Illumination

Acers just beginning to turn leaf at Westonbirt Arboretum, October 2014

Acers just beginning to turn leaf at Westonbirt Arboretum, October 2014

A tree turning leaf from verdant green to fiery vibrancy is like nature’s lightbulb moment – a flash of brilliance before winter sets in. The riotous conclusion, hidden since budbreak, appears from almost nowhere. Mother nature throws up her showgirl-skirt ruffles with abandon; flashes us her rainbow knickerbockers and chucks on her gaudiest baubles.

Cotinus coggygria

Cotinus coggygria at Waterperry Gardens, November 2014

Plain old Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn) and Rubus fruticosus (Blackberry)

Plain old Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn) and Rubus fruticosus (Blackberry) in a local hedgerow, Bedfordshire

This sudden flash of brilliance soon gives way to the sedate evergreens and minimal silhouettes of winter. November is a month when glow, hue and luminescence are at the forefront of the imagination; the absence of summer colours and sunny brightness gives way to the brazen blaze of senescent fire you find in autumn colours, the reds, oranges, yellows and pinks which light up the grey skies like an open fire in a windowless boxroom.

Acers at Westonbirt Arboretum, October 2014

Acers at Westonbirt Arboretum, October 2014

Lux, lx, illuminance. Lumen, lm, luminous flux. Watt, W, power, radiant flux. These are scientific terms used to describe and measure the levels and power of light. One of the eminent founders (or ‘Lunarticks’) of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, James Watt –  was responsible for coining the term ‘horsepower’ and was named for the measurement of radiant flux, or ‘watts’. The Lunar society were a group of industrialists and philosophers at the forefront of the ‘Birmingham Enlightenment’, who met monthly on the Sunday falling nearest to the full moon, between 1765 and 1813. They remain esteemed as one of Britain’s most significant and influential groups of active pre-industrialists, the original ‘ideas’ men.

Iris foetidissima erupting orange berries from the dull, unprepossessing pod

Iris foetidissima erupting luminescent orange lightbulb-berries from the dull, unprepossessing pod, November 2014

Species rose with Cynara cardunculus (Cardoon) heads

Species rose with Cynara cardunculus (Cardoon) heads at Waterperry Gardens, November 2014

blackpool

Jolly winter fun at Blackpool illuminations (and Funland)

One of my own early ‘lightbulb’ moments during my misspent youth in Yorkshire involved badgering my parents to take me and my friends across the perilous border into Lancashire to see a ridiculous amount of lightbulbs all in one place and make ourselves frightfully sick on the big dipper. Yes, the multiple highlights of Blackpool seemed to me to be the height of fun in the 1980’s. It certainly beats sitting in a wet field watching my dad turn the headlights of our Ford Cortina on and off on the Widdop Road c.1985. Incidentally, Strictly Come Dancing hailed from the Blackpool Tower Ballroom on Saturday 15 November (where if you went back in time, you could also see an eight year-old me dancing to the famous Wurlitzer organ). Lightbulb overload.

For an alternative route to illumination, you could swing east to Parcevall Hall Gardens and religious retreat for an almost impossibly contrasting experience. Enveloped in the undulating Wharfedale-towards-Nidderdale hillscape of North Yorkshire, Parcevall Hall was created in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s by one of the founding members of RHS Harlow Carr – W.P Milner. Parcevall Hall is now owned by the Diocese of Bradford and is still used as a religious and spiritual retreat today.

Milner was a devout man with a penchant for rare Chinese and Tibetan plants. He laid out his garden in the late 1920’s utilising natural outcrops of rock for his famous rockeries, and copious quantities of gritstone from the hall’s dedicated quarry were hauled down to shore up the immense buttresses he used to contain his ambitious cruciform terracing.

Gritstone buttressing at Parcevall Hall Gardens

Dramatic gritstone buttressing at Parcevall Hall Gardens, October 2014

The result is a dramatic (and slightly gothic) combination of intriguing eastern planting, (much of which is characterised by vivid autumn foliage or berries) framed by immaculate, imposing stonework and structural, geometric hedgework.

Many old and heritage apple cultivars can be found here, and the bright palette reminds me that the traditional garlanding and decoration we see at winter festivals are all about bringing light and colour to the oppressive seasonal darkness and are undoubtedly inspired by the natural ornamentation we see on our native trees and in the hedgerows: Ilex aquifolium, Euonymus europaeus, Taxus baccata, and Malus species, fruits and berries beading the boughs well into winter.

Apples at Parcevall Hall gardens on Hallowe'en

Apples at Parcevall Hall gardens on Hallowe’en

Art Spot

Two works of art about light in the darkness, ideas as illumination – literally and metaphorically – sparks, inspiration and transformation.

Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, by Albert McNeil Whistler. Detroit Institute of Arts

Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, by Albert McNeil Whistler. Detroit Institute of Arts

The iconic 'An Experiment   on a Bird in an Air Pump' by Joseph Wright of Derby. One of my favourite works at the National Gallery, London

The iconic ‘An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump’ by Joseph Wright of Derby. One of my favourite works at the National Gallery, London

Track of the Month

High Voltage, by Electric Six. Coincidentally, also from Detroit, Michigan – where Nocturne In Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket currently resides. Currently? See what I did there – I’m on (electrical) fire. Somebody pass the fire extinguisher.

Book of the Month

The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future, 1730-1810, by Jenny Uglow

Plant of the Month

Rosa moyesii ‘Sealing Wax’, a species rose collected by all-things-eastern enthusiast W.P Milner in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

A rose of distinction: Rosa moyesii ( J.N.Fitch lithograph, Curtis's Botanical Magazine, London  vol. 136)

A rose of distinction: Rosa moyesii (J.N.Fitch lithograph, Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, London vol. 136)

Molten red Rosa moyesii hips at Parcevall Hall Gardens

Molten red Rosa moyesii hips at Parcevall Hall Gardens,  October 2014

Sources

All images my own, with the exception of the landscape photograph of Blackpool Tower and the Illuminations and the botanical drawing featured at the end of the post, which are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

lunarsociety.org.uk
Parcevall Hall Gardens
Diocese of Bradford
The National Gallery
Detroit Institute of Arts
youtube
OutOfOblivion

 

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5 comments

    • gardenbirdblog

      Thank you, both of your daughters are in there behind the scenes too; one was dancing with me at Tower Ballroom in the 1980’s and the other was with me at Westonbirt Arbotertum where I took some of the photos in this post!

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