Showing posts from 2016

Halloween at Awkward Hill

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

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

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…

Trouble in Paradise

As most of you know, the village where I live is, like Mary Poppins, "practically perfect in every way". Occasionally, however, a small black cloud appears in the sky over Bibury, and most of these small black clouds seem to follow in the wake of tourists in large hire cars.
We live on a narrow lane, where there is no public parking. It's a dead end, or what we call in the UK a No Through Road. There's a sign at the entrance to the lane that clearly states this, and another sign that warns the lane only gives access to residents. Yet every day, and especially at weekends, there is a constant stream of motorists driving up the narrow lane in search of Arlington Row, Bibury's world-famous cottages, or a parking place.
The lane leads to Arlington Row, but by the time it gets to the cottages, it is a footpath, not a road. It seems to be impossible to convince someone with a sat-nav that it is a dead end, and not only that, but a dead end that becomes a footpath. They…

Eupatorium: a eulogy

The fashion for prairie planting, or the New Perennial style as some designers prefer to call it, may not be universally popular with gardeners, but it’s very good news for the honey bee. Prairie planting is all about letting plants do what comes naturally. You don’t have to stake them, or prune them, or deadhead them. You choose things like asters, or rudbeckia, or echinacea, that will establish massive colourful clumps that sway in the breeze without collapsing in a heap every time it rains. Most prairie planting schemes incorporate lots of tall grasses, such as miscanthus, or pennisetum, or panicum, and even as autumn turns into winter, their bleached flowerheads still add movement and texture.

Eupatorium combines beautifully with late summer/autumn perennials such as asters and solidago, as seen heret in the herbaceous border at Waaterperry, near Oxford.

So what’s not to like? Well, some gardeners don’t like grasses - they think they look scruffy,  or weedy, and will run riot in the …

Show time! The annual Bibury Flower Show

If you had been standing in my front garden at about 9am yesterday morning, you would have seen a small procession of villagers bearing jars of jam, or vases of flowers, or cakes of one sort or another. as they carefully made their way to the village hall.
For the previous week, those who bake, or preserve, or garden, could be seen in earnest discussion. Snatches of conversation went something like: "Well, I think I've got a couple of cucumbers, but my carrots are a disaster." Or, in the case of the more creative flower arrangers: "Well, I've got an idea, but I'm not sure if it will work."
The Bibury Flower Show, as you can see from the poster below, has been going since 1891. We don't have skittles or "cocoanut" bowling any more (although there was a brass band up at the cricket field yesterday for their fun day), but the levels of skill and artistry, not to mention horticultural and culinary expertise, never fail to amaze me.

2016 has be…

My garden, three years on

I feel so at home in Bibury that it's strange to think I moved here less than four years ago. This Sunday, 3 July, I open my garden for the National Gardens Scheme, so it seemed like a good time to take stock. Those of you who remember my old blog, Victoria's Backyard,  will know that I used to open my garden for the NGS when I lived in London, so I'm used to the last-minute panic, and the frantic baking of cakes and so on. Here in the Cotswolds, I also open my garden at the end of May, in aid of the village hall. This means that most of the major gardening projects for the year have to be completed by then, so I always feel like I'm ahead of the game by mid-June.  Still, journalists will be journalists, and there is nothing like a looming deadline to make me ...  go and read a book, or rearrange my bedroom. Anything, in fact, to avoid the job in hand. My excuse is that we've had heavy rain most of the week, so I couldn't get much gardening done. I've been…

The perfect English village fete, in the perfect English garden

Bibury, like many other villages up and down the country, holds an annual summer fete. It's very much a local affair - volunteers run the tea tent, and the raffle stall, and face painting, and the games for the kids, and the Women's Institute sell cakes and so on.
Until recently, the village fete was held on the lawn at Bibury Court, a Jacobean mansion that is the local "big house", but a couple of years ago, that arrangement came to an end, much to the dismay of villagers.
This year, however, Mr and Mrs Robert Cooper, owners of another "big house", Ablington Manor, offered the use of their gardens as a setting, and yesterday, at 2pm, to the strains of a brass band, the fete got under way.
I'd visited Ablington Manor before, because I wrote about it in my book, Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, and in an article for The English Garden magazine last year. I was interested to see how the space would be used, because although there are large, reasonably lev…