24 May 2015
On Sunday I had a lunch date with Panda. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her, although we’ve spoken on the phone and texted. We’d arranged to meet at eleven, giving me time for a little lie in and a slow wander over to town by way of a Sunday walk. As luck would have it, it was sunny when I set out, not long after Commando had gone off for his Sunday morning run. To be on the safe side I wore my thin mack, just in case, but, by the time I got to the Big Bridge, I was hot. The water sparkled and the rowing club were powering along the river.
Soon enough I was in Old Northam Road. Once upon a time this was on one of my walk to work routes. Lined by run down, in some cases crumbling, Victorian terraced houses, it was once a well known centre for second hand and collectable shops. In fact it was touted as Southampton’s version of Portobello Road. That was in the 1960’s and 70’s though and much has changed since then. Now many of the shops are empty, boarded up or falling down, despite a £2 million Government regeneration project at the beginning of this century. Supposedly, there are plans to pump more money in, turn it into the antiques quarter of the city and build a huge auction house. I shall believe it when I see it.
The original regeneration included a rather controversial sculpture, The Shoal, which was erected in late 2002. Around forty feet high and illuminated by fibre optic lights at night, it caused an outcry amongst the moaners and groaners of the city, who felt the money should have been spent on something more useful. Some people don’t like public art of any kind, even if Leonardo DaVinci painted something on a city wall they’d disapprove. They said it looked like a Christmas Tree gone wrong or a lump of scrap metal.
Personally I don’t think you can have enough public art. Having said that, in a certain light it does have a look of barbed wire about it. On a sunny day though, with a bit of blue sky, I can see what metalwork artist Tom Grimsby was aiming for. As the name implies, it depicts a shoal of fish meant to represent individuals working together to form a community. He said, “The subject has significance for Southampton on two fronts, firstly, with the internationally important oceanographic study centre and the St Mary’s area when tides of football supporters descend on the new stadium.”
When you look at it like that, the eight hundred strong shoal of stainless steel fish, swirling into the sky makes perfect sense.
By the underpass at Six Dials a rather attractive grouping of plants caught my eye. The powers that be have planted cotoneaster on the bank of wasteland beside the subway slope, the wildflowers have sneaked in and added a whole new dimension. Purple bindweed and yellow buttercups complement the red cotoneaster buds turning a barren earth bank into a pretty garden. Little things to make me smile.
In Palmerston Park I was greeted by rhododendrons. In fact they seemed to be growing everywhere I looked, although some were undoubtedly actually azaleas if you want to split hairs. The line between the two is fuzzy at best and complicated. The genus rhododendron includes azaleas, the main difference, if you want to be picky, is that azaleas have just five stamens while true rhododendrons have at least double that amount. Life is too short to count stamens I think and they’re all beautiful.
The first I came to were white with deep maroon spots. One had attracted a metallic looking green bug that set off the maroon spots quite well, hopefully it wasn’t about to eat the roots while my back was turned. With plenty of time before I was due to meet Panda I wandered under the flowering horse chestnut trees towards my favourite area, the enchanted park. Just a few weeks ago all these trees were bare and now they’re a canopy of fresh green.
As expected, the enchanted park was bursting with colour, most of it rhododendron based. Pink and purple dominated of course but there was yellow too, although these were most certainly azaleas (yes I did count the stamens), and past their best, but they smelled spicy and exotic. There was a frenzy of photo taking as I strolled along the winding path.
Just as I was beginning to get ever so slightly bored with rhododendrons and azaleas, if that is actually possible, I turned the corner and there were the alliums. My own alliums seem to have gone on strike this year and haven’t produced one single flower which is disappointing because I love the explosion of blooms, like fireworks, as well as the delicately spiky seedheads that follow. Here there were allium flowers in spades, each mauve ball appearing far to large for its slender stem. The bees seemed to like them as much as me.
The trail of different coloured flowers took me off the path and around the island beds. I was in azalea territory now and most were deep pink with varying degrees of white. It seemed that no two flowers were the same. When a flash of dark blue caught my eye I went to investigate. It turned out to be a small tent pitched between the flower beds, invisible to those who stayed on the path. Someone was camping in the enchanted park. Of course, I could understand why they would want to but still, it is a little odd to be sleeping in a tent in the middle of a city park, even by my standards.
Keeping with the azalea theme there were more yellow ones on the far side of the bed. These seem to be the most strongly scented of all the azaleas, a heady mix of cloves and ginger that attracts the bees. The flowers were falling, their dried out husks caught in the long stamens hanging in the air.
My off path azalea hunt had led me full circle, back to the alliums buzzing with bees. A splash of red caught my eye, the first ladybird of the year. It seemed to be sleeping peacefully on a cushion of mauve petals, oblivious to the bees buzzing all around. A quick look at my watch told me I’d better get a move on so, half reluctantly, I left the flowers behind and headed for the precinct. After all, I had a lunch date and a rather interesting venue for it too…