Garden aspirations

Hello again.

It’s that time of year when all sorts of things that have been lying dormant in the garden suddenly start to reappear.

Of course, the main things that reappear in my garden are the bindweed, ground elder, creeping buttercup and green alkanet, but hay-ho, some things are sent to try us.

On the plus side, although I am a very average and intermittently enthusiastic gardener, we do have some extremely talented squirrel gardeners who over the years have managed to plant – in lovely and appropriate locations – an ornamental cherry tree, several horse chestnut trees, a hazel, a most attractive hellebore and a handful of hyacinths.

I like to imagine that it’s their way of thanking me for providing them with so much free food via the birdfeeders – or perhaps they just enjoy the challenge.

Last year, we did manage to make quite a good show with a selection of plants chosen with much care entirely on the basis of having strong slug repellent properties (did I mention that we have slugs here – hoards of them?).

I’ve been poking about in the border, but I’m not sure how many have survived the winter – to be honest, I actually can’t remember where and what I planted. So, it will be exciting to see what comes up.

We have had a couple of early trips to the garden centre to indulge in our fantasies of herbaceous borders and cottage gardens. It’s wonderfully inspiring, but I’m conscious that there’s quite a gulf between my expectations and the reality in our small north-facing plot.

I suspect that my gardening aspirations are deeply coloured by the numerous visits over the years to proper gardens, especially the ones attached to stately homes. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I imagine myself another Miss Jekyll, commanding drifts of white flowers to magically appear and last all through the summer. Ah well.

Since discovering the joys of collage, I’ve been trying out a variety of ideas for pictures. Am I alone in finding that the art techniques and indeed subjects covered, that are most appealing to me as a viewer are rarely those that I seem able to actually create?

For instance, I love to see work in subtle, earthy tones. Moody, ethereal landscapes are often what I enjoy by other artists. But when I try to do something similar, it just doesn’t work. Or perhaps I should say it hasn’t worked yet, who knows what might happen at some time or other.

But for now, when I make art in whatever medium, it seems that I have to use colour. Almost all my stitched art features strong colour, bold yellows, purples, reds and greens. It seems so far at least to be the same with collage – bright colour rules.

I wonder to myself about this. Somewhere inside, I seem to feel that neutral shades, earth tones and textures are – how can I express – more sophisticated?

If pressed, I’d say this is a throw-back to school days when we were told that serious artists use neutral palettes, bright colour is what children play with.

Well, just lately, I’ve realised albeit with a slow dawning, that there’s nothing wrong with bright colours, in fact using colour is a really good way to bring joy into art. I know it’s not for everyone, that’s the way of art, nothing will appeal to everyone and nor should it. But there is a place for bright, colourful artwork in the world and if it so happens that it’s the kind of art I seem to produce, then that’s fine.

And then I thought, well, maybe, as I enjoy looking at gardens probably more than actually making my own, why not try to paint/collage some pictures of gardens. I spent a happy hour or so trawling through old photos that I’ve taken at various stately homes and gardens. Here are just a small selection. They’re my starting point. I’ll see where they take me.

Ascott House
Cawdor Castle
Baddesley Clinton
Chastleton House
Packwood House

I’d like to thank all the people who work in the gardens at these places. I hope they know that the gardens are just as important as the historic houses for many visitors.

Until next time – all best wishes

Anny x

Alnwick Garden, Northumberland.

I’d wanted to visit the Alnwick Garden for quite a long time – I’d seen a TV programme about it, and work had already started there when we made our previous visit to Alnwick in 2003, although the children were too small and we were too tired to look around back then.

So this summer, on our way back from the Scottish holiday, we stopped off in Northumberland and I finally got to see the finished garden.

The Cascade. Water cascade in Alnwick Garden

Well, how to describe it? My first thoughts when we arrived were a tad negative. Having pre-paid for our ticket, we weren’t best pleased to be charged to use the official car park. It seems a bit sleazy, don’t you think? Surely it should be covered in the price – how many people walk there, or clog up the town car parks?

Anyway, that gripe out of the way, the garden itself isn’t at all what I had expected.

My first impression inside the garden, was of a rather English version of a theme park, without the rides. It was a hot afternoon, and lots of happy children were trucking around at the bottom of the cascade in little plastic tractors. We have an open farm near here, were we used to take our children to play with the same ride on tractors – they all love it, but it wasn’t what I expected in a formal garden.

But that’s not to say that it wasn’t good. In a way, I rather warmed to the lack of pomposity that the garden seemed to evoke. It was very busy, people lying on the grass, enjoying the sun, while children played around the cascade – all enchanting, if unusual in those type of settings. I started to wonder if this is what it is like to live in London and use the big parks there in the same way.

The cascade plays with you.

After a short time, getting our bearings, the cascade started to play. Our youngest was thrilled and spent most of the rest of the afternoon trying to get herself soaked.

The rest of us, decided to do a bit of exploring.

My main reason for going, was to see the poisons garden. There was a short queue, but we were soon inside.

The guide was a lovely chap, who gave us lots of information, mainly about who had used what to kill various people, but it was fascinating. I thought my husband went a bit pale when he realised just how many of the plants they have there, are actually growing in our garden. I’ve noticed him being particularly nice to me since we got back!

Water feature at Alnwick Garden.
Image via Wikipedia

Later, we discovered the various water features to the right of the main cascade. These were delightful, as you tend to come upon them as you wander around. And especially good fun on a hot summer day.

I think they were our daughters’ favourite part of the whole garden.

We left the girls playing there for a while and went to the cafe for a cup of tea and a sit down.

Now I am probably showing my age, but I thoroughly enjoyed the cafe. It’s very civilised. I had lemon and ginger tea, exactly what you need to pep you up. The cafe is a nice touch, and, despite our grumps about the car park, we were quite surprised to find that the cafe wasn’t too expensive. It’s the perfect place to take your paperback and sit and read, while enjoying the ambience. In fact, I thought it had a vaguely Parisian feel to it.


Fortified by the tea, we walked up to the top of the cascade to find the formal gardens at the top of the incline. I liked this spot very much, and if we lived closer, I expect I’d spend more time in that area, but it was the most traditional part of the garden, and so I think on balance, I prefer my gardens to be traditional/formal.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy or appreciate what has been done at Alnwick – I’m sure that if we lived in the region, I’d be there often – it’s just that somehow, for me, it was an attraction rather than a place of peace and relaxation, which is what I want from a garden.

I’m glad we went. I’m not sure that I’d rush to go again, but if you’re in the area and haven’t been, I’d give it a go.

Now, I shouldn’t admit it, but after our afternoon at the garden, we didn’t go straight back to the campsite. Instead we went to Barter Books – it’s in Alnwick, in what used to be the railway station. It’s one of the biggest second-hand bookshops in the country. If I’m totally honest, I could have happily spent the whole day in there, it is entirely my sort of place.

Barter Books, Alnwick. This impressive booksho...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s also the place that started the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ trend – as you will see from the merchandise they sell.

If you only had an hour in Alnwick and had to decide to visit the Castle, the Garden or the bookshop, I know what I’d do.


A Visit To Canon’s Ashby & A Picnic.

Canon’s Ashby House in very rural Northamptonshire, is one of those half forgotten manor houses that pepper England, and when you find them, you feel as if you’ve been let into a precious secret. I probably shouldn’t even write about Canon’s Ashby in case it gets big headed and loses it’s charm; but I will, because I’m sure if it’s the sort of place that appeals to you, then you should be let into the secret too.

On Sunday, we took ourselves off there for a visit. It had been a couple of years since the last time we went, but in that time it has only got better.  Plus, it was a gorgeously hot summers day, perfect for strolling around a quintessential English garden and sitting under the shade of some trees, eating a picnic.

It's much better than my poor pictures suggest.

The house was built in the 1550’s by the Dryden family (yes, that Dryden family). It’s on land which had previously belonged to the Augustinian Priory, a small portion of which survives today as the Parish Church of St Mary. The Black Canons (from the colour of their habit) at Canon’s Ashby, were amongst the earliest to lose their land when Henry VIII began the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 – one wonders what they’d been up to, to receive that treatment…

Anyway, you can still see what’s left of the Priory. It’s worth popping inside to see the collection of funeral hatchments (what an odd tradition this now seems).

The remains of Canon's Ashby Priory, now the parish church.

We started our visit by going into the church, because we got there just a little too early for the house opening (1.00pm). It was also so hot by that time, that we decided we’d better have our picnic first, because since the cold box blew it’s fuse, we can’t keep our butties cold for very long. As it was, the box of chocolate mini-rolls I’d packed for daughter two to eat, decided to morph into a sticky chocolate heap.

At last we were on the visit proper.

Do you ever go to one of these historic houses and fall in love with the smell? I know I do. There’s something about beeswax polish and a faint lavender scent, that has me drooling. That’s what I always think about at Canon’s Ashby. It’s one of those very old houses that smells lovely. I could just stand in the Hall and inhale.

The house wears it’s history very lightly. You can quite easily work out the stages in which it was built – the last of which was in 1710, since when it has remained largely unchanged. I like this, it’s so easy to step back in time.

isn't he gorgeous.

The kitchen is one of the few very old kitchens that I think I could be happy using today. It has a very high ceiling, but excellent light. The range might guzzle too much fuel, and you’d have to be catering to the five thousand to make it worthwhile firing it up, but with a little adaption, I could see myself knocking up a pretty decent sponge cake in that kitchen.

I suppose in grand historic house terms, Canon’s Ashby might not have many breath-taking features, although it can boast Elizabethan wall-paintings and some amazing Jacobean plasterwork, but in a way, that’s the point. This house is simply charming, it doesn’t need architectural bling, it has atmosphere instead.


My favourite room is a bedroom decorated in tapestries and with superb needlepoint covered chairs dating to 1716. I could probably be happy looking at the work in those chairs for days on end. I mentioned to the lovely lady who was stewarding in that room how gorgeous it was, I think she felt it too – perhaps a kindred spirit.

Wouldn't you just love those gate piers?
Wouldn't you just love those gate piers?

Outside, the National Trust who now run Canon’s Ashby, are doing a splendid job of reinstating the garden. Again, it’s being done in a sympathetic way. I read one commentator who lamented that the Trust should spend more to give the garden more plants, but as someone who still believes that a garden needs time to develop and grow it’s character, I’m not offended by a few bare patches. It won’t be long before it’s lush. It’s already lovely.

The pears are coming along nicely

Don’t miss the Green Court garden. It’s got impressive yews, and a fabulous collection of old pear varieties growing against the walls, and a lead statue by Van Nost – OK, I admit it, I am a touch jealous of that garden.

It’s also reassuring to see that this is another National Trust property, where they are encouraging games to be played on the lawns. Brush up on the rules of croquet before you go and you can have a lovely hour smashing your opponents balls out of the way!

So now you know. Canon’s Ashby – one of England’s little gems, just don’t tell everyone.







It’s raining!

Well here it is at last – the rain. How incredibly welcome it is, as we had reached the point of having to water not only the pot plants, but also the plants which were planted in the ground last year. Sadly I think I’ve already lost a few, I was just too late getting out there with the watering can, but hopefully, most of them will live to fight another day.

So this morning I’ve been out doing a little weeding in the soft earth, accompanied by blackbirds and thrushes, who were having a feast on the worms and grubs coming up in the rain. The garden is so dry that the soil I hoed around is dust just under the surface, but with any luck we’ll have some more rain over the weekend.

I love the smell in the garden when it rains – earth combined with the essence of flowers.

I went to sit on the bench under the leylandii and was delighted to discover that the canopy is now so big, that I can sit there comfortably without getting wet. What a treat to be able to sit outside and experience the rain – fantastic.