Poetry, pomegranate and persimmon

Prévisible, voilà ce que je suis. Il a suffi d’un jour de lumière cristalline à la porte de février pour que des mots s’en viennent. Après des mois de silence, soudain quelques poèmes tambourinent au portillon, des poings et des pieds, dégringolant comme Bifur, Bofur, Bombur et Thorin sur le paillasson de Bilbo… mais de nuit. C’est un peu dommageable, car une ou deux heures de sommeil en plus m’aideraient à mieux comprendre ce qu’ils me veulent.

L’hiver aussi est prévisible : il a suffi que je détourne les sous réservés à l’achat d’un recueil (onéreux) de Jaccottet vers l’acquisition d’un grenadier et un plaqueminier (l’arbre à kaki), tous deux amateurs de grandes chaleurs, pour que la neige et le gel s’invitent. Ce n’est pas idéal, mais entre nous, ce n’est pas le Midwest, et si ces arbres crèvent je m’accorde le droit de leur en vouloir. Le fait que je sois coupable de quelques moqueries à l’égard des Anglais qui cultivent des oliviers n’a rien à faire ici et ne sera pas mentionné.

In English please (apologising non-apology).

OK. So it turns out I bought, with the money I was given for the purchase of an expensive poetry collection by Philippe Jaccottet, a pomegranate tree and a persimmon tree. That was just the signal Winter was waiting for to push a few good freezing nights and cover us in snow. Now would be the time, I guess, to apologise for the many sarcastic side glances or remarks I may have thrown in the direction of English growers of olive trees. I would like to feel sorry… but I don’t. Feel free, English owners of olive trees, to snigger at my own attempts and to save sharp comments for my probable future lack of edible crop. I will concede that you were right to anticipate on global warming. 🙂

 

 

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Number one enemy

Just a short note. You may have noticed my propensity for mentioning slugs and snails. In fact, I believe doing so will strengthen my claim to be part of the great family of English / British gardeners. After all, this island could well be renamed Slugland. One of my first posts on this blog was dedicated to the little creatures (here). But truth be said, I do not hate them. Over the years, I have given up on the more cruel ways to get rid of them and have now come to the conclusion that one has to share (up to a certain point). So there we are : slugs and snails  are not my number one enemy on this little plot of land. Indeed, there are creatures I dislike more than them, for instance aphids (brrrrr…). As for the creature I loathe above all others… It isn’t a critter, nor a blind slimy wriggly thing from the depths of hell, no : it is a soft, furry, white-pawed and gracious looking mammal, the likes of which you find colonising your Facebook feed if you happen to have befriended missionaries of the cute therapy cult (there are an awful lot of them), j’ai nommé THE NEIGHBOUR’S CAT(S). The reasons for its election as supreme Suppôt de Satan ? They can be summed up very quickly : it soils, it kills needlessly, it taunts. It is the ugly face of domesticated nature. It also knows very well what to make of my threats and pressing invitations to visit my oven. None of the devices I have invested in, in order to keep it at bay, have had any effect. In a nutshell, the feline Foe teaches me about powerlessness and, in time, maybe, about humility. Meanwhile, I still dream of waving the water hose at it. Shoo !

The dead of Winter

January already. I have been thinking there seems to be no such thing as “the dead of Winter”. Not these days, at least. Of course, the previous years have taught us that the coldest part of Winter might very well be hugging Spring rather than Autumn, and there are plenty of weeks left for the Great Jack to come and choke plants still in his glistening hands. However, if “the dead of Winter”, that silent, darkest heart of Winter, exists, it must be have been very discreetly hiding between two sighs in a night when I slept soundly.

I have laid down manure sometime in November, on two thirds of the flower beds. I intended to wait for some vegetation to die back, which would facilitate the mulching of the rest of the garden. But death took its time, and Advent and Christmas preparations filled the days (how many school shows ?). To be honest, the thought of clay squelching under my shoes wasn’t too enticing either : we don’t have a garden path and the “lawn” is basically worm-cast with a bit of green in between. So here I am, nearing mid-January, with a half-mulched not-yet-asleep garden. Some plants haven’t even had time to die back that others are awakening already : if snowdrops and winter aconites are sadly missing from my garden, a few hellebores are getting ready to show off. Unfortunately, I noticed the other day that something has been boring into the flower buds. Whether snails and slugs are to blame, I decided last year to forfeit the use of slug pellets (and have heard they might become illegal anyway), so I’ll have to bite the bullet, hoping the culprits leave me enough flowers to enjoy. On this topic, the cover of this book amused me greatly when I found it in the local bookshop :

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I wonder if anybody has read it ? I suspect the answer to the title is a simple NO. And where would the fun be otherwise ?

These pictures are out of season (and of bad quality) but I would like to share them anyway. This is what the maples looked like last November (where you can see the new fence replacing the rotten one where the old ivy lived. I am hoping it will weather down quickly).

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Confused primroses.

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My camellia sasanqua Rainbow – the flower of my wedding (in October).

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How I am looking forward to this Spring, which will be the first in which I will enjoy the fruit of my gardening efforts since coming back from France !

 

Autumn garden

I have been wanting to write about the garden for so long… A few notes in the Gardening Diary page is all I could manage. But leave it too long and then you don’t know where to start, ending up with a disorganised post…

Most garden blogs I follow have been stressing what an extraordinary summer it has been: so hot, so dry. For weeks, members of several (if not all) Facebook gardening groups were seen tracking the mere possibility of rain up and down the country, each of us envious of any sign of dark clouds pictured in another vicinity, and triumphantly showing off drop-covered leaves whenever the winds would favour our own parched bit of land. Only on the surface was it fun : of course, somber considerations on climate change and the fragility of our (near) future on this planet could be felt behind seemingly light-hearted comments. I don’t remember how many weeks we went without any proper rain in my part of Kent. I couldn’t bring myself to let my plants die and I confess to having watered every few days, knowing it might all be in vain as I was due to be away for more than a month. As for the green bit in the middle, the ex-lawn so to speak, it was the same yellow and brown hue as everywhere else in the country. Even the clover struggled. My lovely neighbour agreed to help with the more precious plants, but he too was going to go on holiday soon. After his departure, the garden and the new pond would have to fend for themselves. Thus I left for France, prepared for a very sad return, having bid farewell to those plants I was sure to find dead, from damp loving creatures that wisdom should have kept me from purchasing in the first place (mainly three astilbe, a Sanguisorba obtusa – pimprenelle du Japon, my son’s little dionaea muscipula – dionée attrape-mouche) to acer palmatum seedlings and other potted and therefore more vulnerable green friends (not to mention our first tomato plants).

I left, I came back, I saw.

First, the “lawn” : of a vivid green, and of an endearing though not very respectable height.

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Then, the hedge : big, naughty, escaped, free.

The pond : full to the brim. Finally, the plants : alive, the whole lot. As for the little carnivorous beauty : it was thriving ! After our neighbout’s departure, Canterbury had apparently been showered by a storm or two, of the generous kind. However, tidying up would have to wait : we only had time to quickly mow the grass before leaving for Lancashire for another week. September arrived and I started clearing, as well as cramming in as many of my foxgloves as possible in the space available. Foxgloves galore next Spring !

The little pond, my favourite thing, in July and October :

 

The heuchera at the front is Alabama Sunrise (how could I resist that name ?) and its leaves will soon cover the plastic edge of the pond liner.

I couldn’t resist the urge to cut off another strip of grass in order to be able to plant more stuff. Here is the new border, looking a bit young, where my favourite thing is the pheasant’s tail grass. I can’t wait for it to grow and fill the space.

Quite a lot of hacking back and pruning was required. I carried on with the tentative pruning of a box (previously barrel-shaped) in the niwaki-style which I had started last year. For the first time, I used garden twine to try and train branches into the desired direction. This scupture will require a few more seasons’ growth to reach a better shape.

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I also pruned my oddly shaped Acer palmatum Redwine which is a vigorous and messy grower. It was a bit daunting but I am happy with the result. Unfortunately, I don’t have a suitable picture of what it looked like before.

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Our other shady bed now (with the Japanese maple starting to show colour) :

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Some of my favourite flowers and plants from mid-summer until now (the pictures are captioned if you want to know the name of the plants) :

Some babies for next year :

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Next things on the list : buy some more daffodil bulbs, plant the allium sphaerocephalon bulbs, sow honesty, and… get rid of a lot of ivy (I will tell you about that…).

I will leave you with funny pics of my kids’ idea for mulching / pot decoration and a brave little holly.

Happy gardening to you !

Garden (and pond) miscellaneous 3

Our small pond has been in function for 19 days now. During that time, we have had very little rain, almost nothing, and I feel increasingly anxious about it. The good news is, the liner doesn’t seem to be leaking, in spite of the fact that it is irregularly supported underneath (very hard to backfill properly with a preformed liner equipped with shelves). Alas, this week, the string algae have started to really prosper. Barley straw extract hasn’t had any visible clearing effect so far. We’ll see. It’s early days. More important is the fact that we have gorgeous froglets, tadpoles, at least one pond snail et a multitude of mosquito larvae happily jerking all over the surface. Hum.

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This very bad picture shows a random edging made of bits of concrete (which were unearthed in the digging process) and flintstones. The latter have been carried home from Broadstairs beach by my heroïc husband – believe me, they look small but are heavy. I hope to get some more and gradually replace or hide the concrete. And yes, I need to fix my camera’s excessive contrast problem.

Not quite one of the university ponds yet.

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Now for the rest of the garden. Yesterday, I dug up one of my twin paeonies. I know. It hasn’t flowered this year : a few buds formed but didn’t develop into flowers. After that, the poor plant was engulfed in beautiful love-in-the-mist, hypericum and various other things. Well done if you can distinguish it in the following pictures (I love how love-in-the-mist looks like peacock feathers).

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So, up it came. In its place, I planted a small Philadelphus Snowbelle and covered the bare soil around it with pots. The uprooted paeony has not been discarded in the green bin yet. Instead, it was dumped under a golden euonymus, in case I feel like rehousing it in a pot in the next few days. After all, I have had it for some years and it did flower in the past. Here are its twin plant’s flowers (as you can see, hardly the Sarah Bernhardt it was supposed to be !).

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And now, totally random pictures :

I don’t know the name of this climbing rose but I sure like its flowers.

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The lupin is bearing a second flush of spikes but its leaves are a powdery mildew mess by now. Was better last month.

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My dark delphiniums have done better than the mauve ones. I also have a sky blue one, but I have the impression it flowers later in the summer.

The Philadelphus Snowbelle :

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The shady bed last month :

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The sunny bed last month and now :

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The colours of Broadstairs cliffs at the moment (I couldn’t resist taking a tiny sample of the Jacobaea maritima) :

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A number of summer flowering plants are on the verge of coming out, eryngiums, echinacea, phlox, hydrangeas, verbenas, echinops, orleya, wild carrots, shasta daisy… I hope they will let themselves be admired before we leave for the summer holidays at the end of July. Happy gardening to you too !

Jane, Paul and the tadpoles

The exceptional weather explains how little I blogged about gardening, in spite of a wild and unrequested desire to share everything that grows on my small plot – I was too busy outside, enjoying each day of sun as if it was to be the last. I can’t say I remember such a sunny and warm Spring in Canterbury.

In May, my in-laws came down to visit and took me to Goodnestone Park, where Jane Austen, my mother-in-law’s favourite writer, spent some time.

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The four-century-old sweet chestnut, which needs no comment.

The walled garden’s glorious wisteria was still in bloom, as were some beautiful tree paeonies.

Numerous other paeonies were about to burst open – one week later and we would have been walking in a Chinese painter’s dream. Nevertheless, as always, it is the arboretum I loved the most. Visiting the Park on a weekday, we were almost alone walking the woodland paths where rhododendrons and azaleas were still in flower.

I had never seen an enkianthus before.

We disturbed the head gardener, Paul, for a long chat (or a series of questions by my father-in-law). As we left him, I couldn’t help seeing he had plants to sell… and me, not enough cash in my purse. Paul was amazing and was ready to let me take a plant away for what little money I had, but then my mother-in-law offered to pay. That is how I went home with a Phlomis russeliana, an unnamed echinacea and an equally unknown rudbeckia (will have to wait for flowers to guess a bit more). To house them, I had to move plants around again, as usual. A pic of the phlomis, behind the alchemilla.

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And then came the tadpoles.

A little pond project had been in my mind for a few months, but there was nothing planned. I contented myself with bothering people with my desire for a small pond (or rather a big one but as I only own a small garden…). My sister-in-law, in York, has built a small and attractive water feature in her own garden and, though I lack her keen artist’s eye for proportions and beauty, I thought I could try something similar. Later, that was. In a few months. When I’d have time. Until my husband and kids came in one evening through the garden gate… with a box full of tadpoles they had rescued from a pond which was drying out.

The tadpoles in the pond a few weeks before the disaster. Don’t they look like mice ?

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We weren’t the only ones to have noticed how dangerously low the water level had fallen, and on the day my kids collected the tadpoles, many other concerned citizens were manoeuvering big buckets, trying to do their bit – what was left of the pond looked like a simmering soup, with hundreds or thousands of panicked creatures wriggling. By luck, our water butt bought in November and forgotten near the bike box had recently been installed, thus providing some rain water for the bucket in which we housed the tadpoles, for want of anything better. Followed a frantic search on various websites, evenings with the tape measure in different corners of my garden, scratching my head, and boiled spinach scattered on the surface of the water. One preformed pond liner was purchased, followed by a change of heart and a bigger one (pond liner, not heart). Having found a froglet dead in the bucket (and eaten by the others), and another one which had managed to get out climbing on a stick we’d put in the bucket to that effect, we decided to move the tadpoles into the smaller pond liner whilst waiting for the better one to arrive. Alas, as the liner wasn’t held by any soil, one side collapsed under the weight of the water, and the tadpoles had to be rescued again. I spent two days praying the desired liner would be delivered quickly.

It came. We dug, even the neighbour who wanted a bit of fun. To make space, a nice choisiya and a dwarf cypress were sacrificed (the choisiya was rehoused in a pot, but I am not sure it will make it, so hard was the pruning). I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say that, next time, I will buy a simple butyl liner and dig the shape I want. The tadpoles moved in and looked happy. I threw some ivy leaves in to provide a bit of shelter, whilst waiting for the delivery of aquatic plants (again, I ordered too many, considering the size of our pond, but what can I do…).

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Meanwhile, I surrounded the pond with plants from elsewhere in the garden, then added astilbe Ellie and a little maple (the good old Acer palmatum dissectum Garnet).

I am aware the purple dianthus, the shasta daisy and the dark-leaved geranium placed at the front mightn’t belong there or together, but I struggle with any bare bit of good soil and am happy trying. As for the very aesthetic stuff on top of the pond in the last picture, it will stay until the aquatic plants can provide cover – we have quite a lot of birds and notably blackbirds in the garden, and I hear they are partial to a bit of amphibian food (I don’t blame them, I am French after all, but hey, I am providing bird food).

So, I know the bits of concrete are not ideal (not to mention the fact that in the second picture, they look a lot like bad teeth), but I could say they were very locally sourced as they came out during the digging process. Ideally, it would be more natural to let the grass come to the edge of the pond, but again, I have no turf available, and I need my bit of planting. The water level should be higher, and I am hoping for some rain which the weather forecast keeps denying us in East Kent. All I want now is some happy frogs. 🙂

Fièvre du jardinier

La voisine est au téléphone. Elle insiste pour que son interlocuteur pense à s’enduire de crème solaire. “We wouldn’t want premature ageing now, would we ?” ; rire.

Je suis sur le banc au fond du jardin, à la fournaise. Les bras me brûlent, les mains, les genoux sous ma robe. Annoncé par un fourmillement féroce sous la peau, le rouge à venir enfle comme une cloque, ça fait mal, c’est bon. Juste sous mon nez se déploient, fraîches encore et comme glissant entre les nappes de lumière, les feuilles des delphiniums, du chardon bleu, des macerons et des benoîtes, sur lesquelles les lames du soleil s’allongent, luisance liquide. Elles sont sans épaisseur, pure surface, miroirs, capteurs, et je m’étonne qu’elles ne s’étiolent ni ne se racornissent, ou du moins laissent deviner un effort, comme les mains crispées des pivoines, champs de manœuvre des fourmis inlassables.

Sourde à ses protestations, je coule mon corps dans le bois frémissant du banc. Dans mon crâne sonné, ma cervelle est près de tourner à l’œuf dur. Dur aussi le bleu du ciel ; dur, le désir de croître des graines de digitales que je sème, l’index du soleil à blanc sur la nuque ; dure, et parfaite, l’arête de l’instant.

Je marche le nez à terre, guettant le long des murs les fruits des semis du vent. Les jours fastes, des touffes de mauvaises herbes choisies pour leur farouche splendeur viennent s’installer chez moi. Je fais des détours pour hanter les coins où croît la valériane rouge échappée des jardins, que je guigne sans oser y toucher – la racine ne viendra probablement pas, et puis ça ne se fait pas, ici, même si c’est légal. Il y a aussi cette lavande pionnière qui a décidé de s’installer dans une fissure de l’asphalte, derrière ma poubelle bleue, que je déracine mal et rempote dans un terreau dont la générosité l’amoindrira, s’il ne la tue. Je la pose à côté des renoncules et l’admoneste – allez ma grande, bats-toi, montre un peu de quoi tu es faite. Pour faire un peu de place à un bout de ruine-de-Rome chipé au pied du mur du jardin des quakers, je déloge un plant d’herbe-à-Robert dont la constellation conquérante s’étend sur un diamètre de cinquante centimètres. Pourquoi ? Accès de fièvre du jardinier qui, pour une plante à venir, autant dire une vision, se laisse aller à détruire ce qui est. On m’avait prévenue : “You’re there already, thinking : grow, grow, grow, die, die, die !”. Et moi qui révère la vigueur indomptable des mauvaises herbes et ne viens affronter le moindre pissenlit que prête à faire allégeance, consciente de ma défaite, je me suis surprise ce matin à héberger l’idée absurde de me défaire d’un de mes érables, sous le prétexte qu’il est trop vigoureux, pas assez aristocratique. Je n’en ferai rien, mais finirai probablement par rogner encore sur la “pelouse”. Quant au grand forsythia, dont la santé vacille, il a raison de trembler dans son écorce.

Pour courber la fièvre, je vais au bois. Dix minutes de marche, et ceci :

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Garden miscellaneous (2)

Une matinée bien employée pour une grenouille de ma sorte consiste à  :

– Déposer les enfants à l’école.
– Avaler en vitesse quelque chose et vérifier que les quinze livres sterling économisées sont toujours dans le portefeuille.
– Se ruer en ville aussi vite que le permettent des talons un chouïa trop ambitieux pour trouver, au milieu du marché de Saint George’s Street, l’étal de plantes. Le choix est un peu moins alléchant que la semaine dernière, mais il reste de quoi se satisfaire, quelques incontournables des jardins anglais. Deux delphiniums violet foncé, un autre bleu (foncé aussi), un phlox paniculata Mike’s Choice qui fera pendant à mon phlox paniculata Mount Fuji, et trois petits pots de cosmos sonata blancs dans les bras, rentrer à toute vitesse, manquer se rompre la cheville.
– Sortir de la cabane à outils la pelle, constater qu’on n’a pas assez de force pour l’enfoncer dans l’argile, se saisir de la truelle mieux aiguisée et se lancer dans une réduction mesurée de la “pelouse”, meilleure solution pour planter davantage quand l’espace se fait désirer.
– Feindre d’avoir oublié qu’on avait décidé de laisser aux iris de Hollande jusqu’à mi-mai pour fleurir, ou plutôt écouter son instinct et son expérience, lesquels savent que ces bulbes ne fleuriront plus (they don’t earn their keep, comme on dit ici), et enfoncer la fourche avec délice. Empiler le tout sur les bouts de “pelouse”.
– Dégager du parterre les autres plantes (Coreopsis Early Sunrise, Penstemon Phoenix quelque chose, ciboulette, polémoine bleue), afin de les réorganiser, mais sans oser toucher les agapanthes, parce qu’elles sont bien capables de vous le faire payer- en somme, parce qu’on les craint (on connaît sa place dans la hiérarchie du jardin).
– Verser un petit sac de 20 litres de compost sur le tout, demander pardon aux lombrics que la fourche blessera, et planter ou replanter tout son petit monde.
– Se réjouir, se féliciter, sauter à cloche-pied, et considérer avec reconnaissance l’amoncellement de nuages sombres qui menace pluie.

Avant

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Après

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Vous me direz qu’à première vue, la différence ne justifie pas un tel débordement d’autosatisfaction, et je reconnais volontiers que ce n’est pas Versailles, mais vous verrez que cet été, ce sera bien joli.

Au passage, saluer les narcisses Sir Winston Churchill, qui sentent si bons, et puis les tulipes Groenland (ce sont les roses et vertes), compagnes des Spring Green tant aimées.

Garden miscellaneous (1)

I’ve decided to stop pretending there is a theme to what I post about my garden, when all I want to do is to share pictures and let the joy spread. Hence the title.

Today is, according to the weather forecast, the last day of sunshine. The mini-summer comes to an end, but, boy was it good while it lasted !

Yesterday, while inspecting my garden, I suddenly noticed that the bearded irises were going to flower.

Even though I look at my plants very carefully almost everyday, I never manage to catch the precise moment when the flower bud swells inside the leaf-looking thing and silently detaches itself, flame or teardrop-shaped. That elusive birth remains an enduring mystery. To me, they evoke the moon appearing as a cloud drifts away. Something about them is reminiscent of old Japanese or Chinese paintings (other than the fact that irises were often depicted in them).

On the other hand, I have a strong suspicion this messy entanglement of dutch iris leaves will produce nothing worthy at all.

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I’ll give them until mid-May to prove me wrong, if they don’t want to end up in the green bin. They were one of the first plants I had. I had no idea what I was doing. They did give a few good flowers in the past, of the ordinary purple-blue kind, but I could really use the space for something more interesting.

The hostas are opening up. Prayers to the God of gardens to preserve them from the hated molluscs.

(Hosta June and Hosta Canadian Blue)

I am mightily pleased with Narcissus tazetta Martinette.

They were worth the wait, for their heavenly scent. With time, I am more and more drawn towards smaller varieties of daffodils. I shall try to plant more of these beautiful flowers. Surely, one can always find space for a few more daffs, no ?

Sadly, in one of my two pots of ranunculus, all the flower buds have been destroyed. More precisely, they seem to have been excavated from inside. If you know what can cause that, I’d be grateful to learn.

On the Alexanders, I found those two little guys. Again, if you know what they are called, please let me know.

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Oh, and a patch of weeds, for good measure.

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Are these willow herbs ? If so, they are allowed to stay. I have also allowed Herb Roberts to grow a bit everywhere. It is gorgeous and so easy to pull up if you grow tired of it.

I hope you are enjoying Spring too !

May it last !

Few places are as beautiful as England when the sun shines as it does this week – it’s that dazzling green. There are so many occasions of exaltation and gratitude that I feel dizzy.

Walking accross the field to go to town, yesterday, I thought I would love to have a blog section called : “Ce que j’ai vu de plus beau aujourd’hui” – “The most beautiful thing seen today”. How and what to choose ? In spite of the flowers, I think I would have to give the prize to that tender-green haze floating around the poplars’ crowns as they start to leaf out. It is so thin, almost intangible, barely perceptible against the bright blue sky, and yet, the sign of an unstoppable force.

All is not perfect, even in my protected little corner of the world. I found the baby blackbird on my lawn. It was laying there, uneaten, its eyes open. I suspect the magpie, as the neighbours’ cat is a lazy, floppy thing only apt to soil the flower beds. Since then, I haven’t seen Mrs Black go back to her nest to feed any other chick… She is still going about in the garden, though, and Mr Black has reappeared. They may be moving from the ivy into the firethorn, which undoutedly provides better protection, but competition is fierce, if the sparrows’ indignant cries are to be believed. However, Mr or Mrs Little Red is still living in the pouch nest offered by Grandma, and I keep my fingers crossed for baby robins !

I have been spending whole days in the garden, planting out Orleya grandiflora seedlings which were trying to root through the capillary mat, sowing white cosmos (my favourite flower of all) and Californian poppies, mulching with horse manure (before the poppy seeds were thrown in, but after the cosmos had been sown – I know I am stupid, but hey, they are tough). I have also dug up a fuchsia and moved it under the boxwood (yes, the poor plant I tried to niwaki-prune last autumn). I expect the displaced fuchsia will be sulking forever. My unsuspecting walk in town ended up with a few additions to the plantations : Astilbe Vision in Pink, another bleeding heart (“les boutons, on dirait des poires avec des têtes de nounours”, dixit my son), a yellow lupin and, more importantly, a dark blue delphinium. Honestly, how was I to know it was market day, and there would be a wonderful stall of cheap yet healthy plants ? By the way, butterflies are about !

And today, and it sums it all up : I hanged the laundry to dry outside. Tada !

A few pictures :

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From the Norway maple (érable plane) at my son’s school.

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Claire’s cherry tree. Claire died aged 19 many years ago. People used to hang shiny ribbons from the memorial tree’s branches, but don’t seem to do it anymore.

Now, in my garden :

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With dew, this time, Aldor ! 🙂

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My beloved Hepatica transsylvanica.

 

Under the snake’s head lilies’ skirts.

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Primula Belarina Pink Ice, ready for a wedding !

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Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost, the plant I wouldn’t be without. The picture doesn’t do justice to its amazing blue.

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Jewel ! Centaurea montana Purple Heart.

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Cornus praying.

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Acer palmatum Osakazuki leafing out. It looks like it is taking its elegant rose gloves off, doesn’t it ?

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Acer palmatum Katsura means business this year (was put in the ground last autumn) and is already out. My son likes to shake its little hands (yes, we are odd).

That’s it for today ! Enjoy the sun while it lasts !

O Spring where art thou ?

Now is the season when blackthorns turn into clouds. Upon meeting their blooming branches, I am never quite sure if it is them, or I, who take off for the sky.
This old one, the top of which crowns the end of the path, between oak trunks, sings of Spring.

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Yet everything in my garden seems late this year, except for trees : on the maples, the dogwood and the copper beech, the buds are fattening appropriately. What is left of the forsythia tries to cheer up a very soggy garden. Even though I had a few dwarf crocus and irises (from my bulb lasagna), I am yet to witness the flowering of my first daffodil. I am all the more grateful for the brave little Hepatica transsilvanica and her neighbours, a little primula and a pink pulmonaria.

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Other friends are barely poking up, amongs which a Pasque flower which was not far from being true to its name (on time for Easter), eryngium Neptune’s Gold, an astrantia, two geraniums. They don’t make for impressive pictures, to say the least, but bring so much joy I had to give them a place here. Be grateful I am sparing you from the bits of lupins, bleeding hearts, etc.

I equipped myself with a poor woman’s greenhouse.

So far, it is housing two floppy tomato plants, a dying cutting of choisiya which survived the whole winter only to give up now, potential seedlings (orlaya grandiflora, which I first thought were borage, a reluctant set of unknown seeds which might be rose campion) and other mysterious seedlings which might be borage (???). Ahem. And some charming little cutting definitely leafing out, which I hope is from a bushy pink salvia adorning the other side of our street. And that makes me think I neeeeed Salvia Armistad in my life (I think Salvia guaranitica Black’n Blue has survived the cold !).

And here, proof that I was right to buy the dead-looking Clematis Jackmanii Superba from the reduced shelf at the garden centre last autumn !

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The best thing is that the little nest given by Grandma to my son has been carpeted by a robin.

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Alas, the other day, I inadvertently came nose-to-beak with him / her while he / she was inside. He / she flew away in great fright and the nest might stay empty…

To follow my menial but joyful gardening activities, read my Gardening Diary page.

In the garden again !

Finally ! A sunny day ! The February big freeze was for me, who am lucky enough to live in a heated house, a welcome thing.

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I had not seen proper snow for what felt like an eternity, and my daughter had the joy of her first snowman. Being British, the schools closed for two days, to my children’s delight. I went up university where I am now teaching ancient Greek with the unmistakable snow-aroused feeling of being the first human to tread into an unknown world. On the way up the hill, the big oak was wearing magnificent ermine. I felt awake and alive as I haven’t felt for some time, and somehow called upon.

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Before the February big freeze, I went out optimistically to plant things bought in Wilko or M&S and therefore not precisely identified : a bleeding heart (cœur de Marie) of the ordinary kind, some physalis (lanternes), two echinops ritro (oursins bleus), one eryngium alpinum (chardon bleu des Alpes), and a geranium pratense Splish Splash. Of course, being too lazy to put labels down, I now can’t remember where I planted most of them, which means some will be weeded with oblivious enthusiasm. They might find solace in the sound of my jolly weeding tunes. Of course, they might also have been killed by the frost.

In the half conscious fever of Spring, I also cut a circle in the “lawn” to plant an unnamed “red paeony” from M&S (bareroot, or whatever it is called). To be honest, I don’t know what to call the green-and-brown thing on which we tread between the flowerbeds. I can still discern signs that in a distant past predating our presence in this house, it must have been a lawn. Now, I couldn’t even call it “grass”. It is mainly moss and various weeds (most of which I welcome in this kind of asylum blanket) sucked down into greedy squidgy clay. We keep talking about putting down stepping stones, and in my dreams I picture a red brick path, like Monty Don’s. However, there are a few clues indicating this won’t happen any time soon. My husband’s and my own DIY inclination and skills are famously inexistent. And as for our organisation… Suffice to say that the water butt bought last Autumn is still lying down near the bike box, while the new retractable hose happily rests under the dining table, keeping company to boxes of books. Anyway, regarding the “red paeony” : a few days later, I started to worry I must have planted it too deep, so up it came, only to show me that it had already sent down nice little white roots !

Outdoors, I have sown white nigella damascena (nigelle de Damas), aquilegia chrysantha Yellow Queen (ancolie) and lychnis coronaria (coquelourde des jardins). I also put some borage seeds (bourrache) in cracks here and there, hoping it will prevail over the dandelions. Indoors, I have gone for orleya grandiflora and more borage. I still have an envelope full of yarrow (achillée millefeuille) and wild carrots seeds. See the theme ? Of course, I have no idea where all this will go. I am only guided by a desire for something lacy, airy and white, which would also make me the favour of self-seeding in the future.

You are quite lucky my mobile phone tendered its resignation this morning. Otherwise, I would have inflicted on you my whole picture-roll of green and reddish bunny-ear-shaped things poking up from the remnant of mulch. This is for me the most exciting time of year, when stuff I had completely forgotten suddenly appears and shouts its salutation to the new season. It is quite alright to be alive.

 

 

Lullaby to a garden

 

To my sleeping garden
this weightless lullaby
a quiet outlook from a frosty window

As in grey winter light
the blackbird is black
and the grass is revealed with the rigour of morn

As the sycamore gone
still inhabits the sky
and homeless the grey heron flies

So my patience is wantless
and serene and full
live as the silence of prayer

For now is the night
for us both to dream
and entrust deeper roots to the stillness of love

And now is the time
for the fire to glow
and ashes be true
to snow

 

 

First frost

 

Mid-November
On trees finally, their October gowns of liquid amber.
Morning walk – blades and veins
Seized by the meticulous hand of frost
Lines from which Winter shall be drawn.
Slowly
Slumber befalls those plants which to Summer offer
Largesse of smiles and flesh.
I too
Am awaiting the hour
When darkness boils into fervour.

 

Of Winter, and November foliage

I have been a bit busy in the garden, as recorded in my Gardening Diary page. Winter finally seems on its way, and I should be planting the last tulips, had I not run out of decent containers and compost. I have bought a few oxalis corms which also need to be planted. When I left Paris, I had to part with an oxalis triangularis which was not doing very well, to be honest, but that I loved as it was offered to me by my best friend after one such plant featured in a novel I wrote.

I don’t do Winter bedding. I tend to (try to) appreciate enthusiasm in gardening regardless of how the outcome suits my taste. However, although I feel appropriately amused and cheered, walking along the garden centre’s shelves of colourful pansies, dainty cyclamens and ornemental cabbage, I dislike the artificial coating they give to winter gardens.

Winter’s beauty stems from bleakness, starkness (of course, this statement comes from a person priviledged enough to have shelter, central heating and so on, I appreciate that). I admire gardens which understand and celebrate Winter’s bare grace instead of trying to conceal it or dress it up. In their contemplation, I find a gripping emotion related to the acceptance of truth. Stripped of all adornment, what is there left ? Bare stems, barks, seedheads, structures, skeletons, decay – death, and life within it. There is such power in the darkness of winter. Sleep and hibernation are for plants a gathering of strength. As for beauty, I don’t think anything can beat the glory of a silver birch against a winter sky.

But I am getting ahead of myself, it is only November after all. A few pictures of some treasures found in my garden or near my house.

Acer palmatum Osakazuki

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Acer palmatum Redwine

Forsythia

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Anemone japonica Honorine Jobert

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Cornus alba

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Hosta Canadian Blue

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Hydrangea (can you spot the snail ?)

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Fagus sylvatica purpurea

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And a felled tree in the field, death’s ever open eye.

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Releasing a maple

On Saturday, the tree surgeon came and felled the heron’s sycamore. He was a young man with hair as red as it comes and a very handsome smile. Did it make the fall easier ? My husband is still feeling hurt and guilty we had to bring it down.

 

Today, as night was creeping in, I took Acer palmatum Katsura out of the pot it has been sitting in for at least three years. The roots had escaped through the draining hole and into the soil.

This is what its rootball looked like.

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Not desperately pot-bound, but clearly in need of space. I looked at it. I paced the garden. I looked at it again.

The plan was to trim the roots and repot in a bigger container, a beautiful green-glazed one which used to house Acer palmatum Osakazuki. Indeed, this evening, I had as many good reasons to keep this little maple potted as I had to do the same to his bigger cousin a few years ago – above all, the lack of a worthy planting space in the garden and the lingering thought that if (or rather when) we have to move, it will just be much easier with the maples already sort of packed. No, a Japanese maple is not the kind of plant you plump anywhere. Yet, this evening as a few years ago, I could not keep a tree contained. So I released it. Anywhere, almost, between the box and a self-seeded hypericum, and unwisely near the wisteria which will be sucking quite a lot of water away.

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You will think me foolish. With any plant, except for bulbs and maybe box, I struggle with containers. As soon as I receive a plant, I feel, if not an urge, at least the need to give it to the earth. And when it is a tree, even as slow growing as this Japanese maple…

Planting a tree in the earth is like freeing a bird. Roots belong to the mysterious world of unconfined depths as wings to the sky. We walk the roads that draw their interface, unsure where we belong as yearning pushes and pulls our hearts along the way – farther.

Of a swallow, a heron and a sycamore

It was my birthday lately. The previous night, I dreamt of swallows. They lived in a nest which happened to be hung inside, near a French window that my father left ajar. I looked after them.

I had a house martin once, when I was seveteen (or was it eighteen ?). The link is relevant because the French call house martins “window swallows”, hirondelles de fenêtre, whereas the name of martinets is given to swifts. My father had rescued it from his work place. It had fallen from a nest in a place where he felt it would be in danger.

I baptised it Merry, after Tolkien’s character whose strong temperament it soon appeared to share, and it stayed with us – in our flat in Lyon – for a few weeks. If you are asking yourselves what that implied, I can only say that our house martin slightly smelled of cheese, enjoyed being carried around on shoulders, interrupted me whenever my time on the phone exceeded its patience, hung onto our backs with its wings spread, the most beautiful brooch one could ever wear (and yes, we had to change all the wallpapers after its departure). To complement its diet, my father would sometimes catch flies and line them on the kitchen windowsill, having lovingly removed the wings. In the end, as Merry became a confident flyer, it would circle in and out of our flat, flying along the corridors and banking around the outside terrasse. Then, one end-of-September day, when I was in school, it perched onto a neighbour’s balcony. My mother called its name, worried it would fall prey to the cat. It flew away to its freedom.

I still hold onto one of Merry’s tiny black feathers, in a minute treasure box covered in shells. If you have the opportunity, take a good look at house martins : though not as elegantly defined as their swallow cousins and lacking their gorgeous red throat and long tail streamers, they are of a plumper shape, cuter and, in a nutshell, the most adorable creatures.

Little did I realise, ignorant as I was, what an extraordinary gift had been bestowed on me in that kinship with a wild bird, and of a kind that truly belongs to the realm of flight. Nearly twenty years have passed and I can only note how seminal that presence has been in my life. Swallows turn up in my writings, in my daughter’s names, in my inner sky. When I see them swirling in the sun, life gains a fullness of intensity from which the shadow of absurdity simply vanishes.

This morning, my little boy said, rubbing his eyes : “Maman, I had a birdwatching dream” (this one has inherited his English Grandma’s passion). Two seconds later, he cried : “Maman, I can see a heron !” I ran to grab my glasses and came back just in time – incredibly graceful vision of a large heron taking off from the sycamore into a bright silky automn sky.

Is it pure coincidence that a few days ago, a joint decision was taken to heed the tree surgeon’s advice to fell the sycamore ? It grows between our and the neighbour’s sheds, in a very awkward place, a gift of the wind. Although I love trees deeply, I never took interest in this one, knowing it would have to go, eventually. Yet, these last days, I have been preparing to say goodbye, looking at it, feeling its presence. Its branches are so heavily laden with samaras you would believe it knew its days numbered.

Had it desired to entrust its memory to us, how better than by calling and releasing the sign of a heron in front of our fascinated eyes ?

Acer_pseudoplatanusAA

Demain l’automne

Random pictures, one feeling.

Only-in-England (not really, but still. On the way to Harbledown).

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Clematis vitalba, Old Man’s Beard, Traveller’s Joy, Herbe aux gueux, Viorne des pauvres.

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My little garden at a transitional stage. Though it doesn’t show yet, a lot of work has been done since coming back from Paris. The shed should have crumbled long ago, but Father-in-law’s magic has kept it standing. Pity the roof isn’t strong enough to support the wisteria anymore.

The copper beech in the hedge has escaped at the top and will be sawed. I love copper beeches so much one features as a main character in a novel I am writing. Their newly opened leaves are out of this world, in texture and colour. A Spring photo to prove it :

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Acer palmatum Katura, Autumn’s seat at the moment.

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The tree will be repotted in a month or so.

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P.S. : I have been hacking at pruning the previously barrel-shaped boxwood, aiming for a niwaki. It probably is wrong, as it is situated in the hedge, not to mention that it will take years to reach an acceptable form, if ever. However, during the four hours spent doing that, I had the close company of Little Red (the robin) and Mister Black (or one of his sons), the former catching spiders and worms while the latter was feasting on the many snails falling from the branches. I know robins are bold, but this one just amazes me ! Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me. If I feel brave enough, I’ll post about this quest for a niwaki shape. Please, Father Christmas, bring me a beautiful Japanese secator ?