17th August

We are all custodians of our little patches of earth.

At the end of the day, whether we own them, rent them, or just work on them, we will not be here forever. I hear people talk about gardening legacies, and it strikes me how short a legacy can be: vast structures disappearing in a matter of decades, to be rediscovered like treasure troves just a scant generation or two later, or the sprawling cities of the ancients, just a few feet beneath tangled jungle.

Ten years in the wilderness is a lifetime to something as malleable and erasable as a garden.

The stories of these plots far exceed our own in both directions – far into the past, far into the future. It strikes me sometimes: this place is billions of years old, they say there were lions here once. Before them, great towering caps of ice. Perhaps one day it will be a flooded wetland – playground of millions of sore-throated whooper swans, or patchwork tribes of yet-to-be evolved ducks and waders.

 

David Parfitt

Painting by David Parfitt

Or perhaps, if my plans go as I hope, it will be a forest of mighty oaks –a haven for beast, fowl and all manner of creeping and slithering thing.

Field work

I go diligently about the field at the end of the plot, picking up molehills. It really makes you think. Especially when you overfill your bag – forgetting it’s still clay you’re carrying, because those little moles with their pudgy demon hands have kindly filtered and sifted it for you into pyramids of fine earth, and you forget how heavy it is. I think about the scale of my body struggling to drag bag after bag through the grass, and I think about their tiny bodies – fiendishly strong. The tonnes they must move in a day, their little minds set on what they do: experts of the dark. I think about them, and I’m glad to know them. I’m glad they do what they do, which so helps me out when all I need is good solid earth that I don’t have to cut out like slices of thick, impossible fudge.

mole by Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

Sketch by Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

After collecting as much as I can be doing with on a hot late summer’s day, it’s onto looking for saplings. We have a lot of oak saplings that never make it past ten inches or so – falling either to the field mowers or the deer, and I take their care seriously, even though I know they’ll outlive me to that strange scale again – where nothing makes sense from a human’s perspective.

I’ll be the one setting them up in pots, trimming their leaves to encourage their roots, but it will not be my generation, or even probably two or three that will really be able to relax about the fate of the tree. I will have to take good care of it – watch it for oak diseases, protect it from hungry mouths, or clumsy feet. All the while knowing they never used to need us at all, and there’ll come a time again when these trees certainly won’t miss us.

Majesty 2006 by Tacita Dean born 1965

‘Majesty’ by Tacita Dean 2006

But I want there to be oak trees in that potentially people-less future. It matters to me that these little saplings reach their future, which never really did have anything to do with us. Their ancestors have been great naval warships, and the beams of vast important houses, but they were always meant to be trees, and I only want them to be trees.

As long as they keep finding the light, I’ll keep taking them out of harm’s way, and I’ll put them back when they’re too big for mowers and deer.

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.

 

mushroom-3023460_960_720

 

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.

 

CqEMa4UXgAI1fur.jpg

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!

030-st-niklaas

 

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!

 

62570159b5162d3a4f96d4301c123981--daniel-ost-art-floral.jpg

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.

 

contingent

 

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…