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.

11th Sept 2018

I haven’t written in a while because I have been greatly occupied out of doors – something which is now possible with serious vigour, because the sun has finally finished with its infernal shenanigans and we have real weather – like clouds, and drizzle, and wind.

Today a great grey covering of promised rain is being sulkily withheld for the third day in a row, and everyone in the house is both sleepy and tense – a most uncomfortable cocktail – like a late Summer hangover.

I have torn out a humongous hedge which has been creeping out further and further, with its middle getting deader and deader. Beastly, furious work, but it’s left me with a hole to fill, and a gardener loves nothing better than a scrap of blank canvas, even if the ground underneath is brittle as old chalk! It’s a new challenge, a full call-to-arms first thing in the morning. It is a sense of purpose, and an inexplicable current of energy…

All this means that the season is about to turn over.

Harvest tractors plague the country roads, there is a smell in the air.

Autumn is coming.

 

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July 10th

We are not amused.

It is too hot.

I am an English gardener, not a sun worshipper – not a sitter-on-beaches or a basker-in-parks interloper. I should be at rest only during the harshest winter (after a long year’s work), and yet, here I am, not in the garden…

I hide in shade or lurk in cold baths, flashing mossy fangs at people suggesting social events during daylight hours. I don’t mind a summer thunderstorm – how can one resist the decadence of storms? When the cling-film sunshine is overcome by the velvet of actual weather? – But the sun these days is a bully.

Like the grass, I turn brittle in the heat. A newt left out on a paving slab. A dry seed-head rattled by the kick of a leaping grasshopper – legs scraping like nails on a comb. Everything papery and stubbled.

We islanders talk a good game about craving the sunshine, but we still need our regular watering…

I begin to dream seriously of Elsewhere.

 

The soul makes a katabasis. The mind dips deep below the surface, and in a cool place, shimmers. For everything there is a waiting time. Enforced stillness. Lessons whispered in the breath between phrases.

 

This, I suppose, makes the intensity lovely.

 

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June 11th 2018 – Neglect

Let us swear an oath, and keep it with equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind…

Tennyson

 

A neglected garden tells its own story. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad. Almost always there is still beauty to be found.

 

April 26th 2018 – Intrigue and Mystery

As I’ve been investigating plant properties of late, and as I am something of a bibliophile, I’ve been nosing about all sorts of source material in my research.

From botanical journals to old wives’ lore, and those periodicals of note in between where plant and myth meet – the carry-on between thinking and planting is complex, and hearty.

The gardener might naturally take particular interest in any writings on nature, plants and the garden itself, but there’s always a new context to consider and steal from. Have you heard of a shadow garden, for example? A midnight garden? A physic garden in the front, with a hawthorn portal into various alternative dimensions in the back..? I mean, the design potential is inexhaustible…

I came across a concept recently, which I’ve doubtless read a hundred times before, but for some reason (probably my parallel literary research) it’s got my creative juices flowing.

This was the idea of something called The Hallow.

‘The Hallow is an old concept that retains the idea of an ancient center of equilibrium. It is unchanged by anything that has ever had contact with it […] No theology, religion or spiritual system has ever influenced its existence.

‘The Hallow stands between the material reality and non-material reality. It is neither, and it makes it possible for both dimensions to interact without collapsing either one.’

Raven Grimassi

Well, colour me intrigued.

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Ideas and concepts about in-betweenness – the liminal, the uncanny, the unnamable, the abject and obscure – have always been a personal fascination of mine (my favourite art is that which either manages to, or at least tries to, express the inarticulate). But the idea of this as a place is just thrilling. Especially as a place you can access! Not so much go to, perhaps, but draw from. What a sensation!

And it makes perfect sense.

Have you ever found yourself lost in a wild place? That sensation of being very much somewhere – surrounded by the natural, the real, the solid, the temporal – yet the creeping fear comes from a sensation of exactly the opposite?

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Gorgeous stuff.

Never judge a book by its cover! If you’re into plants, you might as well go really into plants. Good luck with it!

(As an aside, if you’re interested in gardens you can truly get lost in, I’ll be posting something about a genuinely terrifying garden at the weekend if I get round to it!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?