Saturday, 24 March 2012

Combermere Abbey

The highlight of the recent trip to college was a day out to Combermere Abbey, a stately home just up the road from college on the Cheshire and Shropshire border. This place is dripping with history, starting life in the 12th century as a monastery and over the years playing host to the likes of King Charles II and William of Orange. In the 1990s the place was in a state of disrepair, and its future perhaps uncertain. Its heiress was working in New York as the PR Director for Laura Ashley when, one might imagine, a chill wind blew through her office carrying the distant sound of some long-dead relative trumpeting a brass hunting horn! She answered that distress call, and swiftly moved back to dear Blighty to inherit and save the old ancestral home. Since moving in she has effectively saved the place, giving it a new lease of life as a place to holiday or get married, and instigating a program of repairs to keep the Abbey on its feet. This is a property that is generally closed to the public, but if you are in the area on one of the open days I would heartily recommend dropping by! 

The old Abbey, with the library restoration work clearly visible. The floor is collapsing and they are propping it up with some new-fangled supports

A drone fly, basking amongst the dewy blades of grass

Pleached avenue leading from the old walled garden

Ye olde clippery, wonderful shape and proportion

There wasn’t a great deal happening in the garden, but this climber-riddled arch hints to the promise of summer

Time for a quick poke around the greenhouse!

Muscari neglectum ‘Valerie Finnis'

The hexagonal building there is the Game Larder, built in 1815 and recently restored to former glory

Spring bulbs were very much underway around the wider estate

I saw my first butterflies of the year this day, and this basking Comma was an incredible joy to behold!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Early spring

Spring has sprung at Hidcote! Steady temperatures, bits and bobs in bloom all over the garden, endless birdsong, the honeybees, Brimstone butterflies and buzzards overhead playing their mating games: it’s all jolly exciting stuff! This year looks set to be another glorious one at Hidcote, with yet more repair and replanting going on about the place. Here are some highlights from the past few days to get my final year underway:

Hidcote Manor! Major Johnston bricked up this original entrance to the manor, and created the grander courtyard through which visitors now enter

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’, blooming in the Old Garden

Straight lines surrounding the Gazebo at the top of the Long Walk

The delicate beauty of Anemonella thalictroides, thriving in a damp shady spot

Corydalis solida, favoured by Brimstone butterflies

That view through Mrs Winthrop’s Garden, with the blooms of Euphorbia longifolia ‘Amjilassa’ just visible

A tawny mining bee harvesting the above Euphorbia

There are Helleborus orientalis cultivars blooming all over the garden!

The beds of the Fuchsia Garden harbour Scilla siberica for the spring display

Another of these cheeky chickens from Hidcote Manor Farm!

Sunday, 11 March 2012


If you have a spare moment I wish to take you back in time to mid-January, when as a birthday treat I ventured forth to sunny Stourhead in the picturesque Wiltshire countryside. I freely admit to being more interested in flower gardens than landscapes but, like sprouts, in the bleak winter months with not much else going on it’s best to put a brave face on and give these things a try! The chief benefit of these landscape gardens in the winter is their structure. The main elements that others will enjoy in summer are actually still visible now! The trees form the majority of this scene, and are still very much offering up some beauty. They do not require chopping to the ground in autumn, and being perfectly hardy do not require traipsing up to the Glasshouse in large wheelbarrows. One in the eye for the flower garden, what! The central feature here is the lake, and paths hug its perimeter and offer some truly exhilarating views from one side to the other. An assortment of classical temples awaits your perusal, and two grottos offer some intrigue and changes in level. If this description does not wet your appetite, I must relate to you the fact that a traditional hostelry lies at the centre of the property, and does a rather splendid line in hearty food and local ales!

This view greets you at the garden entrance with the Palladian Bridge, and the Pantheon looming across the lake

Pollarded willows providing a welcome blast of winter colour!

Looking back across the lake

The sun was with me all day, glorious times! Particularly so with the bees on the wing and the buzzards gliding and calling overhead

The Gothic Cottage. Fairytale stuff

A drone fly, tucking into the first wave of Galanthus

View of the lake from down in the Grotto. There are pools of water here, take care or you may end up with wet tweeds and water up to your shins! Oops

The Temple of Flora

A rather natty insect house

The Palladian pile is somewhat removed from the lake feature that forms the main garden, but nevertheless is sufficiently grand

A resuscitating ‘What ho!’ one and all! A notice was posted in the Bicycle News pronouncing this blog dead, but now I’m back in action and fit as a fiddle! Time off work before college, my last ever college block, and my first job interview since Hidcote have led me astray from my blogging duties. With spring upon us, I’ll cherry pick the best of the topics I wanted to post and hopefully find myself up to date in no time at all. Hidcote is now open 5 days a week, please see here!
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