Friday, 14 May 2010

Alice in Wonderland

I've been thinking about the gardens that I visited last week. The one that occupies my thoughts most right now is Hidcote in Gloucestershire.You approach this garden, that sits on the edge of the rolling costwolds, along country roads and through small villages. The nearby town of Chipping Campden is an absolute delight, with its warm honey coloured stone buildings and interesting looking shops. My Mum lived there when she had her first job and it is a place that is mentioned with affection in my experience.

The garden is considered one of England's greatest but was created by an American, Major Lawrence Johnstone, in the Arts and Crafts style with a whole series of garden 'rooms' each designed to have their own particular atmosphere.

Seeing the garden at this time of year when everything is growing and producing fresh new leaves is a very different experience to seeing it at the height of summer when colour will be everywhere and there will be an exuberance to so much of the planting. What you see now is actually how the structure of it all works and how complex the texture of the planting is.

A bed like this will be a riot of colour later in the season but now, if you look closely, is actually a riot of textures, leaf shapes, form and structure. It really is like a tapestry of plants.

This green phase is so much more subtle than what is to come but just as exciting.

Each space in this garden has been thought through in such an imaginative way and you really feel manipulated by it. There are parts that feel dark and sinister (the yew obelisks in the first picture are positioned so close that they really feel claustrophobic and threatening); there are parts that feel light and airy and magical; there are parts that are invigorating and parts that are calming; there are changes of scale that really do make you feel like you could have tasted from Alice's little bottle or nibbled at her little cake.

It really is a roller coaster of emotions!

Of course at this time of year with things still emerging there is so much exquisite detail, not least the new fern fronds. There was a feast of these at one of the other gardens I visited on this trip (but that can wait for another time) but here the perfect unfurling spirals sat so beautifully next to these dark brooding tulips.

And of course the place is full of vistas and views that lead you on around the place and give you glimpses through from one space to another. Some of these are really quite formal but I like some of the more subtle views.

And this brings me to a view of my tulips from my studio window...

Current listening: Elgar, The Dream of Gerontius (which I'm singing tomorrow evening in Leeds Town Hall)

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