Sunday, 19 May 2019

In and around Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury is a market town whose centre has a largely unspoilt medieval street plan and over 660 listed buildings, including several examples of timber framed properties from the 15th and 16th century. 
When wandering these characterful streets, it is easy to forget that this quaint but lively place was once at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution which was also responsible for initiating new and innovative ideas.


Just a few miles from Shrewsbury is Coalbrookdale where we find Thomas Telford's enduring design for the first ever cast-iron bridge (1771). It still stands as a proud symbol and testament to the new and innovative ideas of the Industrial Revolution. 
Today it is difficult to imagine that some 300 years ago this lovely valley echoed all day long to the sounds of clanking machinery, roaring furnaces, and that the river was filled with boats stacked high with iron to supply both the Empire and the world. 
So why amongst all of this iconic architecture have we come to visit Shrewsbury's Flax Mill built in 1796, just a few years later than Telford's bridge.

Flax mill is Grade 1 listed and has already undergone several years of restoration and had several millions of pounds spent on it, but even so will not be ready to open to the public until 2021.
Although the mill looks like a simple 5 storey brick building it's world importance is actually on the inside.
This building is the first ever cast-iron framed building to be built and although only a five story brick building it is acknowledged as being the precursor to all skyscrapers, and described as "the grandfather of skyscrapers".
Inside is the original cast-iron framework supporting the brickwork of the building. When all of the interiors are restored these large spacious areas will be made into restaurants, work places, galleries etc.
One hundred years later the mill was adapted for use as a maltings which then became known as the Shropshire Maltings. This required the mill to have additional cast-iron columns and steel beams inserted to strengthen the building. 
The additional columns are shown on the righthand side of this photo and it also shows the first time that 'nuts and bolts' were ever used to hold an iron structure together.
It was quite a daunting task to climb to the top of the building, but it prepared our legs very well for the following days adventure!
This is a projection of how the mill is expected to look on completion.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

A Love of Botany

The Bluebells have finished flowering, but if you missed them, fear not, they will be back again next year.
Miss Hunter taught me maths and botany. Botany is no longer a specified subject on school curriculums but is now a part of environmental studies. 
Miss Hunter was a typical middle-aged maiden lady who wore thick tweed skirts, twin sets and pearls, and lisle hosiery decorated with lacy designs. 
I was both curious and fascinated by her hair which she wore in tight sausage like curls. They would swing around her head as she entered the classroom, but if she became angry then they would jiggle up and down, but how I loved Miss Hunter's botany class. She would beautifully illustrate each wild flower on the blackboard using different coloured chalks and then make detailed illustrations so that we would understand and appreciate each flowers anatomy. 
My favourite moment every year was when she took us out for the whole day into the Derbyshire Dales where we would climb the hills and 'hunt' with Miss Hunter for as many different wildflowers as we could find. 
Every pupil carried a small sweet or biscuit tin to safely house each specimen that we found, and on our return to school, we would draw and dissect them. Picking wildflowers is not allowed today - look and admire, but definitely do not pick. She taught us the latin and the common names of the flowers and also local tales and folklore connected to them. Miss Hunter has left me with an abiding love of flowers both in the wild and in my garden.
Various shades of pink are commanding attention in the garden right now along with yellow, blue, and mauve.

Catching my eye in particular are these Lilium martagon - Turk's cap lilies. 
I will never forget finding them growing wild in a remote Pyrenean valley.
I love this Piptanthus nepalensis - an evergreen Laburnum which comes from the Himalayas with its bright citrus flowers and rich glossy black stems.







Every year the pretty blossom and heart shaped leaves of the Cercis siliquastrumJudas Tree never fails to charm and delight.


In the garden there are four Peony Trees, but we are fortunate to have this one called Paeonia delavayi. It is endemic to SW China but limited to Sichuan, Yunnan and also the very SE part of Tibet. It is listed as endangered in the China Plant Red Data Book and may be under threat if digging out roots for medicine on a large scale is not adequately controlled. 
I have only seen this tree growing in one other garden called Branklyn which sits on the side of Kinnoull Hill overlooking Perth in Scotland. The garden is in the care of the NT for Scotland and I noticed on our visit that they had one growing in the garden. In vain I searched their plant stall hoping to buy one but my luck was out. One of the gardeners happened to walk by as I was searching so I asked him if he had any for sale. He said that he had seen one recently at the back of one of the greenhouses that had fallen off the plants staging and become both moribund and pot bound, but if he could find it then I could have it. I waited and waited and eventually he returned with a poor specimen whose roots were bursting out through the pot. He said "take it and see how it goes". We carried it carefully all around Scotland before returning back home and now it has grown into a beautiful tree, which is greatly appreciated and enjoyed.
One of the other Peony Trees - Paeonia ludlowii also comes from China but is endemic to the Nyingchi, Mainling and Lhȕnzê counties of SE Tibet, however, it is a far easier tree to propagate. Unlike Paeonia delavayi which is propagated by taking semi hardwood cuttings, Paeonia ludlowii is propagated from seed. It has very large black seeds and I must have given at least 20 of these trees away to family and friends. It is named in honour of Frank Ludlow an English officer who was stationed in the British Mission at Lhasa and a keen naturalist. 
In comparison the other two peony trees come from Japan - they resemble shrubs rather than trees, and have larger showy flowers. 

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Two Devonshire Gardens

'Step into the spirit of the Jazz Age'
Coleton Fishacre, Devon was the country home of the D'Oyly Carte family - an Arts and Crafts house built in the mid 1920s with elegant Art Deco interiors. 
One day Rupert and Lady Dorothy D'Oyly Carte were sailing along the Devonshire coastline when they spotted a beautiful secluded valley, and decided there and then that this was where they would build themselves a country home.


A luxuriant 30 acre garden now fills the valley which runs down to the edge of the sea. The humidity in the garden is high thanks to both the sea and a stream which meanders through the valley; tender plants from the Mediterranean, South Africa and New Zealand thrive under it's canopy of exotic trees, and when visited in March, Spring was already well advanced compared to the rest of the country.  
The architect for the house and the terraced areas was Oswald Milne, a student of Sir Edwin Lutyens.

"The loveliest place in the world"
Just a few miles away from the D'Oyly Carte country home is 'Greenway', the much beloved holiday home of the writer, Agatha Christie.
"One day we saw that a house was up for sale that I had known when I was young....So we went over to see Greenway, how beautiful the house and grounds were. A white Georgian house of about 1780 or 90, with woods sweeping down to the River Dart below, and a lot of fine shrubs and trees - the ideal house, a dream house".
This is just a glimpse at the holiday home where the famous author, her family, and many invited guests would spend their summers and Christmases. 
Guests could explore the many secret pathways within the extensive grounds, wander down to the Boathouse at the edge of the Dart and go sailing. Lawn croquet and clock golf were also popular pastimes. 
via National Trust
In the evenings guests were often to be found sitting around together, whilst Agatha held them enthralled, as she read to them the latest chapter from her current mystery novel.   

Monday, 29 April 2019

A la Ronde

.....is a unique little building in Devon with fine views looking out over the countryside towards the Exe estuary. 
It was built in 1796 to a design conceived by the maiden cousins Jane and Mary Parminter in order to house their shell collection.  

The cousins designed this unusually shaped 16 sided building originally with a thatched roof. The most important consideration for them was to ensure that they gained as much possible natural light throughout the day into the top of the building. 
They busied themselves every day creating a shell gallery in the upper lantern room using their very large collection of shells, feathers, sand, seaweed, and crushed minerals.
The Parminter family had very extensive business interests - Jane was born in 1750 in Portugal where her father owned a wine export company. Independent wealth gave both of these women an unusual amount of freedom for that period in time.
They both set off together on a Grand Tour and it is considered that they may have been travelling for around four years. There was no set time or programme to a Grand Tour and four years or even longer was quite normal. 
It is likely that Jane and Mary conceived the idea of their own shell gallery following a visit made to the shell grotto on the island of Isola Bella in Lago Maggiore, Italy.
Sadly, now over 300 years old, it is no longer possible to actually see their shell craftwork - it is far too fragile for many visitors to walk around the narrow gallery.
looking up to the shell gallery
However, luckily I can still remember visiting it as a child, my parents brought me here whilst holidaying in Devon. It is now only viewable from a 3D screen, but that does not negate in anyway from the pleasure of being in such a delightful little building. 
The shell gallery via National Trust

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Choose Optimism

........and you will feel much better. Do something that will personally lift your own spirits whatever that may be. Currently all of us are being bombarded on a daily basis with so much negativity and strife. I am feeling particularly shocked by the most recent news. I have just realised that one of the bombs that exploded in Sri Lanka happened in the Cinnamon Grand hotel, a place where we stayed for one night on our arrival in Sri Lanka 10 months ago. The man who exploded the bomb booked into the hotel on Easter Saturday, and then calmly walked into the breakfast room the following day with a bomb strapped inside a rucksack on his back. Just as many of the guests were enjoying their Sunday breakfast he exploded the bomb.  
I took a walk around the garden, a good way to lift my spirits, and whilst I was there I noticed that the warm weather had finally opened up the tightly coiled copper spearlike buds of the Beech Trees. 
The newly emerging leaves are a lovely chartreuse green with silky hairs running around their edge. They do, however, quickly loose these downy hairs, and become a darker shade of green as they mature. Now is the moment to enjoy them during their brief infancy, and catch them if you can on a day when the sun filters it way through their baby leaves.
Walking in the Beech Woods at this time of year is always an uplifting moment for me, and we are fortunate to have some beautiful trees sitting on the steep Cotswold escarpment where we live.

These giant trees soar forever straight and true and have done so for more than 200 years. 
With a profusion of wild garlic and bluebells at their feet, walking in mother natures kingdom offers up a haven of peace and serenity in our tumultuous world.

Friday, 19 April 2019

A Flower For Easter

Pasqueflowers are not easily found - they rank amongst the ten rarest wild flowers in Britain.
They bloom during this Easter period, hence the name pasque, a word derived from pasakh, which is Hebrew for Passover.
It prefers to grow undisturbed in chalk and limestone grasslands, and can be found here in the Cotswolds just a stones throw from where I live. However, unless you know exactly where to look, finding it can be tricky. 
Several myths and legends surround the Pasqueflower -  it is said that the plant was first created from drops of Adonis' blood after he was gored by a wild boar on Mount Lebanon - Adonis being the mortal lover of the goddess Aphrodite. Others say that the plant sprang from her tears after she learnt of his death. An alternative legend states that the flower sprang from the blood of dead Viking warriors, probably because it thrives in this country on some of our chalky Neolithic Barrows. Years ago I lived in Hertfordshire, and it was there that I saw my first wild Pasqueflower. The flowers were thriving near to the small town of Royston on a well drained, chalky, grassy mound called Church Hill, but a mound that is known to be a prehistoric chamber tomb. 
Fairy folk lore tells of fairies resting inside it's furry flowers at sundown.
With it's purple petals covered in long, silky, white, hairs, bright yellow stamens, and grey-green feathery leaves, it is actually possible to grow these little gems, but only if you have a southerly aspect, and well drained chalky/alkaline soil. They can be hard to establish, but once they are thriving, they will continue to flourish as long as you leave them undisturbed.
Wishing you all a Very Happy Easter.