Listening to: Bryan Adams
Reading: being naughty – dipping into my academic book on early art in Norfolk (my wallpaintings book is apparently also on its way, so I am a tad overexcited about this)
School holidays + bright and warm outside = itchy feet… So yesterday I suggested to the kids that we went for a wander round Blickling in the afternoon. It’s a tad early for the bluebells but, given that spring seems to be appearing earlier (this year, bluebells have been recorded flowering in England during February for the first time ever), I wanted to go just in case.
And guess what we found?
Not a bluebell, admittedly. This was in the formal garden, not the woodlandy bit. But squill is my joint favourite spring flower (which is why it features in Dragan's garden in The Doctor's Royal Love Child), along with the bluebell and the grape hyacinth. My absolute favourite flower is the iris. And I also love delphiniums and white roses (ha, you thought I was going to say the ‘Blue Moon’ rose – actually, I do, but I can’t grow it) and Californian lilac.
Blickling Hall is a special place for me. I borrowed bits of the garden and the lake for Sold to the Highest Bidder, and I have wonderful memories from my teens of wandering round the rhododendrons and the library here, then having a cream tea with my mum. I also have wonderful memories of taking the children here with my dad, when they were small, and feeding the ducks; of walking hand-in-hand with my husband in the gardens in the days before we were married; and later of bringing son with us here as a toddler, on reins (because he was a terrible absconder – luckily, Madam never needed them and was happy to trot along holding your hand. Son just had to run full pelt).
We had a lovely time. Blickling has the most fabulous picture of Henrietta Hobart, which is my favourite pic in the house (hmm…lightbulb) and I’m delighted that the library is almost back to normal now following the mould problem and repairs. We were a bit self-indulgent and focused on our favourite bits. Madam decided she was going to read poetry in the library... except the book whose illustrations form the plaster ceiling was printed in the days of the long S, so the laminated copies of pages were not in the type of print she's used to. I explained about typographic changes between now and the Renaissance, and iambic pentameter, and she had a second go at reading - and she was really, really good. A few people smiled as they listened to her. (I really do have a future princess of theatre here.)
We also discovered the new sitooterie:
(! yes, that’s really what it’s called). You can’t see it properly on the pic, but in front of the children there's a mandala made from recycled copper, and behind the yew-and-copper canopy are lots and lots of hyacinths. Breathing in reminded me of wandering through the rose garden at Alnwick, where you really can taste the air.
And, as you can guess from the title of this post, this is what else we spotted:
A single bluebell among the primroses and daffodils. Means we’ll have to go back in about three weeks when the rest of them will be out… and then again in mid to late May for the rhododendrons. (This, by the way, is a hybrid bluebell rather than a native one.)
Given that I’m in Kate-the-encyclopaedia mode today (wobbly lip, I want to start my new book, but I have two to finish first), here are a few facts you may or may not know about bluebells:
- they’re a protected species (i.e. do NOT pick them)
- half the world’s bluebells grow in Britain
- blue is rare in nature. This is because the colour is associated with organic molecules in alkaline conditions, which are rare - hence the morning glory flower starts off as bright blue, but as the flower becomes less alkaline during the day its colour fades to mauve
- most bluebells in gardens are Spanish or hybrid rather than native bluebells – Spanish ones were introduced in the 17th century and have gradually formed hybrids with the native ones. (Native bluebells are darker blue and the flowers form only on one side of the stem so it droops to one side – the leaves are also narrower. Hybrid and Spanish bluebells stand upright or droop slightly, and may be white or pink; the flowers are open rather than being a narrow bell shape and rolling back on itself; and they don’t have much scent.)
- in folklore, you can summon fairies by ringing a bluebell. (But if you hear a bluebell’s chime you don’t have long to live …)
If you go looking for bluebells in woodlands near you, you might want to help with a national survey – see www.nhm.ac.uk/bluebells for more details.