It’s that odd time of year again, that ambiguous period between the Christmas Holiday and New Year’s, when time doesn’t seem to pass. It has been nice having late starts to the morning, and then working on cards and letters most of the day. It also has been a good time for self-reflection, which has been a theme recently. Though for me the holidays began to run together long before December.
If we turn the clock back to late-September, the Wisley Shop had started setting up for Christmas, and by October both the Shop and the Plant Center at Wisley converted the entire front section of the stores into Christmas! As October slipped into November, I began thinking about Thanksgiving. Some of the trainees asked me if I was planning on celebrating it and through them I thought it would be a great idea to have a meal together with everyone.
During Thanksgiving weekend I invited whoever was around to come over. I was feeling a bit nervous cooking a big turkey, so I went with a small chicken instead. I made the usual fixings of mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, roasted vegetables, and pumpkin pie, but to bring in a bit more of the American experience, I made candied sweet potatoes (with marshmallows) and collard greens.
After the meal we sat around chatting and making hand turkeys, while a movie was playing in the background. The trainees and staff that came thought Thanksgiving was like having a second Christmas, since all the activities and the food laden aftermath is much like Christmas day.
Since Thanksgiving was so late this year it really ran into the Christmas Season and further complicated the slight melding of time in my head. As we trot along into December and on to the 23rd, I packed up my entire life and headed off to Bury St. Edmunds (in Suffolk) to spend Christmas with Sir Kenneth Carlisle and his family and friends.
The Carlisles live in a beautiful country house called Wyken Hall. They own a vineyard just beyond the woods in the back and there is a shop, a restaurant, a cafe, and a space for a farmer’s market at the front of the property.
I came up to Wyken Hall with Christopher from London, who is a family friend of the Carlisles. He is also a past scholar, which means he did what I am doing now 16 years ago! On Christmas Eve Kenneth, Christopher, and I went out for a walk to see the vineyards in the back. We made our way through the garden, past a man-made lake, through the meadow, into the woods, and finally out to the vineyards.
Kenneth took us on a detour to see some trees and to my delight they were Douglas Firs!
The local deacon and her family was coming for lunch on Boxing Day, so Christopher was asked if he could make the arrangements for the table and he asked me if I would like to help him. We went out to cut some greens and flowers that were blooming at the time. For greens we collected Arum italicum leaves, Helleborus x hybridus leaves, and stems of Sarcococca humilis var. digyna and Brachyglottis greyi. We collected a handful of Viburnum x bodnantense stems with opened flowers that were looking quite good. (The flowers are delicate and can be damaged by extreme cold if Jack Frost decides to pay a visit.) We also cut some Helleborus foetidus buds, Jasminum nudiflorum, and Berberis thunbergii stems with its scarlet berries.
With most flower arrangements you start with the foundation of greens, so that when placing the flowers the greens will help hold their position. It also reduces the risk of damaging the flowers from nudging if the greens were added after.
Christopher was going for a light-hearted arrangement full of height and variation (though I am guilty of cutting some of the stems a little bit shorter…shhh…).
Once filled we carried the vases two by two to the dining room to be placed on the runner.
Here we made our final adjustments and additions before walking away. Here’s a nice close up:
I stayed at Wyken Hall until the 28th and once again packed up my life, and caught the train to Edinburgh. It was a little over a 5 hour journey from Bury St. Edmunds, but that is because I had a short layover when switching trains at Peterborough. Once I made it to Edinburgh, I caught a cab to the neighborhood of Stockbridge. I clambered by way out of the cab and up to the apartment building. Though it was about 6:30pm the sun had already set and was quite dark. I had to make it up two flights of spiraling stairs in the dim, stony stairwell. However, when the landlady called down to me and I looked up to say hello, this is what I saw:
Okay, these photos were taken the day after, but imagine instead of sunlight it was the warm glow of an incandescent lightbulb. It really was a wonderful sight for sore eyes!
I was attracted like a grasshopper to grass!
As I made my ascent the view grew more and more wonderful. This is what I’ve always dreamt that my apartment would look like when I got a place of my own. The landlady’s daughter called it a ‘jungle’ and I love that. It’s an urban jungle.
I stepped into the Georgian Era apartment and the doorway gave way to a soaring ceiling encrusted with crisp, crown moulding. As I made my way through the apartment heavy with luggage – ungracefully, I might add – everything was so inviting and cozy. Then my bedroom was revealed to me and at that moment I though I had died and gone to heaven.
Probably for others the room may be a bit small, but I think it’s perfect. I love the tall ceiling and equally tall window. This is the kind of space that would be great to write a couple of books in and I think it will certainly help encourage me to write my mid-term report.
I start my next placement at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on the 20th of January. Until then I will be exploring the city and hopefully get out into the other parts of Scotland (like the Highlands). Have a Happy New Year and I will write you soon!