On the Gardens at Hampton Court Castle
A disclaimer: I didn’t know there were two Hampton Courts before this adventure, so if you didn’t either, don’t worry. I first saw the directional signs when I was out and about in the Herefordshire countryside with Julia and Roger, and I was confused; we pulled the car into the entryway for a moment on Saturday afternoon, just to peek down the drive at the castle. Something was going on down there towards the massive stone building, but as I couldn’t see very well, the filmy white figure looked to me to be either a part of a wedding or of a haunting.
However, there was apparently an exhibition at Hampton Court Castle that weekend–“Art for Living” –and Julia insisted that the gardens were well worth looking over. Thus, after a traditional Sunday carvery dinner (delicious roast beef and gravy, Yorkshire pudding, veg including honey-roasted parsnips–Julia ordered extra for us all, and a good idea that was!) at The King’s Head in Docklow, we went back to Hampton Court to have a look.
The gardens are extensive, and even that is an understatement. Julia, Roger and I wandered through the kitchen garden with all its edibles. Are you interested in vegetables? Julia asked me. Only in that I love to eat them, and try valiantly and fail every summer in my own back yard to grow them. These gardens aroused such envy in me, and such a sense of failure, that I couldn’t quite breathe. Raised beds of greens, lush feathery fronds of carrot tops, espaliered fruit trees (I adore espaliered fruit trees, okay?). I found myself thinking of my master-gardener/writer friend Rebecca Bearden Welsh, and wishing she could be here to marvel at this growth. Herbs, too, and all artfully arranged in companion beds…according to the literature, this garden supplies the vegetables for the Orangery Café adjoining the castle. That thought would have made my mouth water, had I not eaten to my capacity at lunch. I settled for surreptitiously pinching a tiny bit of lavender, and holding my fingers to my nose while we walked.
When we entered a tunnel of green, Julia told me it was one of only a couple such in existence, and did I know what it was? I didn’t: it was a wisteria tunnel. According to Julia, when it flowers out in the spring, the newspapers always announce the fact, so that people can rush to Hampton Court and wander through the dangling blooms. Now all the flowers had faded and fallen, and only the stems swung forlornly from the greenery overhead; but still, it was amazing. I told her that next year she must let me know as soon as the news is announced, and I would fly right over to see the tunnel in its glory.
And then there was the maze of a thousand yews. Had I been alone, I would have got myself hopelessly lost,
which was no doubt the nefarious plan of its designer. When we stepped inside, however, Julia turned left and led the way with all the confidence of a woman who has raised two sons in its environs. We were heading for the gothic stone tower at its center, and we kept crossing paths with people who were shaking their heads in confusion (No, not that way!). From the top of the tower, the views of the castle and grounds, under dramatic skies, were panoramic and breathtaking. A passage led down under the tower and out through an unlit stone tunnel (I walked with one hand on the damp wall until I saw the proverbial
light at the end) to a grotto with a pool and waterfall. The path split to the right, around the pool, and left, through a cleft and behind the waterfall. Julia opted for the right, but Roger and I both squeezed in behind the falls, where the space carved out of the rocks was cramped, misty, and mystical. I was so grateful for Roger, because I’ve never been one of those people who can manage pictures of themselves; he took one for me, with my camera. After, we came out somewhere above the pool, and we’d lost Julia altogether: imagine–we were able to keep track of her in a maze, and we lost her altogether once we were out. Fortunately, Roger was wearing an orange jacket, which I think must now be considered the only safe choice in apparel: we found Julia, or she found us, eventually.
The Art for Living show was on the great lawn next to the castle. Unfortunately, it was getting late on the third day of a three-day-show, and many of the artisans had packed up or were in the process. We wandered around what was left anyway–Julia knew many of the exhibitors, including a smith, with whom we discussed my daughter’s adventures in learning the trade. Roger found much to photograph. I found much to gawk at, because that’s what I do best. There sadly was no room for tea–and the Orangery was fairly busy anyway. We took a last turn around the exhibits, then returned to the gardens, paying more attention to the flowers on the way back. I crushed more lavender. We found lupines gone to seed, and when I burst out with Your lupines or your life! Roger continued merrily with the skit all by himself.
Even in the time we spent there, we didn’t get to see everything there was to see. Obviously I need to go back to Julia’s (she’s invited me for Christmas, but I don’t know quite how I’d manage that), so she can take me back to Hampton Court. I’d like to poke around inside the castle, quite frankly. I want to eat the seasonal garden produce at the Café, because the menu looks lovely. I need to see the wisteria tunnel in full bloom–and I hope it’s purple. And I must look at more espaliered fruit trees.
I learned a new gardening term, thanks to Julia and Hampton Court (the best tour guide, I’ve decided, is an architect: I will never go anywhere without one again if I can help it): Pleaching. This, according to Wikipedia, is a technique to weave the branches of trees into a hedge. In the formal gardens this pleaching created many allées, most of which we didn’t have time to explore.
Rebecca Bearden Welsh, you know you want to go. Start saving your allowance.