Hidcote – A Birthday Stroll Through One Man’s Garden

I often wish that my step-mom Cullene could be by my side as I explore new places during my travels with John. She’s content to travel less these days although you would never guess it based on what she manages to accomplish while out helping others.

We had a chance to talk about all the places we would go if I could persuade her to cross the ocean just one more time, but she feels the need to stay closer to home. She gives so much of herself to those around her and both family and friends are the recipients of her loving attention, but it does leave her with less time for herself.

Today is her birthday and without giving away her age (not that she’d likely care) I am glad to note that this is the 39th birthday I’ve had the privilege of sharing with her even if from a distance. I wish I could be there to make this day special for her or even better if she could be here with me. I’m stealing a bit from the children’s book author, Dr Seuss, ” Oh, the places we would go … ” in order to tempt her.

I left her a gift that will be appropriate for the photos in the birthday post today, but I misplaced the card and did not realize it until it was too late so I’m hoping that this post will act as a substitute for a more traditional birthday card. It is sent with great love and a not so subtle hope of enticing her over when the time is right for her to fly again.

Happy Birthday, Cullene.

You can go here to read about Lawrence Johnston who was often described as a ” self-taught gardener ” and spent much of his life creating the gardens at Hidcote. (Click to enlarge photos)

Can you guess where Cullene might use the birthday gift I left for her?

Branching Out – Tales Of The Traveling Twisted Willow

Baby John With His Mother, Margaret Winchurch - 1943

Eighteen years ago, my husband’s mother died. She had not been in the best of health, but her death was still unexpected when it occurred. It happened fast, one minute she was going about her life and 36 hours into a hospitalization for stomach pain, she was gone.

A few days before she died she was still well enough to be making floral arrangements for her home and had put a bunch of cut branches from a twisted willow tree in her garden, into a vase of water. The cuttings were still there when my husband John noticed them a few weeks after her funeral while stopping by to check on his dad.

Even though there was little water left in the vase, they had been there so long they were putting out roots. He picked up a handful of the cuttings as he was leaving, and took them home to plant around his house. Moving five times during the eighteen years since her death, he’s always taken a few cuttings grown from the original twisted willow that he found in the vase that day.

I loved the twisted willow that John had planted in the garden right from the beginning, at first because it was so pretty, and even more after he told me the story of how pieces of it had moved with him over the years. My grandmother was always picking up cuttings or passing them on and the story he told reminded me of how she would pinch off a piece of something I’d admired and send me off with directions on how to make it grow.

Two days ago, I was disappointed when John said that he had done a massive pruning of the twisted willow plants in the front garden. I love the way they create a green barrier throughout much of the year making our front outdoor space feel much larger and more private than it actually is. They grow so fast and thick that I know he was right to prune them as he did, but I was still sad to see the large cuttings laid out nearby.

Later that day, I was on my way to meet a friend from the village at the mobile library van and on impulse, I picked up a branch to take along to her thinking she might have a place for it somewhere. I left it outside her gate when I went on the van and forgot until I got home that I had not actually given it to her.

After leaving her a message on Facebook, another friend from the village saw it and asked if she might have a cutting too. I was delighted to share more of the twisted willow and even left another piece for a third friend in the village who then asked if her future mother-in-law might have some as well.

Today’s post is an updated version of one I wrote here, where I shared a story of how two friends I met through blogging who came to our village back in 2009. I sent them home with a small piece of twisted willow so there are more plants from the original cuttings growing somewhere closer to London now too.

Considering the amount of cuttings being passed around along with the twisted willow plants left in the ground at the five homes where John planted it over the last eighteen years, and you can easily see why I chose the title I did.

John thinks this vase is the same one he took the cuttings from after his mother died. He put some twisted willow in it this morning and I could not resist taking a quick photo to include with the post.

As focused as I am on telling the stories of my life, I can’t tell you how much it makes me smile to be able to share a sweet part of John’s story. Never having met his mother, I can’t know what type of relationship might have developed between us, but I do know that it makes me feel good to be able to share cuttings from the last plant she took from her garden before she died.

The new leaves are coming out now with the change in the season and by next spring, plants descended from Margaret’s twisted willow arrangement will be growing in gardens all around our village. I wonder what she’d think of that.


Protecting Your Eyesight In The Veggie Patch – Lessons Learned From A Gracious Gardener

I took this photograph in mid April when my friends Mike and Rebecca were putting their garden into the ground. My intention that day had been focused around getting some shots of an unusual magnolia tree in their back garden, but after finding the natural light a bit too dark to get a good exposure, I moved on intent on seeing what else might be interesting and different to photograph. I’d been asking questions as I went, about the plants and the expectations that they hoped for in return for their labor and it didn’t take long for my inexperience and ignorance about gardening to become quickly apparent.

As I stepped up to the raised bed in the image above I thought to myself, Alright … I know this one, now I can at least show her I am not a total goof when it comes to growing things. I turned to Rebecca and said kind of casually in a voice that sounded like I thought I knew exactly what I was talking about, ” So you’ve got those plastic cups on those stakes to scare away the birds huh, does it work? ” To which Rebecca said something I remember as,” Not exactly, but they do keep us from poking an eye out when we lean in to work on the plants.”