Every summer begins with my firm intention to visit a few private gardens open to the public, especially those that have been planned by other garden designers. Most summers come and go and the good intentions remain just that but this year I was determined and made the time to get to several. Each one had something to make the trip worthwhile.
In one garden I found not only inspiration but also a challenge to a very long held prejudice where a beautiful burgundy red flower on a lush and leafy perennial grabbed my attention. Stunned, I recognised it straight away as a Dahlia, a species I've never liked nor given house room to in my own garden, despite their return to fashion in recent years.
What a fabulous flower, matched only by two others in different gardens, one of which was another Dahlia!
What a mistake to dismiss a whole species and miss out on such beauties particularly at this end of the year when as I can now see, their bold forms complement the glowing colours of autumn so well.
In complete contrast the other stand out plant was much more to my usual taste, a lovely sky blue Salvia uliginosa, head and shoulders above everything else waving around in the wind among the bleaching heads of tall grasses, a perfect combination.
Other grasses were memorable too, Miscanthus used as a monoculture completely surrounding a swimming pool was simple and serene, a perfect plant for the application as wind break and screening and at its best in mid to late summer when the pool would be most used.
The garden was designed by Tom Stuart Smith so I had anticipated brilliance and found it not only around the pool but also in the way it made me completely rethink my opinion of clipped and shaped yew.
Earlier in the year I'd visited a garden known for its use of tall yew hedges which I'd found dark and oppressive, but here they were much lower, rhythmic and playfully shaped providing a very different atmosphere.
Pictures of gardens might give us the general idea but it's only by being in them that we can appreciate how they make us feel and visiting open gardens is a brilliant opportunity to understand how we respond to them, experience other people's tastes and most importantly question our own.
This year I've been converted to Dahlias, whatever next!