Saturday, May 26, 2012
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Monday, November 29, 2010
The last time we visited Kew Gardens, in 1988, we had been advised by my brother to "be sure to see Kew's hidden treasure, The Marion North Pavillion". Our holiday was coming to an end and time was precious, but we did find the exquisite bijou gallery, commissioned by Marianne North in 1879 to house her life's work, more than eight hundred oil paintings of the flora of this planet.
We spent more time there than we had intended. We were entranced by the intensity of the place, but our holiday was coming to an end and we couldn't stay. We bought a book "A Vision of Eden, The Life and Work of Marianne North", and came away. The book, now out of print, is still one of my treasures. Valerie Greeley's recent blogpost http://www.acornmoon.blogspot.com/ about her October afternoon visit to Kew sent me to my book shelf to enjoy a nostalgic browse through the pages once more.From my reading of Marianne North's life, 1830 to1890, it seems to me not that she defied the conventions and restrictions of her time, but that she was indifferent to them. She was a single woman in possession of a fortune and, unlike Jane Austen's impecunious heroines, was certainly not in need of a husband. It must have helped to be the child of wealthy, cultured, perhaps somewhat unconventional parents. Their three children - Marianne was the eldest - were not relegated to life in a nursery dominated by a governess. They lived and travelled with their parents and met most of the eminent people of their day.
In her memoirs,"Recollections of a Happy Life" Marianne wrote of her childhood, "We had much variety in our life, spending the winter at Hastings, the spring in London, and dividing the summers between my half-sisters old hall in Lancashire and a farm-house at Rougham, Norfolk". The family also travelled widely in Europe.
Marianne was dismissive about her education. "Governesses hardly interfered with me in those days. Walter Scott and Shakespere gave their versions of history, and Robinson Crusoe and some other old books my ideas of geography." Even so, Marianne was a talented musician, she continued her study of music into her adult life, she was an avid gardener with a keen interest in botany and an accomplished artist. She filled sketch books with her paintings and drawings of the places the family visited on their travels.
This idyllic life changed over time, inevitably, as family life does. After the death of her mother in 1855 and the marriage of both her sister and brother, Marianne became mistress of her Father's household. This was not a burden, they were devoted companions and continued to travel together until his death in 1869. He died in her arms. She wrote, "for nearly forty years he had been my one friend and companion, and now I had to learn to live without him and fill up my life with other interests as best I might".
With vision and practicality Marianne worked her way through her grief and created a new purpose for her life. She would continue her life of travel, painting and sketching the scenery along the way, but she would expand her horizons and focus on creating a visual record of the plants and flowers of the world in their natural environment. This she did for the next seventeen years until she was overtaken by ill health.
assistance or accomodation she needed along the way.
She died on August 30th 1890. Her generous gift and vision enrich us today.
The Marianne North Pavillion at Kew Gardens was closed for restoration of both the building and the paintings for much of this year. It is open again now. If, like me, you cannot make the journey, you may enjoy an amazing virtual visit at www.kew.org/collections/art-images/marianne-north/index.htm .
All the pictures on this post are from the book "A Vision of Eden, the Life and Work of Marianne North".
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
I was eight years old in September 1939, the fourth in a family of six children. We lived in a quiet working class suburb on the border of Kent and London. During the blitz it would earn the nick name "Bomb Alley", but that was a whole year away. Meanwhile all manner of "just in case" things happened. Air raid shelters were installed in back gardens and on our school grounds. Civil defence units were formed, gas masks were distributed to everyone. The cottage hospital at the end of our street was built around with sandbags. All the windows in our school were blast proofed with a thickly glued netting and we had Air Raid Drill.
On Saturday afternoon September 7th 1940, while our local Civil Defence units were conducting a public demonstration of their resources on Erith riverside, the sirens wailed as the first wave of enemy bombers flew overhead on their way to London, bombing industries all along the way. By nightfall the river was ablaze, lighting the way for the next wave of planes.
My parents' generation knew how to cope, how to make do and mend. They had survived the privations and losses of the First World War, just twenty years before, and the Great Depression that followed. Now they took on the jobs of the young men and women who had been conscripted into the armed services; many elderly people left retirement to do so.
Many memories were simply stowed away six years later at the end of that terrible war. There was so much to look forward to. We could go bed at night with the certainty of staying there till morning. We could make plans for tomorrow and next week without fear of air raids. The shatter proof netting was removed from our school windows and we could see out. We no longer had to carry a gas mask at all times, All evil had been vanquished and, quite soon perhaps, rationing would come to an end.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
To me this was something quite new and enchanting,the occasional snowfalls of south east England were mostly sparse,wet and slushy.
Later that night, after our babies were asleep, when the temperature was dropping so sharply that the very timbers of the house audibly protested with snaps and crackles, we wrapped up warmly and stepped out onto our doorstep to view another northern phenomenon that, even through my gloom, had touched my imagination and filled me with awe: the northern lights, aurora borealis, the heavenly dancers. In the vast uncluttered dome of the northern wilderness they were magnificent at any time of year,but in the frosty winter night they were an enchantment.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
"Now 'tis the spring and weeds are shallow rooted,
Suffer them now and they'll o'ergrow the garden"
Our suburban garden was a model of low maintenance when we acquired it sixteen years ago, just two or three meager shrubs, a sparse lawn and a little square of patio stones behind the kitchen door. No weeding to be done, no leaf raking, just grass to be cut once a week through the summer months and perhaps fertilized once or twice a year. I couldn't just leave it alone, of course.
An afternoon spent raking and weeding last week revealed some of the winter casualties. We have lost most of our azaleas. A little row of euonymus, planted last fall to border the footpath and replace work intensive annuals and perennials, has been eaten to the ground. We suspect the local rabbit population, but it was a bitter winter and they had to eat something. One clematis is thriving, the other is clinging to life. There is much to be done. I need some advice and sympathy. So I turn to a cup of tea and my garden books, where I am sure to find kindred spirits.
"It has not been all success."
By comparison, H.E.Bates (The Darling Buds of May) wrote this book for his children in 1939, when the war clouds were gathering over his garden in Kent .
In the dedication he wrote,"That little garden of yours, with its daffodils and turnips and primroses and radishes and forget-me-nots and marrows, all mixed up in the same bed, has already given you a lot of pleasure. When you look back on it and the days you spent there under the pink plum tree, you may perhaps think of it as one of the happiest things in your life. But one day also you will, most probably, want to make a different, larger and better garden for yourselves."
I can't find any information about the fabulous Molly Thompson, who devised and illustrated this darling book, except that she also illustrated for Enid Blyton. But wouldn't you love to step into that old fashioned orchard with the big apple trees?
The Fairy Land Trust is one organization attempting to beguile little children into an appreciation of nature. They have a lovely website that is well worth a visit. http://www.fairylandtrust.org/
Sunday, April 5, 2009
But still, I shake my head as we decide on a final resting place for the poor mouse; we choose between a flower pot or under the periwinkle beneath the rowan trees. It was very much a country garden, Beatrix Potter type mouse. Like Timmy Willy "who went to town by mistake in a hamper."
I think I have all the Beatrix Potter books on my shelves. The most read copies are very tattered and precious, those I keep. But I do have two spare copies of The Tale of Pigling Bland, in good condition with green covers and dust jackets, and they are just waiting to be well read too. So I will give them away to the first two readers of this blog who send me an email at email@example.com The Tale of Pigling Bland, in case you don't know, is the saga of a piglet who had to leave home and seek his fortune because his mother had too many hungry piglets to feed. "Yus, yus, yus! they eat and indeed they do eat!"
Some of the most treasured books on my shelves are a very small collection of childrens early school readers from days long gone. They were often illustrated by talented artists, in this case by the award winning husband and wife team of Maude and Miska Petersham.
The cover is well worn and I wonder, how many children were charmed into reading
by the engaging little pictures? But that is a topic for a future blog.