Saturday, 28 June 2014

Hearing voices

Dear Monty,

I have always heard voices in my heart and head.
This statement may be an indication of just how insane I am or alternatively perhaps it's sanity which is really insanity ?

Stay with me Monty because it was your recommendation to sit and enjoy the garden on last weeks GW that got me thinking, we seldom stop long enough to hear what is being said by our gardens.

I have joined a Facebook group called and have been heartened by the number of gardeners both young and older who get a sense of joy and peace from their gardens. Having been involved in a debate about the future of gardening, I am less concerned now. I admit that there are different levels of garden appreciation, styles and experience - but whichever level we are at, it is possible to literally breathe the peace of a garden deep into our souls - now that is joy - a joy that comes from tuning out of noise to hear the voice of peace.

Pleasing accidents
Voices include the songs of birds and trees - yes trees have a musical voice according to their kind - they sometimes whisper in a breeze when in full leaf, or rattle or even roar like an angry sea in a storm. Conifers nearby can sometimes roar or moan a melancholic moan.

Just now a flock of chuckling jackdaws tumbled out of the blue sky - a gaggle gang - a community of chucklers.

Can a garden be jubilant ? Can a field - or an allotment ? Yes.
You can hear the music and see the poetry in them if we have eyes and ears to see and listen.

Jubilant pants and plants

Combinations of plants sometimes accidental, sometimes by our plans create a harmony like a beautiful polyphony. I have no space for a prairie or meadow but just lawn grasses and 'weeds' left to grow tall in sculpted clumps or quaking grass planted in with other plants their heads dancing - are enough to help me join in the singing.


' Consider all the works thy hand hath made'

The whole earth sings - even if mostly drowned out by our noise.

This coal tip garden cloistered from the world is made over the top of old mine workings, there is a steep gully to the left of the garden which was once a tram road for the horse drawn coal drams. Those voices have long gone, and only the coal waste, fossil plants and small anthracite pieces in the soil remain as whispers of the past. The coal tip which rises up from the front of this old band room is now covered in scruffy woodland and eroded paths. I used to struggle with this place and its industrial past but now I am beginning to appreciate the voice of this hard worked landscape.

Rusty railway bridge over the Tawe

Diamond anthracite

Old garden tool tree

It is good to hear a voice other than my own.


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Is it necessary for anyone else to see my garden as an artwork ?

Dear Monty,

There has been a lot of debate (with more to come) on the subject of - can gardens be art.
The online discussion on has already stimulated some strong points of view. One comment in particular suggested that we do not need any manifestos by the artist to describe their work because if it is a 'good' piece of art it should stand for itself. I partially agree with that statement, however, the subjectivity with which we view an artwork comes with a whole set of prejudices which, if we are not careful, could stop us from appreciating a new vision of the world as seen by artists who are living within the cultural influences of the present day.

Having said all of that, I'm very much influenced by the traditions and crafts of the past, and although appreciating 'modern' and contemporary artwork, poetry, music and gardens, my default is traditional but modified by contemporary life.

Is any of this important ? Probably in the grand scheme of a fractured world - no. Perhaps the fact that we can have this debate at all illustrates how far removed we are from the struggle of day to day existence that more than half the world's population have to endure. And yet, even in those struggles - it is often art, music and poetry that sustains something deeper in the human spirit ( if you believe in a spirit that is ). A few years ago I visited Latvia, just when it entered into the European Union. They were celebrating freedom from former Soviet tyranny and entering into another kind of tyranny (in my opinion).To try and understand their past, I visited a museum in Riga which was dedicated to preserve evidence of Soviet brutality toward the native Latvians. In amongst the grim photographs and harrowing letters, there were drawings and small sculptural objects that were hidden away from prying eyes that literally made me weep. Here were people in extremis in the Gulags still able to make beautiful things.

What am I trying to say ? Well, for me, understanding something of the background of those that made the artwork enhanced their impact on me, and took me deeper than just a surface judgement made purely on aesthetics. I believe that understanding where the artist is coming from helps you to appreciate the source of the vision. Whether you consider it 'good' art or not - the fact you looked a little deeper changes your view.

As I have said on many occasions - I am a fool, because I don't believe that scientific analysis or statistical analysis or meta analysis will ever touch the human spirit.

It is not necessary for anyone else to see my garden as an artwork, but to me it is an artwork because I employ the same process of editing and adding, of sculpting and painting as I do with my art. This garden is about me and my response to this place beneath a coal tip.


Thursday, 5 June 2014

Between two opinions again !

Dear Monty,

I battle with my own hypocrisy - this is the greatest struggle I have in my life.
Perhaps we fight too much ?
Portraying ourselves as dragon slayers instead of fighting with the spirit of peace.

The clouds break over the coal tip garden.
I suppose I am looking for a balance between wilderness and garden - certainly it has become wildlife friendly - which now includes rabbits who are nibbling the tops off Chinese cabbage.

Here is the rub - if I want to limit my use of pesticides and fungicides then I have to take the rough. Even the chickens are destructive if left out too long in this small space.

As the clouds lift the gloom dissipates.

I need to paint again - flowers, butterflies, mountains ? I will trawl through memories, sketches and photographs.

31/5/14  Last day of May, humid and overcast. The wettest May since 2007.

Pests begin to mar paradise ! Thrips, leaf miners, brown spot, black spot, rust, greenfly - all seem to love humidity.

Leaves curl brown and drop off the apple tree.
I could get depressed about it or begin a rain of sprays and mists - or just see which plants just overcome and bulk up on them next year - simplify. I can already see which are free.

On this day an article by Alys Fowler is published in the Guardian about thinking kindly towards nature's pests. I try and rationalise my murderous thoughts about the leaf eaters - only to be reminded of the blackbirds and mistle thrush feeding in the borders, the blue and great tit taking aphids and caterpillars from underneath leaves. Not forgetting the work of frogs, toads, newts and the hedgehog.

1/6/14  Flaming June - fire and whispers.

Drawing becomes drawing after it has been removed from its setting, and looked upon as something in its own right - not just a representation. Like making a garden it becomes a construction, it takes on a structure and depth of its own which is not always found in the original subject or design - in other words it has an abstract quality.

Pembrokeshire hills re-worked


Dyffryn Fernant

Fire brings destruction, a burning up - drama followed by silence. Whispers continue, they remain - a thread of whispers - a still small voice with the power of the Almighty behind them. The 'great' has its effect for a short time - memory fades. We forget greatness, we are unable to maintain it, even if we follow creeds or doctrines, instead we try to maintain a veneer of obedience.

But we are no longer whitewashed sephulcures. Obedience now is acknowledging our failure - to hold up each others  hands - to come along side and hear the whispers - the still small voice, still because it rests in a rest beyond philosophy, beyond religion and beyond our understanding.

Perhaps I'm a snob. I find that I have moved on from what I thought I knew about gardens. I admit that I am no longer inspired by grass rectangles surrounded by narrow linear borders insufficiently wide to contain the plants that are initially dotted along its length, but at the same time I am a hypocrite in that this is how I started, and we all start from somewhere. Perhaps we need to experience the exuberance of plants for ourselves - when our planned tidiness turns into a kind of chaos !

More and more I see making a garden as sculpture - limiting the exuberance  here and allowing it there. No longer worrying about weeds and tidiness (to a certain extent ! for this see blogs: and ).This is why I love mown paths through tall grass. I cannot have a meadow in this small space but just a nod to one is enough.


Meadow - not

more chaos

Perhaps I'm a deluded man Monty ? A fool perhaps. What kind of man sees a small bumblebee land on the page of his journal while writing - and  as he watches it cleaning itself he feels so incredibly humbled by it - so much so he sees in it the beautiful brevity and melancholy of life - a kind of joyous sorrow.

I am a fool, do you join me in this foolishness - could we be a community of fools ?