Lilies in full bloom, growing in containers at the front of a Penzance house.

Lilies and Pleached Limes: Julia Grigg's Morrab Miscellany

Reaching L in her Morrab Miscellany, Julia Grigg enjoys the heady scent of lilies, explores the landscapes of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and admires the pleached limes at Sissinghurst.

LILIES love Penzance: one look at our photo proves the point. Taken on an August day in 2020, near Morrab Gardens, the image sadly can’t convey the heady, rich scent wafted on the evening air by these boldly-coloured gorgeous treelilies.

Lilies in full bloom, growing in containers at the front of a Penzance house.
A mass of glorious tree lilies in a Penzance garden Photo: J Spry-Leverton

Morrab Gardens hosts many Lily varieties which flower throughout the summer, including Arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica): both the familiar white varieties and a green flowering Green Goddess; various varieties of Canna lilies; the Crinum lily which has orange flowers; the Jersey lily also known as Amaryllis; and Daylilies (Hemerocallis).

And be sure not to miss the pond, where exquisite pinky-blue Water lilies can be observed floating on its surface.

Local artist Frank Heath (1873-1936) had a passion for lilies – and the ones he painted bloom eternal.

From 1912 Heath’s home was a house called Menwinnion (white stone) at the top of the LAMORNA valley.

Here he became a member of the Newlyn artist’s colony (joining painters such as Alfred Munnings, Harold and Laura Knight and Stanhope Forbes.) After recovering from injury in WW1, Heath’s palette brightened and he became known as ‘the sunshine artist.’

Jessica, his wife, is immortalised in the painting Lily Border, (see illustration) first exhibited at Newlyn Art Gallery in 1916. The tranquil scene Heath depicted showcases the fabulous display of Madonna lilies in Menwinnion’s garden.

A path bordered by Lilies curves away into the distance, with the artist's wife in the foreground admiring the gorgeous display of blooms
Frank Heath’s painting of Jessica Heath in her garden at Menwinnion Photo: http://www.frankheath.com

My own favourite ‘lily’ is spring-flowering Lily of the Valley, whose tiny, bell-like flowers emit a beautiful aroma that always makes me nostalgic. Not from the Lily family, in fact, but related – surprisingly – to Asparagus, this flower grows well in Cornwall’s damp shady places.

Each year, on 8 May it’s a tradition for Helston’s Floral Dance participants to sport a Lily of the Valley buttonhole.

Here’s a tip from a clever flower arranger: when setting a table place a line of mirror glass squares down its centre. Position tea lights down the line and intersperse a series of bud vases containing your Lily of the Valley (add hyacinth in too, if you can.) The warmth generated by the reflected light will guarantee your guests are assailed by the flowers’ wonderful perfume through the entire meal.

I grew up close to Burghley House, Stamford. Once when the estate’s lake froze over, we skated on it. I didn’t know then that ‘Capability’ LANCELOT Brown (1716-83) was responsible for the sweeping expanse of water below the the Marquess of Exeter’s stately home.

More aware by the time I studied for my Masters’ degree at Corsham Court in Wiltshire, I relished knowing the LIME (more on this tree below) Walk through the deer park and the sheep-grazed fields dropping down to a distant lake were thanks to Brown’s vision.

Biographer Sarah Rutherford is adamant the nickname ‘Capability’ was never used in Brown’s lifetime. Claiming in Capability Brown and his Landscape Gardens (National Trust History and Heritage 2016) that ‘the English Landscape Garden is arguably the greatest contribution made by Britain to the visual arts worldwide,’ she names Brown its most talented and prolific creator.

Corsham was one of over 200 British sites where Brown’s grand vision entailed the wholesale sweeping away of formal, clipped planting areas near the house to be replaced by vast-scale naturalistic landscapes of undulating lawns, clumped with trees, often containing a lake formed by diverting a river or flooding a valley.

Also architecturally skilled, Brown designed an array of follies, Gothic bath houses, temples and columns as focal points in his spectacular Arcadian vistas.

Not without critics who regretted these ‘gardenless’ gardens, Brown, with his genius for manipulating terrain, was nevertheless unstoppable in leading fashionable taste during his career of over 30 years.

At Burghley, Blenheim, Bowood, Stourhead and many other visitable venues (20 in National Trust care) Brown’s left us an unmistakable legacy. I nominate my favourite as the winsome, steep-sloped Prior Park in Bath.

A view of the steep-sloped Prior Park, with the Palladian bridge and lake, and the house beyond.
“Prior Park, Bath” by Andos_pics is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

To learn more, as for William Kent (see previous Miscellany) there is an excellent C18th Gardens episode in Monty Don’s Secret History of the British Garden, available on Youtube

Formality was however by no means banished forever from the garden – and today’s designers often accent spaces with neatly clipped trees, appreciating their height, grandeur and drama.

Like so much else in contemporary gardening design, this fashion was forged in the gardens of Sissinghurst Castle in the 1930s, by owner, designer and plantsman Harold Nicolson (1886-1968.)

Nicolson enjoyed referencing C17th French estates which often featured pleached LIMES immaculately laid-out and pruned.

Pleaching comes from the French ‘plessier’, to plait. Pleached trees are created by their flexible young shoots being interlaced and tied on to a square frame with tarred twine.

In 1932 Nicolson planted 30 small-leafed limes, paving a straight central path between them to make a Walk, filling the spaces under the trees with a tapestry of colour achieved by a mass of precisely-planted spring-flowering bulbs.

Looking down the Lime Walk, Sissinghurst
The Lime Walk, Sissinghurst
“Sissinghurst #4” by @davidflem is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Referring to the Lime Walk as ‘My LIFE’s Work (MLW),’ he aimed, via its abundance of narcissus, tulips, anemones, violets etc, to make ‘the loveliest spring garden in Europe.’

Devoting himself fully to MLW as an obsession and solace from 1946 for the rest of his life, each year Nicolson made meticulous notes assessing the successes/failures of the Walk’s changing colour combinations, meanwhile being hands-on in undertaking the limes’ twice-annual pruning.

D H LAWRENCE

“Love is the flower of life… and must be plucked where it is found, and enjoyed for the brief hour of its duration”

South African contemporary poet Isobel Dixon @isobeldixon claims the passion and genius of D H Lawrence (1885-1930) makes him one of the C20th greatest nature writers. Lawrence’s writing on natural subjects such as his poetry collection Birds, Beasts and Flowers(Martin Secker Ltd 1923) is often overshadowed by controversy surrounding the vitality and uninhibited erotic content of his novels. Dying from tuberculosis aged just 44, Lawrence, Dixon suggests, had an awareness of his own physical vulnerability and decline which may have heightened his acute sensitivity towards beauty in nature, art, and the human body.

Read more of Julia Grigg’s Morrab Miscellany

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