Nothing is New

I love to read, I always have done, ever since I was a little girl and forced my younger brother to listen to me show off my prowess.  However exhausted I might be, I read every night, even if I have to reread the same pages the next day.  It is the full stop to my day.  Not to do it would seem bizarre.  Sometimes I am eager to return to the story, sometimes not so keen, but I almost always persist until the end.   I usually have two books on the go.  An Upstairs Book and, you’ve guessed it, a Downstairs Book.  Even with two on the go at the same time I have a lot waiting in the wings.  Post-Christmas the pile has grown substantially; poetry, memoir, cookery, nature and novels, and I feel secure surrounded by the potential wonders contained within.  The recent days of relaxation have meant more reading time, which has been a great joy.

A couple of weeks ago, on the Mantle Estate I was recalling a story of my youth to Their Lordships.  I think they were enjoying it, both with their eyes closed and mouths agape, making snuffling sounds as I told my tale.  Now you can savour my words.  Any insomniacs might save it for later.  Many years ago I went travelling with my boyfriend of the time.  We ended up in the south of France, bunked up in an enchanting house that his parents were in the process of renovating.  They were aiming to move there when it was complete, which they indeed did.  The house was in a small hamlet reached down a winding tracking off a winding road, deep within the sweet chestnut forests of the Cevennes.  It was a place of great beauty and I will always remember my stay there with great affection and a smile.   The property at the time was not much more than a shell, there was basic electricity, but no fresh running water and the toilet was in a outhouse where scorpions lurked and emptied to who knows where.  Each visit the family brought books from home which meant there were a meagre three shelves full of a varied assortment, a hotchpotch of fiction and non fiction.  These included The Glass Blowers by Daphne du Maurier, Hotel New Hampshire by John Irvine, Alistair McLean’s Where Eagles Dare and The Well Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd.  Mike was also an avid reader and having been on the literary wagon for many weeks we devoured these with undignified relish.  What I remember as especially wonderful was the fact that I was a captive audience, it was a case of “take it or leave it”, I would never have considered reading a gung-ho book about Special Forces or, God forbid, a gardening book!  Both I enjoyed immensely.

Waking The Mantles from their meditations I spied a large cardboard box spilling over with books and wondered what it was there for.  “Take what you like” Her Ladyship said “they are on the way to the charity shop”.  Then quick as a whippet “After that story, I think you should close your eyes first”.  Oh dear, she is rather fond of her Barbara Cartland, it could be a scary outcome.  Without peeking, honest guv, I rummaged around and pulled out the chosen one.

Yesterday I read the following passage in the current Downstairs Book, the very one that I had blind selected at the Mansion.  As I am a great fan of Hardy (both Thomas and Tom) it was a lucky pick.  This piece made me laugh and I read it out loud to OH who, from memory, had a similar countenance to that of my little brother all those years ago.

Nothing is new.

Here they turned over sundry flat stones and killed the slugs sheltered beneath them from the coming heat of the day, talking of slugs in all their branches–of the brown and the black, of the tough and the tender, of the reason why there were so many in the garden that year, of the coming time when the grass-walks harbouring them were to be taken up and gravel laid, and of the relatively exterminatory merits of a pair of scissors and the heel of the shoe. 

The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy 

Renewal

Today we went for a walk.  This is an example of the crazy things I have got planned for my month long sabbatical.  It was nice.  We may well do it again.

One of the first things we saw was large fallen tree, a beech perhaps but difficult to positively identify without scrabbling and a festive excess of cheese and pringles has rendered this impossible.  It had crashed into another on its unfortunate descent, felling a further substantial specimen as it toppled.   We need more trees not less, I thought.  Although not surprised, the high winds and wet soil often add up to unstable footings, the sight did make me feel a bit sad.

Then, as we wandered around the garden where OH used to work, we came across plants that he had put in more than 7 years ago.  A three metre high Leptospermum grandiflorum, grown from seed I collected from Marwood Hill Gardens, a Crinodendron hookerianum now a fine looking large specimen, a dozen fruit trees all maturing well, a silver birch past the lanky teenage stage, amongst many others.  And I thought, a good job.   In our own way, as gardeners, we help to renew, to replant and to take up the slack.  We may not be as good as Mother Nature, but we do our best.

Trees fall, it is the nature of things.  If left to their own devices they may well rejuvenate from the rootball, any dead will provide a new ecosystem for all manner of birds and beasties, fungi and fauna, and ultimately will feed the soil it lies upon.  All is not lost.  Often a tragedy is not as fruitless as it first appears.

Which brings me in a very round about, the taxi driver from hell, way to the year ahead, which is shuffling in the wings as I type.   We must all do what we can to find positives amongst the many negatives.  To keep on doing what we can to make this a better world.  To spread the love.  To renew and replant, to take up the slack.  All is not lost.  I am hoping so anyway.

And I wish you all a fabulous 2020, filled with fulfilment and joy and of course love.  And if you feel so inclined, get out there and plant some things.

 

An Alternative Christmas Message (no corgis)

It is nearly here.  Whether you immerse yourself completely in the festivities or hole up in a cave on top of Ben Nevis until it is all over, tomorrow is Christmas Day.  Personally I love it, although I can understand why people distance themselves from the excesses and unnecessary pressures.   I love it because it is the time of the year when people seem less embarrassed, not so self-conscious, to be nice to one another.  Not everyone, that is true.  At this very moment the food hall of M&S might be a little less kindly, sharpened knitting needles may be involved.   But many do find it within themselves to be more thoughtful and empathetic, to smile at strangers and wish happiness and merriment to people they have only just met. To link arms and sing songs about peace and joy. And I like that very much.  It shows great potential for western civilisation.*

Enjoy yourselves whichever route you are taking.  And I wish you and yours a splendid 2020.  Keep the faith, whatever that might be.

* Philosophy thanks to The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Beechgrove

It is raining.  Which means I have been cooking or thinking.  Unfortunately on this occasion, it is the latter.

I am a professional gardener.  When I am not being oh-so-professional in other peoples’ gardens, I write about plants for fun and for money.  It would appear that horticulture is my life, the be all and end all, that I am blinkered to anything lacking chlorophyll.  But you would be wrong.  Apocryphally my own garden is sorely neglected, staggering on with belligerent intent.  In my spare time I rarely read magazines or watch TV programmes about gardening.   Call me a lightweight, a half-cocked enthusiast, a traitor to the cause, but there are so many other things that interest me.  This isn’t helped by the fact that I find much gardening media repetitious or pompous or patronising or just not talking to me.

But there are exceptions, one of which is the BBC Scotland programme, Beechgrove.  For those of you not acquainted with this programme I will try to explain its attraction.  First of all it must be something special to extract me from my bed so we can breakfast early(ish) and settle down to watch the Sunday morning repeat for us softy southern Sassenachs.  Each half hour episode is over in a blink, packed full of delicious morsels.  However, if you are looking for breakdancing lycra clad dudes or indeed any kind of fashion statement you will be sorely disappointed.  There is a distinct lack of stage managed pets and no-one says “on-trend”.   In my opinion, and those of OH for those of you still not convinced, it the most enjoyable gardening programme in the known universe, although I am a little out of touch with the Venusian TV schedule.  It is not obviously concerned with demographics, everyone is included from young guns to elder statesmen, stately homes to allotments.  They experiment, have a few failures but many more successes.  What is more, they don’t pretend that the presenters do all the work!  They name check or feature the actual gardeners on a regular basis.  And very importantly they don’t take themselves too seriously.  It is funny and most of all throughly human.

I don’t know the whole story, the whys and the wherefores, but for some reason this diamond of a show is now off the air until the end of July.  Its 26 programme run has been streamlined to a measly 14, and in the meantime they “will be investing in more content on social media”.  I’m talking to you now, The Powers That Be.  This does not placate me, in fact it makes me want to laugh.  Or cry.  The point has been missed.  What I enjoy is sitting down with my partner, cup of tea in hand, to watch the interactions, the characters visited, the plants growing, listen to the advice tendered.  I use social media, perhaps a little too much, it has its place.  I am not however interested in, and will not be, having any interaction with the crew on line.  Beechgrove is going to be missed, and not only by myself.  It is about so much more than how to train your peach or when to sow your carrots.  It is what what we all need.  A little honesty in our lives.

The photo above is of a pretty pink dianthus, being held aloft by the soft foliage of a white heather.  Neither of these plants are à la mode, they are even better than that, they are timeless.