Sunday, 30 January 2011

Waterperry Gardens

After yesterday's bitterly cold and gloomy day, today dawned fair of face. Cold yes, a heavy frost, yes, but blue skies and sunshine. Lovely. I had a choice for entertainment this morning. Install a built in oven (well replace a like for like) or go out. Given the weather we went out.

First of all to get the blood circulating we went for a perambulation around the field at the back of the house. This is the first real walk I've been able to do since being ill over Christmas, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. However it may have been sunny, but that wind whipping off the fields nearly cut us in two. I took this photo to remind myself, and any of you who remember, the last time I walked up this treeline, back in December, when it was way way below zero and all what white with hoar frost. A link to that blog posting here:

Blood now pumping with abandon, we set off for Waterperry Gardens just outside Oxford. Now I have to admit, this garden had passed me by. I had stumbled across it reading the English Garden magazine last week. Julie knew of it, and said it had a good reputation, but had never been. So armed with a 2 for 1 Gardener's World voucher and some breadsticks as emergency rations (we know how to party) I pointed the car east and headed through Hungerford, up the A34 and bypassing Oxford (Red kite flying over the by-pass) breezed into the carpark just over an hour later. Time for a coffee and a cheese scone.

I knew going this weekend we'd be really early for the snowdrops, as they have snowdrop weekends in a fortnight, but there's something lovely about mooching around a garden in winter. It's quiet for one thing, and the bare bones of the garden are laid out for all to see. If a garden is worth visiting in the depths of winter, it will be a cracker later in the season. On this my first visit, I was impressed. I have to say, and Julie said the same, this is a lovely garden, and well worth a visit. It was laid out in the 1930s by a Beatrix Havergall as a school of horticulture for ladies, but apart from that I'll not waffle on about the background as the website can do this better than I ever can.

No; I shall let the photos below (oh dear quite a few) do the talking with a caption or two as they unfurl the wonderful few hours we spent in the rolling Oxfordshire countryside. It fair put a spring in our step, so much so Julie bought me 2 pots of snowdrops grown from the garden. These can be added to snowdrops she bought me last year from a visit to Lacock in Wiltshire.

In the garden centre this strange looking chap is as good a place as any to begin the visit (I mean the one below)

Still a week or so from opening properly, but lovely to see.

These "snowflakes" Leucojum vernum were just coming into flower too. These are quite difficult to establish (almost impossible if not in the green) but I have foolishly given myself a task to grow some at home. To that end I've ordered 3 bulbs for a princely sum from a specialist in Somerset. They're due to arrive any day soon. I can't wait.

Winter aconites were a welcome splash of yellow

But I still love my snowdrops. Nothing in my mind speaks of a positive year ahead as the emergence of these hardy bulbs.

One side of the garden is bordered by the River Thame

But let's return to snowdrops for a final time.....

But the garden is so much more. This is the entrance to the yew henge. Mind you that obelisk looks as though it had a good night last night.

It contained a friend too, sunning itself in the now warm (for January) sunshine

Inside the "henge" it is quite structured and formal. I love these obelisks against the clipped yew. In a few months they'll be obliterated by verdant foliage, but now they stand proud in the watery sun.

Viewed from a distance it is hard to believe this was January 30th. The strong structure of the garden made every nook and cranny worth a second look ....

... such as through this yew window

And being a quiet time of year with no one else around, wildlife came and played, like this chaffinch foraging in and out of this conifer.

Just a short walk from the yew henge is this, well in my mind anyway, a wonderful mix of formal topiary and unkempt. I love it.

I wonder what is through the gate?

The most glorious and tranquil garden room. This is, as its composition may suggest, the Formal Garden. I was bowled over by it. The clipped box, a central parterre, the statue, and at the end 2 heavily clipped beech trees. Fabulous.

I couldn't find out anything about this column. I wonder if it is a very recent addition. On the opposite side is Arabic script. But the sentiments match the garden, peace and tranquility to all.

This view just encapsulated to the two of us, symmetry of garden design, the curve of the heather, the perpendicular of the conifers, and beyond the linear of the hedge.

Just a flight of fancy at the Waterlily Canal

This photo was taken from the Alpine Garden but I loved the presumably accidental reference to the skeletal tree in winter by the skeletal espalier trained fruit trees in winter.

Oops sorry more snowdrops I'm afraid, this time in amongst Cornus spp

Just perfect on a winter's day: bold structures to enhance the passage of the winter months

Last photo, of the Classical Herbaceous Border. I took this because of something Julie said. What she loves about gardening, and after all it's her profession, is that the border above is pretty much empty of any activity. Just the odd shoot poking through. But as Julie said, below the surface of the soil, there is activity, and soon that activity will bust through and give yet another dazzling display in the warmer months. Gardening is about cycles, the yearly and seasonal cycle and that's what makes it so exciting at this time of the year, it's like being at the start of a big adventure. Roll on the spring.

Anyway just to finish the day off, we got home and it was still light. Wonderful. One job I had to do was decant half of the industrial-sized quantity of peanuts I'd bought off the Internet. We'll have birds who can't fly at this rate. Anyway Molly is preparing herself by the looks of it for these non flying birds. But best of all Julie did some gardening for the first time this year at home and at 5.20pm the evening sky was still light enough to see. February next week.

Friday, 28 January 2011

What is it about Geology which interests me?

Last night on the gogglebox I stumbled across the last episode of a series called Men of Rock on BBC2. I'm sad to have missed the other episodes, but will catch them on the BBC i-player. What a wonderfully easy way into the often complex study of Geology. Professor Iain Stewart brings a freshness of presenting mixed with authority. In this programme he looked at the maverick early pioneers of glacial landscape creation theory. We forget, or I do, that just 200 years ago, sceptics poo-pooed a lot of the scientific theories we now take as granted, for mainly religious reasons. One of the mavericks who fascinated me was James Croll, who discovered the whole glacial cylclicic phenomenon. Sadly being a janitor, his theories were accepted but not taken that seriously. These were further developed by Milankovitch as Milankivitch cycles. You can read more about James Croll here:

Above is a geological map of Great Britain and as a child I used to be fascinated by the bandings and the colours, without really knowing what these colours meant. And in that map is basically the history of Britain going back 350 million years as we travel north and west. I think what it is that fascinates me is that geology in a way is the powerhouse of nature. As rocks erode and decay they form soils and growing substrates which are then inhabited by micro-organisms, or pioneering plants, ecosystem then development and eventually habitats. Link all this into aspect, elevation and the chemical composition of the rock and Bob's your uncle we have all the wildlife we all love in our countryside. Understanding the geology and soils in an area improves any wildlife experience as the vegetation will influence the wildlife and vice versa.

I've studied geology (and geomorphology) off and on since schooldays. In my first year at University we spent 10 weeks cutting microscope slides of various rocks and under high magnification, the minute minerals are just superb to look at, like jewels in a sea of crystals. Better than any artwork. It was worth going to University just for that.

So next time you are wandering over fields or through woods, remember what you are walking on in millions of years old, and will be vital to what you can see around you.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

An unexpected find

It's always good keeping an eagle eye out for books by favourite authors. As some of you may know, my all time favourite author is BB (the pen name of Denys Watkins-Pitchford), who while being possibly best known as a naturalist writer, also wrote a number of well known children's books. Brendon Chase is a famous one of his, but one I'd been after for a while is The Little Grey Men which was published in 1942.

This book tells the exploits of four gnomes, named after the flowers Baldmoney, Sneezewort, Dodder and Cloudberry. The plot is that Cloudberry heads off down the Brook and fails to return. The remaining trio decide to head off down the Folly Brook to hunt for their long lost friend and the story unfolds against a background of the English countryside throughout the seasons. This book was so well received when it was published, due to it's detailed descriptions of the natural world, it received the Carnegie medal for the best children's book of 1942.

But you're probably wondering why I'm rambling on telling you all this. Well yesterday lunchtime I popped out for a bit of fresh air at lunchtime. Just behind work is an Oxfam bookshop. I've bought quite a few books here so I thought I'd have 5 minutes for a bit of a rummage as I passed. Imagine my surprise to find The Little Grey Men in the children's section. It's a 3rd edition from 1957, but in remarkably good condition with a near perfect dust jacket. I bought it on the spot, despite the comment from the Oxfam employee who took my money, and said "you do realise this is £7.99" in a manner which spoke volumes - do you really want to pay this much for an old children's book. Maybe I should have come clean, but this book in this condition is worth about 4 times what I paid for it.

Not that I'm selling it. It will be added to the burgeoning BB library on my shelves. If you have never read a BB book, I'd recommend it, not least for the fantastic lino-cut drawings by the author.

Speaking of unexpected finds, and changing the subject completely, a North American purple gallinule has been found, sadly dead, in a Devon garden. Only the third record for the UK (if accepted) but fascinating. Details here:

Friday, 21 January 2011

Dancing with the Devil

I have to admit today's posting is not what I'd call an original idea. I was reading Moonlight and Hares lovely artwork blog and she recalled how a painting which she began in 2009, had finally been completed. Her study of a woman had radically changed into one with a marine feel with the woman being possibly a selkie (a seal which can shed its skin and become a human).

And this got me thinking of why and more importantly how paintings happen. I just don't know. I don't paint as much as I did since moving house as I had to leave my outside studio (okay shed) there, which seemed to be a very creative place for me to work. My current workspace is the third bedroom, which while okay isn't such a creative force. But I used to go into the old studio, pull out a canvass and quietly sit. I'd then suddenly begin working. I never planned anything or spent weeks researching. I just let my mind unburden itself. Psychiatrists take note ha ha ! I have never understood where my ideas come from, they just arrive and I have to work at breakneck speed to get the creative idea out on the canvass before it disappeared.

Reading Moonlight and Hares blog took me back to 4 years or so when I found I became obsessed with the lyrics of a Jethro Tull song, Kelpie. The lyrics are here.

There was a warm wind with the high tide
On the south of the hill.
When a young girl went a-walking
And I followed with a will.
``good day to you, my fine young lady
With your lips so sweetly full.
May I help you comb your long hair ---
Sweep it from that brow so cool? ’’
Up, ride with the kelpie.
I’ll steal your soul to the deep.
If you don’t ride with me while the devil’s free
I’ll ride with somebody else.
Well I’m a man when I’m feeling
The urge to step ashore.
So I may charm you --- not alarm you.
Tell you all fine things, and more.
Up, ride with the kelpie.
I’ll steal your soul to the deep.
If you don’t ride with me while the devil’s free
I’ll ride with somebody else.
Say goodbye to all your dear kin ---
For they hate to see you go
In your young prime, to this place of mine
In the still loch far below.
Up, ride with the kelpie.
I’ll steal your soul to the deep.
If you don’t ride with me while the devil’s free
I’ll ride with somebody else.

In particular it was chorus line "If you don’t ride with me while the devil’s free, I’ll ride with somebody else." This lyric went round and round my head for days and days. I kept playing the tune over and over again. I had become obsessed with it. Then one day I got down a 4 foot x 3 foot canvass, put the CD on repeat and began. Using acrylic paint squirted directly onto the canvass and using only rubber rollers to mix and apply the medium, I ended up with this painting, which was completed in about 20 minutes (sadly this old photo doesn't do it justice, I may try and take new photos over the weekend).

It's called "Dance with the Devil" and I still absolutely love it. I have no idea what it is all about, what its meaning is and I don't mind that. It can be anything it wants to be as it was just the outpourings of a manic 20 minute creative outburst. I often get this painting out and look at it, close to the lovely marbling of the paint is a joy to view (something that mixing paint on a canvass with rollers can do) and to be honest I have absolutely no recollection of how I painted it, or why.

I appreciate everyone may not like it. All I know is I painted it, it recorded a moment in time and and I'm glad I did as it gives me great pleasure.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

FINALLY !!! The first signs of spring

Wonderful. Feeling a bit more alive today than I have done for nearly a month, I decided to venture outside the office this lunchtime and have a bit of a soft shoe pootle around Clifton, where I work. My walking pace wouldn't have won any triathlons, but it was fabulous to be out in the cold, still frosty, sun washed air. Mind you I did have an ulterior motive as walking in to work today I spotted my first snowdrop of the year. Which was just so inspiring.

And so as a record, I took this atrocious photo (the one below is even worse). This is the problem with having an idea but only having my Blackberry with me. These snowdrops, and other bulbs, are in a private garden, and under a magnificent magnolia. They give a riot of colour each year and it always lifts my spirits to walk past as the snowdrops give way to daffodils, which give way to tulips and bluebells and all under a crown of magnolia blossom.

But today it was snowdrop day. That photo above really is awful, I must apologise. But it's proof if proof were needed. The trouble is it was taken through a metal fence and the snowdrops were 20 feet away - that's my excuse anyway. But note to self. Carry a proper camera with me at all times, spring isn't far away!

Anyway after this I pootled up to the Catholic Cathedral where there are early flowering daffodils planted around a horse chestnut tree. I have written about these daffodils before, and looking back on the 10th December 2007, they were just as high. That's when we had warm winters and by mid January I'd have whipped my vest off and unleashed the sandals. The winter of 2010/11 is a bit too much like proper winter for sandal wearing in January. Not without thick grey knee socks at least!!

But what a treat to see them poking through. For Christmas this year Julie bought me 2 big pots of paperwhites which when they arrived were about an inch high. A few weeks in the house and they're a foot high and flowering profusely. The scent they exude in the kitchen is wonderful.

Speaking of scents, on my way back to the office I inhaled an elixir draft of honey walking past a garden. A Christmas box was in full flower. This one I believe is Sarcococca hookerana var humilis (feel free to correct me). But, boy what a scent. Pushing my nose deep into the flowers it was really like being bathed in honey. Early spring flowering plants and shrubs are one of my favourite things in gardens. So unobtrusive, but they quietly go about making a big statement on sunny days. A perfect end to the walk.

Time for a cuppa I think............

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

I must be getting old

Today the sun is shining. Nothing surprising about that of course, but after what seems months and months of snow, ice and sub zero temperatures, then my "man flu"; then as I recovered the weather gave way to rain, rain, rain and more rain and although the temperatures rose into double figures, the days were dark and depressing, everything was sodden, we had the inside lights on all day, something I hate, and although usually I love the coolness and clarity of winter air, for the first time in my life I've longed for some warm winter sunshine. In fact I've longed for any sunshine at all. I must be getting old, ha ha!

Well today my prayers were answered. The clouds parted and the sun came out. Brilliant blue skies and so what if its turned colder, this lunchtime I wrapped up warm, got myself a cup of tea and stood in the carpark at work, much to the amusement of passing colleagues; I stood back against a tall stone wall and just had 10 minutes of sunshine on my face. It felt good. It felt very good. So I took these 2 poor quality photos with my blackberry as a record of the feeling that spring is just nudging it's nose out the door and wondering whether to come out. Certainly in the last week snowdrops and daffodils have begun to push through.

We've a long way to go until spring proper arrives of course, but today, I'm a happy man.... all is right with the world when the sun shines.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Christmas results.....

Hello all. At last I'm back on line. Phew, that was an illness and a half and I only really began to feel like a human being again a couple of days ago. I know a few of you have had flu and infections too over Christmas so you have my sympathies, and hope you are on the mend. Bring on the warm spring days.

A big thank you to those of you who took the time to do a bit of garden watching over the Christmas period. In the end even though I wasn't really with it, I managed 5 species, mainly house sparrow, starling, blue tit, dunnock and magpie. There may have been other species out there but I just didn't fancy sitting in the cold conservatory watching them.

This was all meant to be a bit of fun, but I shall make special mention to ST who managed a fabulous 27 species in his garden. By a long chalk ST is the winner of the competition. Well done.

But the competition was fun and just a way of getting through the dark days of winter, thus here are the equally credible entries in no particular order;

Caroline at Ragged Robin notched up a very credible 19 and also made mention of wrens roosting in old hanging baskets. Given the cold weather it would be interesting to know how many wrens in each basket each night.

Shirl at Shirl's Gardenwatch managed 12 species on Christmas Day and 18 in total, including brambling which is a nice garden tick. Sadly like many she recorded no greenfinches, sadly in a downward population dive. Outside the time frame she also had a reed bunting.

Frank the Early Birder, had a very good species count of 19, including the exotic ring necked parakeet and bucking the trend 12 greenfinches. Hold onto those Frank.

Sian way up in the Orkneys on her Small Island blog had 13 garden birds, but I think we'd all be so excited to include fulmar and hooded crow. As she said she only has one shrubby tree in her garden so not much cover.

Sadly Cindy at Cindy's Snaps sent me her list but I unfortunately never received it. If i get it after posting this I'll amend this post. Thankfully Cindy has now put through her score, a goodly 16, including a black headed gull with a taste for garlic bread. It all happens in Suffolk

It was great to have you posting your results especially given the weather across the UK, it wasn't the best of birding conditions. But thank you.

Finally some of you who left post comments to the original posting but never submitted your bird count also should have mention. I'm not sure if you took part of not. But that doesn't matter, we're all a big friendly blogging community out there so its good to promote each others work, so thank you for your comments to......

A Happy New Year to you all!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Christmas Birding Competition

A Happy New Year to all. Apologies for the delay in writing this post, like many in the UK I was hit by first swine flu and then a chest infection over Christmas and only now in the second week of January am I beginning to resemble a human being again after taking such high levels of antibiotics I will be free of any disease for years to come. Sadly this meant no birdwatching at all for me, not even out the garden, far too much time spend lying in bed.
I see some results have come in for the Christmas Bird Competition, but I wonder how many more? If I work on a deadline of midnight this coming Friday for any submissions then I'll collect the results and post next Saturday (15th)
If you haven't already done so, please drop a comment on this posting with your results, please give some basic detail too as to where it took place - ie garden in Kent. Any highlights also fun to read.
Looking forward to writing this up in a weeks time. All the best, Andrew