Posts Tagged ‘ photography ’

Wassail, wassail

A new year, and this infant blog reaches its first anniversary. Quite soon it will be capable of stumbling forward on its own two tiny feet and one day perhaps breaking into articulate speech. That, however, is in an uncertain future. What we do know for certain is that Spring will return and the sun will be seen again – for Presteigne has held its Wassail, without which the world (Radnorshire, anyway) would remain forever in winter darkness. A good crowd gathered in the town orchard to drink quantities of mulled cider and eat everything possible that can be made from apples.





Under a clear starry sky and lit by blazing torches, songs (ancient & modern) were sung and the trees’ good health was drunk. All traditions have to start somewhere, so the songs included that antique ditty We Are Wassailing (trad., attr. Mr. Rod Stewart). Then the sun’s continued rising was ensured in a fiery ritual.



The Apple Queen lights the Sun


Spring will come again

A happy New Year to all


Some new features and other matters

empty chairAn empty chair to begin with – a tiny gesture of support for Liu Xiaobo, a remarkably courageous man whose enforced absence from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony last week was marked in this way.

Now to more parochial matters which should be of at least local interest – a couple of new Herefordshire features. First, in the January issue of The World of Interiors, a piece on the wonderful Gothick interior of Shobdon Church, written by Sophie Barling.

Shobdon Church, Herefordshire

Shobdon Church, Herefordshire

One of the great pleasures of photographing churches is the opportunity to explore the frequently eccentric furnishings of the vestry or sacristy. Shobdon was no exception.

Shobdon Church, Herefordshire

Shobdon - the vestry

The other local story is in the January issue of Country Living, where I take a look at the latest work of Marc & Tia Swan, whose converted granary now blazes with colour.

The Granary

It’s available to rent – full details at the Crooked House website.

Finally, should you be looking for a suitable Christmas present for the sailor in your life, whether practising, retired or simply the armchair version, consider giving a subscription to the Marine Quarterly. A brand-new venture by the author Sam Llewellyn, packed with stories to amuse and alarm.

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 – more Italian gardens

In tomorrow’s Telegraph Magazine (Saturday October 9th), the first extracts from Italy’s Private Gardens. I imagine this means it’s now officially out there in the wide and savage world – please be gentle with our latest infant. The Telegraph has chosen to feature some of the Sicilian gardens we visited – a good choice, as they’re not often visited and completely different to anything you’ll find elsewhere in the country.


stena paterno

An expectant Stena Paterno next to a Chilean wine palm in the Paterno garden



garden photography often requires patience



Behind the scenes at San Giuliano



helena attlee

The author at San Giuliano


I’m just back from a few days in Oslo, shooting a gigantic building in the city centre for The World of Interiors. Less than straightforward, having to shoot on film with the most mixed collection of light sources imaginable, most of which could not be turned off. The building was the size of a young power station, and it also rained continuously for three days. Not an unmixed delight, all in all.



actually it read 'slaughter', but I was feeling optimistic that day


By The Time We Got To Woodstock . . .

. . . we were roughly fifty strong. I’m speaking of course about the Woodstock Literary Festival, where Helena Attlee was ‘in conversation’ with Victoria Summerley of The Independent, talking about our latest production, Italy’s Private Gardens, (out in a couple of weeks). The interview went well – you can read one blogger’s views here.

helena attlee

Helena faces the gentlemen of the Press

It was a bit of a race to get to Woodstock, as the previous day we had driven back from a brief holiday in the Limousin – river swimming through autumnal woods and much reading.

starry night on the Creuse

Garden photography for the next book is starting to wind down, though not quite complete yet. I paid a flying visit to the Eden Project this week (horrible grey light and drizzle, sadly), Northern Ireland next and hope for a brilliant autumn to finish. (Though perhaps we won’t get one this year – don’t we need late summer heat to produce good leaf colour?)

Biome at the Eden Project

The Eden Project


tidying up at Wisley

Finally, a film to recommend – Morris, A Life With Bells On. Very funny indeed, whether you love or hate this most peculiar of English customs.

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.

Journey to the Bottom Left Hand Corner

To the Isles of Scilly last week, to shoot the Abbey Garden on Tresco. We took the ferry this time, in preference to the helicopter, to try to get some small sense of the isolation of these islands. After 35 miles of heaving grey-green sea and ditto passengers, you’re impressed by the determination of the Victorian garden visitors who travelled this way in huge numbers, and (at first) by sail.The Scillonian ferryThe islands were as beautiful as ever. Thick fog and drizzle had shrouded much of our journey from the mainland (and grounded the helicopter), but to our huge relief it cleared soon after our arrival, and dazzling Scillonian weather made its appearance.

rainbow over samson

Clearing weather over Samson

The garden looked great, a skilfully managed profusion of plants from both hemispheres. It’s the only place I know where agapanthus is considered a weed – it has spread itself across the dunes, where it looks amazing against silvery marram grass and the turquoise seas.

agapanthus on tresco

Agapanthus on the dunes

tresco abbey garden

The middle terrace

leucadendron argenteum

Leucadendron argenteum, the Cape Silver Tree

And finally, today saw the delivery of advance copies of Italy’s Private Gardens (actual publication date is the 7th October). A pleasure and a relief to see it at last – only elephants, I think, gestate for longer than publishers. In any event Frances Lincoln have made a beautiful job of it, as always, and Helena and I are delighted.

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