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Monday, 28 November 2016

A day at the Garden Media Guild awards

Back the hot days of high summer, I went to a Garden Media Guild event at Easton Walled Gardens - I wrote about it here....

Apart from the stunning location, interesting talks, and delicious lunch, I was delighted by the sheer affability of everyone, the inclusiveness, and the sheer wealth of knowledge of all things horticultural in one place.

Over a glass of pre lunch prosecco , I couldn't help but notice that many of the guests had the same gardeners hands as I have.Well they didn't have my fat fingers, including a broken one, but none of the women had long polished talon like nails...these were all workaday hands of women who garden. We compared notes

 I felt at home....especially when Constance Craig Smith, who is on the committee handed me a card and said "Why not join us?"

So I have done,  and on Thursday I went to the Garden Media Guild Awards lunch at the Savoy Hotel in London.

Let loose in London on my own, I can be a bit of liability, but managed to get straight there without interruption or deviation , just a brief pause to photograph the decorations in Covent Garden before sweeping into the Savoy Hotel.

Now The Savoy may only be a mere two hours from my cottage in a teeny, tiny village, but it's a world away too. Oh such smart people enjoying coffee, luxury around each corner, such polite and welcoming staff...I liked it.

Before the drinks, lunch and the awards, there was the AGM....where items on the agenda were swiftly dispatched until the last item which ignited direct discussion, even passion.

But then onwards and upwards (literally ) for pre lunch drinks in a beautiful room. Hundreds of people, thousands of air kisses, the decibel levels rising higher and higher, the laughter, the hundreds of glasses of champagne discreetly and attentively poured and drunk eagerly, and the sheer joy of overhearing snippets of the most unlikely conversations between writers and broadcasters I've read and watched for years.

Then lunch!

Who would I be sitting with? Would I know anyone? Well, no, but that didn't matter one iota as I was sat on such a great table, planted between the lovely Natalie Ashbee and Alexandra Campbell. Alex is a writer of books and broadcast plays and and I've been reading her Middle Size Gardens blog for ages, Natalalie is a horticultural researcher on Gardeners World .

We've all lived and worked in Bristol at different stages of our lives, so we didn't stop nattering until the wonderful Carol Klein gave an ascerbically, amusing keynote welcome and speech which was greatly appreciated in the room.


 Lunch. How can hundreds of people be served efficiently with a delicious three course lunch plus coffee in just over an hour? I don't know but it happened and the tension mounted as we all finally quietened down for the awards.

Best gardening book, best journalist, best blog, best photographer....the categories kept a coming, but there was one I was really interested in - I was a finalist in the Radio Broadcast of the Year

No I didn't win, but Lucy Dichmont and Alex Feldman did from the RHS did, so huge congratulations to them.


So many worthy winners for  each category, inspiring us all.

But the proceedings weren't finished....there were more air kisses of congratulation amongst winners, old friends were nattering away merrily  as they caught sight of each other, and some (OK it was Natalie and James Alexander Sinclair}   posed perfectly for the camera.

By now, it was dusk, and everyone began to drift off in a flurry of coats, scarves and goody bags from the kind sponsors of the Guild Awards.

Oh and many scooted off to the pub too, including Natalie and I. Cue more prosecco and chatting!

Such a perfectly lovely day - I'm rather looking forward to next year's event. In the meantime, there's lots of other garden events planned for members of the guild during the spring and summer,  and I can't wait......


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A whistlestop day trip to Stamford

If you love to look at mellow limestone buildings, and feel as if you should be wearing a long dress and a bonnet, then look no further. Stamford in Lincolnshire is the place to visit. You've probably seen glimpses of it though in so many period dramas on television.
It's a quirky place, oh so historical, with more than six hundred listed buildings and a number of fine churches, including five mediaeval ones.
Reminders of the past are all around you, from the 15th century Brownes Almshouses, to one of the oldest provincial theatres in the country, and only a mile away, the beautiful, and awe inspiring Burghley Hall, a triumph of an Elizabeth house with stunning gardens.
But this visit to Stamford, on a gloomy wet day earlier this week, wasn't about sightseeing, it was to lunch and to shop with Susie, Fiona and Laura.
Now, if there's one thing Laura and I love to do, that's to mooch about in search of antiques ,so our first port of call was to the St Martins Antiques Centre. To step out of the rain into somewhere with over fifty dealers displaying their treasures under one roof, is a joy.

The siren call of the kitchenalia attracted me like a homing signal. Laura got lost in the silver section...she's a collector of silver made by her great grandfather.
No such luck on this day but she did come away with two fine silver ladles, after we'd managed to drag her away out of this cutlery corner.
By now, we were feeling peckish, and our lunch stop was at The George Hotel just down the hill. I cannot pay a visit to Stamford without nipping into the George, whether just for a drink or a snack.

It's incredible to think that the origins of this  old coaching inn began over a hundred years before William the Conqueror beat King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

four to five hundred years later, the neighbouring Hospital of St John and the house of the Holy Speulchre became part of the George .

The courtyard is stunning at any time of the year. Formerly a cloistered quadrangle belonging to the old church, in high summer, there's nothing nicer than having an afternoon tea here, amongst the profusion of hanging baskets and containers all packed with flowers.

Last week Christmas trees were already in situ here and fairy lights were uplifting in the gloom.


I also always have to have a peek at what is known as the Monastery garden. Past its summer best, even in November it's a charming, restful place

My friends Tessa and David had their wedding reception here a number of years ago, and in my mind's eye I remember the garden filled with guests,waiting staff weaving expertly through the crowds with huge trays of canap├ęs to the sounds of popping prosecco corks and  a chamber quartet playing .

But this was years later, a winter day ,and we were hungry so we went straight through to the Garden Room. Wine of course, and lunch...

The wild mushroom risotto was full of flavour and the salmon from the buffet was a very generous size, all served expertly.

It would have been so easy to stay for another glass of wine, to gossip - after all Laura was only here for a week's flying visit from the States. But we needed fresh air and a brisk walk we walked and talked past the almshouses and up the hill into the other part of town.

Past lovely quirky mediaeval houses and alleyways  and the grandeur of the gothic.

We strolled into St John the Baptist's church on the High Street, a designated Grade 1 listed building which originates from the 12th century.. Unfortunately this is now a redundant church...but it's looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. Although it wasn't full of worshippers, there were quite a few people perusing the aisle full of charity Christmas cards.

All too soon it was time to stroll back to our car, over the river by the alms houses....

A whirlwind four hours in what many believe to the be the finest town in England. It really is in a  league of its own.  I love coming here, each time I see something new, different, and make a promise to myself to return soon.

 Next time I hope my visit is longer, hopefully overnight, to really make the most of what this quintessential English town has to offer.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Groundhog days of Autumn

The groundhog days of Autumn have come.

Every morning I've been looking out of the bathroom window from my "loo with a view"to see what lies in store weather wise.

Virtually every morning has been misty

Each day the leaves have fallen...

We get a lot of leaves in our back the ash tree in the centre of our garden , and from the oak tree to our right, which drops its leaves..from the lime tree at the side of our cottage on the boundary wall, and from a row of lime trees belonging to the garden of the house opposite to our cottage, which fall directly outside .

Every day we've been collecting them, storing some for leaf mould, and bagging up the rest....every morning there's more to pick up.

 Thankfully, our ash tree has now shed all of its leaves, but the oak leaves are still dropping shedding as are the limes opposite.

The logs must be brought in too before dusk.

At that bewitching time, caught between light and darkness, it's time to light the fire

And tomorrow, it all starts again.....

I'm not complaining, I like this annual ritual. Then again, I have to confess that Mr Thinking of the Days has done 60 to 70 per cent of the work!

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

A day of roses, cockleshells and the sea

I visited a rose garden the other week. Late October isn't the ideal time of year to do this of course. The sheer headiness and intoxication you get from inhaling the scents of  scores of rose bushes was sadly lacking.

There again, I hadn't planned this visit to the Southsea  Rose Garden. My daughter, husband and I were walking our three dogs along the beachfront on a sunny Monday morning....

that was when my daughter said the magic words "rose garden", and there was a sudden detour to the rose garden.


Actually, it's the ideal time of the year to see the bones of a garden.

I liked the simple design, the weathered brick , the trellises,  the clean lines of the paths and the fact that there were lots of benches to sit down in different parts of the garden.

Of course at the end of October, you expect patches of brown earth, and true, many of the roses were had lost their blossom, but there was still enough colour to gladden my heart.

I do like this ruby wedding rose even if it only has a faint fragrance 

This beauty, which I don't know the name of, was a vision of pastel prettiness...and its scent was just as subtle.

It's not a huge rose garden, but it's a perfect place to sit and ponder, away from the harsh winds of the sea front and the noise of the cars, to just relax.

But there's so much more to the site of this rose garden. It was previously an eighteenth century fortification called Lumps Fort. After a chequered history, in World War II, this area was used as a training base for the Royal Marine Boom Patrol Detachment.

 Have you ever heard of the Cockleshell Heroes? It's the title of a film made in 1955, which honoured the incredible bravery and fortitude of the men who trained here before launching a raid by canoe, on the harbour in Bordeaux a mere thirteen years earlier. They were an elite squad housed in two nissen huts , and trained for their mission in the Solent a few yards away.

The raid was called Operation Frankton, and back in those days Bordeaux was a key port for the Germans. The mission for the men was to attack all the cargo ships  which kept the German army supplied after paddling into the harbour by canoe.

Five canoes and ten men managed to not only sink one ship and badly damage four others with limpet mines, but they succeeded in curtailing the use of the harbour for months. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be taken to France by submarine, then sailing into a heavily guarded German occupied port in the depths of December?

Such a daring plan, but it was one which cost eight of the men their lives. Six were executed by the Germans and two died from hypothermia. Major Hasler and Bill Sparkes were the only two to survive.


It's said that Winston Churchill believed that their mission shortened the duration of World War II by six months. What a feat of courage, and how wonderful that this site wasn't built on in the post war frenzy of building.

I love the fact that this small rose garden, just a minute away from the rush of modern life, has been created as a place of tranquillity, of quiet beauty, where we can remember those heroes of World War  II.