Autumn in my garden


This little crab spider is for Ark at A Tale Unfolds. He regularly shares with us the fascinating wildlife in his Johannesburg garden. He’s rather keen on spiders. The one on my sedum (Misumena vatia)  is, if internet photos are anything to go by, capable of taking on a big, fat bumble bee. The bees here are being a tad regardless I feel, so keen are they to guzzle nectar.


In fact sedums are bee heaven at this time of year, so everyone who can, do grow them. There’s a huge range to choose from. The bees are doubtless stoking up energy for the winter ahead. I also forgot to mention that the crab spider can, in a limited way, change colour to match the flowers it is hunting on, though it usually frequents yellow and white ones.


In my September in my garden post I mentioned that the rose at the top of the steps, Teasing Georgia, had come into bud for a second flourish. At the time  the weather promised to be so dismal, I wondered if she’d get a chance to bloom without the flowers being rained off. Well, the sun came back and Georgia came out in all her golden flounces:


And here’s another tiny spider, identity unknown, sneaking in the echinacea (centre right):


And finally, a sun-dappled Japanese Anemone with a hover fly:


I’m linking to this Cee’s flower of the day

Please visit her blog for a daily floral fix.


Tales from the Walled Garden #2: back to the potting shed


This is my Aunt Evelyn in around 1927. I’m guessing she’s about four years old when this photo was taken. She’s in the walled kitchen garden at Redhurst Manor, Surrey, where her father, my grandfather, Charles Ashford, was head gardener. In Tales from the Walled Garden #1  I included an excerpt from Evelyn’s description of what she calls her father’s ‘holy of holies’, the potting shed. She spent much time there as a small child, ever under strict instructions to be good. Here’s some more of what she remembered:

The potting shed was filled with a wonderful mixture of smells of the sort you find in a ‘20s hardware store. Tarred string was the main one. Then there was the strange jungly smell of the raffia hanks hanging on the door. It suggested faraway places. There was bone meal, fish meal, sulphate of ammonia, Clays fertilizer, Fullers Earth, Hoof and Horn – everything to help bring in good crops – and all stored in wooden bins with brass bands and rivets and a wooden bushel or half-bushel measure on top.



And now Evelyn will show you around some more of her father’s gardening domain. She’s even drawn you a map:


Let me take you down the steps from the potting shed and into the kitchen garden. To the left there is a very long, narrow border under the high brick wall. This is where the herbs are grown for the kitchen. Either cook comes herself, or she sends the little kitchen maid to pick what is required for the day. It might be mint or parsley, chives, tender little spring onions or sprigs of fennel for the fish course – all the herbs in their season. If cook comes to the garden in summer, she also makes a quick inspection of the fruit cage to see what is ready.

With the exception of strawberries, all the soft fruit is grown in the big cage: fat red or yellow gooseberries, raspberries, luscious loganberries, all the currants – red, white, black, and later in the season the enormous cultivated blackberries. Many times I have slipped into that big cage to pick the huge fruits, especially the gooseberries, crouching down between the rows, hoping I wouldn’t be seen. These large red varieties, Prince Rupert, Wonderful  and Roaring Lion are hardly seen now, but those monsters of my childhood were a joy to eat straight from the bush. I never liked cooked gooseberries.

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Our kitchen garden soil was heavy yellow Surrey clay, and so enormous quantities of lighter stuff had to be dug in each autumn. Also a number of green manure crops were grown to be ‘turned in’ before food crops were planted. One of my father’s favourites was groundsel. This was dug into the big plot where brassicas would be planted.

In spring I would be sent out with a bucket and thick leather gloves to gather the lush green tops of nettles. This was not my favourite task. These nettles went in trenches beneath the seed potatoes because they contained a lot of iron. All sorts of natural substances were added to the soil of that garden. The only chemical preparation my father bought was Clays fertiliser and perhaps Bordeaux Mixture. Everything grew extremely well for him. Everything was tended with loving care. Season after season this was the pattern of things in the gardens of our estate.

Within the mellow brick walls the sun beat down, warming the fruit in the cage, the trained trees on the walls, and giving warmth to all life in the rich soil so that all the fruit and vegetables flourished.

On the walls were trained the top fruit: William pears, yellow plums, Victoria plums, nectarines, quinces, medlars, and some very special apples. Tucked into the angle of the south facing wall, which was the warmest spot, were a fig tree and a lovely peach. Below each wall was a deeply dug bed, and towards the potting shed there were artichokes, celery, spinach and, surprising for those days, sweet corn. My father was very good at growing sweet corn, and it was a great favourite with the Major.

Next to the big fruit cage a few rows of catch crops were grown. These included lettuce, carrots, early peas, and beetroots – anything else that had a short season. Across the grass path was the asparagus bed. This would have taken a long time to prepare and bring into production. It would have been a Sabbath Day’s job to dig the trenches north to south, two feet deep at least and filled with well rotted manure, light compost and a good sprinkling of silver sand worked in well. The raised bed should be salted as this is helpful to the plants and discourages slugs and weeds. A good bed should last twenty years.

My father grew wonderful asparagus. There was plenty for cook to prepare for the house, and the surplus was sold at the village greengrocer. I can still recall succulent dishes of this delectable vegetable, dripping with butter and served up for Sunday dinner at home.

We didn’t know how lucky we were all those years ago. So many good things to eat every day, and game from the numerous shoots that the Major held on his land. All the fruit we could eat in due season, and a good roof over our heads in the gardener’s cottage at the edge of estate.

To be continued.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Bubble-heaven or alien invasion?


Following on my last post about the Bishop’s Castle Michaelmas Fair I thought more bubbles were called for. Because, well, everyone loves good bubbles, don’t they? They are not something you ‘grow out of’. Also the joy on the faces of the children was a pleasure to behold. With bubbles cascading every which way, the kids were in danger of bursting themselves, so brimming with excitement were they. Clearly hi-tech toys and expensive computer games can’t hold a candle to this kind of high-pitch, high-squeal-n-dash fun. Besides, what can be more magical than rainbow spheres filled with sunlight, and all emerging from something as mundane as a piece of soggy netting and a bucket. (My take on the Daily Post’s photo challenge GRID)


Tall Will The World’s Tallest Bubbleologist is the man casting his net filled with soapy water. (He’s six feet ten inches tall by the way). I think he’s a magician. He’s also a mean stilt-walker.



Where’s My backpack travel theme: move


Summer came back on Saturday and took us to the fair…



…to the Bishop’s Castle Michaelmas Fair, to be precise. And not only did summer come back to us after a week of dreary coldness, it was warm, and bright and stayed ALL day.

The fair was to be found in every quarter of the town, from St John the Baptist Church at the bottom of the hill to the Three Tuns Inn at the top of the hill, and with here-and-there enclaves in between.


This shot of the High Street looking towards the church was taken from the window from the Town Hall. This handsome civic building (coming up next) has recently been refurbished and doubles up as the town’s market. This year it is celebrating its 250th  birthday…


Wending on upwards past the Town Hall, and bearing to the right, you come to the Three Tuns Inn. It is one of Shropshire’s real ale treasures. They’ve been brewing beer there since 1642, so they must be doing something right. It’s apparently the oldest licensed brewery in Britain, but…


…it is not the only  micro-brewery in this small town. For those who don’t care to climb hills for a pint, you can sample the Six Bells’ Cloud Nine, a piece of real ale heaven, down on the corner of Church Street.


A nice set of wheels, chaps?

Which brings me to another big excitement of the day – the Michaelmas Fair Parade. Not only did we have beer, bubbles, folk songs, indie rock, ballads and wall to wall bonhomie, there were also classic cars, tractors, and steam powered vehicles. But before all that we had…

Oh ye, oh ye. Make way for the Bishop’s Castle Elephant…



He’s called Clive, and was created by local maker, Bamber Hawes, with help from the town’s Community College students. Bishop’s Castle artist, Esther Thorpe designed Clive’s ‘skin’, and the primary school children did the printing. And if you want to know why Bishop’s Castle has an elephant on parade, I’ll explain later.

For now, watch your toes, here comes a huge steam roller…


…and Peterkin the Fool on his stilts. He nearly trod on me…



…and then there were tractors (I remember when farmers had these)…


…and cool types in classic cars…


Then there were owls to hold, alpacas with socks to sample, more bubbles from the world’s tallest bubbleologist. We were so excited we had to resort to the Church Barn for soothing tea and brownies. After all, no good English ‘do’ is complete without afternoon tea…


And now as promised, a bit of a yarn about Clive the Elephant. It’s a tale of dirty dogs and political shenanigans of 250 years ago. These were the days when Bishop’s Castle was a notorious Rotten Borough. There were two Members of Parliament, and only 150 people with the right to vote. How people cast their vote was a matter of public record, and this meant voters could be intimidated into supporting particular candidates.

Enter Shropshire-born Robert Clive, aka First Baron Clive aka Clive of India.  He was on a mission to build political power, and had the money to buy it. He had used his position in the (also notorious) British East India Company not only to found the British Empire in India, but also to return from the Sub-Continent with shiploads of loot. He then set about buying votes for the  men he wished to have as MPs. As part of his scheme of self-aggrandizement he added an elephant to his coat arms. It symbolized India, and his personal power. Today, a stone carved version may still be seen in Bishop’s Castle’s old market place…


The reason Clive wanted power was so he could set about reforming the East India Company, and get rid of corruption in the administration. This did not come to much. Pots and kettles come to mind here. He died at the age of 49. All sorts of allegations were made as to cause of death – that he stabbed himself, cut his throat with a penknife, died of an opium overdose. It seems he suffered from gallstones, and was using the drug to deaden the pain. A more recent interpretation of events concludes he died of a heart attack due to the over-use of opium.

However you look at it, this is not a good elephant story. Far more heartening is the fact that during World War 2, a circus elephant was looked after in the town, and  lived quietly in the stable of the Castle Hotel.

Finally a few more scenes of fun and jollification. I should also say that if I didn’t live in Much Wenlock, Bishop’s Castle would be the place I would most like to live – no longer a rotten borough, but a place bursting with community good spirits…

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Even though it was a Saturday, I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk

Please visit her blog. There is no better place to be inspired to get out and about with your camera.

A bench for circular conversations and well-rounded arguments?



Here’s my bench for Jude’s Bench Series #38. This month she is asking us to find ones made of metal, and this is my favourite town seat. It surrounds a Wellingtonia on Much Wenlock’s Church Green and, apart from its circularity, it is perhaps not the most exciting of constructions. But it is in the perfect setting. And it has so many pleasing views and all through the year too. Things to watch out for include the annual Christmas Fayre and the Wenlock Poetry Festival…









Visitors to the annual Wenlock Poetry Festival adding their poems to the Church Green’s Poetree. The next festival is April 2016. Click on the link for more details.

Tales From The Walled Garden


No, this is not the Tish Farrell ancestral pile, although my young aunt (standing) and my grandfather do look very much at home here. They are in the garden of Redhurst Manor, Surrey, where my grandfather, Charles Ashford was head gardener during the 1920s and ‘30s. My Aunt Evelyn was born in the gardener’s cottage on the estate, so you could say, in a way, that Redhurst  was their domain – at least for a time. Grandfather certainly ruled the garden and the men who worked under him. He was fastidious in his gardening discipline, and much else besides, and expected the same from others; a true Victorian then.

And given his sense of propriety, I think one can be pretty sure that this particular Ashford family gathering, with Grandmother Alice Ashford (nee Eaton) sitting so comfortably on the lawn (she’s the one in the dark frock, busily chatting) would not have been happening if the Major and his lady had been within.

When I was editing this photograph, I thought about cropping off a good deal of that velvet smooth lawn. But then I thought, no. The fine state of it was down to Grandfather and his team with the horse-drawn mower. I also know that  when Evelyn was small her mother used to smack her legs for rolling down that bank and getting her Sunday silk frock all green and grassy. Not the sort of the thing the very proper young lady in the photo would be doing.  She was very tall for her age, so was probably only fifteen or sixteen when captured here.


I gathered from family stories that Grandfather’s employer was an Anglo-Irish cavalry man who had been burned out of his home in Ireland during the troubles. He had another house up in Yorkshire, where he and his wife would often go.

Sometimes Grandfather accompanied them if they were going up for the shooting season. He had the reputation for being a fine shot. Even so, however you look at it, this was a  most uncommon situation: a gentleman inviting his head gardener to a shooting party. My mother always said the Major’s lady was rather keen on Charles Ashford, and would invite him into her boudoir when he came to present her with the first peaches from the hot house. She would be dressed only in her silk negligee, reclining invitingly on a chaise. Mother could have made this up of course. In any case, Charles Ashford would have chosen not to notice such a state of shocking déshabillé in the presence of a member of the outdoor staff. 

All the same, I do know he would take her sprigs of winter jasmine, arranged in little silver vases provided for him by Johnny the Butler, and selected specially by Grandfather from Johnny’s Butler’s Pantry. I also have a postcard sent to Grandfather in early March 1937, after he had left Redhurst and the Major moved permanently to Yorkshire. A touch of Lady Chatterly light?


“Thank you so much for the lovely violets which arrived beautifully fresh. Hope you are all well. T.B.B.”

On the reverse side is this photo of what I assume is T.B.B.’s Yorkshire home. I am touched to think of Grandfather carefully packaging up the first spring violets to send to his former employer. I imagine him wrapping the stems with damp moss, adding swathes of paper to protect the flowers and placing all in a sturdy cardboard box, then taking the parcel to Cranleigh post office.



Here are my grandparents at around the time the postcard was sent. They are in the garden of their house on Mount Road, Cranleigh. Just look at those delphiniums.  They were Grandfather’s favourites, along  with heleniums. At the manor he had cultivated a big herbaceous border of mixed delphiniums and heleniums, using them to create a stunning screen between the walled kitchen garden and rest of the grounds. Such a planting scheme – spires of blue soaring through the golds, reds and oranges of heleniums, surprises me somehow; it sounds very modern – very nouveau garden designerish.

The kitchen garden was walled on three sides, and about half an acre in size. This was where Grandfather had his command post, and the reason I know this is because one of the treasures inherited from Evelyn were the notes of her talks given to her local gardening club. Charles Ashford was very much a feature. As  a small child she followed him around, taking in everything he did, although he expected her to work too. Here is her description of her father’s work place. It reveals  much about the man:

Imagine that we are standing in the holy of holies, my father’s potting shed. It was not all that large and the space was taken up with deep shelving on three sides of the shed. There was a door into the kitchen yard and another into the garden itself. On the back of one door were three large coat hooks to take the jackets that my father needed and also his green baize apron. On the other door hung his clean alpaca jacket which was worn when he went into the house, a dust coat to be used in the fruit room and his leather pruning apron with its thick, left-handed coarse leather glove sticking out of the pocket. These garments comprised his head gardener’s uniform; there was almost a ritual about putting them on for the various tasks.

My father’s own tools were hung in neat and spotless order on hooks to the left of the garden door. He insisted on clean tools and, after every task, the men had to be sure to wash, and then rub dry on old sacking any tool that had got even the slightest bit dirty. A little spot of oil was rubbed into the spades and trowels and forks until the metal shone. Wooden handles were treated with linseed oil which was thoroughly worked in. Only then could the tools be stored away. That is why, to this day, I am still using a well worn spade and fork that belonged to my father. There have been times when, if in a hurry I have hung my spade up dirty, I have gone scurrying back to give it a ‘a lick and a promise’. I can almost hear my father saying, ‘That won’t do, miss. Dirty tools make bad workmen.’

Reading these notes, I wish I had known him. I only remember meeting him twice. After Grandmother died, he lived with my aunt down in Wiltshire, and we lived miles away in Cheshire. But this next photo suggests that my father at least made one effort to visit him.

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I’m about two years old here, and I’m guessing that this was Grandfather’s eightieth birthday. I have my own distinct  mental snapshot of him. Before lunch he was out in the vegetable garden in his shirt sleeves, sifting the stones from the soil in a big garden riddle. I remember being fascinated by this strange activity. My other snapshot is when he came to stay with us in Cheshire at Love Lane House. It must have been summer for I see him sitting in the sunshine outside the front door, shelling peas into a colander. I remember too, that he bought me a very beautiful little sailing yacht with a coffee coloured hull and ivory sails. I don’t think we had much luck sailing it though.  But although I did not know him, and grew up mostly with my father’s tales of Grandfather’s monumental temper, I do often think of him  -when I’m up at the allotment digging and weeding and seed sowing. I know he would be pleased to see me gardening, but I also know he would have some sharp words to say about my sloppy gardening habits.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

P.S. There will be more walled garden tales to follow

September in my garden


This year, for some reason, the Japanese anemones have decided to take on their close neighbour, the Japanese crab apple tree, in a ‘let’s see who can grow tallest’ contest.

Admittedly, the tree is a small one,  three metres at most, but some of  the anemones are already two metres tall.

This is the kind of gardening I love: where the plants come up with their own ideas. I did not plant the anemones directly under the tree. They seem to have moved in there by themselves, and now use the tree’s protecting arms as they grow ever taller.

Nor is this a colour scheme I would have thought of concocting – pale pinkish-purple, russet red and green. But somehow it’s very pleasing, and especially on the dull days we’ve been having lately.

Every day, too,  I see the tiny crab apples turning a deeper shade of red: perfect Garden-of-Eden miniatures,  which reminds me of a comment made by Melanie at My Virtual Playground. One of the times I featured my crab apples she told me they were called pommes sauvages in French – wild apples – an altogether much prettier name. I agree. Although my ‘wild’ ones have been much inbred, and don’t have quite the same sense of abandon of the truly wild ones found in our field hedgerows.


The tree is Malus Evereste by the way. It is glorious in spring too. (You’ve seen the picture). It’s growing in a tall bed which gives us an all-year good view from the kitchen French windows.


Elsewhere in the garden things are  looking a little dreary round the edges, but there is still some stalwart blooming going on. The red geraniums look bright in the garden pots despite the recent downpours, as does this lovely penstemon:


I think it’s my favourite version of this most obliging plant. If you cut down the stems after flowering, in a few weeks time you get another showing, perhaps more vigorous than the first. This variety is called Apple Blossom, but it makes me think of raspberry ripple ice cream – a rather shivery thought on this gloomy day.

Growing in the bed just behind Apple Blossom, you can see Teasing Georgia. She’s in bud again too. This is such a lovely rose, and opens into dense whirls and whorls of pale gold.

I’m hoping she’ll open before the weather turns weirder than it already is. Forecasters are now promising us the coldest winter ever. But endlessly prone to optimism, I’m further hoping that this is the same order of forecast that in March promised us a barbecue summer and drought. (Hands up all of you in England who managed to fit in more than one barbecue between the wind and showers).


Our garden is all over the place and on different levels. This is because circa 1830 the house was built into a steep bank between the field behind, and the road in front.  Later occupants then dug out a rear yard, and added a tall terrace bed, and behind it, a high retaining wall.

I have yet to get to grips with gardening in so many dimensions, which is why I rather depend on the garden to follow its own design. I also notice that it is devising its own timetable. For instance, what does this June-blooming foxglove think it is doing amongst the late summer rudbeckia?


Just to the left of the foxglove is the dead head of meadowsweet. It has a pink flower, which also surprised me this year. This is something else the garden has come up with: creating (somehow) a very vigorous hybrid from the original wild, and cream-flowered meadowsweet that I originally planted.

I shall definitely encourage the new version, and plant out any seedlings. It is a statuesque creation, very tall, and softly scented. Also Meadowsweet, apart from being used to flavour beer and deserts, has its place in Welsh legend. In the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, the 11th century transcription of age-old tales, there is the dark story of Blodeuwedd (flower-face), a beautiful woman created by the magicians, Math and Gwydion from the flowers of oak, broom and meadowsweet. The tale does not end well. Blodeuwedd (pronounced: blod-EYE-weth) is also the name for owl, a fact, along with a reworking of the Mabinogion story, that was famously explored in teen fiction by Alan Garner in The Owl Service.

And thinking of  flower-faces, here are two growing in a pot by the old privies (now our two dysfunctional  garden sheds – i.e much head-banging on lintels, followed by standing in one’s own light so you can’t see what’s in there). These sunflowers have taken ages to come out, but it’s nice to see them at last, and especially now the real sun has gone away. It’s hard not to smile back at them, isn’t it?


Happy Wednesday!

Inspired by (but with added fruit)  Cee’s Flower of the Day


Mara Dawn, Lewa Sundown: Monochromatic Africa


In winter at the Equator, Africa comes in many kinds of monochrome. At first light all is sepia. This lioness was captured at dawn in the Maasai Mara. She is watching out for hyena that are moving in on the Marsh Pride’s kill.

At sundown  in Lewa, in Northern Kenya, all is old gold as these kudu stop for a moment before melting away into the thorn scrub. Did we really see them?