Regrettably, it's been nearly a year since my last blog post. The last twelve months have been incredible, bizarre, busy, tiring and wonderful all at once. After growing up in London, spending my years at University in Bristol and Manchester and using my mother's house in the Cotswolds as a frequent retreat, I finally moved back to London in August 2019. After moving into a new flat, starting a new job, I soon felt like I was finding my feet in my favourite city with friends both old and new... and then came the pandemic. I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to stop talking about all of the trials and tribulations that have come in all shapes and sizes for everyone, so instead, I wanted to talk about things we can do despite our situation; something we can do is visit gardens and outdoor sites.
Gardens across the country have reopened with social distancing measures in place. Whether they are RHS run, NGS open gardens or private sites, they are one of the few attractions at the moment that allow you to forget momentarily about the daily stresses of navigating the current pandemic. Other than pre-booking a time-slot (this is essential for all gardens) and wearing a face covering if you choose to enter cafes or shops on the premises, the huge variety of open gardens in London and the surrounding areas alone provide vast escapes for walking, admiring, playing and resting.
It was our bad luck that our visit to Wisley happened to coincide with the end of the relentless August heatwave, which meant most of our visit was spent wondering around in the thunder and rain. Luckily, my Mum and I are far too interested in gardens to be bothered by rain, so as the families and children ran for cover one by one, we were able to blissfully wander through the rose gardens and walk through the wisteria arbour whilst being covered in a blanket of droplets.
Wisley offers such a diverse collection of horticultural ideas; exploring the various sections offers new ideas and designs round every corner. Due to the weather, we saw a relatively small portion of what the site has to offer. On a sunnier day, I'd like to go back to explore the exotic and walled gardens, the pinetum (best seen in the Autumn), the alpine meadow and the Mediterranean terraces. Another downside of the pandemic is that the iconic glasshouse is currently closed to the public. I particularly liked the framed succulents we found near the Jellicoe Canal, and wondered what the logistics would be to install a similar living artwork on my bedroom wall...
The government have put such a massive emphasis on eating out to help out and other areas of the economy during lockdown, but gardens and horticulture are also in great need of financial support during these tough times, especially considering Wisley employs a world-class scientific research team which educates schools and community groups about how to improve the health of people and nature by using plant diversity to improve wellbeing. If you're unsure of your options, I've listed some fantastic gardens in and around London below which are perfect for an end of Summer day out.
How many tourists does it take to change a lightbulb? Seven. One to change the lightbulb, one to set up the tripod and five to take the picture. Reading an article on the Telegraph online the other day titled ‘Paradise Lost’ about the beaches in Thailand being ruined by tourists, I couldn’t help but think of the village my Mother lives in (where I frequently visit for the weekend and holidays). The nineteenth-century artist William Morris called Bibury “the most beautiful village in England” when he visited it. It is now one of the most popular destinations not only in the Cotswolds, but in the UK for tourists from all over the world.
Unfortunately, the last ten years have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of tourists visiting every day, and more worryingly, an increase in the number of hire cars, mini buses and coaches which fill the tiny village car park, block the lanes of residences and damage properties when reversing, turning and idling around private areas. Along with the staggering number of pedestrian tourists pouring out into the village by the coach-load, this constant traffic of people and vehicles has spoiled the natural beauty that brought everyone here in the first place.
My Mother’s house sits on top of a hill which leads down to the main drag in the village: Arlington Row. The row of cottages were built in 1380, and are one of the most photographed scenes in the Cotswolds. Because of this, many tourists wander up past our front gate. Our house is not part of the National Trust site which people come to see, but still attracts an astounding amount of unwanted attention from people leaning on our front gate and trying to pose for pictures in our garden. Now you may think that we’re being rather grumpy for complaining about people admiring where we live, but the pictures below give you an idea that looking out our front door can frequently feel like we are animals on show at a circus. Worst of all, tourists leave litter, open private gates and damage Cotswold stone walls by climbing on them to capture photographs; anything to get a decent selfie, right?
On the whole, the local residents are very patient when it comes to the tourists. However, there are lots of elderly residents who struggle to walk along paths at peak times (and by peak times, I mean 8am-6pm nearly every day of the year). Many of the residents have also had to pay thousands of pounds in repairs for damaged walls and property, and spend their dog walks picking up Costa coffee cups, MacDonalds bags and even discarded selfie sticks.
In 2017, the BBC reported that an “ugly” car parked on Arlington Row was spoiling the photos of tourists. As a result, the car - which belongs to an elderly, disabled resident - was vandalised so badly it had to be replaced. You can read more here.
Climate change must now be a huge priority for all of us. Bibury is a metaphor for the damage being done to our world. It is being polluted by numerous coaches that park in the village each day for hours on end (often without switching their engines off), it is being littered on by tourists who leave their rubbish on the roads and in the river for the wildlife to dodge, and it is overpopulated by hundreds of visitors who crowd the areas designed for local people and workers.
It is a general consensus in the village that tourists are welcome in Bibury, but should be mindful that they must respect the privacy, cleanliness and natural beauty of the place that they so often forget to actually look at, rather than gaze at through a viewfinder. So, if you’re thinking of visiting, please think about walking rather than driving and contribute to local life by purchasing your food and souvenirs from the village shop and Trout Farm. Just like the old saying for visiting the beach, “take only photographs and leave only footprints”.
Those close to me will already know that during the Summer, we lost our darling Luigi. Of course I wanted to write a blog post about him; particularly so I could show off how gorgeous he was in the photographs that we took of him. It may seem silly to some, but it's only today, nearly three months after he died, that I'm able to sit and write about him without welling up! When we first got Mario and Luigi as kittens, they were such funny little things that brought a lot of smiles and laughter to our family after we had suffered a loss.
Our friends were in awe of these beautiful and unusual looking Abyssinian kittens, and were even more in awe of the fact that we chose to name them Mario and Luigi. Luigi (pictured above as a kitten) is a 'Blue Abyssinian', and we were quite pleased that his colouring seemed to match our furnishings so well! So many people that have come to our home since we have had them have been very wary of cats. It seems to be a common concern that cats are unfriendly, vicious and selfish animals that have no interest in people. This couldn't be further from the truth when it came to Mario and Luigi. Both of them have always been loving, friendly and cuddly creatures. Funnily enough though, they had incredibly different characters. Mario broke his leg as a kitten, and ever since has been a little be jumpy and neurotic - it also means he sits in a very funny way. He's endlessly affectionate, and always wants to be cuddled up on your chest.
Whenever Luigi was done with hunting for the day, he had a favourite concrete slab in the garden that he would sun himself on (pictured above), and he was usually quite tolerant of Mario arriving to groom him... I've been very fortunate in fact to have so many gorgeous pets to photograph. Mario is by far the easiest to photograph as he's always lingering around waiting to be pampered. Luigi was actually incredibly difficult to photograph, as he was always thinking about his next move, and was never still for long. Most of my photographs of Luigi therefore are of him cuddled up in my bed sheets; somewhere where he was very content (see below!)
In his memory, we've placed a rather handsome statue in the garden to make sure that his favourite spot on the concrete is always occupied.
Westbury Court Garden is a National Trust site twenty minutes drive from Gloucester, and a rare surviving Dutch Water garden. The garden was originally created between 1696 and 1705 by Maynard Colchester, and the long canal, tall pavilion and circular pond are just a few of its wow features. It's most distinguishable feature however, has always been its immaculate hedges and topiary, which is best seen from above (see at the bottom of this post). When entering the garden, the first thing you see is the long canal that stretches from the front of the garden right to the back; the scale of the canal and the striking period style of the garden is absolutely breathtaking. Rufus and I even took a moment to sit and admire the view!
In 1960, the garden was threatened when developers planned to demolish the site and replace it with affordable housing. Fortunately, the National Trust bought the site using an anonymous donation, and began restoring the struggling garden to its former glory. The garden is an absolute must-see, and a testament to the dedication of the National Trust to maintain the historical essence of its original design, which to this day closely resembles the way it would have looked in 1720. More information about the garden and planning your visit can be found on the National Trust website, here.
Nothing is quite the same as the feeling you get when you discover an old photograph. Most of the time, the memory is something that you had completely forgotten about; the memory was not lost, but filed away for safe-keeping. Photographs, like memories, evoke such a strong sense of nostalgia for a number of reasons. Both of my parents took millions of photographs of me and my siblings when we were children, but it was only recently that I started to see a common factor; so many photographs that I am in as a child are in beautiful gardens and parks. At first glance, they make me smile because I can see myself so much younger and smaller (and much cuter!) in clothes that I remember having a particular fondness for.
My Mum regularly writes about gardens in articles and in her books. In her talks about her books, she explores the power of nostalgia in gardening, and why gardeners seem to gravitate towards elements from their childhoods when designing their own spaces. I was lucky enough to have parents and step-parents who were passionate about the outdoors in more ways than one, so I wanted to ask my Mum her thoughts about her own garden and her relationship with her childhood memories.
Me: What memories do you have of gardening/gardens from your childhood?
Mum: When I was little, our garden had a wisteria at one end that had grown into a sort of heap (it wasn't on a wall or any sort of support). It made a little den, where I used to go and play house.
We had self-seeded Shirley poppies in the garden, and someone showed me how to fold back the petals and tie them with a piece of grass around the stalk, so that the poppy seed head became like a little doll's face, and the petals looked like a little dress.
Me: Why do you think our memories of gardens are so powerful when it comes to to our own likes and dislikes?
Mum: Smell and memory are very strongly linked in mammals because it's how we distinguish our mothers from other females. Humans are just like any other animals: they can be conditioned, or trained, by personal experience. The smell of lavender, for example, or the scent of new-mown grass can evoke happy memories of childhood summers. Some people dislike the smell of particular plants because they associate that smell with an unhappy experience.
Me: Is it possible to take elements from the past and keep them current?
Mum: I think some elements are such classics that they never go out of date, such as roses, or yew topiary. However, I'm a bit allergic to the idea that all gardens have to look professional, and I think we are seeing a real flowering (if you'll excuse the pun) of contemporary garden design in Britain and the rest of the world, and have done for the past 30 years. I think that part of the secret is to use things in a different way, to keep things unexpected and not clichéd. I love conifers, for example, which were hugely popular in the Seventies, but I don't grow them in the way people grew them then.
2017 marked the 90th Anniversary of the National Garden Scheme. The unique charity is a combination of hardworking gardeners and volunteers, beautiful gardens and delicious cake; all of which come together to raise money for nursing charities across the UK. Supporting nursing charities has always been the aim of the NGS, and today they are the largest charitable funder of nursing in the country, raising over £50 million so far. Marie Curie and Macmillan Cancer Support are just two of the charities supported by the NGS. When my stepfather died after a battle with cancer ten years ago, it was the scheme's involvement with these charities in particular that continued to inspire my Mother and I to open the garden each year.
The little yellow book (consider it the A-Z of all NGS gardens) describes my Mother's garden as a country Cotswold work in progress, with 'plenty of places to sit and relax'. Visitors always seem to be pleasantly surprised by the number of different seating areas in the garden, they are often particularly relieved, considering the steep hill you have to climb in order to reach our house in the first place (it isn't called Awkward Hill for nothing!) The garden is definitely designed with comfort in mind. You can socialise by the barbecue at the dining table to entertain guests, or perch on the patio with a cup of tea and breakfast. Then, you can sit on the dock by the pond and dip your feet in the water, or perhaps cosy up by the fire pit with a glass of wine and a bag of marshmallows; the possibilities are endless!
This is not the case at all, as we are currently in an age where gardening and home decor is quickly becoming very fashionable for the younger generation, and this is reflected in the variety of guests that visit. A lot of this can be contributed to sites like Instagram and Pinterest, which feed the creativity of budding bloggers and homemakers all over the world. In many cases, the only thing stopping younger people from getting into gardening is the fact that it's almost impossible to find an affordable property with it's own green space, particularly in the major cities. This is where the little yellow book becomes a bit of a treasure trove... gardens listed in London often showcase the incredible ways in which you can manipulate small spaces into something National Garden Scheme worthy.
There are also those who shamelessly admit to us that they are mainly visiting for the cake and cups of tea... which is absolutely fine as well! All money raised goes towards the charities listed by the NGS, and all leftover cake goes towards my own personal stash of treats for the next week, so everybody wins. To find out more information about the NGS, click here.
The Ascot Spring Garden Show is a new show planned and designed by Stephen Bennett, former Shows Director at the Royal Horticultural Society where he was responsible for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and the launch of many other major RHS shows. My Mum mentioned to me that she was going with a press pass and I immediately asked whether I could tag along. To my surprise, she almost dissuaded me from going, insisting that there wouldn't be much to photograph. I insisted anyway, and starting googling the show in advance. To my surprise, there was very little information about the upcoming show on the Ascot website or the RHS website, or even on Twitter! I'd also seen the show listed under several different titles, making it incredibly difficult to understand what event you were attending before arrival.
Once the day came and we did actually arrive at the show, it was clear that the only significant advertising for the show was confined to the Ascot Racecourse itself, which seems a shame considering you could have been driving through Ascot and have no idea that the event was happening. The posters made promises such as 'pink blooms', 'blue emerges' and 'purple unfurls'. Unfortunately, the combination of the time of year and the never-ending Winter that we're having in the UK made these statements rather hard to live up to. Although so much of the show was full of beautiful flower arrangements, show gardens and stands, I spent most of my time having to crouch on the ground or zooming between plants in order to capture the odd bit of colour.
The show did however feature six show gardens from award-winning and up-coming professional designers, the most exquisite being 'Yardley's Flower Garden', designed by Pip Probert (Outer Spaces). The space was a culmination of traditional and contemporary design, the intention being to create a garden with multiple uses. The contrasting textures and materials united by the central water feature created a garden in which entertainment, socialising and secluded contemplation all seemed possible. The other show gardens were also creatively formed, but seemed to have a large focus on accessorising and laying tables, which sometimes tended to steal the focus from the planting.
Another large feature of the show was the Young Gardener's of the Year Competition, which featured 5m x 4.5m plots designed by six different colleges to represent city-dwelling gardens that make the most of their limited space and urban surroundings, many of which gave the impression of creating enclosed, tranquil escapes from city life. Unfortunately, the Young Gardener's show gardens were on the top of the main building where the light coming through the open balcony made it very difficult to take in the gardens, let alone photograph them (hence my lack of pictures!)
The biggest highlight of the whole show was definitely the nurseries and trade stands. These feature an impressive array of vibrant colours and a large variety of spring perennials. A beautiful selection of daffodils and tulips was to be expected, but was charming nonetheless. The show was definitely geared more towards amateur gardeners looking for tips and hints on how to improve their growing skills and develop their ability to creatively design a space, and the trade stands and nurseries seemed to be the best port of call for this.
Overall, the show was impressive considering the time of year and the lack of advertising it had been given prior to opening. Although a small show, it had the advantage that you could walk around the entire show and see everything it had to offer without it taking hours and hours. Although slightly underwhelming at times, I feel that the Ascot Spring Garden Show might be one to watch in the future...
So it's been quite a while since my last post - but it's all for the right reasons. I don't need to explain to any other bloggers out there how it can be hard to balance a steady flow of content with the rest of your life. Those who haven't maintained a blog before probably underestimate the amount of time and effort that goes into editing images, arranging content and coming up with semi-interesting topics to talk about in the first place! The last few months has definitely been a period in which keeping track of my blog has been almost impossible. However, it's been good to a have a break from the self-inflicted pressures of consistent blogging and social media presence, and actually focus on my own wellbeing.
In January this year I started a new job, moved to a new place and have been generally adjusting to 2018. Although it has flown by, the last five years of my life have been spent as a student - and - although being a student is definitely no walk in the park, it's been a physically and mentally demanding change to suddenly be in full time work. Although I'm tired a lot of the time and never seem to stop moving, I'm happier now than I've been in a long time. A lot of this, I think, is down to exercise and healthy eating. It's important for me to stress that in no way do I consider myself some kind of guru of healthy living but - by putting thought into what and when I eat, as well as making sure that I regularly exercise - seems to have made life so much easier.
Throughout my teenage years and in my early twenties at University, I struggled to sleep and constantly felt run down and tired. I would seem to catch every cold, flu and stomach bug going, and it was never down to the fact that I was drinking ridiculous amounts or partying into the early hours of the morning, as I've never been the type to do that regularly. I was however eating at irregular intervals, and filling myself full with fast, convenient food to try and make my body feel better, rather than thinking about what I actually needed in my diet. Like so many students, I put on a lot of weight at University, and became incredibly self-conscious and uncomfortable about how I looked and what I could wear. I would never go out without makeup on, and I would always feel the need to suck my stomach in. Ironically, I used to mock the girls who had gym memberships and had modest appetites. In actual fact, I've learnt that there is no shame in caring about how you look because... we all do in some way or another.
I used to think that the best way to lose weight and feel better about the way I looked was to say no to 'bad' foods like cakes, carbs etc. I've since learned that this is a ridiculous way to live. I don't diet, and I never say no to food because I'm 'watching my weight' and I am always going to have a large appetite! In fact, the sooner I stopped thinking about how much I weighed or what I looked like in the mirror and focused on knowing what my body needed throughout the day, I started looking in the mirror less and less, and cared very little about how much I weighed because I simply felt better.
I'm conscious about getting lots of fruit and vegetables in my diet, and I'm conscious of having three proper, balanced meals at the same time every day. I eat more now at 23 than I ever have, but simply by eating better and at regular intervals, it's made a big difference to my health and wellbeing. 'Cheat days' that we're encouraged to buy into through fad diets and social media are such a stupid idea to me. I don't ever feel the need to binge or allow myself to have 'treats' because I just let myself have what I want. The better you eat, the more you can afford to just relax about your diet. I love drinking wine, beer and cider, and I eat all kinds of cakes and donuts made for staff at my work. Like so many brits, I used to have the kind of diet where I ate these things excessively. Instead of baking a batch of blondies and eating them all myself, I now know to share them with my greedy Tibetan terrier, Rufus...
The second most important element in my lifestyle has to be exercise. I started running about two years ago, and - having spent most of my life not being able to walk for more than ten minutes without getting breathless or tired - am now at the point where I actually enjoy exercising. At first, I thought it was essential that I ran as far as I could, as fast as I could ever single day. Now, I go when I want, as fast or slow as I want for as long as I want - it just so happens that the more I do it, the more I want to improve and keep going. I never exercise when I'm overtired from work or feeling ill at all, and never push myself to the point of pain or discomfort. I do however sleep better at night, and find myself able to do simple things that used to tire me out very quickly like walking up steep hills or running for the bus.
I'm not tired now because I'm run down, but because I work hard and try to keep active. The only thing I'm waiting for now is for spring to kick in... there's only so many times you can put a good spin on running in the rain by describing it as 'refreshing'.
My trip to Sicily in October was one of the most beautiful holidays I have ever had. I've already written a large blog post about my holiday in general which you can read here. Although it's several months later, I hadn't got around to writing in more depth about one of the attractions that I visited until now. The Villa Comunale Park is a short walk from the centre of Taormina, and was created by Florence Trevelyan: an English gardener and pioneering conservationist.
After travelling around Europe during the late nineteenth century, Trevelyan eventually settled in Sicily, where she bought the Isola Bella (translated as: beautiful island) off the coast of Taormina (which I mentioned in my last blog post about Sicily). When she moved to Taormina, she married the mayor, acquired some land and began importing plants and designing what would eventually become the Villa Comunale.
The structures inside the park are definitely the main attraction. Inspired by oriental buildings and unusually eclectic in style, their makeup consists of a system of open terraces topped by turrets of all shapes and sizes. Designed by Trevelyan between 1890 and 1899, they are called 'beehives'. The buildings are so unusual in aesthetic that they almost look like they would fit quite nicely in a hollywood film set. Made up of stonework, brickwork and wood, the grid effect created by the patterns of alternating materials make these structures a fantastical and enchanting visual experience.
The gardens of the Villa Comunale not only provide a private escape for those visiting or living in Taormina, but are also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sicily. The park was given to Taormina after Trevelyan's death, and today stands as a reminder of the vast contribution that she made to the life and economy of Taormina and the conservation of local wildlife.
No, I'm not talking about the one in Hyde Park. As beautiful as it is, for the last few days we have had our own chunk of paradise right here in the Cotswolds. Over the last week, our family have been planning for our annual Christmas Lights party. What started off as a few lights chucked on the house has now become a rather spectacular tradition which seems to attract the whole of Bibury every year. (Whether they gather to admire the lights or to mention that their house seems to be experiencing regular power-cuts is another matter...!)
No matter what people think, I always justify it as a good excuse to have a party, and a chance to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas period with family and friends. A couple of my friends from London even made the journey to come and see what I kept moaning on at them about. The garden is made up of handmade light balls, light-up wreaths and sparkly nets. The moment when all the lights are turned on for the first time is always magical for me, almost like a bigger, more dangerous version of putting the Christmas Tree up and switching on the fairy lights.
So to everyone who is stressed out by the looming presence of Christmas and the frustration of being snowed in, my advice would be to go for a walk in this Winter Wonderland while you can, and keep the fire going at home for the sake of your pets and wet feet!
Hi there, my name is Nevada and I'm a twenty-six year old music teacher. The Little Green blog centres around wildlife, gardening and lifestyle photography. All photos are my own and represent the portfolio of an amateur photographer!