Sunday, 16 July 2017

On a sea

Dear Monty,

Do you ever feel living life is a bit like being on a rolling sea ?
Today is a misty wet dull day of drooping foliage in the garden unlike last Wednesday which was bright warm and dry.

The garden , the weather and my spirit seem inextricably linked somehow.

One thing I am acutely aware of is the riches involved in being a garden 'owner'. I put owner in brackets because we really only inhabit and alter these spaces for such a brief time.

What follows is a diary recording of the sunny day that was 11/7/17.

A brief window of blue sky - waiting for the grass to dry.
I see the wren mouse-like creep between the shrubs and it brings a sense of unbridled joy to my turbulent heart. Turbulent with waves of self doubt.

A beetle I have never seen before - a dub nosed rounded beetle with a carapace like velvet - brown and  iridescent alternately as it moves. It appears to be soft and downy - but is as hard backed as any beetle. I try to photograph it with my inadequate phone camera but fail.

The blackbirds sneak to the raspberries hoping I do not see them, but they cannot help pipe one or two muffled staccato alarm calls as they zip off with the stolen goods. What they do not realise is that they are welcome to them this year as my gut is too queasy to eat them, and Sue hates the faff of picking them.

I think that God is a life force, gardens would engulf us if we stopped cutting them and shaping them. There is a powerful purposeful drive within plants to re- generate - for life to continue even if that life does not involve us and our ego.

All at once - a young Jay glides noisily into the willow growing out of next door's garage and a buzzard mews above me. The female blackbird has returned and sits on the wall panting and fluffed out in the heat. She waits for the opportunity to sneak another raspberry.

Despite what my friend Charles Hawes says of my coffee, today it is good. On finishing my coffee I dig and cut out the virused hydrangea which leaves a big hole in the border which is to be filled with a stunted but oriental looking potted pieris (oriental in my fantasy world).
While chomping away at the base of the plant with loppers I was greeted by a pristine comma butterfly - staggeringly beautiful with its olive green iridescent body and orange map speckled wings all ragged at the edges like a child's symmetrical blot painting. I also hear the red kite call which sounds like someone whistling for their dog, I look up into the dazzling sky but cannot see it. Shortly afterwards I see and hear a pair of sparrowhawks fly from the edge of the conifer wood and circle each other seemingly playing games in mid-air.

Here in this cloistered garden - this small intimate space - the vastness of life plays out right in front of my nose, how often I do not even see it, instead I look introspectively and just find a turbulent sea.

This all plays out and I understand my privileged place in it. Humbled by a beetle and the flight of birds. The grasses in the new border move in waves of a calmer sea.


Tuesday, 4 July 2017


Dear Monty,

Moor Rig

I have lost count of how many letters I have written to you. I have changed a lot in the intervening years, and so has my garden and how I now see it. We all know that gardens are in a constant state of flux. I have just read Anne Wareham's post on her website where she has posted photographs from the same window over a year, and it is great to see that waxing and waning, growing and changing, a reflection of our own lives.

coal tip cloister

This year my small garden has reached a level of maturity, and the cloistered effect I was after has become more obvious. The new beds have filled out remarkably quickly but now give more solidity to the space and provide alternative viewpoints which were sorely needed. I still have doubts about how good a garden it is - but then I have doubts about all kinds of things, whether I'm really an artist, whether I am a good example to others etc etc.

I have just returned from 2 weeks in the wilderness that is Grisedale. The cottage we stayed in which had no TV reception, no Internet or phone signal had an amazing little cottage garden that was very lightly gardened and contained lots of natives. It was surrounded by the typical low dry stone walls of the dales and had stunning views out toward the fells. All that could be heard were the haunting calls of curlew, lapwing, snipe and oystercatcher - their sight and sound evocative of my childhood - much of which was spent roaming the shore of the Gwendraeth Estuary. From the garden I watched kestrels hunting and red grouse in sudden flight disturbed by grazing swaledale sheep. Further up the beck we watched in awe as a hen harrier circled its territory. The garden was an oasis in the open fells.

The cottage surrounded by fells

In contrast we visited the haunting gardens of Lowther Castle near Penrith - the gardens are under restoration - there is a palpable atmosphere in the lost gardens - particularly the rock garden which had a mysterious romantic feel. In the main courtyard in front of the ruined building is a large parterre by Dan Pearson, it fitted in with its surroundings and its scale is perfect in conjunction with the house. I really hope they don't over tidy the rest of the gardens - the one criticism I have is that the gardens within the ruins have too neat an edge to them I just wanted a bit more wilderness and abandon.

Dan Pearson parterre

Rock Garden

Too neat

More intrigue and mystery

Finally we returned to Dalemain in Cumbria. Dalemain was a favourite of mine from a previous visit and I wanted to see how it had evolved. It retains an intimacy and is on a scale that I can relate to. I still love it.


Returning home I noticed how green everything was - the number of trees here in contrast to the dales. It is good to spend time away it really does make you see things afresh.

I don't like the red pelargoniums !


Monday, 12 June 2017

'Things are made to fade and fall away' ( Eliza Carthy)

Dear Monty,

We had very mixed weekend weather during the NGS opening of the Coal Tip Garden. Thank you for all those who visited and supported Rhos y Bedw too, the support and encouragement was amazing. You missed out Monty !

As much as we would like to think that gardens, our bodies and our buildings remain for ever - we all know about the fading and falling away ! I had to post a 'CAUTION' sign on the old pergola near the shed which has been falling down for a number of years. The shed houses some gardening tools - and my mower but has always been in my fantastic mind - a summer studio. The potential is there but the flesh is weak. I did once make a large fresco panel in that shed which has been sitting on a beautiful conservatory wall of a friend for some years, but that was about it. Since then the roof has begun to sag and the rain now gets in - in short it is a ruin.

During the open garden weekend I had some really interesting chats with fellow struggling garden makers; there is a kind of bond between us - they could see that there was no perfection here - and this seems to be an encouragement - perhaps more encouraging to others than 'perfection'? It was while talking about my falling and fading away shed that a neighbour and his keen garden maker partner said that they were throwing out a quantity of wrinkly tin roofing - alleluia ! So now I have the means to rebuild the roof, and hopefully it will not fall for some years to come - and I may also get a feature at the end of the garden that is sorely needed.

All of our gardens try to get away from us, and that was why it was so good to chat about it and be honest about our struggles. I enjoyed telling people that it is OK to have 'weeds' and the lawn doesn't have to be perfect. People seemed to think my garden was a lot of work - it really isn't .

I was also heartened that another 3 gardens are going to potentially join the scheme in the village - this is great because this ex-mining community needs a boost. We managed to raise over £200 even though the weather was dreadful on Saturday.



Monday, 29 May 2017

Three gardens

Dear Monty,

This time of year the owners of garden businesses and the media are attacking our senses with shows and merchandise, and I end up suffering from overload and stress that I need more to my garden to justify even calling it a garden.

I can't help thinking that I have made a mistake by opening my garden - because it is just really a weedy green clearing a controlled wilderness with one or two flowery things, a dog, a couple of chickens and the occasional grandchild or two. Oh yes and lots of washing on the line.

I visited two 'proper' gardens last weekend, Dyffryn House Gardens near Cardiff, and an NGS opening of the Glanusk Estate Gardens near Crickhowell. They are both large gardens - landscapes really. Dyffryn in particular is made to be seen from the long vista in front of the house, and the grand scale gives a sense of awe, but seeing these places close up I realise that weeds and diseases are ubiquitous and not only that, they are present even in the grandest of gardens. So all in all I feel reassured even with my dead and frosted hydrangeas.

Dyffryn House

Dyffryn House


Who said gardening is relaxing and good for mental health ?

Coal Tip Cloister Garden


Tuesday, 23 May 2017


Todays news brings a mixture of sadness, deep sorrow and tiredness. How can such acts of violence ever bring peace or order ? I cannot understand it.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Conversation, punctuation, strata.


The sculpted figures by have a conversation on this May morning. This moment in the Coal Tip Cloister Garden with iridescent beetle, blackbirds and a pointy dog is close to perfection to me.
Fresh green in the morning light - it is best seen from the kitchen terrace - and from the pergola in evening light.

So we learnt on GW last night that you have been influenced by Penelope Hobhouse and by Italian gardens. I in turn have been influenced by Italian gardens and the great romantic garden of The Veddw in Monmouthshire. As I have discussed in one of my early letters to you I was also influenced by the long vistas of Versailles which seemed to stick in my formative brain - I had never seen such a garden before, my experience of gardens had been small back gardens, rockeries and municipal parks.

I suppose that is why I feel so privileged to have even this modest space - space enough to create an illusion of an Italianate cloister. This garden is not about individual plants - but about placement and punctuation. A narrative, a conversation.

We are open over the weekend of June 10th-11th with the NGS. Teas and a few cakey things will be available along with the opportunity to purchase some original artwork.

Come on Monty - have a cup of tea.