France – Monet’s Garden

It seems a long time ago since my old friend Rosie suggested that I accompany her on a voyage of discovery around the British Isles. A chance to see new places and to re-discover my penchant for travel. We were to embark on an eight night cruise starting from Tilbury in Essex (London International Cruise Terminal)


Leaving Tilbury

travelling in an anti-clockwise direction around the British Isles and stopping in Northern Scotland, the Isle of Lewis, the Isle of Mull, Ireland, the Scilly Isles and across the English Channel to Honfleur in France. The circle would be complete on our return to Tilbury. It was to be my first holiday for a long time and my very first cruise.

You need a ship to cruise and I was very pleased to find that this one met my perception of a traditional cruise ship. Small by modern standards but perfectly formed. This view was taken from the tender on our return from a day trip to the Scilly Isles.



From there, we crossed the Channel overnight to France  and docked, on the last day of April, in the small port of Honfleur which is on the southern bank of the River Seine in Normandy. The large commercial port of Le Havre is across the estuary on the north bank of the river.



We boarded a coach at the dockside for our journey to Monet’s Garden but the route did not take us past the old picturesque 16th- to 18th-century townhouses which feature in some artists work, including Monet, so the above was the best view I could get.

It is about 85 miles, and took less than 2 hours to get to Giverny, where Claude Monet and his family settled in 1883. He set about creating a walled garden in front of his house which would be full of perspectives, symmetries and colours and became Clos Normand. He became a bit of a botanist, spending a lot of money collecting plants and after 10 years set about acquiring more land adjacent to his, but across a road and railway and which, importantly,  contained a brook. He used this to create a pond and water garden full of asymmetries and curves. It is inspired by the Japanese gardens that Monet knew from the prints he collected avidly. So, that’s the background and now my attempt to show you what there is to see.

From the coach park we entered through the water garden following the brook meandearing through bamboo and clumps of pastel hued plants.

You are required to keep to the paths and as you make your way through the aspect opens up and you get first sight of the placid, still, pool.


Finding reflections

The biggest problem with trying to get some of these photos is the number of visitors in the garden (getting in the way 😉 ) and deciding how much time you can spend in any spot as there is so much to see and at this point you don’t really know the extent of the gardens.

Then you just know that you have come across the famous Japanese bridge covered with wisterias, which you cannot see as it is too early in the year.


That bridge


Reflection of the Japanese bridge

I did my best to capture the view but have not really done it justice.

From here you have to cross road and rail to get to the walled garden using an underpass. Emerging out into the open you get your first glimpse. The house can just be seen at the top of the photos.

We are now in the original garden which is laid out more formally than the water garden and has a number of avenues enclosing beds with clumps of flowers with co-ordinating colours. Fruit trees and climbing plants add height and structure.


A riot of colour – tulips and wallflowers

It was spring time so flowering bulbs were everywhere.

I was very impressed to see these Crown Imperials standing high above the tulips and wallflowers and will have a go at growing some for next spring.

The main alley below, closed to public access, is covered by arches for climbing roses and provides a perspective to and from the main house.


Avenue de la Maison

I made up that title by the way, but would love to see it when the roses are in flower.


Tulips and tulips

A view across the garden, which I hope shows the extent of planting. I haven’t really shown any of the flowering trees, but this one caught my eye also while looking  across


View through fruit tree blossom

Moving rapidly on we went into the house to have a look around and see how the master painter turned gardener lived, in some style.


Monet’s house

The house and garden fell into disrepair after the Second World War and it was only about 1970 that work began on restoration.

“Almost ten years were necessary to restore the garden and the house to their former magnificence. Not much was left. The greenhouse panes and the windows in the house were reduced to shards after the bombings. Floors and ceiling beams had rotted away,  a staircase had collapsed. Three trees were even growing in the big studio.

The pond had to be dug again. In the Clos normand soil was removed to find the original ground level. Then the same flower species as those discovered by Monet in his time were planted.

Thanks to generous donors, mostly from the USA ,the house was given a facelift. The ancient furniture and the Japanese prints were restored. Then the visitor areas were fitted out.

The property has been open to the public since September 1980.”  – courtesy of 


Interior of Monet’s House

The view from upstairs.


A wider perspective

and the view down the central alley from the house


Reverse Avenue de la Maison

I will finish with my personal favourite, a view through the window across the flower bed


View from inside

which I think, looks great full screen.

I hope there were not too many photos for one post, that i have given you an idea of the marvel of Monet’s vision and that you have enjoyed your visit almost as much as the half a million visitors who pass through the garden each year.

Thanks for your time.


New Year Fresh Resolve

New Year Fresh Resolve

I did sort of decide some time ago that I wasn’t a blogger and couldn’t get my photos right,so rather gave up on posting my thoughts. It was taking me so long to write that I kept losing my way and would give up in frustration. I got a number of posts to the draft stage and then decided they were no longer relevant and they reside in waiting. However, this blog is still open and I thought – New Year – do that resolve thing. Make a statement.

So, I decided that it might be a good idea to review the photos I took last year and try to pick a couple, that I like, from each month  and post on here so that I have a record. Simple enough eh? Shouldn’t take too long.

January was a bleak month and the garden birds keep me busy filling the feeders so I have plenty of  bird pictures to choose from. Nothing much grows in the garden except for the first bulbs poking their green shoots tentatively up for inspection.

February brought the usual cold and snow showers, my favourite bird the robin and the delightful long tailed tit which usually arrives in a horde like Genghis Khan’s marauders flitting everywhere and rarely stopping in one place long enough to catch with the camera.

March was wet, still cold and brought me the common cold and an upset stomach. (There was no forecast for a cheerful post!) I did manage to get out on a visit to the North York Moors and caught a glimpse of the newly refurbished Flying Scotsman leaving Grosmont station under full steam. The garden usually gets several visits from blue tits always searching nooks and crannies for insect morsels.

April brings the first real signs of Spring and with it delight at the lengthening days. A very significant event was arranged for the last week of this month – my very first cruise and first holiday for 5 or 6 years. A long standing friend persuaded me to take this trip around the British Isles, which included a Channel crossing, and I was very pleased that I went. It is very difficult to pick just two photos from the 6 ports of call but I decided that my favourite stops were Tobermory on the Isle of Mull in the Scottish Inner Hebrides and Monet’s garden at Giverny in France. (I did draft a post on the trip and should consider completing it.)

May is a great month with colour flooding back into the garden and local streets where the trees fill out with blossom and leaf. Boro Garden saw a very unusual visitor and I was very lucky to catch him with the camera through the window which of course had reflections. he was back again the next day but didn’t stay long enough to catch on camera.

June heralds daylight, lots of it. Too early to be very warm but often lots of lovely sunshine and long days. Good light should mean good photos and I thought that these two shots were a good try. A jackdaw looking very ominous before clinging precariously on a fat feeder and a chaffinch in spring colour on his favourite food.

July and summer is in full swing so a visit to the seaside was enjoyed by many. Saltburn-on-Sea has kept it’s Victorian roots including it’s pier and inclined cliff lift, whilst Middlesbrough’s riverside continues to attract development resulting in an interesting blend of structures. The £2.7m structure ‘Temenos’ by Anish Kapoor was completed Spring 2010.The steel structure consists of a pole, a circular ring and an oval ring, all held together by steel wire and  contrasts with our iconic Transporter Bridge completed 100 years earlier.

August continued the summer ambience and brought a multitude of choice with days out and the garden competing for the camera. I picked an attempt at a close-up and a landscape. The Schlumbergera cactus was not actually growing in the garden but had spent all summer outdoors and I thought no post would be complete without a gate! The view is from the North York Moors towards Roseberry Topping.

September also had a a good share of blue skies which draw one inevitably to the sea and at the same time the garden is full. The ever popular ‘pot mum’ brings glorious autumn colour. The landscape with Saltburn beach tractors against the backdrop of Huntcliff was my photo for my  BBC Weatherwatchers report that day and achieved an Editors Pick! I was chuffed, to say the least.

October and the days are shortening again. The lesser spotted woodpecker pops into Boro Garden for his nuts and a penstemon is still flowering strongly.

At the end of October I was invited to Stratford upon Avon for a birthday celebration and as this was a rare event, I could not miss including a couple of extra photos.

Shakespeare’s birthplace is just one of the remarkably old buildings in the town and you may think that the bridge is quite unremarkable, but, i discovered after the event, that I had captured my first flying bird! Progress.

November days are shortening but the weather picture still has to be found and the birds continue to visit Boro Garden.

Good old Saltburn produces another Editor’s pick! It’s not me, they just seem to love pictures that include the sea and the sky.  The bullfinch is a rare visitor to Boro Garden. I might see one a couple of times a year.

December brings the year to an end so just two more photos to pick. Short days and poor light mean a limited choice, but the garden is usually busy at some time during the day.

Blackbirds are regular visitors and spend hours chasing each other while trying to keep a feeding station to them self. Squirrel has been visiting all year, usually for breakfast and then a late snack. He loves the sunflower hearts and as long as he doesn’t destroy the feeders, he can continue. As it is December, it seems fitting to finish with a seasonal bird and also,  I have to include one of my favourites, which is also one of the smallest to visit.

Finally, here is my gallery summarising the year 2016. It has only taken me a week to put this post together and has reminded me why my posts are so infrequent.

I am still not happy with a lot of the photos I take which lack the sharpness I see in others. I tried to follow the advice of my favourite nature photographer from Michigan and all these photos were taken with last years Christmas present to myself, a compact Canon PowerShot SX700 HS. It has full manual control as well as auto but I kept struggling to balance shutter speed with exposure and to get a sharp photo. The camera would keep adjusting the speed or aperture I set in order to get the correct exposure so the subject, usually moving, was blurred. The light in my small garden is poor anyway with some large trees nearby. The compact camera is great for carrying around and performs very well in general, but I couldn’t get good photos of moving birds. The camera has a large 30x optical zoom which brings the subject close enough to fill the frame but this reduces the amount of light available to the small sensor.

So this year I thought I would take the plunge and go for a DSLR. I have stuck with Canon and decided my budget would run to a 700D. It made sense to stick with the kit lens offered, an 18-55mm IS STM lens, because Canon are offering cashback on this but not body only purchases.

It is great, I have started practising and can see the advantages already. The range of controls is so much greater and I can see the difference the larger APS-C sensor makes. The 18-55mm lens at least gives me the chance to get started but I am already looking for an upgrade. I need to get closer! Of course one downside is that there is no slipping this bit of kit in my pocket! and even less when I get an additional lens, which is the other downside, these lenses are expensive, aren’t they? But hey-ho, I’m retired, it’s what I’ve worked for isnt it?

I will make more effort to post more often, after all, I have now set a standard and must see if I really can learn anything and demonstrate some progress.

I put this up for my own record, really, so if anyone has got this far, I thank you very much for your time and visit.


Ripley Castle

Ripley Castle

There are two Bank Holidays in May and the second will be upon us before I can sneeze. I had better get on and report on my day out at the beginning of the month, May Day Holiday. I found somewhere that I had not visited before and the housemate and I set out to find Ripley Castle, near Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

Ripley Castle from the Deer Park

Ripley Castle from the Deer Park

Ripley Castle is a Grade I listed 14th-century country house in Ripley, North Yorkshire, England, some 5 km north of Harrogate. The house is built of coursed squared gritstone and ashlar with grey slate and stone slate roofs. Wikipedia
So, more of a fortified gentleman’s residence than a castle but from the front it looks quite impressive

According to the leaflets supplied on entry, the same family have been living in the castle for over 700 years, the Ingilby family. Apparantly surviving plagues, civil wars, religious persecution, involvement in the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot, two World Wars and numerous recessions. Obviously survivors!

I steer away from tours of the interior of these old houses, preferring to roam the grounds, so I apologise for presenting no details of the furnishings and fittings. The castle is set in extensive grounds encompassing Ripley Lake and Deer Park which is where this path leads to.

Looking back to the castle

Looking back to the castle

For a Bank Holiday, the weather was remarkably kind with some blue skies and little wind. Walking round the lake through the Deer Park, we failed to see any deer, which were presumably hiding from the Bank Holiday crowds over the brow of a hill. The view below, back to the castle, was taken from the far end of the lake.

Ripley Castle from Deer Park

Ripley Castle from Deer Park

Crossing the bridge over the upper weir lead us into the Pleasure Grounds, (their words) which are extensive woodlands interlaced with various paths and on towards the walled garden and back to the castle.  Quickly bypassing the children’s adventure park, we admired the many specimen trees, some live and some dead!

I seem not to have acquired many photos of these specimens, I think,  largely because when you are walking among them, you cannot get any perspective on them. So we carried on and arrived at the walled garden, where we came across this swathe of tulips, which unfortunately had just about passed their best, but still had all their colour.

A riot of tulips

A riot of tulips

The centre of this part of the garden was taken up with a rather nice stretch of lawn which may appeal to a certain resident of the Borders 😉

Striped lawn with statuary

Striped lawn with statuary

There was a lot to look at in the walled garden and here is just a selection of features that caught my eye.

Rhubarb anyone?

Rhubarb anyone?

And some very attractive bark on a eucalyptus tree.

To conclude a very interesting visit, a non flying bird for residents of Michigan 😉

A mallard on the lawn

A mallard on the lawn

Thanks for looking in.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch Count

Blue tit

Blue tit feeding

Earlier today I posted some photographs of some of the birds in my garden in relation to the Big Garden Birdwatch in which I participated yesterday. The purpose of the exercise was to count the birds and species that visit your garden over a period of an hour and upload the results to the RSPB website.

Here are the results I posted:-

  • Blackbird x 2
  • Blue tit x 3
  • Chaffinch x 1
  • Coal tit x 2
  • Dunnock x 1
  • Feral pigeon x 2
  • Great tit x 2
  • Magpie x 1
  • Robin x 2
  • Wren x1
  • Blackcap x 1
  • Grey squirrel seen weekly
  • Hedgehog seen less than monthly
  • Slow worm seen never
  • Grass snake seen never

As in previous years, the number of birds visiting the garden over the weekend seemed to be less than the number on a normal day. I think there are so many people suddenly feeding the birds that they are spoilt for choice. Apparently, last year about half a million people took part in the survey and this gives the conservationists a broad picture of the progress or decline of different bird species.

It was a good excuse for a spiced apple and cream muffin with a cup of tea anyway 🙂

More Garden Visitors

It is a bright start this morning in Boro garden where the temperature last night dropped to around freezing. I have fed the birds, although they don’t seem particularly interested and set a camera running on the bird table. Before I go for the paper, a Saturday morning ritual, I thought I had better get this post published.

Last night I put together a few more pictures of visitors to Boro garden, taken since the New Year with my new camera. This greater spotted woodpecker paid a visit on two days running. The first was late in the afternoon in poor light. Each time he feasted on the peanuts long enough for me to get a few shots and I am quite pleased with the picture from the second visit. I still need to practice an awful lot because despite taking a lot of pictures, only a few are worthy of showing to anyone.

Two collared doves turned up one day and I managed to catch this one in the apple tree but couldn’t place both in the frame at once.

Collared Dove

Collared dove

This squirrel is normally a nuisance in the garden, but on this day he did look cute with his big bushy tail.

Grey squirrel

Squirrel on the sunflower seeds

To finish, on the bird table is one of the smaller visitors, a great tit who seems to be looking for a particular seed on the table. I get a number of great tits, blue tits and coal tits visiting, but find them particularly difficult to catch in a full pose because they dart about so quickly.

Great Tit

Great tit on bird table

Just another brief post to ease my way back. Hope you enjoy.

Helmsley Walled Garden – a return visit

Helmsley Walled Garden – a return visit

The improvement in the weather is stirring the need to get out and about, so last week, I paid another visit to the Helmsley Walled Garden  to see what changes have occurred since my previous visit at Easter.

The garden, built in 1759, sits beneath the impassive gaze of the ruins of Helmsley Castle, at the southern edge of the North York Moors. It’s five acres are small enough to get round, but large enough to lose that plant you wanted to go back and see again.

The laburnum is in flower and the plants draped across a pergola, appear to be dripping with bright yellow drops and now frame a view to the castle

Laburnum framing a view to the castle

Laburnum framing a view to the castle

Lush Laburnum

Lush Laburnum

It is the pergola that looked lush, not the occupant!

The other common colour in evidence was shades of purple and the upstanding spheres of allium were all around.

Double border

Double border

Some more purple; Irises this time, with big bold flowers and some a really dark purple.

There was a big patch of cornflowers and hidden around them these big showy flowers, which I think are specialised cornflowers, but I couldn’t find a name, so if anyone can help?

This poppy looked quite decadent and reminded me of Victorian draperies –

Large poppy

Large poppy

Pink poppy

Pink poppy

I have an idea that this overgrown giant is some form of gunnera and would not want to pick a fight with it!

Unknown plant

Unknown plant

And now we move onto the white gallery

Hidden behind the Physic garden was this wonderful stone water feature

Water stone and moss

Water stone and moss

I started this post with the castle and thought this view would be a fitting finale.

New life, old walls

New life, old walls

I am sorry the narrative is a bit sketchy. I am getting behind with recounting my life beyond the bird table. I find it is easy taking the photographs but much harder going through them afterwards and deciding whether you have anything worth sharing. I have a couple more excursions already stacked up on the memory card and must press on.

I hope you find these images of interest.



Raby Castle

Raby Castle

It was Monday, a holiday, the May Day bank holiday, so the housemate and I needed to go out somewhere. We tried locally, at a gardening event at a local park, Preston Park, Stockton, but there wasn’t much of interest to see and I left there with only a vague idea of where I was going next.

After consulting the map in my head and with a recently retired person’s desire to see beyond the bird table, we ended up at Raby Castle in County Durham, which dates back to the 14th century and was the ancestral home of the Nevills. The estate is run by Lord Barnard who, through his grandmother, is a direct descendant of the Nevills of Raby. For anyone interested in the full story try here –

The castle stands in a 200-acre deer park surrounded by some very English countryside and has a walled garden, carriage house and a tea house which utilises the old stables

Great use for the old stables

Great use for the old stables

where we fortified ourselves with lunch before venturing out to the walled garden :-

The walled garden from the deer park

The walled garden from the deer park

The greenhouse in front of the wall protects just one tree – a 200 year old fig tree. You can only view it from outside and I couldn’t get a reasonable shot through the glass with my camera to give you an idea of the size of the thing. There is just one trunk in the middle and the branches are trained out along the wall in both directions to fill that glass house, which is heated in winter.

Theses incredible hedges are also over 200 years old and have acquired the most amazing shapes. They run down across the garden enclosing the more formal area and the housemate gives an idea of the scale. This area contains a pool and small fountain –

Pool and hedge

Pool and hedge

and has views over to the castle

Castle from garden fountain

Castle from garden fountain

I got fed up of washed out sky, so tried turning it blue. I suppose it now looks artificial.

There were far too many plants to show in this post and I am no expert, but here are some that I really liked –

Contrasting to the free flowing form of the yew hedges were these geometric shaped low box hedges. There were 5 of these altogether, but I couldn’t get all of them in one shot.

Geometric box hedges

Geometric box hedges

Of course, no walled garden would be complete without a summer house, this one just happens to have a great view –

This led us on closer to the castle and the wider parkland.

with so much space, a tree can really get going –

Parkland tree

Parkland tree

So we went on, to looking for the animals that give this deer park it’s name. There are two species of deer, Red deer, the largest British wild land mammal, and the smaller Fallow deer. Apparently, both herds contain the descendants of deer preserved in this area since Norman times. With so many visitors on a holiday weekend, the deer had hidden themselves, despite their numbers and were eventually found in the farthest corner of the park. You couldn’t get close to them, but I was surprised at the size of the herds, they seemed to stretch out in a never ending line.

As they were so far away, I had to use the maximum zoom on my camera and came to realise how hard it is to hold a steady shot at high magnification and even to see clearly what you are focusing on! I couldn’t for instance find the stag with his antlers on show, but there was one.

Leaving the estate, we had a only a quick look, as they were getting ready to close, into the carriage house . They certainly liked to use bright colours –

Carriage House

Carriage House

So, that was another day out in the country, beyond the bird table, I hope you enjoy.