Monday, 31 October 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 bemoaning their fate, and the tapping of dry branches against a window. 
There is apparently no evidence of any Spanish monastery or community in the area, and neither is there any history of a local legend involving Spanish monks. However, one of Elgar's great friends was the ghost-story writer, Algernon Blackwood, who visited the couple at Brinkwells.
Blackwood was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose members also included Aleister Crowley, who was notorious for his fascination with black magic and the occult. It's highly likely that Blackwood made the whole thing up.
Never mind, it's a terrific piece of music, and I love the idea of Elgar and Blackwood sitting in front of the fire in the isolated cottage, telling each other ghostly tales. Perhaps I should make up a legend about the fastigiate yews in my garden (see third picture down). 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

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 children in brightly coloured bobble hats, and dozens of dogs.
Trying to take photographs of a garden when it is full of people is quite a challenge. I didn't even bother taking my camera - I just used my iPhone.
It's always nice to have a place to yourself when you are trying to look at things, but on the other hand, I loved the fact that it was so busy. I loved the idea that so many people wanted to take their children there for a half-term outing, and that the children themselves seemed to be enjoying it so much. All around there were small excited people climbing on trees, kicking leaves, and comparing leaf colours. It was fantastic. 
Most of the really colourful foliage was provided by the maples, but there were other trees in full autumn regalia as well, such as the Kentucky yellowwood, or Cladrastis kentukea (see final picture). Hope you enjoy the pictures.