At the end of July we travelled north to the cathedral city of Durham. My partner (aka ‘Him Indoors’) grew up on a picture-perfect small holding on the edge of town, surrounded by mature woods and bordered by the River Browney. His father still lives there in quiet seclusion, enjoying what he calls his ‘little bit of paradise’. Nature has long had the upper hand in the steeply sloping fields, now brimming with wildflowers or in transition to woodland. However the gardens, designed by Him Indoors’ brother, are still well-tended. A crumbling brick dairy and lichen-covered fences provide the perfect backdrop to a simple planting of colourful herbs and flowering shrubs.
The dominant colours are yellow and mauve, with flashes of pink and acid green. Nepetas and Alchemilla mollis froth casually over brick paths, whilst lovage, Hypericum and Leycesteria formosa provide vertical accents. Apple and plum trees are dotted among the flowers – a reminder that this was once a productive farm with a kitchen garden that fed a family of four.
As evening approached and the sun started to drop behind the riverside willows, we prepared a barbecue. The low light provided the perfect opportunity to photograph the flower spikes of Acanthus spinosus in all their fascinating detail. In the background I glimpsed a kingfisher, dropping from an alder branch to pluck an unlucky fish from the river.
Nearby I was reminded of the prettiness of Santolina when in bloom – this unknown variety had tiny pompom flowers the colour of buttermilk.
Alchemilla mollis is a ubiquitous plant and justifiably so. It works well in cottage-style gardens, softening hard edges and providing a fresh green foil for both hot and cool coloured flowers. I like the shot below, where it appears like lime-green cumulus clouds behind a solitary sprig of lavender.
We stayed outdoors, drinking Belgian beer and enjoying the herb-scented air until twilight descended over the woods and fields. An owl hooted. The garden became like a bright clearing within a huge dark forest. Truly a little bit of paradise.