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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Garden miscellaneous (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Hosta June and Hosta Canadian Blue)

I am mightily pleased with Narcissus tazetta Martinette.

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you are enjoying Spring too !

May it last !

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

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

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

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

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

A few pictures :

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

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

Now, in my garden :

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With dew, this time, Aldor ! 🙂

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My beloved Hepatica transsylvanica.

 

Under the snake’s head lilies’ skirts.

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Primula Belarina Pink Ice, ready for a wedding !

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

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Jewel ! Centaurea montana Purple Heart.

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Cornus praying.

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

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

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

O Spring where art thou ?

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

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

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

I equipped myself with a poor woman’s greenhouse.

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

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

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

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

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

In the garden again !

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Greek Summer

Today is the day when Spring and Winter join the tips of their fingers.

I had a dream yesterday. I was talking with my friend M. about somebody I don’t remember now, a man, I believe. I said something like: what is good about him is that he believes in the soul. My friend looked a bit sceptical. So I embarked on a long, convoluted and utterly self-addressed explanation of the reasons why I know souls exist. I can’t remember any rational argument now. But I can still feel the images, the colours, the touch of the light.

I was trying to make my point through images (the things you do in dreams), the very pictures which have stayed with me after reading L’Eté grec by Jacques Lacarrière a long time ago. On my journey from a mythical Greece I had chosen as my “patrie imaginaire” deep in childhood, to living in the real world and embracing Christianity, that book (how do you translate a “récit de voyage” ? Traveler’s tale ? Account of a journey ? Travel story?) built a bridge which allowed me to cross a rift that I had never imagined I would want to or be able to cross. Sometimes people ask me why I became a Christian. I may have been able to explain it quite well some years ago, but the words and the chain of events have left me now (my memory is capricious). Yet I know that I would probably have died without that conversion. And I think with tenderness of the moment when my friend lent me his volume of L’Eté grec (he used to scribble poems by Ronsard on tiny bits of paper during the German lessons and, if he at first expected me to take my turn in this literary game, he soon came to realise I wasn’t able to do it, being far less cultivated than he was. Yet he didn’t hold a grudge and carried on making the destroying of Heinrich Heine bearable).

How I loved that book ! The Mediterranean sea, the colours, the smells, that beauty you recognise at the unmistakable piercing of your heart, Lacarrière’s lighthearted step on the stony paths of Mount Athos, the funny encounters with a few crazy monks, and the song of the waves – yes, of course, we have a soul. Mount Athos became a sort of key for me, the key to the gate linking the Greece of my dreams to a real country where people lived real and sometimes Christian lives (how I was heartbroken when I discovered I would never be able to visit the Holy Mountain!). I was young when I read it. Yet I trust the book must really be what I thought it was then, because my friend’s taste was very sure and his mind truly brilliant.

If you haven’t read Lacarrière, get yourselves a copy of (The?) Greek Summer. The man, an erudite Classicist who practised journalism, literary critics, theatre and of course traveling, is very inspiring, and his style lively, witty, poetic, similar in some aspects to that of Nicolas Bouvier (how on Earth does Bouvier do funny, poetic, original and deep at the same time? I find his writings have the precision and the evocative power of those estampes where a few strokes create a world).

Jacques Lacarrière

Jacques Lacarrière, source : http://www.babelio.com/auteur/Jacques-Lacarriere/8690

My dream wasn’t really about the existence of the soul. It was about this very moment when Winter and Spring join the tips of their fingers. Our bodies take part in that unmistakable swelling of the new season, which in the depths of my unconscious memory connected to the rise of that Summer light. A new door was opened then, to the landscape of a Greek Summer which kept me alive.

Couverture : L'été grec

About a little garden’s destiny

It feels good starting to work again in the garden. Some hard pruning, some repotting, some cleaning (and some slug pellets scattering, alas). And the hot questions which keep me awake in the early hours…
Will the blue hydrangea stay blue this year ?
Will the snake-head fritillaries survive the imposition of a gorgeous Candy Love Hellebore in their midst ?
Will the very young Ceanothus recover from the violent attack which almost tore it from its roots (the culprit, I suspect, might be one of the neighbour’s cats) ?
And the rhododendron which was given to me last year by a visiting Japanese professor, the leaves of which are unfortunately spotted with brown marks, how will it fare ? (Visions of Himalayan slopes in my terraced house…)

Always ahead of myself, I pay little attention to the daffodils and hyacinths preparing their buds, and imagine the glory of my five types of alliums balancing their purple and silver spheres in the breeze. I keep inspecting the branches of the five Japanese maples (wet feet they got this winter, alas), thinking that this Spring will be the first time I witness their leafing out.

The garden is the reason I wouldn’t want to move away too soon (nothing of the sort planned yet). I did so many little changes and, in such a limited space, planted so many creatures I would like to see growing and maturing. In how many years will the eight snowdrops create one of those white drifts that make woods an enchanted place ? Would the tiny Acer Shirawasanum Aureum really grow to be a large tree crowned in shimmering gold ?

Funny feeling : people come and go, and gardens… Would the next owners hate my alliums and my thistles and replace them with roses, as I replaced the grass and ferns by flowering plants ? Would they think three hydrangeas are over-the-top in a small garden ? Would they care for the ivy I am fighting all year round ? And what will I do if I go back to live in one of those French flats where gardens are only a distant thought ? It is true, isn’t it, that the gardener plants his heart in the soil for which he cares. I don’t think I will ever be the city girl I was before coming to England, not any more.