Time to sparkle

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
December 2014

Steffie Shields finds that gardens can still provide plenty of inspiration even in the coldest months of winter.
Spark is a brilliant word. It sets the mind alight in many ways. The start of new life; the first twinkle of fun in a baby’s eyes; the smartest of pupils; a germ of an idea; the reassuring start of an engine; a small amount of an intense feeling or a spark of romance – who doesn’t love a bright spark?

As a photographer I enjoy looking for sparkle! An easy job at this time of the year. Christmas is the season for sparks, and plenty of sparkle – and I do not just mean coal fires, Granny’s tinsel or auntie’s sequins.

I keep an eye out for next year’s Christmas card, whether indoor decorations and candlelight or outside, if a keen frost has iced each twig with sugar crystals glistening in early morning sunshine, making the garden and the surrounding countryside quite magical.

It is tempting to give the gift of a garden centre voucher – but a growing Christmas present, an emerging bowl of bulbs, a winter-flowering shrub or a small fruit tree makes a more charming and effective gift. How about a handmade felt partridge in a real pear tree? No wrapping needed – just a bow! You will be giving welcome promise: years of white blossom and splendid fruit to look forward to – a super present for newlyweds.

I do enjoy giving friends Christmas gifts that go on giving, even if it’s only a packet of seeds tucked in a Christmas card. I notice online there is a mix of Zinnia Bright Spark seeds for sale. Now that’s an excellent, colourful start to my shopping list. I might add Sparks Will Fly, apparently ‘a stunning, gentle, orange single bloom begonia emerging from beautiful dark-green, almost bronze foliage with light veins. Shade-loving, easy-growing, mounded 12″ plants are pure poetry in a shaded patio container.’

Catalogue reading is addictive for the garden dreamer planning next year’s show. I must not be distracted! Monkshood Aconitum ‘Spark’s Variety’? Apparently it does well in the border, but as with the recent, tragic, fatal accident involving a gardener, this is dangerously poisonous, let alone sending completely the wrong message.

Forget the Port & Stilton, how about exotic lily bulbs, or Allium cristophii bulbs for your chums? One allium can make a thousand stars, or so it seems, guaranteed to sparkle in their flower borders.

I take this opportunity, for those readers who (unlike me, alas) are beautifully organised and have the time to pause amidst the traditional, hectic seasonal rush of present shopping, gift wrapping, carol concerts and cooking preparations, to share a few apposite quotes, from people who are/were very bright sparks in their lifetime. I hope, by stopping to read these thoughts slowly, they might resonate and add a few sparks of cheer and positive determination for 2015:

‘Ritual is the spark that must not go out.’ (Author & teacher, Christina Baldwin)
‘You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.’ (Actor Robin Williams 1952–2014)
‘We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake. Let us use it before it is too late.’ (Marie Benyon Ray)
‘One kernel is felt in a hogshead; one drop of water helps to swell the ocean; a spark of fire helps to give light to the world. None are too small, too feeble, too poor to be of service. Think of this and act.’ (Philanthropist Hannah More 1745–1833)
‘We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.’ (Playwright, Anton Chekhov 1860–1904)

When all is bitterly cold and dark, Christmas is a time for families and children to sparkle – and share happiness around. I shall be with my daughter and her family. Yours truly cannot wait to see my twinkly-eyed granddaughter again, our very own Sugar Plum Fairy.

Back in the 1960s my Dad was a founder member of Sparks, the medical research charity that links celebrity sportsmen and women generous with their time and dedicated to funding pioneering research into a range of conditions affecting babies. Sparks volunteers organise fun sports events such as Pro-Am golf or tennis days whereby famous sports personalities play together with those from television, film and theatre. I still look back with pride on all Dad achieved with his giving spark of humanity.

Christmas 1914 is also being remembered throughout the country. A moving event I mentioned last month took place recently, organised by volunteers of the Wyndham Park Forum together with South Kesteven. Wyndham Memorial Park Grantham was the scene of the unveiling of a new memorial, as part of a service to re-dedicate the park to the memory of Captain Wyndham, who died 100 years ago to the day, on 6th November 1914, and all who fell in the First World War.

Tony Worth, Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, unveiled the sculpture, chosen in competition and created by sculptor David Sharpe. Afterwards, the young ‘bright spark’, Daniel Fay, a student at Grantham College, and Royal Air Force Cadet, who designed the innovative, winning sculpture, was presented with a surprise gift that he will doubtless treasure: a WWI cap badge of the Machine Gun Corps. What was also touching, the old cap badge had been excavated in a garden nearby on Hill Avenue, where the Corps had camped while training in Belton Park – appropriately, under an apple tree. As we all know, thanks to Isaac Newton, Grantham is famous for apple trees! Another gift idea for Christmas?

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