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

 

 

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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.

Forest

Will you, ere my demise
Let me step inside you
Brother oh my forest
That on the purple paths love winds into your depths
I might once again walk
And marvel once again

Still flowering your chest
The vines of destinies
Some glib life would confine to thin dreams
But for your breath

Nestled under your lungs
There still whisper softly
Pearly-feathered mornings
Oh gentle lullabies to many a scarred night
– Our teeth my blood your pain
Our tears and words in vain
As if we’d never heard about love’s sunny lanes

Yet here around your heart
And down in the tender
Hollow from where life cries its call
First thing and last
There still roars the furnace
Of suns, thousands and one !

When night finally comes
Brother will you entrust
My sleep and all I was and all
I could have been
To deeper soil and soul
Under those trees beyond
Whose dreams colour your eyes
Their roots deep in my song

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 ?

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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 ?

 

Archery

They say you never know
Why you love somebody

But it is for that time
Beyond your time when all
Those arrows loosed blind from young hearts overbowed
Meet unexpected gold
And chime

Hear ! the call is coming home
Over night-rooted crests
Waking deep sullen wastes
(oh years for not much gone
oh life for little spent)
To the meaning of a forest

For that splendour you loved
Splendour is never late

Gardening Diary

So as not to burden your WordPress Reader, I have created a little page called Gardening Diary (up there in the menu). In it, I intend to record menial garden-related tasks, or events which don’t really deserve a blogpost. Why, may you ask, not keep such a diary to myself ? To that question I don’t have any satisfying answer. I feel like sharing it, in a unobtrusive way. I also hope that by making it available here, I will keep at it regularly.

The picture is of today’s haul, under the poor light of my desk lamp : a few Daucus carota seedheads collected from the Greyfriars meadow garden (which I believe Franciscans still tend to), and a most exquisite, delicate other seedhead from my garden – and I don’t know from which plant ! Happiness is made of such small things.

Small is my garden

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Yesterday, I finally trimmed the lavender – my only bush produces just enough to make one dried bunch (don’t laugh). I cherish it all the more ; after all, each flower stem was cut individually by me and arranged by my kids . Making lovely scented sachets is not for us, as it would be heart-wrenching to cut the flowers before they are over, especially as they were, until these last days, the main attraction for bees in my garden (with the purple toadflax and a tiny Sedum Lime Zinger. By the way, I haven’t seen one single bee on the Japanese anemones and wonder if that is normal, as the flowers are wide open and the pollen easy to reach). So, I will have to be satisfied with the one dried and faintly-scented bunch – and satisfied I will be indeed.

In a small garden like mine, every plant, no matter how insignificant in size and interest, has a presence and makes an impact (and I include weeds, for which I have a lot of consideration). The constraints of a limited space induce an interest in plants rather than in garden designing – in my case, this follows my natural inclination towards individual entities (if only in a very sensory-wise manner, as my actual knowledge amounts to zero). Indeed, what is there to design in a plot like this narrow strip running northwards from the house to the shed, where some grass (I daren’t call it a lawn) has to be kept for young children to mess about ? I simply have no space (nor funds) for cleverly winding paths revealing secret corners, let alone screens and pergolas. If I was to invest in something, the priority would be a water butt and a composter. Greenhouses are for my next life.

There may not be much to design, but there is nonetheless a lot to observe and contemplate. It is easy to know your garden when it is this size. I walk in it a lot. I listen, smell, touch, go on all fours to probe under the lowest branches and leaves. I talk to plants and invertebrates – not always in a polite way, mind you. Yet, even here, I can be pleasantly surprised, and at no expense : how many unexpected holly seedlings can you find popping up in a narrow border that you examine everyday ? Is that a little pulmonaria growing under the lavender bush ? Oh, it has a sister a bit further, and another one in the grass ! Yes, I know it is hardly a miracle to find a keen self-seeder like lungwort growing without permission, but for me, it is a first and a joy. I planted three of them some years ago (High Contrast, Pink Haze and I don’t remember which other one), but they seem to have had a hard time during our absence, just about clinging to life. I have moved them to another border where they seem to be perking up a little. I enjoy these simple companions, flowering early and therefore helping bees, and their silver-sprinkled humility.

And then, there is that plant which looked dead when we came back (basically a little woody stump which I didn’t even notice at first), but is now pushing up new leaves. I don’t remember what it is, and am therefore excited to see growth appear – I suspect I’ll need to wait for next year’s flowers to be able to identify it. Looking at it, I am funnily reminded of Argos, Ulysses’ faithful dog, which stubbornly fended off death, enduring old age beyond his time, fighting the battle of hope to see his master once again before passing away. What do you mean, you don’t see the link ? Isn’t it obvious that this faithful plant waited for my return to come back to life ? My story even presents the advantage to have a less pathetic outcome than Homer’ tale !

Retour d’Ulysse par Louis Frédéric Schützenberger (1884).

N.B. Leaving those epic shores, I would like to add that in Poundland, I found Rumex sanguineus (red-veined sorrel) and Chiastophyllum oppositifolium ! The first one is already under attack from some hated molluscs (but I swore not to use slug pellets). The second one is an alpine succulent as happy in the shade (or so I’m told) as I am to have it. 🙂

Vegetal Key (what gardening is)

I read today a wonderfully written post which, amongst other things, talked about its author’s reading of nature. It stirred me. I would like to answer to her but 1) my little comment was again sent by WordPress to the bin ; 2) I have had no time to think properly. This somewhat clumsy article is partly a side shoot of that beautiful text.

My God, Gardeners’ World is such an efficient feel-good program. Folks, forget about wars and scars, injustice and hatred. Behold community gardens bringing different generations and social classes together, see how a bare plot of land can become the bed for what I’d like to describe as a garden of people, sharing knowledge and stories in an important and often otherwise unattainable physical closeness. Those hands together in the soil fertilise time.

I realised today, listening to the marvelous Roy Lancaster interviewed by Carol Klein (episode 18), how choked by emotion I get when people talk about their love for plants. In this interview, Roy stressed how his interest in all things vegetal led to a much wider awareness of the intricate texture and nature of the world. First, you are drawn to a plant’s aspect, which then tells you about its environment (why does it grow in such place, next to that other plant, how does it respond to the setting, etc). Little by little, your interest widens from one area to another to, potentially, the whole planet (which obviously includes people – oh how daft and simplistic the opposition between nature and humankind).

And certainly, for me, learning about plants has changed my conscience of… everything. I grew up in a big city, often tightly locked in my own body, as many urban teenagers do, with an incredibly narrow conscience of the world. Nature, to which I have nonetheless always been drawn, remained mute – nameless. And I knew the world was inhabited, but in a sort of hopeless, opaque and frustrating way. England’s most valuable trait, an ever faithful attention to the living world, unlocked me. Now – call me crazy if you will – I feel I can perceive its whisper. As I wrote in another post about landscapes, I don’t clearly understand what it “says” (is it even possible ?), but I can hear what seems to be a voice and a call. Higher happiness came in its wake, with the sense of fullfilment gained when pieces of a previously mixed-up jigsaw finally fall into place.

Roy Lancaster’s relationship with plants illustrates what I love about gardening. It isn’t (just) about putting nice colours in the right place (subjective anyway) or expressing one’s personality (honorable yet still self-centred). It is certainly not about showing proofs of suburban respectability (those hanging baskets…), nor even about being a good-hearted person caring for living things.

It is about opening eyes, ears, nose and hand, fine-tuning one’s skin to wind and seasons, learning the language of time and space, the matter of light – of LIFE. And death, most importantly. Feeling the mystery of each (moment ? event ? Can’t find the notion yet) which relies on it already passing away and yet throwing roots into eternity. Nowhere better than with trees and plants have I felt that time, though painfully (or mercifully) real, is only superficial. Gardening can be a discovery of one’s soul, created for connexion and love. In my interpretation, Adam and Eve were not left in the first Garden to own and control, but primarily to listen and learn, to be defined as much as to define.

(That burst of recognition in my heart when Roy Lancaster talked about the knowledge passed onto him of the Latin names : “I realised then the names were keys to unlock these histories of plants. The world came alive for me through the names of plants”. 
Names : music. Altogether seals of individuality and keepsakes of long gone people’s perceptions and knowledge. Poetry. Gates : in the post I mention at the beginning of this article, the author says she doesn’t need to know the names to appreciate and love, but also admits nature talks to her about herself, her own history and emotions. Knowing the names allows me to step outside and see the other. That is the path to love. I will deny that it is an illusion.)

(Oddly, I have not taken part in the community gardening schemes which florished around my quartier, in Paris. For the moment, gardening still needs to be a solitary occupation for me – rather, a silent one. That is, with the blackbirds jumping and racketing around.)

Garden diary

I can feel the sap thickening in my veins. I can’t wait for Autumn to come, the bulbs to plant, etc. I feel dizzy. Of course, gardening helps me cope with worries.

All I have at the moment is bad quality multipurpose compost. No potting compost, nor seed compost, nor grit, nor anything worth working with. So it is very much a case of “do or die”, otherwise known as “marche ou crève”. Plants have to be tough in my garden (hear that, green friends ?).

Yesterday, moved the Coreopsis Early Sunrise (bought in Poundland !) in a bigger pot. Probably a bit too big, but the plant looks healthy and I hope it will not feel too lonely. It is actually preparing flower buds !

Planted Geranium Black and White Army in the ground. Next to it, a little purple toadflax (linaire pourpre) which pops up everywhere in my garden and had started growing in an old pot. Toadflax is colourful, tall if a bit messy now, the bees love it and it comes for free : that’s good enough for me.

Today, I suddenly had the urge to propagate Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost. I love that plant : stunning silver green-streaked foliage, wonderful airy blue flowers in Spring, not fussy, reliable, happy in the shade. After having read that it should be done by division in Spring or root cutting in Winter, I listened to my impatience again and decided to grab my spade and “go-for-it-Girl” now, in Summer. I replanted two small clumps directly into the soil near the Osakazuki maple, another one where the delphiniums used to be, and two tiny ones in pots. If it works, it will be a lot of great plants for free.

And then, as I was catching up on old episodes of Gardeners’ World on the iPlayer, what did I see ? Monty Don who decided to divide an astrantia in Summer against the books’ recommendation ! He was following the advice of an Irish plantsman (I hear they are the new gurus of the gardening world now, and so they should be) named Jimi Blake, who has created a strange, excentric 20 acres wonderland named Hunting Brook Gardens. Quote to remember : “The crazier the look, the better“. (In the same episode, a young garden designer with the most unrepentant posh accent I have ever heard…)

The trouble with watching Gardeners’ World is that it fills you with an urge to try everything, collect every plant, not to mention the need, the neeeeeeeed to own a large garden with space for potting shed, cold frames, greenhouse, giant wheelbarrows, views on the countryside, prairie-style perspectives, etc. Sigh.

(Now I am starting to think I might need another blog if I am to write a gardening diary…)

New plants from Canons Ashby

… and so I didn’t lose any time. As I was up in rural Warwickshire celebrating my husband’s uncle’s golden anniversary, I was kindly taken by my mother-in-law to visit Canons Ashby, a beautiful National Trust house, which was home to the Dryden family. The church is, thanks to Henry VIII’s unfulfilled matrimonial expectations, all there is left of the medieval priory run for four hundred years by Augustinian canons.

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The most striking feature in the grounds was, on the day I visited, magnificent summer perennial borders, with dahlias as the stars of the show.

I didn’t use to be a fan of dahlias, but have recently become partial to those amongst them which display light-coloured flowers (if possible single) set upon dark foliage. Is it acquired tolerance, as they seem to have become fashionable and ubiquitous ? Possibly, but I have always been attracted to the beauty of a foliage at least as much as to that of interesting flowers. In any garden, as in woodland, the tapestry created by contrasting leaves and structures (in colours, shapes, textures and ways to catch the light and the wind) is what I find most striking and memorable.

Leaving the formal beds near the house, we went down the slope to admire the vegetable terraces. Behold these whopping pumpkins :

Alas, near the shop and therefore unmissable, there were the stalls full of lovely as-if-just-for-me plants : a trap cunningly set for weak souls of my kind. Resistance was useless, there was no point wasting any energy pretending : I would go away with as much as I could carry. That is, not so much : my ambitions were limited by the cruel reality of having to travel back to Canterbury by train – my husband was already in charge of our two suitcases and I wouldn’t trust my children with fragile living things (too heavy for them anyway). So this is what I picked :

Tricyrtis formosana Pink Freckles, a shade loving plant answering to the evocative common name of Toad Lily.

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Geranium pratense Black and White Army

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and Heuchera Berry Smoothie

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Why such impatience ? Why not wait for a trip to the garden centre, instead of burdening myself on a train journey ?

Well, the first reason could be that there is no garden centre in Canterbury itself, and that I don’t drive. Secondly, the Toad Lily has been on my list for some time (unusual, beautiful, mysteriously reminding of witchcraft and adapted to a shady garden, though mine may be on the dry side for its taste). I have tried it before and failed. Also on my list, a dark-leaved geranium : Dark Beauty, which I had purchased just before leaving England, hasn’t survived, so there we go again. Regarding the pink heuchera with the ridiculous name, it was my eight-year-old son’s choice. My hope is that it will echo the reddening leaves of Acer palmatum Osakazuki as the season progresses, and provide some sort of consolation for the death of Acer palmatum Shaina.

I should confess that a short walk in town last week saw me creep into Poundland and come out with Coreopsis Early Sunrise and a Veronica gentianoides… Not to mention a number of other beauties ordered online today, which I will show you when they arrive. After all, my birthday is only one month away (and a bit more, but let’s not be overscrupulous). 🙂

I leave you with these pictures of a sparkling spider city (taken in Canons Ashby).

 

My garden, two years later

And so it is that after two years in a Parisian flat where it wasn’t even possible to flower the windowsills, we are back in Canterbury. Back in our little house and, more importantly, to our garden !

During our absence, a friendly gardener regularly visited our plot, cutting the hedge (that dreaded ivy, the fierce firethorn, the cotoneaster, the thick-clawed climbing rose, etc) and keeping things more or less in order. However, and understandably, he had other things to do than stay for hours talking to my plants. To this lack of stimulating conversation (and to the first tenants’ children’s undoubtedly glorious deeds) I attribute the death of many of my vegetal friends. Therefore, let me tune my fine-stringed lyre and pay tribute to you, dear and sometimes very short-lived companions :

Verbena bonariensis, the flowers of which should have presently filled the corner with bright purple light:

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Saxifrage Carpet Pink:

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Creeping phlox:

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Dark-leaved geranium, lupins and alliums:

 

 

Edelweiss:

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Delphiniums (which were never blue anyway):

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Astilbe and various others, amongst which this wonderful hellebore which was so strong I thought it would never die:

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I must confess your loss does not tear me apart and that I already have plans for the space freed (watch this space, too).

I am sad, however, to have lost two of my Japanese maples : the red Acer palmatum Shaina and Acer Shirawasanum Aureum, which was the most precious plant in my garden.

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I used to look at its leaves glowing in the evening, and feel like a poor woman in whose unworthy house inclement weather had forced a prince to take shelter. I don’t know whether I will try to acquire another one. It is not possible to replace something truly loved.

Another cruel loss is that of Eryngium Neptune’s Gold – but for this one, I will definitely try again. Clear out of my way, anybody and anything which think they can stop me from growing eryngiums !

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Other plants did not die, but barely survived. Hydrangeas, to which the Kentish draught was cruel and hostas, which nobody protected against the slugs. Hosta June, for example, went from this :

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… to this :

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Surviving Japanese maples : Acer palmatum Red Wine (which has thrived and grown enormously), Acer palmatum Osakazuki (maybe sulking a bit), Acer palmatum Katsura (as delicate as ever).

Oh, but other plants did well.

Santolina, which crushed everything around it :

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And the strawberry plants, which invaded all the beds. I don’t know how many I pulled out, but here they still are, clinging to the gravel.

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It will take me some time to infuse some colour and shape back into my garden. Wish me luck ! I am looking forward to it.

 

Scarcity

And here I am
Sitting in a mizzle between two sunny spells
My insides full of unspoken words
Which stir and churn and seethe and swirl
Am I sitting they make me stand
Am I standing they make me fall
And lying down they make me cry
A broken-winged call.
All too common, the need to write
That craving to make love, only
Not a idea nor a lover
In sight
Sigh
Whatever idea in evening’s mercy
There might yet pass, never is it
Of the right shape and density
Too dark in hue, too light in weight
Too poor and late.
Ajar its mouth of scarcity.


Et me voici
Assise sous l’averse entre deux éclaircies
Des mots prisonniers plein les entrailles
Remue-ménage agitation
Bouillonnement et tourbillon
Assise ils me redressent
Debout ils me culbutent
Couchée me font pousser
Un cri aux ailes brisées.
Banalité, le besoin d’écrire
Cette fièvre de faire l’amour
Seulement
Pas une idée ni un amant
En vue
Tout vu.
Ce qu’il passe d’idées
Dans la clémence du soir jamais
N’est juste en forme ou densité
Teinte trop sombre, poids trop léger
Trop pauvre et trop tardif.
Mi-close bouche de pénurie.


Westernmost

 

Of these westernmost lands
My child
Will you long remember
Between soft folds of velvet green
Paler, darker – oh winds’ fancies
The silvery song of streams ?

With every further step you take
Towards shorter summer
Its soflty spoken rhyme will fade
Its call will sound thinner

Yet in the deeper still waters
Of memory’s dark lake
Where mountains’ roots their next life drink
At heaven’s sunken wells

If you allow your eyes to see
If you let your mind drown
The summer isles will rise anew
Waterfalls will abound

Singing of woven shards of sky
Amongst white cotton spells
And fleeting flames of asphodels
No hell could ever bind

 

 

Silver Sands (Bay of Morar)

It was mid-afternoon and low tide under grey skies.

He was walking along the estuary, weighing almost nothing on a sand as white as his mind, weaving his steps according to a lonely seagull’s flight patterns, hollowing his ear to receive the distant rumble coming fom the frontier line where the slow wandering water would meet the open sea – and he wouldn’t hold any more grudges against circumstances nor people, nor bitterness of freedom, nor bitterness of ties.

He went up soft dunes of fine sweet flour which scarce seagrass pretended to hold together, meandered between rising layers of black metamorphic memories on which stonecrop was brandishing its flowers as if to say it would never surrender (to salt and sand, to wind and night). Then, he went down again to the foreshore, took his shoes off, and let the water whisper to his feet.

The river came soflty whistling to the nearing call of the sea.

He walked to the middle of the inlet where the tide would soon rush back to its high quarters, lullabying a tapestry of wavy sand snakes with peaceful feet. The sky was river and the wind was light, and of such a consent, the bird drew the seal.

At the end of the pass, he turned to his left and faced the mouth of the estuary. The openness slapped him, forced his breath back inside him, stretched his soul. For the light was silver, and the water mercury, and out there, where the sea carved the distance to widen the horizon, singing adventures beyond dreams, was beauty too great for any heart. On its breath he was a kite again. 

 

 

On the other shore

 

On the other shore
Clouds will be thinner heralds of fair weather
Winds will disagree between mornings and eves
Scattered around noon like dandelions glory
And under loose suns men and women will go
Their noses in the air but their hands in the depth
Of so rich a soil as to make transient life
Seize the seasons’ crown of everglowing fruits

 

 

Longing

End of April. Plane trees – platanus hispanica – are now sailing along in the clear morning light. Horse chestnut-trees and paulownias have reached the peak of their beauty.

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The time of the euphorbia has passed. The time of the wisteria is drawing to an end.

 

(Euphorbia near Pernety, purple wisteria in Rue des Thermopyles, white wisteria in my street)

In the gardens, bind weed is awakening : awe.
Ivy-leaved toadflax finds its way in small cracks in the pavements, and is now flowering : joy.

Over the Channel, in my small Canterbury garden, are the peonies in full bloom ? Have the Siberian irises come to grow and thrive ? Or did the Kentish summer draught bring their young shoots down ? Voices too thin to carry over the sea, however strong the wind.

Longing for silence and light
to the swift morning breeze
I commend my desire –
may it fly 
to Southern shores where grow
their hearts and mine alike
plane trees

vast as a summer sky

How I now fear that my parents will leave the Mediterranean town I have come to call home.

That one could dwell under mountains born by the sea, among rocks and flora interwoven in an unmistakable treasure of light, that one could walk paths of thyme and rosemary in a landscape of limestone beauty, and envisage to leave them is beyond me.

To the great pines standing still under the Summer halt, and whispering in the evening breeze, that one could say farewell ?

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Pine trees on Cap-Brun

Working with Monty Don (a dream, obviously)

Went to bed very late, as usual (a sinful habit I don’t seem to be able to correct). Woke up several times in the night, as always. The last awakening came for a good reason : what was happening in my dream troubled me enough to be cut short. Yet, it had started very nicely.

Get ready everybody : I was trying to convince Monty Don to introduce in his weekly Gardeners’ World program a regular chapter featuring a French garden (I mean a garden situated in France). Here comes the funny bit : I was hoping to be in charge of that section. Yes, me. For my French readers, who might not be acquainted with the Gardening High Priest : my discovery of Monty Don’s program, some years ago.

The first thing I remember was a brainstorming session, somewhere in a dark basement room, which involved a lot of men (and me) sitting on one side of a long table and making suggestions while Monty was standing on the other side, under a yellow lightbulb. An odd liturgical setting. I don’t know by which transition Monty and I ended up sitting in a café which looked more like a hospital refectory – naked walls, everything pale and bland. The light, however, was strange, white with a slight hue of blue. This observation didn’t come to me while dreaming. It is only now that I realise that light was a cue to what happened next.

So there I was, pitching my project to a smiling and somewhat sceptical Monty Don. He was polite, he was handsome and, although he didn’t say a word about my proposal (at least I don’t remember him answering), I felt optimistic. Then, his son appeared, a young Mediterranean-looking boy aged between 8 and 10 (more likely to be his grandson !), and we had a little chat in French, which left me very impressed. Monty left with his son.

I went out, probably with the idea of going home.

Where there should have been a town, my eyes met a vast stretch of shallow water. It was as if the pale blue light in which we were bathing had taken shape and weight. On the rocks which had become the shoreline to that newly opened sea, people were gathering, wondering how to cross. Then, a small and light white plastic boat was brought to me by a Chinese or Japanese woman whom I knew in my dream. I lowered it to the water, rocked it in order to get rid of the puddle collected at the bottom, and embarked. The boat sailed away quickly, and suddenly we were moving along a Mediterranean city’s coast (grandiose hotels shaded by magnificent palm trees). I enthusiastically told my husband about my potential collaboration with Monty Don. To my surprise and dismay, he didn’t look happy at all and answered : “So you don’t want to be a teacher, then ?”

I felt so sad, or cross, I had to wake up. And a good thing, too : my husband is, in real life, very supportive of my projects, even though they don’t benefit the household financially, and doesn’t deserve to be portrayed as in my dream. What came out of his mouth, in the dream, was my own anguish at the direction (or lack of it) my life is following.

I believe the vast stretch of shallow water, mysteriously materialised, was a regular feature in my childhood dreams. I lack the words to describe the feeling of wonder and awe which came onto me when I recognised it in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

Granted, there is no valuable point to all this, but as Monty Don doesn’t grace me with a nocturnal visit often enough, I thought I would record this dream. 😉

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The top picture comes from here and the bottom one, from this article in The Times.