Gardens and the Natural World

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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‘Ightham Mote, wrote Nigel Nicolson (son of Vita Sackville West), is one of the oldest and loveliest medieval manor houses to survive in England. It has stood here for over 650 years, immune to fire, tempest, war and riot.’ And he’s right. It nestles in the Kentish Weald almost as if it’s grown organically. Even today, it’s not easy to find. Legend has it that, during the Civil War, Cromwellian soldiers arrived in the area intent on looting it, but got lost in the twisty country lanes, gave up, and ransacked somewhere else instead.

 Ightham Mote: the east side

The photo above shows Ightham Mote (pronounced Item Moat) as the visitor coming down a steep wooded hill first sees it.

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No matter how frazzled I’m feeling, a visit to Kew Gardens with a friend always sorts me out. It’s impossible to feel anything but a sort of peaceful joy when faced with trees in their new spring green, the bluebell woods, tree reflections in the lakes, and the variety of colours of the flowers in the Broad Walk. So, if you, too, feel in need of some soothing nature, here is what you can see in Kew Gardens in early May.

The bluebell woods

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When I first knew the space which is now Culpeper Community Garden in London, it was an unloved bit of waste land, created thanks to the Luftwaffe dropping their left-over bombs on it after raids bombing the Kings’ Cross area. Rosebay willow herb grew there among the remains of bomb craters and bits of brick.

View of Culpeper Community Garden entrance from south. The weeping willow has just come into leaf

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For some reason, I often get wonderful views of sunrises and sunsets at this time of year from either my study – looking east, or from my bedroom window – looking west. I have only a few moments to catch the dawn before it fades, so I’ve taken to having my camera to hand when I get up, just in case. It probably helps that I live on top of a hill so, on a clear day, I can see for miles.

Sunrise, January 2017

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Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals was a favourite teenage book, and it introduced me to the rose beetle. Soon after he arrived in Corfu in 1935, Gerry met the rose beetle man, an itinerant pedlar wearing a floppy hat covered in feathers, and a patched, pocketed coat, bulging with knick-knacks for sale. Bamboo cages holding a variety of birds bounced on his back, and he held ‘a number of lengths of cotton, to each of which was tied an almond-size rose-beetle, glistening golden green in the sun, all of them flying round his hat.’

 Durrell

My much loved copy of ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell

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In June this year, Kew Garden’s newly-designed summer herbaceous borders in the famous Broad Walk opened to the public, and they are sensational. There are more than 27,000 flowering plants on show.

Broad walk 1

Richard Wilford’s 2016 Broad Walk

At 320 metres long, it is the longest double herbaceous border in the country – and possibly in the world. Continue reading

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Ever since Roman times, the rich and powerful have built villas in the hills surrounding Rome to escape the summer’s heat. Some, like Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli, still survive. Others, like Castel Gandolfo, built in the 17th century for Pope Urban VIII as a summer palace, were built on top of Roman villa sites. And why not? The land was already levelled and useful top quality building material was there for the taking.

Castel Gondolfo Pope's palace

Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer palace

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