Sunday, 27 July 2014

Solstice and Subtlety

Dear Monty,

I loved the sublime acanthus in the long walk, the wonderful thing for me was that you wait each year for it to have its moment.


Enemies are friends and they know it not. Sitting in the coal tip cloister garden in the cool of the day.

If someone were to critique this small garden I imagine it being very negative, I know that criticism is good for you and helps you to grow, unless that is you have a surf-like mentality like mine.

This is how I imagine the critique would go :

From the front of the house (they call it a band hall, but it looks like an over sized pebble-dashed local authority bungalow) you would not guess that this place has a 'garden' of any merit whatsoever - and when you enter through the rear somewhat suburban and neglected rear gate - you come to that very conclusion.
Almost instantly you see that there has been no attempt whatsoever at correcting some of the fatal flaws in the 'design'. There is very little money if any, spent on this garden.

The Terrace!

The 'gardener' has left an outdated patio in situ which he euphemistically calls a terrace - with odd faded red concrete slabs from the 80's. Worse he has allowed that common scrubby little daisy from Chile invade all the cracks.(he says he was inspired by Anne Wareham - oh the poor fool !) He even allows rosebay willowherb to grow freely in the terrace border - yes the uncultivated kind.

The vista

The vista from the terrace is as unappealing and predictable as they come, just a straight path of yet more cheap concrete slabs sunk into the weed infested lawn, which I should say is not a lawn - not in my book.
The eye is led to a hell hole at the end of the garden which he alludes to as a mine entrance which is inhabited by a breeze block owl on a wooden sleeper and a gaggle of raggedy hens behind a chicken wire and trellis fence.

In an attempt to be 'arty farty' he has plunged laths painted black at various points in order he says; to bring symmetry and a sense of calm, each one has a found object mounted on top with a single word written on the base making up a three word load of tosh which he calls a poem - Soil Soul Toil . I just see this as a frankly weak attempt at creating 'atmosphere' and a 'sense of place' IT DOES NOT WORK.


This garden shouts : 'I DON'T KNOW HOW TO GARDEN!' with its incoherent planting which again contain weeds such as nettles and teasels for goodness sake. The excuse it seems  is that lame one of 'I'm gardening for wildlife'. Apart from the paths which he did not build, there is not a straight line to be seen, he tries for symmetry with pots on the grass but even these are inconsistent in size and shape and are imperfectly aligned.


Finally in this tragic garden there is a pond, again you could hardly describe it as such, it is so densely planted and surrounded by areas of unmown grass full of weeds such as birds foot trefoil and cuckoo flower, that it looks like a boggy patch in the corner of a field.

This garden is a fools paradise - I for one will not be visiting again. Next week I'm of to review a proper garden - The Lasket in Much Birch.


Mourning for subtlety - I aim for the subtle yet it slips from my sight both in my art and the garden.


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Impressions in this enlightened age

Dear Monty,

I confess to untidiness - a lack of neatness - I notice that you have relaxed a bit too Monty. Perhaps it was enforced by the death of hedges, and sometimes it takes death or disaster to move us on, to accept and then to live with the consequences.

Our destructive nature is yet again being illustrated - played out in the world - our world - this better world ?

15/7/14  Frustration melts - the garden absorbs me - time becomes timeless.

17/7/14  Death and terror - shock and awe ? - Hatred of our enemies. Has anyone ever achieved the love of their enemies, if ever there was a time for such a thing - it is now and forever will be. Are we really capable of creating paradise on earth ? Lasting peace ?

'Blessed are the peacemakers - for they shall see God'

18/7/14  Community - does community die with an increase in our individual standard of living ? Internet communities thrive, but to try and get people to work together in the 'real world' is so much more of a challenge. Was there ever a 'Utopia' ? Life has always been full of troubles. We strive for Utopia but in order to build it it may mean the loss of individuality and this seems to be the point of tension. To be connected with one another we would have to be of one mind. Any community is flawed  for that reason, whether it is a community of gardeners, farmers, artists, priests, congregations, children.

Community gardens like any other form of community or group will always have disagreements as well as concord. So does that mean we give up ? Gardens can bind minds as well as bend them ! Tribalism is a fact of life and I am as guilty of it as the next person - it seems inbuilt - hardwired, and it is hard to overcome, but in order to live and work together we have to keep fighting for peace.

I favour a particular style of garden, but it is just that - a preference - a leaning, but it could become a conviction which then by its nature becomes exclusive. I love art, poetry, music, philosophy and faith - which means my garden and my paintings reflect that. I used to be obsessive about weeds both in the 'lawn' and borders - but now I have relaxed and now edit instead of erradicate, and even tolerate. If someone who prefers pristine grass, clean edges and colourful flowers came here they would baulk.

We can find like minds and build communities but they can become ghettos or sanctuaries depending on your view.

20/7/14  Nowhere new to go so we go back, we revisit. I am in awe of J.M.W.Turner and the painters in France who became labeled 'Impressionists'. Out of fashion for a season, the way they captured moments of light and colour still grips me. This morning  the early light back-lit the garden from the terrace (patio!). It was the light that embraced me. It was warm, bright , dancing and alive - joined with rowan berries forming in the trees below us - the crow calling from the oak - the peacock on the hill behind us eeee - auing and a red kite wheeling in the powder blue and clouded sky.

This is Ystalyfera ! This is mining country, this is where the earth was raped in order to fuel the industrial revolution and with it bring those higher standards of living we live today - which we seem so unsatisfied with.

I go back to what I have - the curiosity of the explorers of light and colour. I would so much like to make an impression of a scene - to relive the moment. I will get on and paint, both in the garden with loppers and secateurs and with plants. In my small back room I pretentiously call a studio - I will slap plaster and paint on canvas in hope that it will reflect my recent journey to the sea, the way back to the rock.


Sunday, 13 July 2014

Walking the path

Dear Monty,

I have been walking the paths between Porthclais and St David's in Pembrokeshire. The paths themselves are like gardens; packed with wildflower communities and buzzing with insects. The coastal path too, although badly eroded in some places- has a varying set of habitats depending on the underlying rock and soil even within short distances.

I have visited this place every year for the last 8 years with my son - it is a time to take stock, to reflect and to listen to one another - the landscape and environment facilitates reflection. This is a supernatural place.

5/7/14  Damp morning, the sky clears from the west with Piet Mondrian clouds. Tent zips unzip and bedraggled women in pj's and micro fleece scurry head down to the showers. An upright Dutchman mounts his bicycle with its old fashioned lamp reassuringly glowing yellow in the early light - not the harsh halogen blue of our digital age. How I yearn for lamps and soft light, for crows calls and peace.

The sun comes out and more campers now happily walk to and fro - "going up to get washed" says one.
We all look about us - judging tent, appearance, clothes - are they 'true' campers, are the tent pegs in the ground properly, is their tent taut ? ! Others are in a non-judgemental world captivated by sky and sea and seagull mews.

It is difficult to leave the 21st Century behind.

We all believe this is freedom - but we are not as free as the gulls. We are duped into thinking we are free - but this kind of state endorsed freedom comes at a price. We pay taxes and bow to incoherent laws which still protect the rich - we are the consumers of peoples, of environments and eco-systems.

STOP ! It is not good to think outside of our bubble when we need it to live as we do. It is too painful to see any other reality.

The natives have been gagged - our wild and free nature boxed. I don't know how to live outside of this luxury. Perhaps 'savages' were living closer to God than ' Christians'? Christs freedom is the freedom of the hunter-gatherer, dependant on God, nature and each other.

How the 'Christian' missionaries got it wrong in trying to change cultures. What a world has been created - tamed and broken by the law.

Here is the awesome writer sadly gone - Bruce Chatwin on the subject of Patagonian natives in his book 'In Patagonia' :

' They became civilized and were good Christians. Life-sized painted plaster effigies of the Indians stood in mahogany showcases. The sculptor had given them ape-like features which contrasted with the glucose serenity of the Madonna from the Mission Chapel on Dawson Island. The saddest exhibit was two copy- book exercises and photos of the bright-looking boys who wrote them.......The Golden Age ended when men stopped hunting, settled in houses and began the daily grind.'

How do we experience freedom then ? We have glimpses every now and then - tastes of it - a whiff on the breeze like honeysuckle scent on a summer eve.
Freedom is found in the spiritual realm outside of the daily grind, outside of the bubble we have created. It harks back to a walk in a 'garden' in the cool of the day. Our freedom is still there in that garden.

We walk the path to the top of Carn Llidi. Looking below us - in Whitesands Bay, people look like ants swarming. We saw pyramidal orchids in flower along the most popular and eroded section of this coastal path. We saw mint, thyme, hemp-agrimony, birds- foot trefoil... too many species for my limited knowledge to name - a coastal garden path.

On Carn Llidi  we saw bee hawk moth, cinnabar moth, small tortoiseshell butterflies, meadow browns and small skippers. Queen wasps were emerging from a nest in the rocks at the very top of the peak being mated in tumbling balls of male wasps. At the top we sat and were joined for the third year in a row by a herring gull - looking for scraps from our lunch. On the menu this time - welsh cake and apple. Both were gratefully received and swallowed in lumps sliding down the gullet.

The gull ate
We ate

At least he didn't peck out our eyes.

A farmer shoots a gun and crows and jackdaws rise like a noisy cloud of black rags dispersing over the fields.

6/7 /14  Early morning among the stars. The infinite blackness crystal'd - the moon cut in half glowing a pale orange low on the horizon.

How small I am - yet how great I think I am - our minds expanding bigger than the universe. But even I will diminish - perhaps pushed along in a chair or walking with two sticks defiantly raging against the darkness ?!

No - I welcome eternity and its rest, rest from all the judging and being judged, rest from clever minds, rest from my plans and schemes, rest from jealousy, anger, rage, rest from the tortuous machinations of 'love' - which I so little understand.

'Love is patient, love is kind... it does not delight in wrongs'

Before we walk to St. Justinian's -we discuss reality, this physical reality - this diminished world - less insects, less bird-life, more people.We discuss our ability as a species to push science through new dimensions of reality, digital reality being one of them. How often I am engrossed in the digital version of the world, even in this awesome landscape.
This physical place is but whirring atoms with spaces between - not even the rocks are solid. Which reality is truth? Why can we not leave things unexplained - and open our minds to mystery ?
Where is God ? - where is our spiritual self, the me that is me ? Do we connect with this other reality beyond what we perceive as real ?

St. Davids has always represented a kind of portal to an ancient world. Some time ago in this place I seemed to hear from within the depths of me the voices of saints - a song of praise joined by the ever present crows and the bells of the cathedral. By saints I mean the people, those who connected to a vision beyond the religious trappings - perhaps they saw God for themselves ?

There are still many who see; the walker - the artist - the worker of the soil - the worker of the sea - those who love nature, those who try to capture in words, in photographs, in music, in paint or stone the colours in the fabric of this strange reality.

7/7/14  Home again to the daily grind, to the sanctuary on the hill. How quickly self-esteem flounders. The rock slips from the central focus into the periphery. It ebbs and flows like a tide over rocks, crabs and weed, covered under the rolling tide of doubt. I hold fast through remembering how a right way (which is impossible to keep) has been secured in that other reality in another garden.