If you’re English, of rather mature years, and of a rural disposition, you won’t turn down the chance to snoop round somebody else’s garden. That’s what Open Gardens is all about. And early summer is open season for Open Gardens.
The other day we chose to go to Old Sleningford Farm, only just down the road from here. We knew we’d get the chance to stroll round a country house garden, with informal parkland and rather more formal borders and flowerbeds. We knew there would be a productive kitchen garden. We knew we’d be offered afternoon tea, with far too many delicious home-made cakes to choose from.
What really interested us, though, was the Forest Garden. A what?
Here’s what they say on their website:
‘A Forest Garden is a planting which mimics an immature woodland, in which everything is edible or useful. Plants are grown using every available space – under the ground, on the ground, as bushes, trees and climbers. It requires minimal maintenance once established as all the plants are perennials or self seed easily and the ground is permanently covered.’
As you approach it, it seems you’re just going to enter a patch of woodland, albeit well-gated against pesky rabbits. Simple paths mown through the undergrowth send you on a winding route that meanders through the two acre site. Gradually we realised that there were things to eat here: fruit trees, certainly – apples, plums, gages, pears and so on – but also fruit bushes growing hither and yon. Raspberries; currants red, white, pink and black; gooseberries. Strawberries extended their runners along the ground. Then we noticed herbs, and then some vegetables: chard, kale, leeks, onions…..
This is a garden that has required hours of work from everyone at Old Sleningford, from volunteers who come one Sunday every month and from wwoofers. But over time, the garden will to an extent manage itself, as the desirable, productive plants take proper hold and leave no room for any plant not prepared to earn its keep.
We didn’t have long enough to explore as much as we’d have liked. But we found a moment or two to relax in the summer-house at the forest garden’s centre. Here was a simple wooden structure, with a roof of sempervivum – house leeks – equipped with a chair or two, a book or two. Here, with only bird song for company, surrounded by productive woodland, was the perfect place to spend a summer’s afternoon.