The gardens in Wakehurst


by AMIT ROY AND now for something completely different – whether Britain is the most beautiful country in the world, especially at this time of year when Wordsworth’s “golden daffodils” have come and almost gone and the leaves on the trees are showing an early hint of fresh green. Lord Navnit Dholakia is a keen gardener and has been for as long as I can remember. The reason why he seems so level-headed is probably because he manages to spend time in the garden and encourages other Asians to do the same. Given that so many from the Punjabi community, in particular, came from rural backgrounds, I am surprised more do not spend time in their gardens or find an allotment. In Southall and elsewhere, you can almost always guess which homes are Asian by a tell-tale sign – the front garden is concreted over to accommodate two cars, one of which is invariably a Mercedes. Earlier this month I happened to find myself in a kind of English paradise – 500 acres of gardens and woodland in Wakehurst, West Sussex, that are owned by the National Trust, but managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. On a sunny day in early spring when the cherry and apple trees and the magnificent magnolias are in full bloom, what was said of Kashmir and other places in India could also be applied to this corner of England: “If there is a paradise on earth, this is it, this is it, this is it.” Wakehurst also has the “Millennium Seed Bank”, aimed at saving vanishing flora all over the world. In our back garden in London, the crab apple, whose shadow provides a resting place for three of our beloved cats, has now flowered as it does faithfully at this time of year. I have read an extract from a new book, ‘Cherry’ Ingram: The Englishman Who Saved Japan’s Blossoms by Naoko Abe, which tells the story of Collingwood Ingram, an eccentric Englishman who visited Japan in 1902 and 1907 and fell in love with cherry blossoms or sakura. He dedicated much of his life to their cultivation and preservation. It is noted that “every spring we – and Japan – enjoy his legacy”.