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 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.
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.
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.