Entries in garden (26)

Wednesday
Jun062012

food for eyes

 1. Untitled, 2. good morning, 3. Back to Bali, 4. Untitled, 5. Owl drawing on book edge, 6. les oiseaux., 7. cheer up, buttercup, 8. К, 9. Untitled

Perhaps because this stubbornly grey sky is muting even the brightness of azaleas and rhododendrons, my eye is desperate for bursts of colour. Out of the window, the green is dulled and uniform with only the few yellow stream-side iris that remain unbattered by rain and the last buttercups dotted through the grass like little lights of cheer. The lack of colour and sun is wearying somehow: my head feels woolly and unstimulated.

So when colour comes, it jolts me. The other day, a dull delivery was suddenly made magical by the marigold zest of the delivery man's turban. My eyes drank in the solar purity of the tone against the steel grey of his beard and I may have drawn out the conversation slightly too long. As we talked, I wrestled with shy reserve when all I wanted to do was catch that colour with my camera. Shyness won and I reluctantly watched him walk away, my eyes pursuing the glowing orange all the way down the track. Perhaps it's better kept as a memory.  

Instead, I've gathered together a few favourite images from other flickr feeds. May your eyes be full of colour today.

 

Thursday
Apr192012

ambivalence

...               I love

to stand among the last trees listening down

to the releasing branches where I've been - 

the rain, thinking I've gone, crackles the air

and calls by name the leaves that aren't yet there.

from Wood Not Yet Out by Alice Oswald

Now that drought has officially been declared in our area, it's rained solidly for the past week or so. That really heavy, vertical rain that drills straight into the soil. Good for plants but bothersome to walk around in. Unless you have a rather fetching olive green hunter-style hat with a ludicrously large peak that makes it a matter of pride not to let a drop of rain touch face. I have such a hat and, while I may not win an award for style, I remain drier of head than your average walker. 

As I dwell on a decision that needs to be made and acted upon by tomorrow - and which I've really already made but can't quite bring myself to accept - I tune into the rhythm and patterns of rain. I like the hypnotically loud and regular drumming sound on the brim as I walk: it goes a little way to drumming out circular thoughts that walking alone has failed to do. 

And so the sun comes out now, until the next shower in a half hour or so, judging by the colour of the sky. Then comes that glorious hour before sunset when the skies ease and break into extravagantly tinted pinks and purples. Before it all begins again. I'm sure I'll miss it when it's gone, and sunny skies are taken for granted. 

Friday
Apr132012

colour blindness

Pink - blues - yellow - fresh greens. The colours of the garden blinding me to any other. 

Friday
Mar162012

at home

Stepping out into the early dark last night to pick a pair of bay leaves, I stood for a while looking up at Jupiter and Venus shining particularly brightly in the clear, cold night. Bats flickered under the willow. Walking back into the warmth of the kitchen, I felt a surge of contentment and sense of place that surprised me. We've lived here for nearly five years: longer than I've ever lived in a house, or a place. Being settled doesn't really settle me. Or so I thought. This odd little house that contains most of Joel's memories until now, with the garden that frustrates and delights in turn, has become a home that will be hard to leave. 

Saturday
Feb182012

week's end

The closing days of the short school holidays have come too quickly and we're refusing to look Monday in the eye. It's been a gentle time, suddenly warm and springly sunny, and we haven't ventured far from home. The list of activities I had planned was ignored. Instead, the stream has been dipped, some tennis played, drawings made, books read. Fields walked through and the alpacas conversed with. A chocolate cake baked and devoured. Films watched in front of the fire, with soft toys tucked under a blanket.

I'm happy to drop my expectations and follow Joel's lead when it comes to how he wants to spend his holiday time. Those days spent just being together, chatting about this and that, messing about and being silly, are the ones I secretly like best. 

Friday
Feb102012

solitude

Another overnight delivery of snow rearranged my day and left me with a couple of spare hours this morning. I was happy. The sun began to assert itself as I walked and the silence of the empty fields was punctuated only by the music of birds. The buzzards wheeled in slow arcs. A tiny wren perched on a thorned branch for a moment to catch its breath. An apricot-coloured young fox paused in fright at the crest of the ridge as I climbed, and disappeared in an instant. I stopped to speak to the pair of horses I'd last seen trespassing in the grounds of the manor house at new year. 

Sometimes I'm not sure if I value such moments of solitude more than others or if I'm more accepting of them. I've spent a lot of time alone during my years of academic study and work and during long bouts of travel and living abroad. Alone a lot even while in a relationship because of work. Being alone in public doesn't bother me. I can eat alone, travel alone, go out alone. But long periods of living alone is something that saps all joy from me. I miss that daily routine of being with another person. At the moment, John is clattering through the cutlery drawer to lay the table for the supper I've prepared while he's put Joel to bed. I like that. All the daily inconveniences of sharing a life with another person are secondary to the simple pleasure of knowing that my solitude has an end. My achilles heel. 

Monday
Jan232012

walking back 

Sometimes only a long walk will work. I fled the house to stamp sightlessly along bridleways and through fields until eventually I could slow and breathe and start to look again. I walked to connect myself back to a world I recognised.

I'd been reading from a book examining the excavation of the mass graves in Bosnia and the importance of the work of forensic anthropologist Ewa Klonowski, who directs the recovery and classification of human remains. The physical recovery of clothes, of bones, is central to those left behind; a key element in their process of mourning. It reminded me of the first time I saw Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam and the photographs on the wall of those piles of shoes and of glasses that were discovered in the camps. In the same way that the ordinary objects left in a house after a death are so heavy with meaning that they're sometimes too painful to bear, it was seeing those careless piles that finally released the tears. 

The book is careful and rigorous and utterly devastating. When I'll have the courage to pick it up again I'm not sure, but how I admire those people who are prepared to face down their own horror and bear witness. 

The day outside is still and muted. There is nesting beginning already and the daffodils are pushing through. The world outside my window hasn't changed but inside me all is adrift. I think I need to get my boots on again. 

Tuesday
Jan102012

how to irritate people just by being you

Today I took my first pottery class and my hands have that slightly dessicated feel: a rather pleasing raspiness that makes them feel used, as they do after a day's gardening.

As the only beginner in the class I found myself asking question after question about different techniques and their possibilities. And as the tutor gazed at me over her glasses, admiring my enthusiasm perhaps but wishing to god that I'd just calm down, I realised, yet again, that my need to map out an area in advance - to see the whole and then focus down on the detail - isn't always appreciated. 

Needless to say, I didn't produce a masterpiece. An adequately stable little bowl and a pinchpot that has a degree of internal integrity is the sum of my hours (all those questions to ask, you see). I'm having to damp down my perfectionist streak and see these next weeks as simple experimentation. And perhaps I'll try to be a little less annoying. But it was meditative and absorbing and has made my appreciation of master potters even greater. 

Sitting here overlooking the garden, I've just watched three full-grown swans chase each other down the little stream that separates us from their lake; blurring the air with their wings and sending drifts of leaves skywards. Although I need to head out soon to collect Joel from school, I'll brew a quick coffee to drink outside. To watch the birds as they move serenely now on the lake, in slow elegant circles, and imagine it's my hands turning clay on the wheel - turning it into something magical. 

Monday
Jan022012

a new year

He remembers the day the field burned,

not, he thinks, by accident.

Something deep within him said: I can live with this,

I can fight it after a while.

 

The terrible moment was the spring after his work was erased,

when he understood that the earth

didn't know how to mourn, that it would change instead.

And then go on existing without him.

 

 from Averno by Louise Glück

Wednesday
Dec282011

light can be both wave and particle

me, by Joel

Several years ago, I found myself stuck in the middle seat of the middle row of a jumbo when I'd expected to be in splendid isolation on the side aisle. Oh I was unhappy. Pinned in on both sides and unable to move my arms and legs my claustrophobia began to rise at the thought of the lengthy transatlantic flight. I determined that this was all a bad show and my bad mood radiated off me. I ignored my fellow passengers, scowling instead into my book. Time passed though my fury remained.

Suddenly the man beside me said 'it's true, y'know'. I blinked at him. He just smiled and repeated 'it's true - the book'. I was reading Ellen Gilchrist's Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle. With that, the journey changed. He was a physics teacher, travelling back home with his wife. We all talked for the rest of the flight. I remember nothing of our conversation but that it was good and thoughtful and unexpected. He took the risk of breaching my barrier of gloom and it lifted the day for all of us. 

I'm not a fan of the strict resolution but this year I'm going to try and remember to live with more generosity and lightness. To smile and see the best in someone, or a situation. To cut off a bad mood before it affects other people. To enjoy the simple fact that I'm alive to see in another year. I hope you've had some good days and are looking foward to the chances that this new year brings. Happiness to you. 

Wednesday
Nov302011

hiatus

These last few weeks have been lived largely without internet access, often without a phone line and with a dying laptop that finally had to be replaced. The daytime silence that settles through the house on a school day was heightened by the absence of phone rings and click of keys to the point where I held off automatically switching on the radio in favour of letting the external sounds filter into the quiet. In some small way, those little periods of mindful silence these last weeks have been a form of meditation. Perhaps I'm storing up the silence for winter, as term ends soon and the season of anticipation and feverish excitement begins. Storing up patience as I've stored the fruits that have been harvested, juiced, cooked and frozen.

And warm autumn sun has continued on, making these short days vivid with colour. Surrounded by woodland and heaths, our valley has been so lovely to walk through, especially as we can do so largely unencumbered by coats and layers. The heather lasted well beyond its usual season, the berries fruited on and on and our garden blue tits have recently raised their second batch of chicks this year. Until yesterday, when the first hard frosts left fields and leaves stiffly white for those first hours, it seemed impossible that winter would ever come. But I'm ready for it now; ready for the rush towards the end of the year with its making and baking and advent.

Walking to the car this afternoon in low yellow sun through rustling brown leaves with the church bell tolling the end of another life, I felt utterly grateful. For the warmth of the bonfires and fireworks and unexpected loveliness of autumn. That I was on my way to pick up Joel from school. It seems that the warm pleasures of these last weeks has enabled me to build a store of happiness against the coldest weeks of winter and those moments when joy is harder to find. Come on winter, we're ready for you. 

Monday
Oct312011

sunlight on your eyelids

Good morning. And it is good. Sitting outside with my coffee I realised that something felt different: yes, the leaves had yellowed dramatically but it wasn't that. It wasn't even that the grass is so thickly carpeted with yellow and orange leaves that light is reflecting happily upwards. It then struck me that there was a lot more sky and water than normal. After a night of strong winds the tops of the tallest trees are bared and the lower limbs of the trees surrounding the lake have dropped, letting in so much more light. Tilting my closed eyes up to the warmth and brightness, I thought of this song, discovered via Lily and played over and again.

On first hearing, images exploded of my first trip to India. Driving dazed from the airport in a taxi playing bangra. Rolling along the stall-lined, rutted, back streets of coastal Kerala as dusk descended abruptly candles flicked on alongside us, the stars switched on above and woodsmoke wove in front of our headlights. I stuck my head out the window like a crazy mutt, all the better to inhale the scents of smoke, food, dust and dung. The smells of India. Addictive. But then, the scent of dusty pavements drying after rain is heaven to me. My first night in India, not sleeping. In a hut on a cliff above the beach where the incessant crashing of surf mingled with the shouts and songs of fishermen and early morning calls to prayer. And from somewhere, music. In India there is always music.

The colours of an English autumn can't compare with the vivid tones of India but this is our season of yellows and orange. Warm colours reflecting the welcome warmth of the last day of October. Sunlight on your eyelids: it's a good way to start the week. I hope your day - and your week - contains a little sunshine.  

Wednesday
Oct262011

everything's rosy

  

I had an unexpected little hour of happiness the other day that began with the discovery in a second-hand bookshop of The Pocket Encyclopaedia of Roses. Emerging into a suddenly blue sky with a spare half hour, I sat outside my favourite cafe and ate Swedish carrot cake. It had a cheery little icing carrot on it and I admired the extra effort. So I sat happily in the sunshine and ate and sipped and read about roses.

Published in 1963, it's a technicolour beauty. The styling is so of its time it's easy to imagine those formal displays sitting alongside a table set with wine bottle candleholders, a bit of Engelbert Humperdink on the wooden record cabinet and a hostess (already hot in her long, patterned, polyester gown) worried if moussaka is a little 'foreign' for a dinner party. My favourite bit of the book though are the descriptions of the roses themselves. Clustered together, they read like characters from a play.

Emily Gray : shapely buds golden yellow opening to buff. summer flowering. foliage small, dark and glossy. vigorous but inclined to die-back.

Cecile Brunner : blooms miniature and perfectly formed. bright pink, yellow base. fragrant. foliage sparse, dark greeen. growths long and slender.

Countess of Dalkeith : vermillion flushed orange flowers. very fragrant. bushy growth of average height. an attractive variety but similar to parent, subject to black spot.

Hugh Dickson : rich crimson shaded scarlet. very fragrant and recurrent. growth vigorous and upright, and best grown as semi-climber. unsuitable for formal beds.

John S Armstrong : blooms large and flat, freely produced on good stiff stems. attractive colouring, rich scarlet crimson. slight fragrance. foliage dark green and plentiful. a vigorous variety of good habit.

I see myself sneaking into the action as Clair Matin: blooms medium size, cupped, semi-double, slightly fragrant. pink. moderately vigorous, best suited for pillar...

 

Monday
Oct242011

faded beauty

In my eyes, hydrangeas are at their best now, their sometimes brash colours faded to softness. At home I have them in jugs, drying slowly, to appreciate their papery beauty for a few weeks longer.  They're a plant I have a sentimental attachment to. They remind me of summer trips back to my grandparents' house, leaving the humid heat and yellow of a Canadian summer for the cooler air and colours of England. Sprawling mop-headed hydrangeas lined the front gardens of the avenue they lived on, hanging heavily over the brick walls that bordered the pavement. As I wove my way to the local shops each day with my grandmother, I pondered whether to prefer the blue or the pink. The fading of the flower heads marked the approach of going back home. And while I was itching to get back to my friends and my own little world, I'd by this time grown fond of the rhythm of days with my grandparents: the rituals of meals, walks, butcher and sweet shop.  

How I wish I'd managed to buy one of Melissa's gorgeous hydrangea headbands last year! It would keep me going after my dried heads have begun to look over-dry and weary. Perhaps I should fashion myself a little garland out of some of the still bright smaller blooms to wear ceremonially (and privately!) during my little moments of garden communing, coffee in hand. Or perhaps I should try to make a headband for myself. In the meantime, I will be filling my eyes - and vases - with these curious and occasionally comic blooms while I still can.

Wednesday
Oct192011

dig

Digging of various sorts happened at the weekend. A bit of harvesting and planting; rummaging in the earthen side of a slope in our woods that functioned as a broken crockery depository in the glory days of the manor house; and looking for flints in the earth excavated by badger and fox. There's something so satisfying about putting things into earth and taking them out. Bulbs that hunker in the soil until you forget that they're there and appear just when you'd stopped believing that spring would come. Garlic that warms winter dishes. Flints and bits of pottery that offer a little moment into another world. Just pottering about, all digging at this and that, there's satisfaction in dirt.  

Tuesday
Oct182011

barely beautiful

One of the four Royal Horticultural Society gardens, Wisley, is very close to us and we visit regularly: John to get inspiration (disappearing into the centre of a bed or clump of trees muttering in Latin) and me and Joel to collect leaves and cones and marvel again at the orchids, cacti and tropical plants in the huge greenhouse.

Some of the flower beds, while beautiful, are a little too brightly coloured and regimented for me. I prefer the loose planting of Piet Oudulf with his painterly drifts of flowers and grasses, especially at this time of year when the petals fade, leaving the bare brown outlines of seed-head and stem. 

Even with the abruptly darkened sky during our visit last weekend, there was still a stark beauty in their outlines and darkened palette. 

Friday
Oct142011

ah, grasshopper

detail of a journal entry

We plan our lives according to a dream that came to us in our childhood, and we find that life alters our plans. And yet, at the end, from a rare height, we also see that our dream was our fate. It's just that providence had other ideas as to how we would get there. Destiny plans a different route, or turns the dream around, as if it were a riddle, and fulfills the dream in ways we couldn't have expected. Ben Okri 


A couple of weeks ago during heavy rains, the little stream that runs down through our garden to join the wider stream at the bottom started to forge an alternative tributary to accommodate the greater volume of water. I have a little perch next to the point where the streams meet and, sitting there one afternoon in the stillness of the after rain, I noticed how beautifully the stream had dealt with its problem. Instead of overspilling wastefully over the garden it had quietly forged a neat path past various obstacles, to join the river at a very sensible point close to its twin. I saw there might be a lesson in that for me.

My life so far hasn't been entirely predictable. I've stopped and started and moved and changed. I went to Nepal seven years ago to teach and to explore, with a deep need to change my life. I anticipated the change would come slowly, through travel and encounters and the gradual unfolding of a new path. John joined me after a time and we planned to change our lives slowly in tandem. Instead, in Nepal, I found myself pregnant. So life did change - and it's been a wonderful change - just not at all as either of us had anticipated.

The route of my life has taken hasn't been straight and undoubtedly I'll continue to encounter detours and change. The lesson I take from the stream is that if I move purposefully and consistently back in the direction of my childhood dream - moving steadily and calmly past the obstacles - I'll get there. The journey and the destination may not be exactly how I planned, but perhaps that unknowing is part of the joy?

Wednesday
Jul132011

treading lightly

The summer holiday has begun and we all feel lighter for it. It's lovely simply to have time to be together. Getting out the bubbles and watching the butterflies and dragonflies darting in between them. Watching bubbles skim lightly over the surface of the stream and family of ducks swimming furiously to investigate. Sitting outside with boxes and tape and paper and pens and making a series of creatures and their homes. Discovering a skateboard park that's perfect for stunt biking. Building upon a growing crystal collection and reading all about them. Talking. Laughing.

Shedding constraints. I'm still tethered to earth by the practicalities of preparing to leave for France at the weekend but look forward to cutting those final ties and treading more lightly through life for a few weeks. I hope summer is being kind to you.

 

Monday
Jul042011

seeing green 

With the wild flowers over and the trees now in full leaf, the garden is looking disconcertingly green. I love the tall, swaying trees that cast welcome shade and shadows but have less friendly feelings towards the self-seeded laurels that cutting back only encourages, ivy covered tree trunks, dense holly and incongruously planted conifers that border the edges of the woods.

Once you start looking though, it's extraordinary just how many shades of green there are. A glance outside the door offers the fresh, broad bean green of the ferns unravelling from the stone wall, the dusty silver of lavender and eucalyptus, sharp brightness of lemon balm and muted, white-rimmed shade of hostas. It's a subtle palette that I'm having to take time to appreciate rather than simply giving in to envy of those gardens whose bright blooms remain glorious and un-eaten.

It's also a palette that is acutely sensitive to changes in the light. Delicate and fresh in the morning, by mid-day the sun bleaches out the subtle tones, making the garden heavy with shadows and sombre dark-greens. Late afternoon the variety returns and the garden sparkles lightly. While I'll never entirely lose my summery desire for bright drifts of colour outside, I'll console myself with the thought that looking at green is supposed to be good for the mind and body, and relax.

How does your garden grow?

Friday
Jun172011

desperate measures

Looking onto a steel grey sky with rain pouring straight down and heavy, it seems I need to take matters into my own hands. Gardening being central to our lives, we are friends of rain. We appreciate that each day the world is getting greener. But precious, life affirming blooms are also being defeated and bent sadly towards the ground they spent so much time getting clear of.

So it's out with the secateurs and in with the blooms. A bunch of ludicrously blowsy but delicately fragrant peonies. A few darkly red, modestly proportioned roses that fill a room with their rich perfume by the evening. And last night John brought back the first, intensely fragrant sweet peas. Some have evolved into a particularly attention-seeking neon coral that doesn't seem quite the thing, but for their scent and brightness in the gloom I'll forgive them anything.

I'm also peppering my notebooks with flowers, even digging out the watercolours, inspired by brand new but long lost brushes I found tucked down the back of the desk. Something like this perhaps? And I still have Emin's embroidered flowers urging me to get back to stitching. I have the fabric, the ideas and the thread and, from next week, a little more time.

So, I've determined it will be summer inside if I can't have the real thing. I'll pretend the blazing wood burner is actually a summer campfire and sing along with Minnie (although I'll probably have a bit of a distracted cough when it comes to the difficult up and down bits.)