Farewell poor Felix. We knew thee well.

The Prunus campanulata, that is. We farewelled the person – Mark’s Dad – back in 1997. The magnolia named by Mark for him continues to thrive here and we have several specimens planted around the property, including the original plant. The prunus – we have just the one and it may not pull through.

A definite lean. In fact it has fallen over, though the root system is still in the ground.

I noticed two days ago that the tree had a major lean. On closer inspection, it became clear that only the brick wall was holding it up and I was a bit worried about whether it could bring down the wall. Mark set about removing the weight that was pulling it to one side. He will cut the tree back hard and we will look at putting a prop in place but we doubt it will survive.

Prunus ‘Felix Jury’ is the reddest campanulata that we know of

Prunus campanulata ‘Felix Jury’ was named by the nursery Duncan and Davies for Felix, because he was the originator of this selection. It is simply not done to name a plant after oneself. It is still the deepest carmine red bloom on the NZ market and is much beloved by our native tui. Being a smaller growing, upright form, it has been popular as a garden plant. Unfortunately, it is not sterile so it sets seed which makes it problematic in areas where campanulata has become a noxious weed. We do a lot of weeding out of seedling cherries here because the birds spread the seed far and wide.

We will try and keep a plant going as part of the Jury collection. Hopefully this tree will stay alive until late spring so Mark can take some cuttings off it. The optimum time for taking cuttings from deciduous plants in our conditions is December.

Native tui feeding from a campanulata cherry but it looks too pink to be ‘Felix Jury”

I do not think I have ever told the story of the naming of Camellia ‘Julie Felix’. It would have been very poor form for Felix to name it for himself but he really liked it. Enter Julie Felix, the American-born folk singer who made her name in Britain in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She was touring NZ and doing a concert in New Plymouth. Felix thought that naming the camellia Julie Felix was a subtle play on names that would suit his purposes. Besides, though he took no interest in music, he liked her songs.

“You can’t do that without her permission,” protested his wife, Mimosa. She was a great woman for the telephone was Mimosa, so she tracked down that Julie Felix was staying at the Devon Hotel in New Plymouth and tried to call her. Whoever took the call – almost certainly the Devon receptionist – wouldn’t put her through to the singer’s phone so Mimosa explained (no doubt at great length) that she was trying to contact her for permission to name a camellia after her. “I am sure that will be fine,” said the person at the other end, very kindly.

So there we are. Permission was sought for this name and consent was give – by the receptionist at the Devon Hotel. I doubt that the singer ever knew there was a camellia bearing her name although it never was named for her. In a typically convoluted fashion, Felix was naming it for himself.

Ironically, I can’t even find a photograph of it, even though we have a big plant close to the house. I must set that right this winter when it comes into bloom again. It never achieved the status of his better known camellia cultivars like ‘Water Lily’ and ‘Dreamboat’ and ‘Mimosa Jury’. But Felix clearly rated it highly.

Meet Albert

Albert the piwakawaka

May I introduce you to Albert – about 8 grams of chattering, feathered confidence? Albert has learned that the laundry door is left open during the day (in order to allow easy passage in and out of the house for our increasingly geriatric dog, Spike) and he has taken to popping in and out of our isolation bubble during the day. So confident has he become that I no longer have to open windows and shut doors to enable him to get out. He knows the way in and out and comes and goes at will.

It is hard to photograph them with their fan tails fully extended because they are such active flibbertygibbets

Albert may of course be Albertina. I tried searching how to tell a male piwakawaka from a female but failed to find anything definitive. The common name for these little native birds is fantail, on account of their tails which they hold out as full fanned fannies, really. They are notoriously difficult to photograph, being hyperactive, so these photos show just how chilled out Albert is indoors.

He likes to announce his arrival by chirruping noisily. Rating the decibels generated in proportion to extremely slight body weight, this must be one of the noisiest birds on the planet. Piwakawaka are insect eaters and I think Albert finds random reinforcement from his house visits in the form of raiding small flies from the occasional spiders’ webs that have escaped my notice.

Albert contemplating cooking lessons

We have fantails in the garden all year round but at this time of the year as the autumn fruit fall and we are gathering in the harvest (grapes this week), they will often come into covered areas in search of fruit flies. It is a good thing we are not superstitious. It is common lore in NZ that a piwakawaka coming indoors is a harbinger of death, attributed to Maori mythology. In fact, if you look into it, it may be a sign of an impending death OR a messenger from the gods. In a country where the ancient myths and legends are based entirely on oral tradition, there is a fair amount of regional variation. We are going with the theory that Albert is either an opportunist or a benign messenger. We have grown quite fond of him and the feeling appears to be mutual, as much as 8 grams of feathered determination can demonstrate bonding.

For scale, this is Albert in the the TV room. 

And a fantail nest from my files

When is a wild garden too wild to be comfortable?

I have never written about Waltham Place in Berkshire that we visited in 2014. To a large extent that is because there was a total ban on taking photos there – I have no idea why. But also, we weren’t at all sure when we walked out of the garden if we had just seen something cutting-edge as claimed by some or whether it was a case of the emperor’s new clothes. The fact that we are still talking about six years later suggests the former – that it was indeed sufficiently cutting-edge to challenge our preconceived notions.

Resorting to photographing photos in a book….

I couldn’t find photographs on line that were available for reuse though you may wish to google the name and see more for yourself. I had to resort to photographing pages from ‘The New English Garden’ by Tim Richardson. These images are a fine example of how structure photographs well and gives form and solid shape to a scene that may not look quite the same to the naked eye. Make that ‘does not look the same to the naked eye’. This garden pushed the concept of naturalism further than we were comfortable with and it was considerably wilder, or rougher, than it appears in photos.

Thinking about it again recently, I figure it took the conventions of what I call the pictorial English manor style of garden design and turned them on their head. Most, if not all of the structure pre-dated the current garden and that suited the style of Dutch designer, Henk Gerritsen. He was heavily influenced by the famous Dutch landscape designer from the preceding generation, Mien Ruys with the philosophy of ‘a wild planting in a strong design’. Gerritsen was attracted to wild plants and his approach was to utilise many wild plants – what are often referred to as weeds. Memorably, his willingness to use plants like burdock, docks, teasels and bindweed (common convolvulus) in decorative situations is disconcerting. He was good friends with Piet Oudolf – these days crowned the undisputed king of the New Perennials movement – and drew on at least of the garden plants that Oudolf had picked out as excellent options but pushed his gardens right to the wild, most naturalistic end of the spectrum. Oudolf is far more controlled and painterly in his use of plants.

From ‘The New English Garden’ by Tim Richardson

The twin borders also use strong design which looks far more effective viewed from above than at ground level – and indeed the main upstairs rooms in the house look down at them. At ground level, I remember them being very brown. This was not a pretty garden.

Although Gerritsen’s interest in plants started with looking at wild flowers in their natural habitats all over Europe over a period of quite a few years, his palette of plants had far more to do with wild plants naturalised at Waltham Place. I can not say that we recall much botanical depth in terms of drawing on many of the remarkable wild flowers especially bulbs, that occur in those parts of the world. It was more of an intellectual exercise looking at the plants used within that garden situation where it becomes survival of the fittest with a very light hand indeed on garden maintenance. So, as a garden, it lacked two of the elements we value highly – botanical curiosity and some level of prettiness and beauty in plant combinations. It is a garden that needs to be viewed through a different set of glasses altogether and we only partially succeeded at that. We did at least leave with an open mind.

Sunset Garden near New Plymouth

As New Zealanders, these wild plants are introduced and often invasive weeds in our country. It is a bit different when they are in fact native to your land. Maybe we would feel more comfortable with this style of gardening were the emphasis on our indigenous plants. In fact, I have seen it done locally in Sunset Garden, I think it was called, on a chilly site set with some elevation on the flanks of our local mountain. I believe the site was once the home of the local naturist club before they moved to a warmer location down by the sea. That garden certainly had a charm of its own, albeit with zero hard landscaping and a light hand on maintenance but some may struggle to view it as a garden in the usual understanding of the word.

Sunset Garden again

It is all food for thought when we consider how our garden practices fit in to the wider environment, what we value visually and our relationship with nature.

Finally two quotes from Henk Gerritsen which, I think, come from his renowned Essay on Gardening, published just before his premature death in 2008. I haven’t bought it yet (it is a book length essay) because I haven’t psyched myself up to spend $120 on a book with black and white photos:

‘What is straight, should be curved, what is curved, should be straight. Meaning: in a garden where everything is straight, the walls or hedges around it and the path through it, the secondary landscaping should be curved: sloping or freakish paths, hedges, lawns or borders and the other way around: in a freakish or shapeless garden the secondary landscaping should be straight, in order to obtain a harmonious image.’

‘Plants that can’t live without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides don’t belong in my garden.’

Sunset Garden may not be sufficiently gardenesque for some tastes

 

Green breathing space

Informal green space at Pettifers in Oxfordshire, a private garden created by Gina Price

Have you ever walked around a garden that is so full, hectic even, that you come out feeling exhausted? I have. Several in fact, but one in particular. I don’t like to show a photo of it because while I think he may have died, I am pretty sure a number of his friends will read this. It is an affliction more commonly seen in small urban gardens where the owner is so keen that they want to use every bit of available space. And uncultivated space is seen as wasted space.

I am sure that trained garden designers are taught the value of incorporating open space – part of what is often referred to as ‘negative space’, I think. I call it breathing space – a restful area which gives respite in a particularly busy garden. But not many of us use skilled garden designers and the notion that quiet areas need as much attention in planning as actively maintained areas filled with plants and colour may be a foreign idea.

Wild green space at Hestercomb

In practice, most of us use mown grass to achieve this. When I first wrote about green breathing spaces in 2010, I clearly had not looked past the garden lawn as an option. And we still have extensive grass lawns and pathways that we mow to fill this function. Mark is missing Lloyd during lockdown here as the mowing of the grass is his role. Yesterday, Mark hopped on the new lawnmower and headed over to mow our tenants’ lawns across the road. He came back somewhat stunned at how fast the new Walker mower goes. Slightly unnerved, he was, by its top speed, comparing it to a race the mower would win if competing against a sprinting human.

Mondo grass instead of lawn

I was recently asked about using mondo grass instead of lawn grass which had me finding a piece I published in 2015, showing the use Auckland gardener and photographer, Gil Hanly has made of mondo grass to give a green breathing space in her very busy and full city garden.

Lawns have a purpose if you have children who like to play cricket or any ball games outside. We used to play family badminton on our front lawn way back when we still undertook such wholesome family fun. It is a better home option than tennis when you don’t have a fully netted court. And lawns have a function if you entertain larger numbers of people outdoors. Beyond that, they are basically green space, framing garden and landscape views, or keeping the amount of garden space to a manageable level. It is easier to mow grass than to maintain most garden areas.

Pictorial green space as perfect circle at Sissinghurst 

Green space at Wildside 

Wildside again

But what if you have a wilder or more naturalistic garden and don’t want to mow green spaces? I found a few examples when I was going through photos for my last post. While Sissinghurst and Hidcote have very clearly constructed green breathing spaces integral to the garden, the modern gardens we have visited have their own take on the same need.

This area could have been all mown lawn but how lovely is that combination of mown grass and molinia meadow? Piet Oudolf at Bury Court

The combination of both lawns and green space in the molinia meadow at Bury Court may strike a chord with many, as it did with me. Definitely less wild, more designer-led and immaculate in its own way, it still fills the function of giving a calming experience in a complex garden.

Green space doesn’t have to be mown lawn.

I find Piet Oudolf’s molinia meadows a great deal more pleasing as green space 

… than his more formal green breathing space at Scampston that was altogether too redolent of a graveyard for my liking

Easter greetings from my corner of a locked down world to all of you in your lock down locations.

 

 

Pictorial or immersive gardens (part 2) – mostly immersive style because that is what interests us more

Part one is here.  You may wish to check the definitions of pictorial and immersive gardens. 

The designers whose work we seek out – often travelling great distances across England to do so – are Piet Oudolf, Tom Stuart-Smith, Dan Pearson, James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett with the work coming out from Sheffield University and, to a lesser extent, Christopher Bradley-Hole.

More pictorial than immersive – the Oudolf borders at Wisley RHS

We started with that giant of the New Perennials movement, Piet Oudolf. Who doesn’t? We have seen Oudolf’s work in several places – including Wisley, Trentham Gardens, Scampston, Pensthorpe and Bury Court. I like the controversial glasshouse borders at Wisley (though not so much on the last visit when they had all been freshly mulched in gravel which I found a bit too utility) though I acknowledge that they are more pictorial than immersive. Mark finds them a bit stripey. Our least favourite was Scampston which led me to think that he is probably a better plantsman than designer. Mark is given to describing some of his work as being ‘contemporary Gertrude Jekyll on steroids’ – particularly the large-scale work at places like Trentham and Pensthorpe.

Immersive Oudolf at Bury Court – also the difference between a domestic garden and public work

My absolute favourite is his very early commission on the walled garden at Bury Court. It really is magical and part of that is the scale which is much smaller, more detailed and domestic in nature. What designers create in private commissions is very different to what they do on large scale, public projects and it is interesting seeing both, even though our main focus is domestic gardens. The third aspect is what they do in their own private garden but we have missed the opportunity to see that with Oudolf. He closed his private garden, Hummelo, in the Netherlands last year.

On our July trip, we had scheduled in a visit to the much acclaimed new Oudolf gardens at the Hauser and Wirth gallery in Somerset as well as his early work at Potters Field in London that we have not yet seen.

Stuart-Smith at Mount St John in Yorkshire

We first saw Tom Stuart-Smith’s work at Wisley, too – the border plantings that edge the glasshouse lake. It was a bit early in the season and more recently planted, I think, and we weren’t blown away by it on that first visit. Subsequent visits have made us appreciate it more. The privilege of visiting his private commission at Mount St John in Yorkshire was different altogether. The sunny parterre immediately in front of the rather grand residence was sublime. Sure it was large scale and big budget. From memory, it is the home of a supermarket magnate. But it was a garden that invited you in to experience walking through it while it stretched out to the wider landscape beyond. My photos don’t do it justice.

More traditional  pictorial design at Mt St John – still the work of Stuart-Smith

Immersive design. The hedge at the far side is all that separates this garden from the more traditional one above

Just by way of illustrating the difference between immersive and pictorial gardens, look at these two side by side. It was the fully planted parterre that drew us in and made us catch our breaths in delight. Immediately adjacent to that, also in front of the house and looking out to the view was a more conventional lawn flanked by twin borders. Same designer, same location – two very different experiences. While admiring the horticultural excellence of the latter, it didn’t draw me in and make me want to linger as the more detailed and planted parterre did.

We have also seen his work at Trentham Gardens where most photos I have seen don’t do it justice. The photos I saw on line and in books all made those enormous parterres look very bitsy. In real life, the plantings are large and exuberant and they wrap around, obliterating that bitsy look that is a legacy of historic design features. Visiting a garden in person is a very different experience to looking at photos or videos.

On our July visit, we were planning to rush down from Shropshire to catch the Wednesday opening at Broughton Grange – another private commission of his. We really wanted to visit in person because we have only seen it in photos and it features that Stuart-Smith trademark of clipped caterpillar hedges undulating through a parterre. It was the inspiration for our own caterpillar garden at home which has nothing to do with caterpillars but is defined by the undulating internal hedging.

Bradley-Hole at Bury Court

So too was Christopher Bradley-Hole’s grass garden at Bury Court a direct inspiration. There is another private garden of his design and execution that is sometimes open by appointment. I found it last trip – in Surrey, I think – but we just ran out of time. I was planning to find it again and see if we could include it this time.

Early Pearson at Torrecchia Vecchia

We came to the work of Dan Pearson a little later. We have seen an example of his early work at Torrecchia Vecchia in Italy, his public sector work around the Kings Cross redevelopment in London and the perfection of a smaller, private commission in the Cotswolds. It is such gentle, but inspirational gardening. On this visit, we planned to go to Chatsworth Castle, specifically to search out his part of the garden. As I recall, it was a re-creation of this that won him gold at Chelsea a few years ago. Then we were heading north to see his ongoing work at Lowther Castle. My impression is that it is a softer, more English take on a romantic garden in the style of Ninfa in Italy but I have only seen photos.

Pearson perfection in a private Cotswolds garden. This was my first choice of image but then I went away and thought I have done exactly what I have referred to – picked the one section of the garden that is full of sharp detail and more pictorial in style.

Parts of the garden were like this…

and this. Maybe what made this garden so successful is the sensitive marriage of both pictorial and immersive styles in the one domestic space.

While in the north, we were going to take in the historic topiary at Levens Hall because we are not only going to look at the modern gardens and experiencing some of the historical work gives  context to what followed. I would happily have gone back to see Arabella Lennox-Boyd’s private garden, Gresgarth, which is in the same area (roughly speaking) if time allowed.

The enchanting Hitchmough meadow at Wisley in its early days

I have written often about the magic of James Hitchmough’s Missouri Meadow garden at Wisley when we first saw it in 2009. Magic is not too strong a word, even 11 years later. It was enchanting. We also watched it disintegrate and lose all its charm on subsequent visits and that is what made us interested in seeing how some of these looser, more naturalistic plantings mature over time. It made us realise that no gardens are maintenance free though some are lighter on maintenance requirements. And different skills are needed to manage such plantings. Given that Wisley is staffed with some of the very best and keenest horticulturists in the country, I am sure that major lessons have been learned. We wanted to see what those lessons were and how management of these plantings has evolved both by the designers and those tasked with their ongoing maintenance.

More recently, Dunnett at Trentham Gardens

Hitchmough and his colleague, Nigel Dunnett, were both leading lights in the much-acclaimed Olympic Park landscaping which we visited several years later. Also Dunnett at the Barbican rooftop garden in London, though it was the unexpected discovery of his work at Trentham Gardens that was the greatest highlight. That has been extended greatly (Trentham extends most things greatly, really) and we wanted to see both the newly planted areas and how those original plantings had matured.

We were also planning to spend two nights in Sheffield to look at their public sector work on greening the grey of the inner city. But the real highlight was when I found that their private, home gardens were both opening one Sunday afternoon for the National Gardens Scheme. I structured the whole itinerary of our UK leg around that Sunday afternoon. This would complete the set of having seen public sector work, private commissions and how they choose to garden in their own space. Maybe even meeting them and being able to talk briefly. We were also planning to see James Hitchmough’s borders at the Oxford University botanic gardens which are reputedly excellent and lasting the distance better than his earlier meadow at Wisley.

Wildside – created by a master gardener and plantsman

Finally, we had arranged to return to Wildside, one of the most innovative and exciting gardens we have seen, created not by a designer but by a plantsman. We are really sorry to miss the opportunity to meet with Keith Wiley again, especially as he has now started work on the last area he had to develop.

Wiley at Wildside in 2014. Keith was explaining his plans for his last area to be developed – now under way.

When an unsolicited invitation arrived to visit the private garden of a leading designer – you don’t ask for such a privilege, you understand – we were a-quiver with excitement. In the end, we couldn’t make our dates fit so it was not to be. This is perhaps just as well because it would have escalated our disappointment to a whole new level when everything had to be cancelled.

And that was the trip that was not to be in this strange era we are living through.

NB: If you want to know more about any of the gardens or designers mentioned here, a Google search will bring up a wealth of information. Putting the name in the search box on the top right of this page will bring up more information and photos on most of them from our personal perspective. 

 

Alliums at Mount St John. It was interesting going through my photos. In pictorial gardens, I tend to have framed landscape views and vistas or photographs of man-made focal points. In immersive gardens, I mostly take photos on a close-up scale – and many more of them at that. My photos are much more about colour, plant combinations and plant forms.

 

Pictorial vs immersive gardens. Part one (subtitled: the trip we can no longer make)

At Hatfield House, though I think that is the Great Hall. It is not the house.


I received a letter from an English friend in January to which, I am ashamed to admit, I have yet to reply. It contained the sentence: “Of those gardens you have listed over time, I don’t remember seeing Mollie Salisbury mentioned: she is by far and away the best garden designer and gardener of my lifetime – maybe any lifetime.” To reinforce the point, he sent me the Garden Museum Journal honouring the late Mollie Salisbury – perhaps better known as the 6th Marchioness of Salisbury, doyenne of Hatfield House.

I will admit we haven’t seen much of Mollie Salisbury’s work. We have been to Hatfield House and I know she had some influence on Xa Tollemarche at Helmingham Hall. When we visited that latter garden, I didn’t photograph the knot garden that I know was inspired and supervised by Mollie Salisbury. Knot gardens are culturally alien to us and neither Mark nor I find them of any interest, if I am brutally honest. But both of us remember that the Helmingham knot garden had personal relevance to the owners because it was laid out as the family crest and located so as to be visible from the upper stories of the residence. That made sense, even while the experience of a knot garden at ground level is a little underwhelming to those of us who prefer a more immersive experience.

Helmingham Hall. It has a proper moat and a drawbridge. We are a bit deficient in such things in NZ.

The extent to which a moat separates the residence from the garden was a revelation, even though we had already worked out that walled gardens are usually a totally separate entity to the main house.

We haven’t been to Cranborne Manor in Dorset which was her first notable garden though I am sure I must have seen the classic movie ‘Tom Jones’ (1963) starring Albert Finney and Susannah York, some of which was filmed there. I just can’t remember it.

I wonder whether it would be fair to describe the 6th Marchioness of Salisbury as the queen of the English, pictorial, country manor garden, while recognising that not all her gardens were necessarily of that genre. Mark says I should also note that aspects which came through the garden museum journal included her ability to motivate and inspire others and her pioneering work in organics.

The chimneys at Hatfield House

We see a few aspirational English country manor style of gardens in New Zealand but there is a big issue in that we lack the manor houses which act as the centrepiece in such gardens. Amongst other things, elevated views are an integral part of planning. Somehow a G J Gardner home with mock pillars at the front door doesn’t quite cut the mustard, even if it has an upper story and maybe a Juliet balcony.

Our friend, Glyn Church – originally a Somerset man who trained in horticulture in the UK but has long settled into his own big garden in NZ – once commented that with many of the fine UK gardens, if you take out the house and the historical features like enormous walls, the gardens themselves are not always great. I would say the same about the historic Italian gardens we have seen.

Pictorial gardens tend to be strong on quality structures and features. Seen here in a Yorkshire country manor garden.

Maybe it comes down to that differentiation between gardens that are pictorial and those that are immersive – a concept that I found in the writings of Tim Richardson. Pictorial gardens are those where you can stand back and take in a pleasing view with a sweep of your eyes, where design and structure and space and colour are in harmony. Often focal points will be used to draw you through. Pictorial gardens photograph very well and the best pictorial gardens have substantial structural features of quality.

Immersive gardens are more of a wrap-around experience. Richardson describes them as being “mainly about the close-up vision – that is, looking at plants at about a 45-degree angle from the adjoining path or lawn” (‘You Should Have Been Here Last Week’ page 83). That is a bit too specific for me but they are certainly more plant-focused. To me, it is about a more enveloping experience than a viewing experience. It is what I have set out to do in our new grass garden which has never been designed to be viewed from set points or to draw you through by focal point wayfinders. It is about the garden wrapping around you so that for a few minutes, you are immersed in the movement and textures.

It is that more immersive experience that has determined what we seek out on our trips to English gardens. Our latest one, planned for July, has fallen victim to Covid19 and who knows what the future holds? At the time we were planning this trip, I thought it might be the last one we would make. It was becoming increasingly hard to justify long haul air travel in the face of climate change. But now, there is a possibility we won’t ever get to make that trip, this year, next year, sometime – maybe never. I think it more likely that when we emerge from this pandemic, the new normal will not be the same as the life we knew – was it really just a few weeks ago? The speed of change is terrifying.

Our itinerary for this trip included some locations we had been to before because I have a particular interest in seeing how some of these newer, wilder, more naturalistic gardens last over the years. Do the weeds and thugs take control and smother the charm and detail that was evident when they were new and fresh? What are the techniques being used to maintain the integrity of these naturalistic gardens?

More from Hatfield House

Is it worth travelling 20 000km to look at English gardens? For us, yes but we have evolved our own focus over several visits. While at home, we can enjoy almost every garden we visit to some degree – albeit some more than others – we don’t travel that huge distance to see unremarkable gardens or ones where the lasting impression is less than delight or even awe. Our expectations are high and we have seen some pretty average gardens in England. We have also visited a number of the famous and historic gardens both there and in Italy. They are certainly interesting, often very impressive, but not necessarily inspiring to us at a gardening level. We much prefer the energy, vibrancy and challenge of the more contemporary work

Why England? Is it so much better and more innovative and skilled than, say, the Netherlands, other parts of Europe and parts of USA? Probably not but we are more comfortable getting ourselves around England and that makes the trips much easier. We can’t see everything so we have to pick and choose.

Over recent years, we have leaned more to tracking the work of a few selected designers rather than sticking a pin on the map and seeing what gardens are open in a particular area, or going on the recommendations of others. I am sure that there are many highly skilled designers that we know nothing about whose work is equally impressive but again, we can’t see them all on our brief visits.

I had a cracker of an itinerary worked out for our July trip. More of that in part two.

Hatfield House again.

Helmingham Hall

Lockdown day 9: ennui, rats and the Old Masters

Canberra daughter posted a few days ago: “Garden Australia just legit suggested encouraging carpet pythons to live in your garden as a means of controlling rats.” We are New Zealanders. We don’t do snakes. At all. Ever. I looked up carpet pythons and all I can say is that you maybe don’t want to encourage them if you have a domestic cat or small dog.

The visiting kitchen rat finally succumbed to the temptation of peanut butter on Mark’s homemade bread

Mark quite liked the idea of a biological control for rats. At this time of the year, he is doing daily trapping rounds to try and reduce the population. In a household where we try and relocate house spiders outdoors rather than sucking them up the vacuum cleaner, we don’t get sentimental about rats. That said, even vermin deserve to be despatched quickly, efficiently and without undue suffering. Mark uses cage traps from preference. He carries the trap out to an open space and opens the door for a waiting Dudley. Despite being a town-bred dog, Duds is a whizz at instant rat killing and the victim rarely hits the ground before it is dead. Man and dog  then leave the carcase out in the open for the resident hawk who has taken to doing daily rounds looking for such carrion. This is another reason to prefer cages and a quick death over slow-acting poison.

The inspiration, back when Tecomanthe venusta was in bloom

I have an entire photo file devoted to rats and rat catching, both alive and dead. I find this slightly bizarre but it indicates the role rat incursions play in our life here on the land. It was the poignant mummified rat in a blackbird’s nest that sent me down a different track. We pick up spent nests when we find them, mostly to admire the craft. I assume this rat had climbed into an empty nest and died there because it is such a snug fit. And there was something haunting about it. One day, I thought, I may try and stage a scene inspired by the Dutch and Flemish old masters and their sombre still lives.

That day came a little sooner rather than later when a combination of self-isolation and forced inactivity coincided (the inactivity related to my dodgy back deciding to make its presence felt). The backdrop is just the mantlepiece in our dining room but I expect you at least to admire the detail of the mouldy oranges. Designed to channel the spirit of the old masters. I very rarely use filters on photos but I admit I indulged in a few here. In the spirit of the topic, you understand.

When I had done with the dining room setting, I walked into our drawing room and thought well, the stage is already set for Rattus in the art deco revival fireplace that we never use on account of the chimney not drawing the air very well. No additional staging required here.

Ned Kelly Rattus

The bleak humour of the Ned Kelly rat may elude some of you. But if you find it quirky and you have not yet met Henri, le Chat Noir, may I point you in his direction? It has very little to do with rats – just a brief walk-on appearance by one – but instead the struggle of the tuxedo cat to cope with existential issues and extreme ennui. Ned Kelly Rattus, by the way, was found like that. Mummified in a stack of plastic nursery pots where he became trapped despite his best efforts. There is a metaphor there somewhere but I do not think it would be uplifting at this time.

From earlier times – Spike the dog in his younger days, wearing his Julian Clary coat, attempting to climb the shed walls after an escaped rat

Another little carcase from another time