Garden Cafes: Boon or Bane?
The Loggia cafe area at Hanham Court, July 2009
Last week Threadspider and I attended a most interesting talk at Bath University Gardening Club given by the Head Gardener (Catrina Saunders) at The Courts. I'll have more on that in a later post: today I'd like to focus on an interesting discussion we had during question time at the end.
Up until 5 years ago The Courts had no cafe facilities and a lady asked how much of a difference having one had made to the garden. Catrina immediately picked up on the hidden agenda within her question: she didn't really like the additional people the cafe brings and wanted her garden back.
Catrina said initially as Head Gardener she hadn't really liked the idea of having a cafe at The Courts as she wanted people to visit for the garden itself, not just a nice place to have a cup of tea and cake. She then went on to say when she visited other gardens, how much she appreciated having a cuppa on arrival, particularly after a long journey.
The discussion then touched on the tensions between the increase in visitor numbers that having additional facilities brings, the need for income to keep gardens going and how more people can potentially destroy a garden's aesthetics and mood. There was some inference in the discussion that people requiring facilities somehow aren't real garden visitors.
Threadspider and I chewed this over on our way home together. I'm firmly in the pro garden cafe camp. I've come to realise they not only ensure a pleasant visit, they're also an essential component of my appreciation of the garden I'm visiting. After a long journey, I can recover from my travels and get in the right mood. Whilst going round the garden they also provide an opportunity to pause and take stock of what I've seen. It means I can appreciate the garden in its entirety as well as in detail. As a result I spend far longer on my visit and that's not just the additional time spent in the cafe.
Last year, my friend S and I visited Stoberry near Wells when it opened for the NGS. This garden is well worth a visit, has bags of atmosphere and has spectacular views towards Wells Cathedral and Glastonbury. We spent over an hour taking our refreshments because the light that day was constantly changing and we were observing how it affected the mood of the garden and its surrounding landscape. If there'd been no coffee and cake we would have missed an entire dimension to the garden.
What do you think? Does providing additional facilities cheapen a garden in some way, or are they an essential component to a visit?