Whenever I visit a garden, I’m drawn to the quietest corner, imagining how to recreate a mini-oasis of calm and inspiration.
Recently, I had the luck to visit Wallington in Northumberland, and found the perfect niche.
A joyous combination of modest asplenium ferns, alchemilla and lobelia set in a Regency-era horse-shoe enclosure facing the sun.
Frosted greens and navy are definitely my favourite combination for tranquillity. Add a lichen-encrusted stone feature, a bench and sundry hostas in pots, and I’m in heaven.
A small, naturalesque waterfall gurgled discreetly, reminding me of a wry comment by Alan Titchmarsh, amused at a large garden fountain, commenting that ot sounded like a large equine relieving itself into a deep trough. Oh, dear. I still can’t walk past ostentatious water features without wondering where the nearest loo is.
I may never aspire to the view they have at Wallington, but when we move house, I now have my wish list.
Cragside is a superb Victorian
house in the North-East of England with an unusual claim to fame –it’s the first home to be lit using hydro-electric
power. It’s also well known for other
gadgets inspired by the owner, Lord Armstrong, a Victorian inventor, innovator
and landscape genius whose engineering skills made him a fortune. There’s a hydraulic lift for the
servants, for example, and the first electric dishwasher in the world.But some eerie personal
coincidences have made the place even more fascinating. I’ve been working on a sequel to
The Lost Orchid, a tale of botanical skulduggery in the 1880s when orchid fever
was at its height. (Doing the research I became something of an orchid addict - see Orchidmania, a small blog of mine.) Ferns were massively popular in Victorian England, and much
has been written about pteridomania, so I thought a fern-themed sequel would be
appropriate. It seemed a good idea to move
the action further north and this is when I came across Cragside and its…
Yes, it’s the end of the A to Z.
Zounds! one might say.
But what does it mean? As Shakespearean fans will know, it’s a shortened form of God’s wounds. Common in
the 16th and 17th centuries, people would swear on God’s body parts rather than
his name, thus avoiding breaking the Third Commandment, ‘Do not take the Lord's
name in vain’.(There is some dispute about how it's pronounced, although most agree it probably rhymes with 'rounds' rather than 'wounds', having changed during the Great Vowel Shift. And that's not a euphemism.) In the same vein, if you’ll forgive the
expression, is 'Strewth', God’s truth. 'Gadzooks', originally a dialectal pronunciation
of God's hooks, refers to the nails with which Jesus was affixed to the cross. Late Elizabethan drama contains a profusion
of minced oaths, arguably due to Puritan opposition to swearing. The term for such evasive non-swearing is
minced oaths, a delicately understated phrase. I happen to th…