Manmade in Britain

Sunday 1 June 2008

This week, I had the pleasure of walking through the perfectly prim Abbey Gardens in the historical town of Bury St Edmunds. This park is the epitome of British municipal gardening. Even after a weekend of torrential rain it was disturbingly perfect, having the look and feel of being planted only five minutes ago (but the gardeners and groundsmen were suspiciously absent, perhaps they work only at night). There was an mood of enforced restraint, a you can look, but don’t touch about it. This is a green-fingered cultural oasis akin to the surreal world of the Stepford Wives and The Prisoner. There could be no carefree skipping across the grass as a medley of beds and borders of the most unnatural shapes and designs surround you at every turn, planted with the most mathematical precision. I half expected a loud halo to sound from within the primulas and shout at us keep back! should we linger too long.

Abbey Gardens appears to be the gardening equivalent of a classy ready-meal, prettily packaged and perfectly proportioned, packed with artificial colourings, gardens-to-go for tired and hungry eyes. This style of gardening seems quite disorientating and a little austere in its efforts to look pristine, although high praise must be given to those that meticulously tend these verdant symbols of respectable Britishness; but within this very orderly environment any connection to nature is lost, there is little space for the sprawl of some native flora or fauna to give a sense of place. However, it’s still worth a visit if you are passing by and have an hour to fill – if a little sugar-coated horticulture appeals this summer then read more about the Abbey Gardens history here – and there is even an Abbey Gardens webcam for the curious; I’ll be checking it out daily for any signs of wildlife…

Abbey Gardens