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.
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.
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.
On Saturday, I realised that I had not been further than my garden for a whole week. The weather was forecast to be lovely on Sunday, so I looked for an NGS garden which would be open, with not too far to drive. (I feel so guilty environmentally if I have to drive more than an hour each way.) I found Coleford House, about 35 minutes away, in the eastern Mendip Hills. As it happened I was singing (in my garden, socially distanced), with three friends on Monday, two of whom knew or had known the previous owners. These had moved out in 1999.
I parked my car at 11.00 in the designated field down the road, and walked a couple of hundred yards to the house.
Met and greeted at the door of the Studio,
I was handed this map, prepared by an artist friend, not credited, of the family. (Some of her work was on sale.) I have added the swimming pool and the tennis court, not marked officially.
This is part of Coleford House.
Round in the herb garden:
Past the cottage into the walled garden,
where there were refreshments to be had in the orangery, though I didn’t partake. I had just had coffee in the car, and also I’m still being very wary about unnecessary people proximity, particularly going indoors.
I did let my camera zoom in approvingly for me on the green roof.
I was intrigued by the bat house. I tried to duck in under the roof, but soon withdrew. It was boarded in at lower than my height. On the roof outside I could see a couple of entrances for flying creatures.
Over the other side of the orchard bridge was the kiln, but there were too many people there (more than in this picture), for me to think of joining them.
However, it soon thinned out, and it is very difficult to resist going over a bridge.
A delightfully curious kiln
was accompanied by a more conventional one.
Talking of convention, whoever heard of a crocodile defending a tennis court?
A sneak look at the swimming pool,
and a walk along what is called the river with no name on the plan, but which my OS map clearly labels, if I’m reading it correctly, the Mells Stream.
The pretty garden bridge was not for crossing,
not even for closer examination of the weir.
I did wonder whether I was missing out on something at the cottage, perhaps some info from an owner of the House. But then when I saw one out of and one in the door on the right, I realised what it was being used for.
Wandering on, I looked back along the river, and made my way back to the entrance, looking down at my feet by the copper beech.
Out on to the road and back to my car, by way of a road bridge.
I’m wondering whether there will be another garden visit this year?
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.
As I mentioned two posts ago, the gardens of Court House, East Quantoxhead were to be open on 19th July. Typically I had forgotten this, but when I was looking on the National Gardens Scheme website for somewhere to visit on that (Sun)day, up it popped. And it was a Sun-ny day, unlike for my NGS visit on the previous day.
As I arrived at the car park, seeing the number of people milling around there I was a little concerned as to whether people would be respecting social distancing, but I soon realised that we were all arriving promptly at the same time for our 3 pm slot. In the grounds people were well dispersed, and, with one exception about which I’ll say no more except that it involved someone coughing, I was not concerned about my safety. We were all very aware and stood aside very appropriately. (I find that need to be so conscious, when mingling with others, permanently stressful, as I’m sure others do.)
This map was posted at several spots around the grounds.
Basically I went in an anticlockwise direction, with a diversion into the ‘wild’ garden.
As I went over into the wild garden, (no pictures), I found myself crossing a path that Zoe, Bruce and I had taken on our walk three weeks previously. (How time is doing odd things in these odd times – I was convinced, until I looked it up, that it had been only two.)
Back in the main grounds, I took many pictures of the attractive pond, its beauty lying in its surrounding planting, rather than its green surface.
And then, to my surprise and delight, I found myself higher than I had imagined, with a view of the sea ahead,
and to my right a sight of that vast field which three weeks previously had been shimmering blue with flax flowers. This photo shows only half of it. We had walked along the path at its right-hand edge.
Had I continued west, I could have gone for a walk in ‘The Allers’, a woodland garden. Another time perhaps. Instead I turned back to skirt round the other side of the house and the village church, arriving in the ‘Church Walk Borders’.
There I concentrated on taking smaller scale photos.
And it was not long before I was back at the village pond, which we had viewed from the other side three weeks previously. Still no visible ducks.
Last weekend I visited two National Garden Scheme gardens. On Saturday it was to two adjacent gardens in the village of Benter, near Radstock, Somerset. Radstock celebrates Somerset Coalfield Life in its museum. Coal-mining flourished in Somerset in the first two decades of the twentieth century, the last mine closing in 1974. It is believed that mining went on in the area as long ago as when the Romans were here. The ‘Father of English geology’, William Smith, was working as a surveyor in these coalmines when he made his observations leading to the understanding of geological strata.
Apart from the occasional relic, you would never know of the county’s coal-mining past, though stone-quarrying still flourishes in some parts. The whole area is now almost entirely idyllically rural once more. And that is certainly true of the small village of Benter. These two lovely gardens were those of two generations of the same family, (and there was evidence of a younger third generation!) There was no clear boundary between them.
This flower bed is one of the first to greet you, and the picture also shows the two very different houses.
Another bed …
… tried to draw me into a formal area, but I was soon enticed away to the woodlands. The background in this first image is outside the properties.
This was quite a lengthy walk, and I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to walk all the way back, hoping not as some of the path had been a little tricky by the stream. But no, after a while I found myself approaching open space again, and on my way to the planted gardens.
A pleasant hour spent in two lovely ‘domestic’ gardens. A pity the sky had been overcast all the time, but it had been warm. The next day’s visit was to a very different kind of garden – and the sun was out.
The last time Zoe and I had been out for our monthly walk and pub lunch had been early March. We met up again last Friday, for a socially distanced walk. This included some of Somerset’s dramatic coast, and ended not at a pub, but with us sitting on a church wall eating a packed lunch. Zoe’s husband Bruce joins us sometimes, and he did so this time. That was fortunate, because, although the walk was a straightforward one, and I had its broad outline in my head, I was not familiar with the area, and I had managed to leave the plan at home. Bruce using the OS map on his phone was able to sort out the occasional detail.
The weather forecast was for sunny intervals and a moderate breeze. In the event, the sun was not around, and the breeze certainly was, along with a sea mist. But it was great to see my friends again, and the sea. The last time I saw the latter was the Atlantic Ocean, off the Moroccan coast, early in March. How long ago that all seems now, yet how grateful I am to have had that holiday which set me up so well just before lockdown.
It was only a short walk, along the coastline from Kilve through Quantock’s Head and on for a further kilometre, inland for a kilometre, and then back, parallel to the coast through East Quantoxhead, back to the Church of St Mary the Virgin at Kilve, and thence coastwards back to our cars. No prizes for guessing that the range of hills around there are the Quantocks.
Zoe mentioned that there was a wave-cut platform here, sadly covered by the high tide. Nigel Phillips has written a wonderful book called Somerset’s Coast, a Living Landscape, in which he says that this particular area is well-known for the ammonite fossils which can be found here. He also mentions the birds and flowers to look out for. Indeed the whole book is a guide to the geology, fauna and flora of the coastline, lavishly (as they say, and it’s true here) illustrated with his own photos.
We stayed up on the clifftop, buffeted by the strong breeze, which fortunately was not too cold.
And we arrived at another 14th century church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, the parish church of Kilve, where we ate our lunch – very socially distanced. The wall was warm to sit on, having held on to, and releasing to our benefit, the heat of previous days.
Hopefully it won’t be another four months before we meet up again.