I so love irises and lament the brevity of flowering that several varieties exhibit. The majestic bearded irises that come in early summer don’t stay around nearly long enough and you don’t get a second flowering either. But that loyal friend Iris unguicularis brightens winter borders right across the winter months. I have had clumps of this early bloomer since I first started taking gardening seriously. For one thing it blooms in February which is the month of my birthday. It is MAUVE which is the best colour ever. And it has a charming habit of pushing up lots of slender leaves which in relation to the more reticent flowers are long long long. Tucked within their bowers, the short stems of iris flowers reach for the light.
This year I have been thrilled to find that the Iris reticulata bulbs that have been tucked into troughs and containers are fine and delicately upstanding. I had quite forgotten about the deep purple variety that I had planted and the little blue character with vivid yellow splashes and indigo ticks that form the signals along the falls. A darker blue flower has narrow falls and spiky style arms and standards. I have a pot of a pale flowered variety, gift of Pam Tompsett, for which I need to find a corner. Next year I would like to have some yellow ones.
Other charmers in flower are the Hellebores and a mid-pink crocus in the Yucca bed. Crocus is a topic of conversation that Joel and I share whilst we are making Lamb Biryani. I explain what saffron is and when we look on Wikipedia I learn that it is the stigmata of certain Crocus that yield the saffron. Not all Crocus have stigmata but they all have stamens……. which is what I had always thought saffron was. Perhaps I will try and source some saffron Crocus to try growing in St Vaast.
Walking along the woodland path that takes us back to our friends’ house somewhere in the Dart valley my eyes gaze skywards and I see a beautiful conifer tree canopy. The sky is blue blue blue with pure white cloud patches. The trunks, branches and twigs give a lacery effect like so many giant allium seedheads. Beautiful.
Back at home I invite Maddy to join me for a walk round the grounds at Kingston Lacy. They have a superb show of snowdrops for which Kingston Lacy is well-known. Evidently their beautiful white carpets of snowdrops have been poking through for the past few weeks and they are now beginning to look their best with beautiful displays in the Fernery and along Lady’s Walk, in the Japanese Garden. In complete contrast the gaudy yellow of the winter aconites form sporadic patches beneath shrubs.
There are other specialities to enjoy such as the spread of Cornus beneath trees beyond the Japanese Garden. The gorgeous varied colours of the naked sticks are stand-alone beautiful. Also to be seen were Cyclamen coum, Iris reticulata, and an isolated tree on the home stretch back to the house covered in Mistletoe. There’ll be a reason why just this one tree has been colonised to the apparent exclusion of all others in the parkland but from my limited knowledge I conclude that this tree is a popular perchery for the local bird population.
After a refreshing walk Maddy and I repair to The Workshop where we join Nick and Andrew who have been playing big boys’ games at The Monument. A turkey curry, together with red lentil dhal and pilau rice and lashings of chutneys makes a good winter warmer.
After our Oxfordshire weekend, I have a busy week which incorporates the usual suspects. Bridge, lunch and supper dates, yet another spell in the dentist’s chair with a shell day with Harry and Anna thrown in. I also dig out all the paperwork for the Purple Dye chapter which I need to write. Talking of digging I put a few pots of things in the border where the Crinodendron is. I decide to resurrect the Garden Journal which Anne made for me a couple of years ago and stick a few photos in as aides memoires. We are coasting up to the weekend when my birthday celebration will start with a lunch for 10 at the Greyhound and this includes 2 immediate neighbours who share my birthday.
So the birthday week arrives and we leave WK and head for Whimple where we will visit our friend Hilary who paints. There is a picture to collect, now framed and we are going to have delicious lunch at The Jack on the Green with her. After a warming meal we drop her back at her home and head for a northern passage across Dartmoor. We are heading for Padstow and as the road climbs steadily to higher ground we are suddenly in a heavy flurry of snow, driving at the windscreen and settling soon on the road. The snow is so persistent I make a hasty rollcall of possible sources of sustenance in the car – the answer is virtually nil! As we continue on our way the weather subsides and we come to northern Cornwall, where, sure, there is snow on the ground but patchy. This covering will persist, in some pockets, throughout our stay.
The Old Custom House Hotel in Padstow is much to our liking and after a fortuitous hiccup we are upgraded to one of their suites which does us nicely.
So on the morning of the 3rd I wake to the pleasure of being in Cornwall and with a collection of cards and gifts to open. People are so kind and I feel spoilt. We are going to go to Porthcurno today, via Hardy’s Exotic plants to pick up a plant or two. We also pick up two warm pasties which we carry to Porthcurno and eat on the beach. Later we are going to meet Richard and Anne, part of our extended family and eat supper at Trevaskis Farm. We eat a magnificent three-course meal which I know will weigh heavily on the scales of reckoning when my extended birthday-fest comes to an end!
Thursday is Shang-ri La day where I find Stella, looking much much better and Rose who runs the show these days. Lunch in the bijou dining room will always be a sociable treat of a ritual and after Pam and Andrew arrive and it’s tea and carrot and walnut cake. I accompany Rose down the garden to see the snowdrops and have my breath taken away by the Hamamelis, chicly in flower. Dinner in the Pescadou restaurant at hour hotel piles yet more on the scales of dietary wrath.
On Friday we are going to visit Lis at Taunton and she lunches us at Augustus, her friendly neighbourhood restaurant. Here we talk more and eat less and it is good. Our last port of call is Clifford Bridge, home of friends with whom we always feel delightfully entertained and imaginatively well fed. A game of Spite and Malice with a glass of Amaretti on ice has me almost asleep over my playing cards. On the morrow we walk in their woods, enjoy a concoction of soup with bread straight out of the breadmaker. And then it is home James in our ‘new’ automatic Peugeot which has thoroughly won us over with its heated leather seats and satnav…………. yaaaay!
I arrive at the cottage at Shillingford just as brunch is about to be served. Perfect timing, although there was no way I was going to surprise the grandkids or miss a chance to stoke up for a walk. Today Barns and other cub leaders are taking the cubs and scouts on an 8-mile walk across Oxfordshire countryside which takes in a short bit of the Ridgeway. Rendez-vous happens at a pub in the village of Compton then our way takes us north up onto the downland where we cross the Ridgeway at Lowbury Hill and continue north to Aston Tirrold and then turn east to Cholsey. Eight-year old Charlie is my companion and he manfully completes the trek. At the end of the afternoon we collect Nick from the station and all that exercise is rewarded with a hearty stew cooked by Lukie.
On Sunday morning Nick, Barns and I take a walk down from the cottage and along a stretch of the Thames which runs along the eastern boundary of the land owned by the Earth Trust.
But there is a surprise is in store for Sam who celebrates his 14th birthday. He has chosen a Chinese Buffet lunch in Wallingford and the presence of Nick and me has been kept under wraps. All his grandparents are present, as are aunts, uncles, Andrews cousins and siblings. And all that exercise of mine will come to naught after I have self-indulgently tucked into fritters and spicy prawns, noodles and chicken curry and a sticky, sesame-seeded apple beignet! But who ate 15 pancakes?!!