I think in the Summer we are overwhelmed with the colour, abundance and voluptuousness of flowers that we see the whole more than the detail. However in Winter and Autumn we can look more closely and notice more. The pattern and texture of the lichen above sums this up very well. There is a crisp feel to the lichen and a fragility although it is quite robust.
I am increasingly finding trees more and more fascinating. We take them so much for granted and see them as a whole rather than looking at them carefully. This was brought home to me when I recently reviewed Seeing Trees and I have started to look more closely.
I love the texture of bark and the variations that you get. I think the photo above is of American Black Walnut which I took last year at Arley Arboretum. I was really taken with the ruggedness of the bark with the deep crevices. If you didn’t know better it might be a photo of some ploughed rough mud. In contrast you then have bark like the one below. The colours are warm and the texture reminds me of sheets of tissue paper. I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember which tree this is but I suspect it is an Acer of some form.
Sometimes, the patterns of the bark stand out from quite a distance as with this tree at Portmeirion. To me this tree looks more like an artistic creation, all sweeps and curves – it reminds me of a ballet dancer performing an arabesque.
I wondered how the branches become so twisted looking, its very strange but quite magical.
Even the bleached timber of a split log is beautiful, full of pattern and texture.
And then there are man-made patterns. I discovered this at Portmeirion. It is a tree stump and small coins have been inserted in it. We couldn’t quite work out how, there is a deliberate pattern and it appears that at some time the wood grain had been more open enabling the coins to be inserted and then it dried up and encased the money.
If we choose to look more carefully and closely at the trees and plants around us we will discover so much more. A way of doing this is to take close up photographs or even draw what we see. I have learnt from my botanical art classes that nature is full of texture and pattern much of which we are blind to.
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The word for this week’s Word for Wednesday is ‘ephemeral’ which has taken me back a year to last autumn when I was trying to lodge horticultural theory in my head in order to pass my RHS 2 certificates.
According to the Royal Horticultural Society ‘ephemeral’ refers to a plant that has more than one life cycle in one growing season and increases in number rapidly. Many weeds fall into this category such as groundsel or my personal favourite hairy bittercress (photo above). This is also the definition used by botanists so you have: ephemeral, annual, biennial, herbaceous perennial, woody plants and so on.
So why is hairy bittercress a favourite of mine? Well its latin name is one of the few I could remember for my exam and learning correct latin names was key to gain points which personally I think is ridiculous. Surely its more important to understand things like photosynthesis etc than reciting latin names verbatum. Anyway even my eldest son (20) a year later knows that cardamine hirsuta is hairy bittercress, possibly as I stood repeating it endlessly as I was ironing.
But the other thing that I found really interesting when I was learning about ephemeral plants was the difference in opinion as to what plants this actually referred to. I have noticed that, particularly on US blogs, ephemeral is often used to refer to spring plants. The dictionary definition of ephemeral is something that lasts for a very brief period of time and I suppose you can think of snowdrops and crocuses in this way – they are often described as having an ephemeral beauty but they aren’t ephemeral plants they are spring bulbs. I have also seen Dicentra (Bleeding Heart) described as ephemeral and again I have to disagree. Dicentra is a spring perennial, its leaves remains above the ground for months, well in my garden it does, and the flowers aren’t that quick to disappear. No one ever seems to refer to late summer perennials or bulbs as ephemeral and I wonder why the use of this word seems to be so associated with spring?
It will be very interesting to see how other decide to write about ephemeral today and I shall be popping over to Garden Walk Garden Talk’s blog, who hosts this meme, to find the links to other posts.
I have decided to take part in Garden Walk Garden Talk’s fortnightly meme ‘Word for Wednesday’ as I think the intellectual challenge will get my brain working, especially as winter draws in as there isn’t so much to blog about. This fortnight’s word is Evolve or Evolution. I have pondered about this for several days. I can’t write about the evolution of plants as this is such a huge subject; maybe I could talk about a particular plant evolving, growing from seed but I don’t have any appropriate photos which I think is important; I could write about my garden evolving but I have done that quite a bit recently. So I have decided to write about the evolution of English garden design. I have to right from the start issue a warning to this post. I am not a garden design historian or expert, this post is based purely on gardens I have visited which illustrated certain styles loosely arranged in historical order and yes I am sure there are stages missing.
So we will start with the top photo taken at Aberglasney Garden in Carmarthenshire in Wales. The photo is of the Cloister Garden from the end of the Elizabethan period. This is a rare example of a terraced walkway. The grass has bulbs planted in it but not en mass as we might do now but more dotted around to create a jewelled effect. I suspect the cost of getting bulbs from the European/Asian borders was probably quite high at this time and so they would be treated as individual gems. As with many grand gardens through the ages the purpose is to demonstrate the owner’s wealth and to provide a place for walking and talking.
We now jump forward from the end of the 17th century to the Landscape Movement of garden design in the mid 18th century. This is Croome Park in Worcestershire about 20 minutes drive from me and the first garden Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was commissioned to design. During this period of garden design the focus was on creating grand views. Again, this was all about showing wealth and in order to create the garden above a medieval church was demolished, a whole village was relocated and the manor house moved and rebuilt. They must have needed very good imagination as unlike now they wouldn’t have been planting vast fully grown trees and in most cases the owner would never see the parkland in its full mature glory.
Moving swiftly on through time missing out the formal Victorian period with lots of massed planting we end up at the end of the Victorian period when Gertrude Jekyll was considered the ‘must-have’ designer. Jekyll, like William Robinson in The Wild Garden, had moved away from the vast brightly coloured Victorian bedding scheme and adopted a more naturalistic approach although not what we would consider naturalistic. Her approach was to introduce vast herbaceous borders with the plants very cleverly coordinated and harmonious. I should state that the borders above are not a Jekyll design but are the nearest I can find from gardens I have visited. These are at Kiftsgate Garden and date from around 1920.
Across the road from Kiftsgate is Hidcote Gardens (above) which is a fine example of the Arts & Crafts movement of garden design. Jekyll was involved in this movement but it was truly taken forward by the likes of Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst and Lawrence Johnson at Hidcote with the introduction of themed rooms. I think with the Arts and Crafts movement the focus on displaying wealth was less important and it was more about the beauty of the garden, the interplay of colours and plants. Both Hidcote and Kiftsgate were created at the start of the 20th century.
If we continue to move forward to the 1940-60s we come to the garden of Margery Fish, East Lambrook Manor. Margery Fish is attributed with taking the chocolate box image of cottage gardens so popular in the late Victorian period and created what we would now call ‘The Cottage Garden’. Unlike the proper original cottage gardens which combined edibles with flowers along with chickens and maybe a pig the romanticised Cottage Garden style is more about artfully mixed perennials, shrubs, annuals etc. This is a style which is very much still popular in the UK today.
Finally, I leave you with Bryans Ground in Herefordshire – a garden I adore. This is very much an evolving garden having been created over the last 20 or so years. There are areas which would be described as cottage gardens but then there is the vast planting of Iris siberica (above) which I think is simply breath-taking. The ground also contain an arboretum which is progressively being added to and there is a cleverness and artistic hand behind the alleys of trees and vistas. I think Bryan’s Ground is bringing our journey almost full circle. The formality of the Iris siberica planting reminds me of the formality of the Elizabethan Cloister Garden but taken to another level.
I find it fascinating to look at how English garden design has evolved and the factors that have contributed to it whether it be the discoveries of plants from around the world, the need to display wealth and the shifting of that wealth to the new classes of people and then in the 20th century the idea of gardening as more of a past time for all classes rather than the preserve of the rich.
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