British Heritage: A nation of shopkeepers or gardeners ... What do you think?

  • Published
  • By Judith Wakelam
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affiars
All over Britain during the summer months (you'll know when that is, the rain gets considerably warmer) look in any direction and you will witness gardens large and small bursting into bloom.

Napoleon once described the English as a nation of shopkeepers. A quote originally made by the Scot, Adam Smith, but I believe we would be better described as a nation of gardeners. For some strange reason we all seem compelled to grow something -- be it flowers or vegetables -- and I am no exception. Flowerbeds, hanging baskets, tubs and troughs -- you name it I have it filled with flowers -- not forgetting the obligatory grow-bag with its tomato plants. Even those with no garden at all will not to be left out - they will have window boxes, hanging baskets and climbing plants.

My theory is it's because our winters are so long, dark and lacking in color that as soon as we get a glimpse of the sun or a green leaf, or the slightest hint that spring could be on the way, we leap at the opportunity to swing the pendulum the other way.

Then again it could just be a faulty gene.

Most weeks during the spring and summer we will pay at least one visit to the local garden center. We'll purchase just one more plant to fill that little hole or yet another packet of seeds to replace the packet we bought earlier and put in a safe place.

During the month of May we flock in hundreds to the "Chelsea Flower Show".

June sees The BBC Gardeners World show at Birmingham's NEC. Visited by literally thousands, this is one of the largest shows in the country. It features everything imaginable that is vaguely connected to gardens with some people spending the equivalent of a deposit on a small house.

June and July bring the county shows, better known in America as county fairs, where we head straight for the flower tents. Nearer to home we have the annual Norfolk show near Norwich. July brings the Sandringham Flower Show, complete with members of the Royal family, and towards the end of the month yet another very large show - the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

All year round we visit the world-famous gardens at Kew and the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Wisley. Both of these have amazing plant collections gathered from all corners of the globe. Then there are the many National Trust properties scattered all over the country with their manicured lawns and colorful flowerbeds.

For the armchair gardener, we have several television channels showing programs devoted to the subject. These are wonderful for getting ideas for the garden but sadly they often remain just that, ideas! Every bookshop in every town will have a gardening section with shelves filled with books on what to buy, how and where to grow it.

For those visitors to Britain who don't have the time or inclination to garden, you can still enjoy the efforts of others. Over the course of the summer months, local newspapers will carry adverts for "Open Gardens" in towns and villages all over the country.

Every weekend somewhere will have open gardens. For a small fee you are invited to see the results of all the digging, planting and weeding and at the same time help a local charity with the proceeds.

In June Bury St Edmunds stages a weekend devoted to "The Hidden Gardens of Bury" when many gardens, normally hidden behind high walls, are opened to the public; some of them hold a few surprises! The Abbey Gardens in Bury are open every day and are always a pleasure to visit. They change with the seasons and viewing them is free to all. The Botanic gardens in Cambridge are also well worth a visit at any time of the year.

Somehow I think I have a bit of work to do before my own garden is ready for the general public, but it certainly gives me a great deal of pleasure. On a hot and sunny summer's day -- I don't yet know which day that will be this year -- I will sit on my garden bench forget about the sore knees and backache and just enjoy the results of my hard work.

Then of course, there are the flower festivals -- but that's a whole different story!