Friday, 14 May 2021

The Distancing Diaries - 13th & 14th May, 2021

Thursday started in the usual fashion, a wander around the garden, my Wii Fit workout and a breakfast of fruit & yoghurt. It was the day of our postponed National Trust visit so, Jon made sandwiches, filled the flask as we were travelling in the work's van as opposed to Gilbert, and off we went.

Nestled in an Ice Age valley in the Cotswolds lies the beautiful sandstone 17th Century Upton House, home to Walter Samuel, the second viscount Bearsted, and his wife, Dorothea. Renowned for their philanthropy, when Lord Bearsted acquired the estate in 1927, the midst of the Great Depression, he wrote the local community, where unemployment and deprivation ran high announcing that Any Man who presents himself at 9am on Monday morning shall find work there.

Lord and Lady Bearstead were the heirs of the co-founder of Shell Oil and recognised that great wealth brought great responsibility. They both made sizable donations to charities which included children's societies & hospitals, seamen's missions, cancer charities and Jewish schools. Walter gifted the grounds surrounding his late father's estate to the people of Maidstone in Kent whilst Dorothea supported the Bearstead Maternity Hospitals (founded by the first viscount) and during WW2 personally helped with their supervision and management.

The garden was designed by Kitty Lloyd-Jones, one of the first female gardeners. Born the 9th of ten children to a Welsh doctor, she gained a diploma from the Royal Botanical Society and was the first woman to take a horticulture degree at Reading University in 1924. Before the Bearsteads the garden's main purpose was to provide food for the house with little thought for pleasure and recreation but, with Kitty's fresh ideas and enthusiasm, she set about transforming the garden for leisure and pleasure. 

While the house has its attractions (the stupendous Art Deco bathroom, which I wrote about HERE), the highlight of Upton is the garden. A lawn, with 350-year-old cedar trees, sweeps gently down from the house and below is an extensive terraced garden. The garden features a series of herbaceous borders and a large lake with water lilies in a small valley. The terracing, unseen from the house and on a first visit unsuspected, contains the National Collection of Aster. In use since the 12th century, the gardens include a rare Bog Garden on the site of medieval fish ponds.

A Rheum palmatum went straight to the top of our must-buy list.

Thursday was mirky and damp with bursts of torrential rain but, surrounded by such beauty, both wild and cultivated, that we hardly noticed the weather.

Wandering through the untamed woodland, with huge clumps of bluebells, cow parsely, periwinkle and cuckoo pint we were more inspired than ever with our plans for the wilderness at bottom of our garden.

Trevor Eve had a humdinger of a fistfight in Upton House's glamorous 1930s swimming pool in an episode of Waking the Dead. 

There were only five other vehicles in the car park when we got back to the van. The miserable weather had obviously put a lot of people off although Upton is rarely busy. The majority of visitors seem to prefer the neighbouring Charlecote Park (a bit too formal for our tastes). After a lunch of Glastonbury cheddar cheese and pickle sandwiches on date and walnut bread we returned to Walsall (an hour's drive away) passing the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the way back, who it turned out were visiting Wolverhampton.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent wandering around the garden, drawing up plans and doing research - National Trust gardens never fail to inspire. After tea, we finally finished our epic catch-up of Waking the Dead, all nine years of it!

On Friday morning, after a wander around the garden & booked next week's National trust adventure, I put the kitchen plants in the utility room sink for a soak and mopped the kitchen floor before my final Wii Fit workout of the week. After breakfast, toast as we'd run out of fruit, I wrapped the eBay sales. 

When we'd got back from Upton House yesterday a parcel from my friend Lynn was waiting for me packed full of Craftivism goodies. A flick through the book gave simple instructions for cross stitch so I ordered some fabric and embroidery silk from eBay so I could have a go. Cross-stitching twee things like owls and country cottages have never appealed but sweary banners? Totally up my street! 

Stephen was due at the vet for his blood pressure check so, while the lads were out I got to work on the garden. Today was the turn of the area outside the gates. As you can see, it's an utter disgrace. I'd mentioned sorting it out on a blog post a year ago but we never go round to it. Rather than procrastinate a minute longer I decided to clear the area, dig up the remaining ferns in the rockery next to the wall and radically prune the Hawthorne, after checking for nests first and got stuck in right away. Working outside in the street means that everyone stops and chats and it was lovely to talk to people I normally only wave at. Both an older chap and a woman my age stopped to tell me that they remembered me from the 1980s - one recognised me from seeing me at college and the other from my crazy house-share days, I thought I'd changed a lot in almost 40 years...I obviously haven't! 

Jon came back to drop off Stephen. The vet was very pleased that his blood pressure was down and that he'd put on weight. After he'd done the post office run and supermarket shop we had noodles and then he helped me outside. By mid-afternoon, we'd filled four sacks of waste and the area was finally clear.

In stark contrast to most houses in the neighbourhood, we're hoping to replace the gravel with grass, maybe with clover or wildflowers to make it more attractive to pollinators. We'll also need some kind of barrier to keep the dogs with irresponsible owners off our lawn. With a wet weekend forecast, we can spend time researching the best option. 

I'd managed to dig up another five ferns which we replanted elsewhere in the garden before downing tools and retiring inside for a mug of tea. 

We've got pizza for tea and apparently, BoJo's got a press conference scheduled for 5.15pm. I think I might need a glass of wine. Later it's Gardeners' World, rum and a replacement for Waking the Dead, that's if I can stay awake long enough.

See you soon!