Why do we do it?
A simple five words which interestingly brought to mind for both of us a clearly remembered song from decades ago – though I’d mistakenly transposed “We for I”. Played ad nauseam no doubt from a 45rpm vinyl record. Presumably bought for both our multi-children families, by stressed parents, thinking that it would keep us occupied on a rainy day, or even because it had a good moralistic message that good behaviour was always worth it in the end. Or maybe both parent’s amusement of the co-incidence of their circumstances with that of Mrs Rabbit, with their own. As she sings in the video below, “Happy with her lot”, and her four beautiful children; she “works for them, and cares for them, and teaches them how to be, the most respected members of the bunny family.”
For those for whom these words don’t jog memories of their own, you can click below to listen to the whole “Story Of Peter Rabbit“, by Beatrix Potter, narrated and sung by Vivien Leigh, and recorded for the dog and gramophone folk at HMV. Though neither Fiona nor I had any idea, then or until now, that it was Vivien Leigh, who read and sang, on the record.
It was the words and tune that had stuck firmly through all these years:
“Why do I do it? What can it be?
There’s naughtiness in everyone, but twice as much in me.
I’d give the world, if only I could,
The sustained dry weather of late has led to the usual state of physical exhaustion here as we find it almost impossible to stop when there’s a list of must do dry weather jobs – in particular logging up and shifting all the trees cut back last spring, and this winter, in our lower meadows. Not strictly garden work, but I see a real overlap or extension, between our fields and the garden, now that we’re seeing greater plant diversity beginning to establish in them.An article I read this week by Lia Leeandertz, in “The Garden” crystallised what may well be a common failing of gardeners – an inability to actually stop working and simply enjoy the fruits of their labour. She mentioned that Somerset has come up with the idea of an annual Garden Day, click here for more, when gardeners firstly down tools for a day, and secondly invite friends or family round to enjoy their special patch. Interestingly the colourful image fronting this website, shows stylised features that will appeal to many gardeners – not just flowers of all hues, but distant rural landscape, a leaping hare, robin, moths and bees.
So an appealing visual portrayal that a garden is much more than just a haven for stressed humans, and that it can be a home for all manner of wildlife.
By opening our garden for charity for the National Garden Scheme as we do, we might argue that we’ve been doing this sort of thing on a regular basis for quite sometime now. Except that it’s not quite the same as sitting down with a cup of tea, and simply soaking things up. Though one of our recent group of lovely garden visitors did indeed request that we join them at our outside table for tea, cake and a natter. Lovely.
But is a privately owned, modest garden perhaps in a league of its own? Is there any other form of artistic endeavour which is so difficult to share? Other than by physically being in that space, at that particular time, when the garden really zings? Yes, I can write about it, or photograph it, which I clearly do with relentless energy, if not frequency, of late. And others can do the same. But often this is but a pale snapshot of what this, or any other garden, is all about.
This was brought home to me very recently when another photographer got in touch and asked if “they” – suitable ambiguity intended – could visit to do a photo shoot for a planned magazine article, written by them. We made suggestions as to timing, referred them to my monthly garden views folders, and even sent up to the minute images from the garden – several are included in this post, and gave our best estimate of how long certain flowers might last. But also explained that like most, our garden is designed to morph. As one thing goes “over”, something else takes up the baton. Apparently Monet knew how fleeting his beloved Irises could be and would give guests a specific date and time, to see them at their best.
However, being an understandably busy person, and because of commitments this end, they couldn’t make it for about 10 days. The tulips were fading a little. Beautifully, I felt, aided by some overnight frosts.
But the Camassias were getting going. Narcissus ‘Merlin’ was near its glorious peak and Acer leaves were delicately unfolding. Pictoral vignettes abounded. The inevitable garden tidy, grass cut, and titivation took place the day before the visit.
But within a minute of getting out of the car, I sensed that it was, for them, considered to be a wasted journey. There were apparently no immaculate grand scale vistas to sell an article. They asked to be excused briefly, to make a phone call to cancel a planned overnight B&B. We shared a cup of tea, and hot cross bun I’d made a few days earlier, and then the visit ended, their camera never even leaving the car.
At one level, as the gardeners who have poured energy, effort and thought into crafting this garden in this special place over nearly two decades, this was extremely disappointing. But is this inevitable, if a garden is viewed as becoming a mere commodity? Something that can be written about, and photographed.
And then, perhaps, sold.
To earn a crust.
If ‘perfection’ in the eye of the beholder, isn’t achieved on the particular day, and time of the visit.
A static, one dimensional take, attempted take, on the multi-dimensional performance that takes place every time we choose to allow complete strangers to share our love of this place.
And indeed this, place, and space.
Different time of day, different light, different month or season, different flowers, different bugs – and a very different show is inevitable.
Strangely, in several of our contacts with the media circus over the years, it seems to be more Lousewort, than Trefoil. By which I mean hemi-parasitic feeding, rather than nitrogen fixing, nectar rich symbiosis. Pictures and words are mined. And traded.
And the fertile hunting ground, dutifully basks in the warm glow of the kudos of such coverage. And the workers are persuaded that it raises the public profile of one’s plot. One’s brief moment in the limelight is sufficient reward.
Though I shall no doubt mention next time, the results of much more positive visits made last year, which will shortly roll from the presses. And doesn’t all this commercial coverage go against the whole ethos of this blog, which has steadfastly been produced, as indeed most bloggers do, in a completely non-commercial way for many years, to record and share.
Fortunately, the vast majority of our charity contributing garden visitors who contribute their monies to the coffers of the National Garden Scheme do seem to get much more from their visits.
This Easter, even our older, city based, grandchildren leaped from the car on arrival, exclaiming their delight at seeing Granny and Grumpy’s lovely big garden again, and anticipating the soon to be laid out Easter Egg hunt.
And actually it was quite nice to see Granny and Grumpy as well!
Such enjoyment of one’s efforts is undoubtedly hugely appreciated. All these visits do indeed complement our own pleasure gained from this most curious perennial, evolving, interactive, conceptual art form.
So, will I finally lay down the law and say no to further media coverage? I’m currently pondering this, and will probably anyway have sealed our fate simply by voicing such concerns here. But I’m left thinking that gardens need to be visited, if possible, privately and quietly, to try to appreciate the design, and plantings and how the garden works as an entity within its wider environment. And indeed, to try to capture the spirit of the place – always easier if one arrives early, or visit with few other people.
By coincidence, we’d trekked down to Cornwall at the beginning of the month to experience some of the fabulous BIG spring gardens there. Blessed with lovely sunny weather, it was a delight we shall surely try to revisit. And whilst not wanting to bore readers with vast numbers of holiday photos, there are a few views of the gardens we managed to see in 4 frenetic days. A cramming in of Cornish (and a couple of Devon) gardens to perhaps tempt others to take the long, long road South West sometime, when the Magonlias, Camellias and Cherries are in bloom. Certainly enough gardening sustenance and inspiration to give us very long lasting memories.
Rosemoor: Docton Mill: Trelissick: Trebah:Our firm favourite, Trebah. Everywhere a vista, and a real spirit to this place, made more poignant by the memorial to such sacrifice on D-Day starting from such a currently serene environment.Glendurgan:
( A very close second to Trebah. A very special place).
Truly great garden making, mainly from decades ago, but maintained and curated with fantastic care and flair. Compare with my thoughts on visiting Giverny again last May.
We’ve never seen anything like these gardens, elsewhere.
From such grandeur, and often sweeping locations and vistas down to rugged coves, back home to our Welsh hillside, where Common violets, Viola riviniana, and Lousewort, Pedicularis sylvatica, are now spreading rapidly over the thinnest soil in our hay meadow, where topsoil was scraped away years ago, to fill in a zigzag track, up through the meadow. And providing a wonderful early nectar supply for bumblebees battling with April’s chilly conditions.
In our lower meadows, the pond is springing into life with Bogbean, Menyanthes trifoliata, flower buds emerging, tadpoles growing ever larger, and the advancing Mare’s tails, Hippuris vulgaris, looking interesting with their horizontal barring.
No more otters, but plenty of visits from Canada geese, herons and foxes. But where are the toads this year? Have numbers collapsed? Or have I just missed their annual pilgrimage to the pond, and the subsequent predation with torn bodies littering the pond’s banks? There’ve been no signs of the long strands of spawn either.
At least swallows returned to the valley in mid-April, though as yet none have taken up residence in the barns. Then on a fabulous sunny April 22nd, the cuckoo began serenading the valley, whilst Dark-edged Bee-flies, Bombylius major, Orange-tip butterflies, Anthocharis cardamines, and emergent Large red damselfly, Pyrrhosoma nymphula, seized a brief moment for the first time in this chilly late April scene.
But a day before, more signs of carnage in our neighbour’s field, and a reminder for us to be watchful as our first, very few, lambs are about to appear into this savage world. The remains of a(nother) ripped apart Canada Goose.And a strangely largely untouched dead polecat, Mustela putorius. Probably the same one I’d seen wandering around the garden, clearly in very poor shape a week earlier. Possibly affected by distemper? In the garden, we increasingly focus on specialist, and if possible local, nurseries for sourcing plants. We’re fortunate in having a fantastic nursery nearby, (Farmyard Nurseries, Llandysul, click here) who carry an enormous range of unusual plants. In particular, Richard Bramley, the owner, has been developing one of the UK’s best ranges of Primula sieboldii over the last few years. These early flowering Primulas hail from Japan where they grow in water meadows, often in dappled shade, and come in a huge range of flower colours in the white/pink/blue ranges, and petal forms, some being very intricately cut like snowflakes. Named after the German born plant explorer, botanist, and physician Philipp Franz von Siebold, who enjoyed a remarkable life full of adventure and intrigue, culminating in him introducing many new species of Asian plants into European markets. Including Japanese Knotweed! Click here for more on his biography.
We’ve rarely seen these Primulas in cultivation in gardens, and as you can see, Richard grows his in a polytunnel, so they’re obviously challenging. But last year we bought a few, they’ve bulked up well, and after being kept outside all winter unprotected, have been planted out now, and are beginning to flowering. Like all plant groups there are wide flowering time and plant vigour variations, and the advantage of visiting someone like Richard two or three times through the season means it’s easier to select a range of flowers which appeal, and also have the potential to extend the season of interest. Fabulous colour labels on his plants now means that you can appreciate the flower forms, even when out of season. I’m hoping that in a couple of years we can maintain a more open section of our meadow copse, where these plants can have pride of place to produce carpets of flowers from early April onwards into May.
In a similar way, we’ve scoured the pages of Ron and Adrian Scamp’s excellent daffodil catalogues for daffodils to extend the season of interest, (click here for more) since tulips fare very poorly here, and we really want bulbs which multiply in the ground, without the need for annual replanting.
Narcissus “Oryx”, above and N. “Tinhay”, below are both tall, late Narcissus jonquilla hybrids which fit this bill. The Scamp’s have bred many themselves, and when we were down in Cornwall, we passed a few commercial daffodil fields, as well as several of the villages which they have chosen to use for daffodil names. For example N. “Nancegollan” an early all white form.
But daffodil breeding is clearly a patient game. In researching for my separate webpage, featuring many of the daffodils we now grow (click here), I discovered that the daffodil just named by Ron as N.”Capability Brown”, below, and spotted by us on his stand last year at Cardiff Flower Show, as an unnamed seedling, was actually bred by him in 1996.Finally, as this performance fortunately reaches its last few bars, a reminder that we all need time not just to look, but to see.
Mum, a zoologist by training and qualification, who was fortunate to study at Birmingham under both Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar, and Solly Zuckermann, FRS, and whose carefully typed up Msc thesis involving anaesthetising and cannulating pigeon’s blood vessels, was passed down to me for safe keeping, would often excitedly tell her brood, having spotted something in the world around us which she thought we should observe and appreciate:
So, did you spot the Fox moth caterpillar, Macrothylacia rubi, basking on the mossy saxifrage in the earlier photo above? Much more foxy than the large mature adult. A noticeable furry, orange brown, basking in a sea of pink and green. Catching my eye as I sat for a cuppa on the terrace table, 6 yards away.
Have another look at the earlier pictures.
The ducklings are a first, at least observed, for our ponds at Gelli Uchaf, and bring back yet more memories, of a chase up and down both banks of the Afon Clywedog in mid Wales, for a couple of hours, as an excited pre-teenager desperate to “rescue” a lost duckling, struggling with the current, with no parents or siblings anywhere to be seen.
Eventually I captured it, and kept it “safe” overnight, in a cardboard box in the caravan.
It was dead in the morning.
A veterinary career beckoned.