Thursday, 24 December 2015

Putting doG back in Christmas

Dear Monty,

The dog rests after his walk
His paws washed
Still smell earthy.

He curls foetal
Feet under his nose
Smelling the earth he came from.

It brings a kind of comfort
A memory of the walk
In the garden of a one-time Eden.

Birches white barked and purple topped
Bright sun between the clouds
Which brought so much rain.

He dreams of rabbits and squirrels and chasing sticks
He drifts into deep sleep
Limbs relax.

He twitches and quietly barks
As an orchestra plays mellow music
Plucked mysteriously from the air.

When I smell the earth
It smells of God
It is where I belong.

I am the elements
The rain
The river
The light made manifest.

My flesh is a hindrance
And all that men reach for
To make themselves holy.

Why do we forget where we came from?
Why is humility so hard to grasp
While in the land of the living ?

I am alive when I smell the earth
Out of death comes life
Rich and full of potential.

Nadolig Llawen


Sunday, 6 December 2015

Christ mass

Dear Monty,

As far as I can tell - there was no celebration of the birth of Christ (Messiah) by the early church. This celebration was created in order to coincide with pagan festivals and has now become a sanitised version of who this Christ was.

He was born into dangerous times of occupation - of political unrest in the Middle East.
A time of expectation, of acts of terror and of dumbing down God.

There were factions that were trying to undermine the rule of Rome and there were the local Temple leaders who were actively suppressing revolt.

This Christ didn't take sides in this man made struggle. Instead he said that we were all at fault, all corrupt, all in need of something new.
There was no difference between the religious and the irreligious - all had missed the point and could not and indeed still cannot solve such issues by political or moral means.

Here we are still trying to solve these issues - still applying the same formula - wielding the sword and standing on what we believe to be the high moral ground.

Swords beget swords and death is the only victor - devouring the religious and the irreligious alike.

I am feeling uncomfortable in my western skin - life built upon ideals which I believed. And yet beneath it all is a thread of corruption and manipulation by the controllers of wealth and power.

Wars are inevitable - we are incapable of existing without judging one another, each philosophy claims the high ground - Christ says - give way.

I deserve nothing - we come into the world with nothing and can take nothing with us. But we have the opportunity to leave a legacy of humility, love, kindness, gentleness and self control. I continue to wrestle with myself in order to leave such a legacy.


Sunday, 29 November 2015

Walks in landscape contrasted with stepping into the garden

Dear Monty,

A long-winded title on a very windy day.

I had an elemental walk above Talybont on Tuesday with my good friend, photographer and garden maker Charles Hawes, I have no photographs to show as I have blown up my laptop by plugging in a faulty usb cable! I do share the above sketch made from memory of the startling birches at Blaen y Glyn.
I share the account of the walk as written in my journal - along with a walk done at the beginning of the month on the route of the old railway from Swansea to Brecon. I also try to describe the comfort of coming from wilderness into the garden.


Tapestry of yellows, golds, browns and dark greens fading into light.
Orange grasses
Coal black tip
Mist and engines
Rivers burns streams
Muddy cattle
Welsh longhouse
Three oaks
Stalks of rosebay willowherb

Houses and chapel of Caerbont fade into the curtain

Blond grasses mix with copper
No more scent of sulphur in the air
The bright air

Neil walks with his dog into oblivion
Embraced by God.


Deep clouds - mist - rain - sleet
Rainbow and shafts of light
Roads lit up like silver streams

The remains of snow streak the ridges.
No sheep to be seen on the high slopes
Water falls over a pavement of ripples fossilised from an ancient sea or lake
In reds and pinks

Cairns mark tragedy and achievement
Blasted off our feet
Inland away from the sharp escarpment edge

We then fall down the slope vulnerable as any boned creature
Shuffling down
Sliding down the glacier carved curve of the valley

Returning to the waterfall a tapestry of Rothko reds and
White trunked birch lit from below by orange bracken
Halt us.

Stepping through the gate into this small ordered space after walking in the landscape strangely brings an overwhelming sense of comfort and calm.

It is as if I need boundaries and order and a space that is within a human scale.
Perhaps I am a sheep brought into the sheepfold.


Sunday, 22 November 2015



I asked you if there was going to be any inspiring garden related programmes broadcast this winter - I was very impressed with the answer and the resulting programme.

I have just read an article in the Telegraph written as a result of an interview with you before your promo on The One Show. What strikes me is that your personal views of gardens and garden history are almost at odds with what you present on GW. I picked this up some time ago when listening to you speak at the Hay Festival. I just feel that you have a lot to give in bucking the trend of gardening in a particular style or formulaic way.

There are many influences on us as gardeners - and I agree that the more gardens we see, the better we are able to refine our ideas of what kind of garden we want.

Making a garden is a glorious way of expressing the creative seed that is in us all.

The trouble is when I listen to garden programmes I tend to relax so much I fall asleep.

Sometimes I think we are all sleeping - I just cannot deal with the stupidity of our species.

I watched Anthony Gormley's account of how his art has developed, it was very moving and visceral.
As a child he was birthed into the life and ritual of the Catholic Church. He said that one of the profound and motivating moments in his life was his time as an attendant at Lourdes. Undressing the weak, ill and disabled before immersing them into the waters with no outward effect or end to their suffering. This made Gormley angry and he saw his religion as a kind of lie. But what it did not do was extinguish his sense of the divine in terms of who we are locked in this body we inhabit.

I struggle with healing - I always have as a Christian and nurse. I have known people to be healed - and others who have had much prayer without any change. The truth is we are all dying. Gormley senses that there is much more to us than just the body - we have minds which can think and imagine beyond its boundaries. Despite the fact that we are bound by physical and biological laws - by cell growth and cell death - while living - we are far more than this. It is as though we have the seed of the eternal planted within us.

And yet we have but brief lives upon the earth - short lives which we seem bent on destroying - how we have lasted this long is a mystery in itself.


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Dumb Idol

Dear Monty,

A poem for Remembrance Sunday

Under the cold moon's light
The soil remains warm

The worm turns and twists
It casts off its scent
Of damp earth

I push tulip bulbs into the soil
With bare fingers

They will see a new spring
While my eyes dim

The moon once awesome and bright
Weighs down like lead

I plant a dumb idol
My tongue lights too many fires and the
Forests flame

Anger eats up life
It is a consumer
It feeds on judgement
And begets more
Until it gets fat
Ripe for death.


Sunday, 25 October 2015


Dear Monty,

Today I was saved by the trees - colour, detail, sun and scent
Heaven sent
Yet in the midst of it - quiet burning

How can a man rescue himself ?

The gold, yellow, copper
The oranges and the reds
The crisp leaves underfoot
The crystal cold water

And yet even being rescued by these - anger still rises

I am a profane man

The drive home from the park
Highlights this heart was formed in the dark
Too slow for some too fast for others
I cave in to the anger displayed through a car window

From peace and joy to a furnace as red as the leaves

Shamed, I sit in the garden
A flock of crows like flying black rags blown by the wind
Flap below the poplar

I watch the light and find salvation in it
Even for a man like me.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

Newport trilogy

 Dear Monty,

Holidays give time for reflection - here are three illustrated poems inspired by the town of Newport Pembrokeshire.



Today have I begotten you

The child feeding the pony an apple over the stile
The sun weakly shining over the sea
The smile

The food and wine shared in a stone cottage above that sea
And below the hill of angels.

He became a little lower than the angels
Today have I begotten you

The sun
The earth
The moon
The tide

When does it end -
This ever learning and never understanding ?
When do we rest from our labours or cease from our endless fight ?


Bright water

Geese flocks noisily feeding
Haunting the estuary with their sound
Stones stand
Norman walls
Ancient church

These walls have stood for longer than the flesh and blood that built them
Perhaps this is why there is desperation and frustration for us mortals who rage
To see the pace at which we age

The power that once drove us to unite
Now slackens
Like the tide
I still fear this powerful pull
Toward dangerous joy

Ultimately the bright water remains
And the decades roll into one blinding moment.


There is a small town
Where the mud laden river runs brown
And mauve streaks the sea
Fading into blue, silver, green

Foxes scent the garden above the bay
Curved, moon-like

Purple spiked reds
Cotton seed heads
Of willow herb float in the evening air

Curlews curl around the estuary
While hunting dogs are sleeping
Dreaming of squirrels
And walks
And living every day.


Sunday, 4 October 2015


Dear Monty,

I am cold in throat and bones.
Weak sun
The garden Italianate in its appearance cheers me

Then as if by some mystical communication
A post-card from Siena
Piazza del Campo
From Charles Hawes

In another strange parallel
He has a cold
And the weather breaks

I'm looking at winter bones
Through thinning leaves -
Each season gives generously

I'm not melancholy.


Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Gathering the socks - the season of mists and damp washing

Dear Monty,

I am re- reading 'What Are Gardens For ?' By Rory Stuart. I have searched the pages and the index but cannot find - for drying socks.

This could be a grave omission on Rory's part or perhaps drying socks or pants or sundry items of clothing and bedding is not meant to be part of garden making and design.

I am now having a crisis - what if having a washing line in your garden does not fulfil the ambition of having a garden of merit ? I may have to face up to the truth that the coal-tip cloister garden is just a semi- rural post industrial back yard. But maybe sock drying is an essential element of a living space in which humans, plants and socks co-exist in domestic harmony. I am reminded of the gallery at Hauser & Worth and photographs of the installation of pants on lines taken by Anne Wareham of

Whichever it may be : socks, underpants, knickers - they all have to be accommodated in our outdoor spaces unless we have drying rooms or prefer to use electricity. (Sue says that clothes always smell better dried in the air - but I cannot tell the difference !)

Should we see our socks and knickers on a line in a garden and not feel ashamed ? Can a garden have merit if it demonstrates the mundane aspects of human life ?


Sunday, 20 September 2015

A new perspective

Dear Montague,

In pursuit of a new perspective of my coal-tip garden, I pruned the washing line in error. Nevertheless I have placed a chair in the gap and I think that this is the best Autumnal viewpoint for the garden.

Sue took the news well.

New perspectives are what keep me alive. Can you imagine how tedious and empty life would be without them. Verging on the sleep of the dead this morning I struggled with the idea of worship. Yesterday I felt the incredible vastness and awe of the pillar of truth. There was a pillar erected by Jacob after he had rested his head upon the stone and then saw a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven. This stone could have been worshipped but it was erected to mark heaven touching earth.

In a garden or in the landscape I still feel this heaven - earth connection. Yesterday a dragonfly rested on my arm as I sat in the sun with a cup of tea. I was able to marvel at its intricacy and was humbled by being its perch. That was a connecting moment for me. This morning in Craig-y-Nos (or craggy horse as we call it ) - I marvelled at the shining copper of the turning copper beech leaves.

God is anathema to most these days because science proves that he never existed apart from in the minds of men. But even if that is where he exists then surely he exists in those who see beyond acquired knowledge. Christ pointed to all that is of any worth in life - love, forgiveness and an appreciation of what we live in and upon.

Sorry for the sermon and I hope it does not stop you from taking a new perspective.


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Woodland clearings

Dear Monty,

I agree that many of our gardens are like woodland clearings, but perhaps a significant number are not, and garden makers with small urban plots would struggle to see the connection perhaps. But even in small urban gardens or even balconies - the principles of shade, and semi- shade and dry areas would apply.

If the population of speckled wood butterflies is anything to go by, then the coal-tip cloister garden is definitely a woodland clearing. The speckled wood may not be the most colourful butterfly - but it is one of my favourites. It has a green iridescence on its thorax and abdomen and cream speckles on a nut brown background on the upper wing surface. I have sold my speckled wood paintings - so it is time for another.

On Sunday we visited another 'woodland clearing' in the form of Montpelier Cottage - the home and garden of just within your beautiful county of Herefordshire. Noel and Jo Elliot open their garden with the NGS.

I think they were brave to open this late in the season for a garden which relies upon perennial planting and a native wildflower meadow. But I admire the fact that they did because this is a real garden doing its real garden thing in its own particular style.

It is a garden on the edge of being wilderness - lightly structured and pruned/cut - with informal paths swallowed by plants - meanderings through bamboo, head height perennials, grasses, meadow, ponds and boggy ground. The house sits at the head of a slope, with terraces of mixed planting overlooking the meadows. It may be the least gardened garden I have visited this year. I mean gardened in the sense of overtly structured planting. I liked the fact that it was gardened with a light and sensitive touch, it reminded me of a garden in Pembrokeshire - with different geology but similar conditions in places.

Light reading in the study

Instruction on how to play a bit of Chopin ?

I am growing towards a blend of natives and perennials in my tiny coal-tip garden, and have been lucky enough to have some amazing natives establish themselves in the wild patches. I still like symmetry and structure though - so am looking for a blend of both. Noel's garden is not formal in any sense but neither is it too sickly a style of prairie planting. I'm going to commit heresy by saying again that I find some prairie designs a bit too contrived ! Arrgh - I've said it now.

Gardens are tricky things to define anyway - and our own personal taste heavily influences our opinions.