Naturalist's Diary for March

From the Times Telescope, an annual almanac, here is the entry for March, 1826, with a few quite optimistic pictures:

March, though the hours of promise with bright ray

May gild thy noons, yet, on wild pinion borne,
Loud winds more often rudely wake thy morn,
And harshly hymn they early-closing day.

            The cutting blasts of March, so trying to the invalid, are equally injurious to the progress of vegetation; and the ‘sweet flowers’ are compelled to await the smiles and tears of gentle April to encourage their growth, and to bring them to perfection. Some more bold than the rest, who dare to brave the warrior front of Boreas, often perish in his chilly embrace. The winds of March, however, are highly beneficial to drying up the superabundant moisture of the earth; and although they may retard the delights and beauties of Spring, these are rendered more valuable to us, because they are less fugacious.

            The russet-brown dress of the hedges is now spotted with green, preparatory to their assuming the complete vesture of Spring.—The leaves of the lilac begin to peep from beneath their winter clothing, and gooseberry and currant trees display their verdant foliage and pretty green blossoms. The yew-tree, ‘faithful in death,’ as it protects our tombs from the gaze of every passing stranger, when our more gaudy floral acquaintances have deserted us, opens its blossoms about the beginning of this month.

            The melody of birds now gradually swells upon the ear. The throstle, second only to the nightingale in song, charms us with the sweetness, and variety of its lays. The linnet and goldfinch join the general concert in this month, and the golden-crowned wren begins its song. The lark also, must not be forgotten.—While the birds delight us with their song, the bees read us a lesson of industry, for they are to be seen collecting materials for their elegant condiment of honey on every fine day throughout the year.

            Each succeeding week pours forth fresh beauties from the lap of Flora, and furnishes the botanist with new sources of delight. Golden tufts of crocuses, expending their corollas to receive the genial warmth of the sun, interspersed with pink and blue hepaticas, and the garden daisy, with its little tufts of crimson velvet, united with the blossoms of last month, greatly ornament our flower borders. The alpine wall-cress is still in bloom; the mezereon puts forth its leaves; and the primrose peeps from the retreating snows of winter: it forms a happy shade of distinction between the delicate snowdrop and the flaming crocus.

            Daffodils, yellow auriculas, coltsfoot, with its brilliant golden and sometimes pink or silvery stars, and hounds-tongue, are in blossom about the middle of the month. The American cowslip, with its beautiful rose-coloured blossoms, growing in thick branches in the form of a cone, flowers in March. The charming violet, whose attractions have been the theme of many a poetic effusion, makes her appearance this month, but not in full perfection, for the chill winds of March are not very congenial to the expansion of so delicate a blossom.

            If the weather be mild, the rich hyacinth, the noble descendant of the modest harebell—the sweet narcissus, delicately pale, and some of the early tulips, are now in bloom. The peach and the nectarine begin to show their elegant blossoms.

            Protected from inclemency of the weather by our green-houses, roses, hyacinths, heliotropes, and geraniums, are now in full blossom, regaling the senses with their varied hues and rich perfumes.

            In this month, black ants are observed; the black-bird and the turkey law; the house pigeons sit. The greenfinch sings; the bat is seen flitting about; and the viper uncoils itself from its winter sleep. The wheatear, or English ortolan (Sylvia oenanthe) again pays its annual visit, leaving England in September. Those birds which have passed the winter in England now take their departure for more northerly regions; as the fieldfare, the red-wing, and the wood-cock.

            On the 20th, the vernal equinox takes place, and all nature feels her renovating sway, and seems to rejoice at the retreat of winter.

            The general or great flow of sap in most trees takes place in this month; this is preparatory to the expanding of the leaves and ceases when they are out. The ash now puts forth its grey buds; and the hazel and willow exhibit some signs of returning life in their silky, enfolding catkins. The leaves of the thornless rose and of the hawthorn are gradually becoming determinate. The field daisy is now seen scattered over dry pastures. This pretty flower, the poet’s darling, from Chaucer to Wordsworth and Montgomery, has claimed for itself many an elegant tribute.

            The planting and sowing of Forest Trees is generally concluded in this month. The mixing of fir-trees with oaks (except in very sheltered situations) is now frequently adopted by the planter.

            In March, trouts begin to rise, and blood worms appear in the water. The clay hair worms is found at the bottom of the drains and ditches, and the water-flea may be seen gliding about upon the surface of sheltered pools. Bats now issue from their places of concealment. Peas appear above ground; the sea-kale (Crambe maritima) begins to sprout. The male blossoms of the yew-tree expand and discharge their farina. Sparrows are busily employed in forming their nests. Young otters are produced, and young lambs are yeaned this month.

            The equinoctial gales are usually most felt, both by sea and land, about this time.

            The brimstone-coloured butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) which lives throughout the winter, is usually seen in March. It is found in the neighbourhood woods, on fine and warm days, enjoying the beams of the noonday sun. Some of our most beautiful butterflies, belonging to the genus Vanessa, as V. atalanta, Io, Polylcholoros, and Urticae, are seen in this month; and the Antiopa, or Camberwell beauty, has once been captured at this season.

Victoria in England 2011

Penshurst Place, Kent

Yes, both Kristine and I confess we are unrepentant when it comes to spending our time and money on trips across the pond to England.  Many of you do the same.  We work hard to book ourselves into a variety of cities and London neighborhoods,  lots of museums and other historic attractions, gardens for wandering, evenings in the theatre or concert hall, and wonderful meals… and, believe it or not, time in libraries and archives.  My upcoming two weeks in England will be no different … castles, stately homes, gardens, museums, several different hotels…and archives at the University of Southampton and Hatfield House.
Upon our arrival in Dover, I hope we can visit Walmer Castle. We “did” Dover Castle a few years ago, and this time, I want to see the Duke of Wellington’s home when he was in residence as the Warden of the Cinque Ports, less than ten miles north along the Channel coast.

We have a stop planned at Penshurst Place, in which many centuries of British History are enveloped…as well as a great slice of architectural history. And stunning gardens, which I hope will be in full bloom in early June.

While we are in London, we want to re-visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, this year to see the Cult of Beauty exhibition, which comes highly recommended by Jo Manning and many others.
Last year, at the V and A, I enjoyed the Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill exhibition, in which many of his treasures were reassembled and shown while the house itself was undergoing a thorough renovation.  This year, I intend to see the finished house, just a short train ride from London in Twickenham.

Next I head to Southampton to visit the Archives in Hartley Library at the University of Southampton.

And while I am in town, I will make time to see the sights, though I understand that the house in which Jane Austen once resided is long gone.  Parts of the city walls, however, still stand, and the famous port should be interesting to see. 

After a short stay in London again, I will go to Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, to study diaries in their Archive. Hatfield has an amazing history and renowned gardens. I wrote about a previous visit to Hatfield on this blog, August 13 2010.

My final stop will be in Windsor, where I will visit the brand new Museum of Windsor and, if the stars are in perfect alignment, visit with our friend Hester Davenport, author of biographies of Mary Robinson and Fanny Burney, and an expert on Windsor history, among other achievements.

Then it will be time to fly home. And start planning the next trip (anticipation is more than half the fun). I will report more fully after I return, and perhaps, along the way.

In The Garden at Eyford House

On Sunday, May 22nd, Eyford House in Upper Slaughter, Glouscestershire will play host to a giant plant sale featuring 25,000 plants on sale, local produce, a country-shopping village, sculpture garden, Light Cavalry Military Band and three garden experts – Val Bourne, Mary Keane and Roddy Llewellyn – will be on hand to answer gardening questions and offer advice. The event will benefit the ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and the Countryside Alliance at Eyford.
The property, a classical Cotswolds home in idyllic grounds is where legend has it, poet John Milton was inspired to write Paradise Lost and takes the crown as England’s Favourite House, according to Country Life magazine.
Charlotte Heber Percy, whose family lives at Eyford House, commented: “We are so lucky to live in this heavenly setting and love to share it with the public. The plant sale is something we are all passionate about: everyone on the committee supports country sports and the rural way of life, and we also support our brave armed forces, so this plant sale is the ideal way for us to boost both causes while providing a fun day out.”

Novelist Jilly Cooper will officially open the plant sale with a ribbon cutting and eight local hunts ( the Cotswold, North Cotswold, Heythrop, Old Berks, Beaufort, Warwickshire, Berkeley and VWH hunts) have joined together to tend 25,000 plants to sell on the day. The event will make the most of what Country Life magazine has called the “pastoral idyll” of Eyford’s parklands. The plant sale will include a shopping village with a range of gardeners’ accessories as well as outdoor clothing and gifts for the countryside enthusiast and there will be live chickens and ducks.
Jilly Cooper, who lives locally, will be signing the paperback edition of her latest blockbuster, Jump! Another local author, Duff Hart-Davis, the distinguished biographer, naturalist and journalist, will be signing copies of his latest two books, Among the Deer: In the Woods and On the Hill: A Stalker Looks Back and The War That Never Was: The True Story of the Men who Fought Britain’s Most Secret Battle.
Mrs Prest (Mrs. Heber Percy’s daughter), who lives at Eyford with husband Rupert and three children, said: “I am absolutely thrilled. “I always adored the house and I loved to come and stay here with my grandmother when I was a child. Each day, I pinch myself at how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful, peaceful house.”


In the Garden With Kristine

Yesterday, I had just come in from a few sweaty hours out in the garden to find a new post on Margaret Evans Porter’s blog, Periodic Pearls, showing her latest snowfall photos – just after she’d done some spring planting. Here in Southwest Florida (otherwise known as “the Sauna”) it’s already reaching 90 during the day. My garden is glorious and blooming and I thought I’d share some of my own snaps with you. I do not do this to boast, but rather to showcase the garden before everything that blooms and flowers withers away in the Zone 10 heat. Honestly, it’s enough to make Lawrence of Arabia faint.

Yes, that’s English lavender, doing quite well . . . . so far. Mexican petunia’s grow against the fence. All of the rocks you see were unearthed by moi whilst planting. There’s no real soil here, just lots of sandy dirt and many, many rocks. Sigh.

The Impatiens began as potted plants and now propagate themselves willy-nilly throughout my garden, back and front. I am not complaining.

Succulents, needless to say, do well in our climate
When I first began the garden, I’d bring home pots of lovely plants that would have suited an English garden, only to have them burned to a crisp. This year, I’ve admitted defeat and have given over the garden to tropical flowers.
These Daisy’s began as weeds. I finally stopped fighting them
 and now the bees have a new home.
Pentas + sun + poor soil = success
The Plumbago is in bloom
Even the roses are doing well
These are old English Heirloom Roses that I received through the post three years ago. Until this year, it looked like a rather sickly, snakey single shoot. Now, however, it’s gone crazy and is climbing the fence, blooming and throwing out many thick shoots at its base. I can’t tell you the exact name of the rose, as I threw the tag out in disgust last year. Patience is not one of my virtues.

A kind friend gave me two Frangipani’s two years ago. He cut branches from his trees and told me to just stick them in the ground and they’d grow. One is yellow, the other pink. The pink, above, has never flowered, but it’s gotten taller and has leaves. For a long time, both looked like nothing more than naked stalks stuck in the ground. My husband and son called them my “phallic symbols.” However, she who laughs last laughs best – the yellow Frangipani has not only gotten taller, it’s flowering.

Their fragrance is delicious – ripe nectarines.

Happy Easter!

The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot 'Capability' Brown 1716-1783 by Jane Brown

Victoria, here. UK magzines, newspapers and blogs have covered the recent publication of a new biography of Lancelot Brown by renowned garden historian and biographer Jane Brown.  John Phibbs in his Country Life review assures us that they are not related. But they certainly could be, for they share a remarkable knowledge of gardens and gardening.  Ms. Brown will be making an appearance at Hay-on-Wye, among other festivals and meetings.  Alas, I will not be able to see her in person.  But I intend to send for the book, which can be ordered in $$ through or direct in pounds from many booksellers.

I looked in vain for an author’s website. Judging from the number of books she has written, I assume she has little time for websites, blogs or social media.  Can’t say I blame her.  One can spend (waste?) hours on Facebook, though I must say I enjoy (almost) every moment I spend writing blog posts.  Below, since I haven’t read it yet, the description of the book from the publisher:

Capability Brown, by Nathaniel Dance
ca.1769   National Portrait Gallery

“Lancelot Brown changed the face of eighteenth-century England, designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and making flowing lakes and serpentine rivers, a magical world of green. This English landscape style spread across Europe and the world. At home, it proved so pleasing that Brown’s influence spread into the lowland landscape at large, and into landscape painting. He stands behind our vision, and fantasy, of rural England.

In this vivid, lively biography, based on detailed research, Jane Brown paints an unforgettable picture of the man, his work, his happy domestic life, and his crowded world. She follows the life of the jovial yet elusive Mr Brown, from his childhood and apprenticeship in rural Northumberland, through his formative years at Stowe, the most famous garden of the day. His innovative ideas, and his affable and generous nature, led to a meteoric rise to a Royal Appointment in 1764 and his clients and friends ranged from statesmen like the elder Pitt to artists and actors like David Garrick. Riding constantly across England, Brown never ceased working until he collapsed and died in February 1783 after visiting one of his oldest clients. He was a practical man but also a visionary, always willing to try something new. As this delightful, and beautifully illustrated biography shows, Brown filled England with enchantment – follies, cascades, lakes, bridges, ornaments, monuments, meadows and woods – creating views that still delight us today.”

I have visited many of the country houses for which Brown created landscapes and though I love to look at them, I always feel my photographs are inadequate to show the sweep and grandeur of the landscape.  It always looks so natural.  Which is, of course, the point.  As some of his contemporaries observed, Brown improved on what God had left a little undone. Though he came from a modest background, Brown advised kings and princes and dukes on how to arrange their estates. And in large part, his vision has remained intact at some of the UK’s most visited gardens, such as Stourhead, Blenheim and Stowe.

Ms. Brown has also written about some gardens we may see only very rarely. From its origins as a mulberry garden in the time of Samuel Pepys, this volume tells the illustrated story of the largest private garden in London, which, from time to time, is open to selected audiences and even concert-attendees.  Hundreds of photos are included of the garden at all times of the year, by photographer Christopher Simon Sykes.

In The Pursuit of Paradise Gardening, published in 2000, Ms. Brown takes the broadest possible approach. ‘The most enchanting, erudite and thought-provoking book on the subject to be published for many years’ wrote Amanda Craig, in  the Independent on Sunday when it first came out.  Ruth Gorb, in the Guardian, wrote ‘Be warned. This is a rich brew, not to be taken in one gulp. Gardening in this book encompasses science and history, philosophy and art, literature and the military, politics and sex… it is all tremendous fun.’

Jane Brown  writes about contemporary gardens too. This 2001 volume has been widely praised.
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Tales of the Rose Tree: Ravishing Rhododendrons And Their Travels Around the World, out in 2009, tells the story of how cultivation of these magnificent plants, which have more than a thousand variations, have spread around the globe.  Anyone who has had the privilege of walking through a garden filled with rhododenrons in full bloom will be eager to find out more about this adaptable favorite.

Above is one of snaps I took at Bowood in Wiltshire of their extensive rhodenron gardens in May 2009. It was a perfect fairyland and we wandered for hours.

Finally, before I run out of enthusiastic adjectives to describe the wonderful books of Jane Brown, I will mention her biographies of Vita Sackville-West as a gardener and her enchanting garden at Sissinghurst.  I can see I have a lot of reading to do…and pictures to enjoy.  Jane Brown’s booklist is longer than I have presented, but I will leave further discoveries to your personal search for now.