There's a beautiful old song that reminds me of walking down this path next to the rambling rose. It's from an opera by Handel though was popularised as Silent Worship by various early c20th tenors. (credit: Susan Hamlyn)
Did you not hear My Lady Go down the garden singing Blackbird and thrush were silent To hear the alleys ringing... Oh saw you not My Lady Out in the garden there Shaming the rose and lily For she is twice as fair. Though I am nothing to her Though she must rarely look at me And though I could never woo her I love her till I die. Surely you heard My Lady Go down the garden singing Silencing all the songbirds And setting the alleys ringing... But surely you see My Lady Out in the garden there Rivaling the glittering sunshine With a glory of golden hair.
I have visions of one of the early residents of this house doing just that, her white, empire line gown dragging behind her slightly on the grass.
Now, I'm not really one for reality but I should probably mention that they would be wearing something different in 1881 but perhaps there was another garden here on this site before. This has put me in mind to find out what was here before. Apparently the Bodleian Library in Oxford has some old maps of the neighbourhood dating from 1850 so they might give me a clue; from now on, I'm on the hunt...
The Rambling Rose pours down the lavender-bottomed border between the croquet lawn and the back lawn of the house, unromanticly named 'the Dog Lawn' as was a favoured spot of our much beloved, now departed hound to perform her necessary rituals.
It is now a favoured spot for tea and a lemon slice on a rug.
The Rose is clearly visible when passing through to the back of the house from the back gate and tempts you downwards toward the orchard and tennis lawn via a lovely grass path worn down through decades of feet.
Its bright cerise colour coupled with the hazy lilac of the lavendar is utterly irresistable and every time I see it I have a urge to sweep my hands over the petals and down to the purple stalks squeezing the buds between my fingers to release the gorgeous, heady fragrance.
I am aware the names of these lawns suggest some form of atheleticism, however croquet is played on average twice every 5 years when one of my friends brings a new boyfriend to a party and he happens to be quite posh and knows how to play.
When I was much younger I would play tennis with friends endlessly on the lawn at the bottom; endlessly- but not very well as, never really rolled, getting a ball to bounce would be seen as a distinct advantage during play. For a couple of years the ancient line marker came out and I carefullyrolled it up and down the fading chalky lines applying the sloppy solution to the grass.
I have very happy memories of playing out there until 10 or 11 at night in midsummer.
There is also a brick wall that I used to knock a ball against for hours mostly during periods of exam revision whilst reciting the verbs that take 'etre' and the symbols of the periodic table.
Here he is again; this time lit by lovely Autumn sun last year and surrounded by vine leaves turning golden. A vine runs around the top of the patio and sometimes bears quite a good crop. One year we collected them and attempted wine making. I will try and dig out the pictures. In this context it might be more appropriate that Neptune becomes Bacchus.
Here he is again in a sketch I did of this very interesting little corner of the patio where petunias tumble out of this ancient bird bath.
I used to spend hours here in the summer hitting a tennis ball relentlessly against the wall, talking to myself, making up stories and characters.
It was good practice for ball control especially as the bricks here are old and uneven and some even have beautiful carvings on them I presume done by previous inhabitants who I am dying to find out more about.
Ball play not so good when the ball bounced with an ominous, loud, hollow thud against the drawing room window and my Mother, reading inside, would screech and shake her fist at me.
Thanks to his hirsuite appearance we joke, of course, that this is my Father. We can only assume the real subject is Neptune, his hair and beard tossed wildly by the tumult of the seas of which he is God.
He's taking some down time here though and looks like he's just off to Henley instead of some far flung ocean chasm.
He is made of bronze which has weathered beautifully and he stands sentry on the patio just by the living room door.
This year the garden was at its absolute best Early to Mid Summer when the Sun was still fresh and it was surprising to see just how beautiful everything looked under this new light.
The Orchard is one of my favourite parts of the garden. Amid memories of reading long into Summer's evenings perched high in fruit trees or nestled secretly amid long grass the vibe of peace and tranquility remains despite the sad loss over the years of many of the fruit trees to various diseases.
Sprightly little upstarts replace the old trees now although one fine tree with rotund crown in the centre of the orchard is bountiful year after year, its 2009 crop redening to russet this very moment and relatively uneaten by wasps.
In the Autumn the Orchard is the place for the Bonfire, coloured lights dancing down the path towards it. In years gone by the branches and twigs sprouting from the bodies of great looming trees would jet out into the flames giving the scene a distinctly Tolkein-like air.
Birthday bonfires meant hot dogs and tomato soup steaming from the kitchen, hot cider infused with cloves and cinnamon; games in the dark under the floodlights; sparklers and screeching rockets, little jets of light; the smell of woodsmoke and gunpowder on the cold air under clear starry skies and the anticipation of it all, the bangs and sputters of other fireworks echoing in the air all around you.
These were picked back in the heady days of summer sometime around the end of June on the day I got back from Glastonbury. It was a sweltering day and bees and insects buzzed around the fruit cage as I collected these in a new summer dress I bought. These are not quite ripe when green but I love them like that.
These have also inspired some sketches I have done for a work project on tablelinen.
One of my favourite parts of the garden, though sadly little visited day-to-day is the 'shubbery'; the wild area right at the bottom of the garden, at the very front, where the drive passes by close through the gate and curves up and on, away to the house at the top of the hill.
The area is barricaded on it's South and West sides by great tall clumps of Rhodeodendron bushes thick, darkest green and dense with shiny, plasticy leaves. In Summer gorgeous fuscia pink blooms burst forth in convex towering masses.
The area is dominated by an ancient old pine; its sandy red coloured bark dry and dusty from age and sun, the ridges in it running deep and filled with decades of rotting needles, insects and a light covering of cobwebs.
A tyre swing used to hang from the main arterial branch which sticks out to the west like a great long limb. The tyre was always filled with detritus but if you were small enough, you could stand on it instead of sitting and swing the ancient rope back and forth in the sun.
This is the part of the garden first touched by Spring in the shape of the tiny white heads of the snowdrops in late Februray, sometimes March, which rise steadfast through cold and frost out of the hard earth to be followed shortly after by the sporadic spattering of croci, in purples and yellows by the little overgrown pond, and after by the resplendant Daffodils raising their majestic heads high above the green in bright egg-yolk yellow.
The bamboo tree sits all year round keeping close it's vertiginous crop. The ancient, secret paved path that I was fascinated with as a child runs around this area, cracked and mossy, and the series of three little ponds my father built in one of his first flushes of garden building, now slightly overgrown provide a great habitat for rushes and mulches and goodness knows what else.
There is a selection of other trees and bushes here too which make up the boundary of our home and rumble up slowly towards the house. One day a few weeks ago I picked a leaf from each one of these and drew them. Their beautiful different shades and shapes of green contrasting each other wonderfully. My idea is to either turn this into a print and/or to make a necklace, each leaf represented either in fabric or metal.