Learn­ing from the Bri­tish

Their gar­dens place the em­pha­sis on na­ture

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - GREEN LIVING - Mark Cullen

I travel to the U.K. a cou­ple times a year and love their gar­dens and their pas­sion for the gar­den­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Brits sent plant hunters around the world on plant dis­cov­ery ex­pe­di­tions more than 300 years ago.

The Chelsea Physic Gar­den in Lon­don was es­tab­lished in 1673 for the ex­press pur­pose of col­lect­ing seed and plant stock from around the globe to ex­plore their medic­i­nal value.

In the 21st cen­tury, we have some catch­ing up to do.

Based on my ex­pe­ri­ence ‘over the pond’, I recog­nise the enor­mous op­por­tu­ni­ties we have to learn from the Bri­tish where gar­den­ing is con­cerned.

Pre­cisely what we can learn might sur­prise you, as they are not hung up on shap­ing yews into gi­ant ducks or prun­ing the liv­ing day­light out of a Lit­tle Leaf Lin­den to cre­ate a twodi­men­sional ef­fect.

Though, these things still go on, the em­pha­sis now is on na­ture.

This spring I was in Lon­don for the grand re-open­ing of the Lon­don Gar­den Mu­seum and I mar­velled at the largest flower show in the world at the Chelsea Flower Show, vis­ited the his­toric Chelsea Physic Gar­den and I took ad­van­tage of a pub­lic tour of pri­vate gar­dens in Rich­mond, Lon­don.

I was in heaven.

I have the fol­low­ing ob­ser­va­tions:

1. Bring on the wildlife. Arch­bish­ops Park, in Lam­beth, across the river Thames from West­min­ster, pro­vides unique learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for young and old alike. A still pond il­lus­trates the value of wa­ter as habi­tat for myr­iad de­sir­able wildlife. Frogs, toads, newts, drag­on­flies and song birds find food, shel­ter and breed­ing habi­tat there. Signs ex­plain all of this in de­tail. In­sect ho­tels and ma­son bee habi­tat have been cre­ated by school chil­dren and are fea­tured through­out the park.

Arch­bish­ops Park en­cour­ages vis­i­tors to take time to take their time. The pow­ers of ob­ser­va­tion are sharp­ened when we slow down and ob­serve.

2. Kids. When a tree is felled in a Bri­tish park (I am sure for a good rea­son) it is of­ten limbed, for safety and left there for kids to crawl over and ex­plore while it rots.

It takes a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions for a large tree to rot, so this proves to be an in­ex­pen­sive, re­source­ful use of a prod­uct that oth­er­wise would be con­sid­ered waste.

As na­ture slowly re­turns the car­bon of the wood back to the soil, from which it sprung in the first place, we learn that there is value in some­times just leav­ing a thing alone.

Na­ture has her way of work­ing things out.

3. Pas­sion for plants. Gen­er­ally, plants do not ad­ver­tise well un­less they are a blaze of colour.

Usu­ally we ig­nore them and take them for granted. Truth is, we are learn­ing more and more ev­ery day about the value of our green, liv­ing world and re­defin­ing it as part of our ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture.

While the Chelsea Flower show was on (May 23-26), BBC 1 fea­tured a live, one hour broad­cast each night in prime time.

All the U.K. tuned in to see the lat­est plant fea­tured, to learn the gar­den trends demon­strated at the event and (of course) to see their favourite gar­den celebri­ties ex­pound on the best plants for Bri­tish gar­dens.

What can we learn from the Brits about the gar­den­ing ex­pe­ri­ence?

So much more. I urge any­one with a pas­sion for gar­den­ing to ex­plore it over there.

Mark Cullen is lawn & gar­den ex­pert for Home Hard­ware, mem­ber of the Or­der of Canada, au­thor and broad­caster. Get his free monthly news­let­ter at markcullen. com. Look for his new best seller, 'The New Cana­dian Gar­den' pub­lished by Dun­dum Press. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @ MarkCullen4 and Face­book.


The Bri­tish know a thing or two about gar­den­ing and other gar­den­ers re­ally can learn lessons from them.

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