Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Where Angels tread (and hoe and mulch)

I have seen larger and grander, but THIS is the garden that's captured my heart for eternity. A springtime ramble through it brings me as close to heaven as I will ever get on earth.

It is the domain of a mother and daughter I shall call Charlie's Angels. They are the most incredible and inspiring gardeners I have ever met, and I have met many good ones in my time. Angel Senior, the mum, is like a second mum to me and an honorary granny to Legs and Noodle. Angel Senior possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things botanical and is a gifted painter and writer, and a marvelous cook to boot. She taught me all about making jams and chutneys, one of my favorite kitchen pastimes. Angel Junior, the daughter, is a renowned sculptor who works in wood and alabaster when she's not busy in other incarnations as a singer, print-maker, photographer and belly-dancer. The Angels are the closest we have to family in our area and we love them to bits.

Their garden is enormous and utterly lovely in all seasons, yes, even in the dead of winter when our garden - and everyone else's - resembles horticultural Hades. Except for arduous he-man jobs like chopping fallen trees into firewood, they do ALL the garden work themselves. Unlike me, they never complain of backaches and have no fear of slugs. This is what their place looks like at this time of year.

I brought a friend to see their garden last week. When people enter for the first time, their typical reaction is usually one of delighted surprise and, often, speechlessness. In the orchard, we were engulfed by giddy-making clouds of apple blossom. There are several dozen fruit trees - mainly old apple varieties, as well as cherries and plums. In the autumn, several hundred kilos of windfall apples are collected and brought somewhere to be pressed into apple juice. The Angels' apple juice is the finest, most delicious apple juice I've ever tasted.

The Angels allow a farmer in the village to keep some of his sheep in their orchard. The 3 ewes and 8 lambs currently in residence get free grazing and reciprocate by keeping the grass down in the orchard. This beneficial agreement creates endless bucolic scenes like the one above. Two local bee-keepers, one of them a druid, also keep a number of beehives in their orchard. The bees feast on the flowers, pollinate them and produce beautiful honey that the bee-keepers offer the Angels in lieu of rent. Everyone benefits. In seeking to live with interdependence and harmony we only need look at Nature's example. The Angels taught me that.

At the rear of the garden is a splendid old wood with mature oak, yew, ash, hazelnut, acacia and chestnut trees which provide cover for an ever-changing magic carpet of springtime flowers. No sooner has the mantle of snowdrops gone over than bands of crocuses and scillas emerge to replace it, only to make way for a blaze of daffodils, then narcissus, and finally culminating in a spectacular blanket of bluebells. This picture does not do justice to just how delightful the wood is, even if the bluebells were coming to an end at the time I took it. Legs and Noodle love building forts and playing make-believe games in this wood. They stay there for hours on end, their shouts, laughter and occasional bickering weaving in and out of the leaves.

A formal hedge separates the orchard from the rest of the garden. A 6-foot tall hornbeam hedge borders this long walkway. Until a few years ago, Angel Senior used to trim this hedge herself, and the sight of this petite woman in her mid-70s brandishing a hedge-trimmer atop a tall ladder would give me the heebie jeebies. I have neither courage nor stamina to take on scary jobs like that. It's what separates hardcore gardeners like them from ordinary ones like myself.

The potager or vegetable garden is mostly Angel Junior's domain. Have you ever seen vegetables more artfully grown? Most people who grow vegetables grow them in rows. Practical, but boring. Angel Junior mixes vegetables and flowers together. Her potager is a suite of rooms separated by 'walls' of raspberry canes, and miniature pear and peach trees on cordons. In about a month's time, a canopy of grapevines and clematis will begin to provide summer shade for the lettuces.

An espaliered crab apple tree in full flower stands guard over Swiss chard, wood strawberries and leeks in raised beds bordered by campanulas and forget-me-nots.

Honesty's vibrant magenta flowers are offset by acid green ornamental grass. The Angels' boundless artistry is present in every picture-perfect corner of their garden. Even their compost heap is pretty.

Lime green euphorbias hug one of several huge walnut trees in the garden. In the autumn, I become the happy beneficiary of walnuts from this tree. They go into all my cakes and their flavor simply cannot be matched by supermarket walnuts.

A magnificent magnolia sheds its petals on the lawn. The Angels love our children and spoil them rotten sometimes. Legs and Noodle have enjoyed Easter egg hunts in this garden since they were little.

They must search high and low to find several kilos worth of Belgian chocolate Easter eggs each year. They have become extremely blasé about going Easter egg hunting anywhere else. This year, I unilaterally (and very unwisely) decided that the children, now 13 and 10, had grown too old for Easter egg hunts. Oh my God, the fallout that ensued! At breakfast on Easter Sunday I was shot stony looks by Legs and Noodle who informed me in the strongest possible terms that they expect to continue this annual springtime ritual on Angel ground until they leave home. As a matter of fact, they refer to the Angels' garden as "their garden," which is ironic because they do not speak of our garden at home - yes, the one Skunk and I toil in - with as much proprietarial affection.

A garden like this is heaven for all forms of wildlife. The Angels, passionate bird lovers, have nesting boxes on almost all their large trees. This sheltered wall hosts a village of bird houses, some of which are recycled from vintage wooden boxes of Earl Gray tea.

More posts on this garden will follow, but for now, I must get back to the weeds in ours.

P.S. I've only just found out that if you click on any of these photos, they will come up larger and in greater detail.


Anonymous said...

Oh. My. God.

BTW, your writing is -- not meh. Definitely not meh. It's made me fall in love with this garden as well. My favorites are the espaliered crab apple tree and the bird houses.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. Beautiful garden! Now I want to visit you in Belgium and also visit this garden. You first, then the garden. What a treat this post was!

Pam said...

A life I can only dream of...lovely!

Twenty Four At Heart said...

Beautiful, beautiful pictures!

Kristin Summerlin said...

Lovely. I understand completely how attached you must be to this place... I have a similar heart's home in Sewanee, Tennessee, and to my great surprise, the plants there are the same as the ones you describe. Alaska is gorgeous in a much more primal way, and now I'm terribly homesick. So glad I visited your blog.

Megatonlove said...

Thank you, and a very warm welcome to new visitors to this blog. No pictures can really do this place justice, and how can one even begin to capture what the birds sound like and how delightful everything smells like in a garden like this? It's been a privilege to share this place with you, and I'll be featuring it again soon.