Last autumn, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I visited the new garden in East Somerset adjoining a smart, refurbished hotel called The Newt. This is a large and new garden that is the realised dream of a wealthy South African couple who had previously built the wonderful Babylonstoren complex near Cape Town which we visited a couple of years ago.
I described our first visit to The Newt gardens in this blog and won’t repeat my impressions here in any detail. Suffice to say that the garden is of very high quality design and execution and it continues to develop. It is therefore worth seeing, not only through the seasons, but also from year to year so that one can follow its evolution. The cost of entry has gone up to £20 each but that includes unlimited visits for a year. We will certainly try to go back this summer.
We visited the gardens with two very old friends who had come to stay with us for a couple of days. We were fortunate that the day we chose for the trip was one of only a handful of dry, sunny days we have had in February. We maximised the value of the weather by lunching at the bright, airy and excellent At The Chapel in Bruton and then visiting the nearby Somerset branch of Hauser & Wirth galleries and its Piet Oudolf garden.
We have visited Hauser & Wirth a few times and always find it interesting. On this occasion there were two exhibitions – both free. The first was of some work by a Swiss guy (memorably) named Not Vital. He is interested in architecture and the relationship between buildings and landscape and people. The shiny metal building shapes gave off interesting reflections – and co-incidentally mimicked the shape of the nearby dovecote on a hillside overlooking the gallery – but I didn’t really ‘get’ the rest of the work.
Much more absorbing was a range of work on display by an apparently famous photographer called Don McCullin. I wasn’t familiar with him but our friends – both of whom are keen photographers – were and so our visit had propitious timing for them. Certainly the range of subject matter in the photographs, which were all black and white, was broad: from local countryside to industrial wastelands, from peaceful riverside views in India to war-torn Syria and the bleak stillness of the Arctic. Many of the pictures really did draw the viewer in and even my untutored eye for photography could see they had gravitas.
As the sun started to set, we eventually found a path to the nearby ruined Bruton Dovecote that we had spotted from the restaurant earlier. Our stay at this viewpoint was truncated slightly by the imminent arrival of some other tourists. We had inadvertently misdirected them earlier as we struggled to find our way to the dovecote and we were too embarrassed to engage them again. In any case, the view was a nice way to round off a sunny day in the country.
Certainly sunny and dry days have been rare recently. Many in the UK far have been far less fortunate that us. We have been able to just observe the flooding and full rivers rather than finding ourselves caught up in the misery of having a flooded home. Indeed, the rain and resulting sodden ground has been a continuing, excellent excuse to postpone any attack on the overgrown and untended vegetable patch and allotment.
Rainwater Overwhelming Local Drains And Filling Streams
Instead of gardening, I have been hunkering down in my study writing up the results of the recent Village Meeting I helped to arrange to discuss how we make our village more resilient and responsive to the Climate Emergency. There were expected threads of thought around reducing energy demand through insulation and generating local energy. However, the main theme that arose was that we need to operate even more as a neighbourly community that shares (things, services and knowledge), especially where this leads to avoiding new purchases through borrowing, recycling/upcycling and reuse.
Unfortunately, two weeks after the meeting, we have suffered a blow to this community-strengthening aspiration in that the pub in the centre of the village has closed. This was not unexpected and is hopefully temporary.
I recently organised a social evening in the pub to try to encourage more local use of its facilities. I am getting increasingly involved in local activities of that sort. Once the Neighbourhood Plan is complete – and good progress has been made on that recently – I will have more time to engage with groups that might energise the pub and other community buildings we have such as the church and shop. LSW is pleased I am getting more involved in village life and I confess that I am enjoying it much more than I anticipated when I retired.