Possibly my longest gap between posts since I’ve started this blog. Why?Well perhaps the teeniest disappointment at not winning at the Hay festival, (clearly, I have a small residue of competitive spirit which I thought had long since left me), but mainly the PV read out above explains it all – until this morning we have had no rain for 2 weeks. Even better, dawn till dusk sunshine. This really hasn’t happened here for over 2 years, and you just feel the urge to keep going. So now I’m relieved to collapse in front of a computer screen and type, rather than the incessant weeding, watering, planting, potting, hosting garden visitors, shearing sheep and the multitude of other things that have kept us busy, busy, busy recently.The Hay festival was indeed a great experience for us both. (Click here for a link.) How wonderfully civilised, and on our first ever visit, for the awards for Britain’s best “Green and Gorgeous Garden” competition we were given a great time out by our hosts and sponsors Tamsin and Heather from The English Garden magazine (EG) and Wiggly Wigglers, after a scary moment in a muddy car park as we arrived.
A real bonus was the fascinating talk by Professor Dianne Edwards, from Cardiff university, on the geological importance of the plant fossils still being discovered in the vicinity of Hay on Wye, nestling on the Welsh English border. When these fossils were being created, about 430 million years, the Hay land mass was located South of the equator, near the Tropic of Capricorn, thousands of miles from its current location and in a very different primitive planetary scene to today’s.
Plants were just beginning to leave the aquatic environment and colonise land. There were several key changes to plant structures which allowed this transition to occur – developing a means of preserving water within the plant by using a water barrier cuticle like structure; absorbing nutrients from the soil through a root system; dealing with gaseous exchange through stomata (pores); and developing lignin, which allowed plants to create liquid transporting tubes and thus to reach for the skies in the way that some of the larger tree species now achieve – without the microscopic straw like xylem and phloem vessels collapsing, as they grew ever taller.In the aptly named ‘Starlight’ venue, Professor Edwards explained that these early plant colonisers were much simpler moss type plants than the range of plants which we recognise today, although even some club mosses from this period reached 30 metres in height!
She also mentioned that there was probably a key symbiotic relationship between fungi and plants which aided this water to land colonisation. (In the way that lichens – algae/fungi associations currently exist; and the currently poorly understood, but vital role for mycorrhizal fungi associations with terrestrial plant root systems).
But the really intriguing information, was the role of this part of South Wales in the history of geology, much of which happened in the mid 1800’s with fossil hunter geologists who explored the local rocks, and left a legacy of nomenclature which firmly references the area in globally recognised periods. Think of Pre-Cambrian, Cambrian, Silurian, and even the local towns of Llandovery and Llandeilo, which are all forever fixed in the naming of stone and rock formations. Click here for more.
The graph below, which was shown at the lecture, illustrates how much higher the level of CO2 was in those times. And how the level has declined dramatically since, partly as a result of rock weathering which involved the conversion of Calcium silicates into Calcium carbonates; and partly as plant material growing in this lush warmer, CO2 rich environment died, and the CO2 became locked into deposits of coal, oil, shale and peat. Eventually, CO2 became the relatively trace gas which it now is, at only about 400 parts per million in the atmosphere compared to the levels of 17,000 ppm seen 450 million years ago. This is interesting, in the light of current concerns about how CO2 levels are again now rising, from this much lower level.
Indeed if you follow the link by clicking here to the Wikipedia site on the Silurian period, there is an interesting table to the top right of the article showing the relative O2, CO2, temperatures and sea levels in those early times. A bit scary for not just the Maldives, but many other parts of the world since levels then were apparently 180 metres higher than today! Maybe Wales will gradually become a variation on fjord country? You can listen to the whole of the talk by clicking here.
Then a champagne reception, and the awards.Congratulations to Euan from Glasgow who won the prizes, for his blog which records his own urban green and gorgeous garden. You can find his blogs by clicking here. (2020 addendum – No, you can’t! See where you end up if you do. I just hope Euan had his blogs copied elsewhere). And also to the other finalist, Diana, who sadly was too ill to attend. I hope that she’s in better health just now, but we did have the real pleasure of meeting her mother and friend who’d accompanied her for the event, from near Salisbury. Diana’s blog can be found by clicking here.
I’d asked Tamsin early on, as we queued for the lecture, just who’d had the idea of running a blog competition on this subject, (since most blogging activity seems a curiously personal, and non-competitive activity) and apparently it was a joint one between Heather and Tamsin. Certainly, there were some fascinating pieces penned over the months, and although the site will keep running, (sadly, as mentioned above, not in the long term) I’m going to concentrate on just his blog from now on, since it has a bit more flexibility in what I can create visually.
We left Hay and after supper en route, arrived at the gorgeous B&B accommodation at Brook Farm, laid on for the night by EG for the 3 finalists, just as night was falling.
A delightful old farmhouse set in the midst of a glorious English cottage garden created over the years by Sarah and Willy Wint. The sun was breaking through clouds the following morning, so after a delicious breakfast prepared and served for us all by Sarah, we had the chance to wander round, and take a few pictures of a labour of love, skillful design and hard graft. Brook Farm would make a great and welcoming base for anyone wanting to explore this lovely rural part of the UK. (Click here for Sarah’s website and blog). But do drive slowly along the often potholed country lanes in this part of the world.
I even spotted a moth light in a wooded area of the garden, and subsequently discovered that Willy has a lifelong interest in moths, and what’s more is involved in insect related research at Oxford University.
Sadly he was away from home at the time – although I fear that conversation may have become a bit too insect themed, if we’d had a chance to meet. So, a big thank you to Heather and Tamsin for organising the ‘Green and Gorgeous Garden’ competition, inviting us to Hay, some wonderful flowers (below) and creating a very special memorable day out for us.
Then 3 days later, we were back at Hay again on a sunny day to hear a moving hour of selected poetry readings from the Great War, read with great skill by Rupert Evans, Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack. It was a wonderful event and much of the attentive 1500 audience, myself included, were moved to tears. (Thanks to Fiona’s efforts, I can now add a link which allows you to listen to the whole hour of poetry readings, from Hay, if you click here. It’s well worth a listen).
Next year the ‘theme’ for the Hay festival will be taken from the Great War, it being the centenary of its start. I’m sure we’ll return for more talks then.
Earlier on the Sunday, I’d felt a little guilty at being annoyed by Monty Don’s talk, in the same huge tent as the later poetry readings, about his book on French gardens ‘The Road to Le Tholonet – A French Garden Journey’. (Guilty since we’d been gifted the tickets for Monty some months ago, by close friends who joined us).
I really like Monty’s writing style. I Ioved reading ‘The Ivington Diaries’ and indeed we drove back through the pretty village of Ivington on our way home from Hay on our first visit, with no evidence of where the lovely Don created family garden is hidden amongst the Herefordshire cow parsley filled lanes.I enjoyed his confidence and lucidity in front of an audience:
But I was frustrated by his choice of French gardens. After about half an hour I realised that we’d seen no images of flowers in any of his accompanying photos. Just grass, stone, trees, vistas, views. The images below are of gardens we visited and loved in Paris last year, to show that French gardens do contain flowers too.And much mention of the special light of Southern France. And the colours of fruit and produce in the local French markets! This dearth of flowers in his garden images changed (briefly) when he reached Giverny.
Flowers appeared, and reference was made to the tens of thousands grown to fill the garden, many being annuals.
But he didn’t like the effect, and found the garden at Giverny ‘incoherent’.Soon he was back on apparently more favoured and appreciated ground, with the massive earthworks and formality created for Nicolas Fouquet at Vaux le Vicomte, by the trio of designers Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Notre. He mentioned that Fouquet’s delusions of grandeur barely survived the grand party thrown to celebrate its completion. So jealous of its amazing scale was Louis XIV, with the suspicion that Fouquet as his finance minister had funded it with misappropriated public money, that Fouquet was arrested later on that same night, and lived out his life behind bars. Louis XIV then appropriated much of the statuary and engaged the same trio of designers, to create Versailles on an even grander scale.It seemed that such grandeur and expressions of power and wealth were what really moved Monty. But was this a fair judgement on my part?
Did this garden journey from the South to North of France all just make for a good TV script, series and book?
Thanks to a question from the audience at the end of the talk, we learned that the Citroen CV car which featured strategically in some photos, was in fact 3 different CV’s used en route. Simply to provide a useful editorial device to ‘move the scenes on’. It wasn’t actually used to transport anyone – a driver being required to get it ‘on set and on camera’ whenever it was needed.
Ah, the wonders of reality TV?
In our occasional visits to Paris we’ve seen many gorgeous flower filled French gardens, alongside more formality, and discovered that many of the best rose cultivars globally have been bred in France. Click here for my previous discussion on this.Why weren’t some of these equally masterful gardens included in the mix of French gardens chosen?
(Parc Bagatelle, Jardin de Luxembourg and Parc Florale de Paris for the above images).
An additional couple of thoughts occurred to me later. Firstly, courtesy of the special privileges of filming a BBC series (which the book accompanies), he’d apparently visited Giverny early in the morning before the masses, but also no doubt with very few insects on the wing to catch his eye in their flower induced dances (and which had such an impact on us on the occasion that we’d visited Giverny under a hot midday May sun).(I wonder if these tiny micro-moths, Micropterix calthella, are responsible for some pollination of our Meconopsis grandis this year? Usually they’re found inside our native creeping buttercup flowers, and I’ve not seen them on Meconopsis before, but they are pollen eaters, and there are at least 3 on this single flower).
Secondly, I looked up his degree subject at Cambridge, and discovered that he’d read English. And then I found what I think is a really enlightening and well written interview with him by Hermione Hoby in The Guardian, which you can access by clicking here.
He’s clearly had a fascinating life with some pretty big ups and downs, financial success, unemployment, depression, and changes of direction from jewellery designer to the stars, to TV garden journalist and presenter, though he acknowledges that he is primarily a writer, and secondly a gardener.
I reflected that in contrast to, for example, E.A.Bowles, who I wrote about in my last post, perhaps he didn’t, or doesn’t, have the zoologist/biologist/naturalist slant on the garden as a more holistic, though human focused and managed microcosm, of the natural world,. Rather that the garden is a mere slate for further expressions of human domination or manipulation of the environment.
Should a garden have a philosophical element to it?
Does a garden even need any flowers in it?Today the news that a London borough has just unveiled a specially commissioned garden ‘lawn’ with flowers and not grass, even made the main news bulletin on BBC Radio 4. Click here for some discussion and pictures from the University of Reading. The last image on this blog looks very like areas of our own magic terrace garden in May. But last year, I took the following photo, just off the boulevard Périphérique in Paris, of lovely wild flower filled urban planting.Indeed, in the light of the latest much hyped Marc Quinn sculpture and ‘garden’ created to showcase it, that Fiona saw at the recent Chelsea Flower Show, what even constitutes a Garden?Does anyone even care, so long as it looks attractive?
I’d love to receive a comment or thoughts from Monty (or any other readers), but I discovered recently that he says he’s never read a blog, so this seems unlikely.
Back home, we seem to have been enjoying the special light that Monty craves, the wondrous shades of green, but most of all for us, an explosion of flowers as the garden has forgotten the slow start to spring and accelerated into action.
And at last the insects have been out in force.
It’s not just us that have noticed. Driving home late from friends near Llandovery on Saturday, for the first time this year there were numerous moths on the wing over the road. The local bats had seized their moment and were plundering the offerings, but perhaps driven crazy by this long awaited feast, caution or sensibilities were abandoned and I caught one in the headlights which seemed to have passed the car only for it to turn and hit the windscreen with a dull flattening splat.
As always I’ve been noticing and recording which flowers seem to be most appealing to our garden’s insect visitors. I chose these following images to illustrate the point that at a particular time of day (around noon), even when the flowers below were all pretty equally exposed to full warm sunshine, the only ones with real appeal to honeybees were those of the white variant of the ‘poached egg plant’ Limnanthes douglasii subsp. nivea ‘Meringue’ above. (Sweet Cicely, Woodruff, Mossy Saxifrage, Viburnum x carlcephalum and Hespera matronalis, White Viola cornuta. A few days later as the flowers matured a bit more, the Hespera matronalis, or Dame’s Violet did attract honeybees).
As the drizzle turns lighter on a birthday morning, the disappointment of having our first adult chicken mortality yesterday, from natural respiratory causes, was softened with 4 birthday chicks chipping their way into the world today to join the precocious single one from yesterday. With just one egg left, for now intact, will we have a full half dozen?