Alan Power sets off on a motorbike tour of historic Gardens

With his trusty 1958 Norton motorcycle and a passion for historic gardens, Stourhead’s head gardener is setting off for a three month tour of some of the best gardens of England, Ireland and Wales.

Alan Power, Head Gardener at Stourhead, Wiltshire.

Alan Power, Head Gardener at Stourhead, Wiltshire.

Well known for his expertise and love of the landscape garden which makes Stourhead world famous, Alan is keen to see and learn more about some of the other great gardens and has taken time off from his beloved Stourhead to fulfil his ambition. Also a motorbike enthusiast, he is using his classic Norton racing bike for the trip – as well as his more modern BMW S1000R. The aim of the trip is to see – and learn from – some of the many great historic gardens in the British Isles, and bring back ideas for the National Trust’s garden at Stourhead. Alan commented:

“There are so many wonderful places out there, and marvellous people looking after them,”

 

“I never have time to explore other gardens in the way that I would like to, just to see what they are and enjoy discovering something. Often we go to places with an agenda but this time I am planning to just arrive, have a good coffee in the restaurant and a wander round and discover things.

 

“I still love the reaction that I get when I walk into Stourhead so it would be good to see what reactions can be found in other historic gardens, learn how they came into being and see if there are any tips and lessons I can pick up to bring back to Stourhead.”

 Alan doesn’t intend to be alone on his trip. He is hoping to be followed by some of the many fans of Stourhead by recording his travels on twitter on @alanstourhead and also on the National Trust Stourhead Facebook page. He hopes to post photos and even some short videos of his adventure. He will also spend a little time filming a garden series for the BBC.

As well as picking up some gardening tips, followers will also be able to share his love of motorbikes. A trip to the National Trust’s Stowe landscape garden may just include a diversion to nearby Silverstone with a chance to take a track bike around Stowe corner.

Pride of place. Alan's 1958 Norton and BMW S1000R

Pride of place. Alan’s 1958 Norton and BMW S1000R

In Pursuit of Spring- part three

100 years ago on Easter Day the poet Edward Thomas cycled through the Quantock hills in west Somerset on the last stage of his journey In Pursuit of Spring. The weather was almost spring-like, in sharp contrast to the preceding days of his ride from London. He visited Coleridge Cottage, only he did not find the great poet and metaphysician there. Instead, he encountered the spirit of Coleridge in the lanes around Nether Stowey and on Kilve Beach, a place where Coleridge, William & Dorothy Wordsworth, Charles & Mary Lamb and latterly Shelley had all wandered and mused. Thomas too mused on Kilve Beach, which magnetically attracts poets (Virginia Woolf visited, on her honeymoon, and many living poets).

Then, Thomas ascended to Cothelstone Hill, one of the highest points of the Quantocks, where he found (or perhaps did) something rather odd: ‘By the side of the road were the first bluebells and cowslips. They were not growing there, but some child had gathered them below at Stowey or Durleigh, and then, getting tired of them, had dropped them. They were beginning to wilt, but they lay upon the grave of Winter. I was quite sure of that. Winter may rise up through mould alive with violets and primroses and daffodils, but when cowslips and bluebells have grown over his grave he cannot rise again: he is dead and rotten, and from his ashes the blossoms are springing.’

Had ‘some child’ really carried bluebells and cowslips all the way up there that day – presumably from a garden, for spring was running late, Easter had come early and cowslips and bluebells would not have been out in the Quantocks? Surely only a poet would do such a thing, and a fine one at that? Three Easters later, Edward Thomas was to lose his life on the Western Front. He lives on though, through his words – which touch chords deep within us.

In the final, emotive episode of In Pursuit of Spring Matthew Oates meets with Coleridge scholar Justin Shepherd at Coleridge Cottage and on Kilve Beach to discuss the significance of Nature poets like Coleridge and Thomas today, and to ask whether their voices continue into Now, through the poetic line.

Kilve Beach

Kilve Beach

The final readings, from the book’s concluding chapter (entitled The Grave of Winter), are by Robert Macfarlane.

  • Matthew Oates is a naturalist and follower of the poetic approach to Nature. He has worked for the National Trust for over 20 years, but poetry is steadily taking him over.
  • In Pursuit of Spring, a tribute to Edward Thomas (1878-1917). Radio 4. East Sunday. 2.45pm. Thereafter on iPlayer (3 episodes).

In Pursuit of Spring- part two

A hundred years this Easter, when Easter also arrived early, the poet Edward Thomas embarked upon a journey, by bicycle and foot, from his parent’s house in south London to the Quantock hills in west Somerset, the scene of the remarkable Romantic partnership between Coleridge, whom he particularly admired, and Wordsworth. A year later his account of the journey was published under the title In Pursuit of Spring, as the maelstrom of the Great War was brewing.

In Pursuit of Spring can be viewed as being the jumping off point for Thomas’s greatly admired poetry, for much of the book’s prose is on the very brink of poetry, though the developing poetic trance is frequently broken by moments of laconic humour and sojourns into human trivia. One passage late in the opening chapter transmogrifies easily into –

Meekly, by night, the north-east wind

Gives up its power to the south. Sweet

Soft days follow, when the earth,

An invalid certain of recovery, delicate

With smiles, languors and fatigues,

Discloses violets to children,

And some lovers.

It is St David’s Day.

Copses, roadside hedges, brooksides,

Possessed by myriad primroses

In thick, long-stemmed clusters,

Their green, just flower-like,

Their scent, suited to the invalid,

Strengthens the earth.

The start of the next paragraph outs him: ‘Then for most of the day it rained, and what was done under cover of that deliberate irresistible rain, only a poet can tell.’ He knew what poets can tell, but had yet to find his poetic Muse, or at least his confidence as a poet. His real journey In Pursuit of Spring is towards his poetic Muse.

Thomas’s pilgrimage took him through the Surrey hills into Hampshire, past Winchester and Salisbury, and up over Salisbury Plain, where he was serenaded by an ethereal of skylarks. On descending from the Plain he stayed with friends at the delightfully named Dillybrook Farm, which then must have epitomised the Edwardian rural idyll he loved so dearly.

Dillybrook Farm, Wilts

Dillybrook Farm, Wilts

This Easter you are invited to share Thomas’s In Pursuit of Spring journey on Radio 4, presented by the National Trust’s Matthew Oates, a keen follower of Thomas’s approach to the natural world. Saturday 3.30pm, the concluding programme on Easter Sunday at 2.45pm.

In Pursuit of Spring

Matthew Oates Presenter

I first perused In Pursuit of Spring in my penultimate year at school, naively attracted by the title. I had found a copy in the school library, but I could relate only to the paragraphs based around my native Somerset, including the final chapter The Grave of Winter. I knew Thomas as a minor First World War poet, in the shadow of Owen and Sassoon, but was hugely impressed by his rural descriptions and by his profound love and knowledge of nature. It took me years to discover him properly as a poet, even though I lived within his East Hampshire heartland for 20 years. His is my favourite poetry – and here I am certainly not alone, for it seems that his poetry is growing in popularity almost monthly.

But I fear that his rural prose is underrated and in danger of becoming neglected. The South Country (1909), In Pursuit of Spring (1914) and its precursor The Icknield Way (1913) are classics in English rural prose, every bit as memorable as Adlestrop and As the Team’s Head-brass, his two best known poems. Thomas’s rural writings could follow those of his mentor Richard Jefferies and friend WH Hudson into relative obscurity. That would greatly devalue British natural history – by severing it from its roots.

The Radio 4 series came about when two streams of consciousness converged. I submitted a tentative proposal to R4 to celebrate the book’s centenary, only to find – joyously – that my friend Andrew Dawes of the BBC Natural History Unit (radio) was thinking along similar lines. Of course, the BBC is gearing itself up for the centenary of the First World War anyway.

Originally, I aspired towards following Thomas’s route, on cycle, but today’s traffic – and Thomas detested the traffic levels of 1913 – would erode any vestige of poetic experience from that. It would be purely a physical, mechanical pilgrimage. No, a faithful re-enactment would not work. At one point, live transmissions were considered, involving a network of radio stations, but that was rather over-ambitious and would have proved too costly.

In the event we found Thomas such a rich seam, with so many dedicated and scholarly admirers, that we ended up recording rather more than we originally intended. Much had, of necessity, to be left out, including The Other Man (Thomas’s alter ego which makes a series of curious interjections in the book) and the remarkable responses I received from asking contributors what they felt poets are actually for.

In Pursuit of Spring, a tribute to Edward Thomas, is presented by Matthew Oates and produced by Andrew Dawes. Readings are by Robert Macfarlane, with contributions from Richard Emeny and Colin Thornton of The Edward Thomas Fellowship, Sophie Lake of Values In Nature & Environment (VINE), Justin Shepherd of The Friends of Coleridge, Rebecca Welshman of The Richard Jefferies Society and Lucy and Sophie Milner, Edward’s great and great-great grand daughters.

 In Pursuit of Spring programme 1 Good Friday 3.30pm BBC Radio 4

 

Dancing on the Edge: behind the scenes

Eagled-eyed viewers and National Trust fans may notice one or two locations in Poliakoff’s period drama Dancing on the Edge, which starts tonight at 9pm on BBC2.

Set in London in the early 1930s, the drama follows an ambitious, young working-class journalist (Matthew Goode) on the Musical Express, who discovers and promotes black jazz musicians, led by the pianist Louis Lester, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Dancing on the Edge

Wunmi Mosaku as Clara, Angel Coulby as Jessie and Chiwetel Ejiofor is Louis Lester with the Louise Lester band in Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge © Ruby Film & Television

Although many recoil at the performance of black musicians in polite society, the band soon attracts some famous fans from within the city’s more progressive socialites, including members of the Royal Household.

For the band’s first performance in front of royalty the National Trust provided the perfect backdrop, as director Stephen Poliakoff explains…

“I was able to stage one of the first concerts under the trees of Fenton House. It was a musical lunch party held in honour of Prince George, fourth son of King George V.”

Dancing on the Edge

Chiwetel Ejiofor and the band at Fenton House © Ruby Film & Television

“Prince George and his older brother the Prince of Wales were avid jazz fans and they both make appearances in the new drama.”

“One of best moments of the shoot for me was standing in the garden of Fenton House and being able to turn 360 degrees and not see a single modern building as a marvellous period townscape surrounds the garden walls.”

Dancing on the Edge

Janet Montgomery as Sarah, Tom Hughes as Julian and Joanna Vanderham Pamela © Ruby Film & Television

Visitors will be able to experience the magical gardens at Fenton House themselves from the 2nd of March when the house, which is situated in the winding streets of Hampstead, opens to the public.

Next-up for Louis Lester’s band was Upton House, near Banbury in Worcestershire.

Upton House, Warwickshire

Upton House, once home to a 1930s millionaire

With sparkling art-deco interiors this millionaire’s home captures glamour and wealth that existed side by side with extreme poverty during the depression in Britain in the thirties.

Poliakoff describes Upton’s appeal,

“In my story it acted as the perfect backdrop as the townhouse of an aristocratic family whose son and daughter become avid followers of the jazz band.”

The Long Gallery at Upton House

The Long Gallery at Upton House where vistors can soak up the 1930s atmosphere and even play the piano

“Its large reception rooms, kitchens and upstairs bedrooms enabled me to evoke the fabulous lifestyle enjoyed by some of the British aristocracy in the early 1930s.”

Fans of the glitz and glamour of the thirties can enjoy events throughout the year at Upton House, including a special mother’s day event (9-10 March) which reveals 1930s fashion, make-up, hair and beauty techniques.

Read Poliakoff’s interview with the National Trust in this month’s magazine (page 11) and discover more about filming at Trust places here.