March 14th – a slight anomaly…

Do you know what I was lying awake thinking about last night?

Non-hierarchical data systems.

Why? Well, bear with me, it’s a gardening thing.

I work as something of a creativity aid – what I’m hired to do is listen to client’s jumbled information and assemble it into attractive, persuasive words and images. But what I actually do is try to nudge their own creativity into the fore – like an undercover creativity Mary Poppins! My personal and professional goal is to make myself unnecessary, which now I’ve written that down…

Anyway, one thing I keep butting my head against is a deep-seated problem about how information begins and ends on any page. If the subject or process I’m writing about is non-linear (dynamic, cross-disciplinary, multi-layered), what makes you decide on the where you start? And doesn’t that effect the position and absorption of the following information?

I’ve always kept within conventional forms before, but these days, I am desperate for more. And it was last night’s pondering that led me out into the garden realm and into the way plants can offer varying, inspiring solutions.




We all know the tree system – the trunk is a subject, the branches can be fairly lateral, the leaves can intermingle – unless you have a rotating 3D model that brings in other dimensions, it’s hard to get away from a beginning and an end…

But what about the Rhizomes?

‘The word rhizome is used as a metaphor, to compare the growth and structure of rhizome navigation interfaces with the complex organic growth and structure of rhizomes, underground plant stems that send out roots and shoots from their nodes.’


running-bamboo-rhizome-lgImage from Bamboo Botanicals



But we still have the problem that we might be tempted to read from left to right, indicating a first and a last.

Why is any of this important?

An implicit hierarchy which is just generally accepted in information is one thing – on the most basic level, it really is just about reading information in its clearest form.

But data and information are worth big money to corporations, governments, companies and criminals for a reason.

Hierarchy of structure also reveals hierarchy in attitudes.

A general convention for the presentation of data can hide an implicit hierarchy in attitudes.

In a less sinister vein, flexibility is something humans need, in their bodies and their brains, as flexible attitudes, joints and open-mindedness all keep us younger for longer – so I assume that extends out into our greater communities; our work…

If I tipped a piece of paper on its side and rejected linear narrative information delivery, and created a dynamic structure where the reader decides their own path, how is information encountered? How is it absorbed? The answer might be: individually.



Minakata Kumagusu created his own philosophy, called “Minakata Mandala,” collecting so-called cryptogam plants in the wild forests


We struggle to find the right word – people are paid thousands to hit the right subconscious notes, but I begin to wonder if the way to accessing all that potential in the minds of ourselves and others is simply to change things up. Access creativity. Expect creativity – allow creativity.

I can’t help but wonder, if the hierarchy falls away from how we write and receive a snippet of information, might it make lovely flexible ripples into the rest of our social norms and the way we communicate with and treat each other?

We might even stop clashing and rattling and start flexing and swaying!


download.jpgFedor van der Valk  – String Gardens


March 12th 2018 – Daniel Ost

I don’t know why I’m all arty-farty at the moment, but the day job is giving me headaches and it’s too wet to dig, so the mind ploughs a mile a minute.

I’m looking at the arresting sculptural forms of Daniel Ost and wondering… is this a rare example of genuinely reinventing the wheel..?

“Ost’ s works make us think not of ‘animal spirits’ but of ‘floral spirits’. Flowers and buds, new leaves and fallen leaves, the ‘floral spirits’ in them literally embody the life force. This is truly food for the soul; one can never tire of looking at such works.”

Hidetaro Sugimoto, owner and preserver of Sugimoto House

Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a matter of showing us familiar things in a way we could never imagine them.


lily of the valley


Obviously, these are more than ‘floral arrangements’. On one level it’s sculpture that uses flowers as materials, and we could look at it that way and think nothing of the fact they were once living things, or that the pristine lines and vibrancy and form will last only as long as these vegetable objects keep from rotting.

We might also think of Ikebana, which uses both the structure of living things and the negative space of the pause, the breath, the Ma in between – which is as essential to the rhythm of life as the rests and white spaces between the notes on a piece of music.

I feel certain that these amazing forms wouldn’t be nearly so arresting if they were made out of anything else, because no metal or textile or sculpted wood has the crisp vitality that is the newly burst life of a fresh-stemmed plant.



It is a sensory particular that gardeners understand on a foundational level – that green of spring and that squeak of life-full leaf, and that urgent, pushing, emerging brilliance.

To have captured that in an inanimate installation, in such a myriad of forms is what I would call (self-consciously) genius. There is no colour like living colour, there is no tension like the bend of a living thing, and there is no beauty like the beauty which we know to be fleeting.

That an artist would create so intricately with the full knowledge of pending destruction, I can only admire it. I am still in a state of fear about un-lasting things, but looking at these works, feeling if not completely dissecting the underlying ritual at work, helps me to realise there is so much more to life than simply living forever!




Some weeks ago I said a veg patch wasn’t always a beautiful sight out of the window, and a very wise commenter pointed out that this was a woefully limited way to look at it, and she was right. So I’ve decided on the look for my new fruit-and-veg garden everyone… Many thanks, Mr Ost!



8th March – Inspiration & Design (featuring Ishihara Kazuyuki’)


I’m putting this piece under ‘jobs for winter’ because I think finding inspiration is an important way of staying in touch with the garden when you might not be spending a great deal of time physically in it.

I know I’m not among a minority in the gardening community who feel more peaceful and restful and content out in the garden than anywhere else in life. The winter months can be particularly hard on folks for whom the garden is a soothing retreat. Sometimes you have to generate that peace and connection in other ways, and I find even just looking at gardens and plants can help keep the inner glow alight.

One designer I never get tired of looking at, is Ishihara Kazuyuki.


Gosho-No-Niwa-No-Wall-No-War-01Gosho No Niwa / No Wall No War


Everyone knows Kazuyuki from the Chelsea shows if nowhere else, and it’s not difficult to see why his gardens are always so popular. I have heard criticism that they are too traditional for some tastes, but I don’t personally see them through that contextual lens. I see exquisite, thoughtful, eloquent planting, and a wonderful flourish when it comes to materials and palettes. There are certainly echoes of a certain aesthetic and philosophy, but in those very elements are the un-traditional and the down-right bonkers.

Here are my top 5 passions for Kazuyuki’s designs:

The Master of Moss




This image, taken by Caroline Banks, proves there is no bad view to these gardens. This is the ‘back-side’ of No Wall, No War, and the intricacy of it is staggering, considering this is not the part that wins the prizes.

Moss is a prime ingredient to a Kazuyuki garden, and its effects are manifold. From softening architecture in Togenkyo, to creating bold new textures (which almost err on the side of a humorous and childlike fantasy landscape), to filling the senses with absolute unequivocal green, moss is both a foundation and a highlight: the reliable staple and the star of the show.




A Room of One’s Own


chelsea-17-ishihara-1-1466x977.jpgImage from


I mean, you couldn’t design yourself a more ideal writing room!

But more than a garden with a bench or a seat, these designs fully incorporate the human into it. In times of trouble when nature is always being held aloof from us in a kind of ‘look what we’ve done, this is why we can’t have nice things’ telling-off, it’s wonderful to see we can have a place amongst natural, growing things which is harmonious and inviting.

Slightly elevated both for our viewing pleasure and to reassure with the sense we’re not disturbing anything.


Soothing Abundance


The multiple layers, the heights and depths – it’s hard sometimes to imagine these plots are often no bigger than a few squared feet, because there is, for want of a better word, coverage, and it is absolute.




The impression of centuries of established growth is automatically soothing. It feels like a garden which will always be there, cool, secluded, self-perpetuating. I think this above all the artifice in a garden is Kazuyuki’s real masterstroke.


Elementary, My Dear


The obvious elements and also the senses are all invited and stimulated. There’s nothing missing. But there is also a sense of ritual or worship – the arrangement of these elements like the points of the compass, or the carefully considered incantation on paper – that underlying sense of purpose creates a reassuring tranquility. You are gathered safely in, as it were.





The influence of Japanese gardens might seem very obvious, but these designs are perhaps what I always expect Japanese formal gardens to look like, which is why I feel faintly disappointed when I visit the real thing.

In actual fact, there is as much English tradition at work here as Japanese or Eastern tradition. And this is because some forms are universal. Garden fashions will come and go – and what a merry time we’ll have with all of them! But some things will always draw us close.

An abundance of green, some water, some coloured foliage and delicate flowers, and the soft velvet tapestry of moss… perhaps it is a return to woodland, or a culmination of all our most beloved things, I call it harmony because in a Kazuyuki garden, art meets nature and reaches out with a clear intention for the soul.

It may be a safe place, and a beautiful place, but I doubt we’re so far flung out in the world that these things could really be called bad taste.

I like to be challenged intellectually by art and design, but I will always return to this: the green and abundant home from which I came.



Three annotated images from gardens Illustrated:
(Words by Noel Kingsbury, photos by Claire Takacs)

1st March – St David’s Day

Remembering family


1871 The Welsh National Library

1871, The National Library


My memories of St David’s day throughout my youth are very strong: wearing my daffodil proudly into class (not the little silk charity pins you see today, back then these were giant fresh trumpets – about as subtle as Louis Armstrong’s, too). It was a great day: being special and different made me proud of my Welsh heritage. I confess, I was quite the show off in my youth…




It didn’t strike me as odd until much later that my mother didn’t speak with the same Cardiff accent as my Grandma or ‘the aunts’ (my mother’s cousins). Perhaps it was the influence of my Geordie grandfather (six-year-old boy sliding down the stairs on his Grandma’s silver tea tray), or her Irish grandmother (a Catherine Cookson heroine in 1900s Cardiff, with a dozen children of her own and a dozen more strays that she’d pawn her winter coats every year to feed, and husband who could fix anything), that she ended up non-accented.

There were so many voices in my family growing up – so many feast days and special days, and so many accents from around the isles that none of them seemed out of place, or different… The strong, strange Norwich twang of my Great Grandma on my father’s side (everything a child could dream of, with her pirate’s cackle and her black eye patch and her dramatic flare and glamorous style: red blouses, black pencil skirts and short crepe jackets, well into her nineties, with black tights and lipstick, bright as you can, you’re never too young or too old to turn a head) – her husband spoke with a wasp in his mouth which might once have come out of a plumb, many years ago. Posh-drunk, I’d hazard a guess, they were the sort that had cocktails before dinner and put cloves in their apple pie instead of cinnamon, and everything reeked of TCP…  And none of the menfolk are related by blood on this side…  My Caterham-educated father who pronounces it ‘yesterdee’, and beer as ‘bear’ and still laughs at the memory of his beloved Grandfather farting and burping at the same time at the dinner table, causing his mother to have one of her conniptions…  Her husband, Hassan, the sound of his slippered feet (Egyptian leather, Egyptian cotton, the beautiful inlaid boxes of Pharaohs, queens and reams of unfathomable stories told over cushions, tables, ashtrays – an endless race of chariots through lotus grass…) the Turkish delight coiled in boxes he said were jellied snakes, and the way he pronounced words like Bela Lugosi, giving him the air of a cinematic immortal – accented splendidly by the music of his morning prayers coming from the mysterious room upstairs with the 70’s purple wallpaper…  a place never ventured into, but often imagined.

These strange family things, unique to each of us, might no make others smile the way our same-nesses do, but everyone a hotch-potch of relatives, like a garden of plants from all over the world, come together and somehow making a sort of harmony, even in the discords. These are our relatives, these are our funny memories. Not so much a family tree as a family border.

Time passes, companions and characters leave us, but every year the daffodils come, and there are a mountain of sugar-sparkled welsh cakes, a little blackened, but all the better. Nothing you’ll taste will ever taste as good as these…




I remember my Welsh Grandma today, from whom I got my green fingers and makers’ hands.


Family, for better or worse, shapes you and lingers. Something strange happens as you get old, and all of it mingles into a honeyed recollection that doesn’t always preserve the bad quite as well as it does the good. Tears and bitterness fade, but the essence of strong wills remains and gathers admiration, and forgiveness.

Be happy and safe everyone, mind how you go!



22nd Feb – The Grain and the Punctum – thoughts in the garden

I mix things I’ve read up all the time. It doesn’t help when two ideas come from the same writer, and I jumble them into one concept, then spend a really long time searching my books for a very precise phrase I know I underlined in there somewhere – only to realise the quote was mine, the concepts yanked from several sources…

Anyway, I wanted to write about this thing in Barthes, and this thing in the garden, and how the garden and this thing together help me to better define something I’ve always found very difficult to articulate. It is a passion, a magnetism toward a certain aesthetic or quality in the arts…

That which suddenly pierces you with a sense, (I suppose akin to recognition or familiarity), between the body and substance of a thing… For example, the grain of a voice which connects you to a body and thus becomes dear and wonderful to you, even though it might not be ‘good’ in terms of musical tone. Or a texture, like rust or weathering which speaks of age, time, place, the history of the object which in spite of being an ‘imperfection’ or ‘defect’ is precisely what pricks you with a sense of value or meaning, or sometimes longing – what the Japanese refer to as Wabi-Sabi.

Hands by Axel Mellin

Sometimes I wonder if the drive to be in the garden, to be close to those growing things, the smell of the earth, the velvety tuft of moss, the tightening of the skin as mud dries on cheeks, knuckles, knees – if there isn’t something about the naked whiteness of exposed bulbs, like bones in the ground; the rubbery snap of roots pulled; the violent smash of the first water bursting out of a hose onto the little winding path – if all this isn’t just some strange kind of connection, between a meaningful puncture and the grain of all things…

It’s funny where the mind goes when you don’t get out enough…

18th Feb – Redefining Perfection

Redefining perfection

I’m catching up on some neglected gardening magazines, and it’s interesting to see so many people talking about Wabi-Sabi as a trend for 2018. I remember discovering this Japanese concept when I was an enthusiastic art student nearly twenty years ago, and what an incredible difference it made to me during a time when I was really struggling with my instinct not to let any of my work see the light of day until it was ‘finished’ or ‘perfect’. I’m sure it’s just this instinct which stops most people from expressing their creativity.

One of my favourite works of art of all time was actually one that was destined for deterioration: Eva Hesse’s Contingent, made from latex (a perishing rubber) over cloth, and fibreglass. This is no Waterlilies. It will not hang in the world’s most iconic collections for centuries. But it became extraordinary to me, and was the first time that I began to relate lasting, meaningful ideas to materials, which has been at the very heart of my work and thinking ever since.




Wabi-Sabi and its many related visual and intellectual ideas are something I return to whenever I find myself hesitating to the detriment of my natural productivity. This very blog is likely a reaction to a recent dalliance with creative procrastination. You have to throw yourself at creativity and at making, because if you linger for too long in the foggy precipice of ‘thinking’, you will never find your way back to the path.

Creativity is all about risks, because if it’s not risky or untested, it means it already exists: somebody else already made it. And besides that, I think there are far more valuable considerations to apply to the process of making and creating than whether it is ‘good’ or ‘correct’.


kintsugi tea bowl

Kintsugi, the art of repairing broken objects with gold. An object’s history adds to its beauty.


A garden is a wonderful teacher about how you define perfection, because if you seek a perfect, finished ideal in a garden, you are in for trouble. Everything you finish needs to be constantly maintained if you really want it to stay as you design it. Hedges must be cut and recut. Plants grow, shape and reseed any way they want, basically. If you want to control that, you have to work constantly. Beds must be redefined every season. Weeds must be cleared if that’s your inclination, and whenever one job is complete, it is never long before a dozen others fall into place in the gap you think you’ve made in your to-do list.
A garden is a living thing, not an ideal. It can be an idea, but it must be a fluid, breathing, dynamic idea, or you may find either it, or your own will, failing.


Green Box by Act Romegialli


But the most wonderful thing about a garden’s imperfections is that there is always beauty to be found – always a reminder that life (sometimes fragile, sometimes bursting into only fleeting beauty) is wonderful and valuable on its own merits. It doesn’t need quantifying or qualifying. Its existence is enough – more than enough. Perfection, if you like.

So, like the Wabi-Sabi artists of Japan who repair their broken vessels with seams of gold, we can celebrate the things which signify uniqueness, singularity, and a very specific moment in time and space which will never come again.

I think it’s a lovely thing to cherish.


kiyo hasegawa

Kiyo Hasegawa

Notes for Wabi-Sabi in more depth:

‘In the Wake of Basho: Bestiary in the Rock Garden’ Yury Lobo:
“In one sense wabi-sabi is a training whereby the student of wabi-sabi learns to find the most basic, natural objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. Fading autumn leaves would be an example. Wabi-sabi can change our perception of the world to the extent that a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and gives the object greater meditative value. Similarly materials that age such as bare wood, paper and fabric become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be observed over time.”

Writer and designer Margaret Penney beautifully captures Wabi-Sabi:
“Wabi-Sabi actually is a two word combination. Wabi refers to the kind of beauty found in asymmetrical, uneven or unbalanced things. The asymmetry of a ceramic bowl is an example of wabi. Sabi is the beauty of aged things and speaks to the impermanence of life through the passage of time. An example of sabi is the lovely patina found on a rusted old metal wall.”



If you are interested in Japanese creative concepts in general, I can highly recommend The Art of Japanese Living, a BBC series with Dr James Fox.



Other Zen principles, relating to Wabi-Sabi:
Fukinsei: asymmetry, irregularity
Kanso: simplicity
Koko: basic, weathered
Shizen: without pretense, natural
Yungen: subtly profound grace, not obvious
Datsuzoku: unbounded by convention, free
Seijaku: tranquillity

I will no doubt write in the future about the Enso – as symbol, concept, philosophy and meditative practice, which has been very important to me over the years…


15th Feb 2018

made by nat

Updating your wish list on a cold and unforgiving afternoon.
The crows sit hawing in bare branches, the melancholy buzzards search for blue in the sky, the mice squeeze under the gap in the back door and are swiftly ushered out with brooms before they meet the cat.

It’s not that you want to wish away the chilly season by imagining yourself elsewhere, in another time and climate, but a nice hot drink and a seed catalogue can bring a little relief from the sheer hard work of mud.

Instead of footprints, we leave wells behind us, from which the geese drink happily in the evenings, their keels dropping lower and lower; their interest in long grasses getting keener than their interest in food. We’re all in preparation mode. Endless pots of tea leaves go out onto the roses – not that they seem to need it.

All the roses flowered rambunctiously the whole of last year, so much so that I had a thought when I sat down to contemplate what new things to grow – to see about making the most of what the garden was already happy to give me in absolute abundance.

A note of gratitude to my loyal garden friends before sharing my greedy little wishlist!


Forget-Me-Not spreads like wild fire, every year a new patch, always popping up in inexplicable places. There’s nothing sweeter than that soft blue cloud, (that dear colour, that celestial center) and because I love them, their rampantness feels like an absolute blessing. I couldn’t be happier.

So I’m imagining entire beds of Forget-Me-Not from Spring right through Summer, too cool tired eyes with soothing pools… and it’s true they might threaten to strangle out the rest of the season’s plants (Forget-Me-Not’s leaves are more or less evergreen as far as I’ve experienced), but I do a bit of thinning, or I pot them up and keep them out of harm’s way, and when the season’s over for the rest of the plants, I pop them back in and let them multiply. Madness, I suspect, but I’ve no quarrel with them at all.

The roses too love our clay, and so I invested hard during the off-season sales (you can still get your hands on some wonderful off-season bargains now), and I am all-in with roses. Standards, climbers, floribundas, shrub, miniature…

Last year, our 3 yr old stock bloomed from the end of spring until the end of the year – without exaggeration, we had white roses and pink superfairies for the Christmas day table!

I’m going to make roses a part of this year’s design, because it would be very rude not to.


Here’s the view I’m concentrating on first. The all-important view from the kitchen window. If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then the view out has got to inspire love – it’s got to keep you ticking. I don’t know exactly why this is so important to me, probably representational of some deeper meaning, but it’s become an obsession.
So here are some of the plants I’ve been investigating:

Carpets of Colour

The moss garden directly under the window (still a little on the bald side as yet) needs to segue naturally into the planting, and given its typically native feel (native holly, damson trees, Ivy, dafodils etc), I want this transition to be both colourful, but also gentle. But I also live with a couple of people who are NOT fans of the cottage garden look. Luckily one of them is obsessed with woodlands, so I have a direction I’m allowed to explore.

My wishlist consists of purpose-plants rather than ones I’ve fallen for in a personal, dreamy way.

Before I show you my current scrapbook, I am well aware these are ‘weedy’: liable to self-seed and (many of them) creep wildly. As I’ve mentioned before, things where we are don’t take much persuading to go feral, so I’m taking a risk introducing these plants. But I have a cunning plan…

For now, I’ll just indulge.


Michaelmas daisy, Erigeron Profusion, Centuarea Montana, Clematis Integrifolia, Malva Moschata ‘Snow White’, Cornflower ‘Trailing Blue Carpet’ and Dwarf Blue Midget, Dianthus Deltoides ‘Microchips’, Stachys Byzantina ‘Lamb’s Ears’

Here’s another kind of wish list to cheer a grisly afternoon:


I love it when other bloggers recommend books, my wallet not so much…

  • A Thoughtful Gardener, Jinny Blom
  • Landscape of Dreams: The gardens of Isobel and Julian Bannerman
  • Natural Selection: A Year in the Garden by Dan Pearson
  • The Japanese Garden by Sophie Walker
  • Head Gardeners – Ambra Edwards
  • A Wood of One’s Own by Ruth Pavey


For all the cold, it’s still an atmospheric time of year.

The flowers about to bud, green shoots rearing their brave heads above the parapet, a sense that no-one quite wants to be the first, but they just can’t contain themselves anymore.

Although I’ve learnt to go into making yearly seed and book purchases with a VERY strict shopping list, I know I’ll end up with a few adult plants as well. All the preparation in the world can’t help you when you fall head over heels for something.

Discipline, determination, a very strict shopping list… and some paving slabs made of good intentions should do the trick.