Thursday, 31 January 2013

End of Month Review - January 2013

I am now in the habit of looking at last year's End of Month Review for the appropriate month before starting writing this year's.  Last year I commented that January was snowless, well not so this year.  We have had snow.
It was a couple of days of heavy snow coupled with freezing temperatures that meant that the garden was covered for about eleven days.  For eleven days it was like my garden didn't exist as I usually know it.  It was a new garden, a different garden, a Moomintroll Midwinter garden.  I liked it for what it was, yet mourned for what it had been.

Then the thaw began:
It began to reappear - what a relief!  The front garden continues to please, I liked it under snow and uncovered from snow.
The garden went from being two-tone to having some colour overnight.
As the snow thawed it uncovered the sodden wasteland of a mess of the borders underneath.  Patches of green dotting around in what is best described as very cold mud.
The olive tree seems to have got through it all ok.
The woodland border also seems to be fairly happy.
Rays of hope appear, this hellebore was planted in the wild garden three or four years ago, this year it has finally flowered and very welcome it is too.
Hellebores also spread hope in the Spring border.
The veg borders are really sodden too, but the minute the snow clears it can be seen that the green manure is still green and I expect still manure too.
I am a self-confessed disliker of evergreens in general, but in specific cases I make allowances.  This Magnolia Fairy Blush planted last year is rather pleasing.  It will be even more pleasing if it flowers this year.
The first snowdrop has flowered, this must be three weeks later than last year's first snow drop, but I think last year's was particularly early.
I'm liking the grasses still adding shape and colour to the pond border.
The prairie border grasses were looking great in today's sunny and breezy weather.
I end as ever with my pond, my beautiful, much loved pond.  It went from snow-bound to snow-free in three days.  It remains very full as it has done for nearly a year now.  I wonder what this year will bring for it?

Thanks as ever to Helen for hosting this meme.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

"All my beautiful wickedness"

"I'm melting! melting! Oh, what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?" (The Wizard of Oz 1939)
The Wizard of Oz is always in my top 20 favourite films.  Films move up and down the list depending on what mood I am in, what day it is and probably what colour socks I have on.  It is fair to say though that Harvey (1950) is probably always at the top of the list.

Why is the Wizard of Oz on my mind, other than recently seeing a rather nice pair of red shoes recently which I think is always a subliminal need for ruby slippers (in the book they are silver, so assume I am talking film here).   I sometimes wonder if I am too influenced by Technicolor and that is why I like bright colours?  I do wonder why sometimes real-life seems not quite so bright.
Well it snowed the other day, a fair amount but thankfully not disruptive for too long where I live.  I did my usual thing of panicking and leaving work early as I got wound up about the journey home.  The next few days were of more snow and freezing temperatures leading to very icy and dangerous roads and pavements.  The garden remained buried under its carpet of snow for a whole week.  Yesterday saw the start of the change, there was sleet and then some rain and by the time I was awake and moving around I became aware of the sound of the snow thawing, the amazing drips and drops and thumps as water and lumps of snow fell all around me.  Without even blinking I start thinking "I'm melting, melting....." in my head I can see the greenness of the witch collapsing into nothing.  All the beautiful wickedness of the snow is melting away.

Snow is beautiful, white clean snow is an amazing sight.  There are few things as pristine as a snow-covered lawn just before the herd of cats decide to run around in circles on it.

Snow is also wicked, it is cold and wet.  It leads to hypothermia and death for those who are unable to find warm shelter.  It makes life difficult for animals to find food.  For people driving on the roads it creates huge danger and as public transport grinds to a halt it makes an everyday journey suddenly a huge task.  For people whose balance is not great, such as me, walking on pavements becomes a tricky thing as I negotiate my way trying desperately not to fall over.   I wish I still had that childlike wonder for snow when the worst that could happen would be the School would close for the day.  I don't remember them closing that often though in truth.

So at the weekends when I do not have to travel, when I can light the fire and keep warm I watch the snow with wonder and feel amazement at its beauty.
Then when it turns to that horrid dirty slush, that freezes and refreezes so that I fall over on the black-ice and I curse its beautiful wickedness, but I allow it its moment of beauty before the cursing starts.

and then it is gone, the sun is shining before the rain returns again.  I have not been able to garden for over two weeks now, I am looking forward to getting out there and looking for signs that Spring might not to too far away.

Friday, 25 January 2013

A tale of two Sams

Sam's Song at the Doorstep of Cirit Ungol

In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.

Though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.

(JRR Tolkien
This is my Sam.  When I lived with my parents we had a caravan at Hunstanton which we visited often.  We used to drive past the place the sold all manner of concrete garden ornaments.  My younger brother had a concrete windmill bought for him I seem to recall, I have no idea what happened to it.   I wanted a gnome, I had wanted a gnome since watching 'The Gnomes of Dulwich' that starred Terry Scott and Hugh Lloyd.  I had to look up the details of this series as I was very young when it was on and my memory of it is hazy.  I was sad to find out that there are no surviving tapes of the programme, I would love to see it again.  Anyway, it taught me that stone gnomes were good and plastic gnomes were bad.  It probably would not stand up to too much scrutiny on that as I think there was some fairly standard 1970s stereotyping involved (don't ask).

So, after much nagging I was finally bought a gnome, probably about 1973/4 ish, not certain exactly when, but a long time ago anyway.  Sam came home with me and I cherished him.  I also knew from The Gnomes of Dulwich that if gnomes are left out over winter their heads pop off.  This is because water gets into the stone and as it expands it cracks at the narrow point - the neck.  For many many years Sam was brought inside at the first hint of frost and not put outside again until it was definitely Spring.

I left home and Sam came too.  Still I bought him in every winter, looking after him with care and love.  Then one day the unthinkable happened, his head got knocked off, not by me I hasten to add, but I was distraught.  You know when someone knows that what they have just done is really bad - that.  So he was duly fixed with concrete glue (well it was a glue that fixed concrete) and he was whole again sporting a rather scary scar.

So here he is, so many years later, still sporting his scar but no longer moving inside during the winter.  His bionic neck seems to cope. 

 Hang on a minute I hear you say, what is the connection between the poem above and the gnome?  Well not much to be honest, but about the time Sam arrived would have been deeply in my Lord of Rings obsession.  I can't remember if Sam was named after Sam, but it is highly likely.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

A visitor in the snow

The predicted snowfall arrived over the last few days.  The temperature has plummeted and the travel chaos has commenced.  Yes, it is winter proper now.

There are many urban foxes near my house, I see them often.  There is Stumpy, the one with a limp and Manky, the one who looks manky and probably other ones too but I am not the greatest of fox identifiers.  There are no chickens for them to eat here, so I don't have to worry about that, though in years gone back at a previous house one did dig up my daughter's dead rabbit causing considerable trauma.

I got home early on Friday as the snow was piling down, I am a self-confessed snow-wimp and dislike driving in it.  I was happened to look out of the window and I saw the fox approaching the pond, I ran and grabbed my camera and managed to get some photos:
I am not sure how much he achieved in licking the ice, he was clearly thirsty, but it was rather nice to see him there in the snow.

Thursday, 17 January 2013


A Winter Pond

Sting-chill of winter matt –
Her frozen hand caressed us all;

And calming bleach of silence
Pressed upon the rustic scape
To leave an ashen underbelly –
Once raging summer chroma.

Even Winter’s gelid lungs laboured
Under heavy drag of flakes –
Their pilgrimage: to stay a deadened floor
In crunch-white peace.

And round about, the weight of time
– Collapsing under Winter’s drag –
Transmutes to grey: it’s three o’clock –
No lights pricking black out here! –
Even the night globe,
The Great Reflector – stonewalled;
Camouflaged by lead-laden cloud
Lolling in the claustrophobic noon.

At ground, a farm pond –
Seized in a dark hiatus –
Offered up repentance –
Why, it dared to harbour life!

I forgave it in my desperate gaze
Upon the crazy-paving surface,
That sealed in the black-chill temperature,
Where at bottom, something nithered
Still survived.

Mark R Slaughter

I found this poem whilst wandering around t'internet thinking about the cold and the impending snow.  I really like it in general as I spend a lot of time staring at my pond in all seasons.  It is as fascinating in Winter as it is in the Summer.  I try and peer through the frozen surface to see if anything is moving below.  I have, in years past, seen frogs frozen under its waters.  That was horrible, I assume they were dead.  I did fish one body out but never found any more, I shudder to think of it even now.

I love the language of this poem;  I fully admit I had never heard of the word 'gelid', to me it sounds like it has escaped from the poem Jabberwocky.  It means 'very cold, icy or frosty'; I know you all know that, I just explained it to remind myself really.  It is my new favourite word.  I shall go into work and say 'ooh its a bit gelid out there today' and they shall all nod in agreement.

I do love words that are new to me.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Reasons to be cheerful

Anything that makes me start singing 'Reasons to be Cheerful, part 3' has to be a good thing in its own right.  I was a teenager when this song was released, I was a huge fan of Ian Dury and the Blockheads and to this day I rate him highly.  

I was thinking about songs that remind me of January, well actually closer to the truth I kept singing: 

"January, sick and tired, you've been hanging on me
You make me sad with your eyes
You're telling me lies
Don't go, don't go" (Pilot 1975)

This is not a song I have ever liked.  In 1975 I was probably still in the thrall of the Osmond family and in particular Donny, I was not a fan of Pilot.  I cannot even remember anything else that they sang but this song gets stuck in my head in January.  So replacing it with  a better song was a must!

I struggle with January, it is the cold and grey month and the one where we most usually get snow.  It also seems a long month so it drags on and on.  So I could sit here feeling terribly sorry for myself, singing songs I do not like to myself, but instead I went for a wander around the garden and Ian Dury suddenly popped into my mind.  As I walked around I was finding lots of reasons to be cheerful; so I present to you:
New growth appearing from the papaver orientalis
The roses are showing signs of life
There is still some colour in the garden, this is Anisodentia 'El Royo', still flowering away
The winter honeysuckle has perfume as beautiful as its flower
Blue skies and lichen, (rule #32, Enjoy the little things)
Echniaecea seed heads
Buds on the Magnolia Stellata looking like little fluffy paws
The snow drops are on their way up
Catkins on the contorted hazel
The swelling buds on the Amalanchier
Sunlight shining through green new growth
Camellia buds
The new crop of Nigella seedlings
The papery seed heads of last year's Nigella
The skeletal remains of fennel
The seeds still waiting to fall
and the great beauty and fagility of winter flowering cherry blossom.  I cannot look at it and not smile.

and this is my 300th post 

Yes, there are reasons to be cheerful.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

On the edge of the ellipse

or hello Gary Oval
So a couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece about the top end of my garden.  I explained that it was not an area I concentrated on very much and that it had a few scruffy shrubs, one of which was this Garrya Elliptica.  I further explained that in general it was not a shrub I cared for and I have been known to remove them from gardens in the past.

So these shrubs have put their heads above the parapet now and have been noticed.  Shortly after writing that piece I went out and pruned them all and reshaped them; not hugely, but I removed the straggly bits and made them look a little more loved.

At this point the tassells on the garrya looked like this:
Not the most thrilling of things, a bit like green maggots hanging down.  I was not hugely impressed.

At the weekend I went to see how the manky shrubs were doing and was very pleased to see the tassells now looking like this:
A huge improvement!  and when you tap the branch smokey pollen drifts away; I liked that a lot.

Suddenly I feel a lot happier with this garrya.  Maybe it is in the right place and that is why I like it better than previous ones.  So it has earned a definite stay of execution.  If it continues to impress I may let it stay.  However, "never send to know for whom the bell tolls Gary Elliptical - it tolls for thee."*

Of course, I did wonder why is it called Garrya Elliptica?  Is it that the leaves are meant to look elliptical?  According to Wikipedia "Ellipses are closed curves and are the bounded case of the conic sections" which I am sure answers this question completely.  Any way, the leaves do look elliptical so I think we can safely make that connection.

* John Donne