The Clerk in the Country

Tuesday 26th May 2020
Looking for plants in a distant field

The welcome re-opening of garden centres reminds me of a childhood visit (rather a long time ago!) to one in this area. California Gardens was a big disappointment to me at that age. My parents browsed happily among the neat displays of potted plants, bags of compost and shiny new forks and trowels, but I had expected Joshua trees, fan palms and exotic “Hollywood” blooms. It was only years later that I realized that the name had probably come about because the centre had been built on a field called California.

Where old field names survive, they can provide clues to former land use or history. There are Cow Closes and Hog Meadows in which no cow or pig has set foot in generations, and Stockings which are neither sock shaped nor used for livestock but link to an Old English word meaning “cleared of tree stumps”. Names like Botany Bay or California were given to fields a long way from the farmstead.

I imagine customers, suitably distanced, are once again enjoying a visit to California Gardens, perhaps accompanied by puzzled offspring looking for palm trees.