Unforgotten – Bludgeon

Everyone knows the necessity of a stick companion whilst walking in the woods. A good stick is a vital part of any expedition. A stick is needed to prod things, to offer support on tricky descents, to arrange at arms length. A stick is necessary to Gandalf a little, to swish, or to brandish. There can be no argument, a good stick is imperative. But this stick should not be brought with you, it should be found, and each walk should be begun by selecting an appropriate one.

Ashton Court Estate is a short meander from the country end of Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Over the years we visited many times for a plethora of reasons; sometimes battling through a crowd, sometimes seemingly alone. There were weddings, balloon fiestas and free festivals. There were muddy runs dodging mountain bikes and gentle walks culminating in bacon butties. There were friends and family and many memories.

The grounds are a pleasing mix of woodland and meadow and manicured open parkland. It was here I saw my first little owl, blinking in the early morning sunlight and where I studied the muscular beauty of a red stag and his glamorous hareem. Dotted across the site are ancient oaks, hollowed and propped, colossal Sequoiadendron giganteum give witness to Victorian exploration and equally spectacular Magnolia grandiflora welcome you to the mansion. The dog graveyard was always visited; carefully, as a mark of equal respect, reading out each name with solemnity, wondering by the size of the gravestone whether it be Great Dane or Yorkie. With a little trepidation we would investigate the ice house; dripping and funereal and littered with evidence of modern shenanigans.

Each spring we would visit the bluebell wood, blanketing a knoll close to a rarely used entrance, far from the house. It may have been on one of these ocassions that I found the chosen one. I’m afraid I don’t recall the details. All I can tell you is that a stick caught my eye and at the end of the walk I decided to take it home with me. This not usually acceptable behaviour, in fact it was frowned upon. We had enough of a hoarding problem already to now start collecting random pieces of wood. But this one was special and I resolved to keep it and love it. And for once my resolve came to fruition. I lovingly rubbed it down and oiled it and it has been with me ever since. I have no idea what tree donated it to me or even what made it more attractive than the tens of others that had been discarded before it. Sometimes things chose you. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it (forgive the pun, although I quite like it myself).

It is totally hopeless as a walking stick, far to long, more crutch like. It would make a perfect shillelagh or bludgeon, both fabulous words although slightly contrary to my amicable demeanour. However, if I should ever need a weapon, I have a rather beautiful one to hand, which I am sure would make the violent act far more pleasant. Or perhaps not. On reflection, I will keep it as ornament and a peaceful one at that.

Six on Saturday – Pretty Maids All in a Row

It has been a fortnight since I last reported and I am worried that you are expecting great things of me. I am sure you do not wish to hear excuses, if necessary I can come up with a baker’s dozen, so I will just say “these things can not be rushed, I am an artist and I must wait for my muse to inspire me”. Which of course is bunkum, but worth a try. What I present you with here is a particularly dull Six on Saturday. Apologies, but perhaps you could read it just before bedtime to aid a good night’s sleep. If stimulation is what you are looking for, pop over to Mr Dynamo himself, The Prop, and find out what himself and his acolytes have been up to. Right, let us get this over with.

To begin, a new border, the first. It is north facing. I may call it The North Border, although this is unlikely. At present it is pathetic and feeble, pretty maids all in a row, but it is a start and the hydrangeas especially needed to have their feet in the soil once more. Talking of soil, I am pleasantly surprised in that department. A few inches of nice dark stuff, then a more red sandy clay type. Not a fag packet, Gregg’s carrier bag or bit of rusty metal in sight. I must get a pH testing kit. I was asking Jim a couple of weeks ago about a small camellia to suit and I would rather not grow it in a pot.

In the new North Border (working title) I planted a cutting from our wonderful red hydrangea in Ilfracombe (above not looking very red), Hydrangea aspera ‘Hot Chocolate’, Impatiens omeiana and Begonia ‘Claret Jug’. All a bit deciduous so in the middle went Pseudopanax ‘Moas Toes’, which is heading for the stars. I’m thinking about nipping out the top to encourage some horizontal growth, any thoughts? I will wait til spring so you have time to think about it.

Much as I would love a hand crafted artisan compost heap, I am realist enough to accept that a dalek is as good as it is going to get for the foreseeable. This is enough to make me very happy. The evidence of border excavation is nearby. As tidy a pile as an untidy pile can be.

I had bulbs to plant. I had no pot to plant them in. So I made a mini bed and planted out Rodgeria ‘Heavenly Gill’. If ever a plant should not be in a pot, surely it is a rodgersia. Hopefully it will thrive here, it has struggled up to now.

Then in with the bulbs of Lilium ‘Forever Susan’. This must be my five hundredth attempt to find the real thing. Fingers crossed for next year. And yes I did cover the bulbs with soil.

Some traditions must not be ignored. The violas are doing very nicely.

Your trial is over, you have stayed the course. I can’t promise much more excitement next time. I can promise I will try. Stay safe my friends.

Unforgotten – Portrait of a Young Girl

Something that became overtly apparent when we were packing up to move is that we have a great deal of everything. Too much. Including pictures. Too many. Oils, water colours, prints and mixed media; landscape, still life, abstract. Although we had no more wall space, for a long time I yearned for a portrait. Not of me, or even of him, just of someone I liked the look of, a fine cut of gib.

Ilfracombe, as many others do, has an annual art trail. Local artists set up temporary exhibitions in their homes, or perhaps collaborate with friends, and invite the general public to view their work and perhaps buy a picture or two. We enjoyed this event. It was a good opportunity to explore corners of the town we hadn’t come across before and have a nosy about in strangers’ houses. Oh yes, and admire the wealth of art this small town has to offer. Whilst on one of these arty meanders we wandered past an artist studio-come-home-come-gallery. This property is adjacent to a set of traffic lights approaching the High Street and I had often admired the paintings in the window as I waited for green to hurry me along. I had never actually seen the door open before so took the opportunity to dangle a foot across the threshold and call “are you on the Trail?” to whoever might be lurking inside. “I’m not, but please come in”, was the reply from the shadows.

As we stood chatting to the owner/artist, Nigel Mason, my eye was caught by a small square painting of a woman. In fact I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The mens’ conversation faded into the background as I studied this bright young face or was it a dark young face, I wasn’t quite sure. Then, without consultation or further ado I asked “How much for that one?”, pointing in her direction. Nigel had a think and pulled a very reasonable price out of the air for our consideration. We checked purses and wallets and offered what we had in cash, which he accepted.

Before we left, carefully wrapped painting in hand, I wondered “Who is she?” And I was surprised by Nigel’s answer. He had painted this picture from a photo he had found of a young Russian woman who was just about to be transported to The Gulag.

I knew exactly where I wanted her to live. In our bedroom, on the wall just above the chest of drawers, the same height as a mirror, so that every day I could look into her eyes and she could look into mine. Who knows what insignificant misdemeanour caused her internment, who knows what horrors she endured, who knows if she ever left her prison? But she lives on, in Nigel’s portrait, in my thoughts and I like to think she won in the end.

Shelter

“Come and shelter, now!” shouted Professor Gadget. He is very authoritarian on occasion.

“I’ll be there in a minute, I’m just trying to photograph a spider’s web full of raindrops whilst balancing my phone, sodden gloves and a handfork, shouldn’t be long.” I replied. Herculean task completed, I made a run for the, now, tidy shed. Here we discussed the relevance of Nietzsche in the modern world, the best way to cook a carrot and how his Prof-ship was going to remove the dandelion growing in the guttering, all whilst the rain hammered down.

Rain. Generally a nuisance, expect perhaps if you are a thirsty plant or looking for arty photographs.

Unforgotten – Tick Tock

In the summer months, when visitors prowl the streets with eager purses, there was an infrequent car boot sale on the rugby pitch across the road from our house. It wasn’t a Ming vase, lost Turner masterpiece type of event, more a broken toys and scary ornaments affair. Still, as it wasn’t far, we used to visit just in case. And in all fairness we did pick up a few treasures, books, plants and this clock. When I bought it, for the grand sum of 50p, I was indulged rather than encouraged by my OH. “But” I argued “I love its chrome space-age sleekness, it is a prime example of the art of design”. And furthermore, it didn’t matter a hoot when the man on the stall confessed it didn’t work. Home it came and for the several years it lived on the mantlepiece in our bedroom where I would admire it for its gleaming beauty.

When we were thinking about moving I had to make some decisions about my treasures. Things would have to leave my magpie nest. I glimpse the shining clock and decided that perhaps it would be a candidate for rehoming. Now Ebay and me are not good friends. Generally, I have paid more in fees than I have actually made in profit. I am not suited to commerce. But still I thought “if it is easy to repair I might make a few quid on it”.

In town there was, and probably still is, a proper watch and clock mender. A professional enthusiast; he had special glasses and eye pieces and teeny tools. I took the clock in for his appraisal, saying “This lovely clock doesn’t work, could you give me a price for fixing it, please?”. He said “you need to put a battery in it”. I said “battery”. He said “yes, to make it work”. I said “Oh”, feeling more than a little foolish. “You just turn these screws to take the back off and put a battery in here”. “I have been trying to wind it up with that screw” I was getting in deep now. In an attempt to gain lost ground, I smiled sweetly, thanked him for his time and hurried from the shop, clock in hand.

Of course, I kept the little battery operated clock because I love it, it is shiny and space-age and works very well now it has a battery. And because it makes me smile when I am reminded what an idiot I am.

Six on Saturday – First Steps

Hello and welcome to my first Six on Saturday from Nouvelle Maison, or perhaps I should say Cartref Newyd. The top news of the week is that, joy of joys, I have eventually started to work in the new garden. Not that anyone would notice, but a few tentative steps have been made. It would be foolish to rush into such things. In my experience, you have to build up a relationship with a garden, have shared experiences, failures and successes, appreciate and tolerate personalities, weaknesses and strengths. This takes time. I am often naive in life, but not so much to think this will be a quick fix. Let me share with you the story so far. But first, don’t forget, to find out what other SoSers from across the globe have been up to, check out The Prop’s site. We had better get going, there is a long way to go.

As you can see, our starting point is small, modern, heavy on the lawn and patio, nigh on featureless. Bare bones. If I switch on the horti-translator for just a moment, this equates to POTENTIAL! The plan is obviously complex in both design and concept, but to simplify we could say “much grass culled, lots of plants in big borders, compost heap and greenhouse down the side”. Something like that anyway. I may need a hosepipe.

In the top right hand corner there is a small border in which is planted the ornamental pear, Pyrus ‘Chanticleer’. It is about 20ft tall and ominously rocked and rolled like a manic Little Richard throughout the recent gales. Still in full leaf, it has a large sail to be caught by winds. Something to be considered. Will you stay or will you go now? A prize for IDing that quote.

Not strictly in our garden, but a few meters from our front door on a communal green area, is this young fastigiate oak. I like to think of it of our tree. I am planning on some planting some bulbs and perhaps a few primroses around it. Then the corporation chaps will come and mow them down. Perhaps I should have a chat with someone.

There are a few plants in the small pear tree border. Some young privet next to the fence (days are numbered), an astilbe, a couple of manky hostas, a ladies mantle and a large clump of violets. Today (yesterday) I planted a Helleborus x hybridus ‘Anna’s Red’, Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Tiarella ‘Pink Skyrocket’ (gift from my lovely sponsor), some Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’ and Fritilleria meleagris. It felt good. The jury is out as to whether the violets stay.

A few more plants have travelled from Peggy’s to Patio, including the gorgeous Fuchsia ‘Eruption’. There are an awful lot more to take the treacherous journey. The tibouchina is just coming into flower so can’t be moved, I will wait for the dahlias to die back for ease and others will come piecemeal as we visit. Each time I have to make the decision to which to bring back with me I feel a little bit guilty. How do you choose between your dear ones?

Finally a collection of fossils and shells which had been wrapped in tissue and stored in a box since Bristol. Devil’s toenails and tiny amonites, mother of pearl and lucky stones. They can live outside now.

That is your lot, my lovelies. The first six, the first step. Onwards and upwards!

The Unforgotten – Furry

Inspired by Lisa the Compulsive Gardener’s curiousity, I have decided to embark on a new mini-series.  Quite how mini remains to be seen.  The theme is The Unforgotten, which isn’t quite as dramatic as it might sound. Basically, it will involve me unpacking tat which has been in storage for the past 5 months.  These seemingly, or quite probably, inocuous objects will have a story, mundane or thrilling.  That is the jeopardy.

We will begin with the purple and lime green furry pencil case mentioned in my last post.  Here it is in all its glory.  I have a small thing about stationary, I know I am not alone in this. There is most probably a word for love of office-ware. If not perhaps we should invent one before it is too late. In an increasingly paperless world the days of multi-coloured paper clips, neon highlighters and novelty pencil sharpeners may be numbered. And although I celebrate the preservation of the tree I mourn the passing of the decorative ring binder.  I bought this pencil case perhaps 20 years ago, just I was about to embark on an Open University foundation course.  The reason I chose this particular item is unclear.  To impress my fellow scholars, to comfort my nerves, perhaps it was the pencil case I had wanted as a child but never got? Whatever the reason, I still consider it to have been a sterling choice. And it still brings a smile to my face.

Normality

After a rather fraught couple of weeks/months/year we are trying to recover some semblance of normality. When I say “normality” I mean the best we can do in that department. Generally, it is treacherous to compare oneself to others’ unobtainable standards. Perhaps I should say “our normality”.

Unsurprisingly, our new home is in chaos and, although desperate to get out there, I haven’t raised a finger in the garden which is looking bare and deadly dull. We have transported only a smidgeon of our plants from Mum’s house. Peggy supergluing most of the pots to the patio hasn’t helped. The washing machine is a casualty, although to be honest it was a bit ropey before storage and possibly gave up the will to live in the almost 5 months it was in a crate. Our clarion call is “do you know where ***** is?”. “No” is invariably the answer. Greeted by a growl. Amongst those missing in action are the hair-dryer, Tufty the squirrel, my shoplifting coat and all the litter bins. But on the plus side, I have rediscovered my hardhat, Minion lunchbox and my purple and lime green furry pencil case.

A large leap forward on the road to stability, was a return to work and to the garden of the indefatigable Professor Gadget and his faithful sidekick, Buster. I found both in fine fettle and was treated with the respect that I have become dependent on, ie none whatsoever. It was good to be back.

Sacrifice

Try and visualise this little scenario with me. Go on, give it a try. It is one that I have replayed over the last few weeks, I am very well aquainted with it.

You’ve been hanging on the telephone for an age, listening to the recording of a very sincere woman assuring you that “your custom is extremely important to us” accompanied by a first class ear worm. Gordon from Birkenhead eventually comes on the line, apologising for your wait. Unfortunately, by this point in time you’ve forgotten not only why you called, but the point of life itself.

Today we completed the purchase of our new home. There has been a similarity in the process with the scene above. Although, to be truthful, which I always try to be, I was significantly happier when we eventually got through.

For those of you who so generously offered their own personal sacrifices to The Big Moving Gods in the Sky, your selfishness has been most welcome. Thank you.

Six on Saturday – Hello

I just popped by to say “hello there”. To say “cooooeeeeee, I’m still hanging on to Planet Earth”. Perhaps even “did you miss me, did you notice I’ve been gone?” Too needy? Almost definitely. More importantly, I am here to share my last Six from Peggy’s house. Or rather, my last Six if the Big Moving Gods in The Sky are feeling benevolent and the ceremonial sacrifice of six jammy dodgers and a kitkat was considered adequate. I will say no more, I do not wish to jinx things. If you have a little time on your hands, it might be worth seeing what the other SoSers are up to. Pop over to The Prop’s site and all will be revealed. Shall we shake a leg?

First we have Diascia personata, the name of which I have a terrible time remembering. After an initial flowering, several pot ons, a severe chop back and a major sulk (on its part) it is now flowering again in a very civilised manor. Refined and understated, as befits the season. Fair play to you fine, *checks notes*, diascia!

“It is not dead” I kept telling everyone/myself, and I was right. This time anyway. The Tibouchina urvilleana is just forming flower buds, having pulled itself from the vortex of doom. I am very pleased because it was a gift from Mr and Mrs Fish and not only do I love it, I feel a certain responsibility of care.

Well along the road to snoozeland, the hostas are shutting down, withdrawing chlorophyll from their leaves and giving us a fine lemon drizzle display of colour. I rarely consider hostas as plants with autumn merit. I may well have to rethink that opinion. Remind me next year.

Onto Hedychium ‘Pradhanii’, which has sporadically produced some rather contorted, disturbed flowers for several weeks. The recent rains have suited it and now the blooms are as exotic and wonderful as they ever have been. Hip, hip, horrah!

Begonia grandis ‘Claret Jug’, is another beauty just coming into its own. Burgundy backed leaves and stems, fresh pink flowers held on Barbie branches, this is quite glorious.

Finally, Nerine bowdenii ‘Bicolor’ has thrown up two flower spikes this year and this is the first to shine. And shine it does. Now we just have to wait to see if its delicate relative, N. undulata is going to turn up to the party.

That is your lot. Hope you are all staying well and happy. ‘Til next time.