Sunday 27 March 2011

Gaudy night

Fritillaria meleagris

Magdalen tower
across the meadow
Yesterday Magdalen College held a Gaudy (reunion and dinner) for old members who came up in the years 1986-88, so I spent the afternoon and evening in Oxford. Thanks to the foresight of the founder, William Waynflete, in acquiring the land in the Fifteenth Century, the college is situated in 100 acres of grounds alongside the River Cherwell. Behind the college buildings is the Grove where the college's herd of deer spend the winter through to midsummer: on the other side of a branch of the river is the meadow, which they graze in summer and autumn once the hay has been taken off. The meadow is most famous, however, for its population of 'wild' fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris), known here since the Eighteenth Century, but almost certainly planted then. It is an amazing sight when in full bloom, but yesterday only a few were open, and in the murky gloom prevailing were almost invisible.

Much more conspicuous were the other naturalized 'bulbs' that beautify the walks around the meadow and the Fellows' Garden. Unfortunately, a lot of large, brightly coloured daffodils have been planted of late, as so often crassly out of place and out of scale in such a setting. Overlooking these regrettable intrusions is difficult, but around and amongst them are masses of far more attractive plants, most notably the amazing carpets of Anemone appenina in all shades of blue and white (and there are shades of white in this case, as some have bluish backs to their petals, while others are pure white). It is such a special plant, far finer than Anemone blanda, but because its long rhizomes do not tolerate drying in the same way as the hard knobbly tubers of A. blanda do, is not offered by the bulb merchants and sources for it are sadly few. It revels in the light clay soil at Magdalen, competing very effectively with thin grass, and producing a wonderful Delft effect in blue and white.

Anemone appenina
The River Cherwell and Fellows' Garden

New Buildings (1733), from below the Magdalen Plane, planted 1801
The grounds at Magdalen are open to visitors most afternoons (further information here), and are open for the National Gardens Scheme on 17 April.

Dinner in Hall was an enjoyable event: it was reassuring to know that the college kitchen still produces dreadful food and that the college cellar still contains excellent vintages. Better was to meet up with many former friends and acquaintances, some of whom I hadn't seen since we graduated, and find out what they're doing, besides making what seem to be lots of of babies. Luckily the much-vaunted Magdalen cabinet ministers are all above - or below! - our years, but every other profession and trade seemed to be represented, especially lawyers. There were lots of lawyers...

In Hall, post-dessert.

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