Summer in England 2010 – one of my best summers ever. The weather has been perfect and we have walked miles and miles through the Cotswolds. In the last few weeks we have had some overcast days, some drizzle and now there are hints of fall in the air. Today was warm and sunny and felt like June, but rain is heading our way tomorrow. Wendy and Richard were visiting for the weekend and as they left, we got them to drop us off in Selsley (they wanted to visit the church again) and we did a long walk up Selsley Commons, through Dingle woods and then along village lanes back home. A lovely lazy Sunday afternoon walk. But what I want to write about are two different days out we had last week.
Tea in a Garden Along the River Severn
Last Sunday we did a late afternoon walk along the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal from Frampton On Severn. This area, called the “Vale of Severn”, is a flat area that extends from the edge of the Cotswold Hills to the River Severn. It is about 15 minutes by car from our house. Frampton On Severn is a charming village with the longest village green in England. They were playing Cricket on the green the day we were there.
We parked the car and walked to the canal. The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal is different from others we have been on. It is short, running from where the River Severn starts to get shallow and into downtown Gloucester, and was made for larger boats – 16 miles long, 16 feet deep and has 16 bridges. It is like walking beside a wide river instead of a narrow canal.
As we started on the canal path we saw a sign saying “Tea Garden 2 – 6pm”. We saw more signs as we walked and then a sign pointing to a wooden door in a garden wall. Interesting. We continued our walk along the canal and decided to stop on the way back. We pushed open the wooden door, walked on a path by a shed and came out into a large garden with a tables set up for tea.
Some tables were in a clearing under a few large trees. Others were scattered in private corners around the garden. Most of the tables were occupied. We found an empty table in a corner behind a fruit tree and sat down. These were not boring plastic outdoor tables and chairs, but an eclectic mix of wooden tables, covered by table cloths, and mismatched chairs.
The menu was made of two blocks of wood with paper glued to them and a wildflower pressed between them. And what was on the menu? Cream Tea £4.50. And a note about not letting children visit the pond on their own.
A young woman brought out a big tray of tea to a nearby table, then came to get our order. Two cream teas. A few minutes later she was back with our tray. Pot of tea, pot of hot water, jug of milk, plates of scones, bowls of strawberry jam and clotted cream. Nothing matched. The tea pot was brownish and modern, one cup was white and wide, the other was a typical “old lady” style with a pattern on it.
I loved every thing about this “tea room”.
I don’t have the words to express how delightful this experience was for me. It was an idyllic summer afternoon on a warm sunny day, in a rambling garden, sitting peacefully and enjoying a good cup of tea with scones. We sat and talked and watched the other people who were obviously as happy as we were.
See more photos on Cotswolder – Afternoon Tea at Saul Lodge.
Highgrove Garden and Tea
In April Wendy got tickets for all of us to tour Highgrove Garden. Tickets are hard to get and last Friday was the earliest date available. Highgrove is the country home of TRH (Their Royal Highnesses) The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, or Charles and Camilla as we call them.
No photos for this section. Passports and tickets were presented to the guard at the gate. Cameras and cell phones (mobiles) had to be left in the car.
It was overcast and gray when we arrived for the 1:25pm tour. We were in a group of about 25 people. The tour lasted two hours. We started by watching a short video of Charles welcoming us to his garden. Then we set out. The tours are run by enthusiastic volunteers. There was no formal garden when Prince Charles bought Highgrove almost 30 years ago; he personally designed these gardens. He has a team of gardeners but also works in the garden himself. No chemicals are used – everything is done with organic methods.
I am no garden expert, but we have visited several in England, and Highgrove Gardens is the best I have seen. Everything is beautiful, but it is not overdone. It looks and feels cared for but it is also casual. This is a garden where you want to put down a blanket and spend the afternoon.
The open meadows had recently been cut. If we had been there earlier we would have walked on paths through high grass and wildflowers. They mow the meadows in mid-July, around Saint Swithun’s day. In the spring these meadows are full of blooming bulbs.
There are areas with trees, open meadows, walled gardens, beautiful small buildings tucked into corners, ponds surrounded by ferns, a kitchen garden – it is like walking into different rooms in a house, but better because you are outside and the flooring is grass, moss and dirt.
One part of the garden has over 700 stumps used as wind breaks and walls. Charles got them from an estate that had many trees knocked over in the great storm of 1987. Plants grow in the stumps. Wendy told me that this is a modern take on a Victorian garden tradition. It made the garden seem wilder and more interesting.
The kitchen garden has espalier fruit trees growing along the walls and over iron forms making walkways in the garden. You walk into the covered path and large apples are hanging down from the top. I have never seen trees this large bent to grow along a form.
We got to walk through the gardens beside the residence see the views that they have from their windows. The tours are held when no one is in residence, so you do not feel like you are invading someone’s privacy. The tour guide tells you about the plantings, the history of the garden and some personal stories about why things were planted. They also give you time to wander around some sections on your own.
The sun did not come out during our tour and it even poured rain for a few minutes, but nothing took away from the beauty of this place. At the end of the tour we had tea in the Orchard Room and even the tea was excellent. We lined up and ordered “tea for two” and picked out cake, then carried our trays into a big beautiful room full of tables where everything matched.
They have a Highgrove shop with things for the home and garden – expensive, but beautiful things. I purchased two kitchen towels (made in France) and two egg cups – reminders of a perfect garden tour. I hope to do this garden tour again next year.
Two very different gardens and afternoon teas, two very different days weather-wise, but both were powerful experiences of beautiful and welcoming places.
Cotswolder – Highgrove House and the Duchy Home Farm – More information including buying local organic vegetables from the Veg Shed near Tetbury.
The Times, Tour Prince Charles’s Highgrove gardens, March 2009.
Telegraph, Highgrove, the Cedar House Rules, March 2008.