Saturday, June 07, 2008

Open Garden Squares Weekend

Adventures! What a beautiful morning to see the Thames by Richmond. The people maintaining their rental wooden boats with days-gone-by dedication.

Thus the trip to Ham House was a pleasure in itself. The garden there was formal, but nonetheless a delight. In particular, the so-called Cherry garden, which has two tiny potted cherry trees, is a square surrounded by some perfect green cloisters. Imagine a corridor between square-cut yew hedges about 4 feet high. Out of these, hornbeams reach upward, and then at about 6 feet high, their leafy branches fan out, arch over, and interlock to form a completely covered arching roof. These are actually called berceaux (arched trellises). Put this around a square, and you have green cloisters, which I have never seen before. Yew hedges for the low wall, open air for windows, and hornbeam for the vaulted roof. Perfect.

The effect of growing trees out of square cut hedges is used again in the wilderness garden, where medium sized, untrained oak trees grow out of the a low hornbeam hedge. Very unusual. Here and there are some unusual plants, and wildflower meadows sections.

The pleasure of walking through such gardens, 350 years after their design, is unchanged. They provide a space that escapes from the outside. In that time the formal garden was an escape from the rampant and difficult to tame nature abundant in England. Today it is an escape from the rampant and difficult to tame human development; the huge roads, combustion engines, heavy traffic, metal clad warehouses, suburban and urban housing developments, shopping halls and malls, office buildings and parking lots.

Next was a stop at the St Michael's Convent on Ham Common. The heat of the day was set, and it isn't designed for hot weather, but had plenty of lovely surprises.

Then a ride through Richmond Park, and after all these years, I saw deer in droves. Red deer, fallow deer, their antlers still young and furry at this point in the season. Grazing everywhere, leaving only the deadly and inhospitable bracken. Although I saw an enormous pheasant quite happy for the cover of the bracken.

To the Roehampton allotments on Dover House road and the pleasance. Quite productive, fairly well-drained soil, backing onto houses. Blessed with piped water and without any restrictions on using hoses. Peas were nearly ripened, but their raspberries were behind.

On the way to Wildcroft Manor, two people were trying to save a Stag Beetle by getting it off the road. It was a full-size stag beetle, alive and apparently complete, but not very energetic, so presumably it was in the death stages of its life-cycle?

At Wildcroft Manor, their weekend event was graced by the arrival of a swarm of bees which had settled that very day on a hawthorn. The cluster of bees was about 1 foot long and probably 9 inches across.

Richmond this evening had such a high tide, that I can't imagine how much higher they could allow it to be. In conditions that were fairly still, on a day when it hadn't rained, but of course, all that water had fallen as heavy rain these last few days.

Richmond, for all its natural blessings, has a shopping street that is entirely composed of chain stores, even boasting a Tesco Metro. Of course this transformation from its previous English village feel was already completed about 6 years ago. Nonetheless it is sad, and it doesn't feel right. But what do the young people know? So long as food keeps arriving on supermarket shelves in plastic packages, they feel safe.

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