We took the morning off from gardening to go garden visiting. This time it was not the grand gardens of Norfolk, but Boxford Open Gardens. I like Open Gardens, with their chance to see what other people manage to do on a domestic scale, and tend to try a new place each time, so in the past we've been to Wrabness, Stoke-by-Nayland, and Chelsworth, and last summer my gardening friend and I worked our way around the open gardens of Sudbury so thoroughly that I don't think we missed a single one. It cannot be denied that sheer nosiness plays a part, for who is not curious about what goes on behind all those garden walls and fences and behind the rows of facades?
Boxford is a pretty village. Besides the village hall, where the garden club meets, and the church across the lane from the village hall, where I once went to a concert, and the pub in the main street where I caught the coach for the garden society outing and helped with the plant stall, I had never really looked at the rest of it. As in nearby Lavenham there must have been money around in Medieval and Tudor times and then not so much afterwards, though Boxford managed to acquire more Georgian frontages on buildings that were much older behind the new front (or so we surmised from looking at the roof lines). In fact, we saw some fabulous roofs, hipped and gabled, upper storeys jettying out to leave perilously narrow gaps between adjacent roofs, and eclectic mixtures of tiles and slate on different bits of the same roof. The river Box runs through Boxford and several of the gardens we saw backed on to it, but according to one owner I asked it doesn't overtop its banks, or hasn't in her memory. There is a doctor's surgery, an infants school, a couple of pubs and several shops, and a pleasant air of it being a real place and not just a dormitory of Sudbury, Hadleigh, or Colchester.
The best garden belonged to the chairman of the garden club. I knew it would be pretty good, having seen a magazine article about it and knowing that the chairman is a knowledgeable plantswoman. Not very big since it is her downsized garden now she is in her eighties, no lawn, beds filled with interesting plants, good combinations of climbers on the walls, some clipped evergreen standards to add height and substance. It was exactly the sort of garden I should like to do when I am in my eighties.
I enquired enviously why her Nicotiana mutablis was already flowering when mine were still little things in nine centimetre pots, and she explained that hers was over a year old rather than from a spring sowing, and that it would behave as a perennial if given some protection in winter, pointing out the medium sized pot nestling in the bed. I had truly not known that plants would over-winter, and am glad I found out before doing anything else with mine, since it will influence what sized pots I use and how densely I pack them. The chairman's pot was about eight inches across and I think had just the one plant in it. Nicotiana mutablis is a species of tobacco flower whose flowers open white and turn pink then magenta as they age, giving a mixture of colours on the same plant. I first encountered it on the Avon Bulbs stand at Chelsea years ago, and it has taken me that long to get organised to grow any.
None of the other gardens were as outstandingly good, though we had a nice time walking around. We saw a solitary Dianthus carthusianorum standing in splendid isolation in one border and I thought that they really were catching on before reflecting that it was probably one of the plants I donated to the garden club plant stall. I was admiring a rambling rose in another garden, with large clusters of small white double flowers with central bosses that were large in proportion to the size of the flower, healthy leaves, and relatively few thorns, and wondering what it was when a charming man with a border terrier appeared and told me that it was 'Rambling Rector'. A sweet and romantic cottage garden with overflowing borders contained an effusive and very friendly spaniel, and a narrow border behind a house in a modern cul-de-sac had a sad little row of pets' headstones. Refreshments were being sold in the village hall and we had tea and very good homemade Victoria sponge for a miserly two pounds a head. There was bunting hung out across the lane between the hall and the village school. The sun shone. It was all very nice.