Saturday, 31 March 2012

Letter to Monty 25

Dear Monty,

On Spring and the merry dance of life, of art and gardens.


First brimstone butterfly in the garden, the chickens sunbathe and the green buds and blossom buds fatten. The cycle of life, a Ceri Richards powerhouse, like his bare bosomed women playing the piano and flowers blooming in a vase. Like passion it fades but never goes away entirely.


Monty don't laugh. A friend of mine in work said that I was intelligent - I replied that I am as thick as two short planks (as my mother used to say). I have no idea how thick two short planks are. The truth as always is that I know very little and am ignorant of so much. None of us can hold all knowledge - even if we give the impression that we do indeed know it all.
I know, I know... you are thinking this is just all cod philosophy, perhaps you are right. But there are some truths that are eternal are there not?
There are words shared which grab us inside and instinctively we identify with them, like the article in last Saturday's Telegraph by Anne Wareham, listen to this beautiful sentence....

 ' I have heard it said that one reason gardens cannot be works of art(groan) is that they change all the time. Well, that's simply the nature of this art and one of its special challenges. It's a kind of choreography a dance to the music of time.'

Gardens evolve - they mature and change character, but we bring our own vision into play by cutting, editing, removing and planting - creating something that is an outward expression of our inner selves - just like a painting.

The argument that gardens cannot be art because they change is ridiculous. Paintings evolve just like gardens. Look at the work of Lucian Freud, his paintings took months, years worked re-worked. I don't count my paintings in his leaugue but they also evolve and change, until they leave me to go to someone else, and even then they change according to the quality of light and the mood of the viewer.
What about David Hockney who has filled the Royal Academy with works which are a record of changing light colour and form, changing with the seasons. The argument is hollow.

Time passes it is an eternal truth which we are all affected and captivated by. We have a kind of short term memory loss when it comes to the seasons. Often we are caught out despite living through many, our minds are veiled we cannot grasp hold of time and control it - so we explore it best we can, we ask questions of it and forget the answers, at least I do because I'm thick.


I don't believe it ! The Council have switched on a new street lamp outside the band hall, all is put into perpetual twilight. It's like trying to sleep in the land of the midnight sun, or like the 'one foot in the grave' episode where Victor has to sleep with a blindfold on because the street lamp is in his bedroom window.
It has in one stroke changed the nature of this place - instead of feeling slightly secluded - which was desireable - it now feels like a city centre. Why do we need such a powerful light in a semi- rural post industrial area ? I cannot see the stars now, the romance has gone.

Well I enjoyed GW, primroses are simple and beautiful - I love this time of year and the combination of the pale delicate yellow of primroses with the blue of forget-me-not. Great to see the simple things celebrated, no spin or hype necessary.

Well I'm off to bed now to 'sleep' in my floodlit chamber, goodnight Monty.


Sunday, 25 March 2012

Letter to Monty 24

Dear Montagu,

23/3/12 - I have written that date at least 25 times today.... or so it feels after sticking needles into babies and making them cry. I cannot believe that I have been a nurse for 25 years and that I now deal with all the things that made me a slave to fear as a child, illness, disease and death. I used to pray to an unknown God to stop the rot. I remember praying for friends, family, pets, soft toys and the assorted rescued animals found in the garden.

I remember Star, the injured starling all speckled greens purples and gold, we fed him on worms, but he died after dad decided to wash him. (you were only doing what you thought best dad!). There was Speedy the tortoise who died in his cardboard box during hibernation.

The thing that took my fear to a new and awful level was the sudden death of my grandfather, or Bampa as we called him. He was such a lovely man, our cat loved him, she used to curl up on his ample belly and purr like mad. One dreadful hot summer day after what was a happy trip to Swansea Bay, we came home to be told that Bampa was gone. I cried out to God - the unknown God, and thought it was some sort of punishment.

I became terrified that others would die, I became obsessed to the point of condensing prayers to squeaks and performing little private rituals to placate this god. No matter how much I worried, prayed and squeaked I couldn't control the uncontrollable.

And so it remains.

Today I listen to people tell their stories of approaching death. There are those who have lost their partners who feel so lost and lonely, they see no point to life. There are those who resent the fact that they are getting old with all the attendant health problems, and would do anything to prevent the inevitable. But there are those who just accept what is before them with dignity and grace. So many different stories.

We cannot control the uncontrollable, but we continue to fight it, to grapple with it. Those who seem happiest to me are those that accept where they are, that is such a beautiful but difficult thing to do in this age. This age is one of high expectations, and I still have them myself. I still want to be more alive, I want to live the creative life, to break free of the daily I pray to the known God knowing deep down that this is the wrong request. The answer is to be content at all times, and not to covet anything too much, not even life itself.

See you in the eternal garden Monty.


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Letter to Monty 23

Dear Monty,

One of my greatest weaknesses is my dislike of upsetting people, it is a crippling problem because I am becoming very good at upsetting people as I get older.

I respect the fact that you don't want to follow those that follow you on Twitter. I think most of us know you would not follow strangers because you are a private man, as are we all to some extent. I suspect that you need solitude. I need solitude, out of solitude comes creativity, and out of melancholy, love.

The garden at Longmeadow, belongs to you and Sarah, it's a private space made public at a distance. The barrier, the safety factor is the tv screen, the digital veil.

My garden is private, a breathing space as I have said before. I confess that I find it difficult when Wyn my affable next door neighbour speaks to me through the thin winter hedge ! When I am in my garden, I am away from my public persona, and can become myself unburdened by the fear of upsetting people !
You see in reality I am not a very sociable person, I am at heart a contemplator, a thinker and meditator. I deal with many people in the course of a week, and because of the nature of the job, it is difficult to remain sociable by the end of it. There are so many needy people with cares and concerns that it almost becomes unbareable in the true sense. I speak not only for myself but for anyone who works within the health or social sector.

Monty, I could be mean and say what have you got to be burdened about ? But truly we all have our burdens, and I would not deny anyone their privacy, their own thinking space, a bit of distance from the rest of us.

There is still peace in the garden.


Sunday, 18 March 2012

Letter to Monty 22

Dear Monty,

Strange day, started with hearing trumpets in Venice and a prophet on a donkey.

What encouraged me about the prophet was that he came not from Israel but from the Euphrates - the river of antiquity. He used sorcery (smoke and mirrors, bright lights and razzle dazzle) in order to impress his clients, but on this occasion he just couldn't do it, he just had profound words, just words.
God spoke with him. His donkey spoke with him - when he couldn't or wouldn't hear God.

The razzle dazzle gets in the way of truth sometimes.

Then off I went in my steel donkey to 'Voices of the Stones' film project run by Eleanor Flaherty. We did stop motion animation. The group became disparate, and the smoke and mirrors technology seemed to have the edge, and my anger reappeared ! It's just below the surface at the moment. I take this as a warning that I need to be careful, not to let the buzz of creativity carry me away from the reality of my life as a health care professional. Fantasy can be dangerous when in reality you have to plod - tread the earth, pound out the day and get through the grind of the 'quality and outcomes framework'......Can you believe that we are slaves to such systems ?

But when I learn to hear the voice of God in others (which takes self control) there is so much joy in it.
That voice is there in the most unexpected places sometimes.


Saturday, 17 March 2012

Letter to Monty 21


The garden.

Design or not design this is the question. Can I have a pleasing garden without a planned design?
Two contrasts on TV last night. Sir Anthony Caro never has a plan but produces balanced sculptures that look planned, they grow out of an internal sense of placement and composition. Can that be achieved in a garden ? It is how I garden, I am not a designer I am intuitive, I have an artists sensibility. Having said all that the contrast of strong design in the planning stage of a garden as discussed by Joe Swift did highlight to me how strong the elements of terrace, path and pergola (now rotten) are in my garden, all elements which I inherited. All I do is place pots and move and cut and fiddle with edges and borders and plants and trees. I look at the vista from the kitchen window which faces the garden. The current leading strong lines work for my is it for my eyes only?

It was good to hear you say that Long Meadow is a real garden with 'good' and 'bad' bits, success and failure - I like that, and I also liked the galvanised bin with its lid at a jaunty angle in the background shot of the newly planted rose wall.


I feel lost sometimes, I just watch as some people drift away from me. My compassion is fatigued. I have no faith in the sense of solid dependability, because I know my own heart and my own mind. The only solid faith I have is in my ability to fail, and knowing that I have been rescued from it outside of time. I have faith in our potential for good.... I see that so many times both in work and out of and even on Gardeners World.

Thank you Monty,


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Letter to Monty 20

Dear Monty,

I am sorry to write to you so early on in the week.

Do you listen to BBC Radio 3 ? Sometimes spiritual things seem to happen when listening to classical music, and this past Sunday morning was a case in point.


Here I am in Craig y Nos, romantic setting of Adelina Patti's Castle grounds. I just wanted to write about this beautiful morning, and the humility of the radio 3 presenter Martin Handley. He introduced us to a lady called Phyl who stands in her garden to breathe in the air of peace. The music she wanted played was by Gustav Mahler...'Iam lost to the world' She recognised she needs to step out sometimes.

This is a busy world with its demands, responsibilities and pressures. This instantly reminded me of Moses who struggled with the burden of responsibility for the nation of Israel as they wandered in the desert having escaped persecution in Egypt. Moses was stressed out by the demands and complaints of the people (nothing new under the sun) So stressed was he that he wanted God to finish him off.... I sometimes feel like that, and I know others do too. We need to allow each other the time to step outside and breathe the air of peace. See how important gardens are !

To all those I cause upset to in my stressed out times I am truly sorry...but there is peace in the garden.


Saturday, 10 March 2012

Letter to Monty 19

Dear Monty,

It was good to see you back on our screen and good to see the garden. You did look a little tired though, I hope you don't mind me saying.

Three days and three ways.


Sometimes I feel as though I am living in a machine, processed. Computers have revolutionised everything but can sometimes make me feel as if I am living less. I interact with my fellow humans less, and listen less because I have to concentrate on inputting information into the machine.
Facebook and Twitter are interesting because they allow us to communicate with so many other people than ever before in our history, but without any personal connection.

The machine monitors everything, from our sins, passions and lusts to which brand of beans we prefer. It can encourage us to act in certain ways by linking like-minded people and provoking action.
The machine can be cruel just as we are cruel - it can be kind just as we are kind...but what is it doing to my soul? If you believe in a soul, or a heart, or a centre to our being that is.
I know that I am finding it harder to tolerate my fellow human beings in the flesh. We seem to have become a people that are impatient with the real world and its inability to deliver instant results. We were once known for our ability to wait patiently in a que!

God give me patience !


This is the day another little bit of me died. A gradual soul-death and its all down to my lack of much for asking for patience yesterday !

Melvyn Bragg analysed the class system of my era in his program tonight. It made me rethink the fact that the things I regard as 'worthy' are in fact all predominantly middle-class preoccupations.

When I think of who attends church for the main it is the middle-class and the language and culture is middle-class. The same is true of gardening; many allotment holders are not the 'underclass' that Bragg discussed but middle-class people remembering their working-class roots.
There are churches where young people from 'troubled' backgrounds attend groups, then the church attempts to mould them into its middle-class values...but they don't fit. God knows I have had the same attitude in the past.

I no longer know who I am. I used to just be a boy from Swansea with no knowledge of anything other than plasticine, Dr Who, drawing, discovering all kinds of insects in the garden, and 'helping' dad, and burying treasure and making maps to find it. Then I started to grow up and in came an undercurrent of lust introduced by my schoolmates who passed around the mags. I remember the strong work ethic of my mam and dad, who on reflection now are not as working-class as I used to think.
Everything becomes history so youth is now history ! I notice how quick new things fade - so we constantly look for the next thing or recycle the past. I suppose it is down to our struggle to live that makes us this way. Life v death.

What is there of any certainty in this life apart from 'death and taxes' ?


Today I wake up with a horrible memory of yesterdays anger and try to bury it under other preoccupations, which just makes it I have to accept what I am. Then I look out of the kitchen window onto the same view that I see every day, and like Hockney's bigger picture...I see the same garden but because of leaf bud and early light and last years all looks so different. 'Behold I make all things new'.

Each day IS new, each season.

Thank you for letting me ramble on .

See you again soon Monty.


Thursday, 8 March 2012

Letter to Monty 18

Dear Monty,

As I write this short letter to you I am choked by the unpleasantness of working for the N.H.S. Which has been hamstrung by successive Governments, and their tinkering and emphasis on a business model, as though we are a factory with a product that can be measured.

Gardens, thank God for gardens, and for the changing seasons, for regrowth for hope !

People now have high expectations of what can be delivered to them, unfortunately the reality is that we are probably less efficient in terms of our humanity and compassion since the number crunchers got hold of us than when we were old fashioned and hierarchical. Boundaries worked.  Boundaries like a good hedge can define purpose. We feel safe when we have boundaries because we know what our role and purpose is, once the boundaries become indistinct then it altars our behaviour and attitude, we become unsure, and that leads to anxiety and frustration.

I have just stepped out into my garden after a stressful morning in the surgery, to breathe the spring air and readjust my own attitude before this afternoons clinic. And it does writing to you.

Thank you for listening,


Monday, 5 March 2012

Letter to Monty 17

Dear Monty,

I think you may be getting a bit tired of these letters, my son thinks that I will be arrested for being a cyber stalker....but now I have discovered I can do this I just can't stop. Maybe I have a form of O.C.D ?


Tawny owls screech and hoot outside my window. Here our ordered and decorated dwelling takes on an Italian feel. I think I may be watching too much TV about ? Then there is my bedside book of the moment, Italian gardens feature in that too.

I wrote on Anne Warehams blog Veddw Voice, joining in a discussion about rows, as in shouting matches not neat lines into which one plants seeds. I confessed my sin of selfish absorption. Sometimes I think of many things and forget to think about Sue, for which I feel guilt, which sometimes turns to anger....I am not sure of its alchemy. Sue puts up with me, which is nothing short of miraculous. What has this to do with Italy?..well passion and a freedom to express yourself.

Contemplating all this brought this thought to mind - we are at our very worst miserable creatures, we hurt or have the potential to hurt one another, to cause pain and misery. Conversley we can bring joy and laughter and peace....and so it has been for millenia despite our so-called 'civilised' western democracy - tainted as much by greed and corruption as any other form of social organisation. We simply do not change, we are creatures of habit and we forget. A poet once said 'history repeats itself, it has to because nobody listens'.
We do good and evil. ' There is no one righteous. No, not one'. As soon as we start to believe we are right, in slips bigotry and corruption. Such a man am I...... I can do good and evil, this is the contradiction of me.

Today I was unable to meet fellow gardening folk as arranged because Sue had a migrane...I was angry ! This was pure selfishness on my part, like a spoilt child. BUT although I did not get to meet these interesting and creative people, I did get to see the artwork of my niece Sophie who was on her way to Aberystwyth Uni for an interview. What a privilage it was to see her portfolio. So what am I saying ? Sometimes there is a purpose greater than our own need, and out of a negative situation something of great value can come to pass.

Send the men in white coats if you feel a bit disturbed by my armchair philosophy !


Saturday, 3 March 2012

Letter to Monty Don 16

Dear Montague Don,

1st March 2010

It sometimes feels that my destiny is to always miss the boat....oh well so be it.

St David's Day. What does this mean? What do any of the 'Saint's Days' mean in this God forsaken age ? Do we still need stone versions of the Tabernacle with its high priestly altar, its ritual and liturgy ?
Don't get me wrong I love all that, I love candles and the solidity of cathedral worship. The age of the stones add a solidity and the singing and reading an anchor to something ancient. Perhaps that is why so many people visit a cathedral who would not attend a local parish church or chapel.

Why can't we see that faith itself is as ancient and solid as the stones? Why have we lost our faith?

Last summer David (my son) and me went on part of the pilgrimage walk around St. David's head in Pembrokeshire to the well of St. Non. On the way we saw fulmars swooping and circling the cliffs around their nests - we watched for an hour lost in the majesty of it - the sound of the sea, the colour of it - turquoise and clear as crystal with red stones beneath.
The clifftops were rich with wildflowers and buzzing with insects.

'Faith comes by hearing' God says 'I am that I am'. No further explanation needed ?
But we always have endless questions. The torture I have put myself through in order to feel accepted.
Why try to work it out ? The ancient cliffs and the crystal water, the ceremony and the singing - all I know is I know very little....but that the little I know in my soul is enough.

Here we go a rambling.