Posts Tagged ‘ garden ’

Of Courts and Courtiers

A spell of feverish activity has at last resulted in my finishing The Gardens of Cornwall. The mad rush at the end was caused by a summons to undertake jury service, a potentially open-ended and unavoidable commitment. About the case itself I can say nothing at all, for obvious reasons, but it was one of the most absorbing weeks I’ve spent for a long time. Having someone’s future in your hands concentrates the mind wonderfully. The drama is intense, however trivial the matter. The faces, the body language – are they lying, are they simply nervous? And then the atmosphere of the court, all heavily grained Victorian woodwork with the hook still to be seen where the judge’s black cap once hung.

From one court to another. There’s been a royal visit to David and Sara Bamford’s carpet workshop here in Presteigne. I found myself on the royal press rota and being firmly briefed by the (glamorous and charming) Clarence House press officer as to what I might and might not do. It’s tricky, trying to photograph people and yet keep moving backwards in front of them, so that it’s as if you don’t exist and they are moving freely through an empty room. A strange illusion of total freedom for the royal couple, who are at all times surrounded by staff anxiously counting down the seconds until the next stage of the occasion.

Meeting and greeting

A pat on the back for Phil

The Cornish book finished on a definite high with a wonderful last day, an early morning at the open-air Minack Theatre, with low sun striking across the waves beating at the cliffs below the amphitheatre. More Cornish pictures to be seen here.

The Minack Theatre, Cornwall

The Minack Theatre

The ancient chestnut trees at Dartington Hall

With that out of the way I’m free to concentrate on the imminent publication of our latest book, Great Gardens of Britain, due out on the 15th of July. We’ll be holding a small event locally to celebrate, about which more information later. Helena Attlee and I are also speaking about the book at the Ways With Words Festival at Dartington Hall near Totnes. That will be at 4.00pm on the 12th of July (all information on their website, I hope we’ll also get a chance to tell some stories about the weird and wonderful things that have happened to us while working together on our books. Incidentally, there are a couple of good reviews of the book out now, one by David Wheeler in the current (July) issue of Gardens Illustrated and the other by Claire Masset in the July issue of The English Garden.

The present order is the disorder of the future - Saint-Just. Little Sparta, Scotland

still at it

Another busy patch with the deadline looming for Great Gardens of Britain. First to Northern Ireland and the garden at Mount Stewart, filled with eccentric statues and topiary, including an Irish harp and the Red Hand of Ulster laid out in begonias. Sounds naff, and indeed some of it is, but much more is amazingly beautiful and wildly ambitious. The setting is good too, on the shores of Strangford Lough looking across to the Mourne Mountains.

The Mourne Mountains

The mountains of Mourne

Concrete statues abound – dodos, pigs, monkeys and even a benign Disney dinosaur, below.

I pulled off the road in the evening to admire the view at a point plainly favoured by couples in cars. Overlooking this spot an offended member of the local church had made their feelings known.

Then home and immediately up to Yorkshire to shoot Scampston Hall and down to London to snatch some autumn pictures at Kew. Finally to the joyous venue of Heathrow’s Terminal 4, to meet Helena on her return from a research trip to Calabria and coincidentally to wave off some friends on their way to India. What a depressing and banal building for somewhere that should be buzzing with anticipation.

Heathrow Terminal Four

Heathrow, Terminal Four


Heathrow Terminal Four

Heathrow, Terminal Four

Most unusually for me, a line of verse came into my mind while driving north. It wouldn’t go away, so that by the end of the day I not only had some satisfactory pictures but also the better part of a clumsy sonnet – on the short side, so a sort of reduced-fat sonnet. I’m not sure what to call it – ‘Photographer at work’? – ‘Lines composed while on the M62’? I haven’t attempted a poem since I was eight; anyway, at serious risk of ridicule, here it is:

The rising sun strikes sideways. Pixels sing.
Each leaf and branch reveals its own true form.
I put the icy burden of my camera down
With fingers rendered clumsy by the cold.
A chilly hour waiting through the dawn –
No price to pay for this small shard of time
Unlike all others since the world began
And different from all those still unborn.
A homage paid to beauty, I give thanks
That I was here today and I saw this.
One day, an epitaph. Yes. I SAW THIS



Kew Gardens: magnolia acuminata

A new feature – Bramafam

A new garden feature in this week’s Country Life magazine (29th September issue), written by Helena Attlee. It’s about the clifftop garden of Italy’s most distinguished landscape architect, Paolo Pejrone.

Paolo Pejrone's garden at Bramafam

The villa in the mountains of Piedmont

Paolo Pejrone

Paolo Pejrone and young friend


topiary work

Northern Delights

Another garden trip to the North – 1200 miles and six gardens in seven days. I was back in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation on the night of the Perseid meteor shower – could there be a better spot? I had hopes of lying on the Snail Mound while stars fell around me – but clouds rolled across the sky and all thoughts of poetry dissolved in a fine Scots drizzle. A couple of days later after completing the photography for three gardens in the Borders, Helena and I met at Edinburgh airport and we drove up to Crathes Castle outside Aberdeen, where sunrise the next morning brought the kind of light I hope they have in heaven. Then back to our B&B for one of the worst breakfasts I’ve ever encountered, not excluding that bowl of Iranian goat’s-head soup complete with eyes and teeth.

crathes castle

Crathes Castle

Back down to Edinburgh to stay with friends and do a bit of the Fringe, and on to Alnwick Castle, an occasionally maligned and, I think, misunderstood garden. It was packed with people and above all with small children having a fantastic time, which is how it should be seen and indeed photographed, though that can be difficult when the pictures are for publication.

The Alnwick Garden at Alnwick Castle

The Alnwick Garden

Home next via Scampston in Yorkshire – a sample of Piet Oudolf’s naturalistic planting.

blue thistle and grasses


Among other things recently a couple of nice interior shoots, one at Shobdon Church in Herefordshire, a pretty piece of Strawberry Hill Gothic – though I still think I’d rather have the astonishing Norman stonework that was lost in the rebuilding.

shobdon church

Shobdon Church, Herefordshire

The other was of a sensitive renovation of a 14th century gatehouse, undertaken for the Vivat Trust

Polesworth Abbey gatehouse

Polesworth Abbey gatehouse

Polesworth Abbey gatehouse

Polesworth Abbey gatehouse

Finally, a couple of books to recommend. First, David Mitchell’s fine novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. The other is a joint production by the photographer Norman McBeath and the poet Paul Muldoon, Plan B. I don’t think I’ve seen such a close and subtle collaboration since Fay Godwin and Ted Hughes did Remains of Elmet, years ago. See the exhibition if you can – on at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, and I hope it will travel south.

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