Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Rousham: a secret garden
Rousham gardens are worth a short daytrip from Oxford. In the mid 18th century, William Kent landscaped the grounds, and they have changed very little since. The 17th century house is still owned by the original family but only open to the public by private arrangement. It is “unspoiled” meaning no commercial development or tea room.
Children under 15 aren’t allowed which is a shame because I would have loved it the more at my daughter’s age of ten. The severe manor and walled gardens covered with blooming vines reminded me of The Secret Garden. Well trimmed hedges were hollowed out to hidden tunnels, too low for an adult to stand.
The countryside was green and lush with winding trails along the Cherwell River that runs from Oxford. Daffodils were growing as thick as the dandelions in my yard back in Maine. The English are so much more careful with their gardens. Even wildness is a well planned illusion.
The property had many follies, architectural curiosities built for admiring the grounds without getting damp. Some even had fireplaces, and all had benches. It felt like a setting for a Masterpiece Theater costume drama.
Whimsical was the word that came to mind. A narrow aqueduct shunted water downhill but not for irrigation in this wet country. Instead it fed in and out of a bathing pool. How my son would have loved sending a toy sailboat down the channel!
Everywhere I looked, there was something blooming. The primroses grew in more colors than I’d ever seen, and there were bulbs sprouting effusively. The viburnum smelled fragrant.
The yew hedges by a medieval church were cut into the oddest shapes, like spinning tops. I learned from the gardeners on my Oxford Newcomers’ Club tour that the poisonous yews were often planted around churches to keep the cattle out of the graveyards.
Organic vegetable gardens were kept fertile with pigeon droppings. The estate had a fresh supply from its 1685 dove cot. The birds would have been served for meals.
Walking the grounds builds an appetite. We stopped at The Boat Inn at Thrupp on the drive south to Oxford. The food was nothing special, but I did like the old pub atmosphere. True to its name, the pub was situated on the Oxford Canal that runs 78 miles to Coventry. Canal boats were tied up for lunch.
The English gardening spirit showed itself in window boxes adorning tiny row houses along the canal road.
It did look like high spring, but appearances can be deceiving. After an unusually mild winter, even by English standards, we had our first snowstorm on Saturday. It was impressive even by New England standards, but it didn't stick. I couldn’t walk into the wind with horizontal hail and monster flakes. Then Easter Sunday brought more snow, making daffodils swoon. It felt exhilarating to experience winter, only this is spring!
Snow makes me think of Maine. Tonight is the community straw vote on the new elementary school back home in Brunswick. It’s at 6:30pm at the junior high school. I’ll post the results later. My grassroots involvement in this project motivated me to write a novel (S.A.D.) on school politics. Only my story is totally fictional and looks at Intelligent Design vs. Evolution instead of school size and grade configuration. It still has that quirky small town flavor of local politics with plenty of romance and drama just for fun.
Next week (April 2nd) my husband will be guest-blogging here about his rail trip to Scotland with our son. Our thirteen-year-old has 4 weeks holiday that doesn’t totally overlap with his sister’s 2 weeks. I’m not quite sure how Henry and I will manage to keep working on our books, but I’m too engrossed with S.A.D. revisions to stop.
As a working mom, I much prefer the American system of one long summer break and one-week breaks during the school year. Tag team parenting, grandparents and separate vacations will tide us over. Some vacation days with the kids will be fun too. Part of my work in England is experiencing it. Not a bad job!
Unofficial Brunswick Straw Poll Results:
253 yes's vs. 45 no's for a new elementary school!
The final townwide referendum vote is June 10th.