Spectacular snowdrops

Is there anything more delightful than a snowdrop? Pushing their gently drooping heads out from the still frosty ground, how anything so delicate and beautiful can choose to appear in gardens at this time of year is anyone’s guess.  Yet year on year the steadfast snowdrop reappears and a visit to a National Trust garden is all the better for them.

Spring is a time not to be missed at National Trust gardens and countryside across the South West.

Snowdrops are expected to be at their best from early February and many National Trust properties, including Fyne Court, Kingston Lacey, Dunster Castle, Arlington Court, Trelissick, Killerton and Lanhydrock will be open allowing walks among the displays.

The garden team at Dunster Castle and gardens planted thousands of snowdrops and bluebells in readiness for spring, ably assisted by green fingered younger volunteers from Dunster First School.

Robin Andrews, Head Gardener at Dunster, said: “We’re expecting a spectacular display this year.

“There are quite a few types of snowdrop that many visitors can see here, including some that they may not be aware of: the common snowdrop, giant snowdrop and Crimean snowdrop.  We’ve planted a 1000 of each variety in the castle gardens as well as 6000 common snowdrops in the river gardens too.

The snowdrops at Fyne Court were believed to have been planted in the 1800s as part of the original Arcadian landscape designed. They were planted to represent light and contrasted in places with the dark, which in this case were laurel bushes with their shiny dark green leaves.

To check on snowdrop events across the South West, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk

The Rebirth of Handmade Photographs

At a time when digital photography is king and analogue photography seems to have fallen into the dustbin of history, the Fox Talbot Museum is looking to the past to find the future of photographic art.

The latest museum exhibition, Handmade Pictures, is the work of Jesseca Ferguson who uses a pinhole camera and prints her images on paper made using a 100 year old technique.

From its earliest days, photography became an art by combining the aesthetic eye common to all artists in selecting the scene to shoot and a command of the technical skills necessary in creating the final print.

Tome-XXIV-Argyrotype Fox Talbot“As good as digital photography is, many photographic artists miss the hands-on feel of analogue photography” said Roger Watson, Curator of the Fox Talbot Museum. “The ease of making pictures using digital cameras and a computer printer goes against the grain of artists who are used to working with both their eyes and hands to create art.”

Jesseca is a Boston artist who chooses to continue working outside the technological mainstream. She uses basic pinhole cameras to create negatives and then prints them on fine artists paper using hand coated 19th century processes, in particular the cyanotype and salted paper prints.

Jesseca Ferguson said: “The poetic aspects of pinhole photography are what draw me to it.  Although the pinhole camera is ‘blind,’ because it has no viewfinder or lens, I find that it ‘sees’ in mysterious ways.  The pinhole camera’s ‘sight’ grants infinite depth of field to the object and images before it, thus allowing us to see the camera’s pinhole vision, which is characterized by the odd clarity of dreams or memory. Working without a viewfinder, I can’t know exactly what my pinhole camera will give me, thus my camera becomes my silent and enigmatic collaborator.

“Usually I work in my own studio, setting up arrangements of images and objects culled from my “museum of memory,” which is my personal collection of oddments, books, and artefacts.  Using only natural light, my exposures often take several hours.  I then contact print my images using 19th century techniques (or modern versions of antique processes) requiring ultra-violet light.  My work is slow, hand-built, and cumulative, rather like the layering of dust or memories over time. “

Roger Watson explained that, 100 years ago as photography became available to a much wider range of people thanks to hand-held cameras with film which could be easily processed, some photographers turned back to older techniques and processes in a bid to make photography an art form.

“We appear to be at another of these turning points where digital printmaking has become, on the one hand, so easy that anyone can make a basic image or on the other hand, so complex and expensive that it must be printed by an expert. In order to separate themselves from the crowds, some photographers have once again turned to the art of hand printmaking. For them, the final object must contain both the art and the craft of photography.”

More information on the exhibition is available on www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock

Tyntesfield unwrapped

A major milestone is about to be reached. The building restoration work on the house and chapel is coming to an end. It reopens on 28 February along with the Home Farm Visitor Centre which houses a splendid restaurant, shop, exhibition space and exciting family play area.

For the past 18 months over 28 miles of scaffold poles have encased the house but now the newly retiled roof with its vibrant black and red diaper pattern is fully restored – and watertight. The house is home to eight species of bats which are protected by strict legislation. So it was bat-friendly building work.

TyntesfieldWhen you step inside the house you step into a Victorian home – with modern touches discretely hidden. Not least a 21st Century heating system using a wood fired boiler to reduce carbon emissions and completely new electrical wiring which is hidden behind old, refurbished, switches and fittings.

Project Manager Tim Cambourne says, “After years of planning and some challenging moments, being able to share this extraordinary project with visitors has been well worth it. The scale of work that has taken place here is quite extraordinary and is probably one of the most significant moments in Tyntesfield’s history.”

Tyntesfield's weathervane forecasting a good season

Highlights of the restoration include the return of the cockerel weather vane – regilded during conservation, it forms a striking sight on the highest point of the house. Joining the cockerel amongst the spectacular turrets and pinnacles of Tyntesfield’s rooftop is the recently reinstated bell spire which was probably originally used to call or keep time for estate staff.

The completion of the building restoration work to the mansion and chapel means conservation within the house can progress. In the butler’s pantry you’ll meet the Inventory Officer busy still cataloguing the many thousands of objects that make up the Tyntesfield collection, each of which contribute to the history and story of the house. The discoveries range from nostalgic ice cream containers to far more ominous bones found hidden between the joists of a first-floor bathroom.

Outside of the house, there is much to see and do. In the rose garden take a seat in the beautifully repaired gazebos, pick up seasonal produce in the kitchen garden or enjoy one of the walks in the wider estate, including routes along the Victorian carriage ways with views across the Yeo Valley.

Stay in one of the National Trust’s oldest buildings

Holidaymakers will have the chance to stay in a medieval manor house thanks to a transformation that has created the grandest and oldest holiday property in the National Trust’s portfolio.

Shute Barton, near Axminster in east Devon, dates back to the 13th century and is part of what was a larger family house owned by the Bonville family. It has stood through a staggering amount of history from the dissolution of the monasteries through to the Second World War.

Shute Barton nr Axminster

Come and stay in one the Trust's oldest buildings

The house – which has reputedly the largest fireplace in England where two oxen could be roasted at once – was given to the National Trust in 1959 by the Carew Pole family. Cousins of this family, the Pole Carews, lived there until 2009.

The features include 17th century panelling in one of the master bedrooms and a great hall on the top floor dating from 1450 and reached by a tiny spiral staircase. The room has a garderobe in the corner and an incredible hammer beam roof which can be enjoyed by guests today when they holiday at Shute Barton.

Guests can dine under original paintings belonging to the Carew Pole family, sleep in antique beds and look out of the original lead windows to views little altered over the centuries. The house is approached through an ornate gatehouse – a scheduled monument in its own right – and there are formal gardens which stretch out to the back of the building.

The house, which accommodates ten people, is an ideal venue for a special family holiday in incredible surroundings, and is well located for the sites such as the Jurassic Coast and the attractive coastal villages of Beer and Seaton. It is available for bookings from February 2011.

To book go to http://www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk/south_west/south_devon_and_dartmoor/shute_barton/459 or call the National Trust holiday cottages booking office on: 0844 8002070

panelled bedroom at Shute Barton

The Master bedroom has wonderful views over the garden

The kitchen at Shute Barton

Shute's well equipped kitchen

You’re Hired!

Five new 16- and 17-year-old apprentices have recently started work with the Trust’s direct labour teams based at Killerton, Cotehele (pictured) and Bodmin. They will work alongside skilled craftsmen for three years, learning and practising traditional trades such as stone masonry, brickwork, carpentry, joinery, plumbing/leadwork, painting and decoration – all essential in helping to protect the buildings cared for by the Trust.

New National Trust Apprentices

Pictured outside Cotehele

Let’s hear it for Val!

There is no greater accolade for a working gardener than to be invited by the Royal Horticultural Society to become an Associate of Honour. Val Anderson, Head Gardener at Antony in Cornwall, recently received this award in recognition both of her 35 years of outstanding work at Antony and of her passion and dedication to the training of the gardeners of the future. Many current National Trust gardeners owe their start in horticulture to Val’s inspirational guidance, encouragement and commitment during their three-year traineeships at Antony.

There are never more than 100 RHS Associates of Honour at any one time, so this truly is a rare and distinguished achievement. Val collected her gold medal at Hampton Court last summer in exalted horticultural company, including Sir Roy Strong, Alan Titchmarsh and Roy Lancaster (who took the photograph, left). ‘It was’, Val said, ‘really special, great fun and one of the best days of my life’. Her proudest moment came when John Sales, formerly the Trust’s chief gardens adviser, said that her award was ‘richly deserved’, to which we would all say: hear hear!

Val Anderson

Val at the awards ceremony, flanked by former National Trust colleagues Peter Hall (left), who also received the Assoiciate of Honour, and Michael Hickson (right), formerly Head Gardener at Knightshayes Court, who received the Victoria Medal of Honour.

At the start of her career, Val worked in commercial nurseries and her main interest was in propagating; she never expected to become involved in amenity horticulture and says of Antony ‘when I came here, I wasn’t stopping’. But it got to her, as it does to so many visitors who return again and again to enjoy the beautiful formal garden around the 18th-century house, and the huge and glorious woodland garden that is owned by the Carew-Pole family who gave Antony to the Trust in 1961 and still live here today. Val says: ‘It’s the whole thing: the setting, the staff and volunteers who work here, the plant collection, the way that the garden has developed so much… it just draws me back all the time.’

The woodland garden reopens on 1 March; the house and garden on 29 March. The year-long Alice Experience, inspired by the filming of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland here, is no more but Alice fans will be still be able to discover the rabbit hole in the garden.