Sunday, 17 January 2016
Winter blooms and summer nostalgia
The daffodils shaking their golden heads in front of Old St Peter, Stockbridge, in Hampshire shouldn't have been doing that on 29 December. It's almost as outlandish as the psychedelic garden of light sprung up in Leicester Square for this weekend only, courtesy of Lumiere in its first London incarnation* (we've loved the Durham takeover featuring many of the same installations, to be pictured in their West End locations in a future post).
I ought briefly to record a more natural winter scene above Stockbridge, where we walked around the Iron Age hill fort of Woolbury Ring with friends Alfredo and Oscar. The beeches which surround it looked splendid showing their shapely bare bones below a sky of scudding clouds.
So obviously the problem has been global weirding in cahoots with the El Nino effect. December was way too mild - not to mention destructively wet, though the south had none of the north's flooding problems this time - and only now have we resorted to overcoats and having the heating on for long. General trends would seem to include the early blooming of camellia 'Debbie' in the back yard, pipping last year's record by several weeks (4 December was the first unfurling this time, pictured on the 6th).
while the scented South African and Madeiran pelargoniums in one of the window boxes are still blooming (though in lieu of two frosty nights I brought them in on Thursday).
Our Christmas Day walk from home to Kensington Gardens to walk adored Teddie before heading back to Lancaster Gate for lunch with him and his family threw up some oddities on the way. Not least a bumble-bee nectar-quaffing at this plant in Bramham Gardens, an Earls Court square which could teach our dismal set-up here a thing or two. I seem to have missed the bee with each shot, but I can assure you it was there.
Strolling up to the park via the very desirable residences of Launceston Place, we found the jasmine out and smelling fragrant already (and this, of course, is not the winter-flowering, yellow variety).
The park made more seasonal sense, with its skeletal trees showing off their handsome structures, and plenty of mud for Ted to wallow in. Here he is having greeted us near the Round Pond, the little darling who's set off such a Sehnsucht in me for a cockapoo resembling to some degree my beloved childhood poodle Zsabo.
But I'm supposed to be on the subject of flora, not fauna. And that will do for the winter spate so far. An excursion to Kew this afternoon involved many more wonders, and frozen ponds, but we can wait for that.
What I can't wait for is to revisit a few so far unmentioned blissful summer scenes of 2015, the more so since most of these involve timely, profuse blooms and the pics have been sitting on my computer waiting selective exposure when they really need to be filed away on my external box. First comparison to segue back into the floral world is between the sea at St Leonards on Christmas Eve (a very successful visit to J's mum taking her to our new favourite spot, the marvellous Kinoteatr Cafe with its restored 1913 cinema and collection of 1950s Russian art) and a summer scene further north. While J collected Wyn from her dementia care home, I strolled along the front towards Hastings.
I could even have joined the solitary bather, it didn't looked that cold. But even in the height of summer it took me two days to find the opportunity to dip in a freezing North Sea on an expectedly delightful return visit to the East Neuk Festival. Here's the lovely Debra Boraston who accompanied me on the first walk along the beach at the bottom of Cambo House's glen.
and J, to whom I was showing Fife coastal delights for the first time, on the same beach close to midnight.
It was too cold to sit and drink wine on a rock, as I'd done with friends Julie and Andy at the same time last year. So we made a leisurely retreat past the seaside alders at the bottom of the valley.
Cambo House's walled garden is Eden, a substantial enough one to live in and one of the largest in Europe. John Luther Adams's hornfest for the festival's closing event could not quite outstrip the beauty of the location itself, and though the communal experience was wonderful, having the garden to one's self on a sunny morning was even more remarkable.
A river (more a rivulet) bisects it
and my favourite zone is a kind of meadow thick with poppies of various types.
Peonies were thriving here several weeks later than down south
and I need to suggest the humming of innumerable bees with a bumble on a thistle.
Plenty more of those on the coastpath from Cambo to Crail.
and poppies galore edging the fields near the sea at Cambo Barn, cleared annually of its potato crates to house top notch concerts in superb acoustics.
Cue another big walled garden, the one at Garsington you get to see if you take a vintage bus from the cricket pavilion. Ed(wi)na Ashton came with me to see Intermezzo and wondered alongside at the white display
and the multitudes of Papaverum orientalis
while Deborah van der Beek joined me for Death in Venice, the more successful of the two shows I saw there in 2015. While we missed the last bus to the walled garden owing to my bigger transport problems, Deborah still managed to enjoy the peonies in the re-creation of Ottoline Morrell's original Garsington jewel at the side of the excellent Wormsley Pavilion.
Not that they could possibly have exceeded her own, snapped while she and husband Andrew were staying at her late mother's home in Corsham while flood-damaged Cantax House, Lacock was being restored. The wisteria around a rather smaller pavilion is a delight too.
A similar complement over at Lacock
where the peonies frame some of Deborah's sculptures
and foreground her topiaried lady.
We went for an excursion to see the gardens of Bradford on Avon on open day, and though none of them quite compared to Cantax, the situations gave wonderful tiered views going up the hill from the river and the Saxon chapel alongside the church.
as well as glimpses of fine Georgian facades behind flower-covered walls
and a walk we took up another hill and out into the country for the last of the gardens. I've not done Bradford justice from three wonder-filled visits; but we'll be back. Meanwhile, deep sigh for the summer past, and hope with only a few months to wait now before the first flush of blooming. In the meantime we live for more cold, bright days like yesterday - when Kew was a miracle of sharpness - and head off to more Lumiere pockets in different parts of town.
*Just read that the lights had to be switched off last night (Saturday) because of overcrowding - victim of its own success, clearly. We intend to go to Kings Cross tonight. UPDATE: when I got to Kings Cross, the queues down the tube were so horrendous I turned back. But I did see the big miracle, the colouring of Westminster Abbey's West Front, and loved the atmosphere of the crowd around the aquarium phone box by Grosvenor Square. All this to be picture-chronicled anon.