The RHS garden, Hyde Hall. 21.04.13

The Royal Horticultural Society has a magnificent garden at Hyde Hall. The site is enormous and they can be forgiven if they occasionally get a little lost in their haste to reach their destination. Gloria stood at the top of the hill shouting "Courage, mes braves!" in the hope that they would hear her cheery encouragement but her voice never carries far even on a still day. Sometimes I struggle to make out what she is whispering when we are in the motor car so her hilltop exhortation was not her finest moment.

Under the giant skies of the eastern counties the landscape can seem flat and empty but the outer fringes of the garden are populated with seasonal scarecrows. They look as though they are pensively searching for the solutions to the Times crossword when in truth they are probably stuffed with it. Very intellectual scarecrows keeping the crops free of aerial marauders with their scathing wit.

Below the hill a new lake has been constructed in a shallow valley like a bead of water trapped in the small of a sunbathers back. These Snake's Head Fritillaries have been planted in a broad swathe through the damp meadow. It is to be hoped that they will spread widely in the coming years.

The formal pond behind the house is a beautiful feature. Across the water you can see the colourful tents of the Plant Heritage plant fair. This was the main reason for our visit, though we only whisper it. Gloria has few close friends and they are concentrated on the east of the country. She sat and chatted with them in the admirable tea rooms until the coffee made her short tempered and I had to remove her to the garden.

The dry garden is a great success making the best use of the low rainfall and warm summers. It is expanding rapidly and the latest new area has started to blend into the original feature. The new plantings are on a larger and simpler scale and I am sure that is the best policy. The rock-work associated is surprisingly harmonious. I don't know where it comes from but it isn't local to the thick yellow clay of this landscape.

Even at this early season the light if the eastern counties is a delight. Cornus alba 'Sibirica' is a plant that always seems to ring of disappointment like a church bell with a crack in it. So often it is planted for the scarlet bark in winter and then pruned with timidity so that it fails to produce any impact. Here it is quite wonderful, the fresh lime leaves emphasise the quality of the scarlet bark. It fulfils hope and makes it possible to forgive its appearance in acres of mindless municipal dreariness.

This is a lovely garden, and a little of Gloria's caffeine-grumpiness has spilled over into me. The formal rose garden is a delight at this season. The clipped perfection demonstrates the sort of classical skill that is the foundation of the RHS' reputation. I have long said that the societies gardens need to make more use of polythene tunnels. They have been a little slow to adopt new ideas. The tunnels in the background are very welcome, but the positioning is a peculiar and moronic manifestation of the disjoint thinking that can sometimes happen in large bureaucracies. Why they were positioned to obstruct the formality of the view into the wider landscape from the rose garden - well, words almost fail me. Surely somebody is aware that deciduous screening loses its leaves in the winter?
There is a whole world of borrowable landscape here and it has been treated as though it is nothing more than council landfill. It is scarcely possible to imagine a more perfect view of Basildon, Dartford and the Thames Estuary yet this is a view arranged to emphasise the occasional ugliness of that region.
If there is no other possible site for them surely the mind that clipped the geometrical precision of this garden could have been harnessed to ensure that the tunnels followed the same alignment. As it is they skew across the hillside in plastic imitation (as I now notice) of Glorias incaffeinated hastenings.
More thought, more plastic and more courage in a garden that should be the diamond at the heart of the society's activities. I must away and rescue Gloria, she has strayed perilously close to the pond and her inflated infatuation with big fish will be her undoing.

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