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A Different View

Sharp angles and offset rhomboids: Heligan in Winter
I woke up this morning convinced that it was late. The light was grey behind the curtains and the room was silent. Reluctantly, I looked at my phone and discovered that it was in fact early.

It has been a busy few weeks, but walking up the road, the magnolia buds are suddenly swelling in furry promise, and lilacs pertly tipped with green; Crocus tommasinianus have appeared where there were none. Acer griseum and white-barked birches stand bold, in full knowledge that their spare charms will soon be overwhelmed with spring. Time has passed while I was not looking.

So as the season creeps forward - and faster it does, when ignored - I am looking back, with a kind of regret. The thing is, that although gardens are considered 'off peak' in winter, there is often no better time to see them. This is the point where they show their true colours and strengths.

As a visitor, you can read their geometry and detail without interruption. Enjoyably crisp angles. Reflections in shape or in water. Bark textures and stem colours. The brave greenery and the crumpled, primeval landscapes. Corsetry of wood, iron and stone.

Is is cold and bare, yet comes with an almost atavistic sensuality.

In January I took a trip to Cornwall to speak to the delightful folk of Cornwall Garden Society on snowdrops and orchards (on two consecutive days, not all at once).

It is rude to travel to places that one visits rarely and not pause to admire their gardens so I did, ably abetted by Michelle Chapman who likes a road trip and a bit of garden-bothering, and doesn't seem to mind feeding me peppermints and coffee as necessary.

So off we went to Heligan and meditated not so much on ideas of its lost-and-foundness, but on its texture and richness. The sun kindly shone (mostly) and it was quiet. As a place it rich and reflective, but sometimes the nature of the reflection is hard to define. Swamps and dinosaurs in places; Victorian gardening and industry elsewhere. It pauses to mourn the fallen of the Second World War, then diverts to neat geometry and exquisite vanishing points as exemplified by a long colonnade of trained fruit. A compot of intellectual whimsy.

This was not a day to worry about labelling. We scampered over the rope bridge and admired the land art, took photographs of shapes and forms, which were beautiful regardless of their botanical name.

And then enjoyed a very good salad. (Have I ranted to you yet about the amazing ability of people to produce salad options that are either mostly meat or fish or are 80% mayonnaise? No? Remind me some time. Anyway, the good denizens of Heligan restaurant know far better than to perpetrate such horrors. Indeed, they rocked purple potatoes and three types of beetroot. Respect.)

 But, really, the thing is that one can be distracted by roses, and forget the beauty of the thorns. Spend all the day doing the day job and forget that the scenery is changing in new and interesting ways. To exist in the present is important, even if it is winter, for it is by doing so that you really get to see the truth, and to know where you are.


  1. What a fab day we had and this is such a thoughtful post on the experience :)

  2. Great read about a fantastic place. I'm with you on the salad rant :)


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