Being Transplanted...

Maples from lower border looking up & Max

In the early 90’s I found myself being “transplanted” from the US to the UK, a process that was not entirely without difficulty….

It turns out that, just because two countries speak the same language (more or less), that is no guarantee there won’t be big differences in other areas…

The language part was easy and interesting; the cultural differences were vast and sometimes distressing.

However, there was one part of the upheaval, and it was an upheaval, that turned out to be delightfully easy and reassuring, and that was gardening.  Luckily for me, I had been transplanted to a country with a massive gardening tradition, one that was much longer than the history of the country from which I came.

In the south of England, I found a gentle climate unlike anything I had experienced before.  Plants that I knew from the US grew quite differently, growing faster and flowering for longer.  It was a revelation and a pleasure.

There was also a whole new world of plants to learn about.  Plants that had been too tender for me to consider before like Agapanthus, and large-flowered Penstemons, a lot of which I had only seen in photos.

And the nurseries!  In the 90’s, before the hegemony of the “destination garden center”, there were still proper nurseries to visit, with knowledgable staff who knew their plants… plants that I had only seen  in photographs and never been able to buy.  For a gardener it was like being in a giant candy shop-cum-bakery…such bliss!

Mr Spreadbury & his tractor

“It was a revelation and a pleasure”

There was another garden to develop, this time in Surrey on well-cultivated clay.  The friable soil was a pleasant surprise after the heavy uncultivated clay of my first garden in the US where every bed had to be dug and amended thoroughly.

There were areas of both sun and shade to plant.  The shady area was much moister than my Pennsylvania garden’s, so I decided to investigate hydrangeas, a group of shrubs I hadn’t grown before.

Maples: the shade border

Near a small woodland and open fields, there were a great number of birds, including Tawny Owls, which were new to me and, also, an abundance of bats. In the twilight the bats would flood out of the woods and up the sloping garden.

There were lots of foxes, as well, though we didn’t see much of them, we certainly heard them and I remember the first time I heard the spine-chilling mating cries of a vixen…”what was that?!

In the US, foxes are not often seen or heard, but then, there’s a lot more space for them…

The American Red Fox

Being at the top of a slope, the garden had a spectacular view over fields and woods to distant hills.  But also because it sloped to the east, with virtually no south or west garden, there was no afternoon sun and I learned that, in that part of England, afternoon was the one time of the day when the cloud would nearly always lift and some welcome sun would appear…. 

Maples 1997 - Looking East

“It and its cousins made welcome visitors to the garden and to my life in England”

Black-capped Chickadee photo credit Patrice Bouchard
Black-capped Chickadee photo credit Patrice Bouchard

Although most birds were new to me, there were some that seemed pretty familiar, like the Coal Tit, a cousin to the Black-capped Chickadee, which is a bird that lives throughout most of the US.  It and its cousins made welcome visitors to the garden and to my life in England.

My English husband was a keen gardener (though more of the vegetable and lupine variety), and we spent lots of time visiting gardens and plant fairs around the south.

That was another fantastic difference; the abundance of famous gardens and particularly the national network of gardens open to the public through the National Garden Scheme. There is nothing like that in the US.

It took a long time, but eventually I “settled” when we moved to Sussex and found our third garden: Saffrons…and that’s another story…

Black-capped Chickadee photo credit Patrice Bouchard
Black-capped Chickadee photo credit Patrice Bouchard

Although most birds were new to me, there were some that seemed pretty familiar, like the Coal Tit, a cousin to the Black-capped Chickadee, which is a bird that lives throughout most of the US.  It and its cousins made welcome visitors to the garden and to my life in England.

My English husband was a keen gardener (though more of the vegetable and lupine variety), and we spent lots of time visiting gardens and plant fairs around the south.

That was another fantastic difference; the abundance of famous gardens and particularly the national network of gardens open to the public through the National Garden Scheme. There is nothing like that in the US.

It took a long time, but eventually I “settled” when we moved to Sussex and found our third garden: Saffrons…and that’s another story…

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