Winter Garden

 

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Winter has arrived. It’s still mild for December, and this afternoon offered some intervals of sunshine betwixt the cloud and drizzle. I decided to get into my little garden to have a tidy up and plant the last few daffodil bulbs.

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It may be too late for these, but fingers crossed. All will be revealed – or not – in early spring.

I wasn’t alone, as Paddy and Cleo decided they would join me.

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Almost everything is dying back or lying dormant, falling in with the primal rhythms of nature. The last of the roses fade. The buds that remain will not open now.

 

Autumn was warm and long, and October brought us ladybirds in abundance. A few are still around.

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The vivid colours of autumn leaves: russets, reds and golds are resplendent.

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The garden is a peaceful place in winter as all slows down. It’s a time to meditate on what has been and what may come in the year ahead.

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To some, the seasons are the same. Stoically, they observe the passing of time in silence. They’ve seen many comings and goings.

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There is still plenty life and vibrancy in the garden. Delicate winter jasmine blooms as the temperatures drop.

 

 

Leaves on the path don’t spoil some folks’ journeys. Even at snail’s pace they’ll get there in the end.

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All that glitters may not be gold but a touch of winter sparkle is always welcome.

 

The evergreens carry on regardless.

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The hours of daylight are decreasing as we head towards the shortest day. Setting off to work as the sun rises and returning home in darkness, it can sometimes feel like winter days pass me by. The weekends still offer the chance to see the beauty to be found at this time of year, literally on my own doorstep.

 

 

Haigh Woodland Park, Wigan

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The school holidays are in full swing and I too am off work so was able to enjoy a day with my six-year-old niece. I let Mia choose what she wanted to do; her surprising decision was to “play golf at Haigh Hall”. I had expected Southport or Blackpool and was secretly relieved to avoid the seaside crowds.

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I have fond childhood memories of Haigh Hall, sitting with my family on a picnic blanket within the walled rose garden, or splashing in the pool.  I hadn’t been for years and had heard that there had been a lot of changes.

There has been a manor at Haigh for centuries with the earliest recorded residents being the Le Norreys in 1193. The most famous residents of Haigh Hall were the Bradshaigh family who lived there from the 13th to the late 18th century. One of the Bradshaigh family, Lady Mabel (or Mab, to her friends) is said to haunt the Hall. Legend has it that during the crusades, her husband, Sir William, went missing for between 7 and 10 years, and thinking him dead she eventually remarried. Sir William made an inconvenient return (there are several variants on exactly what he’d been doing during that period, and whether he could have returned sooner if he had wanted) and to punish his faithless wife for marrying another, the story goes that he made her walk barefoot once a week several miles to a mediaeval cross as penance; quite harsh, I think, considering he’d gone AWOL for several years.

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The landmark officially became known as Mab’s Cross and what’s left of it remains standing in front of a primary school which has been named after it. Although the tale of Lady Mabel’s sufferings would appear to based in fact, some elements of the story are disputed.

The present Haigh Hall – a grade II listed building – was constructed in the early 19th century by the 7th Earl of Balcarres, James Lindsey, on the site of a previous brick building. Lindsey, who had married the heir to the Bradshaigh estate, was involved in its design and oversaw its construction from Lancashire sandstone. The Lindseys continued to develop the early mining industry founded by the Bradshaighs in the 16th century, and during the Industrial Revolution made their fortune from coal and cannel mining. The family founded the Wigan Iron and Coal Company, the largest of its kind in Lancashire, and some mining took place on Haigh estate.

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The Lindsey family sold the property to Wigan Council in 1947. Although I went there quite often as a child, I only remember going inside a couple of times; I don’t recall there being much to see. Haigh Hall was not developed as an historical attraction in the same way that many similar manor houses were and was mainly used for civic and corporate events and later for wedding receptions. It is now run as an hotel and wedding venue. I didn’t go inside but comparing the Hall’s current external appearance with the last time I saw it, I would say it is greatly improved.

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Adventure Golf is adjacent to the proper golf course and for a children’s activity, the course, though great fun, is quite challenging and includes water obstacles. It is much more sophisticated than the pitch-n-put I remember, and I was surprised at how seriously some of the pushy parents seemed to take it, clearly eager to turn their intimidated offspring into future champions.

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After lunch in the courtyard area where 19th century stables have been converted into a deli, cafe, an ice cream parlour and a coffee shop, we walked around the lily pond which didn’t seemed to have changed a bit.

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There’s a lot to keep the kids amused for an hour or two, including a big playground with areas to suit all age groups, a few fairground rides and a high-rise agility circuit for daredevils of any age.

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The original pitch-n-put was still there too, run by Rotary Club volunteers to raise money for local charities – we’ll try that one next time. In one of the gardens, a group of little ones and their parents watched a musical interpretation of Alice in wonderland.

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I was happy to find that at least one of the walled gardens was still filled with flowers and that bees were thriving in the borders.

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Sadly, the fragrant rose garden which had been my childhood favourite was no longer there but had been replaced by a kitchen garden. Unfortunately, the gates of that garden are locked at 3 O’Clock and we had just missed out on a chance to look around though I did get a peek through a gate.

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From there, paths led into the shade and a network of tempting woodland walks throughout the expansive grounds but those will have to wait for a return visit.

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Royal bees in the King’s Garden

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Southport is a seaside town in the north west of England. It’s the nearest coastal resort to my home, so although it’s not my favourite beach location, I go there from time to time when I want to smell that distinctive sea air and walk on the wet sand. The town has some nice shops and a genteel ambience, though it is has lost some of its former glamour. Of course, as adults we see through other eyes the once beloved places of our childhoods, and they are never quite the same.

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I went to the town last week to visit the British Lawnmower Museum (you can read about that unique experience here ) and decided to spend some time relaxing in one of Southport’s pretty green spaces. The King’s Gardens covers an area of about 17 acres between the town centre and the sea front, which now includes the funfair.

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In the reign of King George V, for whom the Gardens are named, the Irish sea used to come much further inland than it does now, so the King’s Gardens would have been a splendid crowd-puller on the promenade. Although development of the shore area started in the mid-19th century, the King’s Gardens came to completion under the design directive of celebrated landscape architect Thomas Mawson in 1913 when they were opened by King George V and Queen Mary.

 

 

Last week, most schools in the region had not quite finished for the summer, so although it was a pleasant day the mechanical sounds of the funfair rides and the screams of the thrill-seekers were happily absent, and Marine Lake’s true feathered population enjoyed the water unencumbered by the people-powered imposters.

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I admired the revamped Victorian pavilion shelters and the fountain, where nobody is ever too old to have fun…

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…and I found a quiet spot in the Sensory Garden

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It was a joy to see hundreds of bees darting in and out of the flowers, taking succour between the petals. I found myself engrossed in their vital and urgent foraging; their purposeful yet graceful endeavours for queen and hive in the Gardens of the King.

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To read about another visit to Southport, click here

The British Lawnmower Museum, Southport: gardening habits of royalty and celebrities, a grass-cutting obsessed curator and a lesson in Qualcast mechanics

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Rain has recently fallen on my part of the world for the first time in four weeks; and very welcome it has been! I love the sun and the heat and have basked and baked under the glorious rays, enjoying each day as it has arrived in all its fiery glory. I have trudged nightly, heavy watering can in hand, across the lawn to quench the thirst of wilting flowers. My little lawn has suffered in the extraordinary heat. Straw-like patches have appeared amid the verdant blades. It is incredible how quickly the lawn has rallied after just three heavy downpours; new growth has already sprung forth, and the dry but cooler weather of the last few days has aided the revival. I eagerly await the return of the intense heat but a (hopefully brief) respite is literally a breath of fresh air.

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Lawns. Mine is only small. We Brits love them. We love sitting on them. We love walking barefoot across them. Playing tennis on them is another British pastime. Most of all we seem to love mowing them. All this lawn talk reminded me of a museum I had heard about that is dedicated to that instrument of lawn beautification, the trusty mower. When I first heard about this repository for mechanical grass cutters, I thought it must be a joke. Certainly, these most labour-saving of horticultural contraptions hold pride of place in our garden sheds, but could there really be a museum celebrating their existence? I decided to head to the coastal town of Southport to find out mower (sorry!).

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Shakespeare Street, just a short walk outside of the centre of Southport, is quite ordinary except that it is the location of a centre of national gardening heritage, the British Lawnmower Museum This fascinating place was created by owner, Brian Radam, whose family business, Lawnmowerworld, is adjacent. In fact, visitors must go through Lawnmowerworld – a business which specialises in the sale, servicing and repair of all things lawnmower-ish – to enter the Museum. According to its website, ‘The Museum retains a character not often seen in these modern times’; I would not disagree.

I paid my £4.50 entrance fee and passed through the turnstile which separates the shop from the Museum. Brian – curator and business owner – explained that there would be an audio guide which would provide details about some of the many exhibits and about the history of lawnmowers in general. He asked me if I was interested in the devices, and I confessed that I was not, beyond their usefulness in my own garden, but that I was fascinated by the idea of a museum being dedicated to them. Fortunately, Brian didn’t seem to take offence at my frank response.

 

 

The audio commentary proved to be very informative, containing lots of interesting details about the invention of the first models and how they were initially dismissed by critics who thought they would never take off! The commentary and the Museum’s website inform that ‘the lawnmower was patented by Edwin Beard Budding in 1830’. At the time, Budding was thought to be insane and ‘had to test the machine at night so no one could see him.’ Needless to say, Brian has the prototype in his collection and was happy to demonstrate to me how it worked. Two men would have been needed to move this revolutionary piece of machinery, so Brian had to multi-task in this demonstration.

 

 

Only a fraction of the Museum’s total collection is on display, with the rest being stored away at a secure location. It wouldn’t be possible to show everything. It’s a rare thing to be guided through a museum by a curator. Brian helpfully hovered, powered by enthusiasm, revealing interesting snippets. I learned a lot on my visit, though I have to say that as I’m not mechanically-minded, some of the more technical details went over my head.

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These enthusiastic lady gardeners demonstrate the first petrol powered lawn mower produced by ATCO (Atlas Chain Company) in 1921. It was designed by the factory’s managers after the sad death of the horse which had previously pulled the old lawn cutter around the grounds.
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The world’s biggest lawn mower

 

 

 

 

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Lawn bling

I found the Museum a lot more interesting than I had expected to, and was particularly entertained by the collection of celebrity mowers and devices which the rich and famous have donated. Here are just some of them.

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Eric Morecambe’s mower
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A donation from Richard and Judy
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This splendid lawn maintenance collection was a wedding gift to the Prince and Princess of Wales. I was intrigued to know who would have selected this cutting-edge gift for the couple and what it must have looked like when it arrived gift-wrapped at Kensington Palace.
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Paul O’Grady’s unique instrument
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Slightly macabre in its noose is the mower of Britain’s last hangman, Albert Pierrepoint.
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Nicholas Parsons’ contribution

I asked Brian if he contacted celebrities to request their expired devices. I was quite surprised to hear that it was they who contacted him and invited him to their posh pads to collect the aged contraptions. I was particularly amused by an anecdote about Nicholas Parsons who went on to offer Brian not only the mower originally promised but virtually the whole contents of his shed! With all that stuff to get rid of, Nicholas Parsons could have put on the car boot Sale of the Century! (if you were born after 1970 you will have to ‘Google!’)

On one wall, Brian has displayed some photographs of himself meeting celebrities at various events to do with gardens or machinery or when they have visited the Museum.

 

 

 

 

Brian didn’t mention during our conversation that he is a former racing champion and played down taking part in (and winning) a TV quiz show, various media interviews over many years and participating in other TV programmes and conventions. As a curator, Brian Radam is a cut above (sorry again!) those of most other museums and brings back to life through enthusiasm, knowledge and humour the rusting relics of gardening yesteryear.

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Roundhey Park, Leeds – and hurrah! Monty’s back!

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There is always something special about Friday nights. Unless I am out and about, I spend the evening at home, unwinding and easing into the weekend, usually with music, my favourite candles, my favourite incense, my favourite red wine, and a good book or film.

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You will have noticed the word favourite cropping up a few times, and that’s because Friday nights are a celebration: a veil between the frenetic world of work where I spend most of my waking hours on somebody else’s clock, and those two long days which are mine and when I can (usually) do exactly as I please. The perfect end to a Friday night is falling into my bed and NOT setting the alarm. Bliss!

For about half of the year another little bit of magic is woven into the Friday night mix, and this week it returned after its winter absence. I’m writing here about Mr Monty Don and Gardeners’ World.monty 2

Like most people, I love a nice garden and am lucky enough to have a little green spot of my own, though I’m no Carol Klein, and mother nature herself is head gardener at my place!

I had no interest in gardening programmes until about two years ago when one Friday evening (of course!) I found myself so relaxed on the sofa that I didn’t want to move to change the TV channel when Gardeners’ World started. A very strange and wonderful thing happened: I found myself completely absorbed in a very sensory way into the programme: the melodic and soothing voices of the presenters; the vibrant colours of the flowers; the lush foliage; birdsong; the camera focusing on the minutiae of the humming pond insects, bees and the butterflies, not to mention Nell and Nigel, Monty’s gorgeous golden retrievers padding along the ornate paving at Long Meadow. It was like a mental massage! I found myself switching on every week, not to learn about herbaceous borders or pruning, but to be soothed into the weekend by this horticultural answer to whale sounds! You may laugh, but I love it!

My own garden shows few signs of the arrival of spring after another week of snow and frost, but Monty is back, so spring is official, and Friday nights now have that extra added treat. Last night Monty took shelter from the snow in his potting shed and told us about some of his plans for the months ahead. One of his grand botanical designs is for a paradise garden which immediately brought to mind one of my own favourite northern gardens. In anticipation of a hopefully glorious summer, and in defiance of the clinging on of winter, I’d like to share some photographs of  Roundhey Park in Leeds, a lovely bit of Yorkshire.

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Roundhey Park is just a few minutes’ drive outside the centre of Leeds. It is well known as an open air concert venue, but I know it best as a gorgeous green space that I like to spend time in whenever I visit a friend who lives nearby.

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Roundhey has several themed gardens and these change year on year. I love this, as it means there is always something new to see on every visit. One of my favourites is the canal garden, a permanent feature.

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I live along the route of the Leeds Liverpool Canal and have a great interest in our former industrial waterways. Here, the Canal runs through Roundhey Park and has been turned into a serene water feature. I have enjoyed many a picnic on one of those benches.

The waterwheel is not original but is the centrepiece of another area of the gardens.

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I love wildflowers and Roundhey does not disappoint!

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Probably my favourite garden is the Alhambra, and I was very excited to learn that Monty is planning something very similar at Long Meadow.

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The world is a warmer and more hospitable place today than earlier this week, and Monty’s arrival on my screen has inspired me to get out into my little garden this weekend, if only to tidy up and prepare for new beginnings. Fare thee well cold winter! The wheel has turned again…

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