Sunday, 26 February 2012

The road led to Ragley

Day two of a couple of days off work and I had a treat planned that was closer to home.  I had been invited to visit Ragley Hall by the Head Gardener, Ross Barbour.  As luck would have it, the day turned out to be the warmest and sunniest so far this year.  To say it was glorious was an understatement.
Before I had even arrived at the Hall I had had to stop on the drive to take a photograph of this tree.  What an amazing shape and such a great shadow.
Ross explained to me the history of the garden, which in its current state is mainly less than 12 years old and very much his brainchild.  He is clearly supported by a good team of gardeners and of course the owners of the Hall.
Some areas, like the Frumpery, are in the process of being renewed and reinvigorated.  I thought it looked great, but it is an area that Ross wants to work on.
The snowdrops were alive with bees on this Spring-like day.  There were snowdrops everywhere, so pretty.  Ross went through the names of his favourite ones and his pride in the planting was clear.  If you are a fan of snowdrops I suggest you get down there quickly as their display is worth seeing.
Drifts of snowdrops and crocii were spread through the main lawns that sweep down from the house.
There is some topiary.......
... a pond specifically to attract wildlife into the garden.....
.....areas for formal planting......
.... and great stem colour, however my favourite bit of all was.....
.....these beautiful white stemmed birches with an ornamental Japanese apricot in the centre.  The scent from the blossom was so sweet and so strong.
I fell in love with this tree on the spot.  I have to have one.

I had never been to Ragley before, but it is a great place to visit.  As is my habit I looked it up on wikipedia when I got home and was amused to find that Ragley allegedly means rubbish dump.  Well it certainly is not that.  The current hall appears to date from the mid 18th century though there has been something there from before Elizabethan times.  But, but, the best bit of information of all is that it was used as the Palace of Versailles in the Dr Who episode 'The Girl in the Fireplace' - how wonderful is that? 

Of course it is early in the year to visit a garden, but there was so much to see.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself having a good wander around and now, of course, I have to go back later on in the season to see how the garden changes and develops.  Seeing a garden in one season is like just squinting at it through one eye, I want to see the full effect as it goes through the seasons.

The website for Ragley is here and I have to say a big thank you to Ross for sparing the time to show me around.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Grey days and butterflies

I have had a couple of days off work and I decided I would spend them wisely.  First trip out had to be to Wisley to see the butterflies in the hothouse.  I have wanted to go to this for two years but for a variety of reasons had not managed to go before.  One reason I have to admit is the long drive and the cost of petrol in particular.  It is getting on for two hours from here to there and the cost of petrol is a scary thing these days.  The actual length of drive itself is not an issue, I enjoy driving and find long journeys really good for clearing the head.  It gives me space to think and to sing (badly) to the radio.
It was a very grey day when I left home.  Everything seemed grey, apart from the black dirt thrown up on the sides of the motorway covering the grasses and weeds that struggle to live so close to the tarmac.  It was a good drive down though and I got there late morning.  I decided to go to see the butterflies at lunch time, hoping that everyone would be eating lunch.  Maybe many were, but quite a few were queueing to see the butterflies as well.  I was surprised at how many people were there, though for a February day it was good to see so many people enjoying the gardens and the hothouse. They have a good system of only letting a limited number of people in at a time to see the butterflies.  This does cause queues, but that is unavoidable.  There were still quite a lot of people in the hothouse all anxiously trying to see butterflies and photograph them.  Photographing them was a bit of a challenge, my lens kept steaming up.

I didn't see as many butterflies as I expected, but then I am not sure how many I expected to see.  What I did think was excellent though was that the hunt to spot the butterfly meant that you had to look carefully at the plants.  I saw some beautiful flowers and foliage that I might not have studied so hard without the quest for the butterfly.
Then as I left the hothouse the rain began.  I sheltered for a bit hoping it might end but no, it was set in so I decided to visit the plant centre and then go home.  I was very good, I only bought a few gingers that just happened to catch my eye.  Then I drove home, in the rain, thinking of the flashes of colour in the hothouse in an otherwise grey grey day.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Looking for the door into Summer

Raindrops are such funny things.
They haven't feet or haven't wings.
Yet they sail through the air,
With the greatest of ease,
And dance on the street,
Wherever they please.

- Anon.

I am writing this on a wet Saturday.  It is a gloriously wet rainy day as rain is a marvellous thing.  If I had to be outside in this rain I might feel differently but I have the luxury of being able to sit and listen to the rain as it hits the windows and drums on the conservatory roof.
As I move from window to window I start to think about a conversation I had many years ago with a former work colleague.  We were talking about cats and how when you open the door for them on a cold rainy day (like today) they often stop and look at you as if the weather is your fault.  I was told it was because they are looking for the door into summer; an idea from 'The Door into Summer' by Robert Heinlein (1957).
It is a great, old school, science fiction story set in the 1970s (the future as it was then).  It has a good dose of time travel in it (I like time travel stories, have I mentioned I like Dr Who?) and a key part of the story is the relationship between the hero (Daniel) and his cat (Pete).  Despite its age, the book has not dated that much.
I love old paperbacks, they often have great covers and smell of old paperback, which is a distinct smell.  I also like (bizarrely) that the cover involves a woman who has lost her clothes for no reason connected to the plot whatsoever.

I cannot find the door into summer.  It is wet, it is grey outside every window.  The colour is strained from the garden as it is still recovering from spending a week under the recent snow.
Part of me, like my cats, half hopes there is a window, a door that leads out onto a sunnier, warmer day and that one day I will find the door into summer.  Until then I'll just happily wait first for Spring and take the year each day in its turn.  Nature has its rhythm for a reason and there are enough dystopian science fiction stories out there to warn me that letting that rhythm run its course is the safest and wisest thing to do.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Calm litte moments

"I like these calm little moments before the storm, it reminds me of Beethoven" (Leon - Luc Besson 1994)  This is one of my favourite movie lines ever, whilst this film is somewhat violent it is an incredible film with great performances but in particular Gary Oldman is at his best and most evil.  The line leads into a scene of Gary Oldman totally out of control, terrifying his victims and his team alike.

So why is this on my mind now?  For most of the last couple of weeks the garden has been frozen solid, then this week it has warmer and even could have been described as mild for a couple of days.  The days are now noticeably longer and it feels like we are just waiting, waiting for the real signs of Spring.  When walking around the garden to see what is happening and despite the recent cold, the signs of life are emerging.
They are little hints that life is returning.  Oh I know that the snowdrops are up and doing their thing and so are the winter iris, but the main storm of spring growth is still some weeks away.  It is still like the garden is holding its breath, it wants to get going but winter has not loosened its grip yet.
But spring will come, like Gary Oldman, it is waiting in the lobby to start the storm of growth that peaks through summer and lasts well into autumn.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Of Shadows

We had a significant layer of snow last week that lasted for many days.  It was a little topped up the other night, but mainly it was one big snowfall that remained frozen on the ground.  It is very cold whilst I write this, the day is not expected to get above freezing; but the sun is shining and the sky is blue and it is a glorious looking day.  I went for a wander around the garden with my camera, not really with much in mind, just checking on how things were doing really under their blanket of snow.
The birds have been feeding from the bird table.
The cats have also been out and about, mainly my youngest cat and the older ones are virtually not moving away from the warmth of the house.
Yet it was the shadows that really caught my eye.
The combination of sun and semi thawed snow created some wonderful lines.  The plants, freed from their snowy hats but still surrounded by the cold make points of colour throughout the garden.
The emerging bulbs are piercing through waiting for their moment to burst into life.

The fragility of the snow, the will of the plants to survive and the cold bright sunlight creating the shadows made it rather an ethereal experience for by that very sun that made the shadows, heralds the inevitable thaw.

Thursday, 9 February 2012


(shouts ta da! dons sparkly leotard and waggles about like a magicians assistant)

 February 9th is the first anniversary of this blog.  It started very small, no really very small.  My first post had one viewer and that was probably me before I learned how to remove my viewings from the stats.  To call it a tentative toe in the water is disrespectful to the words tentative, toe and water, it was tantamount to hiding it behind the sofa.  I was greatly lacking confidence in those early days, still do sometimes now but then I am known for being a shy retiring soul (shush, don’t spoil this, they are believing me).

Writing this blog has changed the way I look at things, I make notes all the time now about things I might blog about at some point.  There are half-sentences and reminders stored in my phone so that I will get back to them at some point.  So many random ideas that flick through my brain become translated into the blog.  Some work, some do not.  There are some drafted half ideas that still I can’t quite make into a sensible post, yet I still can’t quite delete them yet as I think there is something there if I can just get the right handle on it.

So – happy birthday blog – its been a fun year and I’ve enjoyed sharing it more than I imagined that I would, here’s to year 2! 

Sunday, 5 February 2012

It snowed

So the great winter snow of 2012 has arrived in Leicester.  It started snowing mid afternoon and continued for longer than I remembered to keep looking.  The snow started out at as the powdery fine stuff, that looks fairly harmless but you realise you are soaking wet after wandering around in it for a short while.  Later it moved on to proper, big, chunky flakes that knit together and start to really settle.  The incredibly cold few days we had prior to this snow fall helped it settle quickly, the ground was already frozen solid.
Because I don't have to be anywhere this weekend, I can have the luxury of finding it all rather magical.  The garden is covered by the blanket of snow and the ever-noisy ring-road near by is virtually silent.  It makes for a quiet calmness that whilst brief, is beautiful.
It is hard to find unbroken snow in the garden.  I have too many cats and there are too many foxes around here so some one is always wandering around on it.
I love how snow disguises things.  It makes the world lumpy and knobbly, but in a smooth smooth kind of way.
Snow balances precariously.  It makes little baskets of snow and hangs on in a fragile stillness until the thaw or a breath of wind shakes it free.
Sometimes it looks quite improbable how it is still managing to hang together.  Once the sun gets on this it will soon fall.

The snow may well be gone by tomorrow and as I have to drive to work tomorrow I hope that it has.  I can admire its beauty today, tomorrow I will have the terror journey down our lane before I can reach a gritted road (if, of course, it has actually been gritted).  Its less than half a mile, but when it is solid ice I hate it.  Until then I will stoke up the fire, ensure endless cups of tea are on hand and sit back an enjoy.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Snow is falling

SNOW is falling on the ground,
Shadows on the ground are falling.

Leaves are whirled beyond recalling,
The withered leaves are dead also,
Snow and shadows fall around.

It is as though dread angels knocked
The rusty knockers of the doors fast locked,
Angels slaying us with ailings slow.

And on the verge sad clouds are trailing ...

All the houses are closed like sombre tombs,
Slow snow is filling all the gathered glooms.

A. Ferdinand Herold (1865-1957) translated by Jethro Bithell