‘A sense of arrival’

A sense of arrival. But empty. 

Mark and I have longstanding running jokes about garden car parks. This, I admit, may not be a common source of amusement to many others. It all came about when we were recruited to a small group in an effort to preserve the spirit of the trust gardens being taken over by one of our local councils. It was not a positive experience in any way, shape or form. In fact it scarred most in our small group of maybe eight or ten leading private gardeners. Our involvement was not welcomed. Not. In. Any. Way. We were left in no doubt of that. But the experience gave us the car park jokes.

This is because, in that typically bureaucratic way of local government in this country, the council commissioned many expensive consultants’ reports and convened a TAG – a technical advisory group which rather appeared to be hand-picked to give them the outcomes they wanted. I can’t recall offhand how much they spent on these reports but I am pretty sure it was into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And one theme that came through repeatedly was the need, apparently, to establish a sense of arrival at the gardens.

That sense of arrival was, it appeared, mostly about car parking. For what do you see first when you arrive? The car park. All three trust gardens ended up with pretty detailed car parks as a high priority.

We have done a fair amount of garden visiting in our time, including overseas and have seen some pretty rudimentary, though functional, car parks. When an official from that council went on a fact-finding mission to look at the infrastructure of major UK gardens, I wanted to comment to him on his return, “You must have been very disappointed in their car parks” but Mark wouldn’t let me. My recollection is that the car park at Hidcote was modest, at Great Dixter it was informal and at Sissinghurst, we were simply worried about whether we would even find a vacant space.

The car parking area at Giardino di Ninfa

The most gorgeous car park of all was the grove of trees at Ninfa, south of Rome. Ours was the only car on the day we were there because we had the place to ourselves. I understand on their official open days, the crowds are such that one shuffles along in line so presumably the car park is chocka block. We have one tree in our car parking area – Prunus Pearly Shadows – and it is a bit surprising that people manage to reverse into it, given it is fairly obvious. I wonder how much rear bumper damage happens at Ninfa.

From memory, I think we worked out that we can park 27 cars in our car park area, if we manage it carefully. Prunus Pearly Shadows in the middle is apparently a hazard. Several drivers have failed to see it. 

We have a small car park because when we open the garden, it is a safety matter to get the vehicles off our dangerous road. We know quite a bit about the vagaries of parking habits. In fact the general public shows a lamentable lack of common sense when it comes to parking. But we did soon learn that if we parked the first car in the right place at the right angle, others followed suit so we would sometimes put our own car out in the car park to set the tone for the day. This is why you often see car parks sealed with painted lines – the supermarket look. Of course, if you want painted lines, you have to seal the area. As soon as you put in large areas of seal (and cars take up a lot of space, camper vans and coaches even more), you also have to put in drainage systems to deal with the run-off because there is no ground absorption. The aforementioned council rose to this challenge with a very tidy set-up which I bet was expensive. But there is nothing environmentally friendly about large expanses of seal. Nothing cheap, either.

Dealing to the storm water in the somewhat grand but indubitably stylish car park at the council garden

A more modest approach to dealing with car parking in unsealed areas at Pensthorpe – a busy tourist attraction in Norfolk

I once asked Mark what he thought gave the greatest sense of arrival at a garden. “A FULL car park,” he replied. It is hard to argue with that.

Part of the coach parking area at Monet’s garden in Giverny. Those coaches were parked up to three deep.

We are more modest back home. But the retired senior government minister who came in saying “It’s just like Sissinghurst” (referring to the trouble he had finding a car park), endeared himself to us forever, despite his subsequent and very public fall from grace.

6 thoughts on “‘A sense of arrival’

  1. Raewyn Mackenzie

    Oh my god that sounds so familiar .. my biggest misery is the engineers of auckland council who have put in blue white lights at close spacing down my street ruining the old ambience of the area, making it impossible to sit out on the verandah
    At night without feeing as though I’m sitting on the perimeter of Mt Eden prison . I swear every local body is ruled by the curbing, channeling ,safety lighting , car parking obsessed engineers .
    A question for you abbey .. I can’t see other comments . How do I do that ?

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Don’t get me started on engineers employed at local body level! I have Strong Opinions on this matter.

      Under the heading of each post on my site, you should see a note on the left if there are comments ,saying “xx comments”. If you click on that, it should open them up for you. Yours is the first comment on this post.

  2. tonytomeo

    Oh goodness! We have so many building codes for our parking lots now that it difficult to provide adequate parking. In our region, new development must contain all runoff! That means that parking lots are surrounded by ditches that catch and hold rainwater until it percolates into the ground. The volume of the ditches is determined by the area of the pavement and roofs, and anything that rain water flows off of. We happen to be in a ‘rain shadow’ that gets less rain than the rest of the valley, but the volume of the ditches is determined by the rainfall in the rest of the valley. Anyway, it is a lot of wasted space that can not be landscaped in the conventional way. It looks just like it sounds; ditches, with a few rocks and riparian plants in them. The riparian plants must be watered during summer. It is so ridiculous. Also, new lots must have compact spaces for smaller cars. That is nothing new, but has been an annoyance for those of us who drive larger cars that do not fit. Now, they are required to have even more narrower compact spaces for those ‘smart’ cars and such! Even conventional compact cars can not fit into these spaces. The problem is that the ‘smart’ cars can park wherever they want to, and commonly occupy full sized spaces! If I am unable to park in their spaces, they should not be allowed to park in my spaces! Goodness; sorry for another rant!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We are slaves to our love affair with the private motor car! It dominates so much urban space and is a huge issue for modern life.

  3. Glenys

    My candidate for the perfect car park, complete with a sense of arrival, would be Beth Chatto’s dry garden. I don’t remember where the cars park now, but her transformation of their former space remains memorable.

    For practical parking, your photo of Pensthorpe’s permeable pavers is an alternative to paving the planet. If straight lines are mandated, Truegrid pavers can include yellow dots to provide striping. There are choices, underused though they may be.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I can’t recall much about Beth Chatto’s car park either, though I would hazard a guess that it is not paved with painted lines! I did not know that her amazing dry garden was originally car park. Hopefully we will see more thought given to environmentally friendly car park options. Well, we have to. We can’t continue paving the planet unless we are willing to accept more frequent and damaging flooding.

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