I have never visited the Botanical Garden at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, but the gardens have recently become the subject of some controversy with factions divided over the way in which the gardens are currently being managed (or not). The significance of the garden lies in its situation in a micro-climate which makes it ‘the hottest garden in England’ and the previous head gardener gained a reputation for bringing in plants from far flung regions. From its foundation in 1970 until it was sold to an American businessman, John Curtis in 2012, the garden was publicly owned, and run by the Isle of Wight council, but as the council struggled with significant financial losses the garden was sold.
Over the course of the next few years a number of visitors noted what they described as a decline in the gardens – weeds were appearing and there seemed to be a general feeling that it was no longer being managed properly. John Curtis defended the garden arguing that the methods being used supported gardening in a time of climate change. Unlike a typical botanic garden, plants are no longer labelled which the current head gardener, Chris Kidd describes as creating an ‘immersive experience’ and the idea is to garden with nature.
With opinions sharply divided on both sides, ultimately, much seems to depend on what one describes as a ‘natural garden’ and the nature of a ‘botanic garden’. What is wild gardening, or gardening with nature? How natural is a natural garden? Ventnor’s dilemma seems to embody much of current horticultural conversation.