gardens small and big: part 1

In my initial post, I said that a garden could the size of a pot, a perennial boarder, or a park.  This assertion was brought home to me on a recent trip to Windermere in the Lake District in England.  We stayed at a lovely (that is the proper English word for it) award-winning B&B, Denehurst Guest House, run by a couple with the wonderfully literary last name of Ravenhall.  Both originally from Northumberland, they decide that they wanted to live in the lushness of the Lake District, and the only way to afford that was to be proprietors of a guest house.  Although there were lighted candles on the mantel on the dining room, the traditional English breakfast still included canned beans, canned mushrooms, and some triangles of fried potatoes akin to tater-tots.  There were a variety of breakfast options, though, and the French press coffee was superb. The rooms were impeccably clean, and Cindy and Ken’s knowledge of the area was legendary.

They could provide information on laundromats, coffee houses, boat trips on Lake Windermere, and scenic walks ranging from a flat few miles to the famous 5-mile “cake walk,” which lead to Chester’s Cakes, just a 20-minute walk from the starting car park in Ambleside.  Easily lured by cakes and cookies, we took this walk, which went up steep rocky grades, over hilltop ridges, Amblesidedown even steeper muddy paths through woodlands with abundant run-off, through private yards, sheep fields, and cow pastures, and over enough stiles to challenge an Olympic hurdler. The promised 5 miles turned out to be 7.5 miles.  The number 5 did come into play, however.  Chester’s closed at 5, and we had the wearied fortune to arrive there at 5:05.  But the trek was worth every sheep-watched, cow-pied step of it.  The scenery was magnificent. As Ken Ravenhall had promised, there was a little of everything: picturesque views, rolling pastures, woodlands, waterfalls.  It was, however, Nature outside the garden—uncontrolled, uncontained, uncared for, at times chaotic.  Ambleside18Near the end of the walk, we came upon something exquisitely iconic of the relationship between Nature and human husbandry in these tiller blades lying abandoned and rusting under the watch of a tree turned in an elegant S-curve worthy of a Renaissance sculptor.

Yet, in the midst of all this energy and ranging landscape, I found this garden outside the house of one of the private yards the walking path passes through.


There was something about its stark, grey economy—even the bird feeder was nearly empty, the few remaining seeds sprouting in the bottom—in the middle of the rich green of the countryside that was endearing, humbling, and thought provoking.  Is the lesson the one of the abandoned plow blades above, that we control so little in the face of nature, or is it that we require so little in the lap of nature?  Compare this garden to that of Cindy Ravenhall.

Denehurst garden

The areas are roughly the same, maybe 10 by 12. Both are fenced-off yards right outside the front door.  In the narrow city streets of Windermere, though, she has created a stunning abundance of color, texture, and beauty.  There are begonias, ferns, crocosmia, astilbe, pyracantha, rhododendron, roses, lady’s mantle, spiraea, yarrow, evergreens, and more. The contrasts outside these gardens are as striking as the contrasts within. But, both are contained spaces carved out from the larger environment, both are floored and provide seating. Both have plantings of choice, both are gardens. The one makes me smile appreciatively; the other makes me all but jealous.

If these two front yards capture the range of possibility for a small garden, part two of this post illustrates just how grand the private garden can be. Before leaving Denehurst Guest House, Cindy Ravenhall pointed us to a nearby garden that I had never heard of, but one which no gardener visiting the Lake District should miss. And it is a big garden.

© Susan K. Hagen and After Eden, 2017

One Reply to “gardens small and big: part 1”

  1. Mary Ellen and I spent. week in the Lake District with the Drewrys and kids about 25 years ago, and we stayed near Grasmere in a B&B in a large rambling house We went out everyday on hikes and I remember the luxuriant bracken on the hillsides. We came home to a wonderful meal every night. The one dish I remember was a first course of quiche announced in the drawing room by the eight year old son, but pronounced in a very English accent as “quish.”


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