Saturday, 14 October 2017

The real reason for making a garden

Dear Monty,

I received my copy of 'Down to Earth' this week - it has a very blue cover which matches my laptop.

I have to admit to being a little disappointed by it - especially after listening to your introductory talk to bloggers on a rooftop in London.

I perhaps expected more of the philosophical reasons for making a garden than a book on how and when and what to do according to the seasons. Nevertheless I do need to be reminded of the practicalities - and when you do bring insights into the why of garden making, it made me smile - a kind of spiritual recognition.

I believe we grow into a garden over time - we get a feel for it and start to carve it and build it according to an inward response to the place. I often wonder what I would make of a new space. It must be a real challenge for designers to come up with a design that they will not be able to tweak over the years.

I love the incidental - how light makes such a huge difference - today for instance - an overcast dully lit, flat kind of day suddenly changed as the sun broke through - so I rushed out to try and capture it in my camera (as you suggest) because it helps us to remember what works and what doesn't.

It is also so true that we make gardens for ourselves - I believe they are a very personal form of expression - a bit like a painting or a sculpture, and a real positive in this tired and weary world when they incidentally bring pleasure to others.


Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sitting in the thinking room thinking of blight

Dear Monty,

Here I am sitting in the thinking room thinking of blight.

Yesterday I had found a new place to sit in the garden - sitting gives me time to think - no digital devices just me and the leafy loamy smells of autumn. By sitting and contemplating the shapes trees and shrubs are making, a kind of subliminal desire to cut or prune seeps into my mind and up I get and cut a branch from a potted beech.

I then look at the box rectangle that divides the right hand beds and notice dying circles on the top surface as though a corrosive substance had been poured from above - blight - my box has succumbed to blight.

Now I will have to think about replacing that shape with alternative plants, it is what it is.

I think about the cotoneaster that has formed a similar shape by the garden gate - it will take time and this is the frustration of it - it was time that brought the box to the peak of formly fruition !

Today though all negative thoughts are wiped clean by the light, and instead of feeling frustrated light brings hope, butterflies and dragonflies.

And I again realise how fortunate I am and how this garden seems to be forming miraculously around me.


Monday, 2 October 2017

How the garden saves me

Dear Monty,

Sometimes I am tempted to enter the world of the blogosphere and apply to the blogger awards ! I still have this drive to seek approval. But I have resisted the temptation and just sing my songs to the ether.

I in no way believe I have anything new to say - or anything which is beyond anyone else's ken. Or anything that you ; or many others may say in a much more articulate way. In fact I am in awe of the creativity displayed on the www.

But writing in my journal and translating it into letters to you somehow helps.

I suppose I seek connection with like minds.

I read a sobering article in the Saturday Guardian by Robert Macfarlane where he discusses how important naming nature is in order to appreciate it and that we continue to do so from generation to generation. The book he has written in conjunction with the artist/illustrator Jackie Morris aims to add to the impetus to inform young and old minds alike, lest we forget - as we seemingly are doing by becoming more and more distant from the actuality of the great outdoors.

I suppose I hope in some minuscule way that I also contribute to this process by publishing my letters and my scribbles to the world in this format.

Out of the kitchen window on a wet Sunday the fine rain creates a veil through which the orange and burgundy leaves of the Norway maple form a rich and colourful tapestry with the yellowing apple leaves and the slowly coppering beech.

The sideways slice of the kitchen window - a frame into the 'wild' wooded space.

It lifts my heart - this brief moment before the leaves fall and the burning riches of autumn fade.

The fire is lit
The sleeping dog is entranced
And the hills misted.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

No flies on me ?

Dear Monty,


Woodland glade ? I keep losing the sun due to the gigantic firs of the 'big house'. This time of year the trees block the sun until 10.30 am.

The robin sings territorial songs which are more noticeable in these last few days. I also hear the mistle thrush and the terrible din of the beautiful jay.

Today is a muddle day. My head is still spinning due to slow drug withdrawal. 3 weeks off antidepressants. Some days the world spins in a giddy uneven way - then others I hardly notice any symptoms. Today is spinning slowly, very slowly.

The sun strikes the paper I am writing on as the earth does its daily circuit - spinning with my head - circles and orbs.

Values - do I care about anyone other than myself ? I tend to people's wounds both physical and emotional - but do I care ?  Do I pour myself out for my neighbour ?

I saw a red kite adjusting its tail and wings in order to circle slowly over the Ystalyfera rooftops, this after dropping off my drawing to a local gallery - of a red kite flying over the post industrial hills - an omen ?

Rebecca Buck unknowingly touched a raw place in me by saying that my artwork is more confident and free than it used to be. It is true - how tight and small my life has been. I know it and try to forget it by sitting in my garden and becoming a resting place for flies who clean and preen their hairy exoskeletons rubbing their 'hands' with glee.

The garden is now a place - it has a real sense of being a room - a sitting place.
This year, this month is the best it has been so far in its history.

A heron - lap-winged - turns about in slow motion and descends to the river.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Festivals and boundaries revisited - a diary of days

Dear Monty Don ,

I address you again in the vain hope you still read my letters. I must admit that they may be getting a little repetitive, so I understand if you have tuned out.

Autumn is here in the little cloister garden, and with this season comes reflection and the end of the summer festivals.

9/08/17 A fox calls out in the dark outside the Band Hall - probably in the park - it sounds like a frightened child, a strange sound but one that reminds me of the seasons change. Arcadia - a vision of harmony between man and landscape - can we all have a slice of Arcadia ? I prefer a tension between Arcadia and Palladian, between form and wilderness.

10/08/17 Today I feel like I'm an actor in a film about my own life - I feel detached from the reality of it.

13/10/17 Do we all walk tightropes every day ? I walk a tightrope between good and evil - the tightrope is in my mind - it can cause me to wobble and lean one way or the other and I feel in constant danger of falling off it. I walk the tightrope when I am talking with other people - saying, not saying - holding back, letting go - constantly trying to balance.

Our minds are such complex things and it always amazes me how we have all survived on this planet for as long as we have. My mind and my heart have parted company today - or that is how it feels. How do I reconcile them ? I have forgotten how to sing.

20/08/17 A message to me - 'Guard your hearts and minds'.

22/08/17 I glory in the rust on the cast iron umbrella base and the low flight of the dragon fly and its clicking wings glinting in the morning sun. Yesterday I saw the flash of turquoise and orange of kingfishers along the banks of the Brecon to Monmouth canal with my friend Charles Hawes. I glory in the autumn bubbling tune of the robin singing to my left - it is the word of life in song, one of beauty, colour and light - but is also territorial - this is my patch !

I walked Penwyllt with the dog. Blue - grey stone almost alien - with the vast curve of Fan Gyhirych cutting clouds in two and the purple tones of scented heather - suddenly a fox a deep red with a blackened brush runs ahead of us on the disused railway line.

My village of Ystalyfera looks rural from Penwyllt - a series of terraces topped by a mountain. Below us a buzzard mews.

Back in the garden I rearrange the potted trees to produce new vistas. A raven with gravel in its throat shouts its approval as it flies overhead. The autumn borders are sparser than I would have liked - but I have moved grasses and intend to move some more when the season dies down. I am going to order some asters from to extend the season next year.

30/08/17 A week later on the same hill - the same stillness and more sun but no fox. Common blue butterflies both male and female along with small heath butterflies dance in late summer circles. I must paint some for my stand at the orchid festival at the National Botanic Garden of Wales - my annual treat.

3/09/17 Festival. I managed to get some paintings done in time for the show. A damp festival. I grabbed an early coffee and took it into the gallery space to contemplate the current exhibition. Here I am sitting surrounded by beautiful intricate drawings of endangered rain forest - huge trees and twisting vines. What is man that you should be mindful of him ? At this stage of the brief life we are given I remain 'at sea'. All I can really cling to is that having faith is what makes sense of an insensible life. We see beauty but cannot hold on to it. We see it then consume it, and it is gone. What makes it beautiful is the spirit that inhabits nature - that causes the trees to spiral and the primates arms to mirror the hanging vines. The leaves and the multitude of forms, the light, the specialised bees and the flowers.

Where is our festival ? Perhaps it is in the deep wiring of our souls. Can you find it among the stuff that crowds into our heads ?

My festival is in the leaves and colours of autumn.

6/09/17  I walk to the landscaped and reclaimed coal tip called 'The Diamond' in my neighbouring village of Ystradgynlais and see a haze of blue field scabious - as beautiful to me as the haze of blue seen in the woodland in spring. The flowers were alive with insects which lifted my spirit. There were various species of hoverfly - many common carder bees, honey bees and the first sighting this year of a pristine and intensely coloured small tortoiseshell butterfly.

10/09/17 Another wet Sunday. All the earth is under stress - it groans with the weight of our treatment of it. We have missed the target of benevolence and goodness, peace and harmony. We are outgrowing and consuming our planet. Benevolence and peace is a scarce commodity. Our brains are hard wired to create territories and boundaries to be defended.

I build walls around my personal bubble of a head life. My garden, and perhaps yours, reflects this - high walled - hedged about - a refuge, no visitors unless invited.

Boundaries are both good and bad - if we have a sense of 'ownership' then we also have a sense of defensiveness. Ownership and defensiveness go hand in hand. Once perhaps the whole earth belonged to everyone - but our brains cannot cope with equality and freedom. We see this in the news or in our own actions when someone violates our personal spaces. The more we own the greater the defense - the boundaries and the sense of entitlement.

I am struggling to see the good in boundaries - perhaps we need freedom to roam - to see the whole earth as a garden to be nurtured, tended and cared for ?


Saturday, 26 August 2017

Interesting ?

Dear Monty,

Sue Beesley of Bluebell Cottage Garden recently posted a comment on Facebook which pointed to the fact that when Gardener's World visits large gardens it is generally to show admiration but when visiting small gardens it is to give advice. It got me thinking - is this because generally small gardens are less interesting ? It is much harder to create interest in a smaller space, and I am beginning to think that I really do need to up my horticultural knowledge to improve my patch.

In the meantime I have decided to try and make the Coal -Tip Cloister Garden more interesting by moving things around and playing with the structure.

I happened upon some steel trellis for sale in the small back lane in Hay on Wye , it was an impulsive buy because the ecclesiastical shapes the steel rods have been fashioned into fitted the theme of a cloister garden.
I moved the trellis and the iron bench around the garden to try and find a balance between practicality and composition.

It is essential that I improve my planting and have earmarked some plants for moving in the next couple of months. For now I hope the structural elements employed on a very limited budget will help carry the garden through Autumn.

Not sure yet.


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 !