stored by the door. It is pleasing to see small plants at eye level and through the window too.
A little jewel of a hepatica
Oh and aren’t other peoples sheds so interesting. Look at the shining cleanliness of those tools!
Margot collects snowdrops and I try and avoid the ugly word ‘galanthophile’. She warns me off the word ‘snowdropper’ because it was not only a slang term used in 1920s for cocaine addicts, but also a turn of phrase referring to those who have a penchant for stealing women’s undies off clotheslines!
She digs me up some galanthus woronowii which has particularly glossy green leaves so strikingly reminiscent of its big cousin the Amaryllis.
It has been a difficult time personally for Margot, and I cannot help but admire her. She managed to ‘garden and carry on’ and single-handedly has somehow found the strength to open her garden. There were 50 grateful visitors today. That is not bad for midweek in February.
A dragon perched high up watches us leave.