The Very Best of 2013 – A Year In Pictures

Snowdrops, Bibury, January 2013

When I wrote my equivalent post this time last year, I thought 2012 was a momentous year, but reflecting on 2013 I find the last twelve months have more than measured up.  I celebrated my 40th Birthday and over the course of the year visited 10 countries, including Nepal, India, China and Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon.  Our journey to Bhutan is one I will never forget and alongside Madagascar goes down as my most remarkable destination yet.  With Him Indoors, I visited UK gardens from Wallington in Northumberland down to Trevoole in Cornwall and a great many in between – still the list of future gardens to visit grows longer!  Meanwhile, the blog adopted a new theme (Further) in March and seemed to gain followers overnight, much to my delight – it’s nice to be noticed.  Eighteen months down the line, I am chuffed to have 175 followers, plus all the other people who check in via Facebook, Twitter etc. Thank you all – it makes the effort worthwhile.

Boudhanath Stupa (or Bodnath Stupa) , Kathmandu, Nepal, March 2013

Boudhanath Stupa, the largest in Nepal and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet.

As for 2014, I am more or less prepared for the year ahead.  We are looking forward to opening our tiny garden for the National Garden Scheme on August 2nd and 3rd.  There’s nothing like a deadline to galvanise me into action and already the seed and plant catalogues are stacking up on the coffee table, begging for attention.  I am happy to be travelling less, giving me more time for both our gardens and visiting others – not to mention my friends, some of whom I have neglected recently.  Will 2014 be another warm summer I wonder?  Perhaps this is tempting fate, but it would be nice to think so.

Before embarking on another year packed with wonderful plants, sublime gardens and happy blogging, here’s the very best of The Frustrated Gardener’s 2013.

At the Chele La Pass, Eastern Bhutan, April 2013

The highest point we reached by road in Bhutan, the pass at Chele La.

No sooner did the year begin than I turned 40 – gracefully of course. We had a lovely party and I managed to draw the celebrations out for weeks. The snow helped by cutting off the venue for my family party in beautiful Bibury (featured image), delaying our gathering until the snow thawed.

Still chilly in March, our first garden visit of the year was to Goodnestone Park, a lovely Kentish garden which features frequently in this blog and has a special place in my affections.  The sharp pink of this plum blossom lit up the woodland on a otherwise gloomy day.

Bright pink blossom, Goodnestone Park,  March 2013

Then, before we knew it, it was Easter and our trip to Nepal, Bhutan and India beckoned.  Bhutan for me was a pilgrimage.  This tiny kingdom, covered by forests and snow, is like no other place in the world.  Bhutan’s natural beauty, impressive biodiversity and unique culture make it extraordinary in every way.  If you are tired of life then go there.  You’ll discover there’s a different way of inhabiting this earth that we might all learn from.

Phunaka Dzong from above, Bhutan, April 2013

Phunaka Dzong (monastery) and the Mo Chhu (mother river) from above.

On the road we encountered a host of rare and not so rare plants , but what set the experience apart was seeing them all growing in their natural habitat.  Rhododendrons and magnolias abounded, but it was common-or-garden Primula denticulata that remains etched on my mind, its tiny drumstick flowers carpeting damp meadows and valleys wherever we wandered.

Primula denticulata, Bhutan, April 2013

Primula denticulata, one of millions we enjoyed in Bhutan

No visit to Bhutan is complete without a visit to the famous Tiger’s Nest. I made it far enough to take this picture but then vertigo took hold and I couldn’t face the last hour’s trek to the monastery itself.  It was no matter, this stunning glimpse between the prayer flags was enough for me.

The Tiger's Nest, Bhutan, April 2013

Spring had very kindly put itself on hold for our return, so we got to witness some of most sensational displays of rhododendrons and azaleas I have ever seen. At Sandling Park the deciduous azaleas were making up for lost time and boy were they bonny! The bare-stemmed bushes were bursting with flowers in every shade from bright white to blood red with every shade and hue in between.

Azalea, Sandling Park, May 2013

Our entire spring seemed to be defined by rhododendrons, and there were yet more jewel-bright flowers to enjoy at the Savill Garden in Berkshire. However the stars of the show were Lysichiton camtschatcensis, the Asian skunk cabbage, and its US cousin L. americium, surging up through the boggy ground.

Lysichiton camtschatcensis and americanum, The Savill Garden, April 2013

Both Chelsea (chilly) and Hampton Court (scorching) impressed in 2013.  As always I bypassed the show gardens to reach the floral marquees, where the real gems are to be found.  With a new patch of our London garden in the planning I was, for once, in the market for some new plants.  My favourite Chelsea exhibit was staged by Kevock Garden Plants of Midlothian – packed with pretty meconopsis, primulas and trilliums.

Kevock Garden Plants Exhibit, Chelsea 2013

Looking back there have been thousands of photographs that never made in into a post, including this one of some imaginative floral artistry at this year’s centenary show.   I hope to present some of my favourite flower portraits in a post early in the New Year.

Curious Flower Arrangement, Chelsea Flower Show 2013

In late in May we enjoyed a week away at Leckford Abbas, once the home of retailer John Lewis. The house is nothing to write home about but the gardens are, quite simply, sensational. Longstock Park Water Gardens are renowned as being amongst the best in the world and never disappoint. The standards of horticulture and plantsmanship are outstanding. As a lover of colour, I find the dazzlingly rhododendrons and candelabra primulas reflected in the water wonderfully uplifting.

Longstock Park Water Gardens, May 2013

At nearby Mottisfont Abbey most of the famous roses were still firmly in bud, but Him Indoors joined the irises, tulips and early perennials basking in the sunshine. Believe it or not this photograph was not posed.

Alex at Mottisfont, May 2013

Late July saw us in Northumberland, a county I have wrongly overlooked until now. We visited two completely different gardens, The National Trust’s Wallington and Herterton, a private garden on a more intimate scale. I lusted after Wallington’s Edwardian conservatory packed with exotica, including an enormous Sparmannia africana which would have dwarfed the sickly creature that resides in our London flat.

The Edwardian Conservatory, Wallington, Northumberland, August 2013

Neptune’s fine derrière did not go unappreciated either!

Neptune's rear, Wallington Hall, Northumberland, July 2013

At Herterton, in squally rain, we we were greeted on the gravel drive by Frank Lawley. With his wife Marjorie, Mr Lawley created this beautiful garden over four decades. I came away, wedged into the passenger seat of our sports car surrounded by freshly dug plants, wrapped in newspaper. A small price to pay for such well cultivated treasures.

Plants for Sale at Herterton House, Northumberland, August 2013

Biggest personal achievement of the year (and a rare joint effort between Him Indoors and myself) was the long overdue replacement of our boggy London lawn with something more appropriate – a shade garden. It might not look much, but it involved a lot of blood, sweat, tears and Cumbrian compost. Planting up during August is not something I’d normally advocate, but the weather was kind to us and by late autumn everything was growing away nicely. Next year we must renovate the decking area – the list of jobs never ends!

Our London Garden, August 2013

In the pot, my new favourite Lily, Lilium ‘Red Velvet’.

Once again we spent the end of August with our friends at Trevoole Farm in Cornwall. Trevoole is a magical place, as an increasing number of visitors are discovering. It’s not a place to see high horticulture, but if you are a lover of vintage, great food and unfussy, practical gardening, then you’d be in your element. I had great fun arranging armfuls of cosmos, dahlias and asters for one of Trevoole’s regular Thursday open days, supporting the National Gardens Scheme. It was on this visit that we were encouraged to follow suit in 2014.  Clicking here will take you to Trevoole’s own WordPress blog.

Cream and yellow flower arrangement at Trevoole Farm, August 2013

Cornwall is my ancestral home and any time spent there is precious time. We were blessed with fine weather – good enough for a spell on the beach at Kynance Cove (below) complete with surfboards and sandy sandwiches.

Kynance Cove, Cornwall, August 2013

A third visit to India followed, this time for work. I love my time in India, mainly because of the food and the people. One has to look beyond the poverty to see the great tapestry of the subcontinent, riddled with abandonded cities, fascinating religions and beautiful scenery. Sadly I usually feel I am missing out on the real India during these short business trips, although a visit to the Taj Mahal was a welcome diversion. I stayed at The Trident in Gurgaon, a hotel set in the most gloriously impressive grounds. Alas there was no time to plunge into that mirror-like pool. Maybe next time.

The Trident Hotel, Gurgaon, India, 2013

I had just two weeks in the UK before jetting off again, but it was long enough to enjoy something of autumn’s splendours. Back at Goodnestone Park the walled garden was buzzing with bees, feasting around a blazing bonfire of heleniums, rudbekias and asters. Yellow and purple has to be one of my favourite flower colours combinations particularly in autumn.

Rudbekias and asters, Goodnestone Park, September 2013

Lest I forget our own coastal garden, it is adapting well to increasing shade as our trees mature. Having been transplanted in spring, our Agapanthus africanus came good and gave us almost 80 flower heads. I’m not sure what I need to do to guarantee a repeat of this next year, but on occasion we’ve enjoyed up to 100.  In the foreground are Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’, Fuchsia arborescens and Eucomis bicolour, all pot grown.

The Watch House Garden, September 2013

December went by like a winter whirlwind. In Paris, we enjoyed a surprisingly warm day, the sun turning the poplars on the banks of River Seine into golden torches….

Poplar tree, The Louvre, Paris, December 2013

and before we knew it, it was Christmas. And a very good one it was too. In between eating, drinking and socialising we got out for a walk across the heath to Hampstead, enjoying a cornucopia of crab apples and other bright berries. Between Christmas and New Year we got to stretch our legs once more at Minnis Bay on the Isle of Thanet, listening to the oyster catchers and watching the sunlight dancing in the reeds (below).

Crab apples in Hampstead, Boxing Day 2013

So, that was the year that was. By my own standards it a was a busy and sometimes challenging one. Looking back there was much to be grateful for and many happy memories in the making.  If 2014 is as glorious I shall be a very happy man.

To all my followers, thank you for entertaining me with your own beautiful blogs and for looking in on mine. I wish you all a very Happy New Year and a frustration-free 2014.

Reeds on the Wantsum River, Thanet, Kent, December 2013