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Sunday, 30 June 2013

Fluff and Roses

We had a near fatality on the farm the other day. A young guy was delivering a load of muck into one of the fields and drove away with the tail end still up on his tractor which caught the electric cables and brought them down with a resounding bang and a flash. The driver was only saved because of the rubber tyres on his vehicle. If he'd touched the side of the tractor he'd have fried, the men from SEB assured me as they laboured for six hours to get us all back on the grid. Farms are potentially dangerous and hazardous places. In the winter when everything was frozen and covered in snow, I thought I'd take a short cut behind the pigs and almost disappeared into a pit of pig slurry! I hadn't realised it was where it was and my weight cracked the ice and in I went. Almost like drowning in a vat of malmsey only not nearly as fragrant. My boots filled with slurry and I had to hold my nose all the way back. A few years ago when my Mum was still living with us,  an old guy in a glider flew into the very same electric cable. It was a miracle he survived. His plane was so flimsy and lay in the wheat with its balsa wood wings snapped off at the cockpit. All he suffered was a cut on his hand and was also lucky not to have fried. This time we were only without electricity for a few hours but I remember my mother complaining that she couldn't watch The Antiques Road Show or Midsummer Murders and I thought - hey Mum a man nearly died here!

the posies for the history Festival
And talking of planes there is A History Festival  in the valley and they had an air display yesterday with a Spitfire and a Sopworth Triplane and various other old planes which all swooped over the farm. It was a spectacular sight. I'm not really into planes but these brought a lump to my throat as I thought of all those young men who flew them in the war and didn't come back. When they had flown out of sight I turned and saw our swallows doing exactly the same air display over the stable roof.
Last year at the history Festival I made over eighty posies for the tables in the food tent for a great catering company called Bread and Flowers. Sadly they didn't do it this year but I was glad not to be doing the flowers as this time half the flowers I used are not even open yet.
Rosa Constance Spry
But the roses have opened and looking magnificent. My top ten favourite roses are (for climbers) Madame Alfred Carriere - definitely my top rose if I could only choose one if the others were washed away, New Dawn and Constance Spry. For ramblers Rambling Rector and Violetta which is a heavenly colour and for Gallica/shrub roses Charles de Mille, Tuscany Superb, President de Seze,Souvenir de St Annes,  and the fabulous striped Ferdinand Pichard.

Rosa Ferdinand Pichard

Rosa The Generous Gardener

Rosa Charles de Mille
 I have recently discovered The Generous Gardener which so far has proved pretty good, not too much blackspot which as I don't spray is a bit of an eye sore. These are not all good for picking but a florist told me that three really good cutting roses are St.Cecilia, Evelyn and Margaret Merrill which are all pale and look fabulous together. There is also a strange green rose called Viridiflora which I've planted by the gate and would look good too if it wasn't being strangled by the ground elder.
Rosa Ferdinand Pichard
Rosa New Dawn

Rosa M.Alfred Carriere in the background
 I've almost given up in the garden, using my mantra "Next year I'll get on top of it." And perhaps I will - just like inside the house. Why is it people only drop in when it's in a tip? I suppose the answer is it's always in a tip but sometimes I manage to tidy things away and wash the floor and sort out the piles of papers. A friend dropped round the other day when it was all particularly bad. I offered her some jam to go on her rice cake and to my embarrassment saw the jam had a thick layer of fur on the top and when I poured the milk in her tea it all bobbed up to the surface in those globules that prove that your milk went off ages ago and you haven't cleaned out the fridge.
Oliver Rackham said "The blight of tidiness every year sweeps away something of beauty." I am in agreement.
Pocket(quarter Bengal)looking as if he's hanging on to a life raft in the sea of detritus

Nancy looking horrified, not wanting to be part of the mess in the kitchen
The chaos in our house gave rise to this poem I wrote a while ago.(Hey it's in my poetry book Dog Days if you want to buy it!)

Fluff in the Ideal Home

There's dark life in the bedroom
the yoghurt pots have beards
weird anti-biotics live
in the clothes which mutate on the floor
a knicker mountain has formed
a doll slag heap
and fluff replicates
at an alarming rate.

Displaced socks seek out
the Mothercare pyjamas which
drift around in the dust
whilst somewhere
five miles down
in the carpet's crust
undetected organisms eke
out a slow existence.

Inferior felt tips mix
with the nano bacteria
in the sediment of the bed
and groups of immigrant shoes kick
alongside something
which looks dead.
Very small crocodiles make out
in the crawl space -

Where does all that fluff
 come from for heaven's sake?
They say it's flakes of skin
take care - someone might
collect it all
and make little models
of you.

Sunday, 23 June 2013


The poet Wallace Stevens said that the only limit on a person's life is a weak imagination. He believed the imagination is "The Magnificent cause of Being, the only one reality in this imagined world."

When I look out from my bedroom window this is the view I see.

Not really.

I can see the Isle of Wight on a clear day but not the mountains in Zhangjiajie which was where this picture was taken by my daughter who has just returned from a trip to China. But what a view. It is the stuff of poetry and literature.
What goes hand in hand with the imagination is not wearing your glasses. The other day I watched a river of wool gushing down the hillside into the valley. On closer inspection(still without my glasses) I could see it was a herd of sheep being let from the top field into the bottom field, all being chased by a sheepdog as they jostled to flow through the narrow gate. It was a wondrous sight.
And thinking of sheep, those three rams in the field at the bottom of the garden (see a previous post) who had looked so massive, have been sheared and now quite honestly they are puny, skinny, insignificant creatures which must give rise to the saying " Oh you're just all wool!" If they sheared them before the mating season they probably would all be rejected with a toss of the head.

I had a curious conversation with the plumber who came round to mend the boiler yet again, about eyes. He told me in lurid detail about having a cataract removed whilst still conscious and said that at the time he couldn't go out in the day because it was too bright, so he often only went out at night. It made me think of vampires and perhaps instead of being blood sucking creatures favouring the dark, they just all had eye problems.

The week has been partly dominated by trying to save a fledgling that Pocket(quarter Bengal) brought home. It was a robust little thing and appeared unharmed by being in the jaws of death, but it was still bald apart from a few tiny feathers on its wings and a tuft of down on its head - and it hadn't yet opened its eyes.(Well it might have opened them but couldn't bear the sight of what was going on and they remained firmly shut.) I think it  was a starling and not even a fledgling yet  and I didn't know what to do with it. It was still alive and I could find no sign of its nest or its mother and had no idea where it came from.
What to do?
 I knew in my heart it wouldn't survive but I couldn't put it out of its misery or leave it for the cat again so after a while I thought I'd pop it in the swallow's nest in the stables. where they had just had a second batch of chicks. I put a lot of straw under the nest and hid in the other stable to watch through the chat grill.
It was a stupid idea.
For a start it was twice the size of the swallow chicks. The mother swallow flew in, saw it and dashed out again to return with its partner. They both hovered over it and then fled. The new chick promptly fell out of the nest because it was twice the size of the other chicks. Then I worried that the swallows wouldn't come back and instead of one chick dying I had caused the death of the swallow chicks as well. I was miserable.
I ended up making a nest of my own with straw and some of Harry's feather hairs and fed it tiny amounts of cat food with a pair of tweezers. Surprisingly it lasted two days but by lunch time on the second day it had died.
I was cross with myself for interfering and only felt slightly better, when after ages of watching the stables from behind a bush, I saw the swallows return.
Papaver Patty's Plum. No glasses required to see this massive thing.

Rosa foetida still in its pot when it should be scrambling up a tree somewhere.
 The plumber who came to mend the boiler, once he had finished his cup of tea and the ghastly eye stories, told me he used to work for someone who had a parrot. It had a fantastic vocabulary and when it wanted attention it would mimic the sound of the telephone ringing because it knew that someone always dashed in to answer the phone. In the past I've seen a parrot up in the trees at the end of our road which must have escaped from the Victorian Leisure Gardens - the Larmer Tree - I am keeping my fingers crossed that Pocket doesn't bring one of those home.

And so to Mr Stevens ..........

Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches Tigers
In red weather. 
rosa rugosa alba which is out of its pot and climbing up the back of the stables.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Tyger tyger

the jungle

All this rain and sun has created a real jungle in our garden. In fact I think the description "A Cottage Garden" is just a euphemism for "A garden that's in a mess." There is currently no breathing space in our beds. Where there are no plants there are weeds. But no tigers in our jungle.

 We went to the London Zoo this week to a writer's talk about tigers in literature given by Helen Dunmore and Ruth Padel. As I have written a children's book(12yrs plus) called The Boy with the Tiger's Heart, I thought it would be an interesting event. My book is presently languishing in a publishing house just like the two Sumatran tigers at the zoo. They have built a fantastic enclosure for them, planted up with grasses and trees and separated from the public by thick glass so you can see them up close. The female was in season and one of the keepers told us she and her mate had had sex thirty times that day. When he saw the look of inadequacy that spread across  the faces of the men in our group, the keeper helpfully added that each time barely lasted a minute! A sigh of relief from the male members.

up against the glass

Pocket{ quarter Bengal}not dissimilar eh?
 I don't usually like zoos but this a long way from those big cats prowling up and down inside a small cage. When we had the talk on tiger conservation and they said that these tigers were supporting their cousins in the wild I felt slightly better about it. After all there are barely 3500 tigers left living in the wild throughout the whole world. These guys are certainly bringing people's attention to their dreadful plight and their near extinction. They are such magnificent creatures, a real symbol of wildness and the conservation programme is well worth supporting.
What immortal hand and eye dare frame thy fearful symmetry? I was lucky enough to see a tiger and her cubs in the wild in India and those markings are the most fantastic camourflage. The stripes look just like sunlit shadows rippling across the dry grasses.We must somehow help to stop the poaching and trafficking of tigers who are killed mainly for their bones to grind into medicines in China. They still hold tiger fights in some places where people place bets on which one will win and in Thailand there are places where the tigers are drugged and you can go and hug one. Please don't.

the female tiger exhausted after having sex thirty times.

 Meanwhile the Allium Christophii are hot on the tails of the Purple Sensation and easily find a space to shoot up between all the other plants. Just when you don't want their leaves taking up so much room they conveniently die back just leaving the slender stem that takes up no room at all.
In the garden right now the buds of the huge 'Super poppies' are about to burst forth along with all the hundreds of roses I couldn't resist.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Cut backs

I've been waiting all year for Derby Day - the traditional day to cut back your box - and somehow managed to miss it. I had imagined all those gardeners armed with their clippers and secateurs(my spell check keeps insisting it is scooters and now I can't get that image out of my head) waiting for that precise moment to cut, slash and topiary their box plants. On discovering I'd missed it I spent the afternoon cutting back Harry the horse's feathers on his legs. He must have  some Shire horse in him somewhere because if left untamed his feathers just grow so long and thick you could build a nest in them.  They are wonderful but (a) the blacksmith won't shoe him if they're too long as he can't see his feet and (b) in the summer it is a haven for harvest mites. It is a shame because he looked so magnificent- but an hour later, having wielded the shears, he looks half the horse he was and not unlike a Native American's Pinto pony. I did actually go to a cowboy party once as a medicine woman with a top hat and long woollen plaits and we put a blue handprint on Harry's rump and a feather in his mane and he was so obliging. I thought later it was a crazy thing to do, to sit on a horse in a crowded party tent but he just stood there quietly and didn't kick any of the guests or knock over or consume too many cocktails.
Anyway - now you can hear the whole countryside alive with the sound of cut backs.(and people on scooters) Sheep being sheared, grass being cut, flowers being snipped. This is the last tulip and I had to pick it and photograph it - it is Tulipa Marilyn with a a load of the pink sweet peas and I think she is magnificent with her luscious lipstick pink stripes. Definitely on my tulip order list each year.

Tulipa Marilyn with the sweet peas
Also out now are the beginnings of the roses. This one is Souvenir de St. Anne's - a heavenly rose which flowers all summer and well into Autumn and smells good. It's a sport of Souvenir de Malmaison and was found in St Anne's Park in Dublin. It is definitely one of the best roses though it doesn't last long if you pick it as a cut flower.
Rosa Souvenir de St Anne's
The other plants in abundance now are the alliums. Allium Purple Sensation are a real bonus in a garden as they seed well and their seed heads last for ages. Once the leaves have died back, usually before they flower, they take up no room at all and can easily be underplanted. Buy in bulk from Peter Nyssen or Parker's Wholesale Catalogues.
Allium Purple Sensation

Pixie, Beezle and Pocket(quarter Bengal)musing on the cut backs
 The weather has been so gorgeous we managed a picnic in the New Forest. The smell of gorse which is exactly like coconut is breathtaking and the spot we chose was full of it. It was also full of ponies, foals and numerous donkeys, all who fancied some of our sandwiches.  We showed them the leaflet that said Absolutely Do Not Feed the Ponies or Donkeys and here is a picture of one of them trying to make sense of the lettering.
the picnic donkey

We made some gorse flower wine one year which was delicious, fragrant and coconutty. Fortunately it doesn't have the same effect as Wheat and Raisin wine - nicknamed The Fighting Wine because  when you drink it it makes you extremely arguementative. We had a glass each with some friends one year and ended up on a walk arguing the whole time. "Look there's a badger trail." "No it isn't it's a deer." "No it isn't --............""Yes it is...."


This really is a beautiful time of year and all is looking verdant and floriferous. I like this gentle reminder of nature that a friend sent me.

A FIELD IN LUDLOW BY W J IBBETT, early 20th century

I’m Barter’s now,
  Last year for Gatehouse I
Nurtured a pretty crop of
                  Vetch and rye –
When Barters’ dead, some
     New-named man will say
‘All this is mine,’ and go
           The deathward way,
Rye, vetch and man all
        To the seasons yield,
While I lie low, the same
       Old smiling field.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Balloons, snakes and scarecrows

the white tree peony now in full bloom
 Today has been a surreal sort of day and we're only half way through it. It started with Pocket(quarter Bengal) hiding up in a tree eying a young grass snake which was warming up on the grass. It is a thrill to see a grass snake as they have been in decline as well as most of the British wildlife over the years and I very rarely see one. Pocket looked like a little lion and he roared out of uncertainty and hunger. He had already left me an Amuse Bouche in the shape of a small rodent this morning and I was glad when the snake wriggled off before Pocket could dispatch it and leave it next to the rodent by my bed.
Pocket(quarter Bengal) watching the snake
 Then on our walk we saw a huge bunch of blue balloons tethered in the middle of the wheat field. They must have got caught on the wheat and they bobbed jauntily at the end of their ribbons. They looked so strange and Pixie went berserk, barking loudly and running around with her tail held high and her legs prancing as if she were a show pony. I've no idea what she thought they were. Perhaps she was expecting a belated birthday party or she recognised them as having materialised from outer space. She certainly helped to create a crop circle the number of times she ran around them.. I've never seen her move so beautifully and am sure she could have done well at Crufts if there were balloons around. Our first wolfhound Jai, won Top Bitch at the village dog show. I considered having a T shirt made with that on it but didn't think it would go down well with the other women who live around here.
Pixie wanting to check out the balloons

 Then when we got back there was a dead scarecrow lying in the road by our gate.

I'm going to sing the praises of Salix Britzensis now. It is the most fantastic tree if allowed to grow on a single stem and is pollarded in March to preserve the colour. In the winter the stems look as if they are on fire and when you cut them back they are really useful for weaving structures around plants to either hold them up or protect them from pecking, bothersome, naughty ducks. In the summer they grow mop heads like a child's drawing of a tree. I highly recommend them.

Salix britzensis with its winter colour

Salix Britzensis in the summer

useful for making structures

the dead scarecrow

 And talking of those ducks I have left them be. They all seem happy in their own company.

the naughty ducks in harmony

With Pocket's antics in mind this poem by Pablo Neruda seemed most appropriate.

The Lion

A great lion came from the distances,
it was huge as silence is,
it was thirsty, it was after blood,
and behind its posturing
it had fire, as a house has,
it burned like Osorno.

It found only solitude,
it roared, out of uncertainty and hunger -
the only thing to eat was air,
the wild foam of the coast,
frozen sea lettuces,
air the colour of birds,
unacceptable nourishment.

Wistful lion from another planet,
cast up by the high tide
on the rocky coast of Isla Negra,
the salty archipelago,
with nothing more than an empty maw,
claws that were idle
and a tail like a feather duster.

It was well aware of the foolishness
of its aggressive appearance
and with the passing of years
it wrinkled up in shame.
Its timidity led it on
to worse displays of arrogance
and it went on ageing like one
of the lions in the Plaza,
it slowly turned into an ornament
for a portico or a garden,
to the point of hiding its sad forehead,
fixing its eyes on the rain
and keeping still to wait for 
the grey juice of stone,
its geological hour.

Pablo Neruda