Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Letter to Monty 15

Dear Monty,

Good to hear that you are returning to our screens, I cannot imagine what it is like to have someone film my garden, I would be so ashamed.

Did you see Andrew Marr with David Hockney last night ? This man has painted and drawn the same area over and over for the last 8 years in different light, seasons and weather and bold enough to do so because he can see the beauty in the changes...amazing and inspiring.

He spoke of the hand and poetry in painting, and I believe the same applies to gardens. Paintings and gardens are like windows on the soul of the artist/gardener.
Hockney's paintings enhance the experience of living. Living can be hard and painful as well as joyful. At one point in the film he said that ultimately we are all alone, for me this is true because we cannot hold on to loved ones forever...it is a deeply sad statement, because I remember the joy of his then controversial painting 'we two boys together clinging' I just loved that painting when I first saw it in the Tate many years ago.

This soul-search, this gathering of information, this enjoyment of the experience of seeing - even the same view over and over is what I find so wonderful about living with a garden and seeing it change through the seasons. Last night I switched off the light in the kitchen and saw an orange sky, with a wedge of yellow and gold light coming from the house below us, silhouetting the trees. An orange red sky, blue and mauve trees. The mist was diffusing the sodium street lights from the town below us in the valley. The scene was Turneresque beautiful even though artificial.

So are we alone in the universe ? No I don't think so, I believe our hunger for these experiences of life of music, poetry, gardening, painting are a way of trying to capture something of eternity, of our place in this living universe. We have something of eternity in our dna.

I look forward to seeing you again soon


Sunday, 26 February 2012

Letter to Monty 14

Dear Monty,

I have actually had a day in the garden. New soil in the planters, weevil grubs squashed, and worms fed to the chickens.

I love my garden (sometimes). I love being in it - planning in it in a random way - much like the way I develop a painting or drawing. It sort of grows from ideas - it has a sort of starting point, but it is not a design, it is not Alan Titchmarsh, all groomed and smooth with tidy borders - it's more fluid than that - so I'm not sure it can be called a garden. But of course that is nonsense, any plot of ground can be called a garden by its inhabitants - even if it has no design.

This love I have comes from my dad who has always grown things. He had a plot where he grew vegetables in lines and built his own lean-to greenhouse out of old window frames. We had views from it looking out over Swansea Bay from the docks to Mumbles. I used to 'help' plant the broad bean seeds and the runner beans, and burn things on a bonfire in an old tin bin....oh what joy !
I also made caterpillars out of plasticine that were so convincing that 'uncle' Alan who shared the plot was seen flicking them off the cabbages where I had placed them and cutting them in half with his knife ! This was one of the most successful art 'happenings' of my artistic career.

I was fascinated by insects and wildlife. I remember being enthralled by a pair of mating garden tiger moths, joined at the end of the abdomen...but dad obviously thought it too soon to give me the facts so said they were twins!

I still love to paint and draw insects and wildlife, but am keenly aware that they are not as abundant as when I was a child.

Good to talk to you again Monty.


Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Letter to Monty 13


Dear Monty,

Seeds wait to be planted and my need for attention knows no bounds. Mark our 'vicar' goes to Niger for 10 days while I go to work in Ystalyfera (jealous)

Tonight I was astonished by the HD pictures of paintings by Lucian Freud on iPlayer. The detail of the paint texture was stunning, the flesh, blood, sinew and hair, the pattern and depth of field. His paintings are intense, as was his stare. He painted bodies of flesh, souls trapped in fleshly bodies.
He saw the contradictions of our life the pleasure and pain of it. The pleasure of sex the pain of birth, we suffer in this flesh, we grow old.

The experience of life is rich, beautiful and painful. Yesterday walking on the mountains was a rich experience - the light reflecting off the water bouncing around on grasses and trees, even roads shone like silver. The cold air in our lungs, the water flowing beneath our booted feet, and Toff running free as a whippet should. Treasure for the memory when legs will no longer walk.

I want to paint the mountains like Freud could paint flesh.

Tabernacle - dwelling place - God with us.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Letter to Monty 12

Dear Monty,

Two days and two films.


Seeds have come. I have been angry for no justifiable reason. I am a sinner.
To get the accumulated stuff of the day out of my head I watch two films. Film 1 is about poverty and desperation in the borderlands of Northern USA...its about 'dishonesty and crime' but love wins.

Film 2 is inspiring, it is about 2 little girls brought up in a city apartment by their mum, they go to a city school, have city values, moulded by the environment they live in. Then comes change, they have to leave mum to stay with an aunt in the semi rural suburbs, left without schooling they have to fend for themselves. They are finally moved again, this time to the remote countryside to live with grandma who has holes in her shoes, a happy contented woman living off the land with 'enough' food, 'enough' warmth and 'enough' skill to make dough, gather food, wash clothes and look after the grandchildren teaching them new life lessons. The girls sang on their way back from the fields...they were poor but happy....love wins.


This morning - this new morning - could be one of contrition and depression - cold, wet, windy. But trudging down to the chicken house with a bag of corn I am in the Far East. I look back to the house and see a cloud garden. Dripping and misty wet pines in pots, almost a monochrome scene in silver black and green.
Then I turn to the chicken house again and the lattice fence with its potted tree before it sings an oriental song.
Here I am in my worn out gardening boots with holes in - spiky 'bed' hair and old smelly gardening fleece, and I am HAPPY. I am even happier when after cleaning out and feeding the girls, I move a pot to find a fat female frog hunkered down. When she lumbers forward she is followed by curious chickens...so I rescue her.

What a contrast to my view of the garden yesterday when I was angry with myself and the world, when the garden looked bleak, dead, a boggy mess....my soul reflected in a garden.

'Great Garden of Ystalyfera' it is not - neither Derry Moore nor you Monty would find anything here of interest - but for me at this moment, it is paradise.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Letter to Monty 11

Dear Montague ,

Have you been reading the debate on the thinkingardens website about the revamp of the RHS judgement process ? I have, but am too ignorant of the RHS and of 'show gardens' to be able to offer any constructive criticism. I have noticed however, that you seem to have a healthy suspicion of 'show gardens' and you have been conspicuous in your absence in the coverage of Chelsea by the BBC.

Just who are gardens for ?

The garden that came with this strange little box of a building - is my garden, its current state of horticultural imperfection is a reflection of me. Now if I was to learn more about horticulture and design and apply that knowledge to my garden would the result be 'better' and who would it be 'better' for ? ( I can hear you reply...you you fool !) Listen, I have every weed imaginable in the grass - so if I had a perfect lawn would I be happy ? No I would become obsessed every time I saw a 'weed' reappear. It has taken me years to relax and let the daisies, the clover and the bugloss grow merrily away along with the moss and the grass.

If I had perfect borders would I be happier? (er probably) but I know I don't have time for perfection.

So I have this vista, this soggy ground, this ever changing scene with trees trying to take over and butterfly friendly nettles encroaching and infiltrating the border. So I cut here and there, and redistribute clumps of grass and moss to cover bare patches of 'lawn'.

This is the garden, my garden - an expression of me as I am at this point in my life. So who gets to enjoy it ? Well, Sue, me, the dog, the chickens, the bees, butterflies, frogs, voles, mice, shrews, toads, hedgehogs, dragonflies and newts to name the creatures I can remember right now. All this and more in such a small garden.

My garden is a place for eating in when the sun shines, or a cup of tea when its not, for reading in, for drying clothes in, for picking fruit and falling asleep in.

That is all for now. Will write again soon.

Cheers Monty.

Post script. This is the tiny pond in the wrong place etc...but it supports all manner of life all thanks to 'Springwatch'  And gives a drinking place for birds, bees and wasps...and I have watched crows drop stale hunks of bread in it only to return later when its nice and moist...amazing.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Letter to Monty 10

11th Day of Feb, Bright Saturday - frozen dog pee on grass, dead plants and loads of chicken shit. A beautiful day. I have a volcano of a pimple on my forehead...I am 51 not 14 ! Why is this happening ? Vanity vanity all is vanity.

Love, jealousy and Verdi is on radio 3. I am alive. Cup of tea with dog and Exodus on my lap....thinking gardens.
Monty life is life - each day is living, it has its own light and colour - even the frozen dog pee on the grass. Isn't it amazing how gardens recover from this seeming desolation, how nature always overcomes?
The now desolate coal tip with its rubbish strewn, churned up ground will also recover - there will be luxurious growth - the rosebay willow herb will again form great purple drifts. This unpromising frozen patch will become abundant. I write this to bring cheer to your heart.

Hope is enough.


Saturday, 4 February 2012

Letter to Monty 9

Dear Monty,
I know that my letters can seem insincere, but there is a lot of my heart in them. I tell you the truth that I am ordinary. I say this with confidence having read the last paragraph of The Bad Tempered Gardener by Anne Wareham.

Listen to this.... 'We wander the earth as restless tourists, searching for who knows what, full of puritanical injunctions about everything but with nothing in the place of a true moral ground. And all that contradiction and tension is here in my garden, expressed in it, experienced in it and never giving peace.'

I identify with that statement. On Thursday I was bombarded by a man selling what seemed to be a 'better' system of driving up the 'quality' of the service we provide to those with chronic chest problems in our surgery. Everything in this life is about betterment, better gardens, better cars, better houses, better lives...which is OK except life, soul life - the quality of actually living with all its risks, its joys and failures is being eroded by this endless pursuit of perfection.
Now, I would not want to inflict a desperate state of poverty on anyone, but a hard life is one that is fought for and is a keener/sharper life than our present numbed existence. ( I know...speak for yourself Paul.) But am I the only one who feels this way ?

My day job (the reality, not the fantasy) is full of tick boxes and a kind of pseudo scientific measurement in order to prove 'outcomes' and provide reward for the GP's. This system crams people into diagnostic boxes labelled with this or that disease, with this or that drug to treat it, with this or that outcome (or so the statistics would say). Everyone is put into the boxes...but we don't neatly fit in boxes except perhaps when we are dead.

I know that knowledge and understanding will always improve and I do not advocate living in a dark age...but I believe this imbalance we now have brings its own darkness masquerading as light. This drive to improve seems to separate us from the experience of living and takes away our ability to manage - to cope with the difficulties we face in our daily lives. Our expectations are high but the reality is often far from our expectation - and it is that distance which is growing and causing a new type of human misery.

I tell you Monty that I have derived some comfort by reading both your books which bind gardening to the experience of living and Anne Wareham, who gardens against this trend. Gardens are an expressive form of art in my view, they are intimately part of us. This pervasive insistence on us all being scientific in our approach to life...in order that we have 'better' gardens or 'better' lives is not the whole truth. Knowledge is power that is true...and that power was wielded over me by the salesman....I felt like an ignoramus despite 24 years of caring for people.

Monty, I am ordinary. I have no special knowledge. I just share this planet, touch its soil, breathe in the same oxygen produced by our trees and plants, I am connected to it, and I know that it is alive, so I am alive. Who will rescue us from this tyranny ?

Who will give us the peace that our endless search for perfection cannot give ?