Sunday, 18 April 2010

Of wild places, parterres and a potager garden








The blue skies are still empty of planes this weekend, but the red kites are soaring in pairs over the M40, where the wide road cuts sharp through the Chiltern escarpment. Watching them wheel over the motorway traffic never fails to thrill me; these birds of prey that had come close to extinction, but now thrive even in our densely populated islands. I have been reading Robert Macfarlane's inspiring book, 'The Wild Places', which describes his journeys through Britain and Ireland in search of landscapes beyond those carved up by motorways, far from the hot dust of car exhausts -- Orford Ness, Rannoch Moor, Cape Wrath, Loch Coruisk and Strathnaver. Macfarlane succeeds magnificently in his aim of making a map that might be set against the modern road atlas: a prose map that seeks to make wild places visible again, recording their contours before they vanish. His vision of wild places opens up a realm of headlands, cliffs, beaches, tors, forests, rivers, waterfalls; where the horizon is visible, where wood and rock and water are untrammeled by tarmac or concrete.
After too long in the confines of low skies and London streets, I crave the sight of those untamed landscapes; but like so many of us, I am also attached to gentler places, where gardens have been tended and cherished for generations. One of the loveliest was created by Rosemary Verey at Barnsley House in Gloucestershire, from where I have just returned. Even if you live faraway, and cannot visit it on one of its open days (or perhaps the annual Barnsley village garden festival next month) Verey's writing casts light onto her garden, and her vision of the natural world. 'I enjoy patterns, man-made and natural,' she wrote in 'A Countrywoman's Notes', 'and as soon as I start looking around me, they are everywhere.' She recorded Cotswold sheep paths and the traditional patterns of wall-builders: 'a random pattern, you may think, but as they worked the wall was dictated by the lie of the land, the farmer's whims and needful boundaries.'
Verey's garden survives at Barnsley, even as the years gather after her death; its contours still visible, the hedges and trees that she planted shaping the outline of her past, and of previous generations that loved this land. How blessed to be allowed to step into it again, to smell its scents, see its blossoms, touch its leaves; and how good to know that this gentle place lives on.
I am sure that many who read this already cherish their own green spaces; and feel the sense of hope that Robert Macfarlane expresses toward the end of his book, when he recognises that even in a crowded country, the wild finds its way.
'We are fallen in mostly broken pieces, I thought, but the wild can still return us to ourselves.'

29 comments:

Cornflower said...

Robert Macfarlane's book is like a window open onto wonderful landscapes. I loved it.

enid said...

I too love the wild open spaces but often it is the quiet tamed gardens that offer the most peace. Mt daughter and family are stranded here not able to return to the UK and we are hoping the ash goes away !!! Welcome back. Justine we have missed you

kairu said...

I'm glad you're back! I love it when you return with photographs of gardens. There's something so beautiful about an English garden; controlled, yet unrestrained.

I'm off to the Far East tomorrow night; I hope to find some beautiful gardens while I'm there.

Sarah Standalone said...

Lovely photos Justine, I was at Cliveden at the weekend, the gardens were looking spectacular - just waiting for the bluebells now.

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks, everyone, for your messages. I hope Kairu's journey to the Far East is filled with wonders and beautiful gardens; and that Enid's family can enjoy the glorious green spaces of Cape Town, despite the anxiety of being stranded. I send all good wishes to Cornflower and Sarah, and am glad to know that others are looking out for bluebells, as I am... A few are just peeking out in the shady bits of my garden, beneath the ivy.
Speak soon...

kairu said...

I walk to and from work, and everywhere I go, even through the city streets, I come across patches of green, bright with flowers. The purple haze of lilacs. The bursts of creamy white or fuschia rhododendrons. Clouds of apple-or-cherry blossoms. Swaths of blue-purple wood hyacinths (like bluebells). On a small table in my apartment I have a vase of orange-and-yellow tulips with frilly-edged petals and fragrant white hyacinths. It's spring!

For the next two weeks I'll be in hot Taipei and even hotter India, moving slowly in the blazing heat and thinking longingly of the cool green shade of home. (No, I'll enjoy it, truly).

Karen, Surrey said...

When the children were smaller I would often visit local gardens in the National Gardens Scheme. Beautiful local garden opening often for charity under the NGS scheme. I managed to get away with it with the promise of cake, as there are always beautiful teas. As they grow up they won't come any more and I am beginning to have time to visit lovely gardens again. There is so much beauty and inspirtation to be had in these much loved gardens. I love to buy the plants they often have on sale. We have begun to see buzzards (?) overhead here in Surrey. It is amazing what wildlife there is in this overcrowded island.

Justine Picardie said...

I also used to do the tea/garden thing with my sons when they were younger; it kept all three of us happy. But they liked feeding the ducks best of all...
Kairu, bon voyage!

jaywalker said...

Mmm...gardens are not one of Australia's strong points although there are some European look alikes but the climate is not generally kind to cool weather plants. Winter is approaching here and the English trees do look marvellous in their autumn colours. I'm currently praying for the smoke clouds to disappear as we have our airfares and trips paid for and leave here for London on the 26 June for seven weeks. Please don't let it erupt again as "acts of god" are not covered and we have already paid out a huge amount.

Knitting Out Loud said...

Rosemary Verey is a wonderful inspiration. Thank you for these lovely photos.
We live in a town of 1200, and love the woods of Maine.
My daughter has had an extra week in Ireland. She's loving it!

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Melinawatson said...

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