Even the weeds are better

This green and pleasant land (from the train)

Whether or not you prefer British garden writing or the Stateside variety (I just like good writing wherever it originates), you have to admit that the Brits do a pretty good job at the actual gardening part of it. We were just there, not on a garden tour mind you, just an ordinary holiday, and creative gardening was everywhere, whether we were seeking it out or not.

Landscaping at the hotel (Carbis Bay)

There are caveats, of course. The climate for gardening over there is just better. While we may not have preferred mid-sixties temps and frequent precipitation on an August holiday, I suspect the plants were loving it. With exceptions, you just do not see the harsh extremes in either direction that US gardeners suffer under. And they have a much older gardening culture. I don’t really envy any of this; it’s just a great reason to visit.

Don’t expect any descriptions and images from Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, or even Kew in this post. Except for Eden, which is a worldwide destination, most of our visits were to historic, artistic, and/or architectural wonders. Along the way, we admired:

I did not take pictures of any of the ones I saw, so this is a the station at Newton St. Cyr in Devon, a 3rd place winner (courtesy of Friends of Newton St. Cyres)

Rail station gardens
Over here, we do like to put trains into gardens, but flowers into train stations? Not so much. It’s a charming tradition in the UK, starting with the beginning of train travel in the mid-nineteenth century, but reaching its height in the mid-twentieth, when station managers often lived nearby and tended the gardens. There are even competitions for the best station gardens, many of which are now taken care of by volunteers. Not all stations have them, but most I saw did; it’s just another fun part of train travel there, which, with cabs, was our main mode of transportation.

Parking lot gardens
This was below our hotel room in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, which was beautifully landscaped. There were three of these, and they’re maybe not looking their best, but they break up what would be a rectangle of concrete used mainly for cars. Are they even needed, given the vista beyond them? Maybe not, and that makes the effort more laudable.

There are a pair of fuchsia specialists in our garden bloggers group; how they must envy their British counterparts, who can grow them as hedges. I don’t know who planted all the perennials and shrubs along the paths we walked between St. Ives and Carbis Bay, but every day I admired the wild patches of acanthus, crocosmia, and autumn clematis (below) we saw everywhere. Some of it would be considered overly aggressive, but I’ll take these over our goutweed and celandine any day.

Along the road

We did see actual show gardens, notably at Hampton Court. And we loved the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden in St. Ives. It’s one of the best and most seamless combination of art and plantings I’ve seen.

Of course, the streets of London were lined with gorgeous planters. I also enjoyed the unkempt grass in Hyde Park (above). Lawn culture seems under control here, where environmental waste (try asking for a plastic bag) seems much more under control. Though I loved getting back to my own garden, coming back to more news of environmental deregulation and loss of protections was not heartening. Oh, well. For another day.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. The Lemington Spa station was one of the most delightful surprises we had in England. Fortunately for us, we were between trains on the day that volunteers had come to work in the garden which was established, as I recall, for a visit from the Queen in 1996.

  2. Interestingly Monty Don is preparing a TV-series/book/DVD about American Gardens. Even though I am an “English Gardener” I do enjoy reading this website occasionally. It’s good to see cross-pollination (!) of ideas between countries and continents.
    I hope you enjoyed your holiday anyway. Happy gardening!

  3. Looks like a wonderful trip away from the hot weather back here. The UK does have a gardening culture, which was much of my point in my recent rant defending Brit garden writers. That awareness gently supports decisions that are made on the private and public level — and though it isn’t perfect (what is in this world?!?), and there are exceptions, it’s a damn sight better than having to constantly re-explain to those who aren’t gardeners the crazy idea that our public and private spaces are made better through the magic of growing things. Brits understand this – even if they can’t tell the difference between a petunia and a pansy and would rather travel than tend a garden.

    • I like my garden writing with more of an edge, so I’d be more in the Lloyd/Nichols camp; not that much of a Don fan. Overall, I feel that all garden writing pales in comparison to food writing, where there are so many passionate, witty, and funny voices. But the gardening books have the info; sadly, I find many new gardeners relying solely on online advice.

  4. Hi Elizabeth
    Thank you for your kind comments about our UK gardens. I live in Leicestershire and look after 9 gardens, all businesses. Your perspective is interesting – from my point of view our public spaces and shared gardens could be greatly improved by planting grasses and perennials rather than evergreen shrubs. The view most of us see every day is very different to the well funded, pay to view gardens tourists visit.
    Regarding the interesting discourse on English writers, its actually very difficult to get garden writing published here unless you are one of a select few. I have written several articles, (some published in a garden journal, some rejected) but publishers consider anything over 2000 words ‘too long’ for print, and limit internet articles to around 800 words.

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