How Important are Plant Labels?

Whenever I visit a garden I always go armed with a notebook and pen so I can make a note of any plants I’d like for my garden. Ideally I also take my camera (my phone is sufficiently old fashioned that it can deal with phone messages but is not really up to taking photos). This way I can photograph the plant label to be sure of accurate information.

That is as long as there are plant labels. Last week I had lunch (highly recommended) at Sunbury Walled Garden. Afterwards we wandered round the garden admiring the roses. But only some had labels; at least only some labels were visible. A lot of tutting ensued.

I would be the first to admit that my note-taking system is not perfect. Firstly there is NO room in my garden; there already two trays of miscellaneous plants waiting for something in the garden to die so that they can take its place. So the ‘Oh, I must make a note of that so I can sow it / plant it / buy it next year’ is a bit pointless. Even if I had room the notebooks tend to be left, ignored, on the kitchen table till the next visit, by which time I often can’t read my writing or remember exactly why I liked a particular plant so much. In theory the photographs should solve any identification queries but I have never developed a systematic way of taking pictures so I never know whether the labels refer to the preceding or following plants. Sometimes it’s obvious but all too often I am left peering at the pictures, comparing them with the RHS Plant Encyclopaedia and finally giving up and deleting them.

Part way round the garden I realised that the lack of labels didn’t matter and I could simply enjoy the roses as beautiful flowers. It was a huge relief to realise that their exact names didn’t matter. They were pretty, enhanced the day immeasurably and surely that was enough?

To get to Sunbury from Central London you never really leave the city and yet it has the feel of a village. There are a lot of old and extremely attractive houses and the residents have created a Bayeux-like tapestry, stitched by over a hundred people, some of whom had never done embroidery before. It was drawn by a local architect and everything is accurate, from the buildings to the people depicted. The result is impressive, beautiful and fascinating. It is housed in a specially-designed building, which also houses the all-important café. 

Sunbury Walled Garden was originally the kitchen garden of an eighteenth-century manor house and is still surrounded by gracious parkland. The Walled Garden now contains knot gardens, parterres and a fragrant border. The Victorian Rose Garden has old varieties which have a short flowering season but are beautifully shaped, strongly scented and have romantic names such as ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’. Midsummer is the best time to visit for these roses. The Modern Rose Garden has newer varieties which ‘repeat flower’ and bloom throughout the summer. The garden also holds part of the Clematis Society’s collection and they drape elegantly over every wall.

The café has a terrace overlooking the garden and sells freshly baked cakes, home-made soup and sandwiches. Try the cream tea, with proper clotted cream or the delicious blueberry cake. There is an excellent cookery book available. There are courses, concerts and exhibitions throughout the year.

There is a two-mile walk through the park and village which looked lovely but we had unfortunately spent too long over lunch and ran out of time.  It will be a good excuse to go back later and admire more unknown roses.

Jane

www.sunburygallery.org

 

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