Gardens and the Natural World

When I was about six, my Great-Aunt Eliza gave me this nautilus shell. It was kept on top of a high chest of drawers in the West Room – a big spare room with a four-poster bed so huge that it had to be sold with the house. I wasn’t allowed to have the shell in my own bedroom until I was about eleven, so I only glimpsed it occasionally but the knowledge that it belonged to me always gave me a thrill.

Great Aunt Eliza’s nautilus shell

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I came across this little garden next to Embankment tube station one icy day in March and I was struck by the number and variety of statues and fountains. Why was a languorous bronze female draped up the side of an obelisk in an attitude of extreme grief? And what was the statue of a soldier riding a camel commemorating? Not to mention Sir Wilfrid Lawson, Bt, whose friends erected his statue ‘in loving and grateful remembrance of his splendid leadership and of his pure and unworldly life’? I vowed to return with my camera when it was warmer.

The Antique Bronze van; John and William complete the statues and monuments’ annual clean

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Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was a politician, a Prime Minister; a writer; a notable orator; and an indomitable war leader during World War II. During his long life, he was given almost every honour his country (and others) could bestow: Knight if the Garter, Companion of Honour, Order of Merit, Nobel Prize for Literature, Fellow of the Royal Society, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and an Honorary Citizen of the United States, amongst others.

This post looks at his private country home – Chartwell in Kent.

Sir Winston Churchill, 1941, by Yousuf Karsh

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The story of Glenarm Castle begins with a murder. In 1242, John Bisset, a hot-headed young Scot of Norman origin, was implicated in the murder of Padraig, Earl of Atholl, after a tournament in Haddington, where John’s uncle Walter was beaten by the earl. In revenge, John murdered the earl, set fire to his house to conceal the crime, and fled to Ireland.

It was John Bisset who built the first castle at Glenarm on the Antrim coast, facing his old homeland. Bisset then fades from the castle’s history. But every castle worthy of the name needs a good murder in its founding story.

Glenarm Castle

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Yesterday, on a freezing December day, I visited the RHS gardens at Wisley for the first time. I’d been longing to go there for years. It was not, perhaps, the best time to see the gardens but, on the other hand, it wasn’t too crowded, there was still plenty to see, and the Coffee Shop and the Glasshouse Café were both very welcoming when our fingers got numb and coffee – or lunch – called.

Lake with Laboratory in the background

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There’s something very serene about the combination of birds, particularly swans, and water. Sometimes, waterfowl can be aggressive towards each other birds, or squabble about food, but, generally speaking, they move gently but purposefully, and I find looking at them very calming. I was brought up in the country and trees, water, birds and wildlife generally is something I miss.

Leeds Castle and waterfowl

I was thinking about this last week when I visited Leeds Castle in Kent. The castle itself is built on an island in the River Len and surrounded by a wide moat which is almost a lake and next to Great Water, another lake. The walk there, through woods by the river and passing yet more ponds and lakes, means there is plenty of room for waterfowl.

Black swan and white swans, mallard and coot

I loved the contrast between the dramatic black swan and the other white swans, whilst smaller mallard and the occasional coot provided the supporting cast. I’d had a tiring week and, as I watched them, I could feel the tension leaching out of me. I could stop and admire them; I didn’t have to rush.

White swan and cormorant

I stopped again by the cascade garden and walked to the middle of a scarlet, vaguely Chinese-looking bridge which faced a cascade at the end of a large pond, where another swan was majestically sailing. Nearby on the low stone edging, a cormorant stood awkwardly, its neck stuck out at an angle.

White swan

As the white swan floated past, the cormorant slipped into the water and followed, looking ungainly, almost as if it was half-submerged.

Canada geese and a stray mallard on the grass in front of the larger pond

In the distance,  you can just see the small green train on the left crossing the green on the far side of the lake which takes visitors straight to the castle. I preferred to walk through the woods but it’s a couple of miles and there’s no doubt the train is quicker, besides giving the visitor a ringside view of the castle itself.

It was all very good for the soul.

Elizabeth Hawksley

 

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Lambeth Palace, situated on the south bank of the Thames, more or less opposite Westminster Abbey, has been the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for over 500 years. Its garden is one of the oldest in the country, though it has, of course, undergone numerous transformations as times and garden fashions changed. The garden is open to the public on the first Friday of the month from April to September. And I’ve just been to the last open day of 2017.

The Gatehouse, Morton’s Tower, c.1495. This is the imposing entrance – you can see people queuing

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On a chilly Sunday back in March, I wrote about the Culpeper Community Garden. This weekend, I decided to revisit it. It’s still the same peaceful place it was, with people sitting under trees or on the benches enjoying the sunshine. But, in late August, the general impression is that the flowers are past their best and many of the forty allotments need an end of summer clear out.

View from east to west

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This week, I’m celebrating the Large-Flowered Evening Primrose, oenothera erythrosepala (Onagraceae), to give its formal name. It’s a cousin of the smaller Common Evening Primrose, (O. biennis) but mine are larger. Once fully grown, they can easily top 6ft (well over 180 cms.).

Looking down on my garden from my study window, June 26th, 2017. The evening primroses haven’t yet reached their full height.

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