May 2014.

I've bought a campervan as a 60th birthday present to myself, made some curtains and a patchwork quilt, waved goodbye to my family, and set off. My aim is to explore the coastline of Britain, anti clockwise, starting in Kent. I have no idea what will happen.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Gardens great and small

I recently (mid May) visited Levens near Kendal in Cumbria which is one of my favourite gardens. I took Emma, a good friend who is doing an RHS course in practical gardening. Her tutor, who once worked at Levens, had told Emma how much she loved it too.
The gardens at Levens date back more than 300 years and are most famous for their wonderful, ancient, wonky topiary, and the vast beech hedge and circle. It is magical at any time - early in the morning, under the mid-day sun and when cast with long shadows at dusk. It is such a mixture of structure and surprise, formality and freedom.
The topiary is underplanted with blocks of colour and the winter bedding was about to be taken out and replaced with verbenas, double daisies and antirrhinums for summer.
It was the first time I have been there so early in the year, and we picked a perfect two days when the beech leaves were out, still soft, and bright, bright green, and the topiary still sharp from winter. The sun was brilliant and we sat outside while the south of England was grey and damp - that was another first for me because it can rain in Cumbria like nowhere else, hence the number of fantastic gardens there.

Before breakfast we walked in the Park, once a medieval deer park (modernised around 1700!), along the great avenue of oaks and where the river Kent wends its way. I could just see myself in my neat button boots and my bonnet, passing the deer and the sheep and the rare breed Bagot goats on my way to meet the militia at the top of the Park...
(Lovely pictures Emma!)
Levens is only 5 minutes from J36 on the M6 and well worth a visit. It has an excellent cafe too. Check the website for opening hours.

Much closer to home, near Petersfield, there is a house I frequently pass with a table of plants and an honesty box outside the gate. The table looks tempting and I always mean to stop - neat rows of canes and pea sticks sticking up behind the wall promise confident crops of beans, etc.
Last week I did stop, in a bit of a rush, and bought a couple of courgette plants and a hardy geranium. No one was about but over the wall I could see how perfect it looked ... healthy beans as I suspected, and sweet peas, well advanced.
I realised when I got home that I had taken one of their labels which had been carefully stuck on a stick and protected by polythene from the rain, so a couple of days later I took it back. A lady was working in the garden - tracking moles who were causing havoc in her beds - and she showed me round. Her daughter, she said, did the flowers, and she did the veg. I learned such a lot from her, and loved the order she had created in that front garden.  People who sell their plants and cuttings outside the gate are just bound to be nice people!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Back in India again

Not really.... but I went to  see a terrific Gujarati production of All's Well That Ends Well. It was part of the Globe to Globe season at the Shakespeare Festival where all 37 of Shakespeare's plays are put on in different languages.
Why did it seem a strange thing to do – to go to the Globe Theatre to see  the most quintessentially english playwright performed in another tongue? I can't think why, because Shakespeare's tales are so brilliant and convoluted and this production buzzed with all the  drama and theatricality of India. Just the language was different.
This was the first appearance of the Arpana theatre company in England and this production was only on for two nights – they all are. Arpana brought an irresistible energy to the play with lots of singing and dancing.  It was boiling hot and the audience were largely indian and not in need of the (very spare)  sub-titles. We missed a lot of the subtleties of what was said (which was fair enough) judging by the audience's hysterical laughter. It didn't matter.
The season's nearly over and I am looking forward to an english language version of Henry V which rounds off Globe to Globe.. and wonder if there are still any tickets for Hamlet in Lithuanian..

Monday, 28 May 2012

A lupin from Kashmir?

How lovely it would be, I thought, to take some lupins back to England. To recreate a little corner of Gulmarg at home in West Sussex. It was July last year and I was in Gulmarg in the north Indian state of Kashmir and Jammu.  I wrote here of how much I loved Kashmir and the Kashmiri people. I had stayed on Lake Dal in a wonderful Butt's Cleremont houseboat moored on the northern shore of the lake looking out across its  mirror flat waters to the mountains. I watched the incredible variety of birds who nest there and the people who make their simple living on its shores.

Then to Gulmarg ('Meadow of Flowers'). I was to stay with Daisy Nedou at Nedous Hotel, the top hotel at this popular winter ski resort. We chattered for an hour + as her car wound up the mountain from Srinigar to 8000'.  The ski crowd love them place  because of its wonderful powder snow and the famous gondola which them up to 13500'. 

I could only imagine all this - the whole village under a blanket of snow from November to March - hearty skiers swooshing by in sub-freezing temperatures. July is high summer and the village is popular with local tourists riding ponies round the meadows and enjoying the summer sunshine. Soon after the snow clears in March the flowers appear - daffodils and daisies, then lupins. Daisy's husband's great-grandfather, who started the hotel in 1888 , brought lupin seed from England and they have since blown all over the village. 

It was perhaps a bit early for them, but I picked some of the more advanced silver downy seed heads from the bank outside my cottage at Nedous, and made a bag from some (rather nasty) synthetic material with fine holes where I thought they would be secure and well aired. I would take a photograph of my lupins and send it to Daisy.

I hung my bag in a cool dry place when I got home and in March I opened the silvery pods and gathered the tiny seed… Not many, I must say. I sowed them in fine compost and put a plastic bag over to encourage germination on my kitchen windowsill, and waited… and kept them moist, not too wet. I think I did get a bit precious about my lupins; consulting gardening experts on what I should do to encourage them, planning the site under the cherry tree towards the Downs. My own little bit of Kashmir, here at home. The trouble with travelling alone is that when you reminisce it has to be with someone who wasn't there. I think eyes did roll heavenward.

Out of all those pods, only two seeds came up, and a cheeky blade of grass. One of my seeds looked  good from the start, the other always looked weak. I kept them in the kitchen until the stronger one looked well established, and then moved the pot out to the greenhouse. The little one died, as I feared it would, but the other thrived. Never mind, I thought, from one lupin a meadow can grow. But as its leaves (4 or 5) appeared they looked rather more coarse than I would have expected, thicker and without the crinkly edges I imagine a tiny lupin leaf to have. 

Next to my lupin pot a couple of my husband's tomato plants looked on as I cooed over my Kashmiri lupin. And then it dawned on me - that I was cooing over a small tomato plant…. How did that happen?  

"Oh dear!" my sister failed to stifle her mirth. "Do you think it is an indian tomato plant?" No. Quite obviously it is a very ordinary, well loved, english tomato plant.