Posts Tagged ‘Gardens’

It was half term a few weeks back. The SSF was away (on some sort of endurance test to northern climes, as it turned out) and I had unmitigated freedom to contend with. On a whim, I set about redecorating the kitchen. I like painting and I like orderliness. I was orderly. I was methodical. I wrapped my brushes in cling film every evening. Things were going surprisingly well until, after flicking through a few home design magazines, I had the brilliant notion of a ‘feature wall.’ I tried a few test pots out on designated wall, creating a Kandinsky-ish effect. The results were hideous. None of the shades I had chosen remotely resembled those advertised. This spontaneous need for colour injection had slowed my progress. Hastily I covered the mess with a calming neutral and decided an outing was required.

I have a list of Places-I’ve-Been-Meaning-To-Visit. Checking through this by now extensive directory, the thought occurred that several sites I had highlighted belong to the National Trust. So, quicker than you could spit at the mention of Michael Gove, our new Environment Secretary (latterly the destroyer of our education system as we knew it), I performed a complete moral U-turn and decided to sign up for membership. I can’t believe I’m even admitting this, so critical of this institution have I been in the past. And still am and probably still will be.

It didn’t start well.

To explain fully the signing up scenario I’ll have to confess to a recent personal event. I had a birthday. A fairly monumental one as it happens but one that comes with a few welcome perks such as free prescriptions and eye tests, a national rail card and reduced price entry to practically everywhere. Everywhere it would seem, except the National Trust.

After a lengthy drive eastwards to deepest Kent one morning, I arrived at my first planned property intending to join up there and then. However, wielding my driver’s licence as proof of age cut no ice with Miss Twinset who filled in my particulars. She very sweetly and ever so slightly smugly told me that to qualify for a Trust discount one has to have been a member previously for five consecutive years.

Unusually I held my tongue, bit my lip and whatever else most people do in situations such as this while thinking that with age must come acceptance. I imagine if I’d have had a membership of anywhere for five consecutive years then the chances are I’d have done everything on offer pretty much to death anyway: what would be the point of a monetary enticement?

I kept quiet. The new old me signed up meekly and, clutching my temporary pass in my gnarled old hand, I picked up a welcome pack which, I was horrified to discover, included an emblematic sticker for my car. I had now well and truly joined the ranks of those who frequent gift shops to buy local jam and tins of themed biscuits.

I had arrived at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, former home of poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat and author husband, Harold Nicholson. The couple bought the place in 1930 and set about making a home for their family. Vita developed her love of gardening here and took delight in planting, designing and experimenting. She lived a fairly wild existence, had many liaisons with other women and a decade long affair with Virginia Woolf but always remained married to Harold.

 

 

When she died in 1962, Harold decided that her legacy should be preserved for us all to enjoy and left the place in the hands of the National Trust. I have to say, they’ve done a good job. The place is beautiful. It helped that the sun was shining and the day warm, but I spent two or three hours just wandering around the gardens and taking the long walk around the lake.

I even had time for a quick lunch in the ubiquitous cafe before heading off to the next place on my list. But that’ll have to wait for another day. This membership thing may well catch on.

 

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As the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) garden at Wisley is almost on the doorstep I thought I’d mosey on up the A3 this week and take a wander to get some botanical inspiration. Having to park in the second overflow car park before mid-morning didn’t really bode well crowd-wise but I’m in chilled out holiday mode, so hey-ho.

Once through the gates it was obvious that there must be a special school-holiday event on. (Oh, dear). Grimly undeterred, I waded through hundreds of very small people attached to their Surrey mothers, all pushing the obligatory Surrey pushchair – the equivalent in stroller terms to a 4×4 vehicle. These modern day contraptions come with several levels of parcel shelving, space for two or three infants and room for all the paraphernalia that seems to be required when taking an outing, however uncomplicated, with your children these days. Things have changed since Son was small. We had the equivalent of a canvas deckchair which folded up like a telescopic umbrella. That and a modest back-pack was all we ever needed. Perhaps he was a deprived child, I don’t know, but it never took long to get ready or in and out of my humble hatch-back.

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I like to start a Wisley walk by taking the wide path through the herbaceous borders and up towards Battleston Hill, passing the rose garden on the right.

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“Off With Their Heads!”

It was here that I realised why there were so many children and their parents around – the event ‘Adventures in Wonderland’ was celebrating 150 years of the book by Lewis Carroll and the small visitors were rushing around like crazed beetles trying to find Alice and all the character sculptures hidden around the gardens.  In the centre of the rose garden was the Queen of Hearts, positioned here looking for all the world as if the three gardeners behind her had caused displeasure and were definitely for the chop. I began to see the fun in this and actively started searching out the figures for myself although I was at a disadvantage because I hadn’t been given a fact sheet to tick off or a little booklet on my arrival.

Now – here’s a point to ponder: When does a garden ornament become a sculpture? What actually defines a sculpture?

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I puzzled on this as I meandered through the hydrangeas, also wondering why ours don’t look quite like these gargantuan specimens. No Wonderland figures here as far as I could see so I changed route towards the rockeries, passing this intriguingly mown lawn and more herbaceous borders.

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Here I found the Mad Hatter standing on the edge of a bird bath as well as the White Rabbit. I spied the manufacturer’s details on an information stand near these two and thought what an excellent way this is to maximise publicity for your company.

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White Rabbit with the Dormouse sitting in the bird bath

I can imagine that these figurines will prove very popular and are certainly a step up from the kitsch garden gnomes or moulded Alsatian dogs I’ve seen at my local garden centre.

As I crossed the main lawn where I passed a giant chess set and a croquet game being played with plastic flamingos (this whole event has been very well thought out for Wisley’s youthful visitors) it occurred to me that I’d probably answered my own question, especially as I spied this bronze sculpture, on loan to Wisley from the Henry Moore Foundation.

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Entitled simply ‘King and Queen’ and created by Henry Moore in 1957, these two figures sit serenely in front of the house now used as a botanical laboratory. They overlook the canal and appear very much at home here.

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 Now, that’s what I call sculpture.

Adventures in Wonderland continues at Wisley until 31 August.

This post forms the fourth part of a challenge thrown down by Sherri, over at her Summerhouse.  As Sherri herself has already changed the rules of the challenge which originally was to post five pictures and five stories on consecutive days (ha! not a chance!), I have been taking a more relaxed attitude towards the rules myself. I’m supposed to nominate someone to take up the challenge after each of these posts but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, if you feel the urge to challenge yourself to five pictures/five stories (fact or fiction) then please feel free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Since reading Gwen’s post on aging last week, something has occurred to me.  I am now doing things that two or three decades ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of: visiting stately homes for instance.  Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by stately home. First of all, I don’t mean houses that have belonged to someone famous, such as Winston Churchill, Henry Moore or Agatha Christie. These places have meaning and are a delight to visit because they provide us with a glimpse into the worlds and therefore minds of their owners. No, I mean the ones that have been bequeathed to the nation by the families of the once very rich but now unknown socialites who think the rest of us will be interested in the history of their dysfunctional families, but in truth are trying in some way to recoup the enormous bill left by the death duties of their forbears.

Mottisfont

Mottisfont

So when my friend (the sea-sick one who valiantly accompanied me on my boat trip down the river Thames to view the Barrier), suggested a day out at Mottisfont in Hampshire, I wasn’t immediately jumping with excitement, until she went on to explain that it was also the venue for an exhibition of the photography of the late Patrick Lichfield. Famous for the official royal wedding pictures of Charles and Diana, as well as many celebrity portraits, this is the first large scale exhibition to document Lichfield’s work from the 1960’s right up to 2004, the year before his death.

Lichfield himself is no stranger to hereditary wealth and title. He inherited an earldom and huge estate in Staffordshire – Shugborough – from his father. During his life time he turned its ownership over to the National Trust (who cannily leased it for 99 years to the County Council), while he maintained an apartment in the house and kept a keen eye on the running of the estate.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of our National Trust (I may have mentioned this several times before. I make no apology), but I have to concede that this is a clever way to get the punters in. A series of rooms on the top floor at Mottisfont have been converted into a spacious art gallery where a series of exhibitions can be viewed throughout the year.

The Lichfield show comprises over fifty portraits of celebrities, ranging from Pele to the Queen, some in colour, others monochrome. Visitor photography is prohibited in the galleries, but you can see a sample of Lichfield’s work here. Some of his photographs are so well known that they come as no surprise – like the informal snap of Mick Jagger and Bianca in the back of their wedding car – but others, such as the Queen leaning over the railings of the royal yacht or Princess Margaret surrounded by adoring young things on her holiday island gives the visitor a glimpse into not only Lichfield’s world, but also to his mastery behind the lens.

Part of the River Test runs through the grounds

Part of the River Test runs through the grounds

 Mottisfont is situated in Hampshire alongside the River Test, a beautiful meandering chalk stream famous for some of the finest fly fishing in the country as well as featuring in Richard Adam’s novel, Watership Down. As we drove along the lanes, through the Somborne villages approaching Mottisfont, there were still signs of the recent flooding: sandbags piled high, diversions in place – fairly deep extended puddles to navigate – I glanced sideways at SSF (Sea Sick Friend) to make sure she was coping with all this unexpected water.

Our first priority on a day out like this, on arrival, is to locate the coffee shop, which in the case of Mottisfont, is round the back by the tradesman’s entrance, in the old kitchen.  The coffee is good and the selection of homemade cakes and scones are tempting. We reined in gluttony by sharing a substantial teacake before starting our tour of the house.

Back view of Mottisfont, coffee shop is bottom left of building

Back view of Mottisfont, coffee shop is bottom left of building

The National Trust has looked after Mottisfont since 1957 when the owner, Mrs Maud Russell passed it to them. She, like Lichfield at Shugborough, continued to live in a section of the house until 1972, when she moved to smaller premises in the village. She and her husband Gilbert bought Mottisfont in the early 1930’s, beginning a program of restoration on the house which had fallen into disrepair. The house became an oasis for artists, writers and philosophers; Maud’s weekend parties were apparently legendary.

As we toured the house it became evident that Maud Russell, while being incredibly wealthy, was an avid art collector. She owned pictures by Picasso, Degas and Modigliani. We spied works by Lowry, Ben Nicholson, Matisse and Pasmore. The art works are jumbled up along the dark hallway, in the reception rooms and the bedrooms. It is necessary to pay close attention in case you miss the Piper and the Hepworth. Maud Russell’s collection is revelatory.

So what, you may wonder, is my beef with the National Trust? It is that the houses of which they are custodians become institutionalised; there is a common theme threading through nearly all of the properties I have visited.  Although Maud’s paintings were there for all to see, there was no feeling in the house of Maud, the woman, her family or of the social whirl in which she lived. The Trust takes these houses on and yes, they preserve them but the essence of their former owners is gone. Original fixtures and fittings go and in their place the Trust put in ‘furniture of the period;’ they create libraries with fake book spines glued to the walls to create the illusion that the last incumbent was intellectual and they put down fitted contract carpeting. I am well aware that my gripes probably put me somewhere on the A spectrum, but I do like things to be correct – and this so patently isn’t.

The pleached lime walk

The pleached lime walk

After returning to the cafe for a spot of lunch – very good, wholesome food – we took a wander around the grounds. The gardens here were created by several landscape artists, all friends of Maud, including Geoffrey Jellicoe who designed the pleached lime walk and Norah Lindsay, the Tudor parterre.

Cornus and hellebores in the winter garden

Cornus and hellebores in the winter garden

My favourite part of the grounds however, was the little winter garden, where soft heads of hellebores were out in full bloom contrasting with the stark, flaming stems of Cornus sericea and miniature daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

The winter garden

The winter garden

Hellebores

Hellebores

So there we are. Stately homes grow on you (me) with age. But it’s a slippery slope. What next, I wonder? Buying fridge magnets from the gift shop?

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