Sunday 26 May 2019

Hawkstone Park

In the mid 18th century Sir Rowland Hill utilised the existing sandstone boulders and cliffs on his estate to create a naturalistic landscape. The School of Naturalistic Landscaping, called the 'English Style' sought to imitate nature by incorporating different natural features and displaying them to their best advantage. It rejected the straight lines and geometrical approach that had previously been the accepted rule when laying out gardens and grounds.
Sir Rowland began the process by creating trails and building follies, but it was his son, Sir Richard Hill, who eventually took over and completed the bulk of the landscape in 1783. By the time of its completion, Hawkstone Park was the most visited landscape in Britain and recognised as a masterpiece. 
In the first image you may have noticed a substantial patch of blue staining on one of the rocks. This has long been considered to have been as a result of copper mining during the Roman occupation in Shropshire which lasted for almost 4 centuries.
2000 years ago, following the defeat of rebellious local tribes in the area, the Roman army founded a settlement that they called Viroconium which became the fourth largest Roman City in Britain. Today it is better known by the name of the small village called Wroxeter  that now occupies a corner of what was once the Roman city. 
Californian Redwoods
Sir Richard had walkways built around the cliffs, and carved narrow tunnels and caves into the sandstone. He created follies, and had interesting bridges erected to continue the walkways over from one cliff to another. Many indigenous trees were planted along the tops and sides of the cliffs, and he also incorporated several newly discovered trees from around the world. 
Chestnuts, Spruce, and Scotch Pine all sat alongside Chilean Pines (Monkey Puzzles), Californian Redwoods and Rhododendrons from Tibet.  
Today the Rhododendrons have grown to be almost as large as the trees that surround them.
A substantial part of the walk in Hawkstone Park is very high enabling wonderful far reaching vistas, but parts of it can be quite challenging, and not for the faint hearted. You need strong legs, and good knees as there are lots of steep slopes, narrow walkways, and flights of steps encountered along the journey. 
This is just a small section of a long flight of steps. It curves on much higher up than can be seen, and there are still more steps to negotiate downwards. Our leaflet informed us that this was the easy route!
A typical Swiss style bridge would have been a familiar sight to many of the 18th and 19th century visitors. It is something that they would have encountered whilst travelling through Switzerland to Italy on their 'grand tour'.
The bridge traversed a vertiginous ravine and was narrow to navigate.

No 18th century landscape would be considered complete without it's very own hermit and this is the Hermitage where Father Francis would spend his summer months. Bare footed and aged about 90 years old, he would engage in conversation with the visitors about Life and Mortality, and recite to them from "Momento Mori". 
This Monument was erected by Sir Richard in 1795 to commemorate his ancestor Sir Rowland Hill, who was the first protestant Lord Mayor of London in 1541. It is reputed that on a clear day you can see 13 counties from the top. However, I decided that it was a step too far for me as we still had plenty of Hawkstone Park to walk before finally arriving back at the car.

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.
The mill looks like a simple brick building but it's world importance is found on the inside.
This is the first ever cast-iron framed building to be built and is acknowledged as being the precursor to all skyscrapers. It is described as being "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 which 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.