This is one of the last photographs of my mother Gay, before her untimely death on the 11th February 1977.
Gay was born today 9th March 1907 – and will always be remembered with love and great affection. Having researched her life for my book The Haphazard Gardener, it was only as an adult that I understood fully her many achievements. She was a solid, down-to-earth person – who said it as it was! Not always welcome it has to be said but at least you knew where you were. Not overly tactile, she was a great educator. A teacher both before her marriage to Arthur and after the adoption of their three children, it was she who taught me most about the observation of both the garden and nature in general. She was a great encourager too. Her grandchildren adored her, though they knew her all too briefly.
From the early days after their marriage when they bought the land at Rowfant in Sussex which was to become their home Orchards for the rest of their lives, they worked tirelessly together. It was Gay who drew up the plans for the two up/two down wooden house, roofed with cedar shingle, extended in brick in 1949 to enable my adoption. They worked at weekends to build the original structure finished in 1939, built with their own hands, and with the help of friends. They worked the land together, Gay kept goats as well as chickens, ducks and a cow. They planted orchards of apple, pear and cherry, a nuttery, and a huge vegetable/fruit garden. Hundreds of daffodils were planted, all destined for the local shops.
I think of you daily, feel inspired by your presence and miss you still. Happy Birthday Mummy.
This picture of Gay – possibly taken pre-marriage to Arthur, when she taught at Sutton-in-Ashfield County Secondary School in Nottingham. Prior to her appointment biology had not been taught at the school. Her first task was to completely reorganize the science department, bringing it up to date. The course she taught included field work, gardening and the academic work needed for the School Certificate and Higher Certificate examinations. The girls were stimulated by her teaching methods and took an enthusiastic interest in the subject. In 1932, she left the school to marry Arthur. In 1936 the course she initiated was still being used.
During and after the war she worked alongside Arthur on the piece of land they had bought in Sussex, drawing plans and assisting with the building of their house. Working the land during the war alongside the land girls, planning the orchards, helping with the animals at their home The Orchards.
She returned to teaching in 1949, where she taught Zoology, Botany, and Biology until 1963. She was an educator, it was she who taught me to study nature as closely as I still do now.
She passed away on 11 February 1977 – 41 years ago today. So much of nature reminds me of her, Viburnum fragrans, snowdrops and tiny iris, rugged barks, and fat buds.
When the garden at Orchards was open to the public, we would, as a New Year tradition, garden on the 1st of January, even if it was too cold to do anything else we would clear leaves or pick up winter debris. And, whenever possible I would continue gardening every day until a couple of weeks before Christmas when I’d be making Christmas wreaths to sell to customers and to the local farm shop.
Now I no longer garden in January, unless we have some very warm sunny days, and this year I only experienced those when I went to Malta. February the first will see me out there providing the weather is kind.
Following a quick walk around the garden today, the first signs of spring are with us once more and the garden is definitely calling, not too much weeding to do, but lots of leaves to gather and forget-me-not and love-in-the-mist to cull, before it chokes the iris reticulata that are thrusting their way through. Several of the Hayloft double hellebores have been flowering with us since the beginning December last year.
Today the 28th January 2018 is the 25th anniversary of Arthur’s passing. I had the privilege along with an old friend of his (Iris Baker) to be at his bedside when he took his final breath at 14.20.
Where has that quarter century gone? What would he think of my journey in life since his passing?
The first question I can answer easily. Following his death, Philip and I worked tirelessly to restore the neglect, rejuvenate and replant his garden. When two years after his passing in 1993, his son sold the bungalow in which Arthur lived, we fenced a decent garden around the property and took responsibility for the remaining land…approximately eight acres.
The property was edged on three sides by woodland in varying depths (the north and west originally planted as a shelterbelt), the southern boundary encompassed a bluebell wood and a bog garden – later developed into a pond.
When Arthur and his wife Grace (Gay) first came to Orchards, it was scrubland that hadn’t been cultivated for five decades or more. Here, whilst building their own wooden house (two up/two down), with cedar shingle roof, they began to plant a garden. Apple, pear and cherry orchards were planted (hence the name – originally called The Orchards), along with a vast vegetable garden and a fruit garden. However, in those early days, pre-war and after, the planting of ornamental trees and shrubs, was already taking place. Thousands of daffodils were planted, throughout the front garden and along the western and northern sides. Many I know disappeared beneath the ever-expanding conifers over the years.
What visions they had for the garden, went unspoken. It has been written that Arthur, on seeing the plot and standing on the cusp of the south-facing slope said ‘If you think I am making a garden here you’ve another think coming’. But make a garden he did. Wooden sheds were built on the west boundary parallel to the house, where goats were kept and milked; and apples and vegetables were stored in the winter months. Hens and ducks were also housed in triangle-shaped arks nearby. At one point Gay bred rabbits for meat and I remember as a child seeing the skins stretched on wooden boards, pinned and left drying in the sun.
We took on a garden with fewer orchards, and they were only apple orchards, no vegetable garden or fruit garden and two solitary pear trees, which despite the years of neglect and further inaction on our part, still bore fruit. I worked fulltime in the garden and continued with the nursery that I had opened just a few months before Arthur’s death, closing as soon as the doctor had told me the severity of his symptoms. Looking after him in those final months, though stressful was a privilege. I wrote a poem about that experience in my first collection of poetry called Where My Heart Is.
We continued with our work and following a meeting with the local organizer of the National Gardens Scheme, we opened the garden the following year. Within a few years, the garden had been recommended and accepted for The Good Gardens Guide, where it remained up until we sold up and moved away.
So what would Arthur have thought about my journey? I was assured by several of his colleagues, that he was immensely proud of my endeavours when I first opened my nursery on the east boundary of the garden.
I spoke to Robin Lane Fox on the evening of the 28th January, and it was he who first asked if we were going to open the garden to the public. He had made a pact with Arthur that neither would visit each other’s garden whilst they worked together. Robin was the gardening columnist for the Saturday Financial Times, as well as being a contributor to other magazines and an author. He has over the years been a staunch supporter of Arthur and his books. When I published The Haphazard Gardener Robin was kind enough to give it a review in the Saturday Financial Times. I think that Arthur would have been enormously proud of that.
Both of my parents would have understood the necessity for us to sell up once the garden became too much for me. They knew only too well what an onerous task it was.
Trawling through some scanned photos on an external hard drive I came across a nostalgic shot of a little girl, running through the long grass at Orchards, my home at the time. It must have been in the early 1990s but I’m not certain.
It was the only time, whilst gardening at Orchards with Philip, that I managed to persuade him to leave the grass uncut, long after the daffodils had finished flowering. The front vista was awash with thousands of daffodils, in clumps of different varieties, and in my parents day, the grass was often left long, but only in the form of the clumps, being cut with an Alan scythe machine six weeks after the last clump had died back.
But this particular year we cut wide swathes through the otherwise long grass. I was in heaven, so many different varieties of grass and other wildflowers thrived and this little girl (the daughter of a friend of ours) spent hours playing in the grass, searching for the different grasses and wildflowers.
However, when late summer came and we had to hand scythe the now long and matted grass Philip was less than impressed with my romantic notion. It was the one and only time, he ‘allowed’ wildness in the grass as well as in my borders!
This tree growing in ‘The Valley Garden’ in Cernobbio, was my friend informed me used in the making of silk; the leaves being fed to silk worms. To my knowledge silk worms only eat mulberry leaves!
However, the fruits of Broussonetia papyrifera – The Paper mulberry – are, I now discover, edible as are the young leaves, if they are steamed. Also, the bark, fruit and leaves are used traditionally for medicinal purposes. In China silkworms are fed with the leaves.
From the garden across to the mountain on the other side of the lake
It took a visit back to Italy, (five years after we left) to see a dear friend, to ‘discover’ this garden; a disgrace on my part given that we lived fairly close to Cernobbio for nearly a decade!
With little else to do on a January afternoon, when so much is closed to residents as well as tourists, we wandered along narrow streets to discover the garden. Our friend had been before, several years ago, and knew that it now suffered the same ‘neglect’ that all gardens do when you are less able to attend to its daily needs.
I was not disappointed in the way it looked. It is obvious that in the spring and summer months there would be more colour but the wildness and slightly unkempt look is so much my kind of garden, so like nature.
The following text is taken from the notice board in the garden – ‘Pupa Frati began creating The Valley Garden in the early 1980s. She transformed the banks of the Garrovo stream from an illegal dump into the beautiful garden that exists today with the occasional collaboration of a few keen friends. In 2001 the Association of The Valley Garden was formed in order to guarantee the conservation, the upkeep and the improvement of the garden. In 2002 the botanical trail was inaugurated. Following this trail allows you to observe all the diverse botanical species present in the garden.’
Pupa Frati is now 94 years of age.
We entered the garden from the top, (having walked up the road which runs parallel to the garden), here the Garrovo stream can be heard, rippling downwards towards the lake, round stones and boulders. However, with the dryness of the previous months, the stream ceased moving further down the garden. A narrow path and steps take you down the valley, with places to rest and enjoy the vista.
Large wooden statues punctuate the garden. A narrow bridge crosses the valley – it was at this point the water just lay instead of flowed – and sadly a conifer, with layered flat branches, spread itself too far to take a picture back up the valley.
If you ever find yourself in Cernobbio or nearby please seek this gem out.
This Art Nouveau villa designed by Alfredo Campanini at the beginning of the 20th century for Davide Bernasconi can be found in Cernobbio. The stucco decoration on the external facades include flowers, butterflies, and mulberry leaves and silk worms linked to the silk production industry. Davide Bernasconi owned a silk factory nearby.
I found it both beautiful and slightly grotesque too…the decorations certainly weren’t subtle but they were marvellous too. Unfortunately it was closed when we visited, though you can walk through the grounds and see the building from each angle..the rear of the property is the plainest.
Possibly the most magical garden I have ever been in. Of all the grand and small places I have visited, brilliantly designed or cleverly planted, or both, this garden surpasses all others. It has a heavenly feeling; enhanced by the classical music that Anthony Huntes filters through the foliage, mingling with the muted hummingbird birdsong.
You are greeted with statues, and theatrical areas – like stage sets for entertainment on a grand scale.
Narrow paths lead you downwards, with shorter tracks taking you to some vantage point with a couple of chairs, where you can sit and absorb the beauty of a particular vista.
Elegant, tall trees are the backbone of the garden, with lush layers of under planting, where foliage is the mainstay of the picture that is painted. It is here I realise, in this setting that I could live with foliage alone. The diversity of the leaves, not just in size and texture but in colour too, is evident in every turn of the head. Anthony’s love of orchids is peppered throughout the garden, with small pots of a single plant, balanced on a narrow wrought iron stem, many of which are at eye level.
There are other plants that flower, some very showy with creamy/green bracts, through which thrusts a small single orange flower. Others hang from pinkish-red stems.
Thanks to our wonderful hosts – during our recent trip to Barbados – we were taken on a drive around the island – and to our delight to Morgan Lewis Windmill, the only intact sugar mill remaining on the island, and one of only two in the Caribbean. The bodies of many now defunct mills can be still be seen but this one, maintained by the Barbados National Trust, includes an ‘exhibit of the equipment used to produce sugar at the time when the industry was run by wind power generated from mills such as this one.’ (www.barbados.org).
The wildness of the eastern coastline, which this windmill overlooks is so different to the tranquility of St James where we were staying. Apparently, the air is so laden with salt that rust is a real problem, with the railings and the white goods within the properties that dot the hillsides. The surrounding area too, is reminiscent of parts of Scotland and is named the Scotland District.
Sadly the windmill was closed by the time we arrived but if we ever return to this beautiful island we will make a return visit.