At the Holbourne Museum the other day I was struck by this bed of roses. The tight pink buds were almost as attractive as the overblown flowers, and I liked the slightly chaotic look – a contrast to the clipped box surrounding the bed. I’ve no idea what variety this is, and would love to know.
As this is a time for reflection, here’s a post that has very little to do with gardening and more to do with my new home – Bath. After five months of living here, here are 20 things I’ve learned…
1. People seem happy. They’re not in a hurry and they don’t seem stressed. In London, a minor incident or traffic infringement could turn a mild-mannered cyclist/pedestrian/driver into a foul-mouthed harpy in the blink of an eye. In Bath, people don’t seem bothered if you keep them waiting at the traffic lights/cash machine/till. Most of the time I don’t even think they’ve noticed. Drivers let you pull out/cross the road before them.
2. Strangers smile at you on the street. They chat to you at bus stops and in shops. Staff in shops and restaurants are really friendly and professional, and they remember you.
3. People I’d never met before have made me feel really welcome. They’ve given me lifts, fed my cat, dropped off books and eggs…
4. The city is the perfect size. It’s small enough to be manageable but big enough not to feel claustrophobic.
5. Everybody knows everyone else. The friend who installed my new boiler went to school with the bloke over the road. My electrician went out with my neighbour. An architect friend designed the extension of the house my vendor moved into. Etc.
6. The Christmas market makes the town centre a no-go area for locals in December. The traffic is a nightmare and everywhere is packed.
7. In cafes, they care about their tea. They tell you how long it has brewed for, and how much longer it needs.
8. Ditto coffee. Bath is the only place where I’ve had a lecture on which bean might suit my latte best.
9. There are some very good specialist shops. The owner of the independent bookshop, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, told me that Bath is a place people come to in order to realise their passions. He did exactly that himself.
10. The charity shops are amazing. There are loads of them, and they sell really good stuff.
11. The vintage market on the first and last Sunday of the month is fab. My favourite stall holder, from Bristol, reckons it’s the friendliest for miles around.
12. More places sell Farrow & Ball paints than sell milk*.
13. You can get into places (unless the Xmas market is on, obviously). They’re busy, but you can usually get a table. You don’t have to book cinema tickets three weeks in advance.
14. The local paper, the Bath Chronicle, is excellent. I’ve only been here a few months but I feel I know what’s going on. Bathonians are often surprised at how much I know about the place, and it’s all thanks to the Chronicle. I love the fact that there’s no mention of gang shootings or crack dens, just charity fun runs and moaning about the traffic.
15. The Bath accent is lovely. The best word to say in a West Country way is ‘pervert’. (There’s an entirely innocent explanation for how I know this, believe me.)
16. You’re a bit of a freak if you don’t have a car. I don’t have one yet and I’m not sure I want one. Parking is a bit of a nightmare, and it’s expensive. And then there’s the hill starts… I’m thinking of getting an electric bike.
17. The buses are crazily expensive. But the driver often waits if you’re a few seconds late, and lets elderly people sit down before pulling out. Everyone thanks the driver when they get off.
18. First Great Western trains to and from London are exorbitant at peak times and barely affordable the rest of the time. You can’t travel when you want to, but when you can afford to. The train to Bristol is permanently delayed.
19. You can see green hills from wherever you are. You can walk directly into countryside from the town. I don’t think the novelty of this will ever wear off.
20. People from Bath don’t really understand why I chose to move here. They like their city, but maybe they don’t appreciate just how great it is. Moving here is the best thing I ever did, for most of the reasons above and many, many more.
Happy New Year!
*Possibly not true.
I hereby declare it Virginia Creeper Week on this blog. Here’s another smasher, which I’ve had my eye on for a while, waiting for it to turn the most delicious shade of pinky-red.
Queen Square is a lovely, tranquil place to sit, by the way. Although I must admit I shattered the peace of it many years ago when I helped launch a giant rocket there on Bonfire Night. Crazy times, now long behind me.
This handsome owl is the unofficial mascot of the Millstream Project in Englishcombe Village, just outside Bath. I stumbled across it by accident one day and now drag all of my visitors there, crossing fields and streams and taking a few unnecessary detours thanks to my appalling sense of direction.
The area has been renovated and planted by the local community with help from the Duchy of Cornwall, which seems to own a lot of the land around Bath. It has brooks babbling through it, over 400 new trees and is teeming with wildlife and interesting plants. There’s a den for kids and a barbecue that anyone can use. It’s a lovely place to wander around or sit in (on some extremely nice handmade benches that were an eBay bargain). The organisers have a 21-year plan for the site, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves.
This is my new garden. It’s 100 feet long, faces south east and – major life change ahoy! – is on the edge of Bath.
It’s taken me a very long time to get here. For ages I was looking for a flat in London, which was not at all easy on my small budget, especially as I wanted a garden. I saw dozens of dingy, overpriced flats at the furthest reaches of the Tube… and all the while I was slowly realising that I didn’t want to live in London any more. London is a great place, and I’m glad it was my home for many years. It’s surprisingly leafy, too, as I hope this blog shows. But as this blog also probably shows, I am hopelessly drawn to greenery, preferably in large quantities. I’m also drawn to growing as much of my own food as I can, slowing down a bit, and staring at fields of cows. None of which is really possible in London.
And so, to cut a long and (as my loved ones will undoubtedly confirm) boring story short, here I am. I can’t quite believe that I have a house, let alone a garden – finally. I’m trying to figure out how to deal with the slope from left to right and the rather large tree in my neighbour’s garden. And also how to make the most of the beautiful view (cows included). I will probably lose most of the lawn (which is a total bugger to mow anyway) and replace it with plants. A great many of them will be edible. I may have a shed. I’ll definitely have a greenhouse. I’ll try to incorporate many of the ideas that I’ve documented on this blog. If you have any ideas as to what I can do with it, do let me know – it’s a real blank canvas.
In the meantime, I can’t imagine walking past a lovely window box or visiting a garden and not taking a picture of it, so I’ll definitely carry on writing this blog. I might occasionally document my own garden’s progress too, if you’re interested. There are just two small hindrances: 1) I’ve become terribly addicted to Pinterest (for house and garden inspiration) and 2) I can’t stop staring at cows. But I’m sure the novelty will wear off soon.
I do like a bit of serendipity. No sooner had I read about Vegmead, a community veg garden in the middle of a park in Bath, than I walked straight past it. A former flowerbed, it was created by a group of volunteers as part of the Transition Bath movement in Hedgemead Park. It was planted in six days – you can watch a lovely video about its creation here. I’m not sure who gets to eat the crops…
Meanwhile Bath has won a silver gilt in the Britain in Bloom Awards. Bath in Bloom gave support to the Vegmead project, which shows that the competition isn’t all about immaculate flowerbeds like the one below. Apparently the Britain in Bloom judges saw much more veg displays around the country this year – I bet we’ll be seeing more of them in the future.