I really love visiting the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Rosemoor, here in the UK. It’s a big place yet it feels intimate and personal. It’s crammed with unusual plants but is also the sort of place that’s welcoming to novice gardeners. It’s a joy to amble around the garden and see what’s in flower while birds sing in the trees.
At least it normally is.
Periodically public gardens reach out to local people with special offers to entice them to visit. You could visit Rosemoor this weekend for just £1 per person. As you can imagine when the weather is nice, the place was packed. This is seldom a problem at Rosemoor; the garden is large enough that you can always find calm quiet tranquillity away from the crowds. I’ve become quite adept at taking photographs without other visitors in the way, sometimes even hitting the shutter just as someone passes behind a tree.
This visit was horrific.
Gardens are not always places for reverential hush. Some are, but in most cases a garden is a place to experience; carpets of flowers, enchanting perfumes, the sound of wind in the trees, plus the company of friends or family.
I can see why parents would be keen to take their young children somewhere to run around and ‘let off steam’, but this was much more than that.
Dropping stones down the holes of fountains, hitting plants with sticks, trampling over the flowers, trying to climb trees. Garden staff were on hand to witness it all. I really felt for them; this is their place of work, these are the plants they nurture, this is the mess they have to clear up to make the garden beautiful for other visitors.
I’m sure I saw a tear in the corner of one gardener’s eye.
A PR minefield
Public attractions have to tread carefully in modern times. If a gardener asks someone to stop their child destroying the garden then there is every chance that the parents will go straight online and leave negative reviews for the whole place. It can be horrendous for businesses that rely on their friendly reputation.
I found myself entertaining some dark thoughts. Would it be really terrible if I accidentally karate-chopped little Henry on his next run past me? Little Stephen’s constant shouting is getting irritating now, would a quick trip over a shoe that sends him tumbling onto the grass be all that bad? There’s little Georgina throwing stones at the fish in the pond, with a gentle nudge she could take a closer look at them.
Dear reader, I didn’t give in to those dark thoughts.
With such a terrible cacophony in the garden and in the face of such wilful destruction at every turn, I went home. Yes, having travelled to see the garden I, a committed garden and plant lover, went home after barely half an hour in the garden.
(There was a flower show there as well, but I had really wanted to see the garden.)
I don’t blame the children. The behaviours of children are symptom of the times we live in, a time when attractions are held hostage by the threat of negative publicity. Parents know it; many are happy letting their little darlings engage in an orgy of destruction. At least they aren’t wrecking things at home.
Before you call me a ‘grumpy old man’, an accolade I’ve held since I was 11 years old, this is not a different generation to mine: the parents of these children were around my age. Where did it all go wrong?
Adult supervision please… for the adults
It wasn’t just adults ignoring their children’s behaviour; in several cases the adults were themselves acting badly. I rounded one corner to find someone standing right on top of a nice big hellebore so that her friend could take photos of her in just the right spot.
Elsewhere parents were actively encouraging their children to run around in borders, or helping them up onto planted walls so they could run up and down over the plants. Some were picking flowers without a care in the world.
I found it more than aggravating; I found it depressing. Working in gardens for a living you inevitably build an appreciation for the hard work of others.
Also I don’t want the gardens damaged because I want to enjoy them too.
Why must my visit be spoiled by these little bipedal fruits of sexual endeavour? Why must the things I want to enjoy be ruined by the wilful ignorance of others?
A problem everywhere
This is definitely not just an RHS problem. I’ve spoken to gardeners who work for other organisations and independent gardens and they have their own stories to tell. One gardener told me that it’s not uncommon to find soiled nappies or excrement in certain parts of the garden, while another told me about an unpleasant encounter with someone who was doing a full-on photoshoot in the garden without permission. There are many stories….
Some people have no idea of what is appropriate when visiting gardens. Others I’m sure are just rude and obnoxious wherever they go. I do wonder though if other places would put up with this level of bad behaviour? Museums are lucky that their valuable exhibits are behind glass, but I wonder if other attractions would be expected to put up with unruly children and badly behaved adults?
Ultimately we’ll all lose out. Delicate but beautiful garden plants will be removed and replaced with plants that can better cope with abuse. Fine stonework will be removed completely or replaced with something less prone to damage. The cheerful gurgle of water from a fountain will be a thing of the past, taken from everyone because constant repair is expensive and impractical.
There’s a dilemma; generally we, the gardening community, want to encourage new people to experience the joy of gardens. Can this be achieved without causing the destruction of gardens through ‘visitor ignorance’?
For now it seems that I must go garden visiting in the rain; it’s the only way to be guaranteed peace and quiet.