Another National Gardens Scheme visit a few days ago. Cloudless sky, pleasantly Aprilly warm, no more.
When I arrived, through a gateway with parallel walls either side, creating a sort of reverberating tunnel, I was horrified at the people noise. So many people! Standing and sitting around, drinking tea and eating cake. Neither peaceful, nor, it seemed to me at that point, very Covid-safe, despite the low rate of infection now prevalent in this part of the country. Other than when getting my jabs, I hadn’t been in the presence of so many people for 14 months. So probably I was over-reacting.
I scuttled round to the ‘back garden’. Empty. As was pretty well every other part of the large grounds. Perhaps this place is just seen as a lovely place to go for tea and cake, (which it is – roaring trade, long – and socially distanced – queue) and who cares about the gardens!
I had learned from the greeter/owner that the garden was started in the 1930s by the then residents, and much additional land had been purchased by them. As I explored the back garden, I would have been very happy for that alone to have been mine, let alone the various other ‘rooms’ to be explored.
Via a tiny corner of the lawn into a conifer area.
And then back to the lawn, which was still noisy, but really not very crowded. Perhaps I’m just not used to the noise of many people at once.
Off to another area, a vegetable plot and greenhouse.
And from now on, I saw almost no-one.
This tree was a splendid backdrop to much of the garden, but is in fact ‘borrowed’ from an adjacent property.
I sat for ages on the stone bench like is one opposite, trying to remember what manual adjustment I had to make to my camera to lengthen the exposure – but failed. Must revise.
Back to the main lawn again. And home to my own cake.
On Tuesday evening I had an online bridge session with my club, with a typically low score, but who cares? In the Tuesday session we can actually see and chat with people, as at an in-person (that’s the jargon term these days, isn’t it?) club session. Good to keep up with, and in many cases to get to know better, other members.
The weather on Wednesday was not as warm as it had been the previous two days. Indeed, it was quite a chilly early start for me, as I had to pick up my Click and Collect groceries from Sainsbury’s before three friends, Chris, Jill and Tony, arrived for a four-part sing in my garden. (Thus the new chairs.) We hadn’t met since early November. Although we had arranged to meet on December 22nd, to sing carols outside a local care home, this was cancelled at the last minute as the home had just had its first case of Covid-19, and plans to move residents into others’ bedrooms to be near the windows had to be abandoned. Pre-pandemic I used to go to this home once a month to sing to the residents, old (mainly pre-1960) pop songs, with karaoke-style recorded accompaniment. Whenever it may that that resumes, sadly there will be several missing faces.
Our four-part sing was really very enjoyable, though I was a bit croaky, not having sung for all those months, and after one particularly high piece my throat was rather sore, but it was so good to be in real company again. In the afternoon, a friend, Kathryn, came for a natter, at a late enough hour to justify taking a glass of wine together. Where we had definitely not seen the sun in the morning, at least it accompanied our wine in a wan fashion late afternoon.
Thursday afternoon saw another bridge session, via a different ‘platform’ (is that the word?) which does not include video and live chat, just what they call ‘live chat’ – which is really typed! It therefore requires less bandwidth and enables less well internet-served people, including my regular club partner, Daphne, to join in.
The next morning, Friday, it was out to met a friend, Zoe, for a resumed monthly walk. We had not met since June. She arranged for us to meet in a car park at Dear Leap, in the Mendip Hills, and our walk was along Ebbor Gorge. Sharp intake of breath as I pulled in to park! This met my eyes. I had never been there before. Zoe said the view was even better when there was no mist.
The weather promised to be cold, and so it was, but we walked (scrambled for part of the way) in glorious sunshine for much of the time. I ached in the afternoon, so it was as well that I had nothing planned for then. Here’s a selection of photos I took as we walked and talked.
As we passed these stones, Zoe explained that the area was known as Deer Leap because ‘once upon a time’ a deer had leapt the distance between them – about 10 metres I would say.
Our path went downwards.
It was sunny at the top.
That was a tiring but very satisfying walk, both from the energy aspect and aesthetically.
On Saturday, I joined a Zoom meeting with members of the South West Early Music Forum. As befitted the season, our Chair, Clare, played through all the chorales from J S Bach’s Matthew Passion on her home organ, and everyone else played, sang or just listened along as they wished.
Instruments I could see on the Zoom call were two bass recorders, a violin (viola?), a cello – and a concertina! Perhaps it was as well that we could not hear each other, and I could certainly see the effect of internet ‘latency’ as I watched others singing – they were all either behind or ahead of me, as I sang to what I heard from Clare.
And to round off the week, in the afternoon I visited a National Gardens Scheme garden, just 20 minutes away from where I live. Midney Gardens was a nursery, tea shop and gardens until Covid. Sadly, the business has now had to close for good, but they are still opening ten times a year for the NGS, raising loads of money for various charities.
I was told as I arrived that there were about 140 different varieties of daffodil in the garden, though some had by now gone over.
To say the garden displayed a few quirky objects would be a serious understatement. But of course a garden has beds, doesn’t it? I wonder what will be planted in this one later on in the season.
They’re not called cauliFLOWERs for nothing.
Midney is so near to my home, and will be offering cream teas later in the year as it opens for the NGS – I shall return!
When I got home, I noticed this in my garden. I’d not seen it in previous years – is it a mutant, a variant?
It was a busy week. This looks to be much quieter. Boiler service, two bridge sessions, hopefully a meet-up or two with friends, and some podcasts to catch up on, with some knitting to finish as I listen.
Firstly, a note for non-England* readers. Since early January we have been in lockdown, which has meant we have had to stay at home other than for: work, where it cannot be done from home; essential shopping; local exercise, by household/’bubble’, or with one person from one other household maximum; and medical appointments. From 8th March: the outdoors meet-ups as described could include sitting down for, say, coffee or a picnic; schools have been back (though are now on holiday); and those in care homes can receive one named visitor.
*For non-UK readers: Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all have their own regulations, but some English live in those countries, so I couldn’t write ‘non-English’.
As of last Monday, 29th March we have been able to meet up outdoors in groups of up to six (or more, as long as this only includes two households) and outdoor sport has been allowed. The definition of ‘local’ has now explicitly been left to discretion. I have had a happily rich week as a result of these small relaxations, (though some of the ‘activities’ would have been permissible earlier, including, obviously, those happening on Zoom.)
Much of last weekend was spent assembling four garden dining chairs, in time for Wednesday. Given that the instructions came entirely with illustrations, and no words, they were not too difficult to understand. The quality of the chairs was good, all the parts were there (with four Allen keys because the lot was of four chairs!), but assembly was very fiddly, and it took me a long time and some sore fingers.
Monday evening I attended a Zoom meeting of the local (Mendip) branch of the European Movement. These have been monthly for some while. Not much campaigning is possible at present, but it is good to be in touch.
It had been lovely weather all day, and a friend, Linda, had told me during an afternoon phone call that she and her husband had just been to The Newt In Somerset, and among other things had much enjoyed the Snakes’ head fritillaries (of which there is one stray in my garden!). On an impulse late that night, I ordered myself a picnic lunch from The Newt for the next day, and, once my organic fruit and veg box had arrived in the morning, I made my way there, not having visited since October.
As I start writing this, it is my intention to write one consolidated blog post for the entire week, but I have so many reasonably decent photos that this may not be possible. Anyway, here are some of those I took at The Newt.
I picked up my pre-ordered lunch from the Cyder Bar, and moved to avoid the crowds around and at the tables nearby. I was pleased to see that there was plenty of empty seating in the Parabola, looking bare at present as its hundreds of apple trees are not yet in blossom.
The vegan spring vegetable pasty was divine. Really. I have never had pastry like it, and the copious filling, of which I could just identify the spinach, was delicious. I can really recommend the apple juice as well, a blend of James Grieve apples and another I can’t remember.
I did not linger, but moved on to an area that was inaccessible the last time I was there, next to the Garden Café.
It overlooks the Kitchen Garden. I wonder what is being developed beyond.
Then I went in search of the Snakes’ head fritillaries, which come in mauve,
I then went a bit mad taking photographs of reflections of trees in various watery areas.
I can’t wait for the Museum of Gardening to be allowed to open. I’m told it’s good for a two-hour visit.
I strolled into the Deer Park, but sadly saw no deer, unlike Linda and her husband the day before, who saw both roe and fallow deer.
I had not been able to venture down this slope previously as it had been shut off as too muddy and dangerous. There is now an easy, sandy, gravelled pathway – I’m sure there’s a technical name for the substance.
Plenty of quirky seating.
Oops, another one.
I felt I deserved an ice cream after all that exercise.
I limited myself to one scoop of the lemon curd flavour, enjoying it on the way back to my car.
And on the way home took care to avoid this leaping horse. I’m sure that wasn’t there before the pandemic…
Hmm, I can see this is going to be a bit long. Part 2 will follow…
It was Stressful Wednesday, and I had been obsessing with the rolling news half the night (less than four hours’ sleep) and all day until lunchtime. It was gorgeous outside, and I hadn’t done my little there-and-back walk from my house for a very long time. I wondered if it was possible to distract myself for an hour or so.
It was. I can honestly say that I did not give the US presidential election a single thought all the time I was out.
Down to the end of my road,
through a small passageway to my left, up the lane to the main road where the prep school is situated, and back again. Views and details.
I spent a few minutes trying to capture hedge reflections in the puddles at the side of the road. This is the only vaguely successful image.
So I raised my eyes to the lane ahead, and thought that they’d soon be flailing the hedges.
Time to turn round.
From now on, I was facing the low autumn sun.
I was intrigued by this very new fencing on either side of this track, which on first glance appeared to be creating two paths. A closer look made me realise that in fact it was protecting new hedging. I waited for the sheep to be ushered into the right-hand field, and for the ‘shepherd’ to come back to his van, to my left. From him I learned that in fact this was his project. Living in town, he owned nine acres, and was putting native hedging around the three fields, for the benefit of wildlife. 600 metres so far. Brilliant!
I started this post early on Saturday afternoon. I broke off about three pictures ago to watch CNN, and caught the moment the result was announced. Stressful Wednesday was worth it!
This must surely have been my last National Gardens Scheme visit of the season. It took me south, just over the Somerset/Dorset border to a village called Ryme Intrinseca, and this working farm. “Ryme Intrinseca is generally regarded as one of the most interesting of all village names in the County of Dorset, and was so regarded by John Betjeman in his poem, ‘Dorset'” (source and further explanation here.) It was a chilly and overcast day, but I was well wrapped up, including gloves, and I really enjoyed my autumn stroll.
I drove past the farmhouse,
and into its yard to park. At the front of the house I took a plasticised map, with a few words on the back:
Having taken a quick photo of the formal garden, to which I would return, my route was via the vegetable garden to the long thin wooded area, back through the vegetables and round the garden, then into the orchard at the north-east of the plot. I crossed behind the farm buildings to the stables, then into the wild garden and wooded area, finishing in the paddock.
A tiny plaque on top of this sculpture, inscribed “JME 1936-2007”, says it all.
Moving back into the vegetables on the way back to the formal garden there are other delights:
Eventually, one is back in the lawned area in front of the house.
There were not just apple trees in the orchard.
Now into what is called the Paddock.
Emerging out on to the drive once more, I was pleased to see what is presumably the 250-year-old oak.
Someone with clearly a good knowledge of horticulture visited under the NGS scheme on a sunny day in March 2019 (that other era). Her blog is here.
It’s nice to do something special on a birthday, and it had been a while since I had been to The Newt in Somerset. Even booking eight days in advance, it had only been possible to get a table for lunch in the Garden Cafe for 2 o’clock, so I decided to get me and my camera to the gardens an hour earlier.
The car park was alarmingly full when I arrived. But it was a Saturday, with lovely bright sun, even if it was accompanied by a chill wind. (I put gloves on for the first time this autumn, but then I do feel the cold.) The familiar boardwalk up to the entrance had a distinct autumnal feel to it.
Once through the Threshing (= entrance) Barn, with the Cyder Bar to my right, I was again alarmed by the number of people, but I soon realised they were queuing (sort-of) to pick up their picnics. The Newt does not allow people to consume their own picnics there. It was interesting to see washed apples emerging from underground on a conveyor belt. I look forward to the day when it is possible to observe the full workings of ‘cyder’ production there.
The farm shop and coffee bar areas also looked quite busy.
But past there, as I walked into and around the Woodland area, there were few people.
Back from the Woodland, I took a new (for me) way into the cottage garden…
… of and from which I took the following and many more pictures.
Into the Victorian Fragrance Garden (not much going on here at this time) and the Cascade, the bottom of which attracts children young and old, even though they know they will have water squirted on their ankles, in this chilly weather, randomly by frogs of various sizes.
I didn’t join them, for more than one reason.
Instead I went down another way to the kitchen garden.
The parkland remains sadly inaccessible for now.
Now into the Parabola, an interesting, probably unique, designed orchard, and its literally hundreds of apple species. In the main, only crab-apples now remain on the trees.
Two o’clock approached, and I had a rendez-vous to meet with two friends who were joining me for a delicious lunch, served in impeccably Covid-sure conditions, in the Garden Café. All photography was forgotten from then on!
Yes, there was another garden to be visited in September, last Sunday, but I didn’t think I had sufficient material for a blog post. So I didn’t even look at my pictures until a couple of days ago, and changed my mind.
Cannington Court was first known as Cannington Priory. For that was how it started life, in about 1138, home to a community of Benedictine nuns. Henry VIII put paid to that though, in 1536. He and subsequent monarchs subsequently granted tenancy of what became known as Cannington Court to various followers. In 1807, it reverted to its original purpose for about 30 years, when a body of French Benedictine nuns moved in, expelled from France following the French Revolution.
Since the mid-nineteenth century the Court has always been used for educational purposes, and for the last 100 years, in various guises, for agricultural and horticultural learning. Most recently it has been part of the Cannington campus of, and owned by, Taunton and Bridgwater College, who in 2015 leased the Court buildings to EDF. That company is using them as a training hub (Hinkley Point is very near), and has invested millions of pounds in their project, from which the Walled Gardens have much benefited. These had been approved in 2009 as a tourist attraction, and are maintained by students of Bridgwater College, part of their studies.
As I entered, I was little disappointed, and felt cheated of even the very modest sum I had been charged by the National Gardens Scheme. The walled garden was not large and was dominated by a plant sales area. There was no map this time, so I only gradually discovered just how big, how many, and how varied the Walled Gardens, plural, were.
There were masses of flowers!
Geologically/building stone-wise, Somerset is mainly known for its blue lias limestone, coveted for new house-building. It is in fact is a rather dullish grey. But there are many examples of buildings in a rather rich red sandstone. (I should know whether its Old Red or New Red, but I don’t. I’ll look it up one of these days.)
I looked for ferns in the plant sales area – none.
Why did I think I hadn’t enough material for a blog post? Was it that there had been a few shabby areas – autumn, possible neglect by absent students? Was it the two passing ladies who had moaned at me, exaggerating the neglect? Was it that I’d not been able to take a picture of a wicker dragon because there was someone taking his time doing so and blocking my way? That I felt pressed for time as they were closing shortly? That I’d not used the tea room because of my own uncertainty about doing so and in any case said shortage of time? Whatever the reason for my disgruntlement, it was reinforced as on leaving I saw these notices for the students (I’d had to give Track and Trace details as I entered the garden, because it had meant going through a tiny gift shop.)
I don’t know why, but in any case I was wrong, as this collection of photos has reminded me, and I must go back there again. As a tourist attraction it is open for most of the year under the auspices of the College, who had just made it over to the NGS and its supported charities for this day.
Sunday was chilly but very bright, and thankfully with no rain, a change over the previous few days’ conditions. I had booked a late morning National Gardens Scheme visit to Babbs Farm, near Highbridge, described thus in the blurb: ¾ acre plantsman’s garden on Somerset Levels, gradually created out of fields surrounding old farmhouse over last 30 yrs and still being developed. Trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials planted with an eye for form and shape in big flowing borders. Various ponds (formal and informal), box garden, patio area and conservatory.
I was delayed on my half-hour drive over the Somerset Moors, also known as the Levels.
But not for long. When I arrived at Babbs Farm, (no sign of any farming going on), I learnt that it was only in the last few days that it had been resolved as to whether the garden would open. The owners provided a plan, drawn up in 2019, when refreshments and other facilities were available, not possible this year of Covid.
The entrance could not be where it normally is on open days, because recent storms had determined otherwise.
Basically, I walked anti-clockwise round the garden, starting at the Field of trees and ending up at the Ditch bed, opposite which there was a specialist stall for the sale of Salvias, which had figured prominently in the planting. I had no idea there were so many different and rare varieties, and I only wished I had some space in my own garden for some of them. (I took no photos of the stall as there was a family milling around, trying to decide what to buy.)
And I’m back near the Field of trees. But I must turn right and return to the car park, in Pam’s field, bequeathed to the owners.
What a very pleasant visit, and I was nothing like as cold as I had anticipated. Will there be another NGS visit this year, I wonder, as a rather dreary winter beckons.
No, this is not a newt, nor a toad, but a small frog. It’s what greeted my bridge partner, Daphne, and me as we walked up the boardwalk to the entry of The Newt in Somerset a week back. We stood still until it had leapt off the side of the boardwalk, to spare it from the clomping feet of the people behind us.
Daphne and I, having met up in the car park, were planning to be very brave. We were going to take advantage of the August ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, (subsidised of course by the taxpayer, not the Chancellor of the Exchequer), and have a meal in the Garden Café of The Newt, this my fourth visit this year to the gardens. The bravery was that for both of us it was to be the first time that either of us had been nearer than two metres to anyone for more than a fleeting few seconds since lockdown (with the exception of her husband in Daphne’s case.) For me that last time had been breakfast in the Premier Inn at Gatwick Airport on my way back from Morocco, on 15th March.
It was very, very hot, and we had asked to sit outside in recognition of our nervousness. Sadly the area in the shade of the building was not being used as it was part of the café’s one-way exit system. So we got very hot indeed, as there was no shade. (I have suggested they provide table umbrellas in my review of an otherwise really excellent experience.)
They went out of their way to meet Daphne’s dietary needs, and we both very much enjoyed our meals, the ingredients of which were largely grown not far from where we sat. I particularly enjoyed the beetroot and dill butter which formed part of my starter, though it’s invidious to pick anything out.
Daphne, suffering from sciatica, was not in a position to go round the gardens afterwards, but she lives only a few minutes away so can visit any time she likes. We arranged to meet up in her own garden a little later, with another bridge friend.
Here is the view, left to right (a panoramic photo didn’t do it justice,) from the terrace on which we ate.
This edge to a step caught my eye as I left the café.
I walked round the Parabola with its countless varieties of apples.
And left the Parabola though this gateway.
I now went into parts of the garden I had not previously explored.
Now I walked though the red, white and blue gardens. Or should I say blue, white and red, in a nod to the national flag of Patrice Taravella, the French designer of these gardens? What was his intention? Whichever, I don’t seem to have a representative set of pictures!
I wanted to visit the cottage garden before I left, and to do so had to skirt round this area clockwise, in order to avoid not only getting too close to the children, but also displeasing the stone frogs, large and small, who squirt water at the unsuspecting passer-by. I thought I had succeeded, but a tiny one got my left ankle. In that temperature, that was most welcome.
A look back at part of the Parabola and the Garden Café.
Past the Threshing Barn on the way out,
whose big window was too tempting. Explanation: there is a matching high window the other end, doors at either side, and waving strip lighting in the roof. All the rest is reflection.
Having visited The Courts Garden in the morning, and as I was too cold to sit still for long outside, Daphne and I sat in our respective cars to eat our lunches in solitary splendour.
Quite a nice view.
Great Chalfield Manor is a 15th century house, much used in filming period drama, (including the BBC’s ‘Wolf Hall’) with an arts and crafts garden. At present, because of the virus, the house is not open, but the garden alone is worth the trip.
The National Trust had, as usual, done a very good job in setting out a one-way system, and we did our best to respect it. We took the long walk and added bits of the shorter one.
As soon as I turned the corner, I recalled my previous visit, which, my photographic records tell me, was almost exactly three years ago.
The ‘tents’ – here and elsewhere in the grounds – made by those four trees were characteristic.