Monday, 3 May 2010

May blossom and birthdays















Bank holiday weekend, and the rain came down, but there were also moments of sunshine. My sister's birthday was (would have been?) on Mayday, and it seemed appropriate to visit a garden that she loved, as well as discovering a new one (which was in fact a century old). Saturday started with a welter of traffic jams and road blocks in London, all of which conspired to deliver us to a gridlocked Piccadilly Circus, the worst place to be when you are longing for greenery. I muttered about mercury retrograde, but praise be to a good-tempered traveling companion, who also came up with this quotation from John Ruskin (very encouraging in the drizzle, crawling through city streets and suburban bypasses on the way to Kent): "Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."
Finally, we reached Hever Castle, just as the Maypole dancers were retreating into a tent for a cup of tea. The castle itself is extraordinary; the childhood home of Ann Boleyn, restored by William Waldorf Astor in the early years of the twentieth century. There is a moat and drawbridge, battlements and minstrel galleries, suits of armour and tapestries; along with everything else that castles are supposed to possess. I loved seeing inside, but outside is almost more miraculous: the beautiful gardens and vast lake that Astor created; a landscape that looks as if it were inspired by a Romantic idea of Classical symmetry, with the wildly imaginative addition of Gothic waterfalls and rockeries. The camellias are in full bloom, the wisteria budding, the tulips flowering; an English garden at its most splendid and eccentric and inspiring. Far too much to see on one visit; I already want to return to explore more of its hidden corners, as well as its grand designs.
From Hever Castle to Gravetye Manor, a garden that my sister loved; which is why she chose to come on her wedding night, thereafter for high days and holidays, and once more in the last months of her life. It is hidden away at the end of a long drive, surrounded by acres of woodland; quiet even in this congested corner of southern England, apparently untouched by exhaust fumes or motorway dust. How blessed to see Gravetye on a Mayday, with its banks of bluebells and expanses of rhododendrons, and the wonderful magnolias that my sister admired so much; to discover that here is a garden that still flourishes, a testament to the longlasting legacy of William Robinson, who cherished this place for half a century.
The evenings are so light now, even when the sky is grey; I walked along the terraces overlooking the lake, then followed the paths weaving around vast rhododendrons, less sinister than those evergreen giants that loom out of 'Rebecca'. On the edge of the garden, an iron gate was unlocked; I went through it, and into the edge of the dark woods, where a deer stood very still, as if waiting for me to disappear. I stood watching the deer, and it watched me; neither of us moving, in the moment when time seems to hover as dusk falls; then moves on again, swift like the deer.

14 comments:

kairu said...

I love reading about the gardens you have visited, and seeing the photographs of neatly clipped hedges and blooming flowers. Just before I left Seattle the rhododendrons, bluebells, and snow-drops were out in force, and my apartment was filled with the fragrance of white hyacinths. Soon it will be time to buy armfuls of peonies, with their fluffy petals and heavenly scent.

In India, the scent of jasmine was everywhere, in hotel lobbies and hidden gardens, even in the water we drank one night at dinner, basking in the relative cool of evening.

jaywalker said...

Always so many coincidences and 'degrees of separation". I have just finished reading Ruskin's biography inspired by watching "The Desperate Romantics" on TV. What a strange genius he was. Totally dominated by his parents, unable to consumate his marriage, obsessed to literal madness by Rose la Touche whom he barely saw more than a few times. Thank goodness he did actually write some marvellous criticism because he certainly wasn't a happy man. Having just watched Peter Ackroyd's "Venice" (we're always a bit behind the times here) I might now read some of his "Stones of Venice". BTW - Gorgeous photos and lovely description.

Sarah Standalone said...

A lovely post. I would also add to the Ruskin quote my favourite walking quote from Billy Connolly; there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.

This time of year is such an explosion of colour, the hedgerows look as if they have puffed themselves up and put on their Sunday best. I love your camellia photo, the blood red Rhododendrons in Rebecca's Cornwall always creep me out.

Andrew said...

Nice picture collection and blog is just amazing.
- st austell in cornwall

That's Not My Age said...

Beautiful photos and beautifully written, made me want to visit Hever Castle - haven't been there for years.

Lou said...

Thankyou for sharing this beautiful post with us ,Justine.Something about gardens always soothes the soul.

婉耿賢耿賢亞 said...
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Knitting Out Loud said...

Yes, thank you for sharing these beautiful photos. I love Robinson's "The English Flower Garden".

We are having a cold snap here and I froze to death at a sheep and wool festival this weekend. Definitely the wrong clothes!

Jasmine everywhere sounds lovely, kairu.

Lou said...

I have been reading more about the gardens you talk about in this post Justine.Are they far from London?I am travelling over to the UK later in the year and would love to visit them.They just sound and look so beautiful and bring to mind the Australian gardens of Edna Walling.(I have just found out that she was born in Devon...)
Also I think it's lovely to celebrate the birthdays of our loved ones by visiting the places that gave them so much joy. Another way of keeping their spirit alive...

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Justine Picardie said...

Sorry to be so slow in responding. Lou, you can visit these gardens; if you click on the links in the post, they should give you the opening times. Anyway, have loved reading everyone's comments and catching up with all of you...

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