Gardens and the Natural World

Recently, a friend and I visited the Walthamstow Wetlands, a new haven for birds and insects in north London. The story of how it came about is a very 21st century one – and, in these days of doom and gloom, very cheering. The A to Z of Victorian London from 1888 shows the River Lea meandering through marshland. An 18th century stretch of canal called ‘River Lea/Lee Navigation’ (the spelling varied) had been dug to bring goods from the country up to London, and, parallel to the canal, the Mill Lead powered several water mills, indeed, four mills are mentioned in Domesday Book. The area was good for fishing, and that was about it.

River Lea Navigation canal

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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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A couple of weekends ago I was staying in a cottage on top of a chalk downland hill in Wiltshire. The views are stupendous. Look south on a clear day and you can see the Isle of Wight. I love the wealth of Ancient History here. Wiltshire is criss-crossed by a number of ancient, Prehistoric roads, the most famous being the Ridgeway, on the north side of Salisbury Plain.

The Ridgeway with barley growing on the far side. This ancient road is much wider than a footpath Continue reading

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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

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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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