BRIDGEMERE, England — The garden center in Bridgemere is said to be the largest of its kind in Europe. In the quiet of Cheshire’s spreading plains, it is its own world of year-round flowers and plants, trees and garden ideas. It has greenhouses, fish in tanks and rustic furniture. Additionally, and for public enjoyment, it is an extensive showplace of more than 20 styles of garden, from an old-fashioned English cottage garden though roses, rocks and water to woodlands, a formal Victorian garden and Mediterranean vibrancy.
Many of the gardens have been re-created from exhibits at major garden festivals. “Bridgemere is wonderful,” said a Japanese visitor, busy with his camera. “The variety of plants here is unbelievable.”
He was in a group of nurserymen and garden designers from Osaka. On a whirlwind three-day tour of British garden centers, they were in the charge of Kazuko Ogawa, a Tokyo-born longtime London resident. Kazuko, practical, capable and outgoing, is a freelance registered guide and interpreter. She says she loves her work, and plans to continue it indefinitely.
Kazuko studied English literature at Waseda University. “I liked the English teacher — the usual story,” she laughed. “We were all girls, and he was the only man.” She applied herself to language and joined the university’s English speaking society. After graduation she found employment with a tour operator. When the opportunity came for her to be sent to England and Europe, she did not hesitate. “I wanted some change in my life,” she said. “Yes, I think I was brave, but I had more hopes than fears.”
Once the world had opened that much for her, Kazuko realized she liked traveling. After a few more tour experiences, she took the Blue Badge Guide Course in London. “It was very hard,” she said. “There were only two Japanese on the course. The others were all English, who already knew about 1066 and the British kings and queens. We didn’t have that kind of base, but we passed the test.”
Kazuko bought a house. “It was quite a large house, so I rented out part of it. The tenants’ rent paid the mortgage.” She married an Englishman and had a son, who is now 26, working part time and “doing music,” she said.
Kazuko continued to work with a tour operator until she went freelance. Now, she says, she has her own clients in Japan with whom she works out dates and tours. “I love gardens too, and like garden tours,” she said. She comes to Bridgemere several times a year, bringing about 40 visitors at a time by coach. “I can make everyone happy,” she said. “They can leave everything to me.”
Visitors from Japan of course are pleased with garden center aspects that are different from Japan’s, and also with those that remind them of home. The expanse of Bridgemere set in unspoiled countryside, and its profusion of flowers, surprise them. They appreciate color arrangements, in borders that provide plants with silver and gray foliage, and in the garden that specializes in cream, white and ivory flowers. They enjoy the long-life characteristics of many easily grown plants that bloom all summer long, and the attention given to several popular plants that are suitable for drying. In winter, heathers and conifers are particularly attractive. Spring gives prominence to Bridgemere’s 100,000 bulbs, to blossoming fruit trees, and to rhododendrons and azaleas. In summer, old-fashioned and modern shrub and bush roses festoon trellises and arches, and mass in beds, while autumn brings a full collection of seasonal flowers and berries. The tranquillity, color and fragrance that envelop Bridgemere delight Kazuko and the visitors she brings.
She knows that Japanese are certain to enjoy gardens during their time in Britain, and has other advice for them. She said: “I want to tell Japanese people: ‘Don’t spend so much time and money shopping, shopping, shopping. Go to the art galleries and museums, that are mostly free. Walk, use public transport by yourselves.’ As it is, after a short visit of mostly shopping, they get confused and think London, Paris and Rome are all the same. In my job it is nice to meet many different people and tell them about England. I really enjoy the English way of life, and my marriage here.”