Appreciating our hidden horticultural gems

There are plenty of green spaces where horticulture and plants are not the focus. Yet if you look closer, they are indeed there and deserve our appreciation

I have always enjoyed the outdoors; many of my hobbies reside there. Golf is a particular favourite and it has the added bonus of being an often beautiful, scenic walk in the countryside. So, I couldn’t disagree more with the quote, of disputed origin, that ‘golf is a good walk spoiled’. It was on a recent round that I paused to enjoy my surroundings and the view and it dawned on me that I was not only in the middle of my local golf course where I chase a ball about, but also a horticultural gem – hidden in plain sight and almost certainly taken for granted by most golfers. However, I now always see something new and appreciate it a little bit more with each visit.

A view over my local golf course, with Audley End House in the backgroundThe golf course is obviously not meant to be a horticultural spectacle but it is easy to appreciate it, like I do, as a vast landscaped garden: the way the different areas are designed and feel in the landscape; the horticultural integration and relationship of the trees with areas of grasses, both the managed and the wilder, less manicured areas; the selection of these plants (or the willingness to allow native plants to thrive and spread); the way that views of the wider landscape are incorporated (left). I could go on – but the point is that you really can appreciate it as more than just a purely functional place but also as a striking collection of horticultural elements, on a huge scale.

Our roadside verges and hedgerows can be seen in a similar way. They have seen a rise in their reputation due to their importance for wildlife and biodiversity: they provide valuable food sources and habitats for mammals and birds as well as green corridors and connections between larger habitats. If we aim to preserve their benefit for wildlife, perhaps the best thing is to just leave them, but then they are invariably dull. There must be potential to make them both attractive horticultural additions to our landscapes as well as maintaining their value for our wildlife.

Roundabouts are often singled out as potential areas of public horticulture and there certainly has been an increase in using them as, sometimes designed, planted areas. However, we still see too many predictable roundabouts planted up with seasonal carpet bedding that look like they jumped straight out of the 1950s. Why do we still see so much of this predictable approach as opposed to something new and interesting?

A carpet of bluebells covering an accessible woodland walkA quick look at satellite images of our countryside reveals plenty of what look like ‘islands’ of forest and wooded areas, often interconnected by tree lines and small streams. There are accessible ones that we go to for woodland, snowdrop and bluebell walks that are wonderful – these are great to wander through in winter and autumn – but, there must be so many more that go unappreciated.

I really think these places that are hidden in plain sight that are often overlooked, can provide just as much inspiration and pleasure, as many gardens. In this increasingly urban world, perhaps we should enjoy these less-gardened areas just as much, and not take them for granted. This poses an interesting question – what do we consider to be a ‘garden’, and what slightly leftfield spots do we appreciate for their plants or horticultural content? You can let me know your thoughts and comments below.

And with that, I’m off to enjoy my local golf course that little bit more…

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