Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

In The Garden Again

I've had a busy week this week, the sort where there is a lot of coming and going with not much to show for it. I did manage two days working in the garden though, Tuesday and Wednesday both started off with a thick mist but once it had lifted we got two lovely days and off out into the garden I went. As a result most of the back garden is done apart from putting in plant supports - a department where I am always full of good intentions but often don't actually get it done soon enough. This year is going to be the one where I'm ahead of the game:)

Primroses and chionodoxa next to a little stone trough. Above is Narcissus 'Jenny' one of my favourites.

Tulipa turkestanica - a pretty species tulip which flowers incredibly early.

The main group of daffodils in the grass in the orchard. This is where I had two trees removed to make room for the marquee last year. The white plastic is a protector for the wild cherry that I planted a couple of weeks ago - there ARE some leaves in there! I still have to decide on a replacement for the other one, probably a native species for wild life as I already have more apples than I know what to do with in the autumn.

My gardening clogs, new ones to replace the pair that have recently bitten the dust.These came from Country Living Spring Fair too! They are really comfortable and waterproof.

Still on a loosely gardening theme,on Tuesday evening Jules and I went to see Joanna Lumley in Chekhov's play 'The Cherry Orchard'. I enjoyed it but Jules wasn't over impressed and didn't know why it had become a classic. It was very amusing and the individual actors were very good but I did know what she meant when she said they didn't really gel as a group. You were always aware that you were watching a play rather than being lost in the story.

I've been treating myself to some copies of Victoria magazine off ebay - they all arrived earlier this week. I'm off to stay with friends in Cheshire this weekend so they'll be going with me to fill in those odd half hours that usually occur. I'm a much earlier riser than my friends so it will give me something to do in the morning:) Tonight we're going to see my god-daughter in a production of Guys and Dolls - more in my line than the Gilbert and Sullivan they did last time. Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

An Enjoyable Weekend

The weekend in question is not the current one but March 17th and 18th which so far I haven't written about. The two photos above show the gifts and cards I received from my three children on Mothers Day which was last Sunday in the UK. Flowers from Neil and Ces and Jules and Matt and chocolates from Steve and Hannah.
Saturday was the day that L and I went off to London to the Country Living Spring Fair with the usual First Class travel and breakfast on the train. It's a day of self indulgence for us and we enjoy ourselves immensely, though by the time we stagger back onto the train again in the early evening we are in a state of near collapse! L's daughter, who lives in London, met us for lunch - which in my case consisted of salmon and smoked salmon with a salad, this was followed by a lovely pear and almond tart - delicious:)
These are some of the things I bought this time and I blush to admit that they were all for me except for this

a cute little T-shirt for Kaitlyn.

L assured me that any fool can relace deckchair canvas so I bought enough of this to spruce up my two deckchairs for the summer! The background colour is a pale green, it doesn't show up that well in the photo but it's all in what I call ice cream colours.

I couldn't resist this book, it has projects in it that even I feel I could manage!

A hand thrown salt pig - I love the green glaze and the rustic look of it. It's from a pottery in Canterbury who do other nice things in the same glaze and some of them may well find their way into my kitchen eventually I think:)

Another mug to go with the one I bought at the Christmas Fair, I find it hard to resist anything with hens on:)

This is a lovely Crown Derby teacup and saucer dating from 1925, used as a candle holder but I bought it for the lovely flower design. There were two and L bought the other one - we often buy the same things though in many areas our tastes are very different. The weather in London was nice too though at home in Yorkshire they had a horrid wet and windy day - this was followed by an equally horrid grey, damp,miserable week and it was wonderful to finally see the sun break through again yesterday afternoon.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cottage Gardens

The wonderful weather that we had a week or two ago tempted me out into my garden and, in spite of all my good resolutions, I ended up with an ache-y back and some tired muscles because I'd overdone it rather. I'd been working in the wild part pruning back elder and hawthorn and raking up all the thousands of beechnut shells that fell last autumn - and probably several other autumns too as it's a job I rarely get round to, there's too much else to do once the garden gets started. I'm about halfway across that bottom area now and my next job is to cut back the yew which has got decidely out of hand. The general idea is to try to create a piece of topiary out of it but how succesful this will be remains to be seen. Topiary was, in spite of its formal look, very much a tradition in old cottage gardens and that is the style of garden that I love and try to achieve here. Not that I plan anything very exciting, if I can manage something reasonably round I shall be happy, peacocks, boars and other exotic images are way beyond anything I can manage. I've always loved cottage style gardens, they are full of plants that have been grown for centuries. They vary from the wild plants that the old cottager would dig up from a nearby wood or hedgebank and tuck into a corner of his garden to plants with more exotic backgrounds that came to England with the Romans when they extended their empire to include Britannia, or with the Crusaders when they returned from the Middle East and so on.

Daffodils and snakeshead fritillarys - last year's photo, the daffodils are out but the fritillarys will be another week or two yet.

Of course, the original cottage gardens wouldn't have been the romantic places that we visualize now, they were extremely practical places which were vital in providing families with both food and medicine and would often include a pigsty for the pig which was being fattened and would have hens scratching around too. There would have been little room for pretty flowers grown for their own sake apart from maybe a few primroses tucked into a hedge bottom. Happily though, many herbs are attractive as well as useful and the pot marigolds that everyone grew would also provide large patches of colour - but they were there for their usefulness as pot herbs and as an ingredient in homemade healing ointments.

The small border by the side of the steps leading up to the terrace.

The garden at the front of the house.

I have an old book published in 1939 which contains a passage of prose and a poem which describe precisely the kind of garden I am trying to achieve, though I'm afraid I shall never have the lovely old stonebuilt house on the South Downs to which the garden belongs:

' The door, I remember,stood open when I arrived that quiet spring afternoon; opened wide, as if in welcome, letting in all the sweet airs and breaths of May and giving me a glimpse,as I waited there,of a stone-flagged hall and a dusky staircase; of a long passage between panelled walls leading to another open door,with a garden beyond, sweet and sunlit, where lilies stood like queens,all white and gold,among the wallflowers and the lupins and the great red peonies, like a garden in a fairytale.'

The poem is short but gives a vision of a perfect English summer garden:

Soon will the high Midsummer pomps come on,
Soon will the musk carnations break and swell,
Soon shall we have gold-dusted snapdragon,
Sweet William with his homely cottage smell,
And stocks in fragrant blow.
Roses that down the alleys shine afar;
And open jasmine-muffled lattices,
And groups under the dreaming garden trees,
And the full moon, and the white evening star.

Doesn't it make you long for summer? The book by the way is called 'Greensleeves' by a lady called Beryl Netherclift, it is one of my personal favourites full of lovely descriptions of an England and way of life that is sadly long gone.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Spring Cleaning the Garden

The last few days I've spent a good deal of time working in my garden. I'm reaping the rewards of some hard work in the autumn but even so I have a lot of aching muscles which haven't been used much during the winter months. It's so satisfying to see the earth that has been flattened and compacted by winter rain turning to a lovely rich black as I clear all the debris and fork it over. This stage only lasts a short time until the wind and sun dry it off but the general effect remains and all the new growth pushing its way into the spring sunshine is clearly visible. I've by no means finished but enough is done to make a real difference to the way the garden looks. Above is the rather winter weary garden before I started.

A bit of before..........

...and after. A lot more of the bed is visible here as the before picture was taken a couple of weeks ago.

Taken from about halfway up the garden looking towards the house. The trees are apples, a Victoria plum and a pear, they will look lovely in a few weeks. The plum is always first and when that flowers I can always be certain of seeing a pair of bullfinches:) The large tree in the background is the oak which Neil and Ces were married under on a wonderful hot,sunny day last June. And this is where I indulge in a little nostalgia trip:)

This is the oak tree with the first of the eighty-odd wedding guests.

A nervous looking groom and minister waiting for the bride - the minister is Francesca's brother and it was his first wedding! He did it beautifully too.

The bride and her father arriving.

Last one - this is inside the marquee, most of the chairs were on the top lawn at this point being used as seating for the guests. The tree is real! I had two old and decrepit apple trees removed to make room for the marquee but I told them they had to work round the crab-apple. It actually made rather a nice feature.

This is the helleborus orientalis that I showed in bud in a post at the end of January.

Magnolia buds starting to open - just in time for the snow that has been forecast for Sunday and Monday!

L and I are off to London tomorrow for the Country Living Spring Fair, it's an early start as we are getting the 7.27am train but at least we'll have a leisurely breakfast to look forward to. Below are a couple of photos of Gabriel taken last week, he's in Suffolk this weekend visiting his other granny and grandad and his great granny who was 90 on Thursday. She has said that the best present she could have would be to see Gabriel but she has no idea that she is actually going to. I'd love to be there when she realises - Neil is under instructions to take photos!

Gabriel and his mummy.

Gabriel with granny.

This has ended up being rather a bitty sort of post but there we are - sometimes that's just how it goes.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Signs of Spring

Albeit Winter still is in the air
And the Earth troubled, and the branches bare,
Yet down the fields today I saw her pass-
The Spring - her feet went shining through the grass,
She touched the ragged hedgrows - I have seen
Her fingerprints, most delicately green

from The Miracle by John Drinkwater (1882-1937)

There are lots of signs of spring about now, I took a few photographs as I walked round the woods yesterday with Bilbo Baggins.None are spectacular views or stunning colours but all bring the message that Spring is approaching. Above are branches of pussy willow against a clear blue sky.

As I walked I knew from the noise, long before I saw them, that the herons are back and building their nests. There are certainly two, and possibly three, pairs and this huge bundle of sticks at the top of a tall Scots Pine is one of the nurseries.
Just above to the right is one of the herons though it isn't very clear.

This isn't going to make the front page of the RSPB's magazine either but it's slightly more obvious that it's a heron. I spent ages watching them - there's something about them that really appeals to me.

These are the first fresh young hawthorn leaves - such a beautiful vibrant green. There aren't many of them yet but it's an encouraging start.

All the little green spikes of leaves are bluebells, Eccleshall woods are ancient woodland and in May there are sheets of blue everywhere when the bluebells flower. Bluebells are one of the indicators of ancient woodland. It's a wonderful sight to see and there is a wonderful scent to go with it. There will be photographs when the time comes:)

Last of all is a picture of the Limb Brook dancing merrily along in the sunlight as though it, too, knows that spring is almost here.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Sunshine and Showers

Observe the circling year,how unperceiv'd
Her seasons change! behold! by slow degrees,
Stern winter turn'd into a ruder spring;
The ripen'd spring a milder summer glows;
Departing summer sheds Pomona's store;
And aged autumn brews the winter storm. John Armstrong 1709-1779

The last couple of days have been a real mixture of weather, Friday was lovely, a real spring day beginning with a frost then blue skies and sunshine with high cloud floating by. It didn't take me too long to decide to spend some time working in my garden:) Above are the first primroses of the year. Before that though Bilbo Baggins had to be taken out so I took one or two frost photos before it disappeared.

The remains of one of last summer's thistles covered in frost that sparkles in the sunlight.

A young thistle that will be flowering later this summer. I am quite certain of my identification as I made the mistake of touching it very lightly with my finger because it looked soft and mossy. Wrong! It really,really hurt:)

Frosted creeping buttercup leaves.

Isn't this sky a glorious blue? The bird is a song thrush who 'sings each song twice over,lest you should think he never could recapture the first fine careless rapture!
I think next month Robert Browning's lovely poem will be appearing in full on Circle of the Year. A click on the photo might make the thrush a bit clearer. It was at the top of a very high tree.

Mr Bilbo Baggins with his stick.

Gabriel's new bootees - right now both feet would fit in one of them but he's not far off 5 pounds and he's home with his mummy and daddy since Friday.

A new small cross-stitch project ready to be started - picture hidden so that the intended recipient won't see it:)

Yarn for more bootees for Gabriel, each ball of yarn makes one pair. They are so simple to knit and Hannah said that the ones I made for Kaitlyn were the best of the ones she had. They are warm and stayed put most of the time:)