My sister, it mysteriously turns out, is involved with the Garden History Society. Who knew? Not me. I didn’t even know she liked gardens. Anyway, she does, and not only did she take me to Tyninghame Gardens, in East Lothian, last weekend, but she was recognised and greeted by all the be-jewelled and venerable garden-y ladies we met there, and they all said how much they were looking forward to the tour of Princes Street Gardens and Dunbar’s Close Garden that she – my sister! – was giving that week, and then as we went round the gardens she proceeded to know far more about all the plants than I did. The very wonder of sisters. Anyway, we had a delicious time wandering across the springy lawns and wooded glens, and the sun shone beneficently down.
As we walked through the gardens, I tried to identify what characteristics of the garden gave it its especially classy edge. Was it the choice and type of plants, mainly pale pink bloomy things interspersed with the odd shocking blue firework, the way most of the flowers were scented, the as-though-careless placing of stone urns here and there, the way the poppies fainted artlessly among the delphiniums, the ancient brick walls crumbling with lichen, the approval of thousands of bees, the sheer blooming health of everything in sight?
I realised I don’t know enough names, enough types, enough types-within types, to go about planting my garden with the remotest hope of it resembling even a poor man’s mini version of Tyninghame. Here, everything looked effortlessly arbitrary, but you could tell that it had taken centuries of skill to achieve its arbitrariness. This plant here, that plant there, yet all muddled in together. There was a good reason for every plant’s position, but what that reason might be was stored in the higher centres of generations of head gardeners’ brains. I found Tyninghame the most inspiring, gardener-humbling place.