Impressions of Highgrove – How To Create an Inspiring Wildflower Meadow in Your Back Garden

I have long loved wildflower meadows, and thought how lovely it would be to have one instead of a garden. But creating a wildflower meadow isn’t just a matter of buying a few packets of seeds and scattering them over a piece of unwanted lawn. Several years ago I did just that and waited, hoping for a glorious profusion of wildflowers several months later and the result was – nil.

In May 2016 we attended a Plantlife talk at Highgrove, the Prince of Wales’ beautiful garden near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, and came away with two packets of wildflower seeds.Highgrove wildflower seeds and Plantlife leaflet with instructions to plant a wildflower meadowThese seeds were a special Highgrove mix – enough for a small patch of wildflower meadow in the garden.

Inspired by the Prince of Wales’ Head Gardener Debs Goodenough we planned to plant just a small area with the seeds.

We now knew that to plant a wildflower meadow in your garden you need poor soil, perhaps an area of “old lawn”, and certainly not lawn or soil which has been fertilised and carefully tended in the past. So we chose a wild area.

Firming down the soil after sowing seeds to make a wildflower meadow.

 

Last August my son Jamie (a budding horticulturalist) sowed the seeds in a a patch measuring 4 square metres in our back garden.

We didn’t expect much in the first year; a wildflower meadow may take a few years to become fully established. In fact I must admit I expected that during the first year we’d have just a small  jungle of weeds, and would need to wait and trust that the beauty would emerge in a few years.

But this July we’re delighted to see the wild grasses tall and shining in the sun, and among them, a few of the first wildflowers to appear.Wildlfower meadow one year after being sown.

It gives us great pleasure to look out beyond the more “domesticated” beds of rose and lavender, past the newly-sown area of lawn, to our little area of Highgrove wildflower meadow.

It will be mown for the first time in September, and then after that four times a year.

Wildflower meadow one year after the seeds were sown.

Next year we hope to see a profusion of colours and perhaps a small version of the lovely wildflower meadow at Highgrove!

An inspiring wildflower meadow.

For more posts from me about wildflowers and Highgrove, click here and here

I’d love to know what you think about wildflower meadows! Have you ever tried to create your own meadow in your garden? And how successful have you been?

 

Boxing Day Entertainment by the Kenilworth Lions at Kenilworth Castle and Abbey Fields

The English love to do fun – and some might even think silly – things on Boxing Day.20161226_113145

Perhaps this is a relief from all the stress of preparing for Christmas. It’s also the opportunity for people to gather together in the fresh air and enjoy themselves with traditional English entertainments.

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Here are a few fun things that took place in one of my favourite places, Kenilworth, on Boxing Day – at Kenilworth Castle and Abbey Fields.

The events were organised by Kenilworth Lions who not only give people a lot of fun and enjoyment, but also provide tremendous support to local charities through their fundraising.20161226_111614

The entertainments included Morris dancers, Punch and Judy Show, and the best dressed dog contest at Kenilworth Castle…20161226_112701

 

 

……..and the annual duck race along the brook through Abbey Fields – an event which attracts a huge crowd.  We followed this with another very popular local activity – a walk through the fields behind Kenilworth Castle, through the area once covered by the Great Mere, filled with pleasure boats, out to the former site of Henry V’s “Pleasance in the Marsh” and back again to the Castle….

May I take this opportunity to wish you  a happy New Year and for all of us the chance to play our part in making the world a more compassionate, caring and loving place for us all, one in which people may come together in a spirit of mutual tolerance, acceptance and good will, so in many more countries people may enjoy being together as shown on the pictures in this blog post.

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Heatwave Inspiration – The View From Broadway Tower in Bright Sunshine

What do you do in a heatwave? We headed for the Cotwolds and one of our favourite places, Broadway Tower.20160718_135655

The last time I was there a cold gusty wind and a heavy damp mist greeted us.

But on this visit, the sun blazed out of an azure sky,20160718_123139

 

and it was an ideal day to climb the Tower20160718_122645 and view the 16 counties from the top.20160718_122306

I’ve written about Broadway Tower before on this blog as it’s a place of inspiration, 20160718_122253not least because of its association with the preRaphaelites and in particular William Morris, whose philosophy I admire and whose designs I love.20160718_122322-1

As I wrote in my previous post about Broadway Tower, among all things most romantic to me is a high place.

I go to high places for calmness and peace, and also to reconnect with that sense of perspective we all need so dearly in the world today.

There are a number of high places I love to visit, from where I live in Warwickshire. the nearest are the Burton Dasset Hills; Broadway Tower is about half an hour away; and the Malverns a little further.  But all are sources of inspiration.

What are your favourite places to visit, for inspiration and upliftment of spirits?  I’d love to hear about them, wherever you live… unless of course they are secret locations that you don’t want to be swamped by visitors! Do share in the comments below.

 

Wildflower Inspiration from Highgrove

One of the loveliest things about England is the sight of our native wildflowers. wildflower meadow at Highgrove

For some it may be possible to take these things for granted, but to me, cow-parsley growing in the hedgerows, and bluebells appearing in unexpected places, is something miraculous – along with the oxeye daisy, the meadow buttercup, viper’s bugloss, red clover, the cowslip and many others exquisite plants and wild grasses. And so I was delighted to visit the Prince of Wales’ garden to Highgrove again last Wednesday, to see his wildflower meadow in its full glory, and to hear a talk on Plantlife.

I first wrote about Highgrove when I visited the garden last August, and then I noted how quirky, playful and imaginative it is.  However the wildflower meadow had been mown and it wasn’t the time of year to appreciate its true beauty. Now, however, we could delight in it as we learned about orchids and buttercups, about crested dogtail and sweet vernal grass.  Afterwards we enjoyed a glass of Pimm’s on the terrace then went into the Prince’s visitor reception centre the Orchard Room, for a delicious meal and a talk from Plantlife about the Coronation Meadows project, which aims to have created 90 wildflower meadows around the UK by the Queen’s 90th birthday. The talk was highly inspirational and by the end I was determined to create a wildflower meadow in a 4 metre square area of our own garden.

Later I was reading the Prince’s book on Highgrove Garden and I was particularly struck by what he says in his foreword. He wrote about the so-far 36-year process of creating a garden like this from scratch (in 1980 when he bought Highgrove there was nothing but extensive grassland with a few trees). Though he was talking about gardening, many of his words related closely to the creative writing process too:

He spoke of “moments of magic… light becoming dreamlike, illuminating intensity” and in such moments when we are “lost in wonder that such beauty is possible, inspiration can come.” It can “easily go wrong if you rush at it,” he wrote; and he advised against “forcing a plan or design.” Instead he believes we must “wait for an intuitive idea to form itself when the moment is right.” In many cases, he observed, it was “several years before the correct setting dawned on me.” He hoped that visitors, whether garden experts or not, would find something here to “inspire, excite, fascinate or soothe.”

Some may regard this view of the creative process rather high-minded; and of course, perfectionism can create its own problems;  and yet I believe there is much truth in these words, and they can be applied across many creative endeavours.

If you’d like to visit Highgrove take a look here for further details.

A Passionate Spirit in Lancaster Alumni Magazine

A Passionate Spirit is featured in the latest edition of “STEPS” the Lancaster University alumni magazine online.

The picture below was taken on Box Hill, in Surrey, on a recent visit.

I have happy memories of Box Hill from my childhood, as I was born and brought up in Kent. This is a landscape which has aroused love and feelings of spiritual wellbeing in many.

This time I couldn’t help but recall once again one of the most famous scenes in fiction; the picnic which takes place in Jane Austen’s novel Emma, when Emma allows her irritation with Miss Bates to overcome her forbearance… provoking a reaction from Mr Knightley which makes Emma realise for the first time how much she cares for his opinion of her.

And, curiously, Emma was the subject of my very first English Literature seminar at Lancaster, when I was pounced upon and challenged to mount an argument in defence of Jane Austen’s literary reputation. I had much less insight into human psychology then than I do now, having spent many more years observing people and relationships and the many ironies of this life; and (to my eyes at least) I failed miserably on that occasion!

A fitting literary scene, then, for an author photo to go alongside my Lancaster University alumni article.

Author Sheila Skillman at Box Hill, Surrey, January 2016

 

Find the article here

A Journey through Golden Fields to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Classic Cars at the Motor Festival

Today I found myself in the driver’s seat once more (6 weeks after my hip operation) and joining the queue of cars heading into Stratford-upon-Avon.

View of  fields on the journey from Wariwck to Stratford upon Avon
View of fields on the journey from Wariwck to Stratford upon Avon

The long traffic queues were because Stratford was hosting its annual Motor Festival today. So this gave Abigail plenty of opportunity to take photos of the lovely fields of rapeseed flowers on either side of us.

I cannot think of golden fields, sunshine and Shakespeare without being reminded that the short-lived nature of English sunshine, and the passing of time, are some of Shakespeare’s most beloved themes, constantly recurring in the Sonnets.

As I gazed at the fields I was reminded of the words Full many a glorious morning have I seen/flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye/kissing with golden face the meadows green/gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy; and could imagine that Shakespeare felt just as I did, viewing the glorious landscape around Stratford-upon-Avon.

Stratford upon Avon Motor Festival 4 May 2015
Stratford upon Avon Motor Festival 4 May 2015

Once in Stratford, we enjoyed the atmosphere of the motor festival.

All the way down Bridge Street and Henley Street and in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Shakespeare Centre and the Shakespeare Birthplace were the kind of cars that I only know about because Jeremy, James and Richard have at one time or another taken them round the Top Gear track.

Gleaming paintwork, exquisite design and immaculate engines were on display, and the owners of these wonderful machines sat beside them at picnic tables, drinking red wine, and keeping a close eye on their showpiece.

I always love visiting Stratford-upon-Avon, for many reasons, and feel so lucky to live nearby.

Sheila and Jamie in Stratford upon Avon
Sheila and Jamie in Stratford upon Avon

Words From A Cave – Part 2

Mulu Caves Malaysia
Mulu Caves, Malaysia

Since last week’s post I’m starting to see the light flooding through into my cave. I’m moving around on my crutches (and sometimes without them.) I went to the Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter morning services at my church (St Mark’s Leamington Spa) and then later on Easter Sunday I was out at a local beauty spot, Burton Dasset Hills, near Banbury, enjoying the lovely views  and watching a white Scottie dog barking excitedly at two very indifferent and unimpressed sheep!

My novel, A Passionate Spirit, has been sent to a publisher and so this is a very opportune time for me to be taking a break.

I promised you the fruits of any creative thinking I manage to do. One thing I’ve learned is this: when you spend a significant amount of time in a cave, you stand to discover who your angels and demons are: because they’re all in there with you. I’ve identified 4 demons, the details of which I won’t reveal here, save for one: that is ‘the demon of compulsion to compare myself, unfavourably, with others’ – and in particular, other authors and their perceived success.  It’s good that I’ve identified and named these demons for that is the first stage to banishing them.

Of the angels, I can say that I’ve received one fruit of creative thinking; I’ve recognised  where my point of interest now lies, as an author: it’s actually the point of breakthrough. I’m interested in spiritual / paranormal / supernatural / otherworldly things breaking through into the real, solid, contemporary world. I’m interested in the crack – the clash of worlds and worldviews and different understandings of life / the universe and the way it operates – and most critically of all, how the people in this ordinary world react to and handle it.

A creative person , I realised, gets an idea and runs with it – and then, somewhere along the way, discovers something striking, surprising, unusual, a new angle – which gives the project an outstanding quality.

More insights from the cave next week – although I may then be walking out of it!

Book Review: “Earthed” published by Mystic Christ Press: Bridging the Gap Between Christianity and Paganism

This fascinating book came into my hands because I belong to a Facebook group called Mystic Christ and heard about the publication of this collection of essays by authors with both Christian affiliation and a desire to express spirituality through nature connection.

Earthed - Christian Perspectives on Nature Connection
Earthed – Christian Perspectives on Nature Connection

This sounded like a book after my own heart. For many years I was greatly drawn to a spirituality very close to pantheism/nature mysticism; and one of my chief objections then to the Christian faith was what I saw as its “black and white” stance and its refusal to recognise the validity of this kind of spirituality. I remember years ago a certain Tory politician being asked if he was religious or a churchgoer, to which he replied, “No, I don’t go to church, I feel much closer to God walking in the Yorkshire Dales”.

In the view of the authors of “Earthed” this is a valid spiritual position to take.

The book, edited by Bruce Stanley and Steve Holllinghurst, brings together the views and experiences of several authors who have a range of different approaches and outlooks but all believe that Christianity’s relationship with nature matters.

The earlier essays provide an overview and then move on to more detailed accounts of personal experiences. I must admit I found some of these read a little like vicars seeking to justify to their evangelical colleagues why they are moved by pagan religious rituals in nature.

However,  I was pleased to see a chapter by Annie Heppenstall, “Do I Not Fill Heaven and Earth?” Annie led the Celtic Christian celebrations I attended at Morton Bagot church in Warwickshire. There is also a very good article by Anne Hollinghurst about St Francis of Assisi.  “A creation-centred spirituality,” she writes, “should also include St Francis’ rule of compassion for the poor, a rejection of the pursuit of wealth, status or reputation in favour of simplicity and poverty of spirit.”

To me there’s no problem in the idea of worshipping God in and through nature.This has always been a spirituality very close to my heart. But I do acknowledge that some people find the natural world wild, disorderly and threatening.

I enjoyed the chapter about The Green Man by Simon Cross, in which he draws a thread connecting the story of the Garden of Eden with the Legend of the Holy Rood, the Frankenstein story, North American Indian spirituality and its understanding of the Great Spirit, through the 1800’s resurgence of interest in occultism and onto fear of little green men from Mars, space research and exploration and the current fascination with wilderness survival skills (as demonstrated in various TV programmes).

The theme of this book was highlighted from a different source on Sun 16 November 2014: I was watching a BBC TV programme presented by Sue Perkins from a remote rural community in Cambodia, where she was spending time with people who have “a relationship with the natural world that many of us crave.”

Another outstanding chapter for me in this book is “Oceanic God” in which author Nick Thorpe writes about things he has learned from the power of the sea and from the people who earn their living by chancing their lives upon the sea.

“After my sea pilgrimage,” he says, “I resolved to allow myself a broader, more open-handed belief; less fretful about the details of doctrine, more willing to let complex realities clash, and mysteries remain.”

There is also a lovely piece by Paul Cudby on “Friendships Across the Divide: A Theology of Encounter” which I strongly identified with. I have myself felt the spiritual sense of nature connection which he describes, on several occasions throughout my life. The experiences he describes follow the principle that whatever you practice regularly becomes almost intuitive and then new possibilities spring up.

In conclusion I’d say that the premise of this book is correct: that in western forms of Christian worship many habitually cut themselves off from this kind of nature connection; and this is a totally unnecessary source of alienation from those who find themselves naturally drawn to pagan and mystical spirituality.Instead, we end up creating a division between those whose spiritual practices might otherwise find many points of similarity.

If any of this rings a bell with you, I highly recommend this book.

A Gift to the Future – One Man’s Vision to Create Hidcote Manor Garden

I love Hidcote Manor Garden, near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. It’s one of the National Trust’s greatest gardens and was created by an American horticulturalist Lawrence Johnston, between 1907 and 1947.

The Beech Allee at Hidcote Manor Garden image 1 (photo credit SC Skillman)
The Beech Allee at Hidcote Manor Garden image 1 (photo credit SC Skillman)

 

One very special element in the garden is the Beech Allee – an avenue of majestic beeches.

Lawrence Johnston planted it knowing he’d never see the mature avenue – it was a gift to the future.

 

 

 

The Beech Allee at Hidcote Manor Garden - image 2 (photo credit SC Skillman)
The Beech Allee at Hidcote Manor Garden – image 2 (photo credit SC Skillman)

For me, it’s very moving to walk along this avenue reflecting upon how much we owe to one man’s vision and imagination.

 

What an encouragement this is to any creative person, who imagines things and works to bring them into reality, perhaps without ever being able to experience the final outcome, or to know how their creation may be received.

view from the end of the Beech Allee onto the Great Lawn at Hidcote Manor Garden (photo credit SC Skillman)
view from the end of the Beech Allee onto the Great Lawn at Hidcote Manor Garden (photo credit SC Skillman)

Cotswold Views on the Last Sunny Day of Autumn 2014

We went to the Edgemoor Inn, near the village of Edge in Gloucestershire on Sunday to celebrate our daughter Abigail’s 20th birthday – and for once our timing was perfect! For the day was bright and clear, very unusual for 5 October in England, and the Edgemoor Inn stands on a ridge overlooking the beautiful Painswick Valley.

View from the terrace outside the Edgemoor Inn 5 October 2014 - photo credit Abigail Robinson
View from the terrace outside the Edgemoor Inn 5 October 2014 – photo credit Abigail Robinson

One of the joys of this particular inn is the fabulous outlook both from within the restaurant, and from the terrace outside.

Not far from here is Prinknash Abbey, occupied by an order of Benedictine monks, and its location has the most spectacular views.

Nearby, from the Painswick Beacon, you may also see distant vistas across the Cotswolds.

Perhaps because the Cotswold Hills are a relatively short drive from Warwick, I’m drawn back here again and again; and of course the action of my novel Mystical Circles is set here. It was this landscape that inspired me to site my community The Wheel of Love in a lovely valley. Here, you may imagine, everything is perfect. But no. Where there is a disparate group of human beings, there will be dynamic change – and so it will always be.

Admiring the view from the terrace outside the Edgemoor Inn (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
Admiring the view from the terrace outside the Edgemoor Inn (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

As one of my Amazon reviewers put it: “In contrast to the peaceful rural setting, the varied group of people Juliet meets are a maelstrom of conflicting emotions.”

Meanwhile, let’s glory in this tranquil landscape, and draw more peace from it than we ever will from the complex, fearful, vulnerable human beings to be found within the Wheel of Love!