Witnesses

There’s that good-looking young Jehovah’s Witness, S.,  who comes back to ring my bell from time to time. The first time, he just introduced himself and the other young man who accompanied him. He asked me if I sometimes thought about the state of society, whether I found things hard. Did I wonder whether things could be better ? Or something like that. I just answered his questions. I liked his shy smile, his young skin and admired his courage. I briefly thought of the number of times people must have shut their door in his face, or insulted him. I felt strangely comforted at the thought that some people actually care about things like the possibility of God, the meaning of life, salvation and hope. Yes, I can hear some people sniggering as their heart goes cold and hard inside them and disgust swells in their throat. “I thought she was clever. I had no idea she was that type of bigot. Thank God I am not like that”. Well, vous pouvez aller vous faire voir.

The second time, S. came back with a young woman. I let them in, fetched the big green Bible from the bibliothèque, opened it, found some cards inside, covered in the beautiful and peaceful hand-writing of the lady who walked with me on the path to baptism some years ago. I found quite sweet the way S. and his learned friend were trying to find answers to my questions in the text. I was very impressed with their knowledge of the Bible. Of course, simple quotations did not answer my questions. I am a Catholic and I don’t believe you can just take a verse out and apply it to any situation. Moreover, I am a late convert, and my faith barely covers a deep-rooted background of scepticism, cynicism and, yes, let’s say it, atheism. I am one of those who want to believe in God and find it hard, but believe (feel) that therein lies the answer.

Anyway.  I have been shouted at for talking to those people, and aggressively asked if I was going to become a Jehovah’s Witness now, etc. I have to say that is what some members of my family did after their arrival in the USA in the seventies, and it didn’t go down well at the time with other family members. But shouting at me for talking to them or implying I am some sort of easily brainwashed child is counter-productive. Why is it so hard for some people to understand that being religious isn’t necessarily the result of some brainwashing ? Why do they feel so annoyed and threatened ? What is the source of their animosity and anger ? Why not just ignoring us ? I still haven’t found a satisfactory explanation, although I have been on both sides now.

I don’t know much about Jehovah’s witnesses, just a few facts, and notably that they are considered as untouchable in France (dangerous members of a sect). I was raised by the French school to share that point of view and only talk about them with utmost disgust. Now it makes me smile. I am not at all interested in becoming one of them, and I probably disagree with a good number of their beliefs, but I will keep talking to them. I know they consider other religions as evil, especially mine (I will always remember how my Auntie’s face froze as she discovered a picture of the Virgin in my bedroom – she looked as if she had been face to face with the Devil), and I don’t care. People are people. People who want to talk about important things are more pleasant to me than people whose interests are limited to the latest fashion trend or the results of yesterday’s match (don’t get me wrong, I think sports are great and I enjoy looking at a tastefully dressed person as much as anyone else).

I told S. that I am a Catholic and I don’t want him to waste his time. He keeps coming back. Maybe he just wants to talk about God. Maybe he isn’t just attempting to convince me (which he is, of course), but goes his way trying to be a witness to God’s love.

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Glorious red

OK, now is the time to show off (yes, I know I didn’t do anything). This is it. This is what I was hoping for, this is my minute of exaltation.

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I wish I knew how to take a proper photo, one that would actually show this tree’s incredible colours.

It doesn’t matter now that I am a grumpy bore and a bad mother (forever losing my temper for nothing). I am the lucky companion of this Japanese maple and it makes me very happy.

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(I am not even envious of the neighbour’s silver birch, with its green and yellow leaves and wonderful bark which calls the hand).

Addendum

Thanks to a friend kind enough to read this blog and lend me his camera, I can now add some pickies to illustrate my previous gardening post.
Here is Acer palmatum Katsura, last month and now :

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and the scorched-leaved Acer Shirawasanum Aureum

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and the reddening Osakazuki, which looks a lot brighter in reality.

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And this is my wall of Cosmos, quite damaged by the last days of rain.

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I also had some pretty Acidanthera flowers (glaieuls d’Abyssinie, ca en jette comme nom, non ?)

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Thank you James !

Gizza’ job ! I can do that !

My, my, the camera hasn’t come back yet. Dear Student of my husband, whoever you are, please give it back. I need it. A blog without any pictures is probably worse than a blog without words (OK this sentence is totally stupid).

It isn’t today that you will be lucky enough to hear about something more interesting than “Me, my feelings and what I think of it all”. My apologies. Here it comes again. I only write this to clear my mind.

I said I work in a grammar school. I am a foreign language assistant, working with Year 12 and 13 pupils (who, for some mysterious reason, must now be referred to as students, not pupils. They absolutely have to be taken seriously.) I enjoy my work because of the kids. A fair number of them are able to speak French reasonably well and some of them are good enough to debate, laugh, joke, and make me feel like I’m having a friendly conversation. I have always liked my pupils. In fact, they are the reason I enjoy teaching. When I left France, where I used to teach French and Classics, I missed them for a long time. Even those who gave me a hard time.

But hey, I am a qualified teacher and hold an excellent teaching qualification. A friend said to me today : “You can’t stay an assistant forever.” Of course, she is right. If only because it doesn’t pay enough. I also need to make something of my brain. So, why don’t I apply for a teaching job ?

Well, I can’t drive. I have never taught in England. I can’t afford to retrain (and the thought of having to pay for a training which is academically way below what I did for free in France – I even got a “good student grant” from the state when I was in Paris…). Childcare here is so expensive I would have to be very well paid to make it worthwhile (which is unlikely as I don’t have any experience in this country).

OK. All this may be true but is also bullshit. I am scared actually. I come from a system where you only need to be academically good to get a job. I was a good student. I was quick and clever. I am committed and very loyal. But I don’t know how to sell myself. Of course, everybody is more or less scared of being judged when they apply for a new job, so I am just an average coward. This doesn’t help at all.

You out there, if you need somebody like me and can pay more than the cost of childcare, please hire me. I can correct your spelling, translate, read you my favourite poems out loud while you are cooking (did that to my mum for a number of years), write your letters for you, correct your thesis’ writing style (of course, if you are Proust, you don’t need my services), teach you Latin and / or ancient Greek, give private tuition, initiate you into my family’s long tradition of hunting for crumbs and sing CBBies lullabies. Anybody ?

PS : Thanks to Bernard Hill and my husband for the brilliant title.

PS 2 : I should have written “your thesis’s writing style”, as a friend pointed out. So maybe I shouldn’t correct your spelling in English…

Quick update. (And about rose-tinted glasses.)

The rain and the cold have arrived.

The Katsura maple is a deep purple colour. The Osakazuki is very slowly reddening. Redwine lost all its leaves some time ago because of mildew, but has lots of buds. Acer Shirawasanum Aureum is looking quite ugly as its leaves are scorched.

I still have a wall of pink and white cosmos at the back of the garden.

I have planted all my alliums, the snowdrops and the muscari. I follow the advice of waiting for Novembre for the tulips as it worked quite well last year. The sea holly and the bearded irises haven’t been delivered yet (and I heard on Gardeners’ World that you should really plant bearded irises in September…).

Auntie Shelagh’s rose has decided to flower again, so have the Anémones de Caen.

Don’t feel like blogging at the moment. I mean, I would like to write something else than “Me, my feelings, what I think of it all”, but don’t have time to do any research (when will I be able to write that post about Gotham City and Minas Tirith and other fabulous cities ?). I didn’t want to write a self-centred blog, but it’s just what I end up with as I need time to write about any other subject.

A friend said I sound harsh on myself in my posts, but I am just harsh on everybody and I am not a fan of rose-tinted glasses. I don’t think one deserves love or respect just when one is nearly perfect. People should be able to be realistic or honest about themselves without being suspected of self-loathing. I think rose-tinted glasses are a sign of weakness or low self-esteem. It’s like this crazy belief some people have that they actually deserve their good luck… but no, I am not going to write about that now, I still need friends. End of the cheap psychology paragraph. 🙂

Will add pictures when the camera comes back, it has apparently been borrowed by one of my husband’s students (??!?).

I am not miserable, I just need more sleep.

Success with the Cosmos.

 

How time flies. Son is now going to school, which mainly consists for the moment in playing with Legos / trains / puzzles / cars. Daughter is bossing everybody around, even without using any recognisable words. I try not to imagine what it will be when she is older, as I already feel totally defeated.

I look at the holiday pictures, the peaks, the glaciers, the sky, and I wonder how it is that people can live far from mountains, just like I do presently. It’s not just their beauty. It’s the awe, the wonder, the power of revelation – that feeling that you wake to realise what your nature is, glorious and insignificant at the same time. How your heart swells with peace and strength.

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When I came back, instead of following my habit of walking around in my house looking for reasons to feel miserable (why is the house disgusting, etc), I just ran out into the garden. And this is what struck me first :

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I know I have been going on about how much I love cosmos and Sakura and Ino, etc. But this is far better than I hoped (and, to be honest, a little too big – the peony is now buried under this forest and doesn’t get any sun…). My father-in-law says he has never seen cosmos as tall as these. It is official, I have green fingers (nobody needs to know my father-in-law improved the soil considerably last Autumn with manure and all that). And, on top of that, these flowers are covered in bees. Que demande le peuple?

Well le peuple wanted more stuff. So I got some big pots for the Japanese maples which will need repotting soon, plus some Alpine plants (Aeonium, Delosperma and Ajuga) and lots of Spring bulbs : snowdrops because husband gets emotional about them, tulips which will go in a container this year (no more totally silly-looking salad in the middle of the flower bed for weeks on end), and different sorts of alliums (I have fallen in love with them – not only do they look spectacular, they don’t seem to tempt snails and slugs, alleluia) and hyacinths (again, for my husband). Oh, and more snake-head fritillaries, because I absolutely love them.

Walking in the high-street the other day, feeling nostalgic for the mountains, I came across a stall where people from L’Arche sold plants. There they were, the sempervivum that I wanted to bring back from the Alps so much. Being impatient, I just got two trays and planted them directly into my clay soil without adding grit or sand. So we’ll see if any survives. I think they will. After all, this is Kent, not Lancashire, so why not. Will post pictures of the new plants when the sun deigns to show his face around here.

Apart from that, covered myseld in manure the other day and no, two 60L bags are nowhere near enough, even for a very small garden with only 3 flower beds and a tiny border (if you follow the advice to put a layer of at least 5 cm on your soil). Well I’ve learned something this week !

Bye little garden

I am leaving soon for a holiday with my family in France. I don’t know if I will manage to steal some time for this blog. Some flowers I have been eagerly awaiting will show up in my absence. It doesn’t really matter – my husband can enjoy them and take some pictures. Living things have to go their path and follow their own rhythm. I am grateful for what my first gardening spring and summer brought me.

Auntie Shelagh’s miniature-rose-turned-big had so many flowers it couldn’t stand their weight. It was a bit as if the flowers’ stems had stayed adapted to a miniature plant, while the leaves and the flowers had gone wild. My Dad managed to keep them upright for a while using some complicated wire and stake composition. The colours were just beautiful.

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Little dianthus doing well. Why aren’t they more fashionable ? They are so pretty. Too easy for the advanced gardener ?

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One of the delphiniums. Not what I expected, but white, which is good, and as glorious as a victory against snails and slugs !

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I have lots and lots of Anémones de Caen, and I am just in awe of the blue ones.

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The first blue cornflowers. They are the sign and the heart of summer (waves of poppies and cornflowers in the fields of beautiful old France).

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It turns out Sainsbury’s yellow lilies were truly yellow (phew ! At least my son wasn’t betrayed this time, unlike then). And magnificent as well !

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The Clifford’s Stingray hosta is now showing off – not only are the flowers impressive, they also seem to attract bees quite a lot !

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The fifty pence climbing rose bought in Poundland in the end had to be declared dead (mentioned here), but the hypericum purchased in the same shop at the same price has done quite well. The jewel-like flowers are small and I have no idea if this hypericum is going to be an upright bush or a groundcover kind of thing. Qui vivra verra. But is this Poundland plant going to live ?

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Finally, my first cosmos flowers ! Simple flowers close to my heart.

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And, last but not least, proof that this garden deserves to be loved. Here is the Spirit of the place (talked about him here), under the ceanothus. He lives there, usually hidden under the dense groundcover provided by the Anémones de Caen. French, essentially ! 😉

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See you !

xxx

My garden in mid-July

News from the gardening front. Well, “front” probably conjures the wrong metaphor, as there isn’t much to do in the garden in mid-July, apart from deadheading (and mowing the lawn, but we still don’t have a working lawn-mower…). I just want to share some pictures of tiny miracles. As usual, click on the pictures to see them in a bigger size.

Here are the first Anemones de Caen which I did not believe would flower :

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Here are the beautiful Alpine Dianthus Starburst and Lewisia cotyledon (I wish I had bought more of these alpine little jewels) :

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Here are, finally, the lazy Alliums caeruleum :

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The Potentilla wedding dress train :

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Now, something I had not dared to hope : this weak lupin plant which was already showing signs of mildew or illness on the M&S shelf where I found it a few months ago, which couldn’t produce leaves strong enough to stay upright and was almost thrown in the bin… is trying to produce a flower !

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If you compare this plant to the other yellow white lupin, which I planted at a much later date, you can see how weak it is – it is clearly struggling.

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Yet it is trying to do its job, with a determination I find inspiring. It wants to overcome snails, slugs, fungi. It wants to be part of the summer glory, and project in the air the colourful spike which may bear its survival. I am glad I did not listen to my usual impatience and kept it.

I took the risk of upsetting my husband and gave the Japanese Spiraea a trim.

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It is not yet the promised Tory-style cut which will happen in the Autumn, but it allows a bit of light to reach other plants on the side and behind it. This bed is the sunniest spot in our North-facing garden and I don’t see why only one plant should get all the benefit of it. As my son keeps saying (when lurking around at my piece of cake after having gobbled his) : “Il faut partager !”.

I said somewhere that my sowing hadn’t been very successful. I haven’t got any Love-in-the-mist. But the Nemophila Five Spot which have grown here and there in a disorganised and rather unaesthetic manner have actually flowered, and yes, the flowers are still worth it. I especially like the fine bluish veins on their white petals.

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And, talking about annual seeds, my joy at the moment is with the Cosmos. They haven’t flowered yet. But by Jove, they are beautiful.

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They fill the space whilst staying airy and feathery, achieving the desirable combination of volume and lightness. Cosmos come from Mexico. And yes, when I look at them, they conjure a sensation of white heat and dangerous sun and mineral lanscape. I can’t wait for them to show their flowers – memories of a celebration of friendship in Naruto (cute Sakura !).

naruto !Mine haruno sakura yamanaka ino gif: naruto ino haters to the left please i think a lot of people tend to overlook this part in the anime. ino is actually a really caring person especially to sakura when sakura started crying i just died a little inside otp so much

naruto !Mine haruno sakura yamanaka ino gif: naruto ino haters to the left please i think a lot of people tend to overlook this part in the anime. ino is actually a really caring person especially to sakura when sakura started crying i just died a little inside otp so much

Finally, the hostas are going to flower !

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I hadn’t even realised these plants could produce interesting flowers, as they are grown for their gorgeous leaves. How a garden is full of little surprises ! Yes, it feels like a continual birthday, a present for each week.

Now, the thing is, my daughter is going to be baptised on Sunday. We are Catholics and this is obviously a very, very important event for us. Family and friends are coming. So please :

– Mrs Poppy and Mr Hollyhock,

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– Liatris spicata,

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– Auntie Shelagh’s rose,

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– Forest of blue cornflowers,

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HURRY UP AND FLOWER !!!

P.S. : there was one red strawberry which had escaped the birds. Little one and I went to the garden, duly covered in sun cream, ready for the mystical encounter with our first ever home grown fruit. Just as we arrived, flap flap flap flap, the thieves flew off with the Precious. I will get my revenge.

July buds

July is now here, believe it or not.

Here are the renoncules.

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Pretty glamorous, aren’t they ?

Now, my husband’s favourite : the Japanese spiraea. A bit too voluminous to my taste (wait till this Autumn, you’ll get a Tory-style cut), but the bumble bees are all over it.

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The alliums took their time, but they are quite spectacular now. I mean, the alliums Christophii, as the Caeruleum are still waiting for God knows what.

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Now to the bits I like : things I did not expect, or about which I had given up hope, but which don’t hold a grudge and still go their patient way, like the poppy :

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or the anemones de Caen,

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or the liatris spicata.

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As expected, Sainsbury’s can’t really be trusted on the colour of the plants they sell. You may remember I went there and purchased some yellow flowering plants for my son. Well, here is the lupin :

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Even the worst kind of sophist featuring in The Apprentice wouldn’t convince my son this flower is yellow. (I find it funny some people are ashamed to admit they watch the Jeremy Kyle Show, but not The Apprentice. I think the kind of stuff you see in the latter programme is more damaging to the idea of a worthy humankind.)

Lovely weeds : I must admit the plant which has actually given me most satisfaction wasn’t planted by me, nor by anybody. It is the Herb Robert, yes, that invasive weed, which builds such wonderfully light architectural structures of red, pink and green, dotted with dainty little flowers that bees love so much.I have let it grow along the border of a flower bed. Shame my camera is not able to capture its beauty.

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Other unexpected beauty, legacy of my father-in-law’s meadow flower mix of last year.

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And, finally, some expected vandalism by birds, who have eaten all the red strawberries. Well, I accept it will happen until I can get a net.

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Bon appetit, little birds, this feast won’t last forever ! (I say little, but my garden is actually inhabited by fat blackbirds who think it is their space and keep looking at me with a reprobatory stare).

Parent’s rummaging

I said in a previous post that I am not a talented mother. Other mothers around me (plus some on Facebook) make me confirm what I already knew : I am impatient, inconsistent, temperamental, unimaginative… and I take my kids to MacDonald’s. As a result, my almost four-year-old son is addicted. I sometimes bribe him into doing something by promising to take him to the shameful fast-food place – yes, even though for French people, it must the worst capital sin. The main problem with this is probably that I enjoy it myself.

Apart from bribing, I do all those parentally incorrect things : use the telly as a babysitter, give in (sometimes) to bickering, labelling children (“the dreamer” and “the pirate”), punishing for minor things, etc.

I actually read a number of parenting books, especially when my son was a baby : books about breastfeeding, about the utmost importance of putting a baby on a routine, about not ever trying to force a routine on a baby, about everything you should expect in the first year (this one is a good one if you want to become stressed about all the important milestones your two-month-od child hasn’t reached), about taming toddlers, funny English or American books and very serious and culpabilising French books (“si vous ne réglez pas ce problème dès maintenant, ce sera trop tard !”). Funnily, none of the advice seems to have stuck with me and yet, I am usually a relatively disciplined and obedient Asian girl. But I find that I am ageing in a strange way : I am a lot more laid-back than when I was younger (geographical distance from the parents might be a reason why). When I say laid-back, I might mean self-indulging.

Some of my friends try to raise their children according to the principles of “non-violent education”, aiming to avoid coercion as much as possible, explaining endlessly and negociating with their young kids. I admire them for their courage as I know how much energy they must dedicate to this squeezing reality through the frame of principles. And I feel slightly astounded when I see how differently people who are quite similar and received more or less the same education (at least, in school) go about parenting.

The reason why I don’t follow their path is not just my self-indulging ways. I think explaining things to children is good and desirable, but I don’t believe in endless negociating. I don’t believe reality can be reduced to a system. I don’t know. I think life is a thing that just flows and kids will grow up on their own. Of course, we should help, advise, teach, listen, etc. But getting all worked up because the kid did something unexpected or we lost our temper in spite of all our principles, well, it’s too tiring. In my case, if I got discouraged everytime things don’t happen by the book, I would just need too much money for the therapist. I keep hoping, in a somewhat subconscious way, that time / God / something will take care of things for me and sort us out, the children and me. At the same time, I realise I am only saying that because I haven’t got any real problem to face. If action was truly needed, then I suppose I would act.

And what exactly is the point of this post, then ? Mmmmm… No idea. 😉 Well, I suppose I would like to initiate a debate about parenting, but I don’t think anybody will be bothered to participate, so… 🙂

Dance of the red maple

The plants ordered online arrived yesterday (see the list in my previous post : here), and of course, I had to rush on my garden fork, spade, and almost empy bag of compost. I planted everything, except the Hosta June, because I couldn’t face the possibility of slug and snail damage on its pale green painted-looking leaves which seem to glow in a strange and fascinating way. That one I left it in its pot, hoping a band of copper tape would do the trick.

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Then, I had a look. Hum. Well. Even if I didn’t necessarily want to follow to the letter the “stick to a colour scheme” advice, it proved a bit difficult to overlook the uncomfortable clash between the red Shaina maple and the dark pink flowers of Astilbe Rheinland (what a beautiful name, by the way – reminds me of slow walks along the Rhine in Bad Godesberg, where the light mist carried memories of poems by Heine, as well as the dangerous miasma which would give us colds after colds. How much more alive, and seducing, and treacherous the Rhine was, there in Bad Godesberg, than in those places near Strasbourg where my uncle used to take us for a walk in the summers of my childhood ! ).

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So : dark pink feathers (astilbe) / intense red leaves (maple) / shiny metallic purple balls (alliums). Not even mentioning the pink and rose “girly” dianthus and the red roses about to open, with the yellow lupin and yellow potentilla on the sides.  I felt deeply discouraged. I dreamt about it. Massive anticlimax.

So, today, well, I cheerfully vandalised the red maple by moving it several times. Moved a hydrangea to some random other place, put the red maple in its place, and planted the beloved fullmoon maple in the middle, where I had intended it to be since I first saw it and fell in love with its luminous leaves. Then, I pulled out the ugly tulips leaves, and ahhh, felt much better. The pink astilbe feathers and the metallic globes of the alliums don’t look bad on each side of the lamp-like Acer Shirasawanum.

I had another look. The red maple was now really near the fence where a new little Clematis Montana has received the mission to cover the branches of the disgusting fat-leaved ivy (after the aphids and the molluscs, the most hated creature in the garden). It needed to come out a little, and so it did.

By then, the two maples were too close. (Roi des démons, tu me poursuis !). They both are slow growing varieties, but still, everybody needs a bit of space. So up came the poor Shaina again, only to be moved a few centimetres away. I pray that it forgives me.

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The whole composition is far from perfect, but it is not ugly and I can live with it. Oh how I wish I was like my artist friend Marie, or my master glazier sister-in-law, gifted with the ability to know at first glance where each thing should live !

Frogs

Did I say that frogs and toads actually live in my garden ? It makes me feel even worse for using slug pellets and stops me from cutting back the ivy as they like to hide in it.

Unlike English people, I am not particularly a bird lover – I mean, I think birds are pretty and lovely, but I am not really interested in them, unless they carry some strong symbolic connotations, like ravens or swallows (I once had a swallow. But this story is for another day). But hang on, I am not a bad person altogether : I like frogs and toads ! I don’t actually know anything about them, but I just find them fascinating, beautiful and mysterious. I also love them because of two texts that I discovered in school.

I strongly disagree with the commonly used argument against literary studies, according to which working on a text in school makes the children hate it. “Books are here to be enjoyed, not studied”, blablabla. As a pupil, I found literary studies very interesting. I am also eternally grateful to my teachers without whom I wouldn’t have heard about so many wonderful novels, poems and plays. Although my parents are both doctors and my Mum has a PhD in 20th century French literature, we rarely talked about books (or even culture in general) at home. My parents had come from Vietnam without a penny and we did not own a lot of books when I was little. It is thanks to the school and the literature lessons that my shelves – and my inner world – slowly filled with treasures.

I find pretentious the idea that one never needs help to understand and enjoy a book. I lacked references, historical and sociological knowledge, points of comparison, etc. I am happy some teachers and fellow pupils shared all that with me.

Back to our frogs. The first text is Le Crapaud, a poem by Tristan Corbière, one of Verlaine’s “poètes maudits”.

Le crapaud

(Les Amours Jaunes, 1873)

Un chant dans une nuit sans air…
La lune plaque en métal clair
Les découpures du vert sombre.

… Un chant ; comme un écho, tout vif
Enterré là, sous le massif…
– Ça se tait ; Viens, c’est là, dans l’ombre…

– Un crapaud ! – Pourquoi cette peur,
Près de moi, ton soldat fidèle !
Vois-le, poète tondu, sans aile,
Rossignol de la boue… – Horreur !

– Il chante. – Horreur ! ! – Horreur pourquoi ?
Vois-tu pas son oeil de lumière…
Non, il s’en va, froid, sous sa pierre.
……………………………………………………………………..

Bonsoir – ce crapaud-là, c’est moi.

The second text is a short story by Dino Buzzati, published in Il Colombre in 1966 (in French, Le K). The French title is Dix-huitième trou. The “hole” in question is on a golf green where an ageing successful businessman is playing with his daughter, her husband-to-be, and a friend, as the day draws to its end. As the round goes on, the businessman, usually a very mediocre player, shows an unexpected and almost unsettling talent even though he is feeling weary and detached, and keeps complaining about flies only he can see. When exhaustion overcomes him, at the 18th hole, the ball gets lost in the rough. As the participants set out to look for it, they realise the businessman is nowhere to be found. In the area where the ball is supposed to have landed, they find a toad, covered in flies, which faces the setting sun as it gives up its struggle and prepares to die. As the animal lifts its head, gasping for breath, its eyes meet the daughter’s gaze. She panicks and calls for her father.

I must say I don’t like the French translation of Buzzati’s short stories in my edition. It feels clumsy, sometimes heavy and, in a word (or two), very laborious – the tenses in particular are all over the place. But then again, I am not able to read Italian… Despite that, I remember feeling moved by the description of the dying toad, because of the way it abandons itself to the evening light.

Please tell me about your own frog stories, I might start a collection !

C’est la Bérézina.

Not feeling on top of anything today. My daughter is suffering very badly from chickenpox and has been screaming for most of the day, starting at 2 am last night. Her father has been running between chemist shops to find creams and antihistamin drugs.

On the gardening front, I have finally accepted that the sowing of various annuals some weeks ago is probably going to fail. The Cosmos (cf. in Naruto, that moment between Sakura and Ino) have come up but are losing their battle against snails. The Nemophila 5 spots are in the same situation. And of the Love-in-a-mist, there is no sign. (Which makes my going up to the nusery even more painful as I stare with envy at the neighbours’ beautiful borders filled with bearded irises, rose buds, alliums (mine take so long to open, I may be dead before there is anything to see), clouds of blue Love-in-a-mist – I’d better stop here). On the other hand, weeds are doing wonderfully in my garden, and another type of aphids has infested the pink honeysuckle.

But I haven’t given up hope. Having gone to Sainbury’s for a ready meal, I came home with yellow flowers (my son’s favourite colour, he wouldn’t let me buy them otherwise) : yellow lilies and lupin. It’s my second attempt with a lupin – as usual, it was bought for its name : some of you may also have read the wonderfully illustrated Fleur de Lupin by Binette Schroeder as a child. If you have, it is unlikely you have forgotten it.

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© Ecole des Loisirs

Also, a pink dianthus. Not surrendering yet !

(Yes, I realise I am doing it again : buying random things to fill holes in the flower bed, a course of action which is unlikely to create harmony, especially with the Japanes maples in the middle of it. But I accept that I am only a beginner and that it will take time before I get an idea of what I should be doing.)

Slugs and snails and puppy dogs’tails

So. Slugs and snails. Well, there’s not much to say, really. I think I am losing the battle.

I tried the nasty pellets, but wasn’t too happy about it. I am not super green, etc, but if you can avoid using nasty stuff, why not try ?

So I purchased copper tape for the pots and some “large” copper rings for the delphiniums and other plants which are in the ground.  Copper deters slugs and snails as it produces a slight electric shock when in contact with their mucus.

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Then, I read that 90% of slugs live underground – what would stop them from creeping inside the ring from underneath ? I had to find something else.

I discovered nematodes. They are microscopic parasitic worms and some of them will infest slugs. They come as a fine powder that you mix with water and apply to your soil with a watering can. The worms can provide you with up to 6 weeks of protection (which could well mean one week). Nevertheless, I felt super clever, super green, one step ahead of the molluscs. I followed the instructions as well as I could. I would no longer stay awake at night worrying about slugs !

And then, I discovered that most of my plants are eaten by snails. Big snails. And nematodes don’t work on them.

Things got worse when I found one enormous snail hiding under one of the blue hydrangea’s leaves. The blue (now turning pink because of our hard water) hydrangea is in a pot on which copper tape has been applied. (Yes, I know, I bought a plant that was forced, it is evil, etc.)

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And another big snail on the delphinium which is in the middle of a copper ring (this is direct provocation, right ?), with no leaves overhanging or forming a bridge which the pest could use to sail inside the ring. Right. OK. Stay calm. Maybe, I need to clean the copper on which the rain has splattered some earth.

Anyway, I resorted to ecoterrorism again, using blue pellets. I try to use them sparingly, but still, not very satisfying. What I feel, is that I could probably get in control of slugs and snails if I was consistent and determined. But I am lazy and easily discouraged. Oh well.

I also found loads of aphids on the red climbing rose today. And I am wondering whether I should spray them, fearing that they might infest other plants, or leave them be (the climbing rose is far from the house), hoping for ladybirds to visit my garden. The truth is, I should wear some gloves, be brave, and crush them. But that is disgusting. I think I might actually hate aphids more than cockroaches. Anybody who has read Les Fourmis by Bernard Werber understands me. OK, it is not good literature, but is entertaining, and made me consider ants (and aphids) differently.

On a rather better note, I noticed that some shoots are coming from the Anémones de Caen little “bulbs” I planted some time ago, thinking they would never work as they like good drainage, and I have clay. OK, shoots don’t mean I will get any flowers, but it is still good news. Better than my lilies of the valley, which never showed up. 🙂 Let’s not sin against Hope.

And hopeful I certainly am, for I have planted a 50 p climbing rose from Poundland today. I don’t expect much of it, but I like to give everything its chance (providing they are not pests) (or weeds).

Introduction to my little garden and a discovery for me.

Hello again. Well, this blogging business was first suggested to me by my husband, amused by my newly found passion for growing things and fighting slugs and snails (a battle which I am losing). So, a gardening blog this will be, most of the time. It could be entitled : “The ignorant and hopeful gardener”. I apologise right away for this long and boring post.

I live in a little terraced house and my north-facing (alas) garden is very small. When we moved in two years ago, it was a lovely low maintenance garden, with established shrubs, lots of ivy covering (and supporting) the fence, ferns and grasses. Some plants forming the hedge might have been chosen to deter burglars, like the firethorn or a big climbing red rose with fierce claws. As for (visible or noticeable) flowering, the neighbour’s magnificent wisteria was covering the shed’s roof, fighing for space with the exuberant honeysuckle (a true Miyazaki monster, see picture). There is a forsythia, the aforementioned climbing rose, two hebes, a potentilla fructicosa (or so I believe). ImageImage

ImageI did not touch a thing in this garden… until recently. The only thing I did was to try to rescue a miniature rose from M&S which was a gift. I planted it in a random place in the flower bed in front of my house. My in-laws, who are probably the best in the world, came to help and mowed the garden, pruned the shrubs, kept the ivy in check. I, meanwhile, had my pirate daughter and tried to survive.

Last autumn, my father-in-law took me to the garden centre (we are one of those people without a car) and I just thought : I want more colours and more flowers. So I bought bulbs. Daffs, Irises, tulips Angelique, alliums, crocuses, fritillaries. And an hellebore. Planted them more or less randomly. Now it is Spring and I have had a nice display – I mean flowers and colours. I have been buying mixes from various high street shops to enhance my collection with peonies, renunculas, anemones (which won’t work in my clay), agapanthus, aquilegias, lilies, acidantheras, bleeding hearts. Most of them have not flowered yet.

Now here is the thought : I believed I wanted a cottage style garden, informal and flowery, like most of my neighbours’ plots. And only by planting did I realise it was not going to work. Indeed, I have inherited a relatively formal setting where there is limited space available for planting. With young children, I can’t sacrifice the lawn yet. And I have neither the means nor the time to change the whole layout. So, I can’t change the whole thing, and I don’t see it working as a cottage garden. I want something else, which would work as a whole, a beautiful ensemble. All this, with me being a complete beginner and an impatient ignorant.

I realise now that what makes this apprentissage so interesting is the emergence of an intellectual, if not conceptual, process in the way I envisage the garden, its cultivation and my approach to it. My father-in-law had drawn my attention to the fact that gardening is not at all a communion with nature of some sort, as we are constantly fighting bugs and weeds, diseases and what we perceive as ugly shapes. But it isn’t either an physical outdoor activity which will give your tired mind a desired rest. No. I slowly realise that my garden is like the sheets of paper where, some years ago, I had to answer a question and lay down a dissertation (in three parts and nine subsections – yes French schools). How to achieve that harmonious and meaningful composition ? The flowers are individually pretty, but together? Moreover, just as in an essay, where the teacher is trying to determine whether you can think on your own and form an opinion which is not just borrowed from some famous book, you want your garden to say something relevant and personnal.

Now all this is obvious for anybody who has any gardening experience. For me, it is a discovery and I must say I am a bit disappointed. I thought that planting anything, waiting and then witnessing its awakening and the unfolding of its mysterious beauty would be a simple and unshaded joy. Now things have to be grown not for themselves, but as elements of a abstract plan, colourful reflections on an immaterial dream (I know, dreams are immaterial, right?). As a result, I’ll always be disappointed, even if my skills were great.

That’s not even mentioning my “coup de sang” for the Japanese maples (which should arrive tomorrow… please). Japanese maples are like a dream. That, as well as my losing battle against molluscs, will have to be treated another time. Again, apologies for this long post.