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John Massey's garden

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First, an update. I've been busy most of this year on my new book, which is published tomorrow. Visiting gardens when I'm doing a book is very different from visiting gardens for my own pleasure, and quite often I get to the point where I don't want to have to think about gardens, or plants, or combinations thereof for quite a while.
I'm pleased with the book and I think Hugo Rittson Thomas's photographs look wonderful, but completing it left me feeling exhausted. So it was very nice to feel enthusiastic about garden visiting again, thanks to my friend Hester Forde, whose garden, Coosheen, is in Ireland, in Co Cork.
Hester came to see my garden while visiting the Cotswolds this summer. I'm planning another jungle clearance project, this time beneath an enormous yew tree which is home to dozens of brambles and other weeds and saplings.
Hester is a fantastic source of good advice and recommendations, and she suggested I raise the crown, or "limb up" the…

Trees at Colesbourne Park

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Colesbourne Park, about 20 minutes from me by car, is known for its snowdrops, and a visit to Colesbourne to see them in flower, and perhaps buy a choice variety for the garden, is one of the few things I can think of that makes February bearable.
Colesbourne is featured in my book, Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, and I've visited several times since then, but I've never been at this time of the year. However, this year owner Sir Henry Elwes has decided to open the arboretum to the public, so I was invited for a private tour with Sir Henry and his head gardener, Arthur Cole, who trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.
The reason Colesbourne has such a wonderful collection of snowdrops is down to the current owner's great-grandfather, Henry John Elwes, who was an eminent botanist and plant collector. It is said that if Kew didn't know the answer to a query, they would write to Colesbourne, where 14 glasshouses, each with a different climate, housed Henry's…

Jam, Jerusalem ... and bunting!

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This summer, my local Women's Institute (WI) celebrated its 100th birthday by unveiling its centenary bunting in the village hall. It has all been made by local members, and a lot of it is beautifully embroidered, or uses an imaginative range of techniques including applique and freestyle quilting.
I'm a member of my local WI, and when I tell people this, they often respond with snorts of laughter, or blank looks, depending on their age and nationality. The WI is often seen as a comedy stereotype in Britain, regarded as the domain of women in pearls and twin sets, busily making jam, baking cakes and generally bossing people around. Famously, the WI's "theme tune" is Sir Hubert Parry's setting of William Blake's poem, Jerusalem, which was adopted eight years after the WI was founded in 1915.
Jerusalem, of course, is a wonderful hymn but we should remember that for the WI the lines:

"Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land&quo…

Spring has sprung at Awkward Hill

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The weather is warm enough for short-sleeved gardening, or drinking a cup of tea on the terrace...

There are primroses (the native variety, Primula vulgaris)...

There are tulips ('Purissima') and multi-headed Roman hyacinths ...

There are daffodils and daisies ...

There is blossom on the ornamental cherries, the amelanchiers and the Magnolia stellata ...


Rufus is enjoying the sunshine in the garden ...

And there are new-born lambs in the field next door...

I think we can safely say that spring has arrived.

Halloween at Awkward Hill

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October 31 dawned with a suitably misty, murky morning. The garden was festooned with cobwebs and shrouded with fog. It's great gardening weather, though, because with no wind and no rain, you can put in plants and bulbs without having to wipe your glasses or have your hair blown in your face every five minutes. I went to a concert on Saturday night, to hear Elgar's Piano Quintet in A minor, played by my friends Tony Frewer (first violin) and Monica Frewer (piano), with Tony's string quartet. This was a great Halloween choice, since the inspiration for the piece is a ghostly legend. In 1918, Elgar and his wife Alice rented a cottage called Brinkwells, near Fittleworth, in West Sussex. Nearby, in Flexham Park, was a group of twisted dead trees said to be the remains of a group of Spanish monks who had taken part in blasphemous ceremonies in the park and been struck by lightning for their sins. The first movement of the quintet has a Spanish theme which suggests the monks b…

Autumn colour at Westonbirt

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I decided to drag myself away from Book No 3 yesterday and spend the day at Westonbirt Arboretum with my neighbour Neil and our dogs, Rufus and Harry. This is one of the best times to visit, as the autumn foliage colour at Westonbirt, which houses the National Collection of Japanese Maples, is spectacular. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't wonderful - it was grey and damp, but not too cold and not actually raining. I hadn't been to Westonbirt, which is about 20 minutes away by car, for a couple of years, so I was intrigued to see the new treetop walkway. Unfortunately, the walkway is surrounded by conifers, and beneath it is some sort of play area or work area with a lot of wooden structures (I was trying not to look down too much, so I didn't really see), so from a distance, it doesn't really give you an indication of what is in store. Westonbirt was busy: the schools are on half-term holiday this week, so there were hundreds of people, accompanied by lots of childre…

Living in the bee-loud glade

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I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, 
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

I've always loved W B Yeats's poem 'The Lake Isle of Innisfree'.  It's a love song to Lough Gill, in his native County Sligo and anyone who feels homesick for woods, or water, or countryside will identify with it.  It has a special resonance for me, because Yeats wrote it after walking down Fleet Street one day, and seeing a small water feature or fountain in a shop window which reminded him of the lake water lapping on the shore.
I spent 35 years working in Fleet Street, both in the street itself, and in the metaphorical Fleet Street, as the national newspaper industry is still known. During that time, I would often sneak out of the office for half an hour or so in search of grass and trees and a bit of peace and quiet. Now, of course, I live in the country and keep be…