A walk around….Leeds Castle

I have been wanting to visit Leeds Castle almost as long as I can remember. Its location off the A20 was on the way to my grandad’s house, and each time we drove past, I’d chime in (or perhaps whine in) with ‘When can we visit Leeds Castle?’…and because it was on the way, but not near enough, we never did it as a day trip from Grandad’s, and there was never enough time to stop on the way there or back.

Leeds Castle

It was 30 years later that I finally got to visit, possibly the longest-anticipated and most overdue day out I’ve ever been on. The castle itself was charming, and had played a surprisingly significant role in European inter-war and wartime political shenanigans (surprising in that it’s not as well-known as Cliveden, for example) – but the main event was the walk around the gardens afterwards.

I’d like *this* in my private library, please.

Just beyond the stable-yard-cum-restaurant was a walled garden which was pretty much my idea of rose heaven. To begin with, I found the delightfully-named ‘Buff Beauty’ (inspiration for beauty spas the land over), a lovely rose which is one of the most well-known of the buff/apricot shades. Struggled to get a good picture, though, as the flowerbed was half in shade by the time we got there.

Buff Beauty

In the neighbouring bed was ‘Iceberg’, possibly the most famous white rose of all. I would never pick white roses as my favourite shade (despite my loyalty to the east side of the Pennines), but Iceberg was very appealing with its flat open petals making the yellow centre even more prominent.


I next spotted a striking yellow rose, which had an attractive globe shape which reminded me of the equally yellow globeflower – but it had the rather dull and prosaic name of ‘Eurostar’. C’mon, this rose ought to have a nicer name than that!

The very poorly-named Eurostar

Finally we came across a gorgeous fuchsia pink rose called ‘Falstaff’…its flamboyant garish colour certainly matches the name, and the fact it’s a many-petalled double bloom makes it even more exuberant. This is a rose you’d need a lot of confidence to pull off in your own garden; I can imagine it set dramatically against a dark evergreen hedge or beside a fountain topped with a statue of some Greek god or nymph. A bit too extravagant for my little cottage garden, I suspect.

The magnificent Falstaff

Roses aside, the walled garden was packed with sedums, anenomes, clematis, hydrangea, and pretty much any other lovely summer plant you can think of, and beautifully edged with low box hedges. That’s a look I’d love to pull off on a smaller scale, to create a traditional knot garden in minature, but the recent news about box blight has rather put me off – although the RHS website does rather helpfully suggest similar plants which can be grown in place of box.

Walled garden in all its glory

Our ticket for Leeds Castle entitles us to free entry for a whole year after the first visit – a great idea in terms of value for money, as we can come back to explore the parts of the garden we didn’t see this time, and of course see what the springtime brings to Leeds in the way of flowers. The six-year-old me is thrilled that I don’t just get to go to Leeds Castle once, but have a return trip to look forward to.


2012 reading, part 2

A quick blog to keep track of what I’ve been reading over the summer…not as much as I planned, despite the bad weather – Wimbledon, the Olympics and Paralympics among other things got in the way…

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola – I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, I have read Germinal, but does anything good ever happen to a character in a Zola book? Therese Raquin was very hard going and unlike previous Zola books I’ve read, had no characters with any redeeming features at all…and yet he is so damn readable.

Zola’s relentless focus on the lives of the poor, unhappy and downtrodden – and his obvious sympathy with those at the bottom of the social scale, or who find themselves descending there – always reminds me of Dickens, but without Dickens’ sense of mischief and fun. Still, bearing in mind my baby-brain has mainly only allowed me to read crime novels this year, I was pleased to be able to get to the end of Therese Raquin at all. I’m hoping to read more of the Rougon-Macquart sequence in future – Nana is next on my list.

Let it Bleed and The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin – a mid-series Rebus book and the second from the Malcolm Fox series. Let it Bleed contains (as I learned from this article earlier in the summer) Ian Rankin’s own favourite opening of his novels, a car chase over the Forth Bridge which ends with a car hanging precariously over the edge – but I won’t say any more!

With the more recent book, I was interested to see how Rankin copes without the familiar Rebus tropes of whisky and the Stones, but I enjoyed The Impossible Dead, with its focus on Scottish politics (devolution, the independence campaign and so on) and the ever-present underlying current of police corruption making it a very apposite read this summer. Malcolm Fox himself is an intriguing character and I was quite happily sucked into the story as a whodunnit in its own right without constantly making comparisons to Rebus (the fact that it was predominantly set outside Edinburgh certainly helped).

Still, Rebus is a hard act to follow, and I wait keenly for the new Rankin book, which brings the two characters together.

Snowdrops by AD Miller. I seem to have gone through a bit of a phase of reading Russian-set fiction in the last few years, from Robert Harris’ Archangel (which set up a fantastic scenario but led to a rather pedestrian let’s-get-lost-in-the-forest climax) and James Meek’s The People’s Act of Love (hated, hated, hated it), so I’m not sure why I picked this up in the library, but I was in the mood for a thriller and had seen this on the shelves tempting me with its promise of being a Gorky Park-style chilling murder mystery.

This, again, set up an exciting scenario, but let it tail off in a rather disappointing way. I think this was intentional, in the fashion of unreliable narrators – the British protagonist is a lawyer working in Moscow who gets caught up in some rather unpleasant business, and I think he can barely acknowledge to himself, let alone the reader, what has gone on. You can read between the lines, but I like to know what’s actually happening when I read a book.

Now I am finally reading The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison which I’ve been yearning to read for months – her very slight, rather lovely Norse-mythology influenced Travel Light is one of my favourite, most-read books since I was a teenager, and the Corn King… is a great doorstep of a book, this time set further east and inspired by Greek and mid-European mythology.

Not sure what’ll be next…I wonder if it’s time for some history or biography?

‘It was abundant, it seemed as though it must go on shining forever’

The title is a line from one of my favourite novels, Possession by AS Byatt. It is taken from a description of a wildflower meadow in full bloom at the height of summer, filled with ‘scabious, yellow snapdragons, bacon and egg plant, pale milkmaids, purple hearts-ease, scarlet pimpernel and white shepherd’s purse…’ and more.

Eggs and Bacon

The scene is set in Victorian England, but seems to hark back to a prelapsarian state, some perfect ideal England that only exists in the imagination…none of those flowers can ever really have bloomed all together in the same field, not even in pre-herbicide times, surely over-zealous farmers would have slashed them back and weeded them out?

Awesome stripy caterpillars on (I think?) ragwort

They certainly didn’t always bloom like that in childhood memory – hedgerows in the 80’s were brutally slashed back, leaving bare jagged edges where they should have been properly laid (yes, I know that sounds like a double entendre) in the traditional fashion, and verges were overgrown with fertilizer-loving grasses and nettles, swamping the wildflowers, which prefer poor soil.

Knapweed and fly

Sometimes, a wildflower did creep back in…and sometimes nature had a helping hand. My mother was so fed up with the lack of flowers in our local verges that one day she scattered chicory seeds on the edge of a field, and to our amusement, they flowered for years afterwards. It’s not recommended to introduce cultivated seeds of native plants into the wild, but in this case my mum couldn’t resist doing it – and the thought of those pastel-blue flowers continuing to bloom in a bare windy corner of an Essex field makes me smile even now.


This summer I was lucky enough to find a country lane with hedges and verges that AS Byatt would delight in. It was in the village where my parents-in-law live, where I had a rare chance to take a baby-free walk by myself and document what I saw.

A handful of photos are included here, but the list identified includes white dead-nettle, red dead-nettle, knapweed, poppy, ragwort, eggs-and-bacon (or birds-foot trefoil, to give it its proper name), red campion, white campion, scabious, yarrow, convolvulus, scarlet pimpernel, mallow, lords-and-ladies, and finally, dear old chicory.

White Campion

I was thrilled to see so many native plants flourishing in 21st century fields and hedges. It shows you don’t need to sacrifice much space from agriculture to make room for wild flowers, the insects that they depend on for pollination and other wildlife – you just need a sympathetic farmer and a bit of carefully managed neglect, rather than willful ignorance and destruction of the beauty right under our noses.

Lords and Ladies fruit spike, after flowering. Very poisonous!