Long Barn magic ….

Last week I went back to Long Barn. It was one of those autumn days that start out grey and gloomy but slip quietly into fabulousness while your back is turned. This is the time of year when you need to be paying close attention. Because while you are looking in the other direction invariably something wonderful is happening behind you.

It was raining as we started out cutting back the daisies – erigeron karvinskianus, the Mexican daisy. This innocuous little sparkler has been an unexpected star for me this year. It caught my eye in the nursery at Beth Chatto’s garden when I visited in May and I bought three pots of it for my own garden. There it was again in Majorca in June, planted in drifts under olive trees in the garden of one of the newly restored villas on Pine Walk, looking effortlessly gorgeous. And when I went to Long Barn in August for my week of work experience it was everywhere, softening the paths and steps, flowing across the terrace.

But last week, under the instruction of Richard, the head gardener, Anne and I were putting it to bed for the winter.Erigeron karvanskianus I felt rather cruel, the little daisy was still looking sprightly after a long hot summer of hard work. But it had to be done, so that it could take a breather before doing its thing again next year.

So we were outside in the rain…. And at one point we had to take shelter in the greenhouse, where Richard gave us a quick lesson in propagating plants from non-flowering shoots. And then back outside and on with the daisies. And while we were working the sun came out.

Suddenly the garden was vibrant and glowing. IMG_0540The penstemons in particular were jewel-like.

IMG_0544So Richard allowed me to take some cuttings, and following his instructions I potted up some babies of my own.

IMG_0545They’re on my window sill now.

It’s a wonderful thought that next year I might be able to have a sprinkling of Long Barn magic in my own garden.

Just call me Vita….

Work experience…..

Isn’t it that thing that teenagers do in the summer holidays? Go and spend a couple of weeks in an office, filing and photocopying and watching the clock until the end of the day. At my age it it’s the last thing I expect to be doing….

The year’s course at KLC requires us to spend time during the summer break working in a garden or a nursery for a couple of weeks. It’s viewed as an essential part of the experience. I had been allocated two weeks at Great Dixter in July, which I had pulled out of at the last minute when my father in law died. And a week at Long Barn at the beginning of August.

Long Barn is the house that Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson moved to when they were first married. They bought it for £2,500 in 1915. It was Vita’s first home after Knole and, with the help of their friend Lutyens, she and Harold created a garden that would be the precursor to Sissinghurst.

It’s a house with an amazing guest list – visitors included Virginia Woolf, Stephen Spender, Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, Hugh Walpole, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. Oh and Jane King of course….

IMG_0507

The current owners had been kind enough to offer the opportunity for a couple of us to come and spend some time in the garden, so I went to there to make the arrangements earlier in the summer. And was blown away.

Steps and Terraces

But being blown away by a garden and doing hard labour in it are two very different things. And on that Monday morning in early August, having undertaken the eleven hour drive back from Ullapool the previous day, and with my own garden in sore need of some serious attention, I wasn’t exactly champing at the bit to get started.

Shows how wrong you can be.

This garden is pretty close to my idea of perfection. But it’s not open to the public. So to spend a week there in perfect weather, sun shining but not too hot, working from one area to the next, pruning and cutting back, sometimes talking with fellow student Ann and head gardener Richard as we worked, sometimes quietly getting on with it…. let me tell you it doesn’t get much better.

We pruned roses.

Before pruning....
Before pruning….

IMG_1162
During pruning….

After pruning...
After pruning…

We worked in the vegetable garden.

Before....
First you see it….

After....
Now you don’t….

We got up close and personal with some onions.

Before....
Before….

IMG_1218
I could swear there were onions here when I last looked …..

There they are....
There they are….

And finally.... Onion Art
And finally…. Onion Art

And made a lot of trips to the compost heap.

Taking a breather!
I need a break!

There were unexpected bonuses. I got to spend time with lovely Ann, a kindred spirit in the making. And Richard, the head gardener, was friendly and patient and very kind to us novices.

And then of course there was Vita.Vita-Sackville-West3

Yew Trees and StatueI followed her ghost along the side of the majestic yews planted by her husband.

The OrchardWalked beside her through the orchard.

IMG_1157Gazed out with her across the fields and wooded slopes of the Weald.

Trying to see the garden through her eyes – and influenced no doubt by the photos I’d seen from the days when she lived here

Long Barn– I had a moment when I saw the world in black and white.

Glorious TechnicolourSo that when I snapped back into the present it seemed almost unnaturally colourful and bright.

How lucky were we? Ann and I? To spend time in that special place. To work in that unique garden. No doubt I will visit many more wonderful gardens in years to come. But I can’t imagine I will find one to live up to Long Barn.