Still Here

For one brief moment I thought happily that the Mayan Apocalypse would bring a natural if noisy close to this eternal progression of blogs, but it was not to be. No bang then, just the sound of a faint whimper as I settle down to the keyboard while 2012 dips below the horizon. So . . . back from Japan, where the maples were turning their impossible colours – fifty shades of red, in fact.

Maruyama Park, Kyoto

Maruyama Park



The Japanese response to this amazing display is even more marked than in the spring. However early I arrived, each tree was surrounded by visitors paying homage and often carrying an emperor’s ransom in cameras around their necks.


Tree worshippers – Nanzen-ji at first light

Back home in time to receive a daughter home from Mexico. She seems to have a gift for acquiring distinctive holiday souvenirs. Last time it was a llama foetus, so expectations were high and we were not altogether surprised when she presented us with a traditional Mexican delicacy (see below). I think Tyrrell’s Crisps have missed a trick here, or maybe not. Luckily she’s not going far foreign in the near future . . .
Alex Ramsay

And so to the future – here is a Japanese carp, symbolic of good fortune and also perseverance. Heaven knows we’ll need them both in 2013, so I wish you all, friends, family and readers unknown –

A Happy New Year!Alex Ramsay


That Time of Year Again

Autumn, and a primeval urge of overwhelming force drives the salmon up mighty rivers to spawn in the remote headwaters that witnessed their own conception. Likewise, in another of nature’s spectacular seasonal rituals, vast herds of photographers feel compelled to visit the nearest wood and take snaps of fallen leaves. Not to be left out, here are a couple I spawned recently.

oak apples

Oak apples

spangle galls on an oak leaf

Spangle galls

Off to Kyoto tomorrow morning, so a restful silence will ensue until I return with far too many pictures of crimson maple leaves strewn across elegantly raked gravel. Sayonara to all.

The Blog is Back

The summer seems to have passed in a long soggy flash, if you can imagine such a thing. I can’t believe I’ve not blogged since March – I plead far too much travel in mitigation. Repeated trips to the Veneto, to Sicily and Malta and a long visit to Japan resulted in an appalling deluge of pictures and an unwillingness to spend further time in front of the computer. I’m just back from Venice having completed my part of Gardens of Venice & the Veneto. A lot of fun to shoot thanks to the huge efforts of the author, the talented and beautiful Jenny Condie who has tracked down some extraordinary new places for our book, as well as the usual suspects. Among them are a Masonic garden with a skull-shaped grotto, a subterranean aquarium, monasteries, mazes and, this being the Veneto, more stone dwarfs than you can shake a stick at (if that’s your idea of a good time, as the great Groucho used to say). All this is just to whet your appetites – no pictures until nearer publication, I’m afraid. Well all right, just one –

Palazzo Soranzo Cappello, Venice

During my time off I found it impossible to take many photographs in Venice. Too many familiar views, too many cameras (and iPhones and iPads), too easy to take a quick snap instead of looking. I rather agree with those tribes who are said to believe that photographs steal their souls, and I begin to think that it may be true of places as well. I did succumb on occasion, though, particularly as one visit coincided with the annual Regata Storica.

Racing gondolas on the lagoon

the regata storico

Racing on the Grand Canal

the regata storico

A fanfare for a Doge

Further afield I’m working on a book on Zen temple gardens. I begin to understand a little more about these remarkable places, and how to look at them. The Japanese passion for stones became clear to me when I found this specimen, whose textured surface reveals a whole landscape.

Stone at Myoshinji

My last trip to Kyoto coincided with firefly season. Above the stream near my hotel the air was full of them, whirling up like sparks from a bonfire


Shoden-ji, Kyoto

Todai-ji, Nara – the largest wooden building in the world

And finally, for those of you who are local, I’m sharing a small exhibition – In Our Empty Rooms – at the Sidney Nolan Trust of work made in collaboration with the sculptor Justine Cook, from the 13th-20th October. It will be a pleasure to see you at the opening on Friday 12th October, 5-7 pm. More information at

This castle hath a pleasant seat . . .

A wet grey Bank Holiday Monday, and writing a new post seems marginally more appealing (though perhaps less urgent) than the alternative of clearing the gutters. March was a good month, starting with the Truro launch of Gardens of Cornwall, the great and the good of that county turning out in force to see it on its way. Some entertaining jobs too, including among other things a ghoul, a spaceship and a brace of castles. The first two of these must remain confidential for the time being, though I expect you’ll see them here eventually. One of the castles was the astonishing private residence of what were until the nineteenth century the Prince-Bishops of Durham, men of God who bore a sword as well as a crozier, and whose lands stretched from Durham to the Borders.

The gatehouse, Auckland Castle

A good indication of the style these men kept might be the eighteenth-century gothick deerhouse in the park, complete with an upstairs dining-room from which the bishop’s guests could assess their future quarry.

The Deerhouse

All this was very different from my next shoot where I was working in the redundant jail in Lancaster Castle. A prison for most of the last nine centuries, nothing much has ever been altered, from the medieval dungeons where the Pendle Witches were held, through the cells reserved for unruly Quakers to the Victorian wings occupied until last year.

Lancaster Castle

A cell for two

View through a spyhole

In the shadow of the keep is the Execution Yard. More prisoners were executed in Lancaster than anywhere else in the country, and hundreds of bodies are known to lie beneath the mossy paving stones. The cliff-like walls around it have been occupied by sparrowhawks who continue to do execution among the castle pigeons, whose remains litter the ground.

The Execution Yard

Not to finish on too grim a note, I had to climb the tower of St Peter’s Cathedral to find a good distant view of the castle. Not a good experience for those with vertigo issues, but it did give me a chance to glance into the bell chamber and up into the spire. Now back to those gutters.

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

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


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


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