Shaftesbury’s garden lovers will have a treat on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th June, when there’s a rare opportunity to tour ten private gardens in the St James, Layton Lane and Tanyard Lane areas.
These hidden treasures are opening for ‘The Great Get Together’, a national initiative inspired by Jo Cox. Events are planned across the UK to encourage people to reject divisive politics and celebrate everything that unites us. This weekend would have been the late MP’s 44th birthday.
“The real reason we’re doing it is community,” said Andi Blows. Her garden at 30 St James Street is on the open garden trail. The entry tickets list and locate all of the participants. “The ticket has a map on the inside,” said Andi.
“Whether they are tiny or big, open gardens, gardens with lots of weeds or lots of flowers they are our gardens. I think it’s lovely to share them with each other and it’s a very good way of getting to know people,” Andi said.
I was lucky enough to have a sneak preview of Andi’s garden. Walking in from the street, through a side passageway and emerging into daylight at the other side I was surprised by the size of Andi’s garden space. Pink roses climbed the cottage’s greensand stone walls. Palm-like cordyline trees created a rather exotic appearance. “They give the garden a slightly Continental look,” Andi said.
A high hedge, trimmed into the crenellated shape of castle battlements, framed the huge expanse of lawn. Through an archway in that hedge, I could see a farmhouse in the middle distance with the green mass of Melbury Hill rising behind.
At the other side of the arch, we were in a verdant, green garden packed with perennials and set around a large curved pond, laden with water lilies and full of fish. The water reflected the colour of the flowers at its edge and the soothing sound of a waterfall added to a sense of tranquillity. “Wow,” was all I could say.
Andi chooses which of her outdoor spaces to relax in, depending on her mood or the time of day. “This is for bat watching,” Andi smiled, pointing to a seat. “If I come out around dusk and sit there, the bats come out and swoop over the pond in order to find the insects.”
I was surprised when Andi revealed that she hasn’t always had ‘green-fingers’. “I had never been a gardener until I moved here. Then my husband died. He was the one who gardened. Since then I’ve taken over responsibility for it. But I should say that I am fortunate enough to have a gardener one day a week,” Andi said.
Andi has picked up gardening skills as she has gone along. “I was a learner garden and I still am. I asked my gardener to walk me around the garden and show me what sort of things need doing – how to maintain the clematis, when to prune, what goes here or there. After that it’s been trial and error,” Andi said.
With the stone, wooden and metal garden sculptures dotted around the space, I felt that I was within the grounds of a stately home, rather than a cottage in St James. “The ‘Dreaming Lady’ sculpture is there, next to a pansy tree,” said Andi, as she pointed to the rounded white stone form by sculptor, Angelica Syke.
Additional pieces have been bought locally. Andi showed me a spiralling tower of wooden batons that formed another installation. It reminded me of a corkscrew. “That is a kind of celebration of old age. I bought it from somebody during Dorset Arts weeks seven years ago and it’s gradually deteriorating but I think it’s beautiful in its deterioration, like growing old. I’m not throwing it away,” Andi said.
Andi’s partner, Patrick, has created the metal artwork. The garden of 30 St James St is a special place, a surprise that you wouldn’t expect to uncover. And Andi is keen to share it. “I don’t feel that you ever own the garden. Because it’s been here so long before I came. And it will be here long after I have gone. I am a steward of a beautiful place. It is a huge responsibility,” Andi said.
You can buy a ticket to enter all ten gardens around this part of Shaftesbury for £6. Under 12’s are free. Tickets are on sale at all the garden venues including 30 St James Street. The gardens are open between 2.00pm and 5.30pm. Some gardens are only open on Saturday, though.
A proportion of the money raised with go to towards the Jo Cox fund and some will help a local project. “A little will be left over for the St James’ Church, which will be refurbished in the autumn,” said Andi.
Refreshments will be available at Rolt Millennium Green from 2pm on Saturday. There will also be vintage style teas and cakes at St James Church from 2pm on Sunday afternoon. The Two Brewers pub is offering a 10% discount to anybody with an open garden ticket. Unfortunately dogs are not allowed on the garden trail.