Saturday, 29 September 2012

Letter to Monty

Dear Monty,

Being stumpy and saying goodbye to Hostas.

Charles Hawes intimated that I am short and stumpy in his blog  I guess he is right I am diminutive.

To quote the prophet - ' the holy seed will be a stump in the land' . There is something powerful in the ability of a tree to regrow from a stump, to become a tree again, a tree with more branches because it was cut down.

It is the same with the autumn garden, seeing the hostas going to sleep knowing they will return in spring with more spikes of new leaves.

My stumpy body adjusts to grandparenthood just as my daughter's adjusts to motherhood. My jowls droop, grey hairs sprout from strange places, my belly sags and my gluteal muscles shrink so that my trousers no longer stay up on their own (all very attractive as you can imagine).

Here is the truth - we age, we ache, we slip slowly toward the soil.

Someone said this week that the ailments that befall us - the accidents, the illness, the mental trauma - is due to a spiritual attack - I forcefully disagree. These things happen to us all, no matter what our belief or creed our status. It is part of the human condition and is as true in these days as it was in the past and always shall be in the realm of time.

I am bankrupt in the face of my frailty. Belief for me is not reliant on the need for miraculous escape from such things. I think faith is about just believing, despite the reality and cruelty of life.

A friend reminded me that it is just the now that we have. Faith is an eternal now - a today. I believe that this is what the prophet was talking about when he said ' If you do not stand firm in your faith - you will not stand at all.' We stand - that is all - we just stand. We see the moon and stars and cloud, we see the sun and suffer the rain 'but his place of rest shall be glorious'.

I see it all in the garden and in the beauty of our frailty.


I will try and be less melancholy in any future letters.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Letter to Monty Don

Dear Monty,

22/9/12  Explaining the way of St Toff more excellently.

I have put up a scallop shell on my studio wall in a gesture of unity with Charles Hawes and Bob (not that I know Bob) who are currently walking The Way of St James.

Life seems to throw up some strange coincidences, as this very week - this not very good week - a fellow soul of life's great journey also mentions her desire to walk the way. Now in my innermost being I believe there is something to this 'way' - this walk, this pilgrimage.

Last night after half sleeping through 'Gardeners World' and 'Parade's End', I seem to remember hearing you say to take time to see what a garden wants to be.....or words to that effect. I also remember passion and contentment found in the coming together of a lover and his beloved....a bit like the passionate Song of Solomon : 'do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires'. This journey of life is not easy is it? For any of us I mean.

Today Sue and I walk the ' Way of St Toff'. Toff is our whippet, who loves a particular walk over the landscaped remains of 'the diamond' - a mine which once used to produce a hard clean anthracite. Toff knows the way - he runs and plays and you sense his joy on this particular pathway.

The way is not easy - it was never meant to be - but along this path comes enlightenment.

I believe that I have met many angels on my journey. They may not realise their significance, although I believe I have seen the light of God twinkle in their eyes. When I am at my meanest, lowest and most cowardly, out of the darkness the light seems to shine. I have been stopped in my downward track by their incredible insight, they speak directly into my experience.

This is why I first started writing to you Monty - in your book 'The Jewel Garden' you mention just such an encounter. Your epiphany, the moment your angel prophesied your redemption through the soil.

The soil, birdsong, growth, light, scent, colour all speak of redemption, which is why making a garden is such a journey of discovery and sometimes a complete joy.

For me Christ (despite the tendency of overkill with all the sermons and words) is essentially humble in the simplest, truest and most honourable sense - because of his death for his friends. He could have changed the elements of stone into bread when tempted but chose not to redeem himself.

From the soil we came and to the soil we return, from elements to elements, even the stones cry out. In the midst of death there is life - the garden tells us so.

Sorry to go on.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Letter to Monty Don

Dear Monty,

Good friends,wisdom and astrantia.

I half watched and half slept through Alistair Sooke and the Roman artwork he was discussing. I often do this when watching subjects which resonate with and relax me. I do this when you are presenting GW. It's not that either you or Alistair are boring, but that the subject matter relaxes me so much I have to fight my body sloughing off the stress of the week.

What struck me about the homes of the Romans is how familiar they are to me. The nature of humanity and our culture has changed little in 2000 plus years. We are still as cruel, still as inflamed, still as observant, still as politically corrupt and still as beautiful.
The fresco'd room of trees and birds and flowers as delicate, skillful and beautiful as the flower canvases by Winifred Nicholson.

Human nature it seems is fixed in a kind of default position, and although we have 'progress' (which inherently seems to destroy the planet we live on ) at heart, in the being of our beings we remain the same. So much for evolution, perhaps we have nowhere else to go ?

Solomon, the King who was gifted with wisdom searched for the meaning in life by trying out all kinds of hedonistic ways of getting satisfaction, but his conclusion can be seen in his words :  'For with much wisdom comes much sorrow, the more knowledge, the more grief.'

This is it then, there is no higher calling or purpose to our lives. The evidence seems to suggest as much.

And yet for me at least there is an existence, a connection beyond what is now and what has been. I sense it when I am with good friends, when I see beautiful things, when I feel the arms of a soul-mate around me. It is the same watching Nigel play with apples, or Alistair being amazed by Roman artwork, or Carol Klein enthusing about plants. I believe these things point to enlightenment and for me that comes in the form of forgiveness for what I am now and ever shall be. It is not complicated or tied up in ritual or many many words. It is almost a kind of sorrow.

Kerith Williams my good fiend gave me some astrantia and hostas for my garden. He had been to Ninfa in June with Christine, and they were enthralled by its beauty, I was enthralled by their generosity and love.

Sentimentality ?


Sunday, 9 September 2012

Letter to Monty

Dear Monty,

There is no doubting the change in our climate, and no doubt I have a hand in it too. What I do doubt however is my ability to change what is happening...King Canute comes to mind...but I still try.

Can music save us ? Music comes from a place which communicates directly on the level of our emotions. Music certainly saved me from anxious thoughts this very morning, sitting in the 'thinking room'. Music calms the troubled breast, just like when David played the harp to King Saul.

Alison Levey known as Papaver to her friends, blogged about a garden she visited recently which helped her absorb peace, I am not being flippant in these letters, I really believe that we can change how we view our world and the earth and everything in it. Absorb peace while you can, whether it is through listening to music or reading or sitting in your garden drinking a cup of tea, or cutting back or digging and smelling the newly turned soil, or the new cut grass, or watching the mass of hover flies on late daisies.

Yesterday we went for a walk, the mountains were blue, limestone blue and the thin soil was carpeted by scabious.

Halfway we stopped at Craig - y - Nos Country Park and had a cup of good coffee, but our peace was drowned out by a dramatic and loud voiced Canadian. It is good that posh Canadians and posh Englishmen and women deem our valley fit to visit, this being the less posh end of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Too close to the valleys with the memories of sweat and industry. The hills form a barrier between the posh and the unposh.

I suppose this valley town I live in could be called a 'dump' - I remember when we first moved here from the Isle of Wight, the estate agent said 'why do you want to move to a dump like this ?' To us it was nothing of the kind, it was post industrial yes, but the scars of industry were being softened by nature.

Jonathan Meades in the Telegraph Magazine said... "I hate this idea that such and such is a dump or a 'chav' town. All places have qualities if you bother to discern them." Of course he lives in Marseilles.

Anyway, here in this old 'Morgans Cwmtawe Band' band hall, next to municipal play park and  the coal tip of Tir Bach Colliery, there is a kind of sad romance. The sweat that dug out the mountains is long gone and buried in overgrown graveyards. Few of the old miners remain, their astonished faces cannot comprehend our soft lives - how can we stand to live in a world where there is no real work? Astonished also by their loneliness in the very communities that they helped to build. The astonishment is traceable in their lined faces, trembling blue-flecked hands, and the rattle and wheeze of their coal filled lungs...what was it all for ? Honesty and community ?

Sometimes I see things here in the landscape that they may not recognise. I see glimpses of Italy in the pines overlooking the valley, I see scruffiness and decay yes, but also resurrection and a love of the hills that surround us. Hope remains.

                                         'When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
                                          when there were no springs abounding with water;
                                          before the mountains were settled in place,
                                          before the hills, I was given birth..'


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Letter to longer counting

Dear Monty,

What is important ?

I am often amazed by my own foolishness, but then along comes someone who puts life into perspective.
I read this quote from the author Rose Tremain on Saturday whilst at sitting at my stand of fresco paintings :

'The older you get the more you understand that the really important things in life are very few.'

I too have noticed this, age seems to filter out the unimportant and sharpen our perception of the important. The dilemma for me though is whether this means I am becoming a conformist.

I love those who rebel against conformity, but even non-conformists eventually settle into their own pattern of conformity. When the breakaway first happens, the result is vibrant and fresh, just like 'new' planting styles, but soon after comes conformity to this new trend. I loathe conformity, but to survive in this world it seems we have to conform. As I have rattled on about before - work life has become all about targets, budgets and conforming to set protocols. No room for common sense, community and communion.

Charles Hawes and Anne Wareham of have been asking some interesting questions on this blog and on and Even you joined in Monty. Is there a new movement away from conformity and 'horticultural plod' towards 'enlightenment'?  I even noticed at the Orchid Festival, that there is an increasing interest in species orchids found on our own shores. It also seems that we are slowly shifting away from the post war 'spray and kill' ethos which is allowing the return of many wild flowers.
I was unable to attend any lectures, but had interesting conversations with many people who came to look at my fresco paintings of butterflies and bees. One of whom was from Pat O'Reilly who gave me much encouragement.

Somewhere in the movement from conformity to non-conformity is a place of tension and excitement, it tastes like freedom, and long may it continue.


Paul           (you may have noticed I have discovered links)