Saturday, 24 December 2011
Sunday, 18 December 2011
Geraniums: The hardy herbaceous sort. Like the ferns, they had been given the chop some time ago but are coming back into leaf and flower. Some of the hardy salvias are doing the same thing.
Mallows: I have seen hollyhocks still in flower on my travels around the Cotswolds. They are majestic when they are grown well but my favourite of all is the musk-mallow, Malva moschata, which is a wild flower that is often brought into gardensl. I grow both the pink and the white versions and they self sow happily in the borders without ever becoming a nuisance. It wouldn't matter, you couldn't have too many!
Roses: There are nearly always roses out on Christmas Day and we always exclaim how extraordinary a sight it is. They are poor, wet, bedraggled specimens carefully left in place by even the hardest pruners as a reminder of warm summer days. For the most part that is the case this year too. What we don't expect to find are bushes smothered in beautiful blooms still wafting scent but this is the case in one rose garden I attend. I am uncertain as to the variety but there are three of these amongst forty other bushes - all shrub roses. They really are a joy to see.
Saturday, 17 December 2011
Thursday, 8 December 2011
I write this, snug in front of the woodburner - not that much heat is getting past She-dog who thinks this has been lit solely for her pleasure and comfort - listening to a gale rattling the window panes and whistling around the eaves. The rain is lashing down and there is absolutely no need for me to ask what the weather is doing this evening. However, I have been told that I have said "Listen to the weather" several times. I could have said how remarkable it is that only yesterday I had my lunch sitting in the garden. Yes, really.
I should admit that I am a hardy sole as I work outdoors all year and so am less affected by cold than most and I also should admit that I was wearing a coat and gloves and sitting in a sheltered, sunny spot. Regardless of those finer details, yesterday I commented how last year to the day we were up to our necks in snow in the worst wintry weather the Secret Valley had had for years. And, even more remarkably, the snow came when you would expect it - in midwinter but (and there's always a 'but' where British weather is concerned) in the Cotswolds we rarely get snow before January ..... But it was still rather remarkable to be sitting there, surely and remark worthy?
What is even more remarkable is that all of this week I have been planting out herbaceous plants and laying turf; late even by our odd climate standards. We have had frosts: there were three quite hard ones in October, then none until the last week of November and then a couple more last week and none since. In between, we had two weeks of warmish air and thick fog which was enough to make even me depressed.
The spirits, even on those damp, grey days, were uplifted by the huge array of flowers that have reappeared. There are always a few late roses hanging on determinedly until Christmas Day, looking bedraggled and ragged but not this time. Some of them have given up but others have almost as many blooms as midsummer. There are pots of herbaceous Salvia nemerosa 'Mainacht' that have regrown after their end-of-season haircut and are in full bloom once again. Primroses and cowslips are showing colour. Today I counted over twenty different summer flowering plants still going strong. That's a bit of an exaggeration, I really mean showing the odd flower or two. All the plants have become muddled so we have Winter Jasmine as you would expect but not alongside spring flowering Forsythia. And we have evergreen, flowering shrubs such as Viburnum and Sarcococca as we should have at this time of year - but not alongside the newly unfurling purple leaves of Cotinus cogyggria. Where, or more to the point, when will it all end? Possibly quite soon.
It isn't just the garden that is confused. On the farm the cattle are still out grazing the fields. They should be inside by now but with plenty of grass still available in the fields they can be out for a little longer.
All the photographs, except for She-dog in the snow, were taken over the past week or two. When the frost has been hard the Secret Valley has looked at its best.
Monday, 21 November 2011
My first reaction upon finding I'd received an invitation from the Duke of Edinburgh to attend Windsor Castle was to think that a friend was playing a practical joke. But the more I read it the more real it looked:
Horses have always been close to the Royal Family and both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are knowledgable and skilled horsemen. Carriage driving at top competition level had, until recently, been a regular part of the Duke's regime and we had often been to watch him race at Windsor Great Park. We too, have also participated in driving although my competition level is still at the most basic. My partner is much more skilled and fearless and I always marvel when a neurotic and potentially lethal animal becomes calm and pliable under his control. The photo below is of us just out for a quiet afternoons drive - although the pony did have his moment a little later when we careered out of control amongst the trees. Thomas could become quite exciteable at times!
I realised with dismay that the date on the invitation was the day that we would be on Exmoor for a couple of weeks holiday, 150 miles away. Working on the theory that we'd never likely receive another invitation we postponed the trip by a day. And so, that early evening we drove up to the closed gates of Windsor Castle, showed our credentials and passed through to be further security checked. Once this had taken place we were driven by an offical to the Quadrangle and the State Entrance. Thie entrance, as it's name implies, is used on State occcasions and the Quadrangle is used for military parades, including the regular Changing of the Guard. From here is a panoramic view of the castle buildings, the oldest of which date from the 11th century (making Windsor the world's oldest inhabited castle), and the Long Walk: a tree lined vista that cuts across the Great Park for a distance of over two and a half miles.
The reception was held in St George's Hall, which was at the centre of the fire in the 1990's and completely destroyed. As a consequence, the restoration work has made the green oak, hammer beam roof the largest to be constructed in that century. The craftsmanship and colours are extraordinary: set into the roof are the shields of every Knight of the Garter with some shields being blank. These, I discovered, were not reserved for future knights but were of those that had fallen from Royal favour.
Nothing prepares you for the sheer magnificence and size of this room as you enter - it measures 185 x 30 feet. Here we met other guests - there were only about two hundred - and, finally, the Duke who arrived with little pomp or ceremony. The Duke made a short speech before joining us informally to champagne and canapes. I was impressed not just by his energy (he is now over 90) but also by his wit. He really is very funny, indeed. I wondered how many other people of his age could carry out all these duties day in, day out and still make you feel as if you were of interest to them. Both he and the Queen - who works equally hard - may live in splendour with aides and courtiers but I wouldn't exchange places with them: I will be more than content just to still be able to hear, see, think and garden!
The evening came to a close after two and a half hours and, as we stepped back out into the autumn air in the Quadrangle, I was struck by the realisation why it is traditional to say, upon the death of a monarch, "The King is dead, long live the King": for all the affection that the current Queen has in the hearts of many of her subjects, the Office is greater than the individual. The institution of monarchy has worked well for this country, long may it remain so.
Saturday, 12 November 2011
The moor is especially beautiful at this time of year now the heather flowers, which in midsummer had turned hundreds of acres purple, have changed to a golden bronze. The bracken, also yellowing as the autumn progresses, helps to make the landscape a combination of coppers, oranges, golds, browns and greens.
Saturday, 8 October 2011
It has been an odd year. The hardest and earliest winter for years gave way to a lovely spring, March and April being mild and sunny. We were then hit by the hardest May frost that anyone could remember and here, in the secret valley, many of the trees had their newly formed leaves and flower buds blackened. The horse chestnuts and oaks seemed hardest hit, although oddly enough, not all of them and not even all of the leaves or flowers on the same tree. Those damaged leaves fell and bare braches remained until July when, suddenly, they sprouted fresh leaves with the same verdent intensity as you would find two or three months earlier.
One moment bright green growth, the next ........
........ dead from frost
Saturday, 17 September 2011
In part 1 of these posts on the Trials - click here for link - the photograph below was also the first photograph shown, but before the trials began. It looked a huge, solid jump (and was) but the horses cleared it with ease. It is often the smaller jumps where a tired rider or horse come unstuck. Fortunately, this year, there were no major casualties although, sadly, these do occur from time to time.
Burghley, because of its status as one of the top eventing locations, not just in Britain but worldwide, attracts the superstars of the equestrian world, from both the UK and overseas. Ollie Townend won Burghley in 2009 and was a favourite to win this year. It wasn't to be, with one of his horses being eliminated on the cross country, the other having to retire.
The water jumps always attract the crowds and there is nothing more they like to see than a rider get a good ducking! This year their were few such moments. Apart from small ponds to jump in and out of, the Capability Brown lake also featured as an obstacle. There can be few more magnificent views than this with Burghley House, one of the greatest Elizabethan buildings in England, in the distance.
Another photograph that appeared in the first post was the one below. This image has a horse clearing what is the biggest jump on the course. To guage the height look at the press photographers being dwarfed by it ..... This jump was another that the horses took with ease - it is more of a frightener for the rider. The press and the television crews all help to create the atmosphere at Burghley which is , to my mind anyaway, the greatest horse show of them all.