Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Letter to Monty 40

Dear Monty,

This is my 40th letter to you...maybe I will stop here? This one is about peaks, storms in gardening teacups, wearing tights and coming over all ecclesiastical...it is going to be a long one, so make a cup of tea first before you read.

21/6/12 The long wet dark day of mid summer - tomorrow to Scotland and Saturday walking up Ben Nevis in rain then on to Cumbria and finally Snowdon.

23/6/12 In Mallaig after driving through a short night sitting in the foetal position over the rear wheel arch of our minibus. We arrived at 3am and camped out in the fisherman's mission opposite the port, with its berthed ferry and fishing fleet surrounded by the hills. I tried to sleep to the sound of seagulls and snoring...I love the sound of seagulls.

We climbed up Ben Nevis in the rain as predicted, passing hundreds of people - a continuous stream of humanity mirroring the gushing streams tumbling down the mountain into the valley below. Slipping and tripping people wearing leather jackets and jeans, bear outfits, shower caps and shorts, some with dogs and strained muscles. Straining up granite cobble path sidestepping those coming down was hard work. The valley below was a lush lush green, with its themed restaurants and an unhappy Scottish proprietor, just holding his rage patrolling his car park in his spanking new Mercedes - making sure no climbers parked there - I saw his point - the valley looked like a white van man convention.

The top ...what of the peak, the pinnacle of our achievement ? The summit was being lashed by stinging cold rain and sleet, with a severe wind chill which numbed fingers and faces. We skidded on icy snow not realising the thousand foot drop was just to the side of us - shadowed in a dark strange fog. The cairns at the top looked like foreboding tombs - but we touched the stones and had the photograph - then slipped frozen fingered down again - wet, cold and slightly elated.

24/6/12 So much rain, torrents of rain - Cumbria the place I have never seen, and cannot see today short of the stone walls and huddled sheep. The hills shrouded in slate coloured cloud. Wastwater overflowing its banks onto the road - the road becoming river and collapsing into the lake. My walking gear too wet to put on again, meant that out of the team of 9 walkers only 6 were able to go up...so I never got to see the top. After us the police closed the road...for me this was a heavy disappointment as heavy as the leaden cold rain.

I see 3 am again sat in a rolling and bucking bus in a strange musty fug of sweat and damp clothing.We drive under the Mersey and onward to our last goal of Snowdon, and for the first time the sun appears. Here I have a sense of hwyl..a welsh word for that pit of stomach feeling when you feel a deep attachment to place....and me a mixed breed of Welsh, English, Scottish and Scandinavian...probably more if I cared to look. Yet here in this astonishing valley - the Llanberis pass - with Snowdon above and the hills beyond - felt like home. I knew I would make it to the top of this peak. Clouds skirted the top but the sun lit up patches of green gold and blue below. Thanks to the kindness of Colin, who gave me a pair of dry 'tights' to wear I was able to go up!

The group stretched out and only 7 of us went on to the top..punishing last stretch up scree and crag to emerge onto steps with a railway line to your left. We could see nothing from the top, again shrouded in cloud.

Then comes the mistake - on the descent we became separated, spread out too thinly, I didn't want to loose sight of the leaders so kept up the pace, instead of waiting at a fixed point, we took the track off the Pyg down toward the lakes around the flatter path to save our knees. We should have waited and made this decision as a group. Down we went waving to the others on the higher path expecting them to follow but stupidly not realising one of them, the kind Colin, had pulled a ligament and was struggling down - the pain going down with tired legs is immense. We paid the price for our foolishness our leader giving us a well deserved rollicking. All made it safely but sorely home.

26/6/12  Tea cup storm - While I have been peaking, I seem to have been caught up in a minor twitter storm, which seems a bit trivial after the sheer effort of climbing mountains in real storms, and it is all about your views about the use of pesticides expressed on Gardeners World. To be honest I have come to the conclusion there is no utopia to be found, either in the gardening world or in life.

We are a people of good intentions but who all inadvertently poison the planet by our sheer numbers and our 'civilised' lifestyle, even if we reckon ourselves 'green'. There will never be perfection whilst we are around. Passion for the earth is a good thing but any passion can become hot, inflamed, arrogant, intolerant and selfish - whether it is passion for 'style' or even preservation of 'style' or for being 'organic'. Our passions can be divisive and destructive, they even lead to wars - and not just of words. This is our sad condition.

I do fall on the side of organics more than pesticides, simply because we have caused so much damage to the diversity that sustains us all in our pursuit of efficiency. Efficiency is an evil that pervades our lives but its pursuit brings misery.

So I live, but not to myself only.

I still drive a car (pollution) cook and heat the house with gas (pollution) use cleaning products (pollution) wear manufactured clothes (pollution) use information technology (pollution and exploitation). We just cannot face up to all of these comforts having to pass away in order for life to be a daily struggle again. We have to pretend that we are good...so let us help one another to live as best we can.

 And there was me in all my naivety thinking gardeners were the least controversial, least hot headed and most happy and contented souls (truly!)

Breathe....and finally....In the pretentious tradition of naming gardens, I have decided to call my garden the coal tip cloister garden. It is a garden of loose topiary and informal arches formed by the curves of tree branches and pruning, a space enclosed but peaceful with washing line, apple tree and coal riddled soil.

There - I'll write a book !

Goodbye Monty.

If anyone wants to sponsor our soaked three peaks walk, please send donations marked 3 peaks challenge to Newlyn Mission, find the address at :http://blog.through-the-gaps.co.uk/p/newlyn-mission.html

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Letter to Monty 39

Dear Monty,

Fantasy, anxiety and a sense of place.

The sun sets on my fantasy...the garden is not finished - there is more to do, we have to keep moving forward -  seeing new challenges - broadening our horizons - enlarging our borders.

I have been doing a lot of walking and meditating in preparation for walking up and down 3 mountains. I need to get fit in order to die with dignity! I have always loved being in the landscape, which is why I paint and draw it. Eleanor Flaherty www.eleanorflaherty.co.uk artist, filmmaker, photographer and qualified mountain guide took some photographs of my third rate fresco's which I share with you here. These are pictures of places with associations for me which are deep and personal.


I travelled through a rainstorm to reach Hay to hear you speak about Longmeadow. It was a strange experience because it felt as though you had read my mind, or maybe these letters. (let me keep my fantasy) It was good to hear you extol the virtues of discovering a sense of place, of taking time when making a garden. Interesting to hear you speak of the difference between the artifice of TV and your real connection with the garden.

Speaking of connections, did you see the film about one day in the UK through the eyes of a cross section of citizens of these islands ? It struck me how strangely meaningless this life can seem to be. Love seemed to be the anchor to counter the emptiness. I realise that I have been given so much....what can I give back?

Grayson Perry in his latest TV foray suggests that the middle classes are all trying to be individuals but that ultimately we will fail. I question this conclusion in one sense, because I see in my day job many people with serious health problems but who deal with them in very different ways. But I agree that we are really all related in the deeps of our beings. The middle class anxieties he mentioned, having a nice house, nice car, nice wife, are still the trophies to attain along with the aga. Perhaps a lot of our anxieties relate to this trying to attain 'better' things, trying to recapture a lost paradise as Grayson illustrates in his tapestries. We keep trying.

Rest is the answer, a sabbath, the work is done. Let the ants nest in the stipa gigantia, let the moss grow in the lawn....but then Sarah Don says in 'The Jewel Garden' that you have a...'puritan work ethic dulled by duty'. So resting from your work may not come easy....we have to find and keep finding that sabbath.

Here endeth another ramble - perhaps my last if I expire up those mountains. Hope you like the paintings, can't stop making them, filling the house gradually. If anyone wants to sponsor my death wish please send donations to : http://blog.through-the-gaps.co.uk/p/newlyn-mission.html

Have a good weekend Monty,

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Letter to Monty 38

Dear Monty,

Madmen and storms.

6/6/12 Back to work as Paul the nurse. Yesterday this madman had all his paintings photographed professionally for the first time. What happens next ?

Madmen deliver profound messages, perhaps 'madness' is closer to the truth of what we all are than is 'sanity' ?

What I see in artists, poets, writers, musicians/composers and yes, gardeners, is that often there is an edge to them - they see beyond the obvious - there is a soul connection to their lives - perhaps even a spiritual dimension to their vision. This is why they are akin in my mad mind to prophets or seers. There is a depth and sense of revelation to life, which sadly has its downside when that life is sometimes flat and hard as iron.

I have been thinking of gardens more as an expressive art form recently, this has been spurred on by visiting The Veddw and by reading more and more bloggery on gardens. ( Interesting blog post today by Noel Kingsbury on German gardens and art) Gardens are surely the most difficult art form to work with - because of the nature of nature -  which is not to be contained or shaped by humans - it wants to be what it is. Gardens are contrived and constrained - even the 'natural' ones.

Charles Hawes and Anne Wareham ( a privilege to meet them ) sat with Sue and me on various benches in The Veddw. At one point looking out from the wood down onto the hollow of clipped box, yew and beech - we mused on how it might look if it were unattended for years unsculpted by the gardeners hand and eye. Needless to say it was a hard thing to imagine, but the hedges would become trees and compete for light and space - really it would not bear thinking about - the form and structure would all but disappear. This made me more positive about homo sapiens - despite all the havoc we wreak upon this thin skin of soil and rock, we can and do make beautiful impressions upon this earth - they may be fleeting but they are a reflection of our vulnerability, passion and desire. We create spaces which enhance our experience of living. What do you think Monty ?

8/6/12 Another storm brews just as one passes. I really did do the 'chelsea chop' on my sedums after watching GW this evening. I went out into the garden at 9.05 pm in the dusk to put the chickens to bed. The garden has survived the storm remarkably well, and the whites and blues in the dusky light shone luminescent. I cannot really claim to be a gardener in the sense of being knowledgeable about plants - so I suppose my garden is not really a garden...it is an amateurish attempt at gardening.

Even though I have watched GW since the days of Geoff Hamilton and before him Percy Thrower, and have heard advice on plants and planting over and over and over again - some of it seems to sink in but other bits pass me by. I have learnt from all this almost subliminally. I do not see the point of storms over when to do this or that. I have never taken lavender cuttings in the way Carol Klein did, I just cut bits off and stuck them in the soil - but have kept them going for 12 years. I appreciate the advice - but I think we learn what we want to learn, and to the level that we can afford. For example those beautiful large pots you controversially whitewashed must have cost about £300 each. I would have to use plastic....this is the reality for the 'working class' gardener.

My garden is cheap but a treasure of unmeasurable worth to me. A gift from God.


Monday, 4 June 2012

Letter to Monty 37

Dear Monty ,

Just a brief bank holiday ramble before the return to the real world.

Despite all of the excitement of gardens, pots and Monty Don, of butterflies and pesticides and the sun bursting out from cloud....I feel flat.

Elijah the Old Testament prophet after seeing amazing things from the hand of God, retired to sit under a shrub and said 'I've had enough !' This is the problem when exciting things happen, they are invariably followed by the mundane, and the flattening of other peoples opinions.

Oh well washing the green algae off the windows and sowing seed should anchor me, certainly returning to work and serving the public should. Even the sound of the chickens noisily laying eggs acts as an anchor. The whisper after drama that is what Elijah needed, he had seen the drama but his soul needed the intimacy of the whisper.

By the way I am coming to hear you talk about your latest book at the Hay Festival, don't worry I won't mob you.