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…
If you need an image of 1880s England, you can't do better than this fantastic photo from Southport Yesteryear.
Quite spooky for me, as the heroine of The Lost Orchid has an illicit weekend in that charming seaside resort. The photo is of Hesketh Park, close to my old home, and I know every inch of the paths - and the fact that the steps in the distance lead to a charming observatory.
Look at those tiny waists! The fur collars! The perambulator! The top hat! No wonder I'm hooked on Victoriana.
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.