Tennis, bees, and the American connection

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I’m torn this week between extolling the delights and gardens of RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, which finishes today, or the possibly less obvious attraction of July 4th and Washington’s ancestral home with its lovely Northumbrian garden.

Washington old hall gardens

With the Wimbledon finals happening as I post, Hampton Court, at least, can claim a tennis connection. The Palace has its own indoor Royal Tennis Court, the oldest surviving ‘real’ tennis court still in regular use in England. It was part of the original Palace as rebuilt for Cardinal Wolsey in the early sixteenth century; before he thought it politic to give it to his lord and master Henry VIII. Henry Tudor must have played ‘real’ or ‘royal’ tennis in this court; he was quite an athlete in his youth. The court was last refurbished in the reign of Charles I, another tennis loving monarch.  ‘Real’ or ‘royal’ tennis is so-called to distinguish it from ‘lawn’ tennis – which is the game played at Wimbledon.

Interestingly, as American Independence Day occurred during this last week, there are ‘royal tennis’ clubs in both Boston (home of the Tea Party) and Washington in the USA. It’s known as ‘court tennis’ in America.

Which sort of brings us to Northumberland, specifically Tyne & Wear, as the home, or at least part progenitor, of American Independence; George Washington’s family came from this beautiful part of the North East of England. Not that there’s a tennis court in the gardens, the place is less palatial and more approachable. They have a spade though, used by President Jimmy Carter in the garden when he visited; I guess his days as a peanut farmer came in useful with the digging. Thomas Jefferson, another US President, was also a peanut farmer. Not that the soil around Washington Old Hall would be good for growing peanuts; they do best in a more sandy soil. There is a nuttery within the gardens though; with Hazel trees, fruit trees and wild flowers to encourage and feed the bees that live in the hives there.

Although Jimmy Carter’s peanuts aren’t actually nuts –but I have promised you a blog on fruits and vegetables that aren’t what they claim to be, so that can wait… back to the nuttery and gardens. Meandering paths through the wild flowers and hazel trees, purple and green (Corylus avellana, for those who like to know the Botanical Latin) were perfect for slowing us down so we could watch as well as listen to the many birds living there. The gardens are set out as a parterre, as they would have been in the seventeenth century. This formal layout allows for both formal and informal planting inside the hedges and is a ‘look’ which translates well to the twenty-first century garden. Much inspiration and pleasure was found in a relatively small space.

Smaller spaces were also an attraction at Hampton Court Flower Show. The larger show gardens are lovely to wander through

Coral desert 

and admire, but the conceptual gardens have the ability to focus one’s mind on a particular idea. We both had favourites but were agreed that the Coral Desert in its blue glass tomb for coral reefs was very evocative in getting over the point that coral reefs will become dead deserts if climate change and pollution are not got under control and fast. Cacti and succulents acted the part of the endangered coral – it would have been a bit pointless to have dragged coral off its reef for the show…

We were also intrigued by coppiced eucalyptus (we will be trying this) and the purple water seen in a few of the gardens. Yes, you did read that right, purple water, with a bubble fountain so you could see it was really purple.  Finally, it was quite special to watch a new worker bee emerging from her cocoon of wax to join her sisters in the hive. Worker bees live for only 6 weeks and boy do they work hard; without them we wouldn’t have so much of the food and flowers we take for granted; and bees like coral are at risk of extinction.

And George Washington talked to the bees in his garden; well, he probably did… On which note, enjoy your garden!

If you’d like to talk to us about bee –friendly gardens, trees that have got too big for your garden or whether your lawn will cope with being under water if you’ve had floods, get in touch

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