Saturday, 28 July 2012

Letter to Monty 45


Dark clouds, a ship and weeds.

I had thought the dark clouds that have been with me all week were following me to Aberavon, but we walked Aberavon seafront in sunshine, the sea breeze blowing the clouds from my mind. We let our whippet Toff run on the sand at the breakwater end of the bay, and like my past catching up with me I watched a ship slide into the channel along the riverbed.

Back in the garden the sun continues to shine, and with renewed hope I see cloisters and coal measure fossils - I see possibilities. I recognise a movement in gardening away from rigid formality. I loved the roof garden shown on GW, and the small enclosed garden in the West End with the beautiful structural 'weeds'.

I have noticed today a plantain that has grown to its full potential in amongst the marjoram, its leaves as big and beautiful as a hosta but with fewer slug holes - there's a thought !

I do like some formality in a garden however, and sad though it is I have had pleasure in re-cutting the turf from around the square paving slabs set into the 'lawn' in the middle of the garden running down to the chicken house. It is to me a bit like topiary - it performs the same function providing strong lines, edges, structure.

Gardens have always been a place for calming down and grounding the emotions. I discovered this morning a passage in the Bible from the book of Esther where a garden played an important part in events which had great significance for the Jews at that time... King Xerxes in his palace in Susa went into a rage over the deceit of one of his courtiers Haman. He was so full of rage that he had to walk out into the palace garden to be able to think clearly about the awful situation he had been put in.... and thereby averted a terrible persecution of the Jewish people in his Kingdom.

Gardens help us put life and its storms and upsets into perspective, God walked in a garden, his son was buried in a garden, and if you have the faith to believe it, broke free of the garden tomb. Gardens are important, and those of us fortunate to have one whether small or great can find something in a garden that sometimes cannot be found anywhere else, not even from the priest or the singing of hymns.

Watching you move through your garden with a wheelbarrow was strangely satisfying.

see you Monty,


Monday, 23 July 2012

Letter to Monty 44

Dear Monty,

Not much to say other than enjoying the sunshine and drawing the garden. I don't have many flowers but it is surprising how much colour there is.


Monday, 16 July 2012

Lost count but another letter Monty, sorry.


"As we get older we realise that the days are more precious and half-moments of intense joy are more valuable than jewels" ( The Jewel Garden, Hodder)  I agree, but I wonder where that intensity comes from, and how it sustain us ?

I say this because of something my son said about there not being any solitude or time for quiet contemplation whilst we were climbing up Snowdon, which was full of people seeking something from the mountain. One thing though - there was a sense of common aim a unity - and complete strangers found words of encouragement to help us get to the cloud covered top.

I seem to be doing a lot of walking, perhaps I really do have to keep moving. I confess my sin of believing in God, I know he is unpopular and our belief of him has caused wars and rumours of wars, and also created a kind of ignorance of science and 'fact' based knowledge, but joy in the human heart ? Where does that come from and why do we look for joyous things ? Is it simply naked survival, or are we truly connected to a spiritual purpose greater than ourselves?

We had a tortuous drive to Beddgelert, every road had roadworks and traffic lights. When we arrived the mountains were shrouded in mist, the midges were biting, but the beer was good and so was the food. The sheep were singing and the river pounded its way down the mountain along with the train, its sulphurous smoke and steam whistling past. Beddgelert is in a small flood plain in the bowl of a valley with swifts and German tourists.

David and I climbed Snowdon from Pen-y-Pass up to the Pyg and back down via Miners. The views as always were spectacular and really did give a sense of intense joy. This place was worked, hewn by men, there is a kind of haunting of a past way of living which has gone forever. It is like the many chapels now empty or converted to homes or businesses. We get whiffs of the past with the smell of coal and steam. Perhaps I look too deep, but when we got back to our campsite David played Johnny Cash on his Ipod singing 'When the man comes around' and I could swear the trees all trembled in response.

The exiles return, just as I read this morning of the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem thousands of years ago. Here I remain a kind of exile waiting to come home - yet we are all sent.

The garden looked insignificant - but mown and pruned it came back to me, just like my paintings of landscape on the walls in my house.

Tonight landscape followed me, Snowdonia on 'Countryfile' and Riga on 'Wallander'. I had forgotten about the pigeons, faded orange floral print, 40's looking furniture and old Mercedes.

There it is again , nostalgia.

Cheers Paul.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Letter to Monty 42

Dear Monty,

Bees in the fireplace, insoles and angry pilgrimage walking.

This all started innocently enough, this writing of letters to you. It was done with genuine intent, to communicate how much I love my small and insignificant back garden. I just wanted to talk about it with someone who would understand the great therapeutic value of actively making and sculpting a garden, slowly over time. What has made me slightly uneasy however, is the statement by Alain de Botton, who said that anyone who wants strangers to be friends has an illness !

The insignificant coal-tip cloister garden

I have known for some time that I am a bit mad, and perhaps I am not alone, we like to be liked on Facebook or followed on Twitter. So on reflection then, perhaps I am seeking a kind of approval from you Monty, an absolution, a nod?

I am still battling against my own insignificance. I was at once both shocked and encouraged therefore by your statement at the Hay Festival, where you discussed the paths at Longmeadow, some of which you described as - ' leading nowhere - a bit like my life.'

If someone who has success in life can feel this way, then it means that no matter what we do to cover our insignificance, it is always there in the background.

Gardening restores me, so does walking. I have just come back from a restorative walk with new insoles (the old ones worn out by three peaks and walking with Charles Hawes)


I do have a say in the world while I am in it, I speak with garden, pen and paint. I was encouraged too by learning that the great JWM Turner was a bad poet, he used to write on the back of his paintings... it was an essential part of who he was, and the creative process of painting.

The Coal Tip

So my delusion continues, and I have been wondering whether to open my garden and my studio next year under the NGS, trouble is, is it good enough ? Or will I have to face the fact that it really is insignificant ! Let me know what you think.


p.s. There are honey bees coming down my chimney.

A man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.... I am unrighteous at the moment.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Letter to Monty 41

Dear Monty,

 I have decided to continue writing to you about gardens and life.

This is a brief ode to Charles Hawes:

Orchids  rushes  grasses  ferns

Towers of concrete - pipes and bridges

Cathederal-like arched roofs and windows  - Victorian and modern

Mans industry

The diverted river

The estuary mouth

The curve of sand.

We talked of gardens of history of religion

We saw the sand not stopped

The legs of women

And sculpted towers.

We spoke of the vastness and diversity of life

Of things not seen

Of things felt

The earth moves like the cars

We all return to dust - but there is beauty in the living.

We have to keep moving.