Doris Day teamed up with Les Brown and his Band of Renown in 1944 as World War II was nearing its close with her first big hit, “Sentimental Journey.” Close your eyes and go back, if  you’re old enough, and imagine the lyrics. It will bring tears to your eyes

 “Gonna take a sentimental journey.

  Gonna set my heart at ease … 

  Gonna take a sentimental journey,

  Sentimental journey home.”         

Well, didn’t it? They just don’t make them like that any more.

What’s that got to do with gardening 2019? A lot more than you think. 

In 1992, My Assistant and I took our first garden tour to the British Isles. It seems long ago and far away and, in fact, it was. Travelogues may not be your thing. If not, you can now go to the comics page. 

We since took three more similar tours, covering virtually all the Isles as well as the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey. Yes, where the cows came from. 

I wrote of each of the tours at the time, over a period of some 20 years or so. But today I am going to take a sentimental journey back there and perhaps make some comments on subjects that have surfaced since then, some of them concerning gardening and others just the British life at large. 

England and its surrounds have at least 2,000 years up on us in the New World. There were ornamental gardens there when native Americans were wielding spears and arrows to try to get a buffalo to barbecue or digging for some edible root. 

However, the Brits mothered our garden ideas, beginning with rather primitive attempts when we were their colonies, well before the Boston Tea Party and the Revolutionary War. After our independence came at the cost of blood and bravery, the tradition continued as more and more people on this side of the pond amassed enough wealth to take ornamental gardening seriously. We had a lot of time to make up, and we’re still at it. England, after all, is the mother of all gardens, as far as the western world is concerned. Two hundred years is only a blink of an eye compared to their 2,000. Anyhow, it has and still does mean work, work and more work. 

Rudyard Kipling put it this way:

 “All England is a garden, and such gardens are not made

  By saying, oh, how beautiful, and sitting in the shade.” 


A goodly number of my considerable library of gardening books are by British writers, and so it should be, what with their great chronological advantage. 

One of the salient things that have stuck with me was the observation of their conception of permanence. After all, they have schools more than 500 years old that are yet holding classes in the original buildings, not to speak of castles and cathedrals of at least that age. We dined in a private home one evening on one of our trips as guests of the residents, who were accomplished gardeners. The house was original and built in circa 1100. No misprint. The sumptuous meal was preceded by drinks and hors d’oeuvres on the immaculate lawn. 

On the other hand, we here in the states have become accustomed to using, say, a school for 50 years or so and tearing it down to build another. They build for more years than that, a lot more, which, in the long run, proves to be more economical. 

Most private homes we saw reflect the same idea of permanence. Few houses have asphalt shingle roofing. Most are slate or tile with 500 years or more of useful life.

Wood houses, likewise, are scarce except in some few new subdivisions.

Our bus driver got turned around one day and asked directions to such and such a garden. A friendly Brit said for him to go a few blocks and turn right, then go by the old school and then the new school and there it would be. Well, we passed two schools all right, but neither looked new and we never found the garden.

Backtracking, we went back to the pub where the guide had entered and got another dose of directions.

After our driver told him what happened, he said, “Oh you passed the old school and the new one too. The old school is a thousand years old and the new one is only five hundred years old.” 

Not an exceptional occurrence there, but it says something of their mindset. 


From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Thanks for the memories. 


JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.

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