For a moment last week I thought I’d died and gone to heaven and if you want the postcode for heaven it’s WV7 3HB, which, as some of you will know, is in Shropshire.
Now I have always been a fan of this county, for starters, I like Shrewsbury because any city that still has a Singer sewing repair shop is my kind of town, plus I once had a local sausage that was so good I thought about selling my London pad and relocating.
But what I didn’t know about Shropshire is that it has its own corner of paradise in the shape of the David Austin Rose Gardens and Plant Centre.
Some of you will be nodding your heads by now, others will be muttering, “Shut up woman this is our secret; it’s already hard enough to park.”
For those like me, who are gardening ignoramuses, the name David Austin smacks of a gentlemen’s outfitters, but as I’m currently touring with two green fingered women, both of whom I swear have ruined their knees due to gardening, I have slowly been indoctrinated into the joys of potting on.
Since we set off back in March the only porn allowed in the back of the tour car is that of the flowering variety. Seriously, I have never seen women derive so much pleasure from a seed catalogue.
By the way, other things (apart from food) that middle-aged women get off on include seaside estate agents’ windows, nifty storage solutions and really good tupperware.
But I digress, spring/summer tours are all about the flora and this past month, the UK has burst her motorway verges with miles of creamy elderflower blossom and cow parsley, oxeye daisies bob alongside shiny buttercups and the fields are splattered with lipstick coloured poppies.
Of course there is much more besides but frustratingly I don’t know their names and I’m reduced to pointing at trees saying, “Oh look Japanese lime”, which is something I have made up.
Falling in love with nature has been a slow process. I used to be so self-obsessed that I spent more time staring into a mirror rather than out of a car or train window. But not anymore. Possibly because the sight in the mirror is not all that great, I’ve started looking out and all of a sudden I have realised that I really love flowers.
Flowers are ace. My favourites include peonies of all persuasion and dahlias be they shaggy or pompom, big headed pink hydrangeas and fat faced sunflowers, hollyhocks, foxgloves and lupins, wisteria and lily of the valley.
Flowers move me. The other day I had to sit on a bench and catch my breath at the sight of the gardens in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close and I even clapped a floral windmill when staying with my mother in Lytham a few weeks back.
But nothing prepared me for the David Austin Rose Gardens and Plant Centre.
I thought it would be like any plant centre: a few rows of flowers for sale, a tea room and shop, maybe a couple of green houses and possibly a bouncy castle for the kids.
How wrong can you be? I first caught a glimpse of the place through a gap in a hedge. It was like seeing the sea for the first time when you drive all the way to Cornwall and suddenly it’s there, but instead of water it was a stretch of multicoloured roses reaching into the distance. I gasped, before the car swung into the plant centre itself where suddenly the scent hit me and I could hear the buzzing of pollen stuffed bees.
There isn’t a perfume counter in the world that can match this place. Visitors wander around with expressions of dazed delight, conversations spark up between strangers, everyone is grinning, oohing and aahing. It’s like a floral bonfire night.
Suddenly my heart felt full and I got a bit weepy sniffing a Jacqueline du Pré.
Roses ramble, they twine around arbours, climb walls, and sit in beds. There are Alice in Wonderland bushes in red and white, old-fashioned orange ones straight out of a Constance Spry arrangement and new-fangled frilly ones. Roses bloom in every shape and colour, named like sailing boats, each with their own character and scent: Fantin Latour, Empress Josephine, Maid Marian.
I had to have one. There was room in the tour car for a small bush, but in the sales yard I dithered. I don’t really have any flower beds in London, ours is more of patio garden. I needed a rose that could live in a pot.
Eventually I chose a Vanessa Bell, with 10 per cent of its sales price going to The Charleston Trust. The plant has the palest creamy yellow flowers and a lemon honey scent.
Positioning it carefully into the footwell of the tour vehicle, I was suddenly struck by the realisation that the last time I was as concerned about getting something home safe and sound, I had my newborn daughter in the car.
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