It’s snowing outside. Heavy. Not quite a blizzard but it only takes a minute or two of walking in it before you are a snowman. Eyes almost frozen shut. And When you can see; everything is monochrome. And it’s a struggle to find the footpath from the road.
I’m at work this afternoon, but this morning I’ve other things to do. Important things. But, How often does it snow in this county ? Last I remember ‘proper ‘ was the winter of 2010/11 when he had weeks on end of the stuff. Ever since it’s been a bit pathetic really. And plus, My memory of it is so fickle and I’m glad of that. Snow will always be fascinating. I watch it slowly get heavier from the window, always with a brew in hand; In the distance I can hear the cry of excited school children, running outside on there lunch breaks for snowman building and snowball fights. How I envy them.
No no. No sledging for me. Stuff to be done, best get on.
…Well that never happened. It’s Snowing! That’s not an excuse for procrastinating; it is EXCITING, and I want to be out in it. After all, in all likelyhood this isn’t a real snow event: it’ll be gone tomorrow I expect.
And so I might not be able to go sledging or have a snowball fight, but what I can do is go and photograph it. And so I do, firstly to the bridge that goes over the viaduct of my local town:
And then, out in the car, (which now seemed a bit bloody daft: the roads were a death trap) to the old ‘big house’ as it were, where my dad Works as head gardener, a place I’ve always wanted to photograph in The snow.
To the greenhouses first, where we keep our bees:
And then through the woods:
And finally arriving at the big house itself:
Which looks very pretty indeed. On the way home I kick my self for not going around the other side of the house where the large Christmas Tree is. I’ll have to ask my dad to get a photo of it.
Back at home, in the garden the last flowers standing look even more pretty:
My wish to be snowed in so that I do not have to go to work has not come true. Not this time.
If it’s like this where you are, stay warm but most of all, stay safe. The roads are bad.
Driving home after a few days in the New Forest, the image on my Sat-nav tells that I am surrounded by field after field of the cheeriest of bright yellow. Fully blooming Oil Seed rape. At the time, these satellite images were probably taken with the bluest of sky above. The perfect combination. But that is far from the reality in front of me. The truth is that the landscape surrounding me on the A1 is at best, beige and bland. At worst, depressing. There is certainly no swathe of yellow flowers to be seen. A long way from those Halcyon Days of early summer. The constant drizzle only adds to this dreary picture of reality, and so turning my back to it the best way I know how, I begin to daydream away the miles…
It’d be a lie to say there is no beauty in these dank days though. There’s plenty. That sentiment more than anything is what I took away from my trip to the New Forest.
The place is a gift where beauty is concerned: Wild Horses roam whilst Deer and Stag do their best to be not seen. The sheer size of some of them conifers. In fact even just the thickness of their trunks. The sound of their name alone can send shivers through you (‘ Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘)
What about the colour of the tree scape at this time of year? Far from drab. Breathtaking.
Those are the more obvious things; it can often be more nuanced: The cosiness of those days where wearing Hat and Gloves are a necessity ( add a brolly to that list on days like this.), The fall of leaves from giant trees after just a gentle gust of wind, reminiscent of the first drops of snow in winter. The bird song louder than ever despite the fact a good number are leaving us behind for the winter.
The hoot of an owl as the evening draws in.
The toad stool beneath you.
There is beauty.
And now, more than at any other time of year, it stands out like a sore thumb.
Back on the road, I spot a Kestrel soaring above me. Gliding through the air. Racing. And beyond the bare fields there are hills that disappear into the clouds.
A mist floats like a ghost above the pasture land.
This landscape isn’t depressing. It’s magical.
We should all make the most of this wonderful season. Take it in, drag it out. Look at everything. Winter’s a long time and fast approaching, and with it of course, it’s own version of beauty.
I’m currently on my way home from a visit to the final day of ‘Apple Week’ at the National Trust’s Beningbrough Hall.
The second Apple Based Sunday in a row for myself, having visited the Autumn Fair at my local park last Sunday.
We’ve been looking forward to this event since late summer, having seen it advertised during our last visit to Beningbrough Hall.
And it didn’t disappoint 🍁🍏
There was interesting talks by the gardeners:
Apples on display:
47 Varieties in fact, all grown within the walled gardens and orchard.
But this one has to be the best named:
If not the most appetising sounding.
There was also Apple tasting:
I took a liking for the taste of ‘ Court of Wick’. Just the right amount of tang. Must find one for the allotment, if they’re available. Probably aren’t.
Later there would be Apple pressing; and most importantly, Apple juice tasting.
But before that we had an hour to spare wander the gardens. To see what what was surviving Autumn. And what wasn’t.
It’d be wrong not to have made time to have a walk around the gardens; seen as though they’re my absolute favourite of the National Trust. Favourite (.)
The sunshine was glorious. Lucky we were told. Grey all week apparently until today. There was heat in it too. I could have kid myself into mid summer. If it wasn’t for all the Pumpkins and Apples.
We sampled ( and later bought ) some of the honey mead. Delicious. Was on offer too. Wish we’d got two bottles.
And then, it was time, the main event for me: Apple Pressing. A crowd gathered as word of the Apple press being wheeled out spread through the gardens.
Before pressing the apples, they cut them up, the smaller they are the easier they are to press we were told. Wouldn’t like to get my hand caught in it mind.
And then the hard work of pressing began as the gardeners started cranking:
By the end of it it was definitely a three man job. Good work fellers.
The Apple juice was delicious. Beating anything you’ll buy in the shop. So refreshing in that midsummer sun too. Oh erm, Autumn, I mean.
All in all it was a lovely day, celebrating the best of Autumn and The hard work of summer.
A day that reminded me why Autumn is the best season of all.
Before leaving we visited the gift shop, where upstairs there was a second hand book sale. I’m a sucker for an old book, but this one from 1950 might definitely come in handy:
And this one from 1944:
A strange Christmas Present I thought.
A big thank you to all the National Trust workers and volunteers who made today so brilliant. A special thank you to the man, a volunteer I think, who’s name I didn’t get but who made a special effort to find out the name of two plants for us and came to find us later in the day to tell us. So kind.
The plants were ‘Poke weed’ which I didn’t get a photo of but is very unusual. And ‘Beauty Berry’ which is beautiful , If also unusual ( He did tell me the Botanical names but I didn’t dare attempt trying to spell them.
Eggleston Hall Walled Nursery and Gardens lies in the heart of Teesdale, on the upper course of the river Tees.
Which means technically, living a bit further down the Tees, I could get to the gardens via rubber dingy.
But in the end I (my partner) decided it would be easier just to take the car. A 40 minute journey and we had arrived.
But before entering there was just enough time for a bit of food and a cuppa in the tea rooms – good enough to be the sole reason for visiting; but it wasn’t. We were here for the Gardens.
There’s no ticket office here. Just this, an honesty box:
At 2.50 a head it really is a steal; this place puts a lot of other public gardens to shame. We gladly popped a fiver in.
You can pick up a leaflet at the honesty box which gives detail of the garden trail that you’ve just paid for – simply follow the numbered stones. It also tells you a little about the history of the place:
Whilst we tried to stick to the garden trail, it was easy to veer off and in the end, we just roamed without aim. First we were taken to the herbaceous borders;
Which, for an Autumn that started well before summer was supposed to end, for the heart of Teesdale, high up in the hills, were looking amazing.
It’s here you also get a glimpse into the restored Victorian greenhouses; as mentioned in the leaflet above.
Beautifully done, which makes me very happy indeed.
There’s also a wishing pool:
As if the place wasn’t charming enough already.
Still sticking to the trail, as you carry on down the winding paths, you’ll pass more herbacious perennials, shrubs and large trees:
Taking a quick detour (forced by curiosity.)
You’ll be taken down to the old churchyard:
The leaflet says that the ruined chapel dates back to 1612, with the gravestones reflecting this. It’s where a lot of Egglestone rarest plants lie.
And inside the chapel, large, Mature Trees now grow:
What charm. It’s even nicer in early spring. This was when I last visited:
Taking the steps back up to the main Gardens, we followed the outside wall which had a collection of beautiful roses trained along it:
There’s also nails embedded in the wall: some of which, were knocked in by gardeners 100’s of years ago.
Through an archway:
And past the behind the scenes bits:
Which in all great Gardens, you should never be too far away from ( I think anyway.)
You’ll reach the Nursery, which is just as wonderful as the formal areas, if on an enormous scale:
It’s in the actual walled garden, but there’s so many plant’s, you can barely see the wall until your next to it. All grown on site; all for sale. Apart from the ones that are being kept future years stock:
Emersed in taking photos, we sort of lost track of the official garden trail. So we just aimlessly roamed:
The wall is adorned with lots of espalier fruits:
And also the Angel of the North:
And proper walled garden gates:
There’s step over Apples, leading to a pergola of apples:
And, high in the hills, plenty of windfalls.
A stream leads you back to the shop and entrance:
But firstly you’ll pass the Hosta House,
Which, for any Hosta lover is a paradise.
The shop area is planted beautifully:
And all kinds of wildlife ( although I’m not sure this last one really counts)
And inside, like out, there’s ghosts:
This is a true plantsmans nursery. Ran by true plantsmen. From the leaflet:
It’s so much more than that though. Eggleston is a special place. Unique, Warm and honest. Magic.
The owners of Eggleston Gardens and Nursery have generously set up a brilliant YouTube Channel; on it you can find out a lot more about the nursery , and indeed what it takes to run one. Search on Youtube ‘ Plantsmans Corner’ or ‘Eggleston gardens’ . It’s a brilliantly funny learning resource for the budding horticulturalist. You’ll learn a hell of a lot from it.
Astrophotography is something I’ve dabbled in before. ( Not that it’s a taboo or anything.)
Let’s be honest: We’ve all dabbled in it, even if it’s just trying to capture a full moon on your smart phone whilst walking home from the pub. #guilty
Despite not having the best equipment, I’ve sometimes managed to get some good results:
Eclipses, Certain phases of the Moon, the night sky in general; anything to do with astrology in fact, are all thing I know nothing about. Absolutely zilch. But they do intrigue me. The night sky is a beautiful thing.
The Perseid Meteor Shower which happens every year in August also falls into that category of things about the night sky that I know nothing about yet intrigue me.
I missed it last, but as you can see above I did try and capture it the year before.
Since getting an allotment, I’ve always wanted to go up and have a look at night; I imagined there’d be a much better view of the stars than in the middle of a light polluted estate and since the weatherman said on the local news that the Meteor Shower was going to be the best show in years, I finally had an excuse.
Only later, the same Weatherman was telling me there was a chance of being clouded out for it. It was an umming and ahhing situation. But finally at about 9 last night, and seeing several breaks in the clouds, I decided I’d go up. Still light I set up my camera and taking some test shots, I wasn’t enthusiastic, the clouds were getting thicker:
Camera set up on it’s tripod, chair dug out of the greenhouse, all I could do now was wait for darkness to fall. It dragged out; and very quickly I decided that I didn’t want to be here; the allotments, surrounded by woodland, are a very scary place at night I’ve found: I’ve never seen or heard as many ghosts, this got worse as it got darker. At one point I thought I heard the sound of a spade cutting into the earth. The ghost of an old Gardener who once had a plot here. Endlessly digging. It had to be. There’s no other explanation. I turned on my radio for comfort. It didn’t help much.
It was still cloudy by the time It got dark. But there were enough breaks to still come out with interesting results. Setting the camera to its longest shutter speed (30 seconds) and locking it in with a remote shutter I left it to do its thing: taking one 30 second exposure after another for around 20 minute to half an hour each time. I’d normally set my shutter speed to around 8 seconds for this sort of thing as at 30 seconds the stars start to trail ( something to do with the speed of the earths orbit) , but in this case it was what I wanted. Here’s some of the results:
This last one I prefer without the star-trail as it’s the only one in which I captured an actual meteor:
The clouds, although annoying, did mean you could do some interesting things:
If you missed it last night , there’s still a good chance of catching 2017’s Perseid Meteor shower tonight; just hope for clear skies.
As I said above, these were certainly never going to be professional quality;but I’m happy with them. Light pollution in most places is unavoidable. Clouds can’t be controlled and you have to have decent, expensive equipment if your hoping for something that NASA may want to buy off you.
Anyone who wants to give astrophotography a go can. All you need is a camera that has the ability to shoot in manual mode; it doesn’t have to be a DSLR. You’ll need a tripod or a steady surface though. I use a remote shutter control to avoid shaking the camera but if you don’t have one of these you can just set a 5 second delay so that you don’t wobble the camera when taking the picture.
The star trail effect is made by ‘ glueing’ lots of photos on top of each other. The last one shows half an hour in one image. Lots of free programmes will do this for you. I use starstax for windows.
You might not want to photograph them either. Just watch them. Your cameras almost always facing the wrong way anyway. But simply Seeing the meteors is a breathtaking experience. They’re a bit like them fireworks that go up silently and then just fizzle away. What are they called? Look out for falling stars too.
You might not be interested what so ever. That’s okay too. At the end of the day, they’re just stars.
‘Greening Grey Britain’ isn’t a campaign that I think my local town really needs. It is already colourful, in both it’s buildings and its characters (how cliche.)
But where Gardening is concerned, our town doesn’t do to bad either. There’s Some wonderful gardens in the side streets and the wynds and under the arches of the viaduct.
Most of the hanging baskets on the high street are looked after splendidly by the shops that they are outside of. I think I managed to get photos from each side of the Town Hall with a hanger in the foreground.
I think it is our local pub that does us most proud. Always a fabulous display. The Landlord, as my allotment neighbour once told me, is ‘ a hell of a gardener.’ Round the back, in the beer garden, there is espalier fruit trees. ( I resisted the temptation to visit it though.)
These were all taken tonight on a walk down during the golden hour. The walk back up involved fish and chips and a setting sun:
Don’t get me wrong. When it’s good, it’s second to none. But for me, this year at least, it’s been a season of disappointment in a lot of things: not just the weather. But if you’re clever about it, It can also be a season of learning lessons from disappointment.
It’s a season where you realise that those things which were so full of promise in Spring, are fragile. And if they’re not fragile, then they’re often temperamental.
But most of all It’s season of waking up.
The other seasons, to me, are all about hope. Dreaming and hoping. Seasons of lessons learnt and trying again.
I think I’m done now, with being disappointed in this Summer. I’m done with verging on the brink of bitterness: The harvests from the allotment haven’t been the greatest this year – Okay, they haven’t been terrible, but they certainly haven’t matched up to what I dreamed was to come when I first started ground preparations way back in Autumn. Seeing that the Potatoes have Blight has probably been the most disappointing thing: I knew it was coming long before the physical signs appeared on the leaves. The weather was the warning, but there was nothing I could do about it. And now the only potatoes without the dreaded Blight, are the ones that grow out of the side of my composter.
I love summer, and I’m not wishing time away; I can wait and make the most of what’s left of it, but I crave a new air and a new light. I think this means I’m ready for Autumn: Ready, when the time comes, to wave goodbye to summer and start afresh – like leaping into a new year, shrugging off the last.
I’m looking forward to a future that is, to a point, certain: The shortening of the days and being able to watch the Sunrise at a reasonable hour – The crunching of crispy leaves underfoot, waiting to be collected for the making of leaf mould – Late harvests and late blooms – The smell of smoke from a crackling bonfire as a well sharpened spade makes contact with an earth hardened from those first frosts; A Robin for company.
But most of all, I’m looking forward to dreaming and hoping again.
Despite probable neglect, things in the garden seem to be happening, whether I want it too or not.
(I mean HOW? Last I remember we were still in the aftermath of Christmas. We were all looking forward to the great coming of the snowdrops! And now we’re in MID-JULY! THE SHOPS’LL HAVE HALLOWEEN OUT SOON!!!)
Some of this happening, is good:
But there are other happenings, that I wish weren’t. *Cough* WEEDS. *Sneeze* Pardon me.
Said ‘neglect’, came in the form of a holiday. 11 Nights, All-Inclusive, Ice cream coming out of my eyes, Beer on Tap, 99% lying down, sun turned up high and lots of books. Heaven. HEAVEN.
Garlic and Onions drying in the log store.
The French beans last year, were the highest performers. What a bloody let down this year. They’re growing up wigwams alongside the sweet peas ( far right and far left of this image). In my head this looked great. It should look great. But them bloody French beans have let us all down.
The Carrots may also be destined for the naughty step.
The squash patch is a mixed bag.
The courgettes are doing grand. Pumpkins? Nothing so far.
When I was away, the Greenhouse, was looked after splendidly by two of my allotment neighbours, proving once again, that the allotment community cannot be beat (unless of course, you have a plot on this allotment site, which actually is just down the road from where I live. It’s full out war. How sad. How pathetic. How not what allotments are about.) I gifted my two neighbours with bottles of ale upon my return (once I had made sure everything was still alive, of course. )
I think that takes us up to now. I’ve got a few days off work this week, which actually means I don’t have any days off at all. Cos’ there’s a hell of a lot of weeding to be done.
The trip to Harlow Carr was a spontaneous decision; after struggling to decide which National Trust property to visit ( a bit like arguing over what to watch on Netflix) we turned to the local attraction recommendations listed in the guest book in the hotel room. Rhs Harlow Carr was first on the list. The decision was made. And the weather, as indicated in my tweet, was perfect for it.
So less than a year since our first visit in high summer, we returned. Paying for our ticket (rather begrudgingly on my behalf, having gotten used to flashing my National Trust card at their properties like a Police Detective would show his ID badge before swanning into a crime scene.) We were told for another 20 quid we could have annual RHS membership, I politely declined. We entered and like the last time we visited we instinctively headed left out of the doors towards the Western side of the garden. Although there’s no official route, this is the direction we headed. Why do we always go the same way? Routine?
Anyway, My first thought upon entering:
‘Can I change my mind? Yes I do want RHS membership for an extra £20.00?’
No, I was told.
Going this way, past the Stream-side, and faux potting sheds ( I’m not sure I see the point in these. I want to see the real thing.)
…You’ll reach the lakeside garden, arguably my favourite part of the gardens. In fact, I think I’d like this to be my back garden. It wouldn’t be that hard to replicate neither. Inspirational.
This is the lake, ’tis lovely. Lovelier without that building perhaps? Carrying on through the woodland, you’ll be greeted by scent it self. If ever I wasn’t convinced by the small, shrubby, Rhododendrons I knew before, I’m now a complete convert. Oh, and if scent doesn’t float your boat (Voldermort?)
What about sheer beauty?
This one was my favourite, a den and a Rhododendron in one. A RhodoDENdron. It was Rhododendron ‘Moonlight.’
Gone to seed. Maybe not one for people who suffer Arachnophobia.
Carrying on, you will pass the wild flower meadow, with beauty only the eyes can appreciate.
Further into the meadow, past randomly placed (but irresistible) musical instruments, you’ll find this. The Pollinators lawn. A simple concept capable of being very effective. I wasn’t sure at first, but I think I like it. Anyway, it’s not there to be liked.
And now, when walking past apparently scruffy unkempt front lawns on the estate, full o’ Daisies and Dandelions, like the bees, I shall see a meadow.
Moving on through the woodland.
This is the first glimpse you’ll get of the main borders. But we’ll come back to them later.
…Past now invasive Skunk cabbage, you’ll reach the Cafe and a drink was definitely needed.
And if the words ‘Skunk Cabbage’ weren’t enough to get your appetite going, I don’t know what is.
Studying the various varieties of Tea they had on offer, In the end I opted for, erm, well, just Tea.
After tea, the sky started to spit and hoods went up everywhere. I could sense a level of panic.
Just as we reached the main borders, the heavens opened and people began to disappear. Of all the grey days in May, it was one of the sunniest and most promising on which it pissed down. Typical. I of course blame my self, for the Sod’s law that tweets like mine above always provide. ‘ You hope it’s not gunna rain eh? I’ll teach you for hoping !’
And so From the Main border, we headed for this pond.
Here, whilst sat huddled under a brolly, suitably sheltered and wondering where everyone else had gone for shelter, the work went on for one poor gardener.
I think it would be fair to say he got rained on. And I feel guilty to admit that it added a certain amount of comfort to watch him work, us glad not to be in his shoes at that particular moment in time.
We watched as the rain drops made contact with the pool of water. I tried and failed to photograph the circular patterns it made. It was peaceful, and right then I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
And after being held in peaceful trance by water, we headed back through the main border, and admired the Alliums, which, 1 week later to the day, in my back garden anyway, are making way for Verbena Bonariensis.
with one last look back,
We headed, through the vegetable garden ( I insisted, ‘Just to see what’s going on.’) and into the ‘Alpine House.’ Finally winning the game of ‘us VS everyone else in the gardens hide and seek.
By the time we were due to leave I was utterly convinced that I had to claim that membership we were offered at the ticket desk. So I did, and I got a free shopping bag.
I thought I’d share some photos with you that were taken over the bank holiday weekend at two gardens over two separate days. The first, on the last day of April, my Birthday, was the Alnwick Garden, roughly an hour north from where I live. The second was Benningbrough Hall, roughly an hour south, on May Day.
Alnwick Garden – 30th April 2017
The Alnwick garden is huge. It’s also wonderful; a perfect day out. A fun fair for adults (Kids’ll love it too – especially the poison garden, which is absolutely fascinating) (I hope that doesn’t too sinister.). If you want to read a more in depth write up of the gardens, please head over to this post by fellow garden blogger, Lou Nicholls. Disappointingly, I forgot to pack a spare battery for my DSLR, so after half an hour, I was using my phone, which might mean the quality of the photos is a bit inconsistent.
Alnwick Gardens Gallery.
Beningbrough Hall – 1st May 2017
Beningbrough hall was a more spontaneous trip, we decided to go and were half way there within an hour – might as well get some more use out of our National Trust membership, we thought to our selves ( which, at under a tenner a month, is worth every penny.) To be quite honest we weren’t expecting much from the gardens, I don’t think they are really advertised as much as they should be on the NT website. All formal lawns, was what we expected. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The Beningbrough gardens are beautiful. Magical even. They’re the type of gardens that you can fall in love with. I have. They remind me of the Country House garden my Dad looked after when I was a child – Full of little nooks and crannies, long garden corridors, different ‘Rooms’, Beautiful walled gardens with espalier trained fruit. There is something of interest around every corner, and what’s more it feels just as preserved as the big house itself – a complete contrast to the Alnwick garden which definitely has a more modern feel about it – despite being a renovation of a garden as old as the hills. But is also equally as breathtaking.
Beningbrough is a proper working garden, and is truly charming because of it.
Beningbrough Hall Gallery.
Because I wasn’t expecting Beningbrough to be as brilliant as it was, I decided not to bother to pack my good camera, so these are all taken on my I Phone. My own rule for photography is that if you have to ask your self ‘should I bring my camera?’ then the answer is always ‘YES you absolutely should’, but on this day, I broke the rule. Next time I will be better prepared. Despite this, I’m actually quite pleased with the quality of these.
For all the photos I’ve taken on my phone I now use the Adobe Lightroom mobile app for editing, which is a surprisingly powerful piece of software that does nearly everything the Desktop version of the software does. The Mobile version of Photoshop has also come a long way since it’s first release, and I highly recommend anyone who already subscribes to Adobe to try them out.