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.


Susan Scheid said...

I had spotted something about the Lumiere London project—an interesting idea, and also interesting that it has become a victim of its own success for a bit. I remember well the February in NYC when Christo installed his Orange Gates in Central Park. Some objected, as some always do, and I can be skeptical of such spectacles as well, but this one, I think, lifted most everyone's spirits in the midst of the monochrome of winter's gloom.

Similarly, it's a real pick-me-up out of winter doldrums here to see your photos of summertime color. (The winter blooms out of phase are of course more worrisome.) I wonder, what music would go best with these photographs—I'm thinking something French, though that's likely because Poulenc has been on the stereo into overtime innings lately here. I'm listening right now to Elizabethan Consort Music 1558-1603 (Jordi Savall), a nice accompaniment, if historically out of phase, to a lit fire and my current reading, The Plantagenets—a bit of a potted history, but within that, well done, I think, and in any case it gives me a good overview preparatory to seeing the RSC's Henry IV Part 1 & 2 later this year.

Willym said...

Many thanks for bringing some sunshine into our dreary winter here. True that it arrived late - we had rain not snow for Christmas - but it has arrived with a vengeance if not with the bitter cold that we experience last year. Sadly - for the skaters if not for the rest of us - it has not been cold enough to open the Canal outside our window yet. Last year set a record for the number of days the 10 km stretch was open for skating, races and other festivities - this year may set another record for the fewest days it has been open.

Meanwhile a photo essay journey with you has brought some warmth into the day. 1000 grazie...

David said...

I'm just back from the last-night experience of Lumiere, Sue. Simply had to turn back from the Kings Cross adventure - the logjam in the tube passageways before even reaching the light was too awful, so I turned back. But the Westminster Abbey facade was the absolute highlight, and I'm glad I walked under the sky-jellyfish at Oxford Circus on my way to Grosvenor Square, where the aquarium-in-a-phonebox was a jolly squidge, everyone very good-humoured. I persuaded The Arts Desk to put up a gallery tomorrow with a bit of text from me.

For me, the Crail shots have to go with joyous Schubert, possibly the Trout Quintet.

DON'T put yourself through the RSC Henry IVs (are they coming to New York?) This was the worst Shakespeare I can remember. J fled at the first interval; I had to stay for the whole experience. Dreadful verse speaking, Sher shockingly raspy and unfunny, a few redeeming cameos in Part 2, the whole staged like the sort of heritage-pageant Shakespeare that I thought had died a death in the 1970s. Until the new head's arrival, the Globe has done good period-dress Shakespeare, but this was just awful. Sorry. I feel very strongly about it and anyone who thought it was great just doesn't know what good theatre is.

On the other hand I think you and yours would have loved the all-women prison Henry IVs, condensed and directed by Phyllida Lloyd with Harriet Walter only one delight among many (the Lady Percy was amazing).

Now - deep breath, calm down - I often think of the skating on your canal, Will, and I remember shots you and Laurent took when you had a deeper freeze than us. I have to say Kew yesterday was eerily ravishing - and the birds were all out in force, especially the parrots and the woodpeckers. I confess I assembled the summer pics as much for selfish reasons as for giving pleasure to others, though I'm glad if they have.

Susan Scheid said...

Ah, David, perhaps you'll be even more exasperated when I tell you that we so thoroughly enjoyed the HD screening of the RSC's Henry V that J is coming in to NYC especially, and we've shelled out (considerable) shekels to see the Henry IVs live, not to mention that, as it's in a BAM theater with no elevator, in order to get to our front row mezzanine seats we must climb almost as many stairs as to the top of St. Paul's (which, long story shortened, we did long ago with J carrying a crate of avocados all the way up and down). Now, I don't know my Shakespeare terribly well, though I have seen most if not all of the history plays in various versions before, but J does and is able to quote lines from them at will. Our prediction is that it's highly likely we will both enjoy the Henry IVs thoroughly, too. Just think of us as 16th C groundlings. (I am, however, certain we would have loved the Lloyd/Walter Henry IVs also.) What's particularly amusing to me about our exchange here is that, while I had no hesitation noting we were going to those plays, I was quite hesitant to admit to you that I ma reading Dan Jones's book.

I look forward to seeing more Lumiere photos, and love your choice of the Trout Quintet. Just the right thing.

David said...

I'd never heard of Dan Jones. I see he's a TV historian in a leather jacket. Well, if he writes well, so much the better - I often read so-called popular historians. John Julius Norwich wrote a very good book about Shakespeare's Kings.

I also imagine Wagner's Flower Maidens drifting half-girlishly, half-sensuously, around those walled gardens in what Auden called 'the sexy airs of summer'. Of course John Luther Adams' piece at Cambo was essentially the arpeggios of the Rheingold Prelude without the interesting bits that develop out of them. We could have had the Rhinemaidens in the stream.

Catriona said...

The photos I've seen of Westminster Abbey illuminated remind me of seeing the same effect at Chartres about ten years ago. The west front of the Cathedral was illuminated (to the sound of Zadok The Priest), as was the north façade, re-creating as far as possible the colours which would have painted the stonework. There were other bits of town lit up with moving footage telling the history of Chartres, and Église Saint-Pierre de Chartres was also lit up - there are some photos on Wikipedia. It really is a wonderful effect and lets us see medieval architecture as colourful as it would have been in its day.

David said...

The Lyon light festival looked amazing from photos, too. But no pics can quite convey the grandeur of the Weestminster Abbey effect. I wrote a piece for The Arts Desk, since resident art critic had been walled up at home, on the Lumiere experience, as far as I could experience it, and the Abbey shot leads, with other good pics in a slideshow. I'll be doing my own on the blog eventually as they didn't include Cedric Le Borgne's supernatural Les Voyageurs in St James's Square or the carnivalesque floating fish in Piccadilly. Overall, despite individual disappointments and overcrowding at Kings Cross which made me turn back, a wonderful weekend.