Regular readers of this blog will know that I have become a little obsessed with succulents. So it’s no surprise that I fell for these plants, on the windowsill at Dolphin Cottage in Cornwall. Apparently they were grown from cuttings purloined from (ahem) a local garden. I’ve now taken some too (with permission!) so we’ll see if they turn out as well as this…
When I was a child, my family spent many summer holidays on a farm that was once part of the Forde Abbey estate. It was a working dairy farm, and we all loved it. We used to visit Forde Abbey a lot, and nearby Cricket St Thomas too. We also picked soft fruit on Forde Abbey’s PYO fruit farm, just down the road, and ate raspberries and cream for tea every day. When the day came to leave, my sister and I were inconsolable for several hours, crying in the back seat of the car. I’m sure those holidays played a big part in why I love the West Country so much.
Now, of course, I’m living quite near Forde Abbey, so when my parents came to stay recently, we went back there. As luck would have it, it was Sweet Pea Fortnight – the lady of the house grows 70 varieties and rates them on various factors. I’ve been really chuffed with my sweet peas this year but they were all rather at the blue/purple end of the spectrum (I grew a lot of ‘Cupani’ and ‘Robert Uvedale’) and I want to expand my repertoire next year. So it was brilliant to see so many varieties in one place – this is just some of them.
Forde Abbey has several additions since we were last there. For a start, it’s got Britain’s highest fountain, which is pretty impressive – just don’t stand down-wind of it.
It also has a beautiful new bog garden – possibly my favourite part of the garden (sweet peas aside).
And last but not least, there is 48-year-old Twiglet, who would would have been around when we visited all those years ago and makes me feel positively youthful.
On the way back, we picked some raspberries for tea at the PYO farm, which is still there, then called in at the farm. It had recently changed hands and is being developed as holiday cottages. All the animals have gone, the farmyard is no more, and the stables that used to house the calves have become holiday lets. Despite all of that, it still seemed so familiar. The new owners showed us around and were very interested to hear our holiday tales – gathering around a grainy black and white TV in the cowman’s cottage to watch the Royal Wedding, the hand-reared sheep that thought it was a dog and liked to be taken for walks…). The place seems like it is in good hands.
I wouldn’t say I was inconsolable on the back seat as we left, but I certainly had a lump in my throat. That corner of Dorset/Somerset/Devon will always be my favourite place on earth.
In Cornwall recently, I spotted a handwritten sign to a ‘wild garden’. The morning’s plans were immediately ditched and we swerved down a narrow country lane in search of it.
I’m glad we did. The garden is called Tanglewood, and the first part of it is woodland. We were immediately charmed by the miniature door at the base of a tree, complete with miniature axe and logs, as if the inhabitants of the Magic Faraway Tree weren’t far away. There are chainsaw wood carvings dotted throughout the garden, made from trees that have fallen, all with a humorous touch.
After the woodland bit, the garden opens out and becomes a series of large ponds, all dug out by the owners. A pair of wooden legs dive into one pond, and a kingfisher (complete with crown) is doing a spot of fishing in another.
As we were walking around, we bumped into the owner. He told us that he and his partner bought the site in 2001 and have gradually been developing it. At the end of our chat I said that I particularly liked the miniature door at the base of the tree. He looked at me, completely deadpan, and said, ‘That was already here – it nothing to do with me.’
This is my front garden, a couple of metres square and planted by the previous owners. For a few weeks in July it looks like a pint-sized patch of Provence and is much remarked-upon. I love it.
Compared to this time last year, it has attracted very few bees – last year, dozens and dozens of them were buzzing all over it; this year, I’ve only spotted two or three at a time. I hope they’re simply getting a ready supply of nectar elsewhere, and it’s not a sign of bee decline.
At some point the lavender will have to go, as it’s getting a bit leggy in places. But I might just plant more – it’s incredibly wind tolerant (the wind howls up from the valley sometimes), and is neatly evergreen when it’s not in flower. It even manages to obscure my recycling crate.