Bluebells and Ice Hockey

IMG_7045Having just watched a thrilling OT win by the NY Rangers over the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semis in the NHL I thought I’d show some pictures of our recent UK trip to Borde Hill Garden, Haywards Heath. A trip prompted by the Diplomat and I whose nostalgia for our usual weekend UK National Trust walks drove us into the rare, bright sunshine of a UK May day in order to amble contentedly around one of England’s many stunning bucolic arenas.

Before I take you on that somnolent ramble, which was a heady mixture of Isla’s showing us gravel, the scents of spring flowers, the dazzling artistry of gardeners who cultivate Nature so perfectly, and an atypical lunchtime munch on soups, teas and sandwiches made in that peculiarly British way whilst relaxing in a NT-esque café in a converted stable, I’ll just take a wander into the fast and furious game that is Canada’s National Sport – Ice Hockey.

Of the four American Continent Sports – Baseball, Basketball, Ice Hockey, and American Football – the ice game is by far my favourite. An odd choice for someone who has skated precisely twice in his lifetime, both times in Guildford, UK, and often confuses Zamboni with zucchini. My tentative forays into skating – no doubt encouraged by that generation of parents who swooned and sighed over the Sarajevo ’84 Bolero of Torvill and Dean – resulted in a nervous propensity to fall over painfully whilst kids around me laughed and skated serenely onwards. However, given I am married into a Canadian family, I feel that, as Isla grows, I will make renewed effort to don skates and learn. Skating down the Rideau Canal in Ottawa’s winters is a must, apparently, for all true Canadians. By the way, Ottawa is the seventh coldest capital city in the world with an average temperature of 41.9°F/5.5°C (Mongolia’s Ulaan Baatar is number one).

So, Ice Hockey. A sport I was introduced to back in 1993 when I went to visit Dad who was working and living in Mississauga, Ontario. Whilst I didn’t get to a game featuring the famous Toronto Maple Leafs, I loved to watch it on the T.V. However, back in the UK the non-existent coverage of the sport, coupled with the fact most games would be on past midnight, meant I had no chance to pursue a developing fascination for the hard man sport of Canada. Come 2000, when I was resident in New York, living on the New Jersey shoreline, just up the road from Hoboken where that TLC cake show with Buddy Valasco takes place, I adopted the NJ Devils as my team. A prudent choice given they won the Stanley Cup that year, Jason Arnott’s last goal meaning they beat the Dallas Stars 4-2 (they lost in the final the next year to Colorado). Of that team, the goaltender, Martin Brodeur (still playing today) remains my favourite player.

Returning to the UK in late 2002 again put my regard for the game on ice – excuse the pun – until 2010 when I met the Diplomat and was “forcibly” encouraged to switch my allegiance to the Ottawa Senators. To be diplomatic I have done so, I also favour all Canadian teams when they are playing US ones – save perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins with its star, Sidney Crosby – and, of course, I retain a soft spot for the Devils. For those of you who are thinking about following the game, I encourage you to go and see it live. You get an entirely different perspective as you can see the whole ice rink, can understand how plays will develop – something the puck following T.V. cameras cannot do.

One of my favourite memories is the Diplomat taking me to Wakefield, Quebec back in 2010 where in a bar – Cafe 1870 – I got to experience the national fervour of watching Sidney score an OT goal against the US so Canada won the Olympic gold. The roof nearly lifted off the place with the Canadian joy. I got to see a burly blonde bear hug two thin men simultaneously. A rib crushing visual.

I digress. So, on a sunny UK mid morning, the Diplomat, Isla and I headed down the M23 towards Borde Hill Gardens. 200 acres of garden and park, the first record of the Tudor estate dates back to 1534, Borde Hill house being constructed in 1598; acquired by Colonel Robert Clarke in 1893, he was the first owner to plant the gardens and woodlands. It’s a robust place. A series of ornate gardens to the east and west of the main house (not open to the public) with exquisite declivity views to the front and rear.

This particular garden (photo on the right) is known as the Italian Garden, IMG_7003its lower terrace being centred around the formal pool which was originally a tennis court until its conversion in 1982. Now it is an explosion of summer colours with a panoramic view to the South Park and the valley lakes. Terracotta pots are planted with tulips in Spring (you can see some in the slideshow below), agapanthis and pelargoniums for Summer. The Italianate ambiance is enhanced with the plantings of Pittosporum. The geometric beds on the Upper Terrace have magnolias, edged with dwarf myrtle. There is a Camellia walk on the eastern side, designed to create a tunneled, colourful entrance in Spring, also being a practical barrier to the wind. The Upper Terrace is connected to the Lower by a small fountain that runs its straight course down the steps to the pond. It is a line that had Isla stepping back and forth over, kind of like crossing the Greenwich timeline or the Equator.

Now you see me, now you don’t. Now you see me, now…

You get the idea. Of course, she had to step into the water with her new Geoxx shoes (don’t get me started on the horrendous pricing of kids shoes and the fact they grow a size every 6 weeks).

One other garden was of note (other than the fabulous stroll through the woodlands with their carpets of bluebells) and that was the Garden of Allah. Named such because of its aura of peace and tranquility by Sir Clarke, it was cultivated in the 1920s to house rhododendrons grown from seed. There is a Chinese tulip tree and two notable magnolias – one from Japan, the other from the South-eastern US.

Our happy two hours was polished off with a sun-drenched (yet not the heat of Bangkok) lazy lunch at the eatery. Soup made form home-grown ingredients, fruit juices carted in from some rustic farm; hand-pressed, of course – the usual organic sole trader fare you get in these places. We were three of a scant few at the place which made its cerulean skies and vivid blooms all the more relaxing. Just the thing to top up our nostalgia banks before heading back to the tropical gardens and heat of our new home in Bangkok

Here’s some photos…

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Is this what diplomacy is all about?



Categories: Canada, Haywards Heath, Ottawa, United Kingdom

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