Thursday 29 October 2015

29 Oct : Circumspice

Mark Flanagan MVO, Keeper of the Gardens in Windsor Great Park, passed away this week. He was responsible for the Savill Garden, the Valley Gardens and the gardens at Frogmore and the Royal Lodge which contain a long list of National Collections of plants such as Magnolias, Rhododendrons and Azaleas. I visit the Savill Garden often and have always been grateful for his vision and leadership in the development of this spectacular landscape. His was a life well lived. If you seek his monument - look around you.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

28 Oct : Light

Today it occurred to me that there is no law which forbids fairy lights in your garden in October. I jumped into my car immediately and drove to the far garden centre which is so enormous that I always lose the will to live about half way round. Luckily I bumped into a friend who I haven't seen for a long time so had enough energy to buy some more daffodil bulbs, a couple of Hellebore seedlings and some white Cyclamen hederifolium as well as the fairy lights. By the time I got home the fairy light excitement was too great to wait until tomorrow so I stood outside untangling the strings in the dark, winding them round the box pyramids and feeling quite thrilled. There are eight different modes including twinkling and alternate pulses but I am going to restrain myself to a subtle glow. MrM is going to have a fit when he comes home.

Monday 26 October 2015

26 Oct : Autumn

The day that the clocks go back is definitely my favourite day of the year. Waking up deliciously late and knowing that you have an hour in hand. The knowledge that you must make the most of the light so you spend all day outside. Finally, the drawing of the curtains with the promise of a long evening in your cosy home. Yesterday we did all of those things and felt very satisfied with our industry.

Last year I conscientiously worked my way through a list of 'Things to do in Autumn' but felt disconnected from the season. I see that I have done very few of the same things this year but as I have driven across the country during September and October I have watched the trees change colour in a sequence of rich tableaux and I have experienced a gradual letting go of summer. Now I am ready to look forward to all the good things that winter brings and make plans.

Saturday 24 October 2015

23 Oct : St. Paul's Churchyard

St. Paul's Churchyard is a garden in the heart of a city, laid out on the area of medieval cathedral which was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is not a tranquil space because it is filled with the bustle of city life but you can step away from the traffic and sit for a moment. On the south side there are formal plantings, water features and statuary but it is the north side that visitors seek, a secret garden between the Cathedral and skyscrapers, trees leaning against the massive walls. In the midst of the excited chatter of tourists, the sound of city sirens and rattle of skateboards I watched a little girl stand completely still and coax a squirrel to feed from her hand, welcome silence in a noisy day.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

20 Oct : Arrangements

Welcome to Boconnoc .
It is Saturday evening and everything is ready for a party!

A little earlier in the day
This is Lovely Flower Lady Jenny
and my car full of flowers

Yes, seriously, FULL of flowers.

Here is Jenny precariously balanced on a wobbly stool.
She is working her special flower arranging magic.

Meanwhile the table centres are chilling in the kitchen.

Those mango Callas look good enough to eat.

Sunday morning
Now it is time to party!
Let's peep in before the guests arrive...

Here is the mantlepiece...

look a little bit closer while you can
there will be a log fire here soon.

This is a niche
with a huge urn
and some dramatic Molucella.

Here is a table laid for a feast.

Jenny is a very special florist who lives in our village.
Flowers are a lifelong passion
and it shows in her arrangements.

Thank you, Jenny,  for these beautiful flowers
which glowed all through our wonderful party day.

Saturday 17 October 2015

17 Oct : Cosmos

My mother says "Just LOOK at my Cosmos!! I have been praying every day that it will last a bit longer. Just until this weekend. And it did! Isn't that amazing!"

I stare at this towering display which is growing in three small pots and I wonder all over again what my mother's green fingers can produce from a packet of seeds and a little bit of soil.

My mother is 80 this week and we are having a big party tomorrow. Family and friends all joining together to celebrate. There will be cake.

Friday 16 October 2015

16 Oct : Journey

We drove to Bideford today by the back lanes, just the satnav and me. It is a secret pleasure, this handing over of responsibility, so that I can concentrate on the driving. Sometimes it is a route I would have chosen but quite often we go down the side roads, through little hamlets that I did not know existed. I glimpsed church towers through field gates, a road side stall filled with home made jam and chutney, old avenues of trees, tiny stone bridges, a cow and calf in a field beside a stream, a mossy water wheel turning and everywhere the trees turning the colours of autumn. These small joys are worth the occasional moments of panic when the road seems too narrow or apparently turns in the wrong direction and I must remind myself to have faith. We make a good team, the satnav and me.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

13 Oct : Autumn

Window Box : Fall 2015

This season we are modelling a rich autumnal palette of amber, butterscotch and copper. The wallflowers are being a bit unruly and growing too tall so they have been trimmed but the tiny jewel like violas are most pleasing. This box is at the front of our house which is west facing and the rich burgundy foliage and vibrant colours of the flowers glow until the sun drops behind the houses opposite. Later the little conifer tree will have bright new growth in a zingy lime green at the tips of the branches which trap the precious winter light. I love this autumn window box and was rather fierce to the visiting cat when she checked it out for lounging potential.

Monday 12 October 2015

12 Oct : Roses

The Queen of Sweden has been afflicted by an attack of rose sawfly. I had thought that the little caterpillars munching away at her leaves would explode into clouds of butterflies and that I was creating a haven for wildlife so nobly averted my eyes from the denuded stems but, alas, an idle moment alone with Professor Google and I discovered the error of my ways. In despair I phoned up the David Austin Roses helpline and had a heart to heart with a comforting lady whom I assume was sitting in an old chair in a potting shed surrounded by rose catalogues and rooting hormone powder. There was nothing for it, she advised, but a good old spray of Rose Clear Ultra to get rid of the little blighters. I thanked this helpful lady and went outside to look at my Queen of Sweden who is blooming away despite her travails. Noblesse oblige I suppose.

Saturday 10 October 2015

10 Oct : Bulbs

So many things to worry about...

why are the anemones sprouting already?...
what did I plant in the wide shallow pot?...
when am I going to plant all those allium that I bought in a mad moment?...
why didn't I write the colours on the bags of tulip bulbs?...
which way is up if you are a ranunculus bulb?

Friday 9 October 2015

9 Oct : The Old Country House

This is The Old Country House near Malvern, a magical place to stay for a couple of nights. It is hidden down a tiny lane and you can feel the anxiety of the satnav at every twist and turn. Inside the house is as welcoming as you could wish, a huge polished circular table for breakfast, soft beds with old Welsh blankets and comfortable sofas in front of an apple wood fire.

Outside you push open the garden gates to step into an Enid Blyton world, full of secret places, mysterious paths and trees to climb. There are ancient barns, paved courtyards and a dark pond large enough for a small boat. A magnificent vine clambers over the west range of buildings and the border in front of the house is thick with hellebore. Winter cyclamen cover the ground under the trees and I am told that there are drifts of snowdrops waiting for spring. All of these were planted many years ago and left to spread undisturbed.

The family who have owned The Old Country House since the 1930s have developed their buildings, old orchards and land into a special place for wildlife and there is a programme of walks and talks throughout the year which reflect their committed stewardship. Ella has a particular interest in wild space gardening which she has used very successfully in a new garden nearby.

I explored the garden late in the evening, feeling an intruder into such a private space but determined to learn as much as possible. The young gardener was clearing an ancient stone trough and he paused, lifted his wide brimmed black hat and considered me carefully. "We have all sorts come to visit, even people from the National Trust, and it makes me nervous to hear what they say. They say that that they can see that it has a lot of potential but I know they don't understand how special it is. You have to understand a garden like this - you can't put back what you take out." 

Thursday 8 October 2015

8 Oct : Plans

The library at Knightshayes Court is not a particularly bookish room. It is filled with books but it looks as though they have been bought by the yard to fill the shelves. I might be doing the great industrialist Sir John Heathcoat-Amory, 1st Baronet, an injustice but I suspect that this room was used for drinks before dinner and for enjoying the view over the park rather than academic study. Nevertheless I was touched to see a gardening book tucked in beside Dickens. Apparently Sir John Heathcoat-Amory, 3rd Baronet wrote to his wife Joyce during the war "If we get through this...we will make a garden...". I like to think of them using this book, looking beyond the neglect of the war years to the creation of a landscape of great beauty where they could find peace.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

7 Oct : Tonic

I have been feeling quite ill since I got back home. A real "wrap yourself up in a blanket and snivel" kind of autumn cold.

My father was not very sympathetic and said "people who go to the Mediterranean usually come back with viruses". MrM, on the other hand, has been most solicitous and I do feel very guilty about all the coughing so I am trying my hardest to get better quickly.

I thought it would be soothing to spend time looking at the photos I took at the weekend in Knightshayes Court. The house is a bit bonkers but the garden is wonderful.

The glory of Knightshayes Court is the woodland garden but apparently I only took pictures of flowers. Sorry about that.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

6 Oct : Harvest

Our village is in the centre of a farming community and when the Harvest Festival is celebrated in October there is a real sense of thanksgiving. The church is filled with local produce: all surfaces covered with fruit, vegetables and flowers and a harvest loaf baked by a churchwarden on the altar. The pews are full and it is a very joyful occasion with loud singing of familiar hymns and a background of bells. After the service there is a Harvest lunch in the village hall where plates are loaded with local meats and homemade salads followed by blackberry and apple crumble with clotted cream. MrM bid furiously for a jar of local honey, home made apricot jam and the largest cauliflower I have ever seen in the auction of the harvest offerings and so we will be eating cauliflower cheese for a week. When we left the hall we could see the big field on the opposite hill was freshly ploughed, the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next.

Monday 5 October 2015

5 Oct : Croatia

We went to Croatia last week. In fact, to be more specific, we spent a wonderful long weekend in the historic centre of Split enjoying the vibrant city life and sampling the excellent local wine. On the last day we took a boat trip to the islands. We had hoped to go to the Blue Cave but it was too windy to be safe and so we set out in a small ferry to Trogir and then the Blue Lagoon.

I looked out for the gardens, as I always do, but they were remarkable by their absence. The centre of Split is a warren of medieval alleyways so perhaps it was not so surprising that there are no planted spaces but although the modern sea front has an avenue of palm trees the busy space is covered with pathways and cafes. On the islands there is no evidence of municipal planting in central areas but it is possible that there are parks that we did not visit. The small village houses that we walked past had vines and some bouganvillea but in comparison to similar villages in Italy or Greece the planting was quite sparse. Croatia is not a wealthy country and perhaps this is part of the explanation - gardens are a luxury when it is a struggle to make a living . Our friendly taxi driver Mario gave us another clue - he told us that when he grew up there was no colour at all - every surface was grey, covered in the dust from two cement factoriesm and the sea was contaminated with the outflow from a chemical factory. It would be difficult to grow anything in earth poisoned with chemicals and air thick with cement dust and so it is no wonder that there is no tradition of gardening. It is a testament to the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of the Croatians that the places we visited have recovered so quickly from the damage of the period of Socialism and the civil war after the declaration of independence in 1991.

Anyway, in lieu of flowers, have some pictures of boats.