Sunday, August 24, 2014

Train Line to Narnia

A Secret Garden

I discovered a beautiful English garden blooming behind walls when I visited Highclere Castle, where the popular BBC seriesDownton Abbey is filmed. Was I surprised when I saw the plaque on the wall with the garden's name, "The Secret Garden?" Not at all. I was an England now, where all my favorite children's books seemed to be coming true.

Photo: TF Sherman

Harry Potter Land

Arriving at Platform 9 3/4

We took the train from Heathrow Airport to St. Pancras Station. Bleary with exhaustion from the flight, we stopped off in Harry Potter land. On the left of the picture, you can see people posing by the famous Platform 9 3/4 at which Harry embarked each school year for Hogwarts.

We didn’t try imitating his technique of ramming his trunk into the platform, but trotted off wheeling our suitcases in ordinary Muggle fashion.

Photo credit: © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Wardonia Hotel

Former residence of Mary Poppins

I’m almost certain that our hotel was once the house that the Banks children lived in, and that that front door was the oneMary Poppins knocked at to answer the advertisement for a nanny. Can’t you see her blowing away her competition as they cling to those iron gates? Also, there was a very nice square for us to play in directly across the way.

Three homes must have been thrown together, in the same manner as the the dance academy was created in Ballet Shoesby Noel Streatfield.

Oooh, and in the lower basement windows — can you catch a glimpse of Sara Crew from A Little Princess, her face thin and pinched, starved and persecuted as she was by that awful Miss Minchin? The stairs on those houses are narrow! I went up and down with a suitcase. Carrying a hod of coal would be just awful.

Photo by TF Sherman

On a Nearby Alley

Across from the 500 year old church with the haunted cemetery, down from the Irish pub, and before the policeman on horseback...

On our way to the nearest Indian restaurant, on a sort of alley which wasn’t even a street, we passed St. Mungo’s Dispensary.Harry Potter fans know it as St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Mysteries and Maladies. They keep this one very mum.

Photo: TF Sherman

British Museum

The Red Pyramid, Kane Chronicles, by Rick Riordan, author The Lightning Thief

I was happy to discover the Rosetta Stone all in one piece at the British Museum. (The dad in The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan had blown it up one midnight performing a secret rite to summon the gods of ancient Egypt — big mistake.) I found this dude to be much scarier.

Photo: TF Sherman

I couldn't actually see Bigwig and Holly and Fiver from the bedroom window of my B & B in Combe, near Bath. But I could imagine.

I couldn't actually see Bigwig and Holly and Fiver from the bedroom window of my B & B in Combe, near Bath. But I could imagine.

The Eagle and the Child

Birthplace of Narnia AND Middle Earth

In Oxford, we stuck our heads in the door of The Eagle and the Child (also known as The Bird and the Babe) where J. R. R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and other members of The Inklings gathered in the private Rabbit room in the back to read each other the manuscripts of their, Lewis’ Narnia books, and Tolkien’s even more monolithic Lord of the Rings epic.

Supposedly, Tolkien was not a good reader, mumbling and even putting his listeners to sleep. At one point, according to the story, fellow English teacher Hugo Dyson woke up and said, “Oh, lord, not another f—— elf.”

Photo: Wikipedia

Lyra's Oxford

The Golden Compass

Look out at the rooftops and spires of Oxford. There is no way to find a view less than amazing. Not hard all to imagine a daemon scampering over the rooftops in desperate need of help…

Photo by TF Sherman

The Perch

Alice in Wonderland meets The Wind in the Willows

While we wandered, we ate pick up meals wherever we happened to be. Pub food is not really reliably delicious, and I found English breakfasts to be astonishing. I’ve always begun my day with cereal and fruit, and tea and toast was delicious, although I skipped the marmite in favor of orange marmalade. But the rest of the meal was extraordinary. On one breakfast plate was served an egg (just one), pork and leak sausauges, rather more like hot dogs than our sausage, bacon, rather more like our ham than our bacon, beans, a stewed tomato, and mushrooms. That’s truly a hobbit sized breakfast.

I would have been happier if I could have gone back and had it for lunch, but instead we had to rely on a series of gastronomic misadventures. Pub food is not always reliable, (that’s a joke), and everything was very, very expensive too. Marzipan from Hotel Chocolate sustained me. I had just read Jasper Ffordes The Last Dragonslayer, and one of his inside jokes was about a character abusing marzipan. I could sympathize too well.

We were lucky enough to be given a walking tour of Oxford but British author Peter Furtado, who had just autographed a copy of his new Histories of Nations for my husband. He suggested we follow up a wonderful day with dinner, and he made reservations at The Perch just outside Oxford. We didn’t know what to expect when the taxi delivered us to a 17th century thatched inn. Inside, the place was homey, the waiters friendly, and the cuisine French. While we waited for Peter and his wife, I strolled out in the lovely garden. The path I followed led under vined arches to a welcoming, easygoing Thames. I was spellbound, waiting for Ratty and Moley from The Wind in the Willows to punt by.

When I told Peter how amazingly lovely I found The Perch to be, he nodded. “Yes. And historical too. Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis both came here. It was one of the first places where Lewis Carroll gave a reading of Alice in Wonderland.”

Did I mention that the French food I ate there was the best food I had in England

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Coleus experimentation

I love coleus but I'm very miserly too; I expect to walk out of the garden store with three pots of different coleus, go home, cut them up, and end up with a dozen plants per. And when I root them, my goal is to produce new plants with roots (of course) and a doubled stem before I put them into the ground.

And this is just what I did this year, but I'm not really satisfied with the rate at which they are rooting.  I read recently that plants generate a rooting solution, so if they share a pot with another rooting plant, their growth will be spurred. That sounds good.

I had cut off one long sprig for rooting, and then cut that sprig in two.  I am noticing that the middle part, which looked like a poor balding orphan when I stuck it into the pot, is looking quite perky now, in fact, better than its leafier big brother. Because the leafier big brother was putting his energy into sustaining those big leaves, when it came time for him to be clipped to make room for the doubles, he was in a bad way. 

So now I am trying a different way of rooting my cuttings. I have two batches of new cuttings.  On one batch, I've removed all the large leaves, and they look like pretty helpless soldiers. They're sitting in an inch of water now because their stems are so very short. The other batch still has the top leaves on, but I stripped all the side leaves.  

This particular breed of coleus is very prone to doubling.