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.


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The seeds of realism

Dear Monty,

What started this line of thought about realism was a conversation with the shaft of illuminating light that is Ray - a ray of sunshine. Ray is an orchid grower, salesman and expert.

I met Ray again at this year's Orchid Festival at where along with botanical artist, I had a stand exhibiting my distinctly  non botanical paintings.

Having made a comment to him about how one visitor to my stand understood where I was coming from - in terms of my preferred style of painting, Ray pointed out that it was obvious to him which of my paintings were purely academic observation and which were not. (Ray prefers realism which is objective observation.) I understood his viewpoint, because reality to him is about what is in front of your eyes and it shouldn't be complicated with anything else, reality is just reality.

I bought a beautiful book from one of the other stands in the festival called 'Art of Nature'.Within its pages are magnificent observational drawings and paintings of flora and fauna from around the world. The drawings were made in the early days of discovery in the 'New World' and were made by artists and scientists in order to understand and make sense of what they were seeing.
Realism was an important tool in describing what was seen - and yet there is a beauty beyond the science emanating from the drawings - and it is this that complicates - or maybe simplifies things!

I was going to entitle this blog - the seeds of doubt - because I think that now we perhaps understand too much and have lost the sense of awe which is beyond academic observation.

Being in nature lifts the spirit - the question of what the spirit is has probably also had many academic papers written about it. But for me it is a sense beyond our usual day to day existence that links us with the power house of this creative world. We know what we mean when we use such phrases.

My spirit was lifted here in the coal tip cloister garden when the sun lit up the different leaf forms and deepened the shade. The skipping flight of speckled wood and peacock butterflies and the buzz of common carder bees, hover flies and honey bees all combined in a mysterious harmony, along with the breeze making leaves clatter and shimmer.

My life is enhanced by these things and I wonder whether there is a place any more in contemporary life for mystery and enjoyment of what is seen without resorting to science.

In my naivety this thrill of stepping out into the garden today is about more than just observation, there are layers of reality from the superficial to the internal and even infinite.