Tuesday, 28 July 2015


Dear Monty,

A brief letter written about the reality of the day.

Today is a day off from tending to wounds, doing ecg's , checking medication and blood pressures, discussing diabetes control, taking bloods, checking lung functions, discussing diets and weight, giving travel advice and vaccines, hormonal treatments and chemotherapy, disease modifying drugs, syringing ears, monitoring chronic diseases, listening and encouraging, and most of all inputting data into the ever hungry machine.

My brain slows to a pedestrian pace.

I miss Mr Owl - but I may have found a replacement waiting to be revealed from inside a block of fly tipped thermalite found on the coal tip that overshadows this garden.

I feel overshadowed. But burning slowly inside is an unquenchable fire - it is held in a glowing ember.

I still love this strange mix of post industrial and nature. It is both scruffy and beautiful.

I was once a working class boy who made dens and plasticine caterpillars. Now I am a working class man making a gar-den. I have found a resting place here - it is found inside me. I try to make the invisible visible in the only way I know how.

Here paintings brew
And a garden forms
And blackbirds pipe a tune.


Saturday, 25 July 2015

Control, light and planting - the mystery of the garden

Dear Monty,

Thank you for letting us know it is the year of light. If only that were true for everyone in every country.

There has been a good debate on ThinkinGardens about garden 'experts' which after reading the replies to Anne Wareham's article - made me realise perhaps we are all experts in our own preferred style of gardening.

Katherine Crouch www.katherinecrouch.com garden designer stated that the word garden means an enclosed place free from grazing animals. I love this idea of being hidden, enclosed - private - safe - peaceful. After the grazing of animals or the whirr of the mechanical sheep, the land can be cleared for planting and controlled to suit our own ideas of what a garden should be.

I was surprised to hear Piet Oudolf in an interview say that he did not like returning to past projects because he once had a bad experience seeing one of his schemes poorly maintained and weeded.
This made my very slow brain think ... "Wait a minute - that explains the unease I feel when looking at his 'naturalistic' planting schemes." For me - they are almost too sweet - too controlled - too artificially natural.

His design skills are superb and his plant knowledge is extensive - but I now realise that I'm not that keen on his style except when the gardens reach their autumn and winter phase. (All this judgement is based on photographs of his gardens which are admittedly breathtaking - and I'm not saying that they aren't beautiful.) I suppose this is all about taste.

Perhaps I am a lazy gardener which is why I like Anne Wareham and her garden (and her husband).
You may have noticed that I am partial to weeds and imperfection - which is a turn around for me.
I still need to exercise control but not as much as I used to like. I now appreciate my lawn of many colours which is more like a carpet or a tapestry rather than a pure grass sward.

All gardens are artifice - but there is a balance to be had which I find richly rewarding - the balance between the wild and the cultivated.

Speaking of which I have finished my first painting of Pembrokeshire's 'natural gardens' - it is also about light and mystery.


Post script :

Mr owl has flown from his perch at 2.30 am this morning. And I add a link to Noel Kingsbury's blog www.noels-garden.blogspot.co.uk - I had not read this before writing and thanks to Anne Wareham for pointing it out - is this what you call gardening zeitgeist ?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Embracing disease

Dear Monty, Anne, Charles, Noel, James, Alison ... and anyone who may be out there,

Is there anyone out there ?

To embrace the ravages of change by disease or fight ? - That is the question.

I have learnt to wait for nature's cure.

There is plenty of misery to be had if I aim for 'perfection' in the garden. I once hated daisies and other 'weeds' in the lawn but now I embrace them.

When I first noticed fungal disease burning through the old privet boundary hedge I panicked and felt that the garden was infested and doomed, but the inertia this created in me actually turned out to be a blessing because in what seemed to be a relatively short time opportunistic trees and shrubs begun to replace the privet. Buckthorn, hazel, hornbeam and honeysuckle. Even the privet revived !

The apple tree is always affected by brown rot - but then some years are worse than others, perhaps I should cut it down - yet it supports three mistletoe plants which come into their own in winter.

I have come to the place in my life where I embrace the vagaries of the natural world in my small back garden.
Admittedly I still edit out the worst of the damage and let the plants that fade - fade. The ones that remain seem to resist or defy the various diseases and insect attacks.
I know that I am at fault a lot of the time for planting things in the wrong places making them more vulnerable - but I am learning which plants do well and it makes me grow in confidence and I truly like the results.

Take heart, a garden can remain a garden despite pests and diseases.


Monday, 13 July 2015

Trying to forget the fires

Dear Monty,

Arson in the hills again. This weekend has brought fire and upset for our neighbours for the second time in a couple of months. I look to the positive things of life - the life affirming things. What is so sad is that eyes do not seem open to the beauty of this valley and its re-wilding after a long period of industrialisation and all the hope that is contained therein.

Hope in making gardens?

Making paintings ?

Being inspired ?

I still have hope


Saturday, 4 July 2015

Garden universe

Dear Monty,

It is the morning after the night before -I look out of the kitchen window onto the garden with mug of tea in hand. A drizzle morning - humid and no overnight thunderstorms. The forecast said sunshine.

It sometimes strikes me as odd (but then I am odd) that when I watch GW it is almost as if there is a parallel universe or a delayed signal between the universe at Longmeadow and here in Ystalyfera.

What do I mean by this ? It's a struggle to explain it in words but I was looking at the garden here last evening and I was deeply satisfied by the emergence of different yellows only to find later that right at the very end of the GW broadcast you moved through the yellows of the dry garden. I also spotted parallel plants - some of which I confess to not knowing the names of (apart from mullein). It cheers me to see that gardeners recognise beauty in similar combinations.

I confess it is a thrill because I have no real plant knowledge - this garden seems to grow itself and I just fiddle and edit the results.

I found this weed growing in the tangle of unkempt grass and weeds at the front of the house and dug it up for its stunning but small magenta flowers. I put it in the washing line border and it is beautiful in combination with the quaking grass, sage and alchemilla mollis especially in the evening when back lit. It's called balm-leaved figwort - according to my 1983 edition of Wild Flowers of Britain it is rare and at that time only found in Cornwall and Lundy Island ! Well it's now found in Ystalyfera. It is the bounty of nature.

I also planted some birds foot trefoil in the long grass boat-shaped border last year and it has matured and has grown tall among the grasses with multiple flower heads of pea-like yellow flowers to almost orange clusters with a blue-green foliage.

This is my universe.