Friday, 8 October 2010


Wotcher! - or rather, What cheer! For those who love orange. . .

Leonotis leonorus – a beautiful dead-nettle relative from South Africa – which I planted in various parts of the garden has flowered superbly this year. Most of them are over, and being tender, I'll abandon them. But a late-rooted cutting was plonked into the ground just outside the greenhouse in late summer and has grown a number of sturdy stems with instensely burning orange, furry flowers.

It's not hardy, but if you hold a severed stem over damp compost for more than five minutes, it will probably grow roots while you watch. Well, a slight exaggeration, but few things are easier to strike as cuttings.

The small prize of an Electronic Button-hole for the first person to identify both poets in the title. I'll need the titles of both pomes, too. You'll get the first, easily, but possibly not the second - it's one of a, ahem, a mediocre poet's best efforts. (Hint - the person is dead and wasn't English. And you're NOT to Google it! I'll know if you have, so don't even try.)

I was moved to poetical thoughts while watching Channel Four news last night and listening to the previously unpublished piece by the late Ted Hughes, on the suicide of his wife, Sylvia Plath. It was read with sublime skill by Jonathan Pryce. (It's here, in case you missed it.)

It's been quite a week for the arts. The PG and I went to see Noel Coward's Design for Living at the Old Vic last Thursday. It's a brilliant revival, much raunchier and more energetic than the restrained TV version I saw previously. Gilda loves Otto who loves Gilda but she also loves Leo who loves her, but Leo also rather fancies Otto who adores him back. No wonder the play was banned when Coward first wrote it. Interesting to speculate who does what to whom and when and where and how.

The curiously furry flowers are produced in whorls, on long, straight stems. When I was eight and lived for a while in Kenya, we used to break off Leonotis stems and use a section, with a dry, dead whorl at each end, as toy vehicles. You had to cut yourself a forked stick and then zoom about the school playground, wheeling your Leonotis vehicle with all the speedy haste at your disposal. These exertions had to be accompanied by ear-piercing Grand Prix type motor sounds, including squealing of brakes on corners and realistic sound effects of true-life and death crashes. That takes some doing, when your lungs and larynx are only little, but it's amazing what a din you can make if you really try.

Then, on Friday last, we went to the opera at the Coliseum. English National Opera were making a pretty respectable fist of Janacek's The Makropoulos Case (details here) and since it's a seldom performed thing, it seemed mad not to go, particularly as a good friend of our virtually instructed us not to miss it.

He was right. It was not to be missed but a strange tale. The heroine was some 300 years old, thanks to being guinea pig of a former lover and Emperor who made her drink a dodgy elixir. It was all performed on a set that resembled some vast bureaucratic institution within a totalitarian regime - papers flying about, desks, and a zombie like chorus which didn't sing or dance, but just mooched about menacingly. The music is magnificent - you'll never go wrong with Janacek.

I love the way the flowers peep out of their calyces, like fag ends, at first (fags are cigarettes in English!) and then, like day-glo rabbit paws or fluffy boxing gloves, ready to pack a colourful punch.

Daytime artistic endeavours included a walk round the V&A to see the Raphael Tapestries, loaned by the Vatican and hung with the Queen's Raphael cartoons of the same subject. Two things struck me. 1. The cartoons are far lovelier than the tapestries, so her Maj obviously has the better deal. And 2, the tapestries are all mirror images of the original drawings. Why?

Buying new trews from Marks and Spencer was almost as aesthetically inspiring as the Raphaels - only joking - but an impromptu call on the National Gallery soon woke one from post shopping torpor.

And then it was back on Tuesday for the RHS Great Autumn Show which was quite good. I particularly loved the fruit exhibit from Wisley, their lordship's grapes - so perfect they look better than a Dutch Still Life- and a bizarrely impressive thing by the flower arrangers, in the Old Hall. They'd done the arrangement, like a wall hanging, and then suspended it above the show, just under the ceiling. I was reminded of an exploded compost heap, caught mid blow.

I'm listening to the prelude to The Makropoulos Case by Janacek.

This week's film was - well, you've had enough already with all that opera, theatre and stuff.

This day in 2005 I made a raised bed shaped like a grand piano, for growing Mediterranean bulbs and small plants. The rock, I discovered in our drive. Previous owners had used good quality stone instead of hardcore, but luckily, they hadn't broken the lovely big pieces up. (What possessed them?) I dug out all the huge chunks and replaced them with real rubble, which was lying about in squalid little heaps all over the darker corners of the property.



  1. I have a stray neuron that tells me tapestries are woven upside down (or rather back side up if you get me). If the weavers were following the cartoons the result on the other side would be the mirror image.

    No idea why I think that, where I picked it up from or even if it is true...

  2. The poems are Ode to Autumn by John Keats and Especially When the October Wind by Dylan Thomas. For some weird reason, "Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness" etc is the dummy type at the Independent. And Dylan Thomas, like me, was born in October. In fact, I think Poem To October is a much better poem:

    "And there could I marvel my birthday
    Away but the weather turned around. And the true
    Joy of the long dead child sang burning
    In the sun.
    It was my thirtieth
    Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
    Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
    O may my heart's truth
    Still be sung
    On this high hill in a year's turning.

    Can I have a leonotis buttonhole please? What a great plant.

  3. Sorry, typo alert. It should be "Season of mistS" of course!

  4. And another one: the title is Poem IN October. Honestly! Still, it is only 7.30am on a Saturday morning, that's my feeble excuse ...

  5. I have grown Leonotis this year for the first time - and I love it!

    You have had a very cultured week - makes me feel really stuck in the sticks - which of course I am.


    I could nt find anything on the reason for the tapestries being a mirror image, other than the practical issue of them being made from the back - but did find out lots of very interesting information on the above site. An article which shows that Michaelangelo HATED Raphael (I did nt know this- artists can be so competitive!) and that a second set of the tapestries was made and melted to retrieve the gold and silver thread int french revolution. An even more delicately woven history surrounds these pieces than I realised. Copy paste the above 'link'

    I did love the St George altar piece too...

  7. Talking about Sylvia Plath (which you were).. She wrote a poem called "Tulips" which refers to them as cut flowers by her hospital bed, how she hates the sight of them and how "The vivid tulips eat my oxygen". Since reading that over 30 years ago I have never really liked cut flowers in the house and the idea they are stealing my oxygen.

    In another line of the poem Plath says "The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me." I have to say that I felt a little that way about the astonishing orange of your leonotis leonorus - beautiful but perhaps a little too much first thing in the morning.

  8. I love ornage and I grew these for the first time this year, but I'm still waiting for a bloom. Apparently the sunny location I picked for them didn't end up being as sunny as I'd thought. Derp! Nice to see them here.

  9. The novel 'The Lady and the Unicorn' by Tracey Chevalier explains quite a bit about why tapestries are mirror images of their cartoons, and lots of other fascinating stuff.

  10. Gosh, thanks all for your kind reactions. I understand, now, about the tapestries - a bit like dentists who have to learn dexterity in reverse, because they work with mirrors. (By the way, as a 'south paw' I believe the word 'dextrous' to be a gross libel on whose of us whose cunning was never in our right hands.}

    VICTORIA - congrats! Your virtual buttonhole will appear on this site soon. I really do love 'Especially when the October wind.' Was it unduly snotty of me to call DT 'mediocre?'
    Daphne - thanks for the tip.

    Monica - was 'ornage' intentional? I only ask because it's one of my commonest typo mistakes. Another is 'resluts' for results and 'pants' for plants.

    Arabella - Plath was a poor, sad, tortured woman but on those tulips, I partially agree, though they were probably dishing out more oxygen than they were stealing.

    Daphne - thanks.