Two Cheshire Gardens in one day

Jude and I arranged a coach trip to visit some Cheshire gardens for the Shropshire Group of the Hardy Plant Society as part of our programme secretaries role. The main garden was Arley Hall but we added on two smaller gardens as a contrast, which I am going to concentrate in this blog ,The East Garden within the Arley Hall Gardens and Grafton Lodge near Malpas.

We were given the privilege of being given a tour of the East Garden inside the main garden at Arley Hall. The East Garden is owned and tended by the same person who runs the nursery there which specialises in unusual quality perennials so we were in for a treat. We were even given a short talk about how the garden was created before we looked around. It was an intimate garden with strong structure created by paths and trimmed hedges all softened by mixed borders of perennials and shrubs. It was raining all the time we were exploring but the colours glowed through especially the yellows. I shall leave you to enjoy the photos I took.

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We ended our day by visiting a 2 acre garden in a tiny Cheshire village half way home, where we enjoyed a wander and a break for tea and cakes. The garden is owned by Simon Carter and Derren Gilhooley, who also designed, created and now maintain it. It is a garden full of surprises, original touches and lots of enticing paths and junctions. We were enthralled by the unusual collection of small trees and herbaceous plants.

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Our members were soon milling around keen to take a look around what looked to be an interesting garden. They were right!

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Many members were surprised to see this little specimen of Catalpa bignoides, the Indian Bean Tree in flower. Being a small tree it meant that we could get a close up look at the flowers that were reminiscent of foxgloves or Horse Chestnut.

 

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This is a garden that as you wander around you are stopped in your tracks by original ideas that make you wonder “Why didn’t I think of that?” In the first shot below we see a plant pairing that works so well but both plants ,the Birch and the Lysimachia, are such ordinary plants. Together they look great. The second shot shows a low growing hedge that made all of us take a second look as we had never seen this plant, a shrubby Potentilla, used as a hedge before.

 

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This plant combination similarly impressed, once again a Birch but here partnered by an Acanthus.

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As we left after a great day out we were waved off by Simon and Derren who had been wonderful hosts and by this friendly garden glove.

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Two New Little Gardens

This summer we have added two new little gardens to our “Avocet” garden. In truth they are mini-gardens. We have created a roof garden on the wood store and a tiny alpine garden.

You may remember my post last year sharing with you how I made our log store. I built it with a roof garden in mind so it was already strong enough to take the weight. We mixed up a special mix of a lightweight multi-purpose compost and perlite. We began adapting the roof by adding a second layer of roofing felt before nailing in place strips of 6 inch wide strips of wood as an edging. We then fixed a layer of weed supressing membrane to help hold in the compost mix. Once the compost mix was added we had the pleasure of placing the plants ready for planting. After all the work building the new little garden in the air the planting was a delight. We used mostly alpines and succulents selecting those that could cope with a shallow root run. We used sedums, sempervivums, dianthus and thymes.

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Our second little creation was an extra space for small alpines. We call it our “Alpine Throne” – once you see the photos you will realise why. It is situated within the “Sunken Garden”, although this garden is often now called the “Secret Garden”, in a wasted space below an arch over which our vine grows partnered by a clematis, up against the greenhouse. The space previously was home to a Euphorbia mellifera, the Honey Spurge, which we have to grow in a large container as it needs winter protection here. This beautifully scented shrub has now outgrown its allotted space and has relocated to a new home in the “Tropical Garden”.

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So we got together our materials, some 12 foot long 8 inch by 2 inch planks, which we cut to various lengths and shaped their ends. I then drilled holes in the ends for added interest. I wanted the feature to be a piece of garden sculpture as well as an alpine garden. We also got together some large pieces of Welsh slate carefully selected for shape, texture and colour.

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We needed some weed suppressing membrane and a selection of plants whose flowers complimented the slate. A few bags of fine alpine grit were required to mix with the compost and also to top-dress the finished garden.

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A few months later our new little garden has settled down. It is a nice little feature to enjoy when we sit in one of our favourite sitting places. The roof garden has settled nicely too and the plants look happy and healthy.

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Aiming for a year round garden – our garden in August.

This series aims to check out if we have been successful in creating a garden for all seasons with interest throughout the year. In this post we look at our Avocet garden here in Plealey in the first week in August, a time when summer is going off a bit and autumn is trying to sneak in by the back door. The wild carrot below is beginning to set its seeds in our wildlife strip behind the lavender hedge alongside the lane.

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We have one more garden group yet to visit us which happens in about a fortnight so this post as well as checking on how well we are achieving our aim of a year round garden will also be a way of checking out how it will look to our next visitors.

The” Beth Chatto Garden” still has plenty of interest but sadly the strange weather this year has meant that we have already had to cut down the Eophorbia griffithii Dixter which normally we can rely on for colourful winter stems of the brightest ruby red.

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The other front garden borders still have patches of colour with the Perovskia’s pale blue flower spires looking good in a patch dominated by the white barked silver birches and purple leaves of Cercis Forest Pansy, Sambucus nigra Black Lace and Physocarpus Diablo.

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Our new sculptural piece is looking good starring with the flowers of Leucanthemum “Shaggy”, several Asters (sorry but I can’t yet accept their new botanical names!), Salvia uliginosa, Gaura linheimeri and various annuals that Jude the Undergardener grows from seed.

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The photos below show two very different looking plants which are in fact both Lobelias, the one on the left a cardinalis and the one on the right Lobelia tupa.

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It is good to see the wildlife busy on the blooms every time the sun shines.

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The ferns border developed earlier this year is looking better as the ferns get more established. From there you can look back along the Shade Garden through the archway towards the Hot Garden.

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The Dahlias in the vintage galvanised containers along the house wall are still flowering but having a bit of a rest before hopefully producing more flower buds to delight the eye in a few weeks time.

 

 

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Opposite them the” Freda Border” is looking cheerful with oranges and yellows and the odd white highlight of this honey-scented Buddleja.

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The Tulbaghias continue to produce their delicate pale lilac flowers on their wiry stems. Close by the insect hotel snuggles within the” Pollinator Border”. Here the brightest flower of all must be the annual Leonotis leonora, which has become a real favourite in the garden this year. Opposite the heavy cropping grape vine continues to produce “water shoots” which need regular pruning to let the sun access the fruit to ripen it. The harvest is looking hopeful!

 

 

 

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The pathway I take to feed the hens is full of plants that stop me on my way. Eryngium Miss Wilmott’s Ghost is turning from silver to biscuit and Geranium “Rosanne” clambers through any close plant. A real star of this pathway is the Bergena ciliata, a hairy leaved Bergenia with bronze colouring to the reverse of each leaf. I turn a leaf over each time I pass. It has big arching sprays of pale pink flowers in spring too! A great plant but rarely grown.

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On the other side of this path we have the” Spring Garden” where the palmate leaves of the Acer japonica and Tetrapanax papyfer “Rex” sit close to each other. The Acer partners a couple of purple-leaved Lysimachia “Firecracker” and the deep green leaves of our thornless blackberry. The Tetrapanax is thowing up new leaves which are glossy but turn matt with the passing of time.

 

 

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The Tropical Garden which was one of this year’s projects is looking particularly good at the moment. It is so full of contrasts. Contrasts in flower colour, leaf shapes, textures and colour.

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The pale blue fish continue to swim through the Seaside Garden. Behind the chimenia a bright yellow flowered crocosmia seems to glow beneath the standard holly.

 

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The Shed Bed has bright splashes of colour provided by Ricinus, Verbascum and Crocosmia.

 

 

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In the Rill Garden the Aeoniums are all doing well showing great leaf colour but best of all must be Aeonium arboreum” Schwarzkopf” which is tree like in form with the blackest glossiest leaves possible.

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If we move further into back garden now we can look through the arches down the central path. Off this path to the left are the “Crescent Bed”, “L Bed” and the “Long Border”.

 

 

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If we cross the grass path at the far end of this patch we enter the” Japanese Garden” with the” Prairie Garden” to the right, which features two of our sculptures, the Copper Leaves made by our daughter Jo and the dancing figure of “Amber” created by a local artist.

 

 

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And finally across the central path again to the” Chicken Garden” and the” Secret Garden” which are still looking very colourful. The first photo is of our everlasting sweetpea which although perennial so easier to grow than the annuals it is sadly without scent. The red poker shaped flowers in the second photo are Persicaria amplexicaulis “Firetail” which is so long flowering and attractive to wildlife as a bonus.

 

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So that is the study of our garden in August, hopefully still confirming that it is an all season garden. Next month we will probably be seeing the first signs of autumn colour and seedheads beginning to take on more importance.

 

 

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A Garden in July and August – Trentham

So back to Trentham to see how good this wonderful garden is throughout the year. Because of preparing for the first ever opening of our garden we will have to join July and August together and do just this one post. From past experience of visiting in late summer we had high expectations. We expected the River of Grasses to have grown tall and be flowering profusely and for the herbaceous perennials to be full of colour, texture and structure. So let’s have a wander to see what is going on.

We entered the gardens over the little curved bridge over the River Trent and got our first look over the Piet Oudolf gardens. The River of Grasses was showing stress after the strange weather so far in 2014, with the grasses only looking half grown and showing no signs of flowering.

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Taking the gravel path through the winding row of River Birches we were amazed by views of Oudolf’s prairie planting. After the restful green shades of the River of Grasss there was suddenly so much colour! The planting combinations worked together showing great use of contrasting colours and textures.

 

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Persicaria, Eupatorium, Echinacea, Monarda, Sedum and Sanguisorba were star performers. But there was lots more to appreciate too!

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We were sad to leave this area with its gentle atmosphere and some of the best plant combinations you can find anywhere in England. But we were here on a mission, seeking out the changes since our June visit. So off we went to the bit of Trentham we don’t like, the Italian Garden with its gaudy bedding plants. But it is part of the story so I took a few pics of the bedding. Below the balustrading the narrow border was much better with its Aeoniums, Kniphofias and Dahlias. At this time the drizzle started to fall and as usual we got our Trentham soaking.

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From the balustrade we got our first views of Tom Stuart-Smith’s redesigned Italian parterre garden. The garden seemed gentler in colour on this visit with a concentration of greens and yellows with clusters of mauves and purples.

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Any red or orange looked stunning in this company of course, especially the Heleniums and Crocosmias, with an odd surprise Hemerocalis thrown in for added interest.

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As usual the corner beds looked great encouraging the visitor to explore further. We certainly enjoyed them as we moved on towards the display gardens.

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Within the display gardens there were several little areas of interest, such as this old fence leaning on the ivy-covered wall and the delicate pink planting.

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As usual we made our way back to the car via the Rose Walk, where our senses were invaded.

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This piece of sculpture created by Mother Nature stopped us in our tracks – never before had we seen Foxtail Lilies looking quite like this with their towering stems dotted with marble-sized seeds affording a are glimpse of its unusual structural qualities.

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From the Rose walk we glanced across through the wrought iron supports to Piet Oudolf’s River of Grasses and his Prairie plantings.

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Trentham never lets us down. We were expecting to see big changes and lots of colour on this visit and we were not disappointed, except for the River of Grasses where the grasses seemed small and lacking in flowers just like ours at home. The weather this year has a lot to answer for! So next visit will be in September when once again we will go with great expectations and full of excited anticipation.

Posted in colours, flowering bulbs, fruit and veg, garden design, garden designers, garden photography, gardening, gardens, gardens open to the public, grasses, hardy perennials, Italian style gardens, July, meadows, ornamental grasses, ornamental trees and shrubs, photography, Piet Oudolf, roses, Staffordshire, Tom Stuart-Smith, trees | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Are You Sitting Comfortably? Part 2 – the second in a very occasional series.

This is the second and “very long time coming” post in my series about garden seating in all its guises. Please just enjoy the photos and let your imagination get to work wondering what it would be like sitting on each and every seat. At the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show we found a good assortment.

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A chair can be somewhere to watch the rain watering the grass or somewhere to seek outat the end of a mosaic pathway.

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Jude the Undergardener prefers them to relax on and if possible have a cup of tea and a good chat with friends.

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Some seats simply look too elegant to be sat upon and prefer to be admired.

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Many garden seats are under arches or inside domes of trees. This one is on our allotments in our new “Garden of Contemplation” and the arch over it is created from old iron hurdles.

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Gardeners like to train trees over seats sometimes to give natural shade to the resting

gardener.

 

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Wood is probably the commonest material we build our garden seating out of, sometimes these are good to look at but less comfortable to sit upon, others look good and are comfortable too.

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This carved stone seat is definitely better to look at than to sit on.

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Many gardens are keen recyclers too so their seats tend to blend happily into their natural surroundings.

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For the final garden seat in this second selection we shall stay with the theme of recycling. How about a sunken garden where you can sit down and feel the coolness of the earth. You can see how much the creator enjoyed making this unusual piece of garden furniture.

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So there we have it, my second set of photos of garden seats, some cheap some expensive, some expensive and some home made and recycled. I shall be off now to find more seats to sit on in the gardens we visit, in readiness for the next garden seats post.You can never tell with this series you may have to wait months again or it may just be next week – who can tell?

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A Wonderful Community Garden

Returning from a few days away down south we made a diversion from the direct route home to visit a community garden in the Wiltshire town of Swindon, a town renowned in its heyday for manufacturing everything to do with railways at their peak in the era of steam.

As Jude, aka The Undergardener or Mrs Greenbench, and I are involved in running an allotment community garden we were keen to see what was going on at TWIGS, another community garden which like us open under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme.

TWIGS stands for Therapeutic Work in Gardening in Swindon, which proved to be a perfect reflection of what goes on in what we discovered to be an amazing and caring enterprise.

It was hard to find even though the directions in the NGS’s Yellow Book made it look simple. We navigated our way around the bypass searching for the right exits and often failing, until we found the right district. We wriggled through industrial and business parks in search of a garden centre which shared its grounds with TWIGS.

When we successfully arrived were welcomed by this cheerful planter alongside the gateway in. Once inside we immediately spotted colourful borders and rows of busy polytunnels.

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Come around with us now as we wander the paths of TWIGS discovering their wonderful work.

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The staff and volunteers here help their clients who have problems of all sorts, to regain their pride and confidence through raising plants, looking after chickens, making bird boxes and insect homes, creating gardens and crafting sculptures and much more. The plants raised are used both in the gardens and for sale in the little nursery and the nestboxes and insect homes are found around the site to encourage wildlife as well as for sale to visitors.

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The gardens themselves are peaceful places, calm and quiet and great places to relax in or retreat to. The gardens are managed using organic approaches and in partnership with nature. They must have such a strong effect on those who care for them or like us just visit them.

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There were some original ideas here too created by the clients, such as this sedum planter.

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We found wandering around TWIGS a most enjoyable, relaxing and enlightening experience. It shows what can be achieved by dedicated people who want to use gardening and working with nature to improve the lives of others. It was good to visit another community garden which proved to be very different to our own at Bowbrook Allotment Community.I shall finish with this set of pictures which illustrate what TWIGS is all about. A sunken retreat had been designed by an artist in residence and built by the TWIGS clients using all recycled materials. It is a peaceful place to sit and widlife has found homes within it.

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Posted in community gardening, garden design, garden furniture, garden seating, garden wildlife, gardening, gardens, gardens open to the public, natural pest control, outdoor sculpture, poppies, recycling, sculpture, wildlife, Yellow Book Gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gloucester Docks

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We had a weekend away recently and passing near to Gloucester on our way back decided to drop into the city and make a return visit to its historic docks. We had not been there for about 30 years and even then it was at the start of a rebirth. A few of the old dockside warehouses had been restored and given a new lease of life. We had gone specifically to see the “Opie Collection” which was an amazing collection of old packets and packaging. we were wondering how the development had fared and if it had an air of rebirth and vibrancy such as developments at Cardiff Dock and Merseyside’s Albert Dock had managed to achieve.

Trying to park was not easy – they hadn’t got that right! And the road signs all around were dreadful but we did manage to park and found our way to the dock area. It was definitely worth the effort. It seemed at first glance to be lively and well-used with little sign of the dereliction that curses most dock areas. On the walk from the car park to the docks I spotted these red poppies bursting with colour and energy through a crack in the pavement. They glowed against the black fence. I loved the image of nature breaking through the concrete and adding a touch of softness to the rigidity of man-made structures.

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As we entered the docks themselves after a short walk we were instantly amazed by the lively feel of the place. New life had been given to dereliction and what once were working docks and warehouses had been given a second chance to burgeon as leisure, retail and new homes.

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As usual in these reborn docks plenty of coffee shops beckoned. In the evening there are also plenty of restaurants to entice the evening visitors.

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While we turn to restaurant and cafe for refreshment today, in times gone by when the docks were places of strenuous often dangerous labours the dockworkers and bargemen would have turned to religion so all of the larger docks provided a chapel. Gloucester was no exception.

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The craft that moor here now are are barges converted for leisure and pleasure and the odd tourist boats offering regular trips. It was hard to imagine the noise and constant movement of barges and their cargoes that must have moved through here every moment of every day when the docks were fully working.

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A favourite building of us both is the new Gloucester College of Art which sat in its blue and white crispness as a compliment to the blue of the sky and the white of the slowly passing clouds. When seen through the original dockland warehouses the college presented hope for the future.

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Signs of its bustling past remained and had been lovingly restored as sculptural memorials to its past and to the men and women who toiled there. They have a beauty all of their own.

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New pieces of sculpture commissioned as tributes to the docks’ past sit alongside the remnants of its earlier industriousness. Some thrusting into the air indicating power while others subtly placed where feet trod and the occasional eyes fell to spot them.

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The lift bridge was still toiling away lifting the road to allow water craft to enter or exit the docks. Where once the bridge would have lifted to give passage to working barges now the vessels passing below are pleasure craft manned by weekend sailors or tourists on trips along the waterway.

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After dropping into a retail centre for coffee we wandered into an area of the docklands still undeveloped and this area presented a stark contrast to the newness we had been enjoying before. They seem to be patiently waiting their turn for fresh breath to be breathed into them them as thoughtless vandals paint graffiti on their doors and throw bricks through their windows.

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This final trio of photos illustrates the sharp division between the developed and the symbols of the past.

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As we took the path back to the car we stopped to get a close up look at this sculpture shooting skyward when we noticed a fingerpost directing us to the cathedral and, as we had never visited it, we naturally followed its invitation. We were impressed enough with a quick view of the outside to think we must come back for another visit.

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