Some of the best inspiration comes from visiting gardens open to the public, whether personal or private. I often buy plants or put together color combinations I have seen in someone else’s garden. The Garden Conservancy (on-line at www.gardenconservancy.org) publishes The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Directory, The Guide to Visiting Hundreds of America’s Best Private Gardens. Founded by Frank Cabot in 1989, the organization’s mission is “to preserve exceptional American gardens for public education and enjoyment.” Nantucket and the Cape have open days as do many other parts of New England and beyond. Make sure you bring a camera and take notes!
When my father died in early winter five years ago, my mother and I found ourselves in a deep gloom. She had traveled extensively with him and suggested we take a trip. My favorite garden magazine, BBC’s Gardens Illustrated, had just arrived and in it was an article about the upcoming Chelsea Flower Show in London, one of the most important and inspirational garden shows in the world.
I did some looking about and found a small Canadian garden tour company that was going to England to look at a number of great British gardens and also included a day at Chelsea. We signed up and loved every minute of every day. The gardens we toured included places that inspire me to this day, including Christopher Lloyd’s absolutely incredible Great Dixter House & Garden. Lloyd has written many witty and thoughtful books on gardening, all beautifully illustrated. If you want to stay near home you can visit a large flower packed border Lloyd designed for the White Flower Farm in Litchfield, Connecticut.
Vita Sackville-West, another great garden writer, and her husband, Harold Nicolson, designed and planted the many garden rooms at Sissinghurst Castle with its matching set of fairy tale towers. We visited Wisley where the phenomenal plantsman and designer, Piet Oudolf, was in the midst of installing large swaths of color, creating a very natural looking garden. Hidcote was gorgeous, Kiftsgate was elegant, and Savill and Kew Gardens kept us on our feet for hours. Looking again at photographs I made on this trip, I now know what inspires this gardener most!