A PURPLE PASSION

Revered for thousands of years, Lavender still holds us enthralled. The fragrant plants are a delight themselves whilst its distilled essential oils have been used for millenniums for aromatherapy, perfume, herbal medicines, culinary herbs.

It was with excitement and joy I found myself at Jersey Lavender within a couple of hours of landing on this jewel of an island of Jersey. Established in 1983, the lavender farm boosts 9 acres with 55,000 lavender plants of six varieties.

As if in a trance I wandered amongst this haven, my palms gently sweeping across the flowers, inhaling the heavenly scent. I found myself closing my eyes … my emotions filled, a dream realised on this first day of my anniversary break.

Luscious lavender

Its fervent purple promise

With forced steam distilled

The golden essence freed.

©Annika Perry, July 2019

“The Secrets of Living” *

* “may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living.”
e.e. cummings

I’m neither a twitcher nor even an avid bird-watcher, yet I delight in the aviary activity in the garden as well as out and about in nature!

Whilst enjoying a break on the swing bench it’s a joy to see the birds flying with precision and speed to the feeder, some darting back and forth for a quick nibble, whilst others hog the stand for minutes at an end.

In the woods other birds swoop between the trees, their calls echoing around the neighbourhood.

Travelling abroad is always a revelation and this is true for the birds encountered. I will never forget the spectacle in Florida of pelicans flying eye-level past the balcony on numerous occasions, almost within touching distance. The sense of awe was phenomenal.

In today’s world the natural environment competes with digital elements of our lives. We seem increasingly time poor as screens easily win the battle for our attention. It would be a bleak and empty future if the wonder of nature and animals is lost to the latest generation.

In an attempt to combat this possibility, Denzil Walton has written a book to share his knowledge and experience of bird watching with children. Encourage a Child to Watch Birds is written for adults caring for children and gives advice on how to tempt children away from their screens to the outside world. In this first of a series of Encourage a Child the author begins by showing adult how to best bring the world of birds alive for children.

At first I was slightly sceptical. Surely it is just a matter of heading out and pointing at the birds! I could not be more wrong!

The book is highly informative, detailed and well-written. It is aimed for children from seven to twelve years old, however I feel it is relevant for both younger and older age groups. To be honest, I have found lots of helpful information for myself and made notes for future reference. Whilst the book concentrates on birdlife in Western Europe there are also many references to birds in America and Australia.

The book teaches us the difference between merely looking at birds and watching them with real engagement. The explanations are clear whilst still detailed. The format is easy to read and absorb, with sections broken up with a summary list of suggested questions to ask the child. There are ten chapters in all which progress from the basic bird watching, to feeding, caring, closer viewing through binoculars, taking notes etc. Later in the book various excellent project ideas are described and there are some for all age groups. In addition the personal anecdotes makes this a highly engaging and approachable book.

The information within the book includes the best viewing places, such as observing a swan from a bridge which allows the young person “to be able to see the swan’s large webbed feet, frantically paddling away, while on top the swan looks perfectly serene and calm.” Furthermore, Denzil Walton advices adults to teach children to “use mnemonics to memorise bird songs and calls.” The book explains the difference between bird calls and bird songs and suggest that listening to these will help children appreciate classical music such as Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending.

The writer’s in-depth knowledge is superb and gives us nuggets of fascinating information. This ranges from becoming involved in bird census counts (the RSPB one in the UK has over half a million members) to learning the interesting fact that peregrine falcons reach speeds of 150 mph as they fly to knock another bird out of the sky! Furthermore I learned how to buy the best bird book and how to choose the right pair of binoculars. A quick hint, it’s not all about magnification!

The book helpfully includes a link to Encourage A Child website where there are many other numerous resources. I must hasten to add, the irony is not lost to the author of an ebook and website to encourage young people outside … I would argue that internet research is both unavoidable and imperative in today’s world.

Encourage a Child to Watch Birds is great aid and inspiration for all those looking after children with wonderful suggestions for appreciating bird life and I believe that not only parents, grandparents will find this extremely helpful but also nursery and school teachers etc. My only quibble is the lack images of birds, which I appreciate may be down to copyright, cost issues. However, as a result of reading the book I was inspired to print out lots of images myself from the internet for reference!

Watching birds is a wonderful and relaxing break from our busy and hectic lives and I’m confident that Denzil Walton’s wish to help give a child ‘resilience for stress later in life’ will be fulfilled through this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ebook of Encourage a Child to Watch Birds is available on Smashwords and also here on Amazon UK & Amazon US.

Note: I received the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Finally, I’d like to share a short video of bird life in my garden, centred around a couple of the feeders. Enjoy!

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” Chinese proverb.

The photos are all by myself from my garden apart from the first one which is courtesy of pixaby.com.

Treasure of the World

Two weeks ago, my husband and I had the opportunity of an extended break in the historic and beautiful city of Bath. Whilst there not only did we explore the amazing Roman Baths, dine at the lavish Pump Rooms, we also set one day aside for nature.

In the midst of Autumn what better place to visit than the National Arboretum of Westonbirt.

With over 18,000 trees we were spoilt with autumnal displays and happily wandered for four hours along some of its 17 miles of pathways (one of these amongst the treetops!).

As is often the case, Westonbirt was the vision of one man; in this case a wealthy landowner, MP and gardening enthusiast Robert Halford who started the Arboretum in 1829. Since 1956 it has been managed by the Forestry Commission.

Today it boasts over 2,500 species from all across the globe, and ‘is internationally renowned not only for the diversity and importance of its collection but also its breath-taking beauty’.

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” John Muir

“The world’s forests are a shared stolen treasure that we must put back for our children’s future.” Desmond Tutu

“I never see a forest that does not bear a mark or a sign of history.” Anselm Kiefer

“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.” Paulo Coehlo

“An autumn forest is such place that once entered you never look for the exit!” Mehmet Murat Ildan

“The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and scorching sun.” Napoleon Hill

CHAOS AND SHIMMERING BEAUTY

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What is it about snow? Just as it has the power to cause chaos, this quality brings along unexpected peace and harmony. Waking to the promised sub-zero temperatures, the snow view from the bedroom window was stunning.

Heavy clouds shimmered in their purple hues, ladened with more snow. Through them pierced the morning sun, a thin spotlight of warmth, a glimmering sign of a new day. Ethereal colours danced all around.

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Outside the birds flocked thankfully to the full feeder, and with quiet gratitude I watched their morning repast whilst contentedly eating my own. A breakfast usually rushed for work and school took on a life of its own and was one that just did not want to end. Ninety minutes later my soul was satiated from the busy flutterings, my stomach was full with berries, yogurt, granola. The outside beckoned!

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With perfect timing the sun appeared as I strode around the nature reserve. Total and absolute silence, apart from the satisfying crunch of snow with every step. The crushed implosion seeming to reverberate across the landscape. Otherwise not a sound. No birdsong. No a single car engine noise. Just a few solitary walkers, some children on their sledges and snow scooters.

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Gently winding its way round the wood, I follow the path from memory, gazing across to the small lakes. Their frozen surface is not one I’d trust to walk out on, however tempting!

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Ahead, a welcoming bench is covered in white and the usual seat for contemplation is reluctantly passed by … until another warmer day!

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The church stands out gloriously in its winter setting, a perfect Dickensian feel and it’s timeless nature makes me stop in awe. A church on this site since Norman times, the additions are clearly visible. Recalling the stained glass windows from Ely I’ve always wondered what happened to the ones here. Later I learn they broke and were never replaced with such wonders, alas!

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As I turned to home, the walk suddenly became a trek across the arctic tundra, a howling bitter wind fought a battle across the landscape. With my head bowed and fingers riddled with frost bite (or so I imagine) I slip-slide my way through the soft depths of snow, gazing at the ripples of white powder, perfect peaks across the fields. I trudge on wearily, relentlessly, the thought of a welcoming hot chocolate whinching me home.

10,527 STEPS

20180128_152729The first 100 or so Steps

In the quiet hush that can only signify a Sunday morning, my husband and I enjoyed the rare luxury of a breakfast together, exchanging small gifts and cards, before heading to the car for our day’s outing.

Twenty years ago we met for the first time and this was an occasion to be marked. We’d pondered how a few days earlier. Should we replicate the evening itself? That involved a flurry of pubs visits, one so empty and dull the security guards outnumbered the guests, the other so packed we sat like sardines on sunken sofas, embedded within the aged fabric. Even through rose-tinted vision of time passed we shook our heads in an empathic no!

Our interests took us elsewhere and with the promise of a few rain-free hours, we set off to a place we yearned to see again. Two years ago we’d paid a flying visit to Ely and it’s stunning cathedral set amongst the beautiful landscape of the Fens. We looked forward to seeing it again, enjoying the time and space to revel in its gifts.

1,000 or so steps

The car park in Ely by the Maltings, the Victorian brewery, kindly offered us free parking and requested we mention their generosity to our friends…duly done!

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Nearby an eel sculpture stood prominently in a park to commemorate Ely, known at one time for its eels and named after the Saxon word for the fish -eilig!

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The walk to the river opened up to reveal a bustling holiday atmosphere as canal boats and small pleasure cruises teemed on the water, the golden willows whispering their greeting to the river, children, and dogs competing for attention.

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Fishermen sat far apart along the river bank, nearly absorbed into the dark green of the grass, they seemed to blend seamlessly together in the picture.

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2,000 or so steps

Astonishingly, the busy lively riverside promenade was left behind as we ducked below a railway bridge to the path along the swollen river. Here only the serious walkers set out. The raised path stood just above the water level of the flooded field to our left, the yellow decaying weeds a fluttering reminder of the winter still upon us.

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3,000 or so steps 

To the right, the mighty river (by British standards) flowed with majestic elegance.

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Ahead arrow-sharp rowing boats raced past at dazzling speed, the long oars barely seemed to dip into the water, effortlessly carrying it along. The University of Cambridge has a boathouse here and often practice on the river; not surprising considering the extremely busy River Cam, clogged with punts and the numerous tourists!

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4,000 or so steps

We continued to traverse through the Fens flat landscape, the marshland of 1,500 square miles (3,900 square kilometres) stretching ahead, gently curving at bends. Here the sky opened up to lofty heights, the soft clouds of whites, pinks, greys dotted upon the lightest of baby blue hues. A gentle peace cascaded, rolled over us as we ambled on, my camera to hand.

5,000 or so steps 

To the left, a sudden rush and hoot stopped me in my tracks – I hadn’t noticed the railway track before, set up just above the water level, the mechanical surprisingly not at odds with the calm of nature.

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The menagerie of birds seemed quite unperturbed, the dogs continued to walk calmly on as did we.

6,000 or so steps

I’ve never walked across a railway track before and approached this one with discernible excitement, heightened as the lights started to flash and the alarm sounded. Here is the video I took of the Train as it passed closely past us. (Since WP suddenly will not allow me to post videos I set up a YouTube channel to allow me to share this!)

7,000 or so steps

Yet again the wonderful Cathedral dominated the horizon as it sits on the hill in this ‘Isle of Ely’. Visible from miles around the towers reach up to the heavens and there is no danger of becoming lost with this constant reminder of the town centre.

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8,000 or so steps

We near the cathedral. Originally a church was built on this site in AD 672 before the Normans started work and it was deemed a cathedral in 1109 and thereafter the town formed around it.

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9,000 or so steps

We approached the awe-inspiring cathedral which is fittingly known as the ‘Ship of the Fens’  after its famous and unique Octagon tower which replaced the former Norman tower.

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This collapsed in 1322 and was replaced with a structure made from eight great oaks which served as the frame for the famous lantern inside.

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The interior of the cathedral filled me with wonder and overwhelming gratitude. It is unusually light for a cathedral, and I wandered down the nave, before glancing up to its ceiling. The amazing painted wood panels were installed in the mid-1800s by the Victorians in an attempt make the cathedral appear even more medieval.

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Walking around I admired the architecture, the stained glass windows and at one stage noticed the playful rainbow of colours on a pillar from one of the windows.

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Along the walls, plaques and statues of people buried or interned are placed along the walls and floor. One was a Robert Steward, a knight who died in 1571 and looked peaceful in his repose.

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10,000 or so steps

These last steps were used to visit the UK’s largest stained glass museum housed within the cathedral; more about these treasures in my next post. Tired but full of joy we ambled back to the car, letting the glorious sky sweep over us.

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On the drive home we were treated to a sumptuous sunset; a glory and riot of colours which made driving difficult but a wonder to behold for me, the passenger.

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Thank you for joining me on this 10,527 steps day out. Have you recently had a special day out? Celebrated an anniversary? As always it is a delight to read your comments and thoughts.

POWER OF PATIENCE #WORDLESSWEDNESDAY

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Often struggling with my impatient nature I regarded our unexpected visitor with awe and admiration. He waited calmly by our sides for over thirty minutes as we finished the picnic lunch by the coast one day during my summer break in Sweden.

How could we not reward such patience; his serene demeanour touched us all…with smiles we threw him food, which he approached in the same tranquil manner before leaving with a final look…of thanks and farewell I imagined. 

‘Patience is the companion of Wisdom.’ St. Augustine

I hope you enjoyed another snippet and photograph from my summer in Sweden…owing to work pressure comments have been turned for this post. Wishing you all a very special Wednesday.

RUST & SPLENDOUR #WORDLESSWEDNESDAY

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Welcome to a new series on my blog as I participate in the ever popular Wordless Wednesday – and of course, I’m breaking the rules straightaway! Wordless and Writer are not synonymous!

Many of you kindly asked to see photographs from my recent Summer in Sweden and although I won’t be posting separately I am happy to share a photo and brief description each week.

Wishing you a very special Wednesday!

Comments are turned off for this post.

AN ENCHANTED HAVEN

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Last weekend I fell a little bit more in love with life.

Every journey I set off on, I feel a flutter of excitement, a bundle of palpable nervous energy, never quite knowing what to expect.  A short weekend break booked on the spur of the moment a few days ago was no exception! For our first trip away on our own in fourteen years, my husband and I decided our anniversary was a perfect opportunity for some time-out; June had been, for various reasons, a hectic stressful month with little opportunity to just stop and be together.

North Norfolk proved the perfect haven; a blissful retreat from our busy schedules and our brief sojourn there seemed to last a week as the peace and tranquility washed over us, tension headaches easing, laughter and lightness returning.

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How could this vast empty beach fail to soothe? Trudging through the slip-sliding shingle, the bracing wind playing havoc with my hair, my brain cells vibrating under the onslaught  – I felt alive!

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Hints of fishing were evident from the odd boat pulled up far on the beach, however, it is hard to believe that this was busy port until it silted up in the 19th Century.

20170701_111833Nowadays tourism is the biggest industry in the area – although Cley proved to be quiet, with visitors dotted around the town, coast and visitor’s centre.

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Isn’t nature our greatest artist, I wonder, standing for the longest of time looking at the waves crashing on the shore, hypnotised by the wondrous displays with each roll.  I’m mesmerised.

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Cley-next-the-Sea is protected from the vast and powerful waves of the North Sea by a steep shingle bank, behind which there is saltwater marshland separated by the narrow New Cut; on the south side of this is a huge expanse of freshwater marsh.

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Both areas are alive with the flurry of unusual bird life and it was a joy to celebrate the natural environment; a bird-hide providing helpful reminders of the names and characteristics of the avian visitors.

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Here though we were the outsiders, the intruders. We stepped with ease, avoiding the fenced off nesting area and viewed in awe the terns and skuas as they majestically claimed the skies; the egrets reminding me of my trip to Florida, the geese almost hidden in a patch of distant marshland.

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Pausing by the reed beds I close my eyes and just listen…the music of the wind drifting into my soul, the rustle of the leaves creating their own rhythmic sound, soothing, in harmony with the bird calls.

20170702_103741Whilst others muttered at the lack of mobile signal I celebrated the return to ‘olden’ days and scouring my purse for coins I headed to the red phone box to call home. Memories of university days flooded my thoughts, my whirlwind of emotions as I recall hours spent calling from these tardis-style contraptions!

The village has a lovely quaint feel to it; many buildings are reminiscent of its former Flemish trading partner with gabled roof lines and many built using the local Norfolk flint. The main road, although narrow, winds its way through the centre of the town with lots of mysterious alleyways leading around the back of the village, often into people’s gardens!

Gourmet meals punctuated the end of our days and at one restaurant we were welcomed on our special day with complimentary champagne, a strawberry slice resting at the bottom of each flute. The food was sublime, an ecstasy of tastes and occasions that will long live with me!

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As always I admire the strength and vitality of the flora as even in these somewhat inauspicious conditions flowers flourish; particularly striking is the yellow horned-poppy, native to the area.

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It’s been a long while since it’s been this hard to leave a place – one of those times when all elements of a trip conspired to offer us an exquisite time filled with joy every moment. On the car drive home, I sit in silence, savouring the sense of contentment and resolve to carry this harmony forward into the everyday, letting the lightness shine brightly into the days and months ahead.

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Finally, many thanks to Klausbernd and Dina (Hanne) at The World According to Dina for inspiring me to visit Cley-next-the-Sea – their photos and description of the village and surrounding area caught my imagination a while ago. Alas, we didn’t have time to arrange to meet up…next time hopefully!

Captivating Beth Chatto Gardens

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Imagine a boggy gravel pit. Where most of us would only see the grey dusty desolation of the former scene of frenzied excavation at the quarry, a visionary in the form of Beth Chatto saw past the starkness, the stones and rubble and over the past 55 years she and her team has worked tirelessly to create the serene, lush and heavenly gardens now named after her.

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The gardens are loosely split into various areas including the Gravel Garden, the Water Garden which leads through to the Woodland Garden and the recent addition of the Scree Garden.

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From the very beginning, Beth Chatto decided to work with the environment and this was particularly pertinent since the gardens are located in the county with the lowest rainfall in the UK (famously less than in the Sahara desert!)

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She longed to learn how to garden in these conditions and in the process help other gardeners of the future. The Gravel Garden was an inauspicious stone parking space for many years and I recall a visit here many years ago when a few cars were dotted around this rather glum piece of land and the ‘cafe’ was located in one corner. A tent ‘cafe’ barely held in place as the wind relentlessly tried to lift it to the sky! Nowadays a modern designed restaurant sits at the edge of the gravel garden with tables outdoors open to its views and wildlife – robins and blue tits were frequent visitors to our table.

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Over the years the arid land has been transformed into its current beautiful Gravel Garden. Vibrant colours abound through the inventive and inspiring planting where also the textures of the plants and flowers are taken into consideration. As the sun comes out there is a real Mediterranean feel to this sun trap and I’m transported to the South of France! 

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A novice to gardening, Beth Chatto is self-taught although both her parents were enthusiastic gardeners and her husband, Andrew, had a life-long interest in the natural environment of plants. During her decades of work at Beth Chatto, she became close friends with some of the eminent gardeners at the time and in due course became an award-winning gardener. For ten consecutive years, she has won gold at the RHS Chelsea Flower show; she was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 2002, received the RHS Victoria Medal of Honour as well as accepting an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University of Essex. Furthermore, she’s lectured worldwide and written numerous books on gardening. Even to this day at 96 she often comes out to the gardens!

The gardens have constantly evolved as her expertise has grown and in my opinion, the Water Garden is the jewel of all the areas.

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Four ponds straddle the garden, linked by a gurgling stream which was dammed up specifically to fill the ponds. There is a powerful lush tropical feel throughout and there is a dominant celebration of the colour green – from the immaculate emerald green of the grass to the hundreds of shade of green of the rich foliage of the trees, plants and flowers. Colour is used sparingly and when in evidence has a transforming impact on the garden and on the flower, they stand out like never before. 

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The sense of harmony and tranquility is almost overwhelming, the effect immediate and real. As I enter a seeming state of transcendental bliss I let my senses absorb the delights as I nurdle* (wander aimlessly) around the Water Garden. 

Nothing has been left to chance. Soft fragrances float on the gentle breeze, never overpowering, rather a warm hint of promise. 

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The stream provides a constant rhythmic backdrop to the walk, changing in pitch as I meander around, then in the hushed reverential near silence I notice the birdsong; what a jubilant chorus as they seem to compete for attention, their delight in life infectious. Only later looking over the videos I took on the day do I hear the distant roar of planes high overhead, at the time they were effectively tuned out!

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It was not only my eyes which took in the varying textural forms, from the razor sharp, sword-like leaves, to the whimsical frilly grasses, to the variegated leaves of the ferns. My hands swish between some leaves here, some grasses there. My fingertips enchanted my the soft tender sensations, some tickling, some spiky.

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Giant parasol leaves loom over me at one stage and proof again that Beth Chatto has achieved something remarkable here – these moisture-loving plants never associated with East Anglia are thriving. I bend to inhale the scent of the roses, I stretch up to spy the colours closer, I stand stock-still following the dragonflies darting over the lake and its irises, so fast in their dance, impossible to capture on camera. 

20170529_120412Benches are logistically, romantically, placed around the gardens, often in the soothing shade to sit and contemplate nature and her amazing art. The play of shade and light is spectacular, the dark grasses a sharp contrast to the soft mellow sunlight stems taking on their own structural sculptural artistic form. Gazing, absorbing and reflecting I sit in silence…before I feel the eyes of others eager to enjoy the peace, to rest up and reluctantly I move on.

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Peeling myself away from the sumptuous Water Gardens I wander through the Reservoir Garden, its large borders a miracle of colour and flowers and it’s hard to imagine this is the site of a former wasteland filled with scrubby bushes. 

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The woodland came to its own after the infamous hurricane of 1987 when trees across the UK, and especially in the South, were decimated with about 15 million trees felled by 115 mph winds. At Beth Chatto many new trees were self-seeded and those remaining include many oak trees over one hundred years old. The dappled light shines playfully between the tall canopies and below flowers adorn the ground, the damp earthy forest fragrance is reminiscent of many childhood bluebell wood walks. 

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Many thanks for accompanying me on this epic walk through Beth Chatto Gardens’ seven acres…however, it’s not quite over! A visit is never complete without looking at its renowned nursery with over 2,000 different species of herbaceous plants and bulbs and we came away with armfuls of plants including Cosmos and Veronicas.

*Please see the previous post.

NB. All photos ©Annika Perry, 2017