Carl Taylor, who has built more than quarter of a mile of limestone walling in my garden is an artist as well as a craftsman. He likes to add artistic flourishes to his work and I’ve never been able to fathom whether it’s from his love of the job or to see the look of astonishment on my face when I see it. A good example is the stone flower which he unexpectedly incorporated into the wall of the boiler house next to the Orangery (below); another is the niche which he built into the wall on my bedroom extension overlooking the garden, complete with an elegant slate base. This was some time ago, and I hadn’t got round to finding a suitable ornament to put in the niche, other than having a vague discussion with Alan Ward, my sculptor, as to what might work. Fortunately, Alan isn’t as lackadaisical as I am, and got on with the job, turning up one day with the perfect little sculpture shown in the photo above. He explained that it represents Cornucopia – the horn of plenty which dispenses unlimited quantities of food, drink and other riches. It is embellished with gold. Nothing could be more perfect for the little niche overlooking the garden. Carl’s spirit is contagious.
In 2011 a statue of Leda and the Swan, which had sat in the garden of Aske Hall at Richmond in Yorkshire for four centuries was sold at auction for £12.2 million. This was encouraging news for us because on that very day Alan Ward was hard at work creating our very own garden statue of Leda and the Swan. The Aske Hall version is by an unidentified Roman sculptor of the 2nd century AD and it is not known how long he took to complete the work, but we know from our own experience that it’s a long, intricate process. A five ton block of Portland stone (see the photo below) was delivered to us in June 2009 and Alan has been working on it ever since, outside, in all weathers. Each buttock took three months. It would of course have been completed much sooner if Alan hadn’t had a full time teaching job and other commissions to contend with. Ours is entitled Leda and The Golden Swan, the gold being calculated to bring prosperity to the inhabitants of Yewbarrow House. The finished product is, to my mind, every bit as beautiful as the Aske Hall version, but we’ll have to wait until after I’m gone and my rapacious descendants consign it to the auction house before we discover if it’s worth £12.2 million. In the meantime, it will sit under the stone arch at the end of our drive, providing an intriguing focal point as you enter the garden.
“Hotlips” Houlihan got her nickname when she was having sex with Frank, unaware that a microphone for the public address system had been placed under her bed, so that everyone at the MASH camp heard her say “Kiss my hot lips, Frank”. Until recently Houlihan was the best known “Hotlips” on the planet, but her place has now been usurped by the variety of Salvia Macrophyllia, which is named, (apparently) after the sexy Mexican maid who introduced it into California. It only reached my garden this year, courtesy of Cath’s Garden Plants. A small, inexpensive, plant soon bulked up into the one shown below, and flowered continuously from June to November. A real star. But the accolade for the best new introduction into my garden goes to the maple shown above. It’s the Acer palmatum ‘Sango-Kaku’. I bought two examples in May from Larch Cottages Nursery in Melkinthorpe, (see here) and it looked so spectacular once in the ground that I went back a couple of weeks later and bought two more.
We have no way of knowing for certain what greenhouses there were in our kitchen garden in Victorian times, but there are some telling clues. There’s a boiler house for a start, and traces of some substantial iron heating pipes, which seem to have run all the way along the south-east facing wall at the rear of the kitchen garden. A second wall, about ten feet high runs parallel behind it, and seems to have been used for espalier fruit trees, probably apricots.
I’m often asked what happened to all the people who starred in The Hotel. Well, with one exception* they are all still with me, three years after the filming, which is good going considering the high turnover of staff which some hotels experience. Wayne is still wooing the customers as the Damson Dene’s manager – the Tripadvisor ratings speak for themselves**. Amos, who was portrayed on TV as the bumbling Romanian new boy, now speaks perfect English, and has been joined by his lovely fiancee, Florina, who also works in the restaurant.
Paul and Lavinia have been promoted to joint deputy managers and Lavinia took a short time off to have a baby, the lovely Paula.
The garden year started disastrously, with the coldest March since we came here, which heart-breakingly killed off about a hundred mature echiums, which I had been nurturing for two years. I also lost most of my cannas, but that was my fault, as I had to leave them outside, unprotected, whilst the new greenhouse was being built. The growing season got off to a slow start, and then there was a minor miracle when we had a warm summer for the first time in years.
The idea of Slow Life is to take the principles of Slow Food, which are “good, clean and fair”, and extend them to life in general.
Here in the Lake District, the air is clean, the pace is slow and the atmosphere is calm. If we don’t grow food ourselves, we can buy it in friendly small shops, where you know the quality is going to be the best.
This blog is a celebration of the Slow Life, with forays into the world of design, music, the arts, gardens, and my particular weakness, Japan.