Shepherd’s Delight

It’s almost 10 pm and the sun is setting on another gorgeous July day. The sky is a delicious blend of burnt oranges, pinks and corals: red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Tomorrow looks promising then. Through the still-open window I can hear the faint and exotic sounds of a bamboo wind chime in a neighbour’s tree, gently animated by a cooling breeze. Muted conversation and laughter is carried on the air from nearby gardens. At the end of a magnificent week of scorching sunshine, today’s slightly lower temperature has been most welcome. We can be such a contrary lot where the weather is concerned, craving to be baked and sweltered, but soon needing respite before yearning for the next heatwave.

The little garden is a joy to behold, bursting at the borders with tecnicoloured blooms. I’ve never seen as many bees as this year, which is what it’s all about for me. It took a long time to get going after an exceptionally cold and rainy May, but the plants have forgiven and forgotten and have made up for lost time.

Here are some of the most vibrant and gorgeous that give me so much pleasure. Apparently, lots of people dislike orange flowers, but they never fail to make me smile. Tigger appreciates them too.

Having had mixed results from new plant varieties I have added this year, it’s been wonderful to see that once again the cosmos, calendula and nasturtiums have done me proud. Seed harvested last year was roughly sown straight into the soil in April and the flowers are thriving, needing very little care. There’s a lesson there, I think.

The light has faded since I started writing this post, and in the darkness the garden has another kind of magic, fairy lights and lanterns picking out the shapes of tiny bats as they flit above, looking for insects or heading back to their roosting places. It’s time for music and wine and thinking up plans for a new day. Have a great weekend!

June in bloom

May was very wet and cold here in the north of England, and the garden has taken much longer than usual to get going. Except for the ever-dependable cat mint, determined to push through and show off in pride of place, the flowerbed seemed quite a sad little spot last month. Some of the herbs pots have been thriving since April, but I have been longing to see some colour. June arrived, bringing glorious sunshine, day after day, and temperatures into the twenties. At long last, the first flowers have started to push through to greet the sun.

Last year I dabbled more with seeds than ever before because the garden centres were closed in the spring. I was so delighted with the results that I decided to carry on this year. The results so far have been variable. I started most of my seedlings indoors inside propagator trays and started transferring them outside from April, potting them on and leaving them to grow on the nursery shelves. Heavy rain throughout May meant covering the shelves with plastic sheeting much of the time. Many perished, battered by wind and rain when I wasn’t able to cover them, or rotted in too humid propagators. Nothing has been planted out yet but some cosmos and a few sunflowers are doing well and should be big enough to go into the flower bed in a couple of weeks. There are also some newly germinated nasturtiums, varieties I haven’t grown before and which I am so happy have come through.

Last summer, I sowed some calendula seeds directly into the ground and lavished time, effort and compost nurturing others from propagation. The results were identical, so this year – yes, you’ve guessed it – all have gone straight into the soil and all are doing well, considering recent weather.

It was the same story with nasturtiums last year, some shooting up in the poorest soil, between flags and stones or gate crashing in other pots, all performing as well as their pampered relations. They are classed as annuals but some have decided to come back. Wonderful!

For the first time I’ve decided to try growing some veg. I’m starting small. Very small. In this hanging basket I’m growing cucamelons, which I have never tried before, and chard. I hope they’ll be safe from slugs up there. There are more chard plants on the shelf. I have never been interested in growing fruit or veg up to now and this is just for fun. We’ll see.

Scabiosa is such a resilient plant, as well as gorgeous and attractive to butterflies and bees. They never fail to delight.

Salvia is another perennial favourite for me and the bees. I have bought a couple of new plants which will remain in pots, where they seem to do best in my garden. The bees are happy!

I tried to grow yarrow from seed but not one little shoot emerged. Imagine my delight when I found mature plants on sale at a good garden centre. The first florets are opening and I hope the pollinators will enjoy the feasting.

I picked up two Lady’s Mantle plants from the Pound Shop, both on their last stalks, yellowing and looking doomed. I was moved to try to rescue them. For weeks they seemed to be clinging on but showed no signs of growth. Earlier this week they were replanted together and the transformation has been astonishing. Within a few days they have turned from puny stumps to lush, green pot fillers, soon to be separated and given more room to spread.

Another new addition and a first timer in my flower bed is this delphinium, buds about to open as she rises above the cat mint. I planted three but only this one has succeeded. I can’t wait to see the flowers.

The little California poppy is ready to open again. I sowed some more seeds around it for company but it looks like it will be on its own again.

The fastest mover has been another new plant, this gorgeous erysimum, Bowles Mauve. It has thrived from the moment it was planted out and is a real bee magnet!

It’s such a joyful thing to be able to take pleasure in a garden, especially one as small as mine where every plant counts. Next week is looking lovely, if not so hot, and I’m looking forward to my morning pottering as my coffee brews and my evening cup of tea as the sun goes down. I wish everybody a lovely week!

A lesson in patience and seeds of change

So, here we are on the last day of September. The hours of daylight and darkness have passed their balancing point and we move slowly towards the dark and the cold. Figuratively speaking, we are, and will be, living through darker times than usual this year. But those long months of shorter, colder days offer hope of renewal and regeneration when the warmth returns.

There have been some frosty mornings of late. I have opened the back door to look at the slivers of dawn light and to observe my misty breath in the air. As the garden dies back and slowly goes to seed there is still a lot of colour to take pleasure in, and there is even new growth.

Back in early spring, unable to source any plants, I picked up a few packets of seeds from the supermarket, amongst them some blacked-eyed Susan. Unlike some of the other more vigorously sprouting seedlings, the Susans were very slow to emerge from their little plug pots and, when they eventually did, seemed to be stuck, no bigger than tiny cress stalks, for a long time. I almost gave up on them, planning more than once to throw them into the composting bin. With nothing to lose, I moved the little pots one late July day to a slightly sunnier spot. Their transformation into robust little plants was fast and furious, as if seizing the moment and making up for lost time. I planted them, still doubtful due to their relatively small size, into a bed. Happily, they took hold and went from strength to strength and their sultry shades of ochre and golden-brown keep the spirit of summer alive for a bit longer.

Calendula and nasturtiums are still flowering. Every time I think I have dead-headed for the last time I spot a tiny bud or two.

Roses also continue to bloom, hopefully for a few weeks yet.

The cosmos seeds I potted in April were the first and fastest to grow, feathery stems reaching for the sun. The baby plants were the first to go into the ground and they continued to shoot up and up, lanky and eager. But there were no flowers for the longest time. I gave up on the idea. I pulled up some of the plants which were blocking the light and putting other plants in the shade, stunting their development. I want my garden to be a food source for pollinating creatures; I couldn’t spare the space for anything that provided neither beauty nor nourishment. I left a few of the smaller specimens there, including a sad little thing in a small terracotta pot. To my surprise, they have produced a small number of flowers in white and vibrant pink, a joyful late summer gift, long after I gave up on them.

I adore the muted pink leaves of this honeysuckle plant which I had forgotten about. The pot, invaded by moss and in an inhospitable shady corner, was nearly recycled months ago. Moved into the sun to serve as a stand for a solar battery, the plant awoke again, returning to a long- forgotten splendour. I bought it on the same day as its cousin below, now well over two metres tall and one of my favourites, its pink and purple berries succulent and splendid. They were 50p each on the half- dead rejects shelf.

Nigella have grown in my little garden for about four years now. My first pack of seeds was shop-bought, but for the past three years I have gathered the brown seed heads in September and October, releasing the black seeds, each a potential new flower in the next summer. I move them around the garden, this year planting in perhaps too sunny a spot, shortening their season. Some seeds found their way, on the breeze, to a shady place beneath an over-hanging tree. They have done much better, new flowers still appearing. There is a lesson there.

One of my favourite shrubs is the heavily fragrant caryopteris, Heavenly Blue. It is a bee magnet from May to early September, but its season is nearly over.

Last year I added another caryopteris, White Surprise. It didn’t seem to thrive in its original spot so in early spring I moved it next to its relation, not knowing if it would take root. There was some growth but no flowers. I decided it would have to give up its prime position to a newcomer next spring, but it could stay put for the time being. Over the last few weeks I have not been disappointed. A profusion of lavender blue flowers have taken over, a nectar fest for the insects. I see it from my kitchen window and take great joy in watching the feasting. To think, I might have dug it up, not knowing it was a late summer bloomer!

Another new addition is the pink buddleia, bought from a pound shop. It has grown quite a lot and its big candy-floss display enchants me, though it doesn’t seem to attract the butterflies. I haven’t seen a single one sampling its supposed delights. I am still in two minds about its future prospects, but I won’t be rash. Perhaps the right butterflies haven’t spotted it yet.

When is a weed not a weed? This geranium Robert has the most wonderful aroma, like parsley. I leave it alone to do its thing.

In this mellow season of winding down, decay has its own beauty.

I have bought some spring bulbs to plant at the weekend. They will rest in the cold winter earth before energising and bursting forth to surprise and delight on a March morning. Hope springs eternal.

Bright and Beautiful

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Back in May when we baked and sweltered in days on end of glorious sunshine it was said -only partly in jest – that this was summer so enjoy it while it lasted. It feels now like that was true. I can count on one hand the number of days in July when it hasn’t rained here in north west England. Grey, miserable, wet and even cold are not adjectives that normally are associated with summer, and the season has been hugely disappointing so far.

On a more positive note, wonderful things have been happening in the garden. When I last posted on the subject a few weeks ago everything was pastel and purple, which was lovely, but I was eager to see some bolder colours bursting forth. Well, burst forth they have, and they have been the perfect antidote to the wet and dreary days of late. This afternoon has been sunny and warm for a change so I sat outside with a book and a brew and Tiggy the cat for company.

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Tig having a nap

In the spring when it became clear that garden centres would not be opening any time soon I decided to buy some seeds. Previous efforts at growing from scratch had, in the main, not been successful, but undeterred I bought a few packets from the supermarket and I set about sowing. My biggest success story has been calendula.

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These joyful yellow flowers have grown effortlessly and have been a surprise and a delight. I’ll definitely be growing them again next year

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Their sunny faces always make me smile. The bees love them, too.

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I sowed some seeds directly into the ground and planted others into plug cells, repotting a couple of times. There has been no difference in size or vitality. I even scattered a few randomly and they have grown just as well, including in the little herb bed where I’ve allowed some of the chives to flower for the insects to enjoy.

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Nasturtiums have been another triumph.

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I sowed all of the seeds directly into pots, some with host plants such as winter jasmine which won’t flower until November, and mainly into old compost. Nasturtiums were the first of my seeds to shoot, and they continue to thrive.

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Like the calendula, nasturtiums are so joyful and sunny and their brightness is such a tonic. I’ve learned that they grow even better when planted into the ground so I’ll try that next year.

For the last three summers I have grown Nigella and have collected the seeds each autumn. They have not let me down this year either. They grow anywhere and everywhere in my garden; some have even returned where they were planted last year, even though they are supposed to be annuals.

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My poor little purple scabiosa always starts off well but no matter where I move it to it always withers as surrounding plants overshadow it. I have a plan to move it again. I was given a white scabiosa which seems fearless, standing proud, keeping the cat mint at bay and pulling in the bees.

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67AC5C3B-FD21-41EC-869C-4DE98437C465In February I dug up some roses which were in the wrong spot. They were spreading onto the little path and plucking my clothes whenever I walked past. I transferred them to very large pots and crossed my fingers. After a slow start, all have taken to their new homes.

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This year has also been a time for making the most of what I already had. I divided a pot-bound and poorly-flowering fuchsia into three new plants, all of which are flourishing.

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I adore the smell of caryopteris Heavenly Blue, another favourite with the bees. Planted about four years ago it has spread beyond the bed, but I just leave it.

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The cat mint and banana mint are going strong and providing food for bees and butterflies.

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I had hoped for another Painted Lady invasion like last year, but I’ve had very few butterfly visitors this year, sadly. When they do drop in they prefer the verbena like this tortoise shell.

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The Met Office has promised some proper summer weather tomorrow and especially on Friday so I’ll be out in my unruly little garden enjoying the bright and the beautiful. Happy days!

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The Colour Purple

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This week, the wind and rain have lashed the garden, whipping the tender shrubberies and blowing a sheet off the line and into a neighbour’s tree. I had to take down the wind chimes for a couple of days until the gusts settled. Even I, lover of tubular tinkling that I am, was driven to distraction by the cacophony that sounded more like an ice-cream van in melt-down than soothing music for the soul. Today it is warm, muggy even, and although a storm has been forecast for this evening, it’s lovely so far.

The little garden has taken quite a bashing too, but the flowers and shrubs are none the worse for some much-needed rain. I have decided to abandon the various plans I had for my tiny plot this year; it’s been hard enough to get compost, let alone the shrubs and the landscaping materials I had hoped for. The fences, thirsty for a coat of wood preserver, will have to wait a bit longer. The prospect of queueing outside B&Q for an hour does not appeal.

Strangely, I find that I don’t really mind. Some of my plants seem slow in getting going this year, but I am enjoying what there is so far, and the wildlife is enjoying it too. It’s not always a bad thing to be forced to slow down and enjoy right now rather than think about what’s next.

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Most of my planting has been deliberately chosen to encourage bees and butterflies, and purple is definitely one of their preferred colours. I yearn for those bolder, brighter colours to come through but whilst the roses, geraniums and fuchsias are still just on the edge of revealing themselves, there is a lot of pretty purple in full bloom.

Scabiosa

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Lavender

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Thyme in flower

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Verbena Bonariensis, a butterfly magnet

One of the most popular plants with the bees is Walker’s Low, cat mint. Like all mint it takes hold and spreads, offering the pollinators a fragrant feast. Oddly, there were no bees around when I took these photos.

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It’s not just popular with bees either.

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A carpet of cat mint under a honeysuckle canopy offers a cool and peaceful shade from the hot sun.

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The heady scent of salvia is intoxicating.

We all love being in our garden.

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Whalley Abbey,dissolved but not forgotten

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This is the second week of my Easter break from work, and in these strange times all that means is that I’m just not looking at anything work-related for a fortnight. On Monday morning I’ll take up my position at my home desk and work on whatever can be worked on within the limitations imposed by distance and technology. At the onset of lockdown I thought working from home would be easier than the reality has proved, hence my present ‘hard line’ on taking this two weeks’ leave. Still, I’m immensely grateful and relieved that I’m able to continue working and have security and peace of mind where so many others now face uncertainty.

Being blessed with excellent weather, I’ve spent much of my time contentedly pottering outside: sowing, re-potting, pruning and repairing. I’ve also been able to finish a couple of books, both sidelined some weeks or months ago, and am now, after a slow start, just over a hundred pages into Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. This final part of the trilogy which charts the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell has been a long time coming, and I know that I have not been alone in wondering, impatiently, what was taking Hilary so long. I read somewhere that she was finding it hard to write the end; to finally put Cromwell’s head upon the block. Hilary Mantel is a perfectionist, which is the real reason for the gap between Bring up the Bodies and this finale. Having been awarded Booker prizes for instalments one and two, the pressure to maintain that standard a third time must have been immense.

Thomas Cromwell was a key figure in driving King Henry VIII’s programme of dissolution of the monasteries as part of the English Reformation. Henry’s main interest was in the considerable revenue which, confiscated from the wealthiest monastic establishments, could boost his kingly coffers. For Cromwell, apart from wanting to impress his boss, the king, his own agenda was more theological, being strongly in favour of rooting out all things papist.

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All this talk of Tudors and Reformation brought to mind another of my favourite places, Whalley Abbey near Clitheroe. Now owned by the Church of England, only ruins remain of the 14th century Cistercian monastery. More modern (still centuries old) buildings on the site are in use as a spiritual retreat and conference centre. I was first introduced to Whalley about 10 years ago by a friend who was training to be a counsellor and had taken part in a residential course there. She had found great pleasure in strolls among the ancient ruins and along the banks of the river Calder which skirts the grounds. These photographs I took on a summer’s day a few years ago capture the Abbey’s serenity.

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Of course, the Abbey was not always the peaceful location it is today. Established in the late 13th century and a work-in-progress for nearly a century after that, the monastic community had its fair share of controversies and scraps over money with other local religious powerhouses. The founders had relocated to Whalley from their original Abbey at Stanlow on the banks of the river Mersey where a series of unfortunate incidents including flooding, gales and fire damage had led to the decision to move to pastures new. An age of prosperity and calm followed and the Abbey became one of the principal landowners in east Lancashire. Rivalries in the region were fierce where money was concerned, and records dating from the last quarter of the 15th century tell of vicious feuds between the Abbott and the Rector of Slaidburn over tithe payments, with reports of the Rector’s thugs attacking monks.

The church then, as now, enjoyed fantastic wealth, and inevitably some of that was abused as records of lush living and monkish opulence describe. Of course, Abbeys were also places where the sick could receive care and the poor, alms. The rising star that was Cromwell saw an opportunity. In 1535 delegations of ‘visitors’ were sent to the English Abbeys to carry out inventories of their assets and to look for signs of superstitious practices such as promoting belief in the power of so-called relics, a lucrative business in its time. Examples of some of these finds were widely publicised by Cromwell to provide further justification for the dissolution. The Visitors’ report on Whalley was not especially damning, with only one monk apparently conducting himself lewdly, but the Abbott, John Paslew, was accused of selling off some of the church’s gold. Sanctions were placed on the community and records show that Cromwell himself was required to make judgement when the Abbey appealed. He relaxed the sanctions. Nice.

The following year, 1536, saw Abbott Paslew and many of the monks participate in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a Catholic rebellion. Paslew was executed for treason. The year after that the Abbey was dissolved. Centuries of private ownership followed before it was bought by the Church of England in 1923. It is a grade 1 listed scheduled ancient monument. To me, it’s just a really lovely place to spend some quiet time.

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I hope to go back to Whalley once some sort of normal life is resumed and spend a few hours just moving slowly around the grounds, bench-hopping, listening to birdsong and blissfully doing nothing much.

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It’s turned out nice again

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In the words of a well-known George Formby song, ‘it’s turned out nice again’ today. Though cold for the last day of March, the sun has shone and, more importantly, it’s been dry. The weather has become more, or less, significant to many of us over the past week or so. Dry days have made those permitted walks, runs and bike rides possible for those who are able to get outside their four walls. Even for those like me who are working from home, it’s great just to sit in the garden for a bit, or even do a bit of planting, pruning and tidying up.

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There is new growth in the garden, plenty of it, but not a lot of colour yet. With little prospect of holidays or even day trips for some time, those lucky enough to have even the smallest of green patches will, no doubt, enjoy them even more than usual in the weeks, or even possibly months, ahead. The few snowdrops that bloomed in my little garden are long gone, and one or two crocuses are clinging on, but the bright and cheerful daffodils are still making me smile.

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I decided to go into town yesterday to deposit some cash and a cheque into the bank. Cash is exceedingly frowned upon at the moment, so I felt guilty handing it over when it was eventually my turn to cross the bank’s threshold, having satisfied the lady on the door that I had a good enough reason to enter, i.e. a purpose that couldn’t be accomplished through the use of the cash machine outside. It was very unnerving to see people queueing, spaced so very far apart, to enter the few businesses that remained open.

From the bank I had one more call to make inside the shopping arcade, though there was very little shopping going on. The jocular security guy again asked me what my business was. I gave the right answer, passed the test and was admitted. As I made my way from one store to another of the three that were open, it hit me that in that moment, in that big space, there was just me and the statue of George Formby, immortalised with his ukulele in his hand. It was surreal. I’m sure George would have come up with some jolly ditty to raise folks’ spirits at a time like this, as many ordinary people are doing in all sorts of ways right now through social media. Good on them.

The Grand Arcade is built on the site of the former Wigan Casino, the legendary home of Northern Soul. There is a plaque which marks the exact spot of the Casino entrance outside a well-known mobile phone shop, but I can’t show you a picture here as that area is cordoned off; none of the stores at bottom end sells food. Like George’s lyrics, Northern Soul’s motto was a happy one, never more relevant than now: ‘Keep the faith!’. Keep smiling everyone, and be safe.

 

 

 

 

Sun Stands Still

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In the past I used to wish away the time between November and March but in recent years I’ve come to appreciate winter, if not quite like it. I have adjusted my mindset and my expectations of the season and the weather, and instead of feeling frustrated at how I perceive my plans repeatedly thwarted by ice and rain and cancelled trains, or my activities limited by short days and lack of light, I have altered my own rhythms and lifestyle to fall in with nature.

That being said, I still do not look forward to winter’s arrival, and although I have made peace with it I still rejoice when the days start to lengthen again, and feel positively buoyant when the season has departed.

Today is the shortest day, a day later than the solstice usually falls. Apparently, yesterday was one second longer. Solstice translates from Latin as sun stands still when for three days our star holds its lowest position of elevation in the sky before it starts once again to ascend, bringing the promise of new life.

Last year’s beautiful blooms have withered now but look graceful in their dignified decay.

 

Though there are still splashes of colour and signs of life.

The cat mint, virulent and super fragrant all summer and into the early autumn looks dead to me; brown twigs rotting in the damp soil. I think Paddy cat’s keener sense of smell may still detect the faint delightful aroma, or perhaps he’s reflecting too, on memories of warmer days and basking in olfactory pleasures.

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In the autumn I dug up a little crimson rose bush which wasn’t thriving, diminished and crowded out by its bigger neighbours. It had stopped flowering when I transferred it to a large pot and hoped for the best. This week, a solitary new rose has opened up. A magical sign of things to come in the darkest week of the year.

The winter jasmine is in full bloom and the ivy looks as good as ever.

 

It will soon be dark again but right now the sky is still blue and it’s not too cold; a perfect moment to sit in the garden and enjoy a cup of tea with Jasper cat.

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and meditate on the cycle of life

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and the sound of a lone bird

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In a few weeks from now there will be the first stirrings from beneath the ground, green shoots emerging and new beginnings. For now, it’s still time to rest while Mother Earth works her magic in secret.

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On the cusp of seasons

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Well, what a changeable summer we had here in the UK! August in particular was wetter and cooler than usual here in the north west of England. We also had a few exceedingly hot days which were most welcome. This summer I spent more time at home than usual, relishing those dry, warm days and, like a contented sloth, lazing in the garden, admiring nature’s handiwork in which my own efforts have played a small part. Not knowing how many more luxuriously sultry, blazing days might still be to come – or not – I made the most of each, in case it was to be the last.

I also became something of a wimp as far as travelling was concerned. I hope this is a temporary thing. I found repeatedly that I could not muster much enthusiasm for being out in the countryside or at the coast – or anywhere – in heavy rain, or in cramped, sticky, sweaty trains or buses on the hotter days. As autumn advances I’m sure I shall once again return to my gallivanting ways, but it has actually been rather lovely slowing down and enjoying my own small but exclusive green space.

Autumn is here. Instinctively, I hold with the ancient calendars which place the start of autumn in August at the time of the first harvests. There is a tangible shift which is felt most keenly in those colder, damper evenings.

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The blackberries in my hedges, which appeared for the first time two years ago, have been and gone. Blackberries remind me fondly of childhood when we used to go as a family on long walks, parents and siblings all harvesting the plump purple fruits in old ice cream tubs or Tupperware containers, fingers stained blue and arms invariably scratched from delving into prickly brambles. Those days are distant memories, and nowadays I leave my own miniature crop for the birds to enjoy.

The wild flowers have all died back now and new growth has slowed down. The rose bushes are still adorned with buds but I know from experience that many of those will not open. Those still in full bloom continue to nourish wild life.

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It has been a joy to see so many butterflies in the garden this year, mainly feasting on the verbena, which has been a triumph. There will be more of that next year too. Some of my graceful visitors are below: commas, small whites, small tortoiseshells, peacocks, speckled woods (I think!) and painted ladies which arrived en masse in late July.

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In mid September we are still enjoying some fine sunny days. There is still a lot of colour. The shop-bought Nigella seeds have, like last year, added so much beauty to every part of the garden in shades of white and various blues. They are amazing, growing vigorously and splendidly wherever the seeds were scattered.

Most have now finished blooming, their stunning seed heads continuing to delight.

A few have already turned brown and as thin and dry as old paper. The black seeds rattle inside their shells. After releasing and collecting them I’ll store in a dry dark place until the spring when they can be planted, providing me with an abundance of new plants for free.

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It will soon be time to place the spring bulbs in the earth and to cut back the spent growth so that it may rest over the winter until it’s time for the cycle of growth to start again. For now, I’ll enjoy this warm start to the autumn, relishing every moment.

Conishead Priory and Manjushri Kadampa Buddhist Temple

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About once a year I travel to the pretty Cumbrian town of Ulverston and from there make the short journey to the small coastal village of Bardsea to visit one of the most distinctive properties in the north of England, Conishead Priory.

In the 12th century a community of Augustinian monks established a church and hospital on the site which grew in size, importance and wealth, was promoted to the status of priory and later received a royal charter from King Edward II. The Priory ministered to the poor of the surrounding areas, spiritually and medicinally, and didn’t do badly in return through tithe payments and hopeful pilgrims seeking blessings and cures through the medium of the in-house relic, a piece of the girdle of the Virgin Mary, no less.

All that came to an end in 1537 when the Priory, and all others like it, was demolished during England’s Protestant Reformation. The estate passed through several owners until it came into the possession of the Braddyll family in the 1600s, remaining the family seat for almost 200 years. The last of that line to own the Priory was Colonel Thomas Braddyll who inherited the estate in 1818. He found it in a state of disrepair and decided to rebuild from scratch, engaging the services of architect Phillip Wyatt at a cost of £140,000 and taking 15 years to construct. Master craftsmen from all over the world were brought in to contribute to a grand design resembling a fortified house with an ecclesiastical structure.

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Financial losses in the Durham coal mines bankrupted Thomas Braddyll and in 1848 he had to sell the estate. After changing hands several times, Conishead was bought in 1878 by a Scottish syndicate and was turned into a luxury hydropathic hotel and health farm offering salt baths, lawn tennis and pleasure boating amongst other benefits for those who could afford it. A branch line from Ulverston Station even ran directly to the site which, sadly for me, was long ago dismantled.

The Priory continued as a place of rest and recuperation from 1928 until 1972 when it was run as a convalescent home for Durham coal miners, interrupted during the years of World War II when it was temporarily the largest military hospital in the north west of England.

When the miners’ tenure came to an end, the site sat empty for four years and fell into a shocking state of decay until it was bought in 1976 by the Kadampa Buddhist Community which, over many years, worked continuously, initially to repair the extensive rot and then to transform Conishead into an international college of Buddhist learning and meditation.

Conishead is, with no exaggeration, a fantastic place to visit because it has so much to offer. Primarily a Buddhist centre of learning, it attracts tens of thousands of Buddhists every year, especially to its festivals and retreats. Generously, it has extended its welcome to all, and the beautiful grounds are open, free of charge, to those of us who just enjoy this gorgeous place.


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The reception area gives a short multi-media history of the Priory and is the starting point of a tour – very reasonably priced at £3 – which takes place once daily at weekends and bank holidays, excluding religious festivals when the estate is closed to day visitors. Every time I have visited since the first time in 2015 I have planned to join the tour, but have never ended up doing so. Once I start roaming around the grounds I lose track of time and just want to carry on in solitary happiness, taking pleasure in the tranquility. I hope you enjoy, through my photos, my own solo tour which I’m sharing with you.

From the car park, an archway leads to what would have been the courtyard and stables. Cottages which would formerly have housed staff or been stables are now the homes of Buddhist community residents. A friendly cat greeted me as I approached.

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Continuing through the cottage courtyard and through another archway leads to a wide lawn area bordered by plants and shrubs. Community members also live in parts of the main house and some clearly love gardening.


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A tunnel of evergreens leads to a small wild garden. I love to sit in the corner surrounded by the fragrant herbs. Everything here is left to do its own thing and signs of autumn are all around in the form of ripening fruit and flowers gone to seed. In one of the pictures you’ll see a clue to our next stop on our tour.

 

Another lawn leads us to the spectacular temple. The lawn is surrounded by stone seating where visitors can sit and relax. It’s usually quiet here.

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The temple is relatively simple in design compared with others I’ve visited. Let’s look inside. We have to take off our shoes.

 

 

Everybody is welcomed warmly and free to sit quietly, look around, take photos or meditate as they like. Visitors can ask questions as there are always community members supervising, but happily they are not evangelical, and leave visitors to appreciate the space in their own way.

Back outside, we’ll walk across the outer lawn and into the private woodland.


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I deviate from the wide main path and come across a sad but lovely little clearing I’ve not seen before; a little resting place for furry friends passed away.

 

 

I stay for a few minutes thinking about life and love and how precious time is before moving on through the trees to enjoy the time I have right now on this warm sunny day. Glorious bright sunshine greets me as I exit the trees and walk out onto the Priory’s private beach, again generously available to all visitors and their dogs. The stunning fells of the Lake District are a splendid background. In the second picture below you can see the viaduct across the bay at Arnside.

Looking out to the right towards Heysham.

I sit for half an hour doing absolutely nothing before retracing my steps through the wood. Emerging outside the conservatory cafe, I head inside for a cold drink.

It’s time to leave. I promise myself that I won’t leave it so long in future.