Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wecome to Dallas - a rant!

I finally arrived in Palm Springs at about 11pm a few days ago,  having been awake and traveling for over 24 hours! Transatlantic flight, courtesy of our own British Airways was OK but it all went pear-shaped at Dallas.  I had two hours which at any reasonably managed airport would be fine for immigration and transfer to domestic flight! Sadly I hadn't heard that Dallas Forth Worth is high on the list of America's worst airports! Do you hear a rant developing?

At immigration I was directed to the automated check-in – scanned my passport and shiny new Green Card and got a little printout – a self satisfied smile crossed my face until I noticed the black cross. Rejected! I was then directed to a huge line for the manual immigration with only two desks open. It moved at snail’s pace. I spoke to a lady attendant, who said they were getting more staff and sharply told me to 'get back in line’! Time was passing but we weren’t moving. Other passengers generously let me move forward in line until there were several of us onward travelers, all  getting jittery together. The lady attendant then took some from the line behind us and moved to a newly opened station. Several of us made a break for it, to join this new line but were sent back like naughty children! So much for the Immigration’s claim to treat us with courtesy! Finally I reached the front of the line, apologised to the Officer that I was jumpy as I was afraid of missing my connection and was blankly told that he didn’t care if I missed it – thanks very much!

After tedious cross-questioning, I moved on finally to Custom’s – another long line and had to show all the documents again! Time rapidly dwindling. Again asked to fast track but told no – ‘the plane knows you are here’! What? Next stop – baggage claim followed by re-checking bag for next flight. Then of course it's Security again – another huge line – again refused any line jumping by staff. Remove everything, trying to be patient and not get stressed – clock ticking fast (and my heartbeat)!

Finally thor' – just a few minutes to get to the gate but of course it’s a huge airport and I need to get the skytrain! Now running at every opportunity - thankfully fit! I finally get to gate D33 to find it closed and deserted -  the flight has left! Fuming!

Directed by a grey haired little lady with a collection of badges on her uniform  to the American Airlines rechecking desk. The female clerk is dealing with an elderly couple, no doubt also delayed by the incessant lines! She looks up and announces that she’s going off duty so tough luck – not her actual words but you get the idea! By now my stress levels were off the scale and I was dangerously near to losing my temper with anyone in sight!

Next stop another AA desk (American Airlines not Alcoholics Anonymous although by then I was seriously in need of a stiff drink!) Finally someone helpful - a charming lady called Katrina, who immediately took control of my problems, methodically worked through the options and re-booked me at no cost, first to San Francisco and then on to Palm Springs. The first and only polite and helpful person at Dallas airport!

Not much time to spare but I managed to find the new gate and buy a sandwich before settling into the far rear row of the flight to San Fran – yes the row next to the toilets! And of course last row to be served with an all essential glass of wine! This lowly location also means last row to leave the plane when we landed at San Francisco. Landed at 8.45 – boarding time for next flight – 8.45!!!!! but flight didn’t leave till 9.30 so 45 minutes – should be OK. Or was it?

Off the plane – where is next gate – oh yes – in another terminal – you guessed it – get another skytrain.  Hop on the Blue train  - 'bugger' – going the wrong way – off again – on the red train.  Another Security check – strip off and unpack again – starting to panic once more. Then I’m paged as I wait to be scanned – jump a few places and straight thro body scanner. Reach in to grab my belongings from the scan machine. Throw everything into bag in blind panic and run! Just made it as they were closing the gate – last passenger on, heart beating like a racehorse.  This time front row just behind the curtain to First! Spent half the flight wondering if I left a trail of dropped possessions and trying to reduce my blood pressure!

An hour later, I finally arrived at Palm Springs to the welcoming arms of my partner Philip. Now where was my checked case that went off with the original flight from Dallas. A bit of a wait but it was safely located and retrieved from a locked store – relief! Finally a bit of luck and after a nightmare journey - home! Remind me NEVER EVER to fly thro' Dallas again! Oh - Philip has just told me our route to Florida next month.........

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cream cakes and Colchicums

The sun's been out for a late airing this last week, so I felt the need to go in search of coffee and cakes - no seriously I went for an autumn visit to Felley Priory but was lured into the tea rooms by chronic exhaustion! My three long-term readers will recall that I have spoken about Felley before as this is where Plant Heritage (NCCPG) hold their spring and autumn plant sales. The original priory was established in the 12C but largely destroyed in the Dissolution in 1553. The current house was built in the 16C and 17C. Records show the garden was terraced in the late 19C, when the pond was probably constructed. The garden as we see it now was largely created from 1973 by the late Mrs Chaworth-Musters. Great credit must however go to Michele the Head Gardener and her team who maintain the gardens superbly.

Clerodendron bungei - nice flowers - smelly foliage!
This is a garden for plant lovers with many unusual plants, grown in a lovely setting. The bulk of the garden lies to the rear of the house with stunning views out across the surrounding farmland. Superbly maintained topiary gives a strong structure to the garden over which there is an overlay of softer planting. I had hoped that the herbaceous borders would have provided some late colour and inspiration for painting but the display was really over. In general there are some lovely plant combinations but I did find the clumps of orange Crocosmia in borders which were otherwise soft pinks, blues and lavenders, rather jarring!

Schizostylis coccinea ( possibly 'Major')
Kirengeshoma palmata
Zauschneria californica (or is it an Epilobium these days?)
Schizostylis coccinea alba

I always find something interesting in the small arboretum. This time I noticed Heptacodium, a close relative of honeysuckle which bears rather uninteresting white flowers, which delight passers-by with a lovely sweet scent.  Sorbus sargentiana was laden with huge bunches of red fruits.  I was surprised to find a Robinia in full flower - Robinia x ambigua - a new one to me! Hillier describes it as June flowering, so not sure why it was misbehaving. I was also attracted to the colourful fruits of Euonymus x planipes, described as a large shrub and also promising good autumn colour. Some dark glossy green leaves of a hellebore caught my eye in this area - this apparently is 'Winter Sunshine' and will have pink buds that open to white flowers, in winter of course!

Heptacodium miconioides
Sorbus sargentiana
Robinia x ambigua

Euonymus x planipes

Helleborus 'Winter Sun'
The area around the lake is lovely having the sweeping views across the fields but if you keep your eyes within the garden, there is lots to see. Here as in other areas of the garden there are large clumps of sugar pink autumn crocus growing in the grass. I loved the autumn tints and colourful fruits on many of the tree peonies.  The big clumps of Eucomis, the pineapple lily, growing right by the water's edge always amaze me. I wouldn't have though of this as the right location for a South African bulb but these seem to love it and were flowering superbly. 

Colchicum autumnale

This and the next slide a tree peony of some sort

Autumn colour from a Viburnum with pickerel weed, Pontaderia cordata growing in shallow water

Eucomis - probably 'Sparkling Burgundy' - foliage is darker in early summer

Eucomis comosa
Having circumnavigated the garden, my route brought me back to the entrance, so I made a brief trip round the nursery and resisted temptation! But my strong resolve and thriftiness didn't last, as I drifted into the tea rooms and indulged in carrot cake and coffee! All very healthy - well carrots are vegetables!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Giverny - the village

After visiting Monet's garden we were in need of sustenance, so wandered off into the village of Giverny. I was looking for a charming traditional French inn, the Hotel Baudy that Philip and I had discovered the last time. I should add that the last time we discovered it after we had eaten at a rather crowded and damp sandwich bar! This time I was determined to have a proper lunch away from the crowds of tourists but although we found the inn, it seemed that others had the same idea and the place was crowded out. 

As we dithered about seating, I was startled by a voice behind me questioning 'Ian?' I turned round to find a lady called Julie who I had worked with for a number of years on Nottingham in Bloom. Life is full of coincidences! Julie was also visiting Monet's garden.

Lunch at the Baudy Inn was great - French onion soup with crusty bread followed by a rich chocolate brownie and strong coffee. After lunch I went in search of the men's room and discovered a wonderful romantic but semi-derelict garden at the back of the inn - a perfect painter's paradise! Tucked into the hillside was a small building that I found was equipped as an artists studio, looking as if the artist had just popped out for another tube of paint but 50 years ago! A curious time capsule.  From around the 1880's until WW1, a number of impressionist artists settled in this area, drawn by the presence of Monet, the landscape and the atmosphere. Apparently the Baudy Inn was very much the centre of artistic life in those days. 


The village is picture postcard charming with little stone cottages and pretty rural gardens - very photogenic! At the end of the village is an old church with Monet's grave (not very photogenic). Inevitably there is a level of commercialism with numerous small galleries selling a variety of  questionable art. There is also an impressionist museum with a well designed modern garden divided into colour compartments and a mechanical museum full of huge industrial equipment. Altogether a very pleasant day out and we were back in Paris in time for dinner!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Monet's garden

The first time I went to Monet's garden in Giverny, it rained - all day! Since then I have taken up painting and so I wanted to see the garden again, as an artist rather than just a horticulturalist. This time the weather was kind and my visit, with my painting friend Jim was on a lovely sunny day. The trip from Paris is a little tricky requiring a Metro ride, an hour's train journey, a shuttle bus, a walk into the village and then queuing for the entrance. And so it was lunchtime by the time we were lined up for tickets along with what seemed like hundreds of other eager tourists. But our luck was in and one of the staff opened another entrance, split the line and we ended up almost at the front!

The Grande Allee as Monet saw it in 1920

The Grande Allee in 2014
The garden is quite a riot of colour, laid out in a very geometric way with long borders packed with perennials, roses and annuals. By modern standards there are few colour schemes or themes. One can only assume that this is what Monet needed to inspire his painting. Gladioli jostle with dahlias, marigolds and nicotiana in a blaze of colour. In particular I loved the the central double borders with the nasturtiums spreading out in undulating carpets from either side. These have been a tradition since Monet's time. Earlier in the year there would have been colour from tulips, iris and roses, all favourites of Monet.

Just outside his pink and green painted house there are beds of pelargoniums in a most unattractive mix of pink and scarlet and I wonder if these are truly authentic? His paintings show beds of red blooms. But who am I to question!

A tunnel under the road leads to the second half of Monet's garden, the lake with the waterlilies that he spent so many hours painting in his later life. It's a captivating sight and almost impossible to capture with a camera - maybe I can understand Monet's frustration and I haven't even picked up a brush!

The Japanese bridge painted by Monet 1897-1899

The poolside plantings again include an odd but ecclectic mix of perennials, shrubs and bedding plants. As a garden designer I cannot see the value of odd Busy Lizzies  and rudbeckias popped in amongst everything else. If this is authentic OK but sad if its just done to enhance the tourist value. 

Moored under the trees are two old boats. I doubt these survive from Monet's time but its whimsical to imagine the great man floating in a similar boat in the centre of his pond as he tried to capture his much loved waterlilies. Monet died in 1926 and his garden drifted into neglect for over 50 years before it was restored and opened to the public in 1980. Its worth a visit if you are ever in the area.  If you are a painter you will appreciate it as the garden that inspired over 500 paintings. If just a gardener you will love it just as Monet did.