July is a month made for gardens. For visiting open gardens with a notebook and borrowing their ideas, or peering over fences into neighbours gardens to compare competitive favourites, or allowing yourself a moment of imagining you are Lady of the Manor and all the manicured grounds stretched forth before the stately home who's windows you gaze curiously from, are yours to explore. For delighting in blowsy roses, heavenly scented sweet-peas and the wildflowers that crept in in the spring now rushing onto seed. For eating lunch in the garden with friends, or for tiptoeing on the damp grass in bare feet in your pyjamas with a cup if tea in the quiet hour before breakfast, or drinking deeply the ephemeral scent of fresh rain on sun-hot ground as thunder rolls across the evening sky. In the month of July, gardens are most definitely the place to be.
So, naturally, this weekend I spent a day wandering happily from garden to garden, house to house, at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum which is local to me in the village of Singleton, north of Chichester in West Sussex. Nestled in the South Downs, the museum today was bathed in sunshine and awash with colour. It was the museum's annual Historic Gardens Weekend, organised to entertain and inform visitors on the historic uses of plants and gardens, and celebrate their importance in our culture and heritage. This meant the gardens had been prepared to their peak, and with gates propped open and visitors welcomed, there was plenty of opportunities to immerse oneself in shape, form, colour and texture, and revel in pretty combinations, swathes of bloom and the odd unexpected appearances.
Feverfew beamed through the fennel fronds, blowsy poppies attracted drowsy bees, dainty baby-blue eyes of flax flowers swayed in the breeze. On the fruit trees, pears and apples are swelling, their mat skins shaded bronze, tucked between the dusty leaves. The apothacary's rose was rich with delicate scent, before asked to shed its deep pink petals for scented lotions and potions. The ruby-red stems and veins of beet and chard contrasted strongly with the vigorous green in the vegetable patches, with the bulbous flowers of onions towering high above, vieing for ultimate height with the climbing frames erected for the beans and hops. Bryony clambered over stone steps. Papery-skinned garlic was laid out to dry in the sun.
Meadow brown butterflies flickered through tall grasses beside the paths, seeking the cheerful-faced blooms of the oxeye daisy that thrust up from a sea of pink clover, yellow trefoil and violet vetch. The bright orange comma butterfly stretched its jaggedy-edged wings, that seem torn like last year's brown leaves, on grooved and lichen encrusted fence posts. Hens chased windblown scraps of straw, strictly supervised by a proud cockerel, who kept a wary eye on a green eyed cat snoozing on the top of the log pile. Swallows dived up and under the rafters of the open barns and suddenly appeared again dropping low and swooping away, out over the open fields in search of invisible flies inches above the hay. The blacksmith's fire glowed hot, sparks flying, animated in the dark.
In the houses, behind flint, wattle and daub, beamed or whitewashed walls, candles and firelight flickered and reflected in narrow, low, lead-light windows. Artefacts and demonstrations offered a snapshot of knowledge and lives long passed. Each cool interior offered another view through window or open door, back outside onto an ordered yet chaotic, colourful yet peaceful, always productive and seductive garden. Beyond the hedges where wild roses scrambled and blackberries were beginning to form, was a background of shaded verdant woodland, and the ever comforting presence of patchwork downs, slumbering under a faded, moth-eaten sky.
Following the 'July gardens' theme, next weekend is the date of this year's Garden Weekend Event at Parham House and Gardens. (www.parhaminsussex.co.uk)
I hope to be visiting on the Sunday and look forward to sharing this delightful piece of heaven-in-Sussex (which I first discovered through the same event last year), with you via the blog next week. For last year's blog post, please follow this link: http://sophiecosussex.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/paradise-at-parham-proud-pioneering.html