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‘X’ Marks the Spot

27 Apr

‘Are you looking for treasure?’ I asked a man who had been standing on a wooden footbridge over the River Cherwell for some time. He held a walking map in plain view.

‘No,’ he said – soft Kiwi accent, grey beard, the same discreet hearing aid as my father. ‘But I’ll show you treasure. Look at that.’ He pointed to a wide, shallow stump that must once have been a magnificent chestnut – others shaded the river bank. Only that resilient old stump wasn’t just a stump at all: it was covered in dozens of leafy new shoots.

‘That’s treasure,’ he said.

The Cherwell Boathouse is a very nice place to eat.

So is The Old Parsonage, where you might, just might, one day spot John Simpson enjoying a drink at the end of the day.

If you wander along the meadows and river banks here, now, you’ll see snakeshead fritillaries in their prime, narcissus just over, dead nettle beginning, willow catkins, perhaps a heron gulping down a fish, punts inexpertly punted.

And, thinking of Xs, it is Freedom Day in South Africa today.

Walk Beside the River

18 Jul


Roger Deakin swam here.

I would, too.

Cattle on the banks.

Beds of damp clover.

Buttercup meadow.

Swallows, now specks, against blue sky.


















Flower Shows

22 May

There is a very large and glamorous flower show in full swing at the moment…

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but this year I think I prefer the one happening in the garden and on the streets.

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On to flower shows of a different but not unrelated kind. Do listen to Sir David Attenborough talking to James Naughtie on BBC Radio 4 this morning about the high number of declining plant and animal species in England outlined in the recently published State of Nature report.

‘It confirms your worst thoughts, really,’ Attenborough says.  ‘We’ve got this extraordinary expertise in destroying, poisoning and knocking down things.’

You’ll find the clip here.

Before that leaves you too depressed, have a look at the website of Plantlife, a charity dedicated to saving wild plants and their habitats, which I find consistently inspiring and motivating – two very good things. Plantlife, along with the RSPB and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, is one of the 25 wildlife charities that contributed to the report.

Duchesses and Ladies, BBC Presenters and a £57,000 Lavatory

19 May

Hello again. It has been far too long, for which I am so sorry. I’m going to post some snaps from where I’ve been – some will seem wildly out of date now that the lilacs are flowering and the copper beech in the garden is in full leaf but no matter.

Hope to be back in the swing of things after Chelsea press day, tomorrow.

First, to Cerney House Gardens near Cirencester, open for the NGS at the end of April. The long cold winter we’ve had had delayed everything and deer had been sniffing out the choicest tulip buds for an evening snack. Ergo, the garden was a thinner than most years at the at this time, I am told, but the array of daffodils was cheering.

Having spent the past few months commissioning summer features on conservatories, summer houses and similar structures, I was particularly taken by the greenhouse. I loved the dirty gloves, the abandoned coffee mug, the chitting potatoes. Cerney House is owned Lady Angus, who also makes, with help, I presume, a superb goats cheese which is sold at farmers’ markets in these parts.

The knot garden, looking rather bleak, I’m afraid.

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Daffodils in great variety – only a few shown here

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The glorious greenhouse

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A couple of an outbuilding – I love working buildings which smell of engine oil and have unusual implements stacked up in dark corners

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On, then, to Oxford, ahead of May Morning, a day of carousing and revelry on May 1. Festivities begin at 6am when the Magadalen College choir sings from the top of Magdalen tower. Perhaps the greengrocer’s apostrophe here was included in a fit of spring-time enthusiasm.

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Home, along the A40, through Asthall, Widford and Swinbrook, where adjacent to the Windrush river lies what must be the loveliest cricket pitch in all England. Asthall Manor nearby is the former home of the five fantastically eccentric and aristocratic Mitford sisters: Diana, Nancy, Jessice, Unity and Deborah. Deborah, now Deborah Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, still owns a pub at Swinbrook – it is called The Swan Inn and there are lots of framed pictures of the family inside, should you be interested in such things and care to look. But the cricket pitch…isn’t it beautiful?

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The end of April and still bare trees and a puff of wood smoke coming from chimney. Do you see the handsome pheasant in the foreground?

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I hope I’ve balanced all the Ladies and Duchesses in this post with mention of May Day but in case this is rather too full of titles for your taste, here’s Suffolk and a few snaps from a bank holiday weekend near the coast.

Being so flat, in winter sometimes oppressively so, especially when subjected to the east wind which howls in across the marshes, Suffolk is perfect for cycling. We found some bikes in the garden shed, pumped up the tires and set off for Darsham where, wonder of wonders, Libby Purves was shortly to open a £57,000 church loo. I am sure the church treasurer said it had cost £57,000, although this seems an outrageous figure. Ironically, the loo is twinned with one donated by the church to a community in Bangladesh. One loo in Bangladesh, mind. How many Bangladeshi lavatories could £57 000 build? I didn’t take a picture.

Elegant bike at the ready. Rope swing on the right just waiting for children and the summer holidays.

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Church yard – loo not included

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Later, some boats at Orford. According to the community newsletter, Nic Robinson, who seems to live there, was due to give a public talk about his life in the coming weeks. It seems this part of Suffolk is Ground Zero for BBC presenters. Lovely smell of the sea and mudflats, with crayfish and other local seafood for sale from wooden huts on the shore. There was also an ice-cream van selling ice-cream sandwiches but we were being grown-ups and so passed it by. More’s the pity…

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Finally, a tender snakes-head fritillary from the garden. Beautiful.

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