April 19th 2018 – Bliss

Well, a blistering 26 degrees isn’t exactly seasonal for an English Spring – but who cares, when you can throw off a bad day along with your shoes and socks and glide blissfully into lush grass, with the hidden kiss of cool clay on your naked feet…

I am never more aware of how very lucky I am, or how gentle life can be, than when I sink into the garden.

And this week has been all about the benevolence of the garden, as I’ve been researching the healing properties of bitter plants. Hopefully I’ll get a more detailed post up at the weekend, but I couldn’t let today go by without a few cool-hued photos for anyone feeling the heat!

 

 

 

 

April 12th 2018

Apologies, dear reader, for missing last week’s posts – I have but two words by way of explanation: root canal.

As someone who has spent more than their fair (time)share in the dentist’s chair, it seems anathema to civilised society that one should have to pay so much money, to have so much pain inflicted on them.

But every cloud, as they say…

With another few hours ahead of me tomorrow, I can crack on with garden reading. I was going to say something about calming frayed nerves, but perhaps that’s a little close to the bone…

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As ever, the garden herself offers much in the way of soulful comforts.

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Of course, you take the rough with the smooth.

A goose beheaded a couple of tulips – but I daresay she had no idea I’d been waiting so many months for them to arrive.

And since she didn’t actually eat the damned flower, I can only hope she meant to take it as a gift for her broody sister who is currently refusing to leave her nest. I’m sure it ended up trodden into a puddle of s**t quite by accident…

 

Anyway.

There are flowers in the garden!

We have blossom in the Japanese garden:

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Star magnolia (magnolia stellata) being all stunning and beautiful (this one’s had a troubled past – it’s a veritable garden hero!):

 


The star theme continues rather decoratively in the little centres of the Forget-Me-Nots. These native superstars romp along in joyful abundance in our garden. I admit, I can’t actually remember when they hit their best (I recall blue skies above and blue clouds below, but not the temperature for clues alas), but I know they’re on their way to blooming into full carpet, because the advance guard have started to arrive, in an extraordinary range of blues, pinks, and purples…

Sadly my camera battery was failing as I took these, but I think you can still just about see the promise. Blue will follow, but the early flowers in our iron-rich clay are girlishly demure…

I can’t wait for those effulgent clouds of blue to erupt and take over – the anticipation is definitely half the fun!

To be honest, most of the garden is a frightful mess. (The moss garden needs a good weed… like everywhere else!) All my energy has been going into the hedge-gone-wild, because I don’t just want to cut away the dead, I want to try and transplant the healthy plants to other areas, and that’s both time-consuming and rather hard-going.  To quote an Orc – ‘the trees are strong, their roots go deep’.

I don’t go to the gym, I garden…

How are you all getting along now the Winter King has finally unleashed his worst?

 

 

March 29th – Easter week

Everyone’s getting excited about the Easter break – a beautiful four-day holiday. Gardeners all over rejoice…

I’m trying not to over-plan it. Instead I’ll enjoy the opportunity for seasonal reflection.

 

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Easter as a holiday gets a bit of an ambivalent response, I’ve noticed. It’s not the big annual blow-out like Christmas, and it doesn’t have the party spirit of Halloween. I’ve always thought it was a bit mysterious: for a start it shifts around the calendar so you always have to ask someone when it’s going to happen. It’s all linked to the moon, which adds to the silvery elusiveness of the whole affair.

You also have the deeply somber mood of Good Friday, which when we were little was somewhat laden with doom as we expected the sky to go black at about 3pm, and I’m sure I’m imagining it actually doing it – but Friday was spooky and glum (my sort of day altogether) when you have to eat special food and not go anywhere.

 

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Saturday is plonked in the middle with nothing happening, then Sunday is the Spring festival in all its glory.

Never mind Easter Egg hunts, it was the Easter tree I looked forward to: a branch of something like willow brought into the house and hung with little painted eggs, surrounded with bunnies and treats That tree became very important to me: the old green corduroy fabric Mum used to lay out to look like spring hills; the miniature birds’ nests and fuzzy yellow chicks…

 

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I’m not sure what the weather’s got planned this weekend, but as long as we bring Spring inside, I’m sure we’ll capture the strange Easter spirit. And before Sunday comes, I’ll take the opportunity for some deep inward thinking.

I’ve always thought it’s important for seasonal celebrations to reflect the darker, quieter, sadder aspects of life as well as the fantastical and joyful. We can never suppress the minor key altogether – think of all the beautiful melodies we’d lose out on if we did.

 

 

 

 

March 22nd – What a Difference a Week Makes!

 

It still doesn’t mean I’ve been out in the garden though!

We’ve had everything here – dogs at death’s door, wind that’ll take your hair off, the kind of lethargy that sucks even the most productive of wills down to bare brittle bones, and last but by no means least – the wild kind of writing immersion that really demands all you’ve got.

I dug a bit of mud over, and spent too much time sitting watching the billion birds at the feeders, but in terms of visible difference, this week’s a bust.

I’ll do better next week, honest guv.

 

 

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.

 

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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

 

Non-hierarchical?

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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

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P.S

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!

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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A Room of One’s Own

 

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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.

 

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Harmony

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)