A Visit to a Japanese Garden

Last Friday afternoon, my blogging daughter, Louise (at thestorytellersabode) and I decided to drive out to the Japanese Garden, located at North Clifton, near Newark in Nottinghamshire. It’s a mere 6.4 miles from where I live, so it took no time at all to get there. I hadn’t visited the Garden since 2008, and Louise had never been before, so it made a nice change for a gloriously sunny day.

The Garden has been described as ‘One of the Inspirational Gardens of the World’ (AA) and as ‘The Best British Garden’ (ITV). It covers a relatively small area but is packed with all the traditional features of a Japanese garden. Water features and ponds with Koi carp, winding paths, bridges, moss, bamboo, pagodas and stone lanterns all blend with a sprinkling of English plants:

There is also a Crystal Garden – an indoor garden consisting of rocks, crystals and different marbles:

The Meditation Centre and Garden were created by a lovely man called Maitreya, who is often around the Garden. This is a summary of how it all came about from the information leaflet we were handed on entry:

Maitreya (Koji Takeuchi) was born in Handa, near Nagoya in Japan. In his teens he began a search for the truth. He was first led to Christianity but found it did not give him the direct experience of Jesus he wanted. So he turned to meditation and attended an intensive meditation course at a Zen monastery – and had the experience of ‘enlightenment’.

Aiming to become a meditation master, Maitreya went on to complete an MA degree in Buddhism and lived the life of a Zen monk for a time – a life he found too harsh and rigid, and out of date. After travelling and teaching meditation in Thailand, Nepal and India, on the invitation of a friend, he eventually came to England. After staying at various universities around the country, teaching and lecturing, he came across a property for sale in North Clifton, Nottinghamshire. This became the base from which he taught meditation: ‘Pure Land’ came into being in 1973.

In 1980, Maitreya began transforming a flat, 2 acre field – a ‘wilderness’ – into a Japanese garden. His aim was to create a peaceful area which guests to his Centre could enjoy. He had no previous gardening experience, but he set about creating small ‘hills’ in this flat place that would remind him of his mountainous homeland, Japan. The material for these came from the earth dug out to create the ponds. The large stones placed around the ponds came from a quarry in Derbyshire and the winding paths were determined by the positioning of the stones.

Refreshments are available at a Japanese Tea House, which is also where payment is made on entry ((£7 for adults). A variety of teas are offered, including Japanese and English tea and various fruit teas. (I couldn’t say whether coffee is available as Lou and I asked for tea). People can either sit inside the very small place, or outside in the garden, as we did.

An extra feature every year is that of the ‘Lantern Lit Evening Garden’, which can be enjoyed every Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights during August and September.

There are a few reviews of the Japanese Garden online but not all are favourable. It’s undoubtedly a pretty site, but it is small. The main criticism about it is the price – that £7 is too much for such a small place. Admittedly, it’s possible to walk round quickly, but most people tend to linger and spend time sitting at various nooks around the place or in the tea garden. We also walked around more than once in order to catch things we may have missed or overlooked the previous times. It isn’t cheap, but I suppose it depends what you want from a visit to a place like this.

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Bodnant Garden Revisited

Bodnant is a world famous garden, situated in the county borough of Conwy in North Wales, with wonderful views of the Conwy Valley and the Carneddau Mountains of Snowdonia. It is owned by the National Trust and visited by 190,000 people every year.

Bodnant is a perfect place to visit at any time of year – as my aunt and uncle, who live almost on its doorstep, will confirm. It’s open for 362 days every year, closing only on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The 80 acre garden is magnificent and has become a perfect venue for weddings. It is “home to the National Collection of Champion Trees”.

Yet there’s much more to Bodnant than trees.

The last time we visited Bodnant was on a lovely sunny day in early June, 2015. Due to my aunt’s mobility problems at that time, we stayed in the Upper Gardens, close to the Entrance and Garden Centre, as well as Bodnant Hall (which I’ll say more about later on). There’s plenty to see in this area alone, without heading down into The Dell (valley), including the Italianate Terraces and the many shrub borders edging the pathways and expansive lawns. The famous Laburnum Arch is also in the Upper Garden – which we were fortunate to see in flower in June 2015. Delightful ponds add to the tranquility of the setting. Roses of all descriptions were also in bloom in June 2015, so in late July this year we were treated to completely different displays of foliage and colour:

This fabulous garden was founded in 1874 when Leicestershire man, Henry Davis Pochin, bought the estate. He employed a local apprentice named Edward Milner and together they landscaped the hills and valley and planted American and Asian conifers on the banks of the River Hiraethlyn. The stream banks were reinforced to create woodland and water gardens and there is an unusual bridge across the stream called Waterfall Bridge:

Pochin’s daughter, Laura, married Charles Mclaren, the First Baron of Aberconway, and the Hall has been in that family ever since. It took successive generations of the Mclaren family to create Bodnant as we see it today, and although the gardens were given to the National Trust in 1949, the Hall remains the possession of the present Lord Aberconway and is not open to the public. However, Lord Aberconway and his family are still actively involved in the Garden’s management and improvement.

On our way down to The Dell it started to rain (no surprise there!) so we spent a while sheltering under the trees. But we still had some great views of the Old Mill:

At the furthest end of the valley, and Bodnant as a whole, is a large pond called the Skating Pond. I can only imagine it got its name because it froze over in winter and was used (literally) as a skating pond. But it’s a pretty pond anyway, with a boat house to one side and edged by trees, including a few huge willows.

Car parking at Bodnant is across the road, but pedestrians reach the gardens via an underpass. There are four places at which to find refreshments. One of the cafes, which serves actual meals, is next to the car park and one that serves snacks and sandwiches is by the Entrance. The other two small places for light snacks and drinks are down in the Dell – one close to the Old Mill and another, which we’ve never used, is by the Skating Lake.

To finish with, this is a photo of the famous Laburnum Arch. If you want to see it in flower like this, June is the time to visit.


Boiling Point – FFfAW

Boiling Point

Zak’s temper boiled and finally erupted. He stomped round the room, fists striking at empty space. How could she! After the months of fun they’d had, he’d never imagined she’d betray him. All he’d asked was her support of his work – and her discretion.

Jodie claimed she was good at keeping secrets, and she’d more than benefitted from their affair. The costly gifts he’d showered on her after successful operations always made her smile – and very compliant…

His rage was rising again and he cursed. If he ever set eyes on Jodie again he wouldn’t be responsible for his actions.

‘Sit down,’ one of the burly officers snapped as they entered. ‘Chief Inspector Roberts is on the way. And don’t try any sweet talk. Roberts isn’t known for being nice.’

‘Morning Zak,’ Roberts said as she swept in, a polythene bag full of jewellery in her hand.

‘Jodie…!’ he croaked. ‘You’re a stinkin’ cop… You bitch! ’

Jodie smirked. ‘That’s me. Now, just for the tape, remind me of where this little lot came from…’

Word Count: 175

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This is my story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers The prompt was kindly provided by artycaptures. It’s the first flash fiction I’ve done for a while – in fact, it’s the first thing I’ve posted at all for a few weeks – so I thought it was time to change things.

FFfAW is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It involves writing a story from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or take 25. If you’d like to join in, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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Ambling Along into August


August is the eighth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian calendars and the fifth month of the year to have 31 days. In the UK, the hottest days of the year are often in August and it is a busy time for holidays as it falls in the six week summer break for schools. Similarly, in many European countries, August is also the holiday month for workers.

In the southern hemisphere, August is the equivalent of February in the northern hemisphere.
The original Latin name for August was Sextillis as it was the sixth month in the then Roman ten-month calendar, when March was the first month of the year. August became the eighth month around 700 BC when January and February were added to the year by King Numa Pompilius who gave it 29 days. The extra two days were added by Julius Caesar when he created the Julian calendar in 45 BC.

In 8 BC the month was renamed August in honour of the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar (who ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BC until AD 14). Augustus is said to have chosen to name this month after himself because it was the time of several of his great triumphs, including the conquest of Egypt. The Latin term Augustus mensis means Month of Augustus. 

Statue of the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar (27BC-AD14) as a younger Otavian. Sculpted artwork dated around 30BC. Located int the Mus

So what else can I say about this summer month? Here are a few facts:

  1. August’s birthstones are the peridot and the sardonyx:

2. Its birth flowers are the gladiolus and poppy. The gladiolus represents beauty, strength, love, marriage and family. Poppies come in different colours but it is the the red one that is associated with August and it signifies pleasure.

3. The zodiac signs for the month of August are Leo (until August 22) and Virgo (from August 23 onwards):

4. The Anglo Saxon name for August was Weodmonath, meaning Weed Month. The word could refer to herbs or grass, as well as the unwanted plants we think of as weeds today. August was the month when all plants grew the most rapidly. The Venerable Bede (672/3 – 735) tells us: ‘Weodmonad means ‘month of tares (vetches), for they are plentiful then’. (The spelling of the word here is how Bede spelled it and (for a change) isn’t a typo on my behalf!)  Unfortunately I have no photos of weeds, as Nick won’t allow them to grow in our garden 🙂 but I have a not-too-wonderful photo of vetch growing along the lane:

5. Henry VI Part 1 and The Tempest are the only Shakespeare plays that mention August.

6. Warren Harding was the only US president to have died in the month of August.

Warren Harding. Photo taken 1882. Author:unattributed Public Domain

7. Certain meteor showers occur in August, including the Kappa Cygnids and the larger Perseids meteor shower.

156 (meteor) bodies detected in the sky on a single photographic plate during the Leonid meteor shower in 1998. Source: Astronomical and geophysical observatory at Comenius University in Modra, Slovakia. Author: Juraj Troth. Creative Commons

8.  In Ancient Rome, the festival of Supplica Canum was held in August every year. It was an annual sacrifice in which dogs were suspended from a furca, (fork) or a crux (cross) and paraded around the city. In the same procession, geese were honoured by being carried around adorned in purple and gold. The tradition stemmed from a nighttime siege of Rome by the Gauls during which the watch dogs failed to bark. On that occasion, it was the noisy, honking geese that alerted the city to the attack. The failure of the dogs led to them being ritually punished every following year. Gruesome!

9. On a more cheerful note, August is National Goat Cheese Month in the  U.S. I believe it involves the promotion of goats cheese as a healthier option than cheese made from cow’s milk. I love all cheese. In fact, I think I’m probably a cheeseaholic.

10. Lammas Day is in August and is a holiday celebrated in some European countries as a thanksgiving for the harvest. The name, Lammas, comes from the Anglo Saxon word hlaf-maesse, meaning loaf mass. The festival of Lammas marks the beginning of the harvest  and people say prayers in church for the first corn to be cut. (Note that in Britain ‘corn’ has traditionally referred to the cereal crops of wheat, barley oats and rye and not maize.)

Medieval illustration of men harvesting wheat with reaping hooks on a calendar page in Queen Mary’s Psalter. Dated around 1310. Author: Anonymous. Public Domain

In the medieval period, farmers made loaves from the new wheat at Lammas, and gave them to the church to use in the Communion. The custom ended when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in 1534. Today, harvest festival services are at the end of the harvest in September, with Michaelmas Day (Sept 29) traditionally being the last day of the harvest season.

Lammas Day used to be a time of foretelling marriages and trying out partners (trial marriages). This was usually for 11 days, the duration of the fair. At he end of that time, if the pair didn’t get on they simply parted. Lammas was also a time when farmers gave each of their farm workers a gift of a pair of gloves. And to bring good luck, farmers would let a loaf of corn bread go stale, then crumble it up into the corners of their barns

August is a month for several festivals in Britain. These are 3 of them:

  1. The Edinburgh Festival. This was started in 1947 to celebrate the performing arts and includes concerts, plays, ballets and operas.
A street performer in the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh fringe in 2004. No machine- readable author provided. Creative Commons
  1. The Royal National Eisteddfod in Wales. Eisteddfod is an old tradition which was revived in 19th century. It originated in medieval times as a gathering of bards and minstrels, all competing for the prized chair at the noble’s table. It is held in the first week of August and attended by people from all over Wales.
Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales, in 2012. Flag bearers in traditional Celtic dress parade in a festival of traditional folk music and dancing. Shutterstock image

3. The Notting Hill Carnival in London. This festival is held on the last Monday of August i.e. Bank Holiday Monday in the UK. It is a colourful procession with elaborate costumes. It originated in the 1960s to celebrate the cultural traditions of the many Caribbean immigrants who came to Britain at that time.

The Notting Hill Carnival in London, 2014.Author: David Sedlecky. Creative Commons

I found this great quote which fits in so well with the theme of festivals in Britain – and Europe in general. (Harry/Henry Rollins is an American musician, actor, writer, television and radio host, and comedian.):

Every summer, from late July and into August, I find myself in Europe, performing at any festival that will have me.’ – Harry Rollins

There are many anniversaries to be celebrated in August, worldwide, and  these are merely a few of the many British ones:

  • August 1st 1774: Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen at Bowood House in Wiltshire
  • August 4th 1914:  the First World War started.
  • August 14th 1945: the Second World War ended.
  • August 15th 1872: the first regular police detective force was formed.
  • August 25th 1919: daily flights between London & Paris began, thus starting the first international air service.
  • August 31st 1997:  Princess Diana was killed killed in car accident in France.

And to finish with here are some photos from the lanes around our village and in our garden:

All are bright with developing fruits and berries. Many of the early (sown last autumn) barley fields have already been harvested, although there are still a few fields of spring-sown barley around. The wheat has yet to be harvested:

And absolutely lastly, here are a few photos of our garden as we amble along into August. I was delighted to see the lovely butterflies in our front garden this morning (August 1st). They really love the Buddleia davidii bush!