Remote garden appeal

Travel and gardens are a winning combination


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Fiona Ogilvie loves finding new gardens in some of the most unexpected places across the globe.

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Pink buds of Rhododendron ‘White Cloud’ open to white in the garden planted alongside the Crarae Burn Crarae Gardens, Argyll (www.nts.org.uk/)

Pink buds of Rhododendron ‘White Cloud’ open to white in the garden planted alongside the Crarae Burn Crarae Gardens, Argyll (www.nts.org.uk/)

Someone asked me recently if I had a favourite country for visiting gardens. It was an unexpectedly difficult question. Eventually I said feebly I didn’t really have one, though I loved French gardens and also Italian.

He didn’t seem all that happy and, too late, I realised he’d hoped I’d recommend his own favourite which was, surprise, England.

But he set me thinking about travel and gardens and why they’re such a winning combo.

My first conscious association of the two was way back, long before Bill and my pledge for better for worse and possibly for lunch, when friends and I backpacked round the Italian Lakes.

Maybe because I live on a farm and garden in relative isolation, gardens in remote places always appeal strongly to me.

One night we stayed in a little pensione near Baveno on Lake Maggiore and next day visited Isola Bella. Philistine though I was when it came to gardens and plants, even I could recognise absolute beauty when I saw it.

My memory of the island garden floating on the lake among snowy mountains, the mossy stone balustrades and urns, smooth lawns and shadowy cypresses has hardly dimmed and gardens have been on my holiday radar ever since.

After marriage and acquiring my own garden, I became passionately interested in plants, and visiting open gardens on the occasional overseas trip slowly increased my understanding of how they could be used to create beautiful surroundings.  

Reading about gardens led to my discovery of the botanist Linnaeus and it was a special thrill to visit his home near Uppsala in Sweden, together with the Uppsala University garden planted in his memory to honour his simple binomial system that we still use to name plants.

Maybe because I live on a farm and garden in relative isolation, gardens in remote places always appeal strongly to me. 

I love Crarae gardens in western Argyll, planted with rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias to resemble a Himalayan valley and to benefit from the mild climate caused by the Atlantic Gulf Stream.

Nearer home and equally remote is Jill Simpson’s Fisherman’s Bay garden, hanging off a cliff on the east coast of Banks Peninsula on New Zealand’s South Island, with its discerning and romantic mixture of native and exotic plants.  

The remains of early settlers’ tiny, gale-battered gardens I found on a visit to the Chatham Islands, with little between them and Chile, still haunt me, dug to provide essential food and planted with a few simple flowers as heart-clutching reminders of distant home.

Asian gardens are a whole new universe, in which every garden element represents a blend of nature and art. 

Luckily the world is wide and there are always new countries and gardens to discover.

Heads Up: Join Fiona for a National Trust Autumn Garden Seminar and Winburndale Winery Wander, 10am-4pm, March 18. Morning tea in Fiona and Bill’s Glanmire garden, followed by Fiona’s illustrated talk on travels and gardening.

Enjoy lunch (glass wine), a vineyard walk with owner Michael Burleigh or a flower arranging demo, and conclude with cuppa and tour of Sarah Ryan’s garden and nursery, Hillandale, Yetholme. Tickets $60, www.trybooking.com/book/ or contact Lyn Haley, phone 02 6368 5851 or email mth@nationaltrust.com.au/

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