Wordless Wednesday – Carpets of Bluebells with my Faithful Friend


Archie our Labrador, enjoying Spring Bluebells

National Trust Ashridge Estate Native Bluebells

National Trust Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire -Native Bluebells

National Trust Ashridge Estate Native Bluebells

National Trust Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire – Native Bluebells

Archie, taking in the scent of Bluebells

Archie, taking in the scent of Bluebells






Weekly Photo Challenge – Eye Spy a Butterfly’s Eye

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The Weekly Photo Challenge – ‘Eye Spy’ – A Butterfly’s eye is a wonderful creation, their spherical compound eyes with almost 360 degree vision are able to detect threats from behind at the same time as focusing on nectar probing. Predators and camera wielding humans are all to be avoided. In common with many other insects, each eye comprises of up to 17,000 ommatidia – individual light receptors with their own microscopic lenses. Surrounding the eye and extending through the body are long hair like scales which give a furry appearance.


In late July and August our favourite spot to observe Chalk Hill Blues is Sharpenhoe Clappers, in the Chiltern Hills, managed by the National Trust, just a few miles from home. This species of Blue Butterfly is only found in the UK on southern Chalk Grassland Hills. The adults prefer a sunny sheltered south-facing spot for nectaring and roosting. Although this little Butterfly is not endangered, its habitat is diminishing. The caterpillars sole food plant is Horseshoe Vetch, only found growing on chalk grassland.

Roosting Male Chalk Hill Blue

Roosting Male Chalk Hill Blue

Sitting patiently waiting for Butterflies to land nearby and then staying to watch the sun go down with roosting Chalk Hill Blues alongside is quite a magical experience.

Gelli Uchaf, Wales and Noel Kingsbury

Last week we drove across country to Wales, a land of enormously varied and beautiful scenery, spectacular coastlines and Gelli Uchaf, the home and garden of Julian and Fiona Wormald in the west of Wales.

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View from the terrace of Gelli Ufach

Julian and Fiona live on the top of a hill in a welsh Longhouse and garden in challenging conditions but they have staggeringly beautiful views. He writes an intelligent, thought provoking and diverse blog, centred around their life and garden – The Garden Impressionists and some months ago Julian wrote about a planned workshop, Noel Kingsbury was holding in their garden ‘The Rabbits Eye View’. I have dipped in a few of Noel’s books and coupled with Julian’s accounts, the opportunity to attend ‘The Rabbits Eye View’ workshop and visit Julian and Fiona’s garden at the same time was irresistible.


Noel, jolly and entertaining in the Gelli Uchaf borders

We booked a short stay in a wonderful cottage, Felin Fach near Lampeter as either side of our 4 day break had unavoidable work commitments.  Wales is renown for rain but as our trip approached we were delighted to see a largely dry forecast.


Water Butt at Gelli Uchaf, every vista has beautiful detail

Before the Thursday workshop, our Journey from home on the Tuesday to West Wales took us through the Brecon Beacons, designated a national park, part GeoPark and now also has International Dark Sky status too. An area covering 1,344 square kilometres with glorious rolling hills, home to the Hay on Wye Literary festival and invigorating walks.

Brecon Beacons

Brecon Beacons – Bales of Bracken

Part of the Brecon Beacons is common land, which means that local farmers have the right to graze livestock and to take or use some of the natural products. Here the right of ‘estovers’ – the right to cut and collect certain plants such as the bracken, which is cut in Autumn and baled, then used as bedding for farm animals.

Bracken and Gorse on Brecon Beacons Mynydd IIItud common land

Bracken and Gorse on Brecon Beacons Mynydd IIItud common land

We arrived at our cottage, way after night fall as looking for something to eat in Wales is like looking for the proverbial needle in a Bracken stack, especially in autumn. Lesson learnt we stocked up at the first opportunity and Wednesday morning set off for the coastline in search of the National Trust owned Stackpole Estate and Barafundle Bay, which according to the Trust is often voted one of the most beautiful bays in the World.

Barafundle Bay

Barafundle Bay

We drove along some of the route my husband had cycled on two years ago, up huge hills and down again with glimpses of the coast and finally arrived at National Trust owned Stackpole, parked in the almost empty car park and walked on to Barafundle Bay, we were not disappointed, even with a watery cool autumnal sky, the sea was still very blue, we walked on further until the weather changed and a squall of rain came in, then headed back to the car and the journey back to our cottage. No road is quick in Wales, as they meander through hills and mountains, tiny villages and few street lights. So again we arrived back at almost 9p.m.


Up early the next day, as Anne the cottage owner and fellow workshop attendee kindly offered to take me, whilst my husband went walking with an old friend. Anne drove smoothly through beautiful countryside and as she chatted it was clear she is a very knowledgable plantswoman herself. We arrived early as Anne was helping Fiona with food and I wandered off into their garden for a short while.

First view in the morning

My first glimpse of their daily view

To the front of their Longhouse is a terrace, divided into two areas both overlooking the views to sell your house for.

Julian and Fiona's Welsh Longhouse

Julian and Fiona’s Welsh Longhouse

It was hard to know which way to go first as in every direction was something to draw me along. Julian and Fiona open for the National Gardens Scheme, if folk haven’t visited before its likely they get giddy with exhilaration . And then a second visit, third and fourth must be just as  giddying.


A table to enjoy the Gelli Uchaf views from

I had not properly thought through how much Noel’s course would resonate with me before attending but boy what an eye opener. Noel’s course ‘Rabbits Eye View’ encouraged us to think more about plants in ecological terms, how the relationship with environments and ethical sustainability affected plant and plant design choices for the good. And in a fun, warm and refreshing way.

Rabbits eye View

Noel demonstrating the ‘Rabbits Eye View’

We got down to the nitty gritty of planting and looked at exactly how plants grow, challenging us to think through plant survival techniques and long term plant performances and especially to think ecologically as well as horticulturally. Noel took us through Julian and Fiona’ garden, which he clearly liked very much, he was warm, kind and encouraging and very charming. Noel is known for his naturalistic planting design and collaborations with other designers such as Piet Oudolf. Jason from Garden in a City reviewed his book Hummelo earlier this year.

Gelli Uchaf Woodland Garden. Photo Courtesy of Julian Wormald

Gelli Uchaf Woodland Garden. Photo Courtesy of Julian Wormald

As Noel guided us, gently interviewing Julian and Fiona at the same time he pointed out the details in every area of their garden, the smallest of details were joyous. I felt as if I should not be walking on the moss paths, my heavy footprints quite disturbing. We finally departed around 4.30p.m  –  7 hours had just whizzed by.

Moss paths through the woodland garden

Moss paths through the woodland garden with Saxifrage fortunei on left

If you have the chance to visit Julian and Fiona’s Garden, please take it as its so beautiful. I have only scratched the surface here, Julian’s The Garden Impressionists blog has far better photographs from every season to entice you and if Noel Kingsbury loves this garden then that recommendation is hard to beat.

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Photo courtesy of Julian Wormald Rabbits Eye View Workshop with Noel Kingsbury

On our last day in Wales before the journey east and back home we made the trip to New Quay on the Cardigan Bay, which is a Marine Conservation Zone. We stood on New Quay harbour with a Wildlife Trust volunteer, who was monitoring the Bottlenose Dolphins inhabiting these waters. He said as another rain squall came in behind us and I packed my camera away, this was unusually mild weather for the time of year. Within minutes a large Bottlenose fully leapt from the water tossing a fish in the air. The Wildlife Trust man, said we were incredibly lucky, that behaviour is rarely seen. Obviously I can’t show you that photo as I had just put my camera away, but we felt thoroughly blessed to have had such a wonderful trip to Wales. I shall leave you with one of Julian’s unbelievably beautiful early morning garden views instead.

Gelli Uchaf photo courtesy of Juilan Wormald

Gelli Uchaf photo courtesy of Julian Wormald

Wordless Wednesday – Autumn Sunshine, Heleniums and Long Borders at Cliveden


Heleniums at Cliveden

Hot Border at Cliveden

Cliveden Hot Border

Cleome - Cliveden

Cleome – Cliveden

Cliveden Cool Border

Cliveden Cool Border

PS – The mystery Helenium could be one of several plotted on the Cliveden planting plan boards, I’ve attempted to make a match with one from the Helenium database run by Sampsford Shrubs who held the National Helenium collection, the nearest is possibly ‘The Bishop’, but then again…..

Butterfly Bucket List – on Sharpenhoe Clappers

Anna who writes the lovely ‘Transmutational Garden‘ blog is hosting a new meme – Butterfly Bucket List, posting on the 4th Sunday of every month and kindly encouraging stragglers to add a link over the following week. Anna’s photographs and Butterflies in Texas are very beautiful. Please take a look and if you can, join in too.

On Sunday we took a different dog walk than usual and drove over to Sharpenhoe Clappers, a couple of villages south from us. The Clappers are now managed by the National Trust, its a small area of wildflower rich chalk grassland and an adjacent Beech wood, in years gone by we would drive there just to kick the leaves up. We had been told the Pyramidal Orchids were good, but we did not bank on a couple of lovely Butterflies and Moths too.

Six-spot Burnet Moth

Five-spot Burnet Moth – we think! Enjoying the Knapweed

The Five-spot Burnet Moth is a tricky moth to identify and can be confused with the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet, which has more pointed wings. The Butterfly Conservation folk who identify Moths too, say The Narrow Bordered caterpillars prefers Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil found on wetter ground, but there are two subspecies of the regular Five-Spot, one prefers Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil, one prefers Common Birdsfoot Trefoil found on chalk grassland. We were on chalk. Either way we are fairly sure its a Five-spot Burnet, not sure if a subspecies, unless someone can say otherwise.

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) Butterfly on Knapweed

Far less tricky to identify, quite common and very striking is the White Marbled Butterfly, they are said to show a preference for purple flowers but we saw several enjoying other plants too.


Marbled White Male Butterfly on Sharpenhoe Clappers

The Marbled White Caterpillars are mostly found on flowery grasslands but can stray into gardens too. The caterpillars prefer grasses as their food plant, particularly Red Fescue – Festuca rubra as well as Yorkshire Fog grass – Holcus lanatus and Tor grass – Brachypodium pinnatum. Adults can sometimes be found roosting half way up a tall grass stem, another good reason to leave the grass long at home.

The reason for our initial visit – the Pyramidal Orchids – they were abundant too!

Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis

Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis

Happy Butterfly watching!

Cragside – Home to Seven Million Trees and Shrubs

We visited Cragside during a happy trip to Northumberland last year, its a jewel in the National Trust crown and the former Victorian home of Lord and Lady Armstrong. He was a focused and driven industrialist, civil engineer and inventor, she was a talented botanist and socialite. Armstrong amassed his huge fortune through hydraulic inventions and as an arms manufacturer. At 53, he decided to build a country home in Northumberland and appointed the architect Richard Norman Shaw to design the house, he had the land cleared and using dynamite created a crag on which to build.



Armstrong was also said to be a landscape genius and following the purchase of the barren Northumberland land destined to become Cragside, he designed, constructed and together with Lady Armstrong directed the planting of 7 million trees and shrubs in under 40 years. Initially employing 150 gardeners to assist them which tailed to 70 maintenance gardeners when the planting was completed.

Tumbling down from the house, with a view of Debdon Burn is the largest man made rock garden in Europe, 3.5 acres in size. We scrambled down through the rocks towards the Burn. We were told had we visited in May or June the display of Rhododendrons and Azaleas on the Rock Garden is fantastic. The views along the Burn made up for it.

In the grounds, water plays a vital part

Debdon Burn

Cragside stretches over 1,000 acres and has 40 miles of footpaths winding through woodland planted with native and exotic conifers – Noble Firs, Douglas Firs, Wellingtonias, Monkey Puzzle, Spanish Fir, Greek Fir and many more broadleaf trees. There are four artificial lakes, which were used in Armstrong’s time to generate hydro-electricity. The house was the first in the world to be lit by this method, using incandescent lamps first invented by the Sunderland born inventor Joseph Swan and by coincidence at the same time that Eddison was working on his invention too. (Later in 1883 the Eddison & Swan United Electric Light Company was formed in Newcastle).

In 2014 Hydroelectricity was brought back to Cragside with the introduction of an Archimedes screw, the green energy project continues the work of Lord Armstrong. This modern hydro system will produce enough energy to light all 350 light bulbs in the house and will produce 12kw of electricity a year, providing Cragside with around 10 per cent of its electricity.

Nelly Moss South Lake at Cragside

Man made Nelly Moss South Lake at Cragside

Our visit coincided with the Lux exhibition, seven contemporary art installations looking a little out of place and met with mixed reactions but a really exciting dimension within this historic house. This exhibit was designed by Imogen Cloet, the 54 bulbs refer to the original domestic installation of Joseph Swan’s incandescent light bulbs at Cragside that were also lit by Hydropower.

Illumine by Imogen Cloet part of the Lux exhibition

Illumine by Imogen Cloet part of the Lux exhibition

Cragside also has a formal garden, reached through an optimistically signed gate. We walked across the famous Iron bridge, through the Autumn Colour walk, green of course when we visited in July and into the Formal Garden, the Temperate Fernery and Orchard Glass House.

Temperate Fernery

Temperate Fernery

Cragside was recently featured on the television programme Glorious gardens presented by Christine Walkenden, the very short clip saved here shows the formal garden off beautifully with an overhead shot of the whole area, including their traditional carpet bedding display which takes 6 weeks for the gardeners to complete. A lovely blog written by Holly, a National trust trainee gardener covering the last year at Cragside, is a wonderful behind the scenes insight, if you would like to discover more.

Optomistic sign

Polite notice and optimistic sign

Closing the gate, we headed off in the car across the rugged Northumbrian countryside to the Keilder Observatory to watch stars in the UK’s largest area of least light pollution. Nightime drizzle and low cloud put paid to that plan and not a star was seen but we shall try again on our next visit to Northumbria.

Wimpole Hall and the Walled Kitchen Garden

In my wild dreams I own a wonderful walled kitchen garden and have so much space I can grow Pumpkins, Squashes and Gourds and should they take off like Triffids it will not inconvenience us.

Pumpkins, squash and gourds, in the John   Greenhouse

Pumpkins, squash and gourds, in Sir John Soane’s Greenhouse Wimpole Hall

My Walled Kitchen Garden would include all sorts of fruits, vegetables and beautiful flowers, there would be a wonderful greenhouse and places to sit, wildlife would be abundant and pollinators visit freely. Like minded folk would come to visit and share happy meals, cooked with the produce I grew for my family. There would be an orchard of Apple trees to hide in. We are still looking for that property and the small matter of a lottery win, in the meantime I visit walled gardens and dream.


Wimpole Hall Walled Garden

Last weekend we visited the National Trust owned Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire and by happy co-incidence it was their annual 1940’s weekend.

Womens Land Army at Wimpole Hall

Womens Land Army at Wimpole Hall

Lots of displays from The Home Guard and Allies. 1940’s music, vintage vehicles and plenty of folk dressed up. Meanwhile in the Kitchen garden, The Womens Land Army were just quietly getting on with it.

Flower borders in the Walled Garden

Flower borders inside the Walled Garden

The flower borders were brimming with colour and although some are cut for the house were plentiful. The simple traditional design, a central axis, leaving four enormous beds, each one the size of a tennis court for fruits, vegetables and companion planting, around the walled borders espaliered fruit trees. On one wall the marvellous Greenhouse where currently a part of it houses the Pumpkin display.

On the outside of the Walled Garden, long full borders lead onto the Apple Orchard.

Outside walls of the Kitchen Garden

Outside of the Walled Garden

The Wimpole estate is fortunate to include a farm – Home farm, where sheep, goats, cattle, pigs and horses are all cared for and as a consequence a rich supply of manure is available to the Kitchen Garden. We had visited the farm several times before when the children were small so headed off to the house itself and a walk past the formal parterre garden.

Wimpole Hall and the formal Parterre Garden

Wimpole Hall and the formal Parterre Garden

Beyond the formal garden is 3,000 acres of parkland and farmland, its a wonderful place to walk and dream.

Wimpole was given to the National Trust following the death of Elsie Bambridge the daughter of Rudyard Kipling in 1976. Kipling’s own home Batemans in Sussex was also given to the National Trust, Elsie and her husband George leased Wimpole from 1932 and finally bought the estate in 1936 after Kipling died and with her inheritance restored the property and grounds.

Produce from the walled garden is used in the Restaurant, it was packed during our visit, so we headed to the Stable yard cafe, pleased to say they served a very good gluten free chocolate cake and a decent coffee.

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island, Northumberland and the Garden designed by Gertrude Jeykll

In the grounds of Lindisfarne Castle is a small walled garden, designed by Gertrude Jeykll.

The View of Lindisfarne Castle from the garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll

The View of Lindisfarne Castle from the garrison garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll

Lindisfarne Castle was originally built in 1570 as an Elizabethan fort. Following an uneventful 300 years and the removal of guns and soldiers in 1893 it lay empty and neglected. Edward Hudson the founder of Country Life magazine, by good fortune took his holiday in Northumberland, discovered the castle and the spectacular location and views, took out a lease and enlisted Edward Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll to transform it into a holiday retreat. In 1906 Gertrude travelled to Northumberland by train with her good friend Edward Lutyens, they were transported by rowing boat across 3 miles of North Sea to Holy Island and the neglected castle.


View from Castle and Gertrude’s route in a rowing boat. The rain came in quickly on the day we visited.

Hudson had wanted a water garden, incorporating the boggy area in the sweeping field behind the castle, a tennis court and croquet lawn. Funds did not stretch that far, so Gertrude was to focus on the old garrison vegetable plot across the field from the castle. Hudson planned the holiday retreat to be used mainly in the summer, so plants were chosen to be in flower during July and August.


The view from the reading room of the old garrison garden designed by Gertrude Jeykll

In order to plant the crag on which the castle stands, Gertrude supposedly fired seeds at the rock face from a large fowling gun and lowered a small island boy, 7 year old Harry Walker, in a basket from the Upper Battery to access the difficult ledges. I am not sure what remains here of her original gun shot plants and Harrys hair-raising planting, but now its mainly some very pretty Centranthus.

Crag planting under the castle

Crag planting under the castle

Looking back from Gertrude’s garden are 3 upturned Herring boats, cut in half and used as storage sheds. Edward Hudson had these installed and of the three the one on the left is an original, the other two being renewed by the national trust.


A project was set up in 2002 to restore Gertude’s planting plan, originally first implemented in 1911, 5 years after her initial visit.


Stachys byzantina of course!

The garden is really charming and an unexpected discovery along the wild and romantic Northumberland coast.

We visited Lindisfarne Castle and Northumberland in late June, whilst on our first holiday up north, the lake district was the furthest north we had previously ventured. We are southerners, usually holidays at home are on the east, west or south coasts. We should of gone before, Northumberland is absolutely beautiful, spectacular coastlines, lots of wildlife, fabulous gardens, incredible scenery, excellent walks, hardly any people and despite my fears and a car full of wet weather gear it was very warm and the only rain on the day we visited here. Lindisfarne Castle is managed by the National Trust. Gertude’s garden was a bonus, the castle and island are fascinating and rich in atmospheric delights. To reach the castle, which is situated on Holy Island its vital to check tide times before crossing the causeway link road as access is at low tide only, upto 3 miles of the causeway is covered by the rising tide, so timing is everything. I can’t wait to go back.