Monday, June 20, 2016

My Trip to England, Part One

We just got back from a wonderful trip to England. We went to London and Chippingham, Wiltshire, which is just outside of Bath. Because there's so much to share about the trip, I thought I would write three blog posts. One on English gardens, one on London highlights, and one on London bookstores. So here goes, number one -- Gardens!

There's nothing like going to England in June if you like gardens. Everything is in bloom and the roses are prolific. English gardens are filled with a poetry that is created by so many iconic features. Sweet peas growing on a trellis, hedged enclosures, old garden gates, weathered benches, burbling fountains, and ancient stone walls. These are storybook gardens. For me there is no more quintessential feature in an English garden than roses climbing on a brick wall. It doesn't hurt if that wall has the patina of age which you can pretty much count on in England. Some of these walls even date from the Elizabethan era! Here are the glorious gardens we saw on our trip.

1. Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Gardeners' cuttings for the day

Sissinghurst Castle Garden is the creation of the English writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband the diplomat Harold Nicolson. In 1930 they bought a dilapidated Elizabethan castle in Kent and set about restoring it. Everyone thought they were crazy but Vita was enchanted by the idea of restoring a castle. They decided to create a garden on the property and it has become one of England's most famous gardens. This was my second visit to Sissinghurst and once again I was struck by its romantic quality. I understood why Vita was so smitten with the old brick structures, fell in love with their romance and history, and dreamt of having a garden there. As they restored the castle they also began to design the garden. She and Harold envisioned a series of garden "rooms" separated by hedging and stone walls. And within this structure they planted a riotous jumble of plants. It was an English country garden in an organized system. The contrast of formality and looseness makes this garden very special. And the roses! By 1953 there were at least 194 different roses growing at Sissinghurst. Vita especially loved the old roses. Their history, their colors, and their evocative names appealed to her imagination. The first rose she and Harold planted was Madame Alfred Carriere and it still survives today. If there is one highlight at Sissinghurst -- the thing that everyone wants to see and searches for -- it is the White Garden which is beautiful and slightly ethereal. This place is a dreamscape!   

The head gardener's notes

Rose-covered walls

Burnished bricks and leaded-glass windows. This place just exudes romance!

The tower with Vita's writing room looms in the distance
We walked through many garden "rooms"

The view of the garden from Vita's tower

And from the other side

It's a steep climb to the top of the tower on a very narrow staircase but well worth it to see the glorious views at the top. You will see Vita's writing room on the second floor. I was touched by the photo of Virginia Woolf on her desk. The room is very cozy with a fireplace and books spilling out of bookshelves. A Persian carpet covers the floor. The spirit of Vita lives on in that room.

The entrance to the White Garden

It has a magical quality

White roses climb on the wall

It is simply enchanting!

And added bonus was lunch at The Three Chimneys Pub at Biddenden, a traditional Kentish pub.

There's nothing like a country pub for coziness. And the food was delicious!

By the way, Sissinghurst was relatively uncrowded on a Thursday afternoon in early June.

2. Lucknam Park

We decided to go to Bath for a couple of days in the middle of our trip and stay at Lucknam Park, a beautiful hotel six miles from Bath in Chippingham, Wiltshire. I was celebrating one of those big birthdays and this seemed like a very special place for a celebration. An18th-century manor house set amid many acres of parkland, this place has it all -- gardens, a spa, cooking classes, tennis courts, an equestrian center, and a great restaurant. Since we were there for just two days, we mostly hung out -- walked, relaxed, read, had afternoon tea, and soaked up the beauty of the place! 

The combination of flowers and ancient buildings was stunning

There are many beautiful green spaces

If you stay outside until 9:30 pm you will be rewarded with a beautiful sunset

The hotel is covered in vines and has many lovely garden details

I couldn't get enough of the beautiful exterior

Including these pots

An expansive lawn

Flower beds

Lovely old buildings

Climbing roses

Intimate green walkways

And a meadow! Staying here was like a dream. I highly recommend it for a special occasion!

3. Bowood House and Garden

Just 30 minutes away from Lucknam Park is Bowood House and Garden

We learned about Bowood while at Lucknam Park and decided to go

It was a great decision as this place is amazing! Over half the house is open to the public with the Shelburne family living in the remainder. It was built in the 18th-century and Capability Brown landscaped the extensive grounds.

Which include a lake, two streams, and a forest of trees. Close to the house are the famous flower-filled terraces and majestic boxwood yews.

The alliums were stunning

And there were roses everywhere!

This is the Lower Terrace steps and fountain with sculpture designed by David Wynne

I loved the gardens at Bowood. They are truly magnificent. As is the house, though we weren't allowed to take photos. If you are in the area, don't miss this very special place!

Next up, London Highlights!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Secret Garden

What is it about discovering a secret garden that is so exciting? With summer coming up and travel plans swirling in my head, I began to think about how much fun it is to stumble upon a garden. Especially in a big city. Sometimes it happens fortuitously. You're tired. You've been walking on city streets all day, touring museums, and seeing historic places. And then there it is. The most welcome sight -- a beautiful place to sit down and rest. A place to reflect. A secret garden. You can't believe your luck and wonder if anyone else knows about it. This happened to me while in Edinburgh last summer when my husband and I stumbled upon Dunbar's Close Garden. It is a leafy green sanctuary in the heart of the city amid the bustle of the Royal Mile. Hidden behind a gate, this little garden is the perfect place to rest your weary feet.

Scotland is well known to possess a magical quality. If you've been watching the television series Outlander you are familiar with its mystique. Not surprisingly, Dunbar's Close Garden is tucked away in a deeply atmospheric part of Edinburgh at the end of a dark and narrow 'close' (a narrow lane) in the Old Town, just off the busy Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a stretch of four ancient streets which formed the main thoroughfare of medieval Edinburgh, linking Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It has around 80 narrow lanes or 'closes' and when you are among them it is easy to imagine Edinburgh's medieval past.

The garden was designed in the style of the 17th-century with gravel paths, neatly trimmed shrubs, herbs, flowers and mature trees. Walking through its gates is like stepping into another world after the hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile. It is divided into three parterres. You can sit on a bench and enjoy the peace and quiet of this romantic green spot. The locals know about it and frequently come here with a cup of coffee or lunch to enjoy the sunshine and a few moments of peace and quiet. No one seems to stay very long and it is frequently empty.

The garden was created by Sir Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) who lived on the Royal Mile at the time. He was an eminent Scots biologist who stressed the connection between health and the environment. Geddes had a vision for a network of gardens around the city of which Dunbar's Close is one. By the 1970s the garden had fallen into disrepair. It was saved by a bequest which gifted the land to the City of Edinburgh Parks Department. In 1978 it was rebuilt by a landscape architect and has remained a delightful space ever since.

Being on one of these little lanes or 'closes' will make you feel connected to Scottish history. In Robert Burns' day, Dunbar's Close was famous for its oyster cellar. Apparently Burns was surprised to find fashionable ladies washing down their oyster suppers with ale or punch. You can almost feel their spirits as you enter the little alleyway that leads to the garden.

If you go to Edinburgh, one of my favorite cities in the world, be sure to visit this little gem. The symmetry of the garden's formal design is calming and there are beautiful stone benches to rest on. Being there will make you appreciate the connection between well-being and the outdoors that Sir Patrick Geddes had in mind when he created this space. It will remind you of the restorative power of a garden.

I have been reading a lot about gardens lately and love this quote by Allen Lacy in his book The Inviting Garden: Gardening for the Senses, Mind and Spirit --

"Gardening is restorative. It brings us back to the things we thought we had lost in childhood. It brings us back to our senses -- to the downy feel of the leaves of silver sage; to the perfume of jasmines and gardenias; to the taste of spearmint; to the sound of bamboo rustling in the sudden rush of wind before a storm; to the cool white beauty of a moonflower unfolding as dusk turns into night.

But the garden is not just a retreat from the world, and there is much more to gardening than sensory delights, as important as these are. In gardening we also encounter the larger world. Gardening engages the mind in an unending quest for knowledge, for it would take many lifetimes to know and understand everything that goes on in even the smallest garden. And, finally, gardening satisfies the spirit. It connects us with a small part of the natural order that is ours to tend during our time. It involves the desire to create something of beauty. It has to do with caring and feelings of belonging to earth. It connects us with others, for the company of gardeners is the closest thing on earth to the fellowship of saints and the communion of souls. It draws people together to become lifelong friends on the basis of a common passion for plants and affection for one another.

The pleasures of gardening are not partial, for they satisfy body, mind, and spirit. They also endure. Very few people take up gardening and then give it up because of waning interest. Whether we begin early or late, it is a lifelong commitment."

Thank you to the gardeners and garden dreamers who created this magical space!

Speaking of gardens, peace, and serenity, I hope you are doing something fun this holiday weekend. If you feel like seeing a movie, don't miss Love & Friendship based on Jane Austen's very funny novella Lady Susan. It is hilarious. I am taking a little break from the blog and will be back in June. Wishing you a Happy Memorial Day weekend!