The last weekend in September saw the flower bed in the front garden cleared, dug over and compost added, and planted up with Monarda, Crocosmia, Alstroemeria, Salvia, Lobelia and several grasses, as the starter plants for a hot bed. A few more will be added from elsewhere in the garden over the next few days, including Crocosmia Lucifer, but those mentioned were in pots and desperate for freedom. There has been a good deal of rain since planting them out, which will have helped them to become established.
The existence of a church at Minchinhampton can be traced back to at least the time of the Domesday book of 1086, however much of the Norman church was swept away with the 1842 rebuilding of the church, and the earliest surviving fabric is the 14th century tower, crossing and transepts. Aside from the building fabric there are several medieval survivals -the effigies of the Ansleys, a floor tile bearing their coat of arms, and fragments of wall painting; often overlooked however are a small group of medieval memorials known as cross-slabs.
Alan Titchmarsh once wrote that we would not tolerate a riot in any other area of life so why tolerate it in our gardens. I am not so sure. Nature has a way of rendering acceptable colour combinations that we would not be seen dead wearing. Allowing self-seeding plants to flourish among carefully chosen planting schemes lends an informality to a bed that could otherwise appear contrived or formal. In addition they help to keep the colour going from one season to the next. In our garden stachys, pot marigolds, poppies, champion, evening primrose and many others fill in the gaps, and Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) provide their beautiful orange seed cases in the autumn, which eventually dissolve into filigree cages. From time to time these 'weeds' create stunning effects for which we are pleased to take credit, even though they are purely accidental.
Here’s a novelty – I’m writing this outside in the garden! The weather has finally warmed up, so let’s hope this is the start of a pleasant summer. The plant growth which had been held back by the low temperatures is catching up fast, and on the positive side, the strawberries (in the greenhouse) and rhubarb look great, but the cold and wet Spring has not agreed with the Gladiolus murielea which appear to have rotted. These were in a pot which should have been kept under cover until the shoots first appeared.
Like many aspects of the Church of England, deaneries have a long and varied history. The first mention of a Rural Dean (now more often known as Area Dean) was in the time of Edward the Confessor and the role seems to have been to support the bishop by supervising the clergy in a particular part of the diocese.
In the Autumn, the local squirrel digs a neat hole in the lawn to bury each hazel nut, carefully covers it and pats down the grass. But digging them up in the Spring-time is a different matter, leaving a hole, loose grass clumps and the tell-tale shell halves. I suppose it’s quite impressive that he relocates them again after several months (except those that sprout into trees), which seems to be a combination of spatial awareness and memory plus good scent detection.
We are very fortunate to be getting a curate from 19 June, and very fortunate that curate is to be Deborah Curram, who comes bringing so much experience with her. She will be with us for 3 1/2 days per week, and I am looking forward to welcoming her and working with her in this parish. However, it seems worth our talking about what a curate is and isn't before she gets here, so that we all have the right expectations.
I am delighted to be taking up the role of Assistant Curate in the Parish of Minchinhampton with Box, starting after my ordination as deacon at Gloucester Cathedral on 19 June. I hope to see some of you at that celebration, but if not, then on the following Sunday, 26 June in both churches.
This year’s display of daffodils and narcissi started very early and has continued in spectacular fashion ever since. To ensure a good show again next year, remove the spent flower heads but leave the greenery and apply a general purpose fertilizer around the roots, encouraging the bulbs to develop. Overcrowded clumps could be lifted and divided.
During my recent visit to South Africa I had supper with an old school friend, Hugh Lewin. He was the son of an Anglican priest and, although he was in my brother’s class two years ahead of me, I knew him fairly well as he was in my house, we sang in the choir together and he holidayed in my home town, Amanzimtoti, which is just south of Durban on the KwaZulu/Natal coast. Hugh became a much respected prefect in our boarding house and was universally popular. Our Johannesburg school was founded and heavily influenced by the Community of the Resurrection and, as Hugh wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an Anglican priest, he was invited by Father Trevor Huddleston to be a frequent visitor to the Community’s base in Sophiatown which, in 1956, was still an African “township”. Soon afterwards the government designated Sophiatown a white area and the black Africans were forcibly moved further from central Johannesburg to places like Alexandria and Soweto which were black areas. While visiting Sophiatown, Hugh confronted the poverty, suffering and frustration of the black people who had to live and stagnate under apartheid.
There are two flower beds in the garden that I’d like to improve this year, in particular for their planting structure, flowering continuity, and growing for cutting. The beds are arranged in an informal, cottage style, planted mainly with perennials and bulbs, which look fine from March onwards. But from November to March, they lack form and texture. There are a few spring bulbs, (snowdrops, narcissi and iris), Hellebore and Pulmonaria, to brighten it during February and March, and provide pollen for early insects. But it’s interesting to look at other gardens during the winter months to see how they manage. And it’s often down to a low hedge and a few neatly clipped conifers, grasses, dogwood (cornus alba) and willow (salix) for colourful stems, wintergreen (Gaultheria mucronata 'Crimsonia') for the superb berries, daphne, witch hazel (Hamamelis) and viburnum tinus that hold the bed together when the perennials are reduced to dried stems and seed heads.
I was brought up in South Africa, went to school there and read a 4 year History Honours degree at Natal University. I also did military service after I was conscripted to the army and so my foundation knowledge of the country runs deep. I left South Africa in 1964, at the height of apartheid, but apart from regular visits to see family, friends and cricket, have never been tempted by a permanent move back. There have been various reasons for this: I married an English girl, I did not want my children to be brought up under the shadow of apartheid and by 1994, when South Africa became a true democracy, my career in the UK was well established. I suppose that I could have retired back there but by then I felt well and truly British. But my affection for South Africa remains unbounded and so it was with excitement and anticipation that we planned to spend January there. The fact that it was high summer, it is a comparatively easy flight, the England cricket team were touring and the South African currency, the Rand, had nosedived to 24 to the pound were all added bonuses. Our itinerary took us to the major cities of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Durban. In addition we visited the remoter high veld (so called because it is over 5000 feet above sea level) drove through part of the Eastern Cape and up through KwaZulu/Natal and the eastern Orange Free State from Durban to Johannesburg. All that, plus 2 Test Matches, gave us quite an insight into the country - we talked and stayed with many South Africans although they were predominantly family and friends.