Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Snowdrop surprise

Not kept in secret, although hidden away, Fingask Castle did feel like a secret find yesterday. The promise of snowdrops drew us along some quiet back roads only a few minutes from a very busy dual carriage way that I have driven along so many times. Since writing this gardenwatch blog I have been surprised at the activity going on in my garden that previously I have missed. It is also becoming clear I have been missing much outside my own garden too.

Topiary and statues I had expected to find at Fingask based on the description on the Scottish Snowdrop Festival website. With that in mind I had asked my Mum to join me on this trip to discover snowdrop displays. However, I had no idea the humour and charm we would also find there. What a setting this castle had. The red flowers of a rhododendron brought us from the lawn up to a shaded path behind it. Sculptures at the end of this path drew as along it. What a wonderful focal point!

Fingask Castle has been bought by the Threipland family four times in the last 400 years! I wonder if they are responsible for adding the selection of sculptures and more unusual garden design features of this garden that we discovered as we walked around. Notice the window frames placed into the hedging. Looking to the plants, the river of bergenia coming down the grass banking and around a water feature caught my eye. We didn’t explore the garden behind the wall as it appeared to be a private area.

Let’s have a closer look at this pair below… having a quiet drink on the terrace! The next statue tells quite a different story. I am guessing by the look on the faces of the family the man (husband/father most likely) is going away to work. Perhaps he will be away for some time. Our visit had absolutely no concept of time as we explored this magical place. Oh… but we were here to see snowdrops…..

A gentleman, not the one in the statue below, suggested we walked a particular route down the hill away from the castle to find the snowdrops. I am guessing by his attire, manner and voice he could have easily been the owner. He was with someone at the time so it wasn’t appropriate to ask him.

Below the road and under a bridge, making their own white streams and waterfalls, snowdrops brought life to this area. We followed narrow paths through dense shrub plantings. Scatterings of snowdrops were seen along the way. They were looking particularly beautiful on the wonderful browns of the ferns lying on the ground. Snowdrops are just so very pretty and elegant aren’t they?

It was time to go and we headed for the car park admiring the view all the way out to the Tay Bridges before we left. However, I didn’t put my camera in my bag quite yet. I laid it on the back seat of the car knowing full well I would use it just once more! On our drive up we past a wonderful display along the roadside. I stopped the car on the way down to capture our first and last images of the snowdrops at Fingask Castle.

This weekend I hope to visit another quite different area with displays of Snowdrops so fingers crossed the weather will be fair. This year I am looking to see if any other area, within travelling distance, can beat the vast numbers of snowdrops I saw at Dalmeny last year. Now that woodland really does take your breath away!

Meantime, I should give a quick recap on what’s been going on in my garden. Mm… I need to get out there a do some ‘real’ gardening. Things are moving on out there with crocuses now showing their lovely smiley faces when the sun comes out! Tulips are pushing their leaves through the ground and there are hellebore flower buds just about to open. Ah… the gardening year has well and truely started!

Finally, if you are considering visiting this garden I should add that it isn’t open on Saturdays. I will be discrete here to avoid an onslaught of advertisers. A cake and a special white dress may well be the reason. You might like to look at what else this Castle has on offer besides snowdrops. It really isn't so secret after all and is quite a special location for…

All photos above were taken on February 24th, 2009.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Just ‘B’ eautiful!

It’s Friday already and just where has this week gone? This morning’s challenge is to write, upload photos and post in 40 mins! Is this possible? Maybe perhaps for many bloggers but well… I do ramble on a bit. Today, I am going to be brief. Yes, I have said this before but I want to ease you into the weekend with some images from this past week. The schools were off and we were out and about….

Dundee Botanical Gardens made our hit list on Monday. I took a number of photos but just loved this image of the cotoneaster berries beside this bench. Don’t you just love the weathered look of the bench with the berries?

Ah… but it is signs of Spring we are looking for at the moment and this garden didn’t disappoint. We’ve had a few sunny and warm days and what a difference this makes to the growth of plants and the volume of bird song. We were serenaded as we walked around this garden. It was a beautiful day.

A corner in the car park saw some signs of the heavy snow fall to this garden but the scent of the plant that I opened my car door to blew that right away! I am guessing it might have been a Daphne but I’m not certain. It was just the most beautiful welcome before we even walked through the garden's entrance.

Beautiful heather bells caught my eye and the magical branches of Witch hazel which really capture my imagination. What a great name 'witch hazel' when it has such weird and wonderful flowers on its twisted branches isn’t it?

Spring flowers really are beautiful having such varied shapes of flowers from the yellow spire clusters on Mahonia to the modest nodding cup flowers of the hellebores. Blossom decorating bare branches is a sight for sore eyes after the dull days we have all had. But looking closer to the ground and here you’ll see the foliage plants are trying to get noticed too. They have rich colours complimenting the delicate ones of the blossom.

Ah… but before we shut the door on Winter and stride into the beauty that is Spring there is still plenty of Winter beauty out there too. Cardoon, Agapanthus and Hydrangea seed heads caught my eye in this garden on our walk. To me they act as both as successes from the year before and show the promise of the season to come. For the moment I still enjoy these images so I’ll just walk at a steady pace into Spring.

The birds… well they are a different matter altogether! Yes, they were signing their little hearts out as we arrived at the favourite Reserve of my daughter and I the next day. However, we weren’t gently serenaded on the short walk from the car park – it was full volume Dolby Surround Sound! So I guess they think Spring is well underway. Another clue to Spring is in the photo below although I wonder if you’d guess what’s going on?

The white arrow on the left points to the Osprey nest on the other side of the Loch. We watched the two men in the boat sail across. They were going to check out the nest ahead of the technician who was due in a few hours. Technician? Well, there is a camera up there to see the action in the nest and it gets checked out before the Ospreys return. It was fascinating to hear the men say that the birds were expected to be leaving Africa now and it would take them until March 18th (Est) to arrive at this nest. What’s more amazing is that the female has been returning here for 30 years!!

It was business as usual at the feeders with Red Squirrels popping by and the smaller birds descending on the feeders with a flurry. Even the Woodpecker joined in. Oh… and I should say I saw a Brambling for the first time. It was spotted near the quieter feeder to the side of the building. I stood ages outside with my camera hoping it would return but I never saw it again. Ah well... maybe another time. Oh... but all this excitement was quite a contrast to the geese wandering in fields along the roadside as we drove home.

We stopped briefly at the side of this very quiet back country road as I took a few snaps. I always suspected they were Greylag Geese but I didn’t know for sure when passing by the fields and driving at the same time! Yes, Greylag they were but who was the chap to their left all alone with a slightly different shape.

Well, hey... a bit of excitement with the geese after all! Looking at my books it appears that this is a Canada Goose and odd ones can join groups of Greylag. I’ll watch out for again now I know what it looks like. Another thing you need to watch out for in these quiet roads is the pheasants walking across them. The one above (taken by my daughter through an open car window) was lucky staying just along the edge but we spotted one less lucky on the road earlier.

Most times I have stopped along the side of the road to take photos of the geese they have instantly taken to the skies. However, this day, they were just wandering about the other side of the field. So now I have these photos how about if I just lift one arm up … yep they took to the sky and I got some photos of that too! ‘Isn’t that enough photos for the day?’ was the gentle request from my daughter. Yep… it was another beautiful day, the sun was shinning and it was time for Lunch!

Okay, it’s time for Lunch today and I didn’t quite make my 40 mins posting. Chatting in the real world on the phone, at my door and on the phone again well… it wasn’t going to happen! Ah… disappointingly the rain has started just as I was about to wish you a great weekend. I’m off out now on a long drive to collect my Uni daughter to bring her home for the weekend – she hasn’t been so well again. However, I am planning to take advantage of this journey looking to catch a snowdrop display at a garden on the way there!

Wishing you a great weekend in and out your garden – hope the weather is kind to you too!

All the photos above were taken between February 16th-17th, 2009.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Unlucky or not?

A fitting parking ticket for Friday the thirteenth! Believe it or not this is the actual ticket I put on my car today as I parked outside Edinburgh Botanical Gardens. We did get a ‘wooah’ moment when it popped out of the machine.

I am delighted to report no mishaps. We had a very pleasant trip around the garden. Yes, it was a little cold and there was snow covering the ground. Although the few snowdrops that we did see were holding back a little there was still lots to catch our interest. We followed our visit to the garden with a visit to the centre where we had a spot of lunch, sitting outside on a bench, in Princes Street Gardens. We joined the few other hardy souls today!

Let me share the highlights of our visit to The Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh. We entered the garden via the North Gate passing The Queen Mother's Memorial Garden shown above. Today my plan was to visit the Chinese Garden to see if we could spot (get photos) of the Bullfinches seen there on my visit last February.

After a brief detour, via the tearoom, we arrived at the top path of the Chinese Garden to find tape across it. Pruning was going on there today. Well, I suppose that was our bit of bad luck. We decided to walk along the path above it and round to another entrance.

On our way round we spotted a female Sparrowhawk high above us on a branch of a tree – she appeared to be enjoy a sunny spot! We never got inside the Chinese Garden but walking around the outside we still managed to catch a glimpse of the bullfinches in this area of the garden.

Catkins and berries added interest and colour as we walked around the garden and if we looked closely in the undergrowth of the shrubs and trees we could see birds like the Moorhen (shown above) and Magpies looking for food.

Coal tits and Robins could be heard chattering and singing as we walked. This is a great time to visit gardens as you can see birds much more easily when the leaves are not on the trees. Viburnum blossom could be seen dotted around the garden and Witch hazel too as in the first photo. Both brought a smile to my face. I was delighted to spot some Hellebore flowers too!

We didn’t walk round the whole garden today so I can only report noticing one clump of snowdrops. It was a very welcome sight non the less! I am guessing that the snowdrops will be a little later in coming into flower this year as it has been so cold.

Okay, the grey squirrel isn’t always a welcome sight in our gardens! However, I will always associate it with Edinburgh and the Botanical Gardens. Today, I have to say, it really looked quite endearing running around the partially snow covered ground. I’m wondered if it has forgotten where it has hidden its stash of food.

Hey don’t look to me mate… I can’t help you. I haven’t touched it… honest! Ah yes... the picture above has to be my favourite from our visit today.

Just before we left for Edinburgh this morning I had another new sight from my garden. Today, three Fieldfares landed on the tree above my hedge! It looks like they'll be back now. This tree really isn’t the best for getting photos due to the distance and the lighting conditions but you can still make the birds out.

The montage below shows the Song Thrush (two square photos), the Mistle Thrush (centre) and the Fieldfare on the right. Although the last two aren’t very good they still give a little guide to compare these birds. Note the different wing markings on the thrushes and the spotted pattern of the Song Thrush has ‘v’ formations.

So that was Friday the thirteenth, not such an unlucky day after all! Tomorrow sees Valentine’s Day. I wonder how many roses will be bought. Of course, you could always make some fondant ones as in the cake below I made for my Mum and Dad’s Golden Wedding Anniversary. Ah… does that not make you think of romance?

What about the next photo? No? Well, there is a reason I am posting this photo of the Blackbird Nestbox I have hanging in my pergola. Yes, birds are considering pairing up at this time of year. So you could say ‘Love is in the air’.

However, Valentine’s Day is also the day that the BTO has picked for their National Nestbox Week here in the UK. They want to encourage us to put up Nestboxes ready for the nesting season ahead. Their website gives lots of tips for exisiting ones, sighting new ones and plans for you to make your own. A family project for this week/weekend perhaps?

I don’t know if my small garden could support anymore nestboxes. Blue tits are still showing interest in both our camera and non camera nestboxes but we have yet to see this Blackbird one get used. It has been up almost a year now. I might need to consider giving it more protection from a cat climbing up there. That could be our project for the weekend! However you spend your weekend, I’d like to wish you a good one!

All photos above, with the exception of the Nestbox, Cake, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush, were taken on Friday the 13th of February 2009.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Jellyfish for Darwin

200 years ago today the British naturalist Charles Darwin was born. Mm… a jellyfish would definitely not be the first image that would spring to mind when you hear his name is mentioned. Back in 2004, on a trip to Berlin Zoo, I captured the video footage of moon jellyfish below. I have been waiting for the right time to include this in a posting. Today, I would like to dedicate this film to Charles Darwin .

Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace formed the theory of evolution. This theory is based on ‘natural selection’ which is a process which favours the best adapted members of a species. I'll not go into the details of findings, evidence and theories here. However I would like to share one ‘story’ that caught my eye and which is relevant to the birds that visit my garden.

During a visit to the Galapagos Islands back in 1832 Darwin discovered 13 species of finch. Today, in my small Scottish garden I have 4 species of finch visiting. Chaffinches are the highest in numbers followed (at the moment) by Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Siskins. I am on the lookout for two others – the Brambling and the Bullfinch.

Sorry, back to Darwin…

It was the different beak shapes of the finches on the Galapagos Islands that caught Darwin’s eye. He noticed that these beaks were suited to the eating habits of the finch. Darwin believed that these finches had gradually evolved from a single species long before. A small beak would be suited to eating seeds and insects where other stronger ones were more suited to crushing big seeds or a sharp one for catching small insects. I don’t believe there are many differences in the beak shapes of the finches that visit my garden at the moment. However, I can see differences between other species that visit with the ground feeding birds having longer sharper beaks more suited to pulling up worms!

Dried fruit on the snow covered ground caught the attention of many birds in my garden today. Blackbirds with their larger sharper beaks can pick them up very easily and practically swallow the pieces of fruit whole. Starlings will often take away a few pieces of fruit in their sharp greedy beaks! As I was editing my film for Darwin, in all honesty, I looked out my window to see what I thought was the Mistle Thrush feeding at the fruit with the Blackbirds and Starlings. Excellent, I went for my camera. Aw… the bird was gone!

Discovering new species of birds arriving in my garden has always amazed me. Just where do they come from and how do they find it. I am guessing one species watches others finding food, follows them, and then this circle spreads out. A couple of comments in my last posting queried if my Mistle Thrush was in fact a Fieldfare. We are agreed that it was the Mistle Thrush which did visit the trees again today. However, after looking through my book again, I flicked past the Fieldfare page and low and behold today I actually had a Fieldfare visiting and eating dried fruit on the ground! Aw… no photos! I watched the garden as it ran around (unfamiliar with the layout) looking for fruit. I really am astounded at the timing of this bird’s visit. So now, I will think of both the Moon Jellyfish and the Fieldfare, my newest garden visitor, when I see Darwin’s name.

Darwin, of course, wasn’t the only man born on February 12th 1809. There was another rather famous man born that day too.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, shares the same birthday. He too deserves a mention today. I am guessing there will be a few celebrations in American schools today.

Finally, if you are in the UK you might want to checkout Darwin200. You will also find a list of more than 300 activities across the country which will run throughout the year.

"Darwin200 is a national programme of events honouring his scientific ideas and their impact. The celebrations have already begun and will continue until 24 November 2009, the 150th anniversary of the publication of his famous book, On the Origin of Species."

Wither you are celebrating the 200th Birthday of Darwin or Lincoln I do hope you’ve had a great day.

The photos above are both courtesy of Wikipedia and can be seen in the links given.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Who's watching who?

Oh my… what beautiful brown eyes. Em… no this wasn’t one of the many gatecrasher/eavesdroppers at Saturday’s very successful Dinner Party. Nor was this handsome chap a guest/gatecrasher at the very busy bird feeders in my garden on Sunday morning either!

Mallard Male, click to enlarge.

The early hours of Sunday morning saw another brief sprinkling of snow. It was bitterly cold outside as I topped up the feeders just after 7.30am. I broke the ice in my pond to give the birds some water to drink then headed in for a hot cup of tea! With breakfast, I sat at the window watching ‘Bird TV’. It was to be a 'Mystery' this morning!

Tension was building on the ground as birds fought unnecessarily for food. I was busy at the PC now catching up on the gossip from the night before. Catching my eye outside were the blackbirds as they all quickly left the ground. I watched a moment. It didn’t look like a Sparrowhawk visit. The birds didn’t leave the garden – they just stepped back from the feeders and were now on tree branches, shrubs, fences etc. My eyes followed one Blackbird all the way up to a branch on my neighbour’s cherry tree just on the other side of my hedge.

The Blackbird looked up the tree. I looked up the tree. Some chaffinches landed on the higher tree branches. But wait a minute what is that in the middle of the tree? I watched this mystery bird. The Blackbird stayed on its lower branch and watched this mystery bird. The chaffinches briefly considered moving but stayed watching too. We had a situation now! I looked through my very simple, dirt cheap, binoculars. This bird looked bigger than the Blackbird. The Blackbird was still watching it! It was almost like there was some sort of respect thing going on here. If you click on this or any other image in this posting it will enlarge.

The books came down from the shelf. What was this? My camera was sitting on my tripod so I took a few snaps. The bird remained. The light wasn’t good so I knew the images wouldn’t be either. The mystery bird slowly turned its head looking around. I looked up the books.

My first thought was a cuckoo as I’d never seen one. But no, this wasn’t likely at this time of year! The bird looked quite plump and grey and had spotted markings on its front. A thrush was my next thought but felt it not likely with this bird being so bold sitting up there. Oh…wait a minute I could set up my video camera and get a closer view of it. Aw… off it went!

Could it be a Mistle Thrush? I had never seen one of these either. An internet search came up with some rather nice images with slim necks and small looking heads. That didn’t seem to be the bird then! Ah… but wait a minute these were from photographers. Looking through the less pretty pics, dark and unsharp like mine, I found a similar looking bird. Back to the books again.

Ah yes… with the description of 'pale edges to dark wing feathers, a grey brown back and a bold dark eye in a plain face' it looked like I had a match. Confirmation came when I looked up the size of this bird compared to the blackbird. The Mistle Thrush has a length of 27cm where the Blackbird is 24-25cm. So there’s about an inch between them. Yep… that looked about right. Oh… but what about this A large, bold, aggressive thrush, the Mistle Thrush is by far the largest of the ‘spotted’ thrushes”. Yep… I guess that’s why the other birds were watching it!

Starlings were probably being watched by the other birds too as they started arriving in groups taking over the feeders as they do. They have found the little feeder in my Acer tree and some seemed to negotiate through its branches easier than others! With the ice broken in the pond I also watched Robins and Blackbirds come down for a drink.

Getting ready for a trip out later during the morning just look what I spotted. Our first crocus is out! My front garden gets a little more sunshine than the back so I guess that’s what’s helped this one on. I had been regularly watching out for the ones planted in the lawn to show signs of buds like many, many other gardeners. Oh… well that would be the ones that can see the ground through snow!

Perth shopping trip over, we headed from the town across the bridge to a small water edge along the River Tay to see the water birds there. I had packed my camera! I wanted some shots for my birdphotos blog which I’d like to post on more regularly this year. My daughter had packed a bag of bread and that’s what the Mallard in the first photo was waiting for! I stood closer to the edge than usual which didn’t bother the Mallards but many of the Goosanders were a bit wary of us being so close. The female Goosander below was keeping one eye on both me and the bread!

Further along the path we stood behind the high stone wall looking down on the river. There were no ducks at this strip but that didn’t last for long! Once my daughter started throwing her bits of bread there was soon a feeding frenzy below. Swans could be seen in the distance but gulls were now taking an interest as the Mallards and Goosanders splashed about below. This female Goosander below doesn’t look quite serene and uninterested now!

My daughter started throwing bread up into the air now to see if the gulls could catch it in flight. Oh yes… and she challenged me to get some photos of it! Yeh right… just what are the chances of that. Well, would you believe it I actually did! Of course I didn’t know that at the time and I took many, many photos. So once again we come to the challenge of the day – just who were we watching? Okay... I don’t know my gulls so it was out with the books again when we got home.

Black-headed gulls you would expect to have – black heads. Looking at my book it appears that its black head is in fact a brown hood which is only seen in the summer. The red beak you can see has a black tip and there seems to be a black spot to the side of the eye. This spot is a dark ear spot. So both birds below are Black-headed gulls. However, the one at the bottom in both shots has markings on its wings and a dark tail tip which makes an 'immature' and in its first winter. Gosh… so many looks to remember and from what I’ve read there’s breeding plumage to consider too.

The sun was trying to come out and the Swans finally made it along to our strip of water - when the bread was finished. They preened as they went and it didn't look like they were fussy for it anyway. Gosh… how they could stretch their necks. We stretched our legs in quite a different manner and then headed home.

Once home, I made one more brief trip - into the garden to see if my snowdrops could be making there way through the ground. I have never been successful growing them in the past. Hey look… it looks like I’ve a couple of flowers! Excellent - now I'm in the mood for visiting some of the gardens taking part in the Snowdrop Festival which runs from 1st February to 16th March here in Scotland. Remember last year I went to Dalmeny at South Queensferry just outside Edinburgh? What a wonderful sight that was - its going to be hard to beat that one!

So many wonderful moments and images from the weekend! One of my favourite garden ones just has to be the one below of the leaves from my drumstick primulas which I disvoered after the snowdrops. They almost look alien! Although I’m not in a hurry for Spring this definitely signals it is underway, albeit under snow.

Last night we had another light covering of snow. Today has been another day, as they say, and this morning revealed yet another garden mystery! As I put food out for the birds I noticed some marks in the snow. Yes, that is my footprint in the larger photo below but to the right of it you will see four long lines. Just what made these?

I spotted them in a few places including the roof of Hedgehog Manor. Based on the sightings like under the ornamental grass too I’d guess a squirrel but I doubt it could make these marks. I’ll just have to keep watching to see who else is visiting my garden.

All the photos above were taken on Febraury 9th 2009, some in my garden and the others in Perth along the River Tay.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The guest list...

With “an interest in gardening or nature” just who would you choose? You’re having a Dinner Party and “you can invite figures from the past, present, future or a mix; celebrity, learned or your gardening buddies - it's up to you.” Okay… this is not my challenge but it is one that has caught my imagination. VP has sent out this invitation:

Sorry, I just couldn’t choose between fellow bloggers. However, I can really let my imagination go quite easily. I’ve been seriously creative with time for my guest list. I have fully embraced VP’s suggestion that “It doesn't matter if you've never met any of them before - let your imagination and the power of the internet rule!” Oh yes… and I have!

At a guess, the reason behind the choices will be as interesting as the guest list itself. Okay, that being the case I thought I’d give my original reaction. Five guests… my first thoughts were two from the gardening side, two from the birds/wildlife side and a wild card that would be a fun party guest. Yep… that definitely helped shape my list. Mm… but then I considered what makes a good Dinner Party. It’s not just the food at the table… it’s the conversation! Okay then… it’s my party so whose stories would I love to hear?

Hands down, no hesitation whatsoever, I would love to hear tales from a plant hunter. Someone who has travelled regions in any part of the world looking to discover a new plant species… I’d love to hear their thoughts and experiences. Wow… to discover some new, or even better endangered, species would be just amazing especially now. I had difficulty deciding between the present and past. My first guest has come from the past and would be Sir Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820).

Banks was a British explorer and naturalist. On a joint scientific expedition between the Royal Navy and the Royal Society he joined Captain James Cook on one of his first voyages to the South Pacific on HM Bark Endeavour. Now… he must have some fascinating stories to share! As director of The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew he then sent many botanists abroad to find new plants to extend the collection of the garden. Yes… a very interesting dinner guest he would make!

It’s my party… so I’m jumping completely into present day with my next guest. I really enjoy filming the birds and wildlife in my garden (and outside it) so I am inviting a wildlife cameraman. Gosh… and there are so many to choose from. In this case I am going for fellow Scot Gordon Buchanan .

Gordon is probably most known here in the UK for his wildlife diaries for BBC Two's Spring/Autumnwatch. However, he has filmed in other parts of the world too including Africa and not always using conventional modes of transport either. Imagine riding on the back of an elephant, in a basket with a 15ft tripod using the edge of said elephant’s back, to film tigers! I am guessing Gordon will have some excellent dinner chat.

Joseph worked with Artists to record images on his plant hunting expeditions so seeing the camera equipment (especially discovering you can film with sound and in complete darkness now) would be a discovery he could never have imagined. Oh yes… I’d also ask Gordon to take his camera with him just in case an unexpected visitor passed through my garden tonight! I have wondered about foxes and he’s the man to ask about that. Joseph must have come across amazing wildlife sights on his trips. Now, I wonder what Gordon would ask Joseph?

So that’s one to the garden and one to wildlife. Okay… seeing as I’ve already visited the past I can easily go back a little further. I’m thinking of large Country Houses and Mansions with expanses of grounds that really do reach for our imagination. Yep… single track (bumpy) roads with a horse and trap. Let me introduce my next guest… Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716–1783). Ah... I see that Brown and Banks were living at the same time. I wonder if they ever met?

I have great difficulty in understanding the vision Brown had at that time both with the scale and resources he worked with across England. I know as gardeners we like to make our own mark on an existing garden, and yes, we will often start by altering a border or two. However, Brown wiped out large established formal gardens rearranging completely the landscape around Country houses and Parks.

It is estimated that he is responsible for as many as 170 gardens/parks. Smooth undulating grass would be seen running right up to the houses and scatterings of trees were dotted around them. Quite a risky move for the owners I’d have thought.

Just how did Brown convince the owners to make these changes and spend considerable money in doing so? Well, the answer lies in his name. Brown would characteristically tell his clients that their estates had great "capability" for landscape improvement. Many clearly believed ‘Capability’ Brown and a fashion evolved but after his death his work lost its popularity for a while as it was seen as a feeble imitation of wild nature. Perhaps it was, but there are many ways to see this. This style did return again in the Twentieth Century.

Now… back to the dinner chat! I do wonder about the conversation between my next guest and Brown. Ah… but they do have one thing in common – trees.

Jumping to the future again I’d like to introduce my next guest. However, I don’t really know which period I really see him in. Yes… he is definitely living in the present but he is so in touch with the space he works with that I suspect he could be dropped into any period of time. I’d like to invite to my table… Dan Pearson.

Dan is a landscape and garden designer and believes it is better to work with nature than to dominate it. So that would make him on opposite side to Brown you would think. Heated discussions at the dinner table perhaps? Well, Dan is so laid back but at the same time so passionate about what he does it could go either way.

Mood, atmosphere and 'sense of place' are so important to Dan but could Brown really make the huge changes he made to landscapes without not feeling the same? Okay… I’ll let the dinner conversation sort that one out. It’s going to be very interesting. Oh yes... and I should add that Dan lectures all over the world. He also writes a blog. I wonder what Brown would make of blogs!

Mm… I see I’m lacking female company at my dinner table. I’ll re-address this now. My first thoughts went to Beth Chatto and to Sarah Raven as I could listen to both of them chat all night long. However, I have a very simple reason for choosing my last guest. I would like to know more about… Alys Fowler .

Alys appeared on our television screens as head gardener with BBC Two’s Gardeners' World programme. She worked previously worked as a researcher to the show. I will be honest and say I really wasn’t sure about her at the start. However, she has now ‘grown’ on me!

Recently, I have popped over to her blog and will say it makes a good read. It is her character and enthusiasm that I am now seeing. Looking up info on her I see like Dan and Joesph she has also worked at Kew Gardens. Searching on the internet for more info on her, one story caught my eye:

“Whilst living in New York she also began volunteering in a community garden on the Lower East side in Manhattan. With only a fire escape to grow plants on, she quickly found a community that were making beautiful gardens literally from the street. This was an influential period in her training and much of the ethic, thrift and spirit that thrives in such settings is found in her work today.” Alys now runs her own garden design business. Yes, I would like to hear some chat from Alys Fowler. I am also guessing she would enjoy the chat with my other guests too.

All my dinner guests come from completely different places both in time and in their lives but hey that will make for some excellent conversation at the dinner table! Interestingly enough I asked my 15yr old daughter who she thought I’d have to dinner. She said “that Piet guy, Monty Don and her!” She is claiming some ownership of my blogging beginning after we observed birds for her school project. Very good my dear… yes if I ever have Piet Oudolf and Monty Don to dinner you will definitely get an invite. In fact, I might ask you to make the desert!

I do apologise, I’ve perhaps been giving a little too much chat here. It wasn’t too tricky picking my guests. However, as you can probably see, I did find it tricky trying to write brief bit on each guest. Gosh… I shouldn’t be sitting here at the PC now. I’ve a dinner to organise. Now… is that the caterers at the door or an early guest?

Oh… one last thing. I’m not the only one having a dinner party tonight. Perhaps you might enjoy being a fly on the wall at a few parties – I know I would. You’ll find them in the Mister Linky list on VP’s posting. Oh my... just look at the time. Is that the doorbell again? I really must dash…

The images of Banks and Brown were taken from Wikipedia commons. The images of my other guests were taken from the links given.