As we move into early summer, I thought I’d pause for a second to take you on a short tour of my local park to see the fresh, light greens of spring.
The horse chestnuts have reached full leaf and underneath their canopy the reduced light supplies dramatic contrasts between bold, sturdy tree trunks and verdant, recently cut grass.
Together with the horse chestnuts, lime trees line the paths of the park accentuating the curves and sweeps.
There’s not just fresh green but delicate coppery apricot colours too.
The new leaves in the park are most welcome, but there’s something even more uplifting when you observe the re-emergence of sea kale (crambe maritime) on beaches at this time of year. The plant’s sheer tenacity as it pushes up through the salty shingle for another season of sun, wind and rain is very pleasing.
The full palette of golden yellows and hot oranges that makes for an autumnal scene has arrived late this year as we can see in this series of photographs from Sunday, 14th November.
As my sister and I walked around Christchurch Park in Ipswich we noticed the varied selection of deciduous trees were at different stages of their end of season show.
Some trees had already lost all their leaves,
some were at the height of their high autumn colour
and some trees still had leaves of green.
All things considered it has been a reasonable, if not a vintage year for colour here in East Anglia.
We are now in mid-November and in this sheltered park not that far from the town centre there’s only been two or three frosts. And, as the experts suggest, it is frosts and cool nights that are two contributing ingredients for good leaf colour.
Needless to say, in an urban park like Christchurch Park, there’s a diverse range of specimen and non-native trees, but as we wandered away from the more formal area of Ipswich’s War Memorial, the planting became more natural, with a wilder feel. You could even believe you were in the heart of the Suffolk countryside and not sandwiched between the town centre and the busy ring road.
A couple of weeks ago my sister and I took a stroll in the local park.
We arrived at the gates of Christchurch Park just after 4 o’clock and the shadows were already beginning to lengthen, but nevertheless there was plenty of blue sky and puffy clouds for a ‘Constable Suffolk sky’.
Most of the trees near the Round Pond were still wearing the heavy green of late summer although just at their extremities some leaves were turning dry and brittle with hints of the orange and brown to come.
As we leisurely made a rough circuit of the park the low sun began to set and those first oranges of autumn glowed in the dappled light.
Not everybody was having a relaxing time. The park’s squirrels were very busy with the horse chestnuts. And, clearly being used to humans they did not bother to scamper away as we walked along the path towards them. In fact some came up to us expecting food, obviously somebody must be regularly feeding them. I can’t complain as it made taking photos of this industrious chap very easy.
It certainly has been late coming this year, but finally we’ve had sunshine. And, enough sunshine for the flowers to truly get into their blooming stride. My backyard, not the sunniest of spaces, now has the late-flowering pheasant’s eye daffodil, a selection of aquilegias and a few alliums all out together.
Also this week a visit and wander around the local park offers a fine testament to the sun’s essential, life-giving force. It was delightful to see the azaleas and rhododendrons bringing colour to the partial shade of the fresh green canopy of deciduous trees.
And, out in the more open area there was the wild meadow-style planting of cow parsley mixed with clumps of spurge.
Even the more formal park-planting that borders the park entrance was full of loose, cheery colour. Although pansies and forget-me-nots are usually a spring combination, the answer to the question ‘End of Spring or Beginning of Summer?’ is, I think, most definitely the beginning of summer.
One small aside, even without deliberately or even mildly consciously choosing to take inspiration from all this welcome floral spectacle, it is most undoubtedly influencing my work.
Last Saturday, we had blue skies with winter sun in Ipswich from dawn to dusk and despite the temperatures hovering all day around freezing, plenty of people visited the local parks for their permitted exercise. I was walking through the park as the sun began to set and stepped away from the busy paths to stand for 10 minutes to capture the sun doing down.
You can see there were both family groups and joggers making circuits of the pond,
and also plenty of dog walkers too, but everyone began to rapidly vacate the park as the sun sank beneath the horizon. Nobody wants to be locked in by mistake in these freezing temperatures.
When I got home and scrolled through the pictures I liked the ‘through the big old trees’ shot so much I am now using it for the background on my phone. Even though it’s a winter scene and the trees are dark and towering, there is a warming glow (much more noticeable on my phone than it appears here) which I find genuinely uplifting each time I open the phone. For me this is an example of the usually insignificant aspects of daily life that have become those brief pleasures helping many of us get through these grim days.
What a difference a few weeks has made? Only four weeks ago it was Friday, 13th March and it was Gold Cup Day at the Cheltenham Festival. It strikes me now as mind-boggling to think that 60,000 people attended the famous National Hunt race meeting, but attend they did, visiting from far and wide. It already seems a long time ago as everybody comes to terms with living in a lockdown.
Today is Maundy Thursday and the weather is beautiful and sunny, but there will be no holiday stays at the seaside this Easter.
However, on a positive note it is always amazing at this time of year what a difference a couple of days of sunshine and warmer temperatures makes to the gardens. Overnight the aubretia is blooming . . .
I particularly value the pear blossom as, like many of us, I am looking for any signs of hopeful renewal during this Covid lockdown.
Compared to my old Norfolk garden I only have a small patch of outside space and it is mostly concrete slabs thanks to previous owners with their ‘low maintenance’ mindset. However, I really must not complain as I do have fresh spring greenery and some flowers too. I deeply appreciate my little backyard during these difficult Covid times when many families live in flats and don’t even have access to a balcony.
Fortunately, we are lucky in Ipswich as, so far, the beautiful parks are still open for exercise and dog-walking.
And, you can even bicycle, run or maybe simply stroll along the Waterfront for your daily exercise.
In one of those strange moments several threads of my life came together over the Easter weekend. As a keen gardener a four day break with glorious weather was not wasted and I eventually managed to plant two pear saplings and a fig tree.
I also visited my nearest park, Christchurch Park, and popped into the beautiful Christchurch Mansions to take photographs of their 17th-century exhibits. It has been on my to-do list for a while following hearing the rerun of the brilliant recording of ‘God’s Revolution’ by Don Taylor (original broadcast back in 1988). The drama takes us through the English Civil War and as I listened I remembered how my school history lessons had completely drained me of any interest in the 17th century. I had also been left with the impression that the 17th century had been very grey, plain and practical under the influence of the Puritans. It has been a pleasure to discover that this was not the case.
Of course, skills and craftsmanship did not suddenly evaporate overnight with the Puritans and even though much religious art was destroyed or defaced by the likes of William Dowsing, plenty of interesting examples of visual culture survived the 17th century including new work created during that period. Just think of the monumental splendour of Wren’s St Paul’s. And, then we have at the other end of the scale of English creative expression, small, private handiwork such as this beautiful embroidered panel (above) dating from around 1650.
The full embroidery panel shows a young woman in a garden filled with images of nature. These flowers, animals, birds and insect motifs represented natural gifts from a bountiful God and were celebrated as such. The abundance of nature was a common theme for domestic pieces at this time as displaying overt religious imagery became less popular. It is interesting that the lion and leopard each have their own corner. Their placement is probably significant as it is not an uncommon arrangement, as seen below, in another similar embroidery from the mid-17th century.
Also included in the embroidered menagerie of the Christchurch panel is a unicorn. According to Ruby Hodgson of the V&A, when a lion, leopard and unicorn appear together it is thought to be a reference to royalty.
Looking at the Christchurch panel the most striking representation of the abundance of nature is the pear tree laden with ripe pears in the centre of the composition. It occurred to me that as this example shows a young woman alone in her garden, that the pear tree with fruit maybe a symbol of fertility and allude to her as a potential wife and mother, especially as she stands with her hand outstretched drawing the observer’s attention to the tree.
However, it might simply have been the convention to include a fruiting pear tree as the visualisation of the 17th century English proverb, ‘Walnuts and pears you plant for your heirs’. Old English varieties of pears take years to mature before they bear fruit perhaps not fruiting during a single lifetime and therefore are grown to benefit future heirs. I know that planting avenues of trees for the future such as the famous Spanish Chestnut avenue at Croft Castle, has been a long tradition for the grand and wealthy, but ‘pears for your heirs’ is a discovery for me.
And, that brings me to the third thread of my Easter Weekend, my heir, my daughter. She spent most of her four day holiday break in London moving between Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch as part of the Extinction Rebellion civil disobedience protests. Like so many others including all kinds of folk from all generations, she wants the climate crisis at the top of the global to-do list. Since Easter the recent summary from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has highlighted even more bad news regarding human beings’ detrimental effect on biodiversity. We have become accustomed to disregarding our natural environment and it appears that since the 17th century ‘pears for your heirs’ has faded from common use and yet . . .
. . . attempting to finish on a more optimistic note, it is not just me who has been planting a tree or two, the Woodland Trust hope to plant 64 million trees over the next decade.
We’ve had some high winds and fast moving weather systems recently in East Anglia. Clouds, some with and some without rain, have been whipping across the Suffolk countryside.
These photographs were taken in less than a minute as we drove through the pleasant village of Little Glemham. It was almost a Hitchcock moment with the sudden darkening of the sky, but without the multiple flocks of birds.
And, then back in Ipswich on Monday, walking through Christchurch Park, it was all jolly waving daffodils in the bright spring sunshine . . .
and I spotted . . . a flashy, noisy bird who turned out to be camera shy!
Although Ipswich, a town of about 134,000 people, is not a large place it has some beautiful parks. Recently I went along to Christchurch Park for the first time. The so-called golden hour for taking photographs may be a great time for capturing a weak wintery sunset and the fabulous rich colours of the last leaves, but it was a bitingly cold afternoon.
Nevertheless, despite my fingers becoming stiff with cold, I managed to take a few interesting photos. As I have already mentioned previously my favourite park in Ipswich is Holywells Park, however probably the most well-known park is Christchurch Park.
Originally, this parkland was the grounds of the Augustinian Priory of the Holy Trinity founded around 1177.
However, the land has changed ownership several times since it was seized by the Crown as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The park is also the site of the beautiful, late-Tudor mansion, Christchurch Mansion.
The Mansion’s last private owner, Felix Cobbold, gave it to the community in 1895 on the condition that the Ipswich Corporation purchased the rest of the associated property within which the mansion was set. And, as an urban space open to the public, it has belonged to the people of Ipswich since 1895.
The park is slightly bigger than Holywells Park with more open spaces and vistas, and consequently feels less intimate and domestic than Holywells. It is more like a traditional urban park, but still offers a restorative green space within a five minute walk of the town centre.