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.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Garden Dreams

One of my winter dreams will always remain a dream I'm afraid, I would love to have a house and garden like the one above. A beautiful very old manor house dreaming in the midst of a timeless profusion of old cottage plants.

I have another slightly more realistic dream also - to have my garden looking good right through from early spring to late autumn. I am yet to achieve this dream but maybe this year will be the one when it finally happens.

I'm dreaming this year of more colour like this wonderful oriental poppy. I love the gentle pinks, blues and lavenders but gardens need a burst of strong colour every so often to lift them and it's something my garden lacks apart from these popppies .

Sometimes I get my garden looking pretty good but that is usually in spring and early summer when I'm full of enthusiasm and it's easy to have it filled with interest and colour.

It isn't unknown for it to look reasonable in the winter....

....and autumn can have its moments too but July and August!!!! There are no photos of my garden in those months because it always looks depressing. I am usually short on energy especially if it's hot and often I'm away as well. I usually haven't deadheaded things that I should and I don't do bedding which is where a lot of colour comes from at this time of the year. And yet I know it's possible to have things flowering and looking good because other people manage it and one day I'm going to as well!

The photo above was taken at Parham House in Suffolk in early July, they have a good deal more space in the borders than I have but surely it isn't beyond me to achieve something similar on a smaller scale?

There are other garden dreams too, I'd love to have a bed filled with medieval herbs, there is no shortage of plants to choose from and in fact I have a great many plants from that period already in the garden. What I want though is to have them all together with a little wattle hurdle fence round and a sundial in the middle.

I dream of planting more and more of the lovely old shrub roses like my beautiful Reine des Violettes......

....and Felicite Parmentier who hates the rain but is perfection if the flowers coincide with warm, sunny weather. I love everything about these old roses, the beautiful shapes and colours, the amazing perfumes and the wonderful names. Who wouldn't want roses called Ispahan conjuring up visions of cool courtyard gardens in ancient Persia or Rosa Mundi with it's connections to Henry II and his Fair Rosamund. It doesn't surprise me at all that the Empress Josephine collected roses and made the famous rose garden at Malmaison near Paris.

Finally I dream about all the wonderful gardens that I can visit during the summer months including the one above which is Fanshawgate Hall. This lovely old house is about 10 minutes drive from where I live so I go at least once a year, there's always a good plant stall too. This year's list of visits will include Chiff Chaffs and Snape Cottage in Dorset and perhaps one or two Sussex gardens that coincide with my visits down there - there's Alfriston and Charleston and....... roll on the publication of this years Yellow Book and long, warm summer days!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Winter Dreaming

Now that Winter Solstice and Yule are gone I have sailed gratefully into the quiet backwaters of January. It's a month that many people dislike but for me it is a time of winter dreaming, a whole year lies ahead and in January it is full of infinite possibilties.

There are so many ancient crafts and skills that I would like to master, natural dyeing for instance. How wonderful to gather plants, leaves, bark or berries from your garden or the surrounding countryside and then use them to produce yarns in wonderful rich,earthy colours. I know someone locally who would teach me or....

...there is a course available at the Weald and Downland Museum - a place I never tire of visiting.

Then there is basket making, I've always loved baskets and the thought of learning to make my own really appeals to me. Plenty of courses around so that's another possibility...

....and if I made my own baskets I could use them to collect wild fruits and herbs so maybe a course on wild foods so that I can identify more of them. I know quite a few but there are a great many others that I know by name but couldn't safely identify if they were growing wild.

Then, of course, there is spinning - my little kit bought at Bakewell Show last summer is still in its brown paper carrier! I haven't been brave enough to have a go yet but the young lady who was demonstrating spinning would give me lessons.

She lives in Edale, I'm sure that you can see why my winter dreaming includes visiting this lovely part of the Peak District again........

........and saying hello to my friends who provide the wool for all this spinning and dyeing.

January is a time for dreaming of all the wonderful places I might visit or revisit such as West Kennet Long Barrow which is a place that I find very special.

Hopefully my dream of visiting Maiden Castle in Dorset will become a reality this year, Dorset is a county I've never visited even though I know that it's full of wonderful ancient places and beautiful gardens like Snape Cottage and Chiff Chaffs - these two I've only seen on photographs and garden videos but I've long wanted to visit them.

My January dreams take me further afield too, I hope one day to return to South Africa so that I can see wonderful sights like this again.

Bourke's Luck Potholes in Blyde River Canyon, a fantastically beautiful area near to White River where my son and DIL lived for three years. Actually my chances of seeing it again are pretty good as my son and daughter-in-law plan to move back there within the next 12 months so maybe in 2010.....

There are dreams of spring flowers....

....borders filling with all my old friends and maybe some new ones too...

....and just sitting in the warm sunshine of an early summer's day.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Winter landscape

He comes,--he comes,--the Frost Spirit comes! You may trace his footsteps now
On the naked woods and the blasted fields and the brown hill's withered brow.
He has smitten the leaves of the gray old trees where their pleasant green came forth,
And the winds, which follow wherever he goes, have shaken them down to earth.

He comes,--he comes,--the Frost Spirit comes!--from the frozen Labrador,--
From the icy bridge of the Northern seas, which the white bear wanders o'er,--
Where the fisherman's sail is stiff with ice, and the luckless forms below
In the sunless cold of the lingering night into marble statues grow!

He comes,--he comes,--the Frost Spirit comes!--on the rushing Northern blast,
And the dark Norwegian pines have bowed as his fearful breath went past.
With an unscorched wing he has hurried on, where the fires of Hecla glow
On the darkly beautiful sky above and the ancient ice below.

He comes,--he comes,--the Frost Spirit comes!--and the quiet lake shall feel
The torpid touch of his glazing breath, and ring to the skater's heel;
And the streams which danced on the broken rocks, or sang to the leaning grass,
Shall bow again to their winter chain, and in mournful silence pass.

He comes,--he comes,--the Frost Spirit comes!--let us meet him as we may,
And turn with the light of the parlor-fire his evil power away;
And gather closer the circle round, when that fire-light dances high,
And laugh at the shriek of the baffled Fiend as his sounding wing goes by!

This lovely poem is The Frost Spirit by John Greenleaf Whittier a 19th century American poet. It must have been inspired by similar magical scenes to the ones I saw and photographed this morning.

I have to say that I don't think of Jack Frost or the Frost Spirit as a fiend but more of a bringer of beauty and cleansing. To me when I was a child the words 'Jack Frost has been' from my mother as she drew my curtains was a signal to run to the window to see the lovely patterns he had drawn on the glass. No central heating in those days and the winters were colder so there was often frost on the inside of the windows.

I don't suppose I really noticed the beauty of seedheads heavy with frost but I do remember long icy slides in the school playground and on the pavements too which was probably not all that popular with the older people! No Health and Safety spoiled our fun in those days. I don't remember anyone really hurting themselves, just a few scraped knees and bruises. We wrapped up warm and played out in all weathers, little girls wore liberty bodices - not very elegant but very effective in the keeping you warm stakes.

This isn't a variegated holly in spite of appearances, it's an ordinary green one with a thick rim of frost round the edges, it looked absolutely stunning.

Ivy flowers in the process of becoming black berries, still green at the moment but will provide food for hungry birds as they ripen. It's worth clicking and enlarging it to see the ice crystals on each tiny berry and outlining every leaf.

The artistry of the spiders web is even more evident sparkling with ice crystals. This particular holly bush had several decorating it as though Nature had celebrated Winter Solstice with her own delicate ornaments.

Happy New Year everyone!