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On Saturday 21st May 2005, a coach load of mainly girlish gardeners set off from Ilkley to visit the garden of George Smith, MBE, in Heslington on the outskirts of York.  It's easy to find when you know how, which our driver didn't - you go to the far side of the University Campus, turn into Heslington Village and stop outside the Delamere Arms.  The garden of almost three acres surrounds the 18th century manor house next door and is a mature and well thought out gardener's paradise 50 years in the making.

Mr George Smith is an immaculately dressed 70 year old gentleman with an air of serenity and friendliness.  He greets each of his guests personally and wanders round the gardens stopping to speak to everyone and answer questions.  It really is most civilised.

It was May and so the garden was not at its most flowersome but it was attractive nevertheless.  Well kept lawns and paths wander between hundreds of trees, verdant  flowerbeds and multicoloured shrubberies.  The two ponds are full of water lily leaves and the promise of flowers.  Mr Smith is a Hosta fanatic and indeed he discovered a new variety in this very garden which is now named after him, Hosta George Smith (£12.50 each in the nursery.)  Although clearly well planned there is a certain randomness about the place.  The gravel garden is delightful and so is the orchard and the conifer walk and everything.

The afternoon is long and organised to the minute.  Start at 3; short explanatory address from Mr Smith; wander round the garden; tea and biscuits from 3.45 to 4.20; then a slide show and entertaining talk from Mr Smith.  The talk was good.  The slides changed automatically every few seconds with Mr Smith improvising his description of what was on screen to fit his audience, with many witty asides and comments.  He felt at home with us fellow Yorkshire men (he was born in Halifax) and obviously enjoyed himself.  Then more perambulation around the garden or the house.  Don't forget the house.  Inside this very nice old house are about 10 different enormous flower displays.  George Smith's MBE is for services to floristry and these displays explain why.  They are beautiful and the largest you will ever see in a domestic setting.   There must be hours of work for each one.

 From 5 to 6 we are able to visit the small select nursery full of plants either grown from stock in the garden or by a local buyer specially selected for their good quality.  The prices are not unreasonable for the quality, and start at 50p for Honesty seedlings to £12.50 for the special Hosta - most are in the £5 to £6 range.

By 6pm we are all ready to go, laden down with plants and ready for dinner back home.  The journey is uneventful until Otley when the sky darkens and the clouds break so that we arrive home in a horrendous storm the like of which is rarely seen in Ilkley even in these days of global warming and weird weather.  The weather had been perfect in York - what is going on?

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