A couple of weeks ago I enjoyed a day at Parham House in West Sussex https://www.parhaminsussex.co.uk/plan-your-visit/. Looking at the garden through the lens of a camera I attended a two day course, sadly shortened to one and run by the Artist in residence the celebrated photographer Elizabeth Zeschin https://www.zeschin.com/.
As is often the case on so many courses I have experienced, you find there are those who arrive brimming with confidence, armed with the best equipment and a knowledge they are keen to impart, and then there are those of us who have no idea what they are doing, come with inadequate tools and simply want to learn a little more about how to improve their photography and move on from using the automatic button.
We met in the Seed Room where Elizabeth is holding her present exhibition; beautiful salt prints, black-and-white painstakingly developed, and in the corner stood the dauntingly old-fashioned camera which she had used to photograph them.
Following our instruction on ISO, aperture and shutter speed, and trying not to trip over my trusty tripod (I had to borrow one as mine was incomplete), we headed out into the garden. Concentrating on all that had been said I took my first photograph; the result was unremarkable, utterly dull and very flat.
Parham House is a wonderful Elizabethan house and as you walk into the walled garden you are overwhelmed with the generous and vibrant planting and you can’t help but feel that many have walked this way before. Situated in a sheltered spot in the far distance you can see the South Downs.
We entered through the south gate; the garden was not open to the public so we had the glorious four acres to ourselves. We were spoilt for choice and pointed our lenses where we could. Fellow student and NGS garden owner chose her spot carefully and looked the part.
The garden is divided into many areas. The main pathway runs north to south along a central axis. Crossing it to the west is the blue border with pools of nepeta billowing out onto to the path, extending towards the painted door in the wall,
and to the east the gold border stretching towards the oak door with the roof of the dovecote rising above.
The summer house on the north wall provides the perfect focal point. Either side of these calming gentle strips of lawn are the memory walls; made of stone they were built in 1965 by Veronica Tritton (the great aunt of the present incumbent) in memory of her father the Hon. Clive Pearson who bought Parham House in the 1920s and restored the property.
I couldn’t help focusing on this divine little chap sitting at the end of the wall and I worry people might not necessarily notice him. As I adjust my lens I realise there is much to think about; how much should I zoom in? Should I include the meadow to the side? Shall I frame him in the evergreen oak?
And then Elizabeth kindly lent me her macro lens and a whole new world opened up before me. The white froth of flowers on the Crambe cordifolia takes on a new appearance and I am reminded of my flowerless plant at home which has never really recovered from being moved.
However the architectural Angelica archangelica flowers freely at home spreading its seeds happily, although I try to keep it contained within the drive.
It is a new intriguing world through this lens; surely there is no better common name for nigella damascena than Love-in-a-Mist.
We are absorbed with our cameras for several enjoyable hours and as we return for a late lunch I cannot but admire this collection of pots. Aren’t professional gardeners so clever at filling those shady corners.
After lunch we blinked ourselves out into the afternoon sun and returning to the walled garden I am drawn to the orchard area immediately on the left. Shadows have appeared over the mown paths through the long grass; it is of course a different light.
Standing boldly, the apple tree spreads its branches and if you look carefully, the mistletoe can just be identified in this tapestry of greens.
Across the way to the orchard the faded wisteria drips over the entrance to the plant sales. I must resist and concentrate on camera in my hand.
So I move swiftly up to the north-eastern corner where the uncut meadow contrasts with the clipped box surrounding the vegetable and cutting garden.
Gardens are so much about health and wellbeing and here is a place that you can escape, admire the flowers, the shapes and form, perhaps take inspiration or simply relish the peaceful surroundings.
As the afternoon draws into evening the light changes again and so too does the atmosphere. The north wall is now bathed in the gentle warm sunlight.
Standing at the far end of the memory walls I position myself for some time under the apple tree watching and waiting for the shadows and trying to get the best angle.
Of course I understand why gardens have to close at the end of the day, but wouldn’t it be good if they remained open for that early evening magical light?
It is time to finish. We have spent a full day in the garden and goodness Elizabeth has patiently worked hard and has been a perfect teacher.
So to the finale, the oak door in the wall is opened, with an imaginary drum roll, and remembering Elizabeth’s on-going mantra ‘ If you can’t imagine it on the page of a magazine or wall of a gallery, DON’T PRESS THE SHUTTER’
I take my very last shot of the day. I hope you will agree that it is a huge improvement on my first!
Parham has opened in the past for the NGS for an amazing 40 years and now kindly advertises in the Sussex county booklet. There is much I have not seen today so I will return. For opening times https://www.parhaminsussex.co.uk/plan-your-visit/opening-times-prices/