Friday, August 6, 2010

"Gardens are a form of autobiography." Sydney Eddison

Flower from the garden decorated each window in Jane Austen's house.

Jane Austen's House

After her father died, Jane, her sister Cassandra, and their mother faced quite a few years of financial hardship.  The family house and land was entailed away to Mr. Austen's extended family.  The Austen sons were young men and only starting out in the world.  Both Cassandra and Jane had been disappointed in love and had no prospects or desire for marriage.  The women got by with difficulty on the money Jane made from her writing and the small amounts their brothers managed to send.  Fortunately for everyone, one of the Austens' distant relatives died and because of the laws of entailment, James Austen inherited the estate in Chawton.  He was able to give a pleasant, village home to his sisters and mother and provide for them.  In letters that Jane wrote to the family, she expressed her great relief, but also her joy that the house had room for a small garden with good sun exposure.  The garden was informal and lighthearted.  Just right!

This the flower border next to the stone wall.  The street marker
at the top of the picture is typical of the signs in villages.

I wish I could grow hollyhocks like this!

Look at those colors.

These gems were so bright that they were almost florescent.

I'm not sure, but I think those seed pods are poppies.

English roses!!!

William Shakespeare's Birthplace

What we call Tudor style houses, the British call Black and White houses.  Over the years, the timber was usually painted black to preserve it, and the stucco was usually white washed. 
Shakespeare's birthplace was restored to the appearance
it probably had during Bill's lifetime.

Shakespeare probably didn't do much gardening.  After all, he was a
very industrious entrepreneur.  He saw himself as a businessman first and foremost and never set out to be a "great artist." 
I think he would be astounded that today people think of him as snooty and highbrow!  But it's clear from his plays and poetry that 
ol' Bill knew a thing or two about plants and flowers. 


The steeple of Trinity Church from the River Avon.  Growing up in such a beautiful place must have an effect on the person.

Long boats on the River Avon

The recently discovered Cobble painting of William Shakespeare. 
 It was the only portrait made of Shakespeare during his life. 
All of the other paintings, the ones that we grew up with,
were created from people's memory of Bill's appearance.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage
William courted his wife, Anne Hathaway, at her family's home in Shottery outside of Stratford.  The house stayed in the family until the early 1900's when the last member of the family sold the house to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on the condition that she could continue to live in the home as the caretaker for the rest of her life.  The flower garden sits down in a tiny valley behind the house.  Whether the valley is natural or man made, it provides wonderful drainage for the flowers.  You can see that they are very happy!

 The gardener told me they were suffering from a draught!

I couldn't believe the height of the flowers! 

Ah!  The sweet peas were heavenly.

After Anne Hathaway's Cottage, the bus took us 7 miles out of Stratford to Mary Arden's Farm in the village of Wilmcote.  The scenery was breathtaking.  The Cotswold is one of the most
beautiful places I've ever been! 

Little bits of beauty dusted the countryside.

Mary Arden's Farm

Bill got his business ability from his mother's side of the family.  The Ardens were a prosperous family and the father was considered a gentleman farmer.  That meant he owned and lived at the farm, but  employed hired hands to do all the work.  The Arden farm continued to be a working enterprise until the 1900's when the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust bought it.  The farm and the tiny village of Shottery were so  very English!

The Wilmcote village pub.  Every village is required to have one!

The farm is now a living history museum.  The employees
dress in period costumes and use farming techniques
from Tudor times.  The pigs were odiforous, but adorable.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Life Began In A Garden...

One of the many planting groups in St. James Park.  Notice the contrast of the hot and cool colors.
Very striking!

I thought I would show you some of the pictures I took of the gardens in England.  I didn't go on a gardening tour and I didn't set out to take snap shots of plants, but England is so lush and verdant that I couldn't help but notice all the natural beauty.  Just imagine what it would be like to go on a gardening tour of Great Britain or to plan to go to the best gardens in the country. there's an idea for a vacation.  I hope you enjoy these!

St. James Park in London. 

St. James is one of the parks that connects to Buckingham Palace.  It use to be a royal hunting ground, but over the centuries became more of a pleasure ground with a scenic lake and beautiful flower beds.

The Bird Master's cottage from across the small lake.

Plane trees like this one cover London.  They are like sycamore trees on steroids, sort of the
Arnold Schwarzenegger of the sycamore family.  They develop a lot of personality
as they mature.  This one in St. James seemed to have a face.

Parts of St. James Park are left natural.  Actually they are probably carefully crafted to look natural. 
Either way, they give us an idea of how London might have looked hundreds of years ago.
And yes, daisies do grow wild in the countryside!

One of the more formal flower beds.  They really like the contrast of  colors. 
I like those incredible dahlias.

I never did find out what this purple tree was.  They were too big to be any of the plum trees we
grow in our neck of the woods.  Also, did you notice the blue sling back chairs under the trees. 
You can rent those sling back chairs by the hour.

Hampton Court

Hampton Court is about an hour by train southwest of London.  It has been a royal residence since Henry the VIII acquired the house from Cardinal Wolsey.  Most of the kings and queens added something to the house or the gardens, so there is a sort of architectural and gardening record on the grounds.  The gardens are fabulous and enormous and exhausting.  I have been there twice and I still haven't seen all of the gardens!

The Tudor knot gardens are my favorites!  This garden is surrounded by hedges.  Every fifteen feet or so, a small peep hole, just big enough for one person, has been cut into the hedges.  It's fun to walk a few feet and look into the next peek-a-boo window to see the garden from a new perspective. 

 Also, if you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see the two gardeners close to the entrance of the garden.  I didn't notice them at first, but as I continued around the peep holes, I started to realize that there was some drama going on! 

I took my time strolling around this luscious garden, not really focusing on these two men But slowly it began to register with me that the entire fifteen minutes or so that I was admiring the garden, these two were busy, intently discussing something.  Get a load of the body language! 
By this time, I was curious!  What were they talking about?  They didn't seem to angry at each other.  It was more like they were chewing apart their boss or complaining about some new, stupid gardening directive that had come down from the know-nothing top brass.  I know it's wrong to eavesdrop, but I was intrigued!  Try as I might, and I did try, I could not overhear what they were talking about.  To my extreme disappointment, their country accents were so strong that I just couldn't make heads or tails of it. I'll admit it; I'm still curious!

This is a great example of the famous English herbaceous border!  The planting bed lined the walkway from the William and Mary Gardens all the way to the Rose Gardens.  It had to be at least a football field long.  And, the bed was at least seven to eight feet deep.  Just imagine all the weeding!

This ancient wisteria vine is about four hundred years old!  It smelled divine!

 Modern English gardening seems to be all about contrast, contrast of color and texture.  This bed was labeled an exotic bed.  Exotic!  These are mostly old faithfuls at home.  Dusty Miller.  Variegated monkey grass.  Begonias.  Serpent Tongue.  Palms.  Iron plants.  Hen and chickens. 
It's funny how exotic means different things to different people!

These are the much more formal William and Mary gardens which were modeled on the French style.
They are beautiful and enormous but a little repetitive, not quite as interesting as the Tudor gardens.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Images of London

London is filled with amazing statues.  This one is a memorial to the British soldiers lost in the Crimean War.  Honestly, I don't know much at all about the Crimean War, but it must have been devestating 
to the British because there are Crimean memorials all over central London.
Right in front of this memorial, there was a statue of Florence Nightengale
and the poet, George Herbert.  Wow!  A statue to a poet!
It does my heart good.

Take a look at those thigh boots!  The Horse Guards Parade Grounds are right in central London, around the corner from Number 10, down the street from the Foreign Office,
 and across St. James Park from Buckingham Palace.  It's the best
free show in town!

I like this picture because is shows Westminster Abby of the left, an iconic London tour bus, one of the towers of the Halls of Parliament in the center, and the beautiful Westminster School on the right.  I shudder to think how much the tuition to a "public" school like Westminster would be.

I took several pictures of this gorgeous building decorated with very detailed bas relief sculptures before I realized that this building is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

I was so surprised to see this statue of Abraham Lincoln in Parliament Square.  I wasn't the only one.  As I stood there taking pictures, several American teenagers walked up, looked to see
what I was taking a picture of, and started discussing him. 
 "Dude!  It's Lincoln, man.  He's like my favorite president!"
 "I know, right!  He's the coolest--Old Honest Abe."
"Hey dude, what's he doing here?"
"Uhhh, I dun know!"

Parliament Square would not be complete without a statue of
Winston Churchill!  I don't know what the red paper horse in the tree
next to Winny is for.  No one seemed to know.

This character was standing on Westminster Bridge, wearing his kilt, and playing his bagpipes. 
Here he is taking a break right after finishing "Danny Boy."  He seemed to be making good tips!
I'm sorry the picture is so fuzzy!  The wind of Westminster Bridge always seems
to be strong and it blurred every one of my pictures.

As I was walking across the bridge, I noticed a clump of tourists looking over the edge and pointing.  Since I am as curious as a cat, I stopped and took a look, too.  Sitting on a set of ancient steps that
lead down into The Thames was this romantic couple.  The man tried to make their moment
as private as possible with the umbrella, but it couldn't stop us, the tenacious tourists.
Ahhhh!  Young love!

This is one of the lions in Trafalgar Square.  They are enormous!  The kids, and some adults, love to climb up on them and slide down the lion's back haunches.  It's cute to watch.

The evening rush hour in London is usually from 4 to 6:30 P.M.  But one night there must have
been a wreck because at 8 P.M. the traffic was backed up all the way to my bed and breakfast
which was close to the British Museum.  I think what caught my attention was the sound of
 buses idling for minutes at a time and then crawling forward a few inches and the absence
 of motorcycles screaming down the street.  I stayed across the street from the University
College of London and the students LOVE fast, inexpensive, LOUD motorcycles.

My home in London, The Jesmond.  Right down the street from the British Museum,
in walking distance to four good tube stations, and close to three train terminals,
the Jesmond's location can't be beat.   And, it could be a serious
contender for a "London's Smallest Bathrooms" contest!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 On The Road Again

Bewley's Hotel inside Manchester Airport.  It was really a normal hotel, but after two weeks of London's smallest bathroom, Bewley's felt like The Ritz.
Last night I stayed at a hotel right in Manchester Airport.  Very convenient!  Bewley's is a U.K. hotel chain, but their claim to fame is American style rooms.  That means they have queen size beds, (almost unheard of in London!) a love seat and table, a full sized t.v., and an iron and ironing board in every room.  I'm embarrassed, but I will admit that it took me about fifteen minutes to figure out how to turn on the lights.  I tried everything I could think of, but no luck.  I had figured out how to turn on the the t.v. and change the channel, (always hard for me) how to turn on the bathtub and shower, (more confusing than you would think) and how to adjust the thermostat (I was surprised they let the customers do that).  But, the lights were a mystery.  Finally, I swallowed my pride and called the front desk.   The woman informed me, rather snippily, that you must enter your door card in the slot inside the door.  Who knew?!?  Certainly not me.

This is not a joke!  These are real instructions.  At least
this bathroom had instructions.  Most of the time I just
fiddled around until I stumbled on how to flush the toilet,
 turn on the shower, or run the bath.
But the best thing about Bewley's was the bathroom.  It had a tub! A tall, deep bathtub!  And joy of  joys, the bathroom was big enough for me to spread my arms open wide and twirl around, which I did.  It was also big enough that I could shave my legs without having to open the shower door.  Luxury! 

Bewley's also had ice machines.  Hooray!!!  But, no ice bucket.  Huh?!?  I finally figured out that guests were suppose to take the tiny juice glasses provided in the room down to the machine where you fill up each glass individually and then walk back to your room.  Why do the Brits fear ice?

The ice machine was in a small vestibule which had a few vending machines.  One sold cokes and juice.  Another sold "sweets" and "crisps."  The third was larger so I figured it sold sandwiches.  Wrong.  It was a vending machine for alcohol!  Each of the little bins held a wine cooler or a bottle of beer.  Some of them even held cans of soft drinks and those little bottles of booze.  That's something you would never see at home!

See the down comforters?  There is no top sheet under that
fluffy comforter, nada!
I experienced another first, as well.  All the rooms had down comforters covered in duvets, but no top sheets on the beds.  I knew this was how most Europeans make their beds, but I had never experienced it.  It worked well that night because it was chilly.  But what do people do when it is warm?  It's the down duvet or nothing.  You can't fold down the comforter and cover up with the top sheet on warm nights.  And, what about the cleanliness?  Does the hotel change the duvet covers each time they have a new guest?  Bleh!!! I'm glad that didn't occur to me until the next morning at breakfast. 

I don't think I will ever get use to seeing
 police officers carrying machine guns!
I got to the airport around 8:15 and spent the next 45 minutes going through security.  Let me tell you, British airport security was definitely more stringent than American security!  First, all the passengers had to go through a one on one interview with a security officer who asked about our luggage and why we had been to the country.  Who packed your luggage?  When did you pack?  Did anyone else have access to your bags.  Where are you going next? 

"And madame, did you let a crazed terrorist
pack your luggage this morning?"
Next, the baggage check person asked about electronics, lithium batteries, hand held computers, and weighed the luggage.  I was a little worried about that.  I would swear my bag weighed twice as much as when I left DFW.  It weighed 14.1 kilograms, whatever that means.

Then, we did the put-your-things-in-the-bins, take-off-your-shoes, and check-your-311-bag routine.  Unlike the DFW security people, these security people really checked the 311 bag.  One of the security guys cheerfully told me that my bottle of contact solution was too big.  The same bottle that successfully made it through security in DFW and JFK, didn't pass inspection in MAN.  They did let me put some solution into my contact case before they threw it away, though.  Thank goodness for small kindnesses!

The Security Officers took their job, very seriously!
After that, I thought we were done, but no!  We had to go through another security check before we were allowed to enter the waiting area for our gate.  Two female officers wearing scary, blue latex gloves gave me a thorough, but polite pat down and minutely searched my purse.  Whew!  I heard a security officer explaining to another passenger, who had gotten his feathers ruffled, that we were on a high security flight.  Always curious, I asked my officer, why.  I thought the flight might have tighter security because we were flying into New York.  The officer said that it wasn't because we were going to New York, it was because we were going to the U.S.  Apparently, all flights going into the U.S. are considered high security risk flights.  That was an eye opener!  They had certainly increased security dramatically since my previous trip just last summer.  I have to admit that after I heard that, I did take a look around at my fellow passengers to see if anyone seemed suspicious!  They all looked like normal ol' people to me.  After all this rigamarole, the only thing left was to get on the plane and fly home, and I was quite ready to go at this point.

Ah!!!  Airplane travel is so sophistocated.
Three hours into the flight I decided that plane engineers are all sadists!!!  They must all have had terrible childhoods, are confirmed misogynists, and must be related to the Grinch.  Can there be anything more awkward and uncomfortable than trying to eat a meal on an airplane?  Trying not to spill anything on your neighbor who is 10 centimeters away should be an Olympic event.  Salad should never come in a plastic covered container that you have to tear open with your teeth!  And, whose bright idea was it to put Thousand Island dressing on a flight full of Europeans?  The British man sitting next to me looked totally bewildered.  He also seemed mighty confused as he tried to figure out what Laughing Cow spread was and how we were suppose to eat it.  No wonder they laugh at the idea of American cuisine!  I bet the flight attendants had a good time laughing at how ridiculous the passengers look trying to eat their "meal." 

Passport Control and Immigration at JFK.
Arriving at JFK was awful and wonderful.  I don't know what it is about airports that seems to make people feel more frantic and rushed, but it always seems to happen.   Take that situation, put it in New York, and add rude French tourist who have no concept of standing in line and you have a sure fire recipe for stress.

But, it was wonderful to hear American accents again and see the relaxed, more casual style of interaction we have with each other.   The first thing I saw and heard while standing in line at customs was two JFK customs officials joking around and flirting with each other.  A younger man was pretend flirting with a middle age woman who was clearly his boss.  They didn't try to lower their voices like the British would.  They knew all the bored passengers waiting in line were listening to everything they said, but it didn't bother them.  He kept cheekily asking her to go out with him, and she kept rolling her eyes and telling him to get a life.  It was great and so American!  It felt good to be home.  It was like a big ol' glass of ice tea filled to the rim with ice!

Mother met me at the airport with a big ol' glass of ice tea and tons of ice.  What a treat!

Mexican food, how I've missed you!!!