Although I have lived in the UK for nearly 15 years, I am still discovering new things on a regular basis. One such recent discovery has been the National Garden Scheme. While I had been vaguely aware of their existence before, I have to admit I had never actually visited one of the participating properties. What a mistake that was!
After visiting my first open garden earlier this summer, I was hooked: seeing how people had transformed their patch of land into an urban paradise was incredibly inspiring and photogenic—what’s not to like? The NGS website makes it easy to find any open garden in a given location, so after our trip to Somerset Lavender Farm, MrElaineous and I continued onwards to the nearest property.
The journey along this road is one we make on a regular basis since it was the way back to his hometown. It is, dare I say it, a bit dull. But at a certain stop sign the SatNav advised us to proceed straight ahead instead of turning right along our usual route. We did as instructed and it was like the car had driven through a portal to Narnia or, at the very least, ye olde England.
The winding road took us through picture-perfect villages, provided lovely vistas across fields, and, as we approached the village of Stratton-on-the-Fosse, we caught glimpses of a large church that seemed to have landed from outer space. I found out later that this was Downside Abbey Church and School, a Catholic boarding school and Benedictine monastery in the middle of the Somerset countryside.
The Fosse referred to in the village name is not a river, like in Stratford-upon-Avon, but rather the Fosse Way, the path of a Roman road that once cut a fairly straight line from Ilchester to Lincoln, a distance of over 180 miles. Fosse is Latin for ditch, and it’s thought that a defensive ditch once ran here after the Roman invasion of 43 AD to mark the western boundary of the Roman Empire. Today it serves as district or parish boundaries in places, and some modern roads still run along its path, including the one that carried us through Stratton, past Downside, and even deeper into unfamiliar territory.
The garden that the NGS website was leading us towards was very different from the suburban garden we had explored in Devizes. The Fosse Way gave way to narrow country lanes, and we found arriving at our destination was no less magical than the journey that preceded it. Perched on a hillside with a smattering of houses in either direction, the venue boasted three gardens in one location: a modern garden designed around a period property; a formal garden that looked like it came from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and a shady woodland walk.
The modern garden was a labour of love developed by the householder over the past three years, and a photograph album showed the transition from an empty, muddy field to its current state. Large beds of bright flowers, a household vegetable patch, and cosy seating areas had been incorporated around a charming stone house, the combination of antique and modern working well together.
From there we drifted into the neighbour’s property, which revealed a carpet of green lawn and beautiful formal borders. The Queen of Hearts and her croquet game would not have been out of place – it was easy to imagine the same English garden scene appearing anytime over the past 150 years. A short walk then brought us to a bubbling brook at the bottom of the property, and on such a hot day it was a relief to enjoy a walk in the shade through a small woodland.
I feel that there is a theme running through much of my writing this year, that of discovering new things practically in my own backyard. While technically further afield than Devizes or Bowood, this trip into Somerset was yet another good reminder that sometimes you need to step away from the established route and see where a new path can take you.