Packwood House and the smirr: Part one

During today's rainy plant ident walkaround I learned a new Scots word to add to my collection of ways to describe horrible weather: smirr, a mist-like drizzle that coats everything. Now I know what to call this phenomenon whereby it seems to rain upward, from the ground, soaking pant legs as much as shoulders. 

The weather's been pretty horrible, with only a few days of sun since Nov. 1. Even the hardy natives are confessing clandestine trips to tanning beds for emergency Vitamin D top-ups. Instead of posting images of grey, grey, grey, let's take a trip back in time to last June, which was the last time I was outside and somewhat warm barring my trip back to the U.S. this autumn. And the kicker is I wasn't even in Scotland! I was much further south in England, on study tour with my class.

We stopped by Packwood House, in Warwickshire, and looking at these brightly colored and blooming garden photos is just what I need on this cold, wet night. 

Packwood House dates back to a humble farmhouse built in 1556. The property was home to the Fetherston family for 300 years before being purchased by Alfred Ash in 1904. The home stayed in the Ash family until it was signed over to the National Trust in 1941. 

Packwood House gardens are most notable for their collection of more than 100 yews (Taxus baccata) representing the "Sermon on the Mount. Each tree is clipped in a distinct fashion to represent, as my professor said, the diversity of humanity. The yew garden was designed in the mid-17th century by John Fetherston, and some of the shrubs are more than 50 feet tall. The head gardener, and our guide for the visit, explained the challenge of maintaining the yews on clay soil that's prone to water logging as well as compaction by the many visitors to the garden.

I found the yews the least interesting of all the areas at Packwood. Though they are technically impressive, I am not a huge topiary fan, and the dark and looming shrubs created a foreboding feeling in that section of the garden. Much more enjoyable were the bright borders and dry garden, which came into being in a trouble spot where more water-loving plants failed to thrive. 

The nearby borders made me rethink my feelings about purple. The Allium sp. were pretty impressive, and the color worked so well with the red brick behind. 

Here's one of the staff cutting a perfectly striped lawn with a cylinder mower. 

Pretty gardens are all good, but I'm always interested in showing the horticulturists who work so hard to keep them looking nice. All too often garden photography shows sterile perfection, with entire landscapes looking as though they'd sprung fully formed from the goddess Flora's green finger. But as anyone who's hefted a spade knows, gardening is hard, dirty, physically taxing work. I like to see the people doing that work, and their tools, which are just as beautiful to me as perfectly pristine, but empty, landscapes. 

Up next we'll venture further afield at Packwood House, visiting the orchard, forest follies, and the vegetable garden...Until then, I leave you with evidence of the weather: my winter twigs from today's walkaround. Two hours after getting home, the paper is still puddled! It's the smirr, I tell you, the smirr!