Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

It’s said that the British are a nation of gardeners, but I’m not convinced. In my search for a home I have seen umpteen gardens – mostly online, a few in the flesh. I haven’t seen one that has been ‘gardened’ in the real sense of the word. Most have just been lawn, sometimes with some shrubs around the edge. The rest have been paved or decked over, often quite expensively (one, described by the agent as ‘stunning’, was completely covered in slate. Ugh).

Whenever I travel by train, I look at the gardens that back on to the railway tracks, and am amazed that people have done so little with the space they’re so lucky to have. But I suppose gardening is like cooking – some people get huge pleasure from it, and the enjoy the process as well as the end result. For others it’s a chore to be got over with as quickly as possible. My heart sinks when I hear the phrase ‘low maintenance garden’, but it’s what many people want.

Jean and Peter Block’s garden, Patchwork, which opens for the National Gardens Scheme, is most certainly not low maintenance. The couple have shaped it (quite literally – it’s on a steep slope) for over 40 years. It has terraces, lawns, ponds, patios, bedding displays, a herbaceous border, trees shrubs, and two greenhouses. It also has umpteen pots, stuffed to the gills with bulbs at this time of year. After flowering, the tulips are deadheaded and left to die down in the pot (those in bedding displays are transferred to pots to die down). In July or August, the pots are dismantled and the larger bulbs saved and stored in the greenhouse until planting time in November. After two or three years they’re replaced with new bulbs.

High maintenance, yes. But I’m sure Jean and Peter would say it’s totally worth it. As would the many people walking around the garden and enjoying a slice of tea and cake last weekend.

PS: The garden is next open on 18 Aug.

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