I do enjoy a garden. Last year we went to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh; earlier this year we explored the grounds at Allan Bank in Grasmere. I've visited palm houses, stately homes and city parks. I know a lot of people go to seek inspiration for their own plots, and I suppose there's a bit of that in my love of gardens.
But for me, it's more about getting a bit lost. There's something magical about finding little hidden shady spots and places to sit, discovering half-overgrown doorways and mysterious paths.
When we went to Skye in 2016, I spent a dreamy few hours alone at Dunvegan Castle. Yes, I went in the castle itself (highlight: the Flower Room, situated in a turret complete with huge stone sink, shelves of urns and vases, and assorted floristry paraphernalia). But the best part was wandering around the gardens. I admired the flowers, sat and read my book, and slowly explored. The weather was beautiful too.
We went again this year with Joe in tow. He delighted in the birds which hopped over to share our picnic and admittedly, things were a little less relaxed this time around - he was excited about a planned boat trip to see the seals - but the weather was just as lovely and the gardens just as enchanting.
Joe was particularly interested in the lily pond (he finds water irresistible) and kept stepping very close to the edge. We distracted him with the nearby glasshouse where he sat down and I had a good look at the geraniums. I'm a lover of geraniums, particularly the delicate scented pelargoniums. There are few things better than a brick-red geranium in an old terracotta pot (my kitchen windowsill is testament to this).
The symmetry and considered planting of the more formal gardens was truly impressive, but for me the real interest lay in the wilder parts. Those and the kitchen plot.
Perhaps it's my appreciation of social history; the everyday aspects of life rather than the grand and the spectacular. Maybe it's because I find the 'working' areas of houses and gardens more relatable somehow. But I do relish the chance to have a good nose around someone else's vegetable plots and to take ideas away with me. Like the structures built from twiggy beech clippings for peas to climb up.
Of course, there were a lot of may favourite flowers in bloom. Lupins, Astrantia and Philadelphus (mock orange). Roses, too. I've never actually grown them but have always wanted to. They're on my 'forever garden' wishlist.
It never fails to amaze me how diverse these gardens are. In larger places (like Chatsworth or the RHS properties) you can see many different gardens in one huge space. Plants, trees and flowers from the four corners of the globe, all brought to these shores by avid collectors and botanists. Some nursed obsessions for orchids, ferns or even Rhodedendrons. Others simply wished to show off - to broadcast their travels and wealth to others.
But whilst I may be impressed by a colossal redwood tree or intrigued by the almost alien forms of equatorial forest flowers, it always comes back to the native plants. Cottage gardens and woodland areas. A bit Beatrix Potter, a bit A.A. Milne.
Probably something to do with childhood books and memories. Still, there's definitely a lot to be taken from learning about new things, examining the strange and the weird and wonderful. That's why we visit these places.
That, and a desire to escape into a haven of serenity: complementary colours, fragrance, the sounds of water and bees. And the reassuring knowledge that in this crazy world we still value the importance of spaces designed and carefully maintained purely to provide quiet pleasure.