Friday, 19 August 2016

Judging the gardens of Slaggyford + Knarsdale - report of the 2015 garden odyssey way out west in the Northumberland

This is the report I wrote of my efforts to judge these beautiful gardens and my experiences meeting so many great characters in August 2015.

"On a sunny morning late last summer I travelled down to Slaggyford, nervous with anticipation at the responsibility of judging the gardens of the various houses around Knarsdale, Slaggyford and Eals. I would love to say that I am a prize winning gardener myself (I am not) and that I had spent some time preparing the evaluation of the relative merits of foxgloves and fuchsias, but this would be a lie. The garden competition was judged by an enthusiastic amateur gardener /Member of Parliament, aided by his local partner in crime, Miles, the chair of the local parish council. The decisions made were all mine and the mistakes made were all mine as well.

Our tour was random and occasionally interspersed by constituents rightfully upset at flooding, broadband, or generally wanting to raise issues local or national with their MP. We went to Eals first, and after noting both Tom's and Simon's beautiful gardens, we admired with wonder the amazing pear tree that towers above the 1760 holiday cottage of Stonecrop. Never have I seen a pear tree of such size. It is clearly well over a hundred years old, and possibly as old as the house. Go and see it.

Onwards to the Armstrongs we admired pots, the efforts of Holly, and huge prize winning leeks [pictured], and I was given the present of the most delicious lettuce I have tasted in my life. I promise this did not influence any award! At the Grahams we admired the amazing planted wheelbarrows, before seeing the huge effort that Chris Ashworth has put into transforming his garden. His neighbour Carol Grieves also has a beautiful small garden, packed with plants, and she it was who came up with the phrase of the day. Miles and I were admiring the garden and commenting on the forest of plants, when she explained by saying:
"I can't say no to them - I am an alcoholic - I mean a plantaholic!"

We all laughed. Anyone who has seen the profusion of plants and pots at Carols will understand. She is a worthy winner of best small garden, and phrase of the day!
We ventured on around the houses on or near the village green in Slaggyford itself and were able to solve the mystery of the rabbit that broke into Albert Ridleys garden. Without our forensic Sherlock Holmes examination I fear it would remain a mystery how Watership Down invaded. Albert was pipped on best large garden by the Aynsleys, whose back garden [pictured] beside the burn, sandwiched between wild meadowsweet, and delicate plants and fragrant honeysuckle, is a beautiful and wild garden that constantly surprises.
Our journey lasted 3 hours and we constantly failed to identify our plants; but the pleasure was all mine. If you have not been way out west to these delightful hamlets then you are missing something.

Guy Opperman MP  (Definitely not auditioning for the Chelsea flower show)