Notes from a summer: London Wetland Centre

London Wetland CentreAhoy there! Hello! How are you? It’s been ages, I know. I fell off grid a bit, this August. Technology (such as this dear old laptop on which I write all my blog posts) becoming substantially less appealing than lying outside in the sun on a picnic blanket.

Anyway, such times have come to an end, it seems, with this utterly relentless and miserable rain of the last week, so I’ve finally remembered how to open up Word and plug my camera into the computer to take a look at some pictures I’ve taken over the past few months.

It’s been something of a pottering sort of summer. No big holidays, but the odd weekend away. Few exciting day trips, but lots of time poking around in our garden pond, or building soil castles in the flower beds, or mooching along to the local park.

Still, I have a couple of little gems of visits to share with you so, for the next couple of days, a few notes from summer 2015.

First up, the utterly wonderful London Wetlands Centre. We visited a fortnight ago, when the summer flowers were just reaching their end, and the first hints of autumn were coming in.

Summer planting at London Wetland Centre
Kniphofia, grasses and asters looking abundant
Wood sculpture at London Wetland Centre
I loved this wood sculpture
London Wetland Centre
I shared this pic on instagram, having been astounded at my wondrous photography prowess. Very few people liked it, ha ha. Just goes to show, you never can tell with instagram,

It’s a great spot for kids: acres and acres of lakes, surrounded by long winding paths, perfect for running down and exploring.

(Side note: last time we visited the littlest was still pram-bound only, and I found that a more peaceful experience than our most recent visit when he was off toddling away and I had to keep a close eye to ensure he wasn’t about to leap off into a huge body of water. So if your child is toddling age, perhaps wait six months or so until they really understand why it’s best not to run headfirst at a lake…)

Of course, there’s lots of wildlife to see, of the ducks, birds and otters variety, but I am always especially taken by the glorious plants. It’s naturalistic planting at its best, in my opinion, everything appearing to be growing just where it wants to but – I am sure – in fact carefully planned and designed.

London Wetland Centre
Paths for wandering
London Wetland Centre
All the reflections made me think a lot about what plants are best to sit next to water. There is something lovely about seeing the flickering mirror image upside down of a beautiful plant.

A high point of this trip was discovering three sleepy ducks sitting on a wooden bridge. As we approached, they opened their eyes to take a look at us, but made no attempt to actually move, so I got the chance to photograph them for some time, while the sprogs stared and asked various questions about their feathers, their legs and why they had chosen to go to sleep on a bridge.

Ducks at London Wetland Centre
Zzzzzzz
Duck feathers
Those amazing feathers!

And aren’t these just the sorts of conversations you want to be having on a day out?

Practical info:

  • The Wetland Centre is in Barnes and is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).
  • Entrance is £12.75 for an adult or £7 for a child. Various family, concession and membership options also available. I’ve just seen, while checking prices to write this, that you can save 10% by booking online. Doh, if only I realised that before we went.
  • Their website is here: London Wetland Centre
  • There’s a cafe (essential in my eyes) and various activities for children too.

Cotswold Wildlife Park: where garden design meets rhinos

Over the half term week we had a holiday – of sorts – down in Somerset.

Clanville Manor
The sproglet is rushing ahead to open the door and let us in to our holiday cottage

I say “of sorts” as the kids were both a little bit grouchy and clingy for much of the week and I returned home feeling somewhat exhausted.

We were staying in a wonderful, atmospheric holiday cottage with a huge, child-friendly garden (The Tallet at Clanville Manor, above, for anyone interested – not sponsored, just a genuinely lovely place). But the sproglets always take a little while to adjust to new surroundings and we really spent far too much time driving around in the car and trying to squeeze in naps ad hoc for their liking.

One of these days, I’m sure, we’ll crack that magic family holiday formula of doing just enough of the things to keep them happy and just enough of the (interesting) things to keep us happy…

Anyway, apart from the clinginess, we had a great time. As well as catching up with family and friends, we took a couple of day trips.

The first was to Cotswold Wildlife Park and, my goodness, if you are ever in the area I urge you to go, go, go!

Cotswold Wildlife Park
Oh yeah, that’s a rhino wandering across the front lawn
Cotswold Wildlife Park
The manor house

If you were to draw a Venn diagram of the interests of this family, then I think this place would sit firmly in the centre of it.

Loads of animals: tick. Beautiful planting and gardens: tick. A gigantic playground: tick. A stunning old manor house hosting brass rubbing: tick. An orangery where you can eat your lunch: tick. A miniature train: tick.

The layout of the place is fabulously quirky; lots of the animal enclosures bordered only by electric wires rather than solid fences. So it is that the rhinos appear to be simply grazing on the front lawn, surrounded by huge flower beds stuffed full of alliums.

Bedding at Cotswold Wildlife Park
I’m not usually a fan of bedding, but who can resist this riot of colour?
Tropical planting at Cotswold Wildlife Park
Yes, this really is in England…
Meerkat at Cotswold Wildlife Park
Strange little things…

In the walled garden, tropical planting was enjoying the microclimate, alongside some meerkats and the sloth enclosure. (And if you’re anything like me, the combination of the words “walled garden” and “sloth enclosure” would be enough to have you jumping into the car before finishing reading this paragraph, ha ha. But wait, wait, there’s more!)

Particular favourites of ours were the giraffes (such incredible, yet elegant creatures), some fabulously grumpy looking camels, their winter coats just starting to hang off them, and this lovely red panda hiding at the top of a tree…

Red panda at Cotswold Wildlife Park
Shy? Me?

We were only there for three hours or so in the morning, on the way down between Oxfordshire and Somerset, but we all wished we could have stayed the whole day. I think we may well be making a return trip as a treat for the sproglet’s birthday this summer…

Part two of our hol, featuring the wonderful Bishops Palace gardens in Wells, later in the week.

PS, Please excuse the slightly crappy nature of the photos. As you can see, it was a rather gloomy day and the light wasn’t great for taking pictures. But it was such a brilliant place, I just had to tell you all about it anyway…

Painshill Park: the weirdness of landscape gardens

Hot on the heels of my trip to Eltham Palace to check out the 1930s planting, yesterday saw me visiting Painshill Park in Surrey, this time to visit an 18th century landscape garden.

Painshill Park | Wolves in London
The lake at Painshill Park

A bit of potted garden history for anyone interested. The “landscape” style of gardening became popular in the UK around the 1700s; its best known designer Capability Brown.

It’s a style of gardening that essentially aims to “improve” the natural landscape, intending the results to look like a beautiful spot of English countryside (though, in fact, huge chunks of money were likely spent on creating these effects, and vast swathes of land dug up and moved around to make “natural” lakes and hills and woodland areas…)

Painshill Park | Wolves in London
View of the estate

Nestled within the bucolic scenery were (in my opinion) completely lunatic buildings, designed to become a focal point and draw your eye to the horizon, across the sweeping vistas. Gothic follies, “ruined” abbeys, temples, towers, arches, bridges… …nothing was considered too grand or too weird for the aristocrats who owned and built these gardens.

At Painshill, close to Cobham in Surrey, all these features are apparent. Designed by its owner, the Honorable Charles Hamilton, an aristocrat with good connections but little actual money, the park was extensively re-designed and re-built to adhere to the 18th century ideas of a beautiful landscape.

Among other great ventures, the oxbow lake was re-dug to form a more appealing shape; a tumble-down ruined abbey was built to hide some actual modern-day brickworks; a grotto was bejeweled inside with crystals; and, most bizarrely, a Turkish tent was erected on the top of a hill at one side of the estate.

Grotto at Painshill Park
The outside of the crystal grotto. Think this looks weird, then take a look…
Crystal grotto at Painshill Park
…at this! Every single crystal was stuck onto the ceiling by hand.
Crystal grotto at Painshill Park
And this was one of the views from the grotto’s many peepholes
Gothic temple ceiling at Painshill Park
This is the ceiling of the gothic temple
Hermitage at Painshill Park
Naturally, there was a hermitage (!) – this was the rather beautiful view from its window

I’ve got to admit, it’s not my favourite era of garden styles. A little bit too much effort and artifice to create something “natural” – and a serious lack of things that, to a modern eye, are desirable. Such as, you know, flowers or non-evergreen trees and shrubs.

But a morning wandering around (in rather cold May drizzle) was a good way to blow away the cobwebs of the week. And I did very much enjoy the (non-original) watermill and the glorious walled kitchen garden on the way in.

Kitchen garden at Painshill Park
The walled kitchen garden
Water wheel at Painshill Park
The waterwheel building was gorgeous
Waterwheel at Painshill Park
As were the views behind

Incidentally, if you’re thinking of visiting a landscape garden close to London, I would recommend, instead, a trip to Stowe (where I was lucky enough to spend two years in the sixth form at the school there). Designed by Capability Brown himself, this is landscape gardening at its absolute finest.

Next week, we’re off on holiday to Somerset and I’m hoping to visit Hestercombe while we’re there. With a garden designed by Lutyens and Jekyll, I’ve got high hopes of some serious inspiration there…