Mind your own business

Minding my own business is something I am quite good at, these days. This discretion is probably less born out of virtue than a consequence of my near reclusion. Apart from school runs and equivalent walking to and fro between children’s activities, I am my own company, which usually suits me. I have been spending all my free time in the garden, inspecting dahlia pots and sown bare ground where life is reluctant to show up, and mainly moving things around. (Yes, I did put some slug pellets inside the pots, for which I feel bad)

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I said, didn’t I, that I would be sensible enough not to disturb plants unnecessarily ? Yeah, well. Paeony, astilbes, agapanthus, phlox paniculata, geraniums played musical chairs, not to mention delphiniums, pulmonarias, santolinas, ferns, cowslips, forget-me-nots… and I forget the rest. A few weeks after its relocation, Acer Katsura is still sulking and I don’t expect forgiveness until next year. Viburnum plicatum Kilimandjaro Sunrise is now in the ground and the circular “lawn” lined with alchemilla mollis (yes, that thug, but this one is called Irish Silk, how to resist ?) and nasturtium (the French name, capucine, is so much nicer). Some redeployed plants :

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Where the viburnum pot was sitting, the grass has died. So after having read a few dozen webpages filled with frenzied questions about how to eradicate it, I shoved some mind-your-own-business in the hole.

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Yes, mind-your-own-business, angel’s tears, mother-of-thousands, Soleirolia soleirolii (syn. Helxine soleirolii).

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I garden for words as well as for plants. How would I not welcome something which comes with such a treasure of beautiful names ? Moreover, it is the only member of its genus – a bit of a recluse too, then – and it comes from the Mediterranean, apparently brought back from Corsica and Sardinia. And here I am, with a tightening heart and a rush of oxygen in the blood, on blue shores already.

What I have done might in fact not be as foolish as it seems : Kent is very dry these days, the little damp-loving invader will probably struggle. I am not expecting it to take over the whole garden soon, but we’ll see. Apologies to the next owners of my garden. I do hope they won’t be lawn lovers.

(Sometimes I ask myself if gardening is becoming a kind of addiction.)

By the way, the wisteria is now in flower. I am enraged at the impossibility to share decent pictures with this second-hand phone of mine, on behalf of which I foolishly got rid of a proper camera. Still, here is a simple narcissus poeticus, which I had completely forgotten and came up from under a mess of foxgloves and iris. A hint I should go back to writing ? Perfection anyway.

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Bye bye turf

That’s it, I’ve lost it. Just like the rest of the country, but on a grander scale. Jugez-en par vous-mêmes : two days ago, I had this sudden urge to move my beloved and innocent acer palmatum Katsura into the shady bed. A modest and reliable potentilla fructicosa inherited from the previous occupants, which in summer bears pale yellow flowers, fell victim to that urge. It is now sitting in a pot, severely shaven. As for the acer, it is expectedly sulking. I shall admit to have lifted it again after having found a bag of Rootgrow mycorrhizal fungi in the shed. The same treatment (being moved and relifted) befell a poor rosa rugosa my father-on-law brought down from his Lancashire garden last autumn, which has sat unhappily in a pot until now (a few leafbuds are appearing, though, all is not lost).

And then, today… I just felt possessed. Went out into the garden with my daughter and a ball of garden twine. Next thing you know, I was on my knees battling turf with a trowel. Unsurprisingly, after one minute, my wrist was hurting. Thankfully, my neighbour was also busy in the garden and charitably lent me a half-moon lawn edger, which meant I could hope to have finished before my son’s majority. Both kids helped, my daughter with tremendous energy. The husband did too, all too happy to be able to use his archaeologist’s techniques and call back to life some muscles aching from too much sitting in front of a computer marking students’ essays. At the end of day one, this is what we are left with :

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Now the turf, for the moment, has just been relaid upside down. I gather that it won’t break down like that, without cardboard and other compost making devices – it would have been too easy. I will therefore remove it and pile it with cardboard somewhere (hum, where ?) and lay down compost and manure. I am crazy, but not enough to lift all the plants that are now preparing for flowering. That will have to wait for the Autumn (or will it ?). Meanwhile, I am going to sow whatever is in my seed box (cosmos, white native wild flower mix, orleya grandiflora, wild carrot) and buy Mexican fleabane seeds. And maybe more nasturtium. Germera qui voudra.

I have to say I am really impressed with the way the children joined in. My son doesn’t usually enjoy anything that requires combined perseverance and physical effort, but he did today. I had to force my daughter to give up at 7 pm as it was high time to start cooking. After that, they both helped in the kitchen. To be fair, if they normally don’t, it is because I demand peace and quiet (and radio four) while I cook. All in all, it was a great day in the garden ! Spring, bring it on !

P.S. : The plant at the centre of the circle is viburnum plicatum Kilimandjaro. In the big unkempt ivy on the left is living one happy family of blackbirds (it was Christmas for them today !) and other smaller birds. The rotary dryer is awful, I know. The collection of pots nearer the shed is housing various dahlias. Five (or is it ten) years after everbody, I am finally overcoming the reluctance and trying them. After all, I am now old enough to savour the nostalgic reminder of my uncle’s garden, which was always full of them.

White blossom

I am glad Storm Gareth has finally tired of blowing over our isles. Unlike in February, the temperature has resumed normal lows and I need a jumper and two fleece jackets when I go round my garden (using my husband’s fleece last as it is big enough to wrap around all the layers). I have been pottering a bit, buying cheap plants from Wilko (see my gardening diary page), but haven’t got to sow anything yet, except for old love-in-the-mist seeds found in an envelope which I shook over the borders totally randomly.

It is now dry enough to walk through the field to go to school. This morning, the blackthorns turning into clouds gave me a longing for a majestic one we encountered in the Parc de Sceaux.

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I was moved to hear my son reminding me of the hazel bushes growing around the play area there. His attention to living things feels somehow more rooted than mine, natural, native maybe – I want to say “older”. He walks ahead of me on the path to knowing and loving nature.

The other day, as I approached one the blackthorns, looking for that feeling of elation a surrounding of white flowers give, I found a set of keys hanging from a branch. It felt as an invitation.

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Today, the sun is out, the keys are gone (unlike Brexit, it’s “blue, black and white”, dixit the son). Blooms are dripping with honey scent.

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I realise that plants are arranged along our path to school so that, from February to the summer, we may enjoy white blooms almost continuously. Blackthorn are indeed followed by hawthorns, which then pass the baton to elder trees. By then, the whole field is covered in white daisies, and light seems to permeate the flesh and run into the blood. Overlooking the other side of the field, the cathedral tower shines with the dawn colours of limestone. So even though I can’t stop myself longing for the South (yes, this is Kent, but my South is the Mediterranean), wishing I lived in an old dry-stone house with an almond tree standing at the heart of the garden, I realise I am very lucky to live here. Plus, I would miss many of the plants England allows me to grow or admire in other gardens. Nevermind almond trees, blackthorn is enough for my heart.

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Other signs of Spring : this year, acer palmatum Katsura beat everybody and was the first to leaf out.

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Next was Sambucus nigra Black Lace, followed by acer palmatum Redwine. I can’t wait for the persimmon to open its buds.

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There isn’t enough in my garden to allow me to participate in gardening blogs’ threads about March plants / blooms, but what I have, I cherish.

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Language landscape

I realised this morning (or was it late last night) that English may have become my easier oral language. I have now reached a point where I find more natural to explore a number of common topics of conversations, such as the news, politics and other ideas, in English. It may have a lot to do with the fact that my main, almost my only, interlocutor is my English husband. Still, it is a strange state of affairs (for me), and a problematic one in a household where we endeavour to maintain bilinguism in the children.

French remains and will most certainly remain my better and favoured written language. Living where I live, I am sometimes encouraged to think it would make sense to try and write in English. Not just the gardening trivia or occasional reflexions I post here, but the very things that push and tug at the roots of my need to write. Many writers, after all, have ended up adopting as their main language one which wasn’t their mother tongue. Strictly speaking, I could claim to have done that, as my first language was Vietnamese – I was rather surprised to hear that French conjugation still somewhat eluded me when I first started school. But really, that claim would be a lie. I have mostly lost that mother tongue long ago.

Describing my language landscape, I would hazard that I can probably reason in English as well as in French, that is, handle satisfactorily the more conscious and superficial layer of thought and expression. Improving on that should not be absolutely impossible : reading would be the first step, and then try, fail, learn, stumble, progress. Slowly. However, what I really want to write, what I am pushed to write, what French allows me to do, seems quite out of reach in English. Writing, I am looking to conjure the song behind the sound, the vibration carried by a word long and far travelled through the realms of literature. Am I an expert linguist, an avid etymologist, do I command a vast culture ? Absolutely not. For someone who received my education, I am rather lacking. Yet I know enough – in French – to be able to perceive and draw, as golden vapour from a summer meadow, the richness of words, that aura around them, to try and strike the secret bell that will chime, if I am doing well – if grace makes me more a channel than an obstacle. The joy of recognition, the complex emotion of the beauty of truth come from the way words’ overtones harmonise. Could I, with practise, capture the light, the weight, the breath, the warmth, the dread as well as in French ? I am not sure. After all, more often than not, English poetry baffles me, proof that a good deal of what words convey in English escapes me. What is missing is familiarity : that quality of friendship, of complicity, that comes with time, with an incompressible shared duration. Dealings with a childhood friend draw their flavour and depth from a treasure of unspoken, often even unconscious shared knowledge. Thus, French is more than my instrument, it is my kin, my flesh. In French I grew up, in French I am made. The spring feeding the roots of the deep wood sings in French.

Meanwhile, I would be interested to know how multilingual writers feel and operate. If all topics can be treated in all languages, I don’t believe the same thing can be said in different languages. Do they have two completely distinct language landscapes ? How do they navigate from one to the other ? Is it comparable to a mild form of split personality ? Or is it possible for different springs to feed the same wood ? Alternatively ? At the same time ? Please let me know of your experience, if you write in several languages.

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. 🙂

 

 

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 !

A walk on the moors

Late August views from a Lancashire hill, which last April was resounding with the skylarks’ song.

 

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Holcombe Hill

 

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Grass and heather – Looking towards Affetside

 

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The heather was much more purple than can be seen on these pictures, but nonetheless fading.

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Looking towards the Welsh mountains

 

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Peel Tower, daughter’s kite
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Boy and kite
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Northward, whence the clouds rise

 

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. 🙂

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 !

Notes on skylarks, memory and happiness

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Walking one morning on the Holcombe moors under a bright Spring sun. Distances are vanishing into a gleaming haze and on the banks bloom the first coltsfoot flowers.

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Up Moorbottom lane, the warm stones elicit sensations of Southern Alpine paths.

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Lancashire moors, Southern Alps, worlds apart ? Not to me. I walk, grateful for the benevolent pressure of gravity, and my whole being is but a smile. The hilltop is a sea of blond manes, vibrating with the skylarks’ song, and we ride to the frontier whence the clouds rise.

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For the skylarks I am immensely grateful. I love The Lark Ascending, but have never actually seen one, let alone a hill full of them. I follow many as they aim to pierce heavens, and fall. At one point, I see one disappear into the blue, as I was told they do, sometimes, mysteriously. I stand transfixed under the empty sky where its song still resonates. Then comes a familiar pull, inside, a need to put words on this happiness.

This is L’s home, the hills of his childhood. At their foot lies his hometown. It is a small Northern ex-industrial settlement which, at first sight, any visitor would find dreary, to say the least. I still wonder how his first girlfriend, a girl expelled from the Tuscan paradise of Arezzo, survived the aesthetic (as well as climatic and cultural) shock. As for him, who had no other home to escape to, he found salvation through an interest in local history. Researching the archives to write the story of his region and try to salvage the remnants of the Industrial Revolution heritage from the shortsightedness of local councils infinitely broadened the possibilities of what first seemed to be on offer. On those soot-dark mill town walls, a wealth of echoes started to resonate, windows opened onto a richly animated world. Under its veil of rain, the landscape began whispering, speaking, singing. History wasn’t that merely useful source of valuable lessons it is so often sold as, but a meeting place and a condition of happiness. In L’s case, there was a deliberate attempt to draw from the powers of memory (his own and that of others) in order to defeat the poverty of his experience. For me too, happiness and memory are intrinsically intertwined, but in a different way.

My mind’s memory is very poor, and not improving. Of concepts and ideas I find myself quite deprived. Of cultural references – facts, dates, names, stories, those bricks needed to build a decent system of thoughts –, I have to admit to being less endowed than any person of a similar level of education should be. Why, I can’t even remember events in my own life, and those I can recall, I am often unable to order chronologically, even approximately. Yet it is memory that heals me and makes me happy. I hesitate to use the word “heal”, as I can’t pretend to have ever been torn apart by any particular event – but I was born and long lived under the star of an intense and unfathomable sadness.

Early in my life – before the age of ten – I waged war against time, in which my youth could only see a dispossessing monster, by trying to remember everything. That such a doomed pursuit could only lead to deeper sadness didn’t stop me from trying with all I had. It may have developed my writing skills but it was exhausting. It was bitter. On the edge of adulthood, stubborn though I was, I simply had to let go. Having yielded to the healthy necessity to forget, I survived. Yet, memory undoubtedly is at the heart of any happiness I experience now. Not the overburdened and then discarded storage system of my childhood, but a different form of memory. One through which, though unable to summon facts and dates, I experience what I would tentatively describe as volume, depth and thickness of sensation. A perception of complexity rooted less in the mind than in the body.

The frontier between the physical world – reality, as some would call it – and its spiritual body, is fading. There are layers in the light and layers in the present. I can perceive them. It is nothing new, but time, and gardening, have sharpened my consciousness of it, and extended the depth to which I can perceive. I can feel the continuous presence of what a restricted linear conception of time would have us believe are different instances, all of which supposedly dead but one, which is fleeting, and now gone. Oh, but things remain ! To describe that, French words come to me: concomitance, rémanence.

No effort of the mind is required. It is simply there: the radiance of a form of consciousness which appears in the likeness of a physical sensation, for it is rooted in the body and its memory. And so, years passing, I find myself increasingly relying on unconscious or barely conscious movements seated in my flesh to feel, of course, but also learn, remember, write. All that might not deserve to be called “thinking”, but it makes me happier. More learned people might say I am merely trying to describe something which psychoanalysts and explorers of the subconscious are familiar with. To me, it is a spiritual experience.

The feeling of incompleteness, of hollowness, we are told, is a distinctive part of the human condition. With conscience comes the sharp bite of loneliness. Yet… Try to walk in life as you would up a sunny mountain side, opening your senses, widening your conscience, sharpening your awareness: more is present than first appears. Feel how the densified air holds and defines your body, your mood, through pleasure and pain, how manifold the world, how it embraces you, abrades you, how its manifestations become signs, and marvel at your soul revealed. Is there really such a thing as loneliness ? It is love I feel. And if I get the chance to answer to its call, to share a few words, even to the passing wind, then this life is worthwhile indeed.

*

Behold
On the hilltops, skylarks
Shrill as light’s beating heart
Shooting up in the blue
Till all is song

*

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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.

Peter

It is Holy Week. So many things have wanted to pour out of me this week, or come to words through me, and I haven’t had the time, and I’m bursting at the seams. I am tempted to let some of them tumble down here in a most disorganised way. Perhaps, I should limit myself to the first.

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday. Grey skies, a dry spell between showers, a few daffodils pinned on the light shadow of a shuddering tree, Father Anthony with his smile in his eyes, kids crossing their palms, procession. We read Mark’s version of the Passion. I read along. As every time, and maybe even more this year that I have recently come back to communion, I feel my heart painfully tightening until the moment of Peter’s fall. The denial of saint Peter. And as he breaks down and weeps, I too break.

Here is Peter, or Simon, to whom Jesus gave the name of Kephas, the rock. How not to be touched by him ? He embodies humanity in all its tenderness and imperfection, in its moving and messy thirst for love. I certainly love him, for his passion, for his frailty, for his faults, especially this one, the one. A more serious one can hardly be conceived, coming from a man who was amongst the first companions of Jesus, who walked along him for three years – and what years ! -, sharing his bread, his wake, his sleep, his prayers, his friendship. A man who loved Jesus at first sight. When he was told, not long before the master’s death, that he could have no part with him if he didn’t let him wash his feet, didn’t he exclaim : “Then, Lord, not just my feet, but also my hands and my head as well!” ? How he would need it !

What did he know of the divinity of Christ ? What did he understand of the Son of Man ? That remains unknown, but one thing certain is he loved Jesus, as much as he didn’t know himself. “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be.” And “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” It is almost as if these fiery proclamations summoned upon him the hour of darkness. But they didn’t : the hour of darkness was summoned long before, and not confined to him.

Standing by the fire, face and hands in the glow, the first amongst the disciples, the friend, the brother, the lover says, repeats and swears that he does not know “this man about whom you are talking“. In the Devil’s soft hand, Peter is tried, stumbles on the oh-so-natural fear of death and falls as fully as possible – thrice. “And immediately a cock crowed a second time.

In the denial of my brother, I hear my own. And underneath this terrible event,  from which it should be impossible to rise again, preceding and following it, resounding from the place whence love stems, I hear Jesus, at the end, in the last text of the Gospels, asking thrice : “Simon, son of John, do you love me ?“. To the unfaithful, the weak and the cowardly, but to the friend who cried, Jesus entrusted his lambs, for whom he became man and died.

That is why I became a Christian. I believe that a God who decides to become lowly and die, a God who chooses Peter, amongst all, to steer his ship, the God of the kenosis, was not created by man. In him, unfailing love is proven. Tonight, the light will be rekindled.

 

St-Pierre_et_le_chant_du_coq_4668

 

En l’église Saint-Pierre-et-Paul de Ville-sur-Saulx. Source : Wikimedia Commons ; author : Amassychamp. 

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.

 

 

Trying

And so my parents left Toulon, on the Mediterranean coast. They now live in a small prettyish town on the river Seine. Black alders grow on its banks, tall poplars heavily laden with gleaming mistletoe. There is a cold and beautiful medieval collegiate church which looks like Notre-Dame-de-Paris’ little sister.

It is very far from Toulon.

Does it matter ? And why does it feel like something or someone somewhere died or was forgotten ?

Soon February will be on me, with its arrows of light. It will be pins and needles inside my head, and longing, longing, longing.

Oh, to see them again as they walk time through the sky, from one light to another – Mount Caume, Mount Faron, Mount Coudon. And crushed thyme on limestone hill paths.

I am trying to write a novel. It would feature an old English cottage garden and Cotswolds rolling hills. A beloved home under thick trees, and how to leave it. I am trying but not succeeding. One can only write about things that sit through one’s heart, or lungs, or guts. At least, it is the case for me.

 

 

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.