Archive for the ‘ General ’ Category

Hot Off The Press

Gardens of Cornwall is published today, with a lovely text by Katherine Lambert and (of course) pictures by me. If you know the south-west then you’ll know how wonderful these gardens are – if you don’t, buy the book and then go yourself. Now is the moment to be there. One picture below, but more can be found here.

magnolia wilsonii

Magnolia wilsonii at Cotehele

The weekend saw a quick trip to Brighton, famous for dodgy antiques and mad regency architecture among many other things. It should also be famous for the daily flypast of the vast flocks of starlings that roost under the pier, a sight that regularly draws the crowds from the slot machines and reduces them to awed silence – pictures below (clicking on them gives you a larger image):

starling flock at sunset

starling flock at sunsetstarling flock at sunset

starling flock at sunsetstarling flock at sunset

Moving On

The time has come. Nine months ago we first conceived the idea of moving; as of today our home for the last sixteen years is up for sale. UPDATEHere is a link to the house details with the correct location. The agents’ office can be found here. If you know of anyone who might be interested in moving to Presteigne (according to Country Life magazine one of the three best places in Britain in which to live), please spread the word. Leaving our little rus in urbe will be a wrench, no question, but we’re sure it’s the right thing to do.

the kitchen garden

south front, with irises

summer in the 'dining room'

Other, though lesser, news: a feature in the March issue of The English Garden on Trevarno in Cornwall, written by Katherine Lambert. This garden also appears in Gardens of Cornwall (Frances Lincoln Ltd) by Katherine and myself, which will be published on the 1st of March.

Trevarno, Cornwall

Canal(s) +

It’s been far too long since my last post (in my opinion at least), so here is a small selection of edited highlights from the grim month of January. A short trip to Amsterdam takes first place – the first time we’ve been away together for other than work purposes for years.amsterdam

The (amazingly comfortable) night boat from Harwich was followed by a train journey across an icily beautiful Netherlands. As ever, lovely things seen but not photographed from the train windows; fixed in the memory that morning were the windmill covered in perching cormorants, and a white cat walking delicately across a frozen canal. We stayed in the Boutique Hotel View which fully deserves this plug – perfect in almost every way.

the view from our room - could you ask for more?

We did the things one does in that lovely city – the Rembrandthuis, of course, and the Rijksmuseum – and other galleries – and eating – and drinking . . .

Rembrandt's studio

Rijksmuseum - Fishing for Souls (Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne, 1614 - detail)

Other events – the candle-lit launch of Ian Marchant’s excellent new book Something of the Night. Funny, moving and filled with wise and correct observations on sex, religion and politics among many other matters.

ian marchant

Another local nocturnal event was the annual Wassail – health and safety happily not in evidence as the blazing globe of the Sun flew over the heads of the onlookers

wassail

An advance copy of Gardens of Cornwall landed on the mat – publication due on March 1st

gardens of cornwall

And finally another reminder of spring and summer – remember summer? – with the publication of a cover feature on Sissinghurst in the February edition of The English Garden

sissinghurst

You’ll Believe A Horse Can Fly . . .

. . . well, you might if you were lucky enough to see Presteigne’s annual panto, Presteigne, Rome of the Free last week. A fantastic effort recalling the town’s erstwhile position on the lunatic fringe of the Roman empire, featuring drunken centurions, louche Roman ladies and bloodthirsty Celts. Not forgetting HRH and his royal consort, together with Pegasus who took to the air with the greatest of ease – surely a first for any local pantomime (watch a short video here). Cue many jokes about the town and the wider political situation and some great songs including a version of I’m a Believer that truly had to be heard to be believed. A few pictures below with many more to be found here. Roll on next year.

Silver Linings

Just as you feel sunk into winter gloom along comes a day of perfect cloudless beauty. Sunday the 6th of November 2011 deserves to be commemorated here, whatever it may have been like elsewhere. Mushrooming on Offa’s Dyke under a moon just off the full, then walking back with the space station crawling across the sky and disappearing behind the Whimble – even the dog was happy.

Offa's Dyke

The Black Mixen

A couple of particularly entertaining shoots have also helped to brighten this dark end of the year. One was at Levens Hall in Cumbria – two days in the most haunted house in Britain. No spooks, but fantastic interiors and lovely light.

The other was more local at a bizarre museum in Shropshire called the Land of Lost Content. A collection of all (and I do mean all) those trivial items we’ve forgotten but that once were the unacknowledged background to our lives. If ever you’re passing through Craven Arms, something most people do as quickly as possible, take the time to see it. Highly recommended.

Shameless self-promotion warning: Please vote here for Helena Attlee’s Great Gardens of Britain in the Horticultural Channel Awards. You’ll find it under the resounding title of ‘best non-practical gardening book of 2011’. (Click ‘submit survey’ when you’ve voted).

Finally, did I mention that Sunday was a cloudless day? One cloud did darken it a little; returning home to find some thieving toerag had just slipped out of the kitchen with a laptop under his arm. Not a disaster by any means, but a nuisance, and unexpected in this town. “Don’t often get a chance to do this in Presteigne, sir” said the scene-of-crime officer as he dusted down the kitchen for fingerprints. Long may that be true.

Dover Beach Revisited

Some of us may still remember a line or two from Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘Dover Beach’, in which he describes the ebbing tide of religious belief. I’ve just returned from three days photographing a vast and now redundant Catholic seminary, where the endless corridors echoed to that famous ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar / Retreating . . .

One of the boys' dormitories

The only other people there besides myself were the caretaker and the odd-job man. The building is on such a huge scale that we had to carry walkie-talkies to communicate with each other. The buildings are mostly neo-Gothic – every Catholic architect of the nineteenth century seems to have worked there, including three generations of the Pugin family. Surprisingly there was also a girls’ wing, with cubicles painted a delicate shade of eau de nil and littered with old sewing machines.

The girls' dormitory

Work and prayer in the shadow of the Cross

In the girls' wing

Most of the buildings are in good order, though the Junior School with its grade one listed chapel and its dormitories has long been empty and vandalised. The pupils’ home-made toboggans lie scattered around the floor.

The derelict Junior School

A junior dormitory

St Aloysius' Chapel

St Aloysius' Chapel

St Aloysius' Chapel

 

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

Tyrrhenian Sea

A view with a room

Just back from Calabria, a fleeting visit for which I had no excuse other than to accompany Helena Attlee on her research trip to the Jewish citron harvest. This peculiar event will soon be properly described by Helena in her forthcoming book on the role of the citrus family in Italian culture. Briefly, though, the citron (etrog in Hebrew) takes a central part in the annual Feast of Tabernacles (sukkot); what’s more, each fruit has to be absolutely flawless. We met a citron merchant from Brooklyn who talked us through the business, at the same time giving us a crash course in elementary Judaism. Who knew, for example, that the only commandments that apply to us (non-Jews, I mean) are the seven ‘Noahide’ commandments – six of which were given to Adam before the Fall and the seventh to Noah after the Flood?

citron (citrus medica)

A perfect citron

Harvesting these fruits is a brutal job – the trees are covered in vicious spines and grow low to the ground, so that the pickers have to crawl on all fours and pick the fruit while lying on their backs. All this in the furnace heat of a Calabrian summer. And then each fruit must be washed and checked by the merchant for the slightest imperfection, variation in colour, etc. before being packed in bubble wrap and foam rubber like a piece of glassware.

citron harvest

Looking for the perfect fruit

Citron merchant

The citron merchant

Citron farmer, Calabria

The citron farmer

Checking the citrons

More pictures may be found here. After a brief break for beach time it was north to Amalfi to look at the precipitous and beautiful lemon gardens that hang above the Tyrrhenian Sea. The first picture on this post shows the view from our room, so high above the sea that we could just make out the mountains of Sicily 100 miles distant. Then home – and within 24 hours we were swimming in the rain in Hampstead Ponds. Funny thing, travel.

Amalfi lemons

Amalfi lemons

Amalfi lemons

Amalfi lemons

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