Autumn days at Sissinghurst

SissinghurstHello, poor neglected blog! I’ve thought of you a lot over these past few months and yet never found the time / energy to pop in and say hi…

Late pregnancy this time round has been a total crusher of energy. Partly, I suppose, because I’m older, partly because I have two other little people to look after and partly because I seem to have been ill with one thing or another at least once a week. (Though the last of those is down to the first two, I am pretty sure…)

Anyway, here we are with ten days to go before the baby is due, and I’m finally managing to drop in and share some pictures of our trip to Sissinghurst from a few weekends ago.

Sissinghurst

Sissinghurst

It was one of those glorious Autumnal days, the sky blue, the sun shining, the leaves just starting to turn and the fruit trees dripping in bounty.

The kids ran around, I slowly wandered about admiring the planting and ruminating on the how the garden design fit the architecture and surrounding environment (I was compiling a sketchbook on said topic for one of my garden design assignments) and we all ate heartily at the (rather expensive) cafe.

Sissinghrust tower

Sissinghurst oasthousesI don’t need to say much about Sissinghurst, I’m sure, as it must be one of the most famous gardens in the country. But, despite the glamour and renown of the garden rooms, I have to confess that I find some of the outlying parts a little more appealing. The kitchen garden, surrounded by views of the fields, was fat with pumpkins. The orchard was full of apples, crabapples and pears. The lakes, towards the very perimeter of the “gardened” land were looking beautiful with huge stately oak trees shaking their branches over the top. And perhaps my favourite parts are where you can catch glimpses out to the Kentish farmland beyond, the gentle chug of a tractor in the distance, a few faraway figures walking the dogs through the yellow fields… I do love the domestic romance of the English countryside.

Country view

Sissinghurst lakes

crabapples

I noticed, for the first time, that there is a B&B on the grounds of the estate. (Website here: sissinghurstcastlefarmhouse.com) One to add to the list for a child-free weekend away at some unspecified point in the future!

Anyway, I hope you’re all well. I suspect I won’t have time to drop in again now until after the baby arrives, until when I am busy trying to finish my last assignment for the course (designing a show garden for Chelsea / Hampton Court!) and finishing off the blanket that I have only just started knitting. (You can see it on my IG account here: baby blanket) Oh dear, little baby, I am sorry that before you are even born I have had less time to spend on you than I did on your siblings!

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Notes from a summer: Regent’s Park sunshine

Echinacea in Regents ParkHellebore leavesRegents Park sausage borderA few Fridays ago, I had the most blissfully relaxing day I have had for some time. Possibly for three years, in fact.

The thing about living with small kids, I find, is that no matter how many wonderful, cute, endearing individual moments there are, day-to-day life can feel a lot like a repetitive slog.

Well, I speak only for my own small kids, of course, who both still need post-lunch naps to avoid serious meltdowns, and who will both only contemplate taking post-lunch naps in their own beds, which ties us close to the house at all times, and mostly on a merry-go-round of park visits / singing classes / soft play excursions, all accompanied with a never-ending soundtrack of “why haven’t you put your shoes on yet to go out when I’ve asked you ten times?” or “can you please eat something from your lunch plate that’s not just grated cheese” and “why are you throwing that bouncy ball at your brother / the priceless Ming vase / my head”…

Chocolate cosmosSedumAnyway, a rather exciting development at the end of August was that both boys started to go to nursery two days a week. Leaving me with one day a week to attend my garden design course and one day to… …do whatever I like!

This particularly blissful Friday a few weeks ago, was the very first of my child-free days. I left the boys together at nursery, sitting next to each other at the breakfast table, eating rice crispies and looking very happy and not at all sad to see me leave, which was completely wonderful.

Then I had to pop to Regent’s Park to take some photographs of one of the flower beds there for a garden design assignment.

Regents Park in the sunSunflowers in Regents ParkSedum flowers at Regents ParkAfter which, I went and had lunch with the hubby at a French wine bar in Farringdon. I had pâté and cured ham and drank a kir. Oh my days, I tell you, I felt so carefree and relaxed!

The sun was shining, I travelled the tube unencumbered by prams and without any deadlines to arrive anywhere, I had an actual conversation with my husband without being either completely shattered or interrupted. Well, all in all, it was a pretty heavenly day. And it made me realise that having a few more days like that would no doubt do me (and the rest of the family) the world of good.

All pictures here, by the way, are from Regent’s Park on that day. One of our assignments for my garden design course is to photograph the same flower bed each month of the year to see how it changes. The bed I chose is known as the “sausage border” because, erm, it’s sausage-shaped. It has some really lovely herbaceous plants in there and at the height of summer is an exuberant riot of abundance. If you’re ever close to the park, head over to the Mediterranean garden, just past the rose garden, and you can find the sausage bed a little further north from there, just next to a small pond. It’s a great space to sit and think on a sunny day…

So here’s to days for relaxing, days to yourself and days of sunshine. May we all have at least one of these this month.

Bishop’s palace and gardens

Perhaps this is a terrible indictment on the state of education in the UK, but the extent of my knowledge about the bishop of Bath and Wells (of whom, presumably, there have been many) is his appearance in Blackadder.

You know the one, the “baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells” who turns up and demands money owed to him by Blackadder, but is instead painted in a compromising position with Percy. Ah classic Blackadder, how I used to love that show when I was younger.

Wells Cathedral | Wolves in London
No babies consumed here

Anyway, I’d love to tell you that my recent trip to the Bishop’s Palace and Gardens, right next to Wells Cathedral, gave me the chance to learn loads of factually accurate non baby-eating information, but actually I just spent a lovely morning there wandering round the gardens and looking at trees and plants.

Ah well, I’m clearly just not up for edukashun on a brilliantly sunny day.

We have lots of family in Wells, so we go down there fairly frequently, yet I’d never spent much time before wandering round the town. It’s a truly beautiful place; a lovely old market town with some glorious views and, of course, there’s the famous cathedral and the adjacent palace and gardens.

Bishops Palace | Wolves in London
Wall of the Great Hall

Parts of the palace are still intact and inhabited, though the Great Hall is just a rather picturesque wall. An enthusiastic guide told us, as we came in, that the Victorians pulled the hall down intentionally as they thought it would look better as a ruin. Gung-ho, to be sure, but I agree with them that it did look rather spectacular; the cathedral beyond framed in the windows…

Bishops Palace and Gardens | Wolves in London Bishops Palace WellsWe wandered round the gardens, the sproglet and his cousin having a lovely time examining the flowers and bees.

Wells cathedral | Wolves in LondonBishops Palace and Gardens | Wolves in LondonFlowers | Wolves in LondonThe planting was really lovely, and I’m rather regretting now that I didn’t take a few notes about some of the things that were there.

Oh but I could cheerfully spend every sunny day wandering round a garden and looking at flowers. Here’s to plenty more this summer, please.

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…