Lessons from English Gardens for Americans #8: The Collector’s Garden

Last summer on our way to Scotland we stopped in the ancient market town of Ely to see the cathedral. Ely’s was one of the first of the Gothic cathedrals, and a trip from Cambridge through Ely, Lincoln and then finally to York allows you to witnesses the full architectural maturation of the English Gothic style. But as fate was have it, the cathedral was closed: Netflix had decided that Ely would be a great stand in for Westminster in its new series Monarchy, and place was totally roped off for filming. Luckily however, as a totally unexpected consolation prize, I stumbled across this magnificent little garden in the shadow of the cathedral close.


This tiny space — and tiny it was, I doubt it measured much more 10 x 30′ — was literally packed with plants. Most were in pots, and almost all were either in flower, about to flower, or had some other striking characteristic such a boldly variegated foliage. I show you these pictures because this is the one type of garden, the collector’s garden, that can and does break all the standard rules of landscape design: there’s no real focus, there’s no axis, the space is cramped and over-utilized, the design totally lacks a color scheme and a half a dozen more. It is a collection, not a landscape. But it works thanks to the quirky passion of its owner, in the same way some over-the-top avant-garde artist will comfortably wear an outfit to a party that you and I would hesitate even to try on in the privacy of our own homes.

So today’s lesson is that “if you’ve got, flaunt it.”

And if you don’t, best to abide by the rules like the rest of us.

ely garden2


Lessons from English Gardens for Americans #8: The Collector’s Garden — 4 Comments

  1. Indeed an awesome find! And a really good description and comparison to the conventional rules of landscape design.

    Hope the winter is treating you well Michael!

  2. This collector is so enthusiastic that there was even an overflow of pots onto the outer court, these being offered for sale.
    Great trip!!

  3. Nice flaunting. Made me homesick. And then I looked back at the greenhouse post, since mine went down to an unnerving 41 degrees last night. Still, nothing died, even though it was minus 9 on the other side of the panes…….

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