Friday, 9 November 2012

DOES MY CHALARA LOOK BIG IN THIS?



Autumn trees by the River Hodder, in Lancashire not far from Clitheroe.  Amazing what you stumble upon, when diverted from the soul-destroying M6.  The angler looked cold but seemed to be enjoying himself.  Shot on 31st. October, on a journey home from Blackpool where my brother and I had been on a mercy visit and to buy some Blackpool Rock - one of life's essentials.  (Click to make bigger.)

Good cheer to all who enter here!

Let's try to forget about Ash Dieback.

I said, forget it!

There, that wasn't difficult, was it?

CORE VALUES.
Now.  What's all this nonsense about Bramley Apples?  Recently, those grown in Armagh, Northern Ireland have been being granted an EU Special Protected Designation of Origin, putting them into a similar elite group to Champagne, Parma Ham, Stilton and – heaven help us! – Cornish pasties.

Armagh apples are special, why?  Because of the climate?  Because of the  soil they grow in?  Sorry, but I don't buy a bar of all that.  

If you lined up a tasting panel and served dishes of stewed Bramleys – or Bramley apple pie – made from fruit grown in Kent, Herefordshire, Lancashire and Armagh, would anyone have a clue which one comes from where?  I suspect the whole thing is a lot of flim-flam.

Parma ham - from Parma – I grant you, has unique flavour, texture and quality partly resulting from the area in which is is grown but mainly from the way the hams are cured.  If I were a Parma ham producer, in Italy, I'd resent someone from Spalding or Pamplona calling their product 'Parma' ham.  But anyone with a tastebud would know the difference at the first bite, wouldn't they? And since the origin of the product has to be declared, the customers would know where the stuff comes from and base their choice on that. 

Furthermore, this special designation lark doesn't create a level playing field.  The French-based cheese company PrĂ©sident makes a holey cheese product which they are allowed to call 'Emmental'  It's perfectly edible but just isn't like genuine Swiss cheese – its more rubbery and has a different, blander flavour.  And it's not nearly so good in a fondue.

It's easy to see why local growers or producers would want their stuff to have a Specially Protected Designation but with most of the foods so designated, it makes not one jot of sense.

Fallen apples. One soon tires of cooked apple, I find – especially Bramleys. These ones fed the fielfares and attracted big slugs which the hedgehogs enjoyed.

And with Cornish pasties it's utterly bonkeroonies.  I've eaten excellent pasties made hundreds of miles  from Truo.  They even produce them in my local town – but are tactful enough to call them 'Bournish Pasties.    

I've also experienced terrible pasties made in the heart of the Duchy.  Indeed, one that I particularly disliked, some years ago, was bought from Rick Stein's delicatessen in Padstow.  It was excessively salty and had greasy, flaky pastry.

But I'd better balance that by saying that the finest and most beautifully made Cornish Pasties, a decade or two ago, were bought from Trevone Post Office.  They were made by a small producer, I believe, and you had to order them in advance from two wonderful ladies who ran the post office in those days.  They were called Pam-the-Post and Viv-the-Victuals and were as much operators of a valuable local social service, as they were businesswomen.

Getting back to those Bramleys - perhaps a gang of gardening journalists should get together and organise an adjudicated blind tasting of the cooked apples from the provenances mentioned above. If a significant number of tasters get the identities right, and find the Armagh apples distinctive, tastier and better for cooking than the other three counties, I'll eat my hat.

Meanwhile, on a personal note, may I say that I rather dislike Bramley's anyway.  There are far better culinary varieties and for a lot of puddings  – Tarte Tatin for instance – dessert varieties are much nicer, especially those which retain their integrity after cooking.

I'm listening to Vaughan Williams' opera The Pilgrim's Progress.  We're off to see it at the London Coliseum next week, and I'm getting familiar with the music.  Pretty good, so far.  Quite a bit of 1940s Britten about parts of it.

This day, in 1972,  was the day  before our Wedding. Yes, that's right!

This week's film was Antonioni's 1950s Il Grido, a story of failed relationships after an unexpected betrayal by the protagonist's partner.  It was shot in the depths of a miserable winter in the flatlands which flank the river Po.  It's dark, despairing, depressing and I loved every scene.


 Aster 'Little Carlow,' one of the best Michaelmas daisies currently available.  Superb colour, extremely floriferous, mildew-resistant in my garden and satisfyingly longlasting.


Oh, by the way - how were your late perennials?  We had a wonderful show – though not a decent piccy to post because we were abroad for the best bits.  (I shot the above a couple of years ago.)  Asters were never better, especally Aster laevis 'Calliope' which grew 8 foot tall.  I've also fallen for the low growing, long-flowering A. asperula which produces strange stems with branches held at big angles, separating the flowers but enabling you to enjoy each in detail.  The broad foliage is pretty, too.  Apart from that, and the equally short A. thompsoniae 'Nana' I prefer my Michaelmas daisies tall.

Golly, what a long ramble.  If you read this far, I love you!   Bye bye!


Friday, 26 October 2012

RETURNING BY POPULAR DEMAND

 Well thank you all so much for visiting, after my last, rather self-pitying post.  By your hits, I'm inspired to continue.

Gardening soon - but first . . . a post mortem on our amazing American trip.  And if any of it seems negative, that is absolutely NOT intended.  I'd go back and carry on hoofing round that great country in a moment.  And if I were invited to live in San Francisco, I think I'd go.

Now then, ahem,
After a longish trip to any country, it takes time to distil memories of all the experiences and bundle them into a general impression.  So when friends ask 'how was America' the answer is usually a lame retort such as 'fantastic' or 'wonderful' or 'fascinating.'

Cables holding up Brooklyn Bridge.  You can walk over the bridge, but expect to be run down by bicycles.  Click on pix to enlarge.  (There may be a 'pictures only post,' later, when I've sorted the fancy ones.)

 Surprising as it may seem, travel often reinforces prejudices, so you have to force yourself to keep re-opening your mind.  Bumbling along in a series of trains, from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, I found myself searching for people, places, attitudes and ambiences that would enable me to say, 'Aha – this is truly America.'   That didn't happen.

 At times, I could hardly believe this was the same country as the one I lived in for four years, back in the 1960s.  I wanted to read the runes, take the pulse, measure progress and note significant changes.  But getting a grip on such a vast and diverse nation is more challenging than knitting a sweater with spaghetti noodles and I came away as perplexed as I was enlightened. 

There's so much paradox!  On the one hand, the United States presents a model of democracy and governance, along with a robust judicial system, that sets a shining example to the world.  On the other, health cover for a substantial portion of the population is hopelessly inadequate.  Libraries, some of the universities – especially one's alma mater Cornell – and museums are among the finest on earth, and yet I was told that some 30 million Americans lack basic literacy skills.  Can it be that many? 

Then there's capital punishment – a barbarous and brutal practice, to most people in Europe. And what about those bizarre gun laws? And the suspiciously hefty influence on government from fundamentalist religions and from big business. That must be a worry.


 A poster in Sonoma, California.  The obvious solution is to have oodles of both.

 You won't want to be bored with too much detail and anyway, this blog is supposed to dwell on gardenish things.   But before returning to rants about cooking apples, badger bashing and other blights, here's a goodie basket of 'impressions' whose flavours still linger on the palate.  I'll give you ten, picked at random...

1.  I love the way good American restaurants take breakfast as seriously as dinner.  Well-made pancakes, maple syrup, thin, crisp streaky bacon, genuinely fresh orange juice and as much excellent coffee as you can take all help to make the day's first meal as pleasurable and sociable as posh wining and dining.  British breakfasts, even when the food is good, tend to accompanied by brutish monosyllables and slurps of coffee..

2.  The Presidential Election is neck and neck.  And yet those who most desperately need a Democrat government, not to mention a healthy dose liberalism, seem the least likely to vote for Obama.  Even the word 'liberal', to the uneducated, is synonymous with Marxist.  Talk about turkeys giving a thumbs up for Christmas!

3.  As in Europe, everything seems to be made in China.

 Retired bikers in Colorado.

4.  Detroit is still churning out the most frightful vehicles – pick-up trucks the size of furniture lorries, SUV's of spectacular vulgarity and still quite a few big, smoochy things which look more suitable for sleeping in, rather than driving.

5.   When your train trundles gently through the mid-West, from Chicago to Denver, you realise what a huge country this is.  But it's surprising to see how few people actually live out of town.  There isn't the dotting of villages that you'd see in, say, Hampshire or Champagne.

6.  America has a staggering diversity of oaks, some evergreen, others deciduous; some less than a metre high, others huge; some with long, pointy acorns, others with snub-noses.  Oaks are a significant landscape feature across the country.


 A tasteful restaurant sign in Silverton, Colorado.

7. Tipping – possibly America's worst vice.  In the 1960s, one tipped waiters etc. roughly 10% of the bill.  Today, you're expected to cough up 20%.  In some restaurants, they helpfully add the gratuity to your bill without asking, as an item at the bottom, but when you pay, your bill will not only list the gratuity but will also leave space for you to add another tip on top of the gratuity.  A TAXI DRIVER will sit in his cab without moving so much as an eyelash to help, while you struggle with your luggage, but he will still expect a tip.  Tips, across the nation, blew our travel budget to pieces.

8. Americans fly an awful lot of flags.  They're everywhere - a bit excessive, but perhaps we should wave ours a little more - and I mean the Union Flag, not that blue thing with a ring of stars.

9. The scenic regions of this continent - the Rockies, the High Plains, the woods in West Virginia and above all, the Californian Sierra Nevada are all movingly beautiful.  See the Grand Canyon if you like – and it sure is impressive – but so much of America is infinitely more lovely and nearly as grand.  And the Mississippi River, which I've now seen at both ends, so to speak, is awfully big.

10.  I think I really have left my heart in San Francisco.  Of all cities, it's the one in which I feel most relaxed, inspired and contented – excluding Fishermans' Wharf.

A squirrel in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.


I'm listening to Rossini's Stabat Mater

On this day in 1985  I swept a chimney which had begun to smoke badly, possibly because of jackdaw nests in the flue.  An enormous pile of twigs, string and other 'jackdaw' treasures came tumbling down - enough to fill a large wheelbarrow.  My diary says 'I lit an experimental fire after clearing up – it went beautifully with not a trace of smoke anywhere.'  And to think we'd paid to have a chimney sweep in.  No wonder I bought my own rods and brushes and took over the task myself.

This week's film was La Haine a masterpiece made in the 1990s by Mathieu Kassovitz about fear and loathing in the Paris suburbs. Brilliantly shot, slickly acted and immaculately edited, it's all the better for a second viewing and is one of the privileged DVDs to be stored, not in our general DVD heap but on THE SHELVES, in our telly room.  (To have a place on THE SHELVES is quite something.  Bergman's Seventh Seal, Welles's Citizen Kane and of course Casablanca are also on THE SHELVES.

Oh dear – another hideously long blog.  Thanks so much, if you managed to get this far!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

CHASING A CALIFORNIA SISTER

Well, folks, I think we're getting close to the end of the line in more than one sense.

The PG and I fly home tomorrow morning at some hideous hour so future blog posts – if there are any more – will be back to the usual rants about the exasperations of British gardening, the countryside and whatever else seems of import.

I say 'if there are any more' because readership has slumped alarmingly, since we left the UK.  A total of 43 of you have checked out the last post.  That's a ten-fold drop on earlier, UK-based posts and is the first one that has failed to invite a single comment.  So we'll see how things go, over the next few weeks.  Perhaps I should do more reading, less writing and give everyone a break.


Meadows bordering the Merced River at Yosemite, in the Sierra Nevada.  The colours and background, apart from the mountain, looked exactly as they do in the film Bambi. The trees are mostly ponderosa pine, incense cedar and live (evergreen) oak.  (Click on pics to enlarge.)


Meanwhile, I promised to mention our last big event which was to hike for three days in the Yosemite National Park.  

The forest in Tuolumne County - part of the Yosemite National Park. The big sequoias grow in this area


The Sierra Nevada is a spectacularly beautiful mountain range and the Yosemite National Park has some of the stateliest peaks, grandest rock formations and the most interesting wildlife.  We admired the big sequoias, though the trees are not as massive as I expected, and are certainly not looking in the best of health.  But the forest in which they grow is magnificent.  Sugar pines and Douglas firs grow huge, here and wherever there's a glade or a low-lying spot, lupins, rudbeckias, irises, Veratrum, Smilacina and lots of other familiar American herbaceous species flourish.


The view from near Columbia Rock, below Yosemite Falls.  The sheer rock faces, lining the valleys give the scenery more grandeur than the Alps, in places. 

We stayed at Yosemite Lodge, conveniently close to the fabled Yosemite Falls which, inconveniently, dried up shortly before our arrival.  The whole earth, round here is dry and thirsty.  We climbed the steep ascent to Columbia Rock, close to the top of the dry falls, exhausted but triumphant, at the top.  We trailed to Mirror Lake which has dried up to a sandy beach and doesn't reflect at all, let alone act like a Mirror.

And we wandered along part of the Merced River, passing through meadows which are exactly like the animated drawings in the Walt Disney film Bambi.  We even spotted a doe and her two part-grown fawns, grazing an hour or so before sunset.



A mule deer, near Yosemite Village.  These animals are used to people but further away from human settlements, they're far more wary


Star wildlife species, for us, were the ravens, mule deer, California ground squirrels, acorn wood peckers, a canyon wren and a ravishingly beautiful butterfly like a European white admiral, but with extra colours, called a California Sister.  I think we've also seen the closely related Arizona Sister, too.  You can find these insects here .

Since traipsing about in Yosemite, we've been in San Francisco, eating, going to the California Academy of Sciences, and eating, going shopping for Ghirardelli's chocolate for favoured relatives, and eating, visiting the de Young Art Galleries, and eating, exploring the magnificent Golden Gate Park, and eating, travelling out to the Sonoma and Napa valleys to sample the wines, and eating.  My belts have bust and I think I need to go shopping for a bra.

While the sun sets, at Yosemite, the taller peaks light up like the rising moon, even though darkness has fallen below them.  The effect is eerie but movingly beautiful.

I'm listening to Tony Bennett singing I Left my Heart in San Francisco.  Cheezy, I know, but it sort of fits.

Can't think of a film this week - too depressed about terrible bloggins stats.

This time next month, Silvertreedaze will have had a re-vamp.  It will either live or die.  Meanwhile, I'm off to enjoy my last decent dry martini and to tuck into a farewell San Francisco dinner.

If you've read this far, I love you!  Tell your friends that this blog is quite fun, at times.  Oh, go on! Be a sport!  You know you want to, really!






Monday, 8 October 2012

TARNISHED TINSEL

Hullo from across the Atlantic!
In every trip – even one as exciting, fulfilling and pleasurable as this – there's a low point.  Usually, that first discordant note jars at the point in one's travels when the thrill of arrival has worn off, but when the prospect of going home and sleeping in one's own familiar bed is still too far away to relish.

Trains, in the US tend to be old, shabby and slow - the most comfortable way to see it all.

This trip has been different. The high points have towered so mightily that one has tended to view everything with starry-eyed wonder.  We have immersed ourselves in American history, delved into the fascinating system of US governance, browsed a Founding Father's 18th century Library, gazed across millions of acres of maize and soya, growing in one of the world's biggest and most productive bread baskets - the plains of the mid-West.

We have crossed the mighty Mississippi, close to the Great Lakes; slummed for a night in Chicago where we visited the site of the Valentine's Day Massacre; and traversed some of America's most rugged, awe-inspiring and moving landscapes including the Rockies, the high sierras of Colorado, Utah and Arizona and the Grand Canyon.  

And we have crossed the Mojave Desert to arrive at the low point.  

Los Angeles itself is not a city, as such, but a disturbing dream.  As our shabby Amtrak train crawled through well-watered, neat and appealing suburbs, we could see the yellow-brown pall of pollution marking where the conurbation lay.  Hundreds of elegant, leggy, black-necked stilts and other wading birds were feeding in concreted water courses and along the arid tracks and there were fascinating desert plants clinging to life.  But despite these natural attractions, it seemed clear that Los Angeles was to be 'got through' rather than enjoyed.  

 The incomparable Bogey, reduced to dabbling in wet cement.  Why?

And as soon as we had disembarked, our guide seemed hell-bent in getting us away from Los Angeles itself and into Hollywood.  There's a simple, catch-all word to sum up Hollywood – 'horrible.'  Our guide droned on about films, film stars, property values, and great traditions.  We were dragged out of our bus to see the disfigured concrete paving, outside the grotesque 'Chinese Theatre' where stars pushed hands, feet or other parts of their anatomies into the setting cement.  And we were driven through Beverly Hills which seemed little more than a pretentious suburb with high hedges hiding nasty-looking houses.  Apparently Marilyn Monroe bought one in secret, to escape to when the public were being too adoring.  I wonder why no one suggested that to get away, she could have bought a cottage in Alaska for a fraction the price.

The RMS Queen Mary, at Long Beach.  Majestic from afar, but close-to, she's shabby, flaky and sad.


Thank goodness, our stay in Los Angeles lasted less than 24 hours, much of which was spent aboard the once glorious, now sadly delapidated and abused RMS Queen Mary, the liner (NOT cruise ship) in which I travelled to New York from Southampton in September 1964.


But now we're in wonderful, glorious, delicious San Francisco and have also just had an AMAZINGLY delightful sojourn in the Sierra Nevada.  More on that, soon.


 A San Francisco cable car like this, pulled by underground moving cables, is clanking by as I write this caption.


 Dahlias grow this tall, in the San Francisco Botanic Garden.  Note the correct plant-viewing gear, ie, shorts and stupid hat.



The Golden Gate bridge, painted International Orange which makes it look as though they've done the primer but forgotten to add a top coat.


Not seals – as stated in the some of the publicity blurb – but sea lions, slummocking at Fisherman's Wharf.  San Francisco is almost totally delightful.  But Fisherman's Wharf is vile – a  milling throng of slack-bellied gawping tourists, me included – bewildered by the astronomical prices and dismal quality of the food on offer there.  It's such a shame because you can find superb restaurants to suit all pockets, in this city, often in delightful surroundings. But Fishermans' Wharf is somewhere to keep away from.


I'm listening to clanking cable  cars, outside our hotel window near Union Square.

This time next week I'll be home, tweeting, writing newspaper copy and trying desperately to catch up in the poor, neglected garden

This week's film mench should be Bullit, since we've walked the road where part of the famous chase took place.  But we're also two minutes walk from Union Square where Coppola's masterwork The Conversation was set.

More soon, from the Sierra Nevada where I flirted with an Arizona Lady and trod the meadow where Bambi lost his mother.  Cue tears & happy childhood dreams!

Toodle-ooh, my lovelies. 


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

IN LOVE WITH A DARK-EYED JUNCO

What ho, my hearties!  And the usual, inevitable apology for being disgustingly late with postings about our perambulations across the big, wide USA.

We've hit the Pacific and thus, have completed our overland coast to coast journey.  It's been bumpy, slow, varied and wonderful.  The weather has been kind, Amtrak – one of America's more creaky institutions – has delivered us safely and we are now basking in California sun

There's no time for a detailed blog – the San Francisco cable car awaits – but I hope the picture captions will say enough, for now.  I may write a detailed story and can assure you it will be a ripping yarn, but that will be for sale, possibly, as an iPad-friendly book.

Meanwhile, click on piccies for a bigger view.




Washington DC.  Seems so long ago, now, but early in our holiday we wandered from memorial to memorial, looking at monuments to America's greatest sons and daughters.  This is part of the F. D. Roosevelt memorial, showing men in the Depression, waiting in dole queues.



If you're a gardener, Thomas Jefferson has to be your favourite Founding Father.  We browsed the books in his library - an eclectic collection from philosophy, politics and science to horticulture and agriculture.  Here, the PG is dwarfed by the massive classic columns in the Jefferson Memorial.


In the Rocky Mountains, scenery is never more beautiful than in early fall, when the aspens change hue from dull green to bright gold and in some spots, burning amber.  Here in Colorado, they contrast superbly with blue Colorado spruce, Picea pungens near the spectacular Red Mountain Pass between Grand Junction and Silverton.




The rattletrap steam train, ancient and creaky but still in working order, takes us from Silverton to Durango, a journey which takes three and a half hours through spectacular scenery.  This ain't the fens!




The Barringer Meteor Crater, near Winslow,  Arizona.  You can find details of this amazing geological event here.



The impact of the meteor would have been equivalent to a 20 megaton nuclear bomb and hurled massive rocks and debris up over the sides of the impact crater.  This is sandstone, at the rim which was originally below ground at the point of impact.

Growing close to the crater, one of my favourite American wildflowers, Castilleja or Indian Paintbrush. These plants, related to yellow rattle and foxgloves, are hemiparasites, sustaining themselves partly on host plants, so are impossible, virtually, to cultivate in gardens outside America.



Despite being apparently barren, the desert teams with life.  This is, I think, a Collared Lizard. 



Monument valley - setting for so many Western films and subject of so many travel posters.  It is virtually impossible to portray even a hint of its majestic beauty. They all rave about the Grand Canyon, saying that it might  move you to tears but for me, these rock formations were the most dramatic, beautiful and, for some reason, remarkably moving.  If I were a primitive man, instead of a de-sensitised, hedonistic, over-pampered modern one, I'd probably feel that big, big deities made this place their home.  There is a Valhalla of sorts wherever you look.  A mighty and literally awe-full place and it's apt that it's situated within and Indian reserve.



And finally, the PG's masterly shot of the Grand Canyon, taken through the window of a deHavilland Twin Otter aircraft at a rather uncomfortably low altitude.

More soon.

I'm listening to the PG, nagging me to catch a San Francisco cable car.

This time last year we were not in the USA.

Today's film has to be Stagecoach, starring John Wayne.  He couldn't act - and walked as if he'd recently had a small, personal accident, but the scenery in the film was as good in black and white as it is in the picture above, of Monument Valley.

Bye bye - more soon, posssibly!

By the way - if you don't know what a Dark Eyed Junco is, look it up!

Monday, 17 September 2012

YO DAT WORLD!

Good morrow, good friends!  And welcome to the United States of America, and to Gotham City, known in some circles as New York.



Thought you'd like a familiar piccy to begin with  – shot by the PG on a Circle Line tour of the Hudson River, Staten Island and so on.  She must suffer terribly from aching arms, poor dear!  We admired her while being transported on a Circle Line Tour of the harbour, Hudson River and Staten Island.  It's the best way to see the city skylines but when I was here in the 1960s, the piers all along Manhattan were full of large passenger liners.  The Cunard Queens did a weekly shuttle.  But now, it's largely a tourist area with some wharves left to rot and others occupied USS Intrepid, a WW2 aircraft carrier and on one quay, a Concorde is parked.

I promised to report on whether New Yorkers are as rude today as they were when I lived in this state in the 1960s.  I didn't expect to provide a clear answer but can tell you now, after extensive study of shop workers, dog walkers, shoppers, restaurateurs and general passersby that they are not.  Not rude at all.  In fact I believe, now, that London is up there in the world's leading cities for rudeness and that NY has transformed over the past 44 years.  (44!!)

We've had a wonderful three days, here and take the train to Washington today.  A full day in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a day touring the city with a group part of yesterday visiting the site of the appalling destruction of the World Trade Centre.



Central Park, 850 acres of greenery, forged out of the schist rock which makes up the island of Manhattan.  It's been hot and dry, here, but the greens are still restful and the park is popular.

We were staying in Upper West Side Manhattan, close to the park on Broadway and 75th. so were able to walk through the greenery to the Met.  The collection is staggering, so here's an edited extract from my diary:

What an experience.  So much to see and so many reactions.  A few special memories stick.  The perfection of Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture, the fakeness and crapness of Andy Warhol’s shallow prints, the complexity of compelling weirdness of Jackson Pollack, the simple beauty of Miriam Schapiro’s  huge Barcelona Fan and the cleverness - let’s not say gimmickry - of Anish Kapoor’s reflecting le
We spent time in the  Roman, modern art downstairs and then American section, before lunch, looking at the classic American style developing after Europe’s love affair with all things Greek or Roman.  And noted the contrast between simple Shaker style interiors and those of wealthy tycoons of the 19th and early 20th Century industrial booms.  And we looked at far too many disturbing creations by Tiffany - not my fave at all, though I like the dogwood stained glass. And as for irises - the famous ones by Van Gogh, glass ones by Tiffany and an uncomfortable close-up of an iris, by Gorgia O’ Keefe which resembles a lady's most intimate sanctuary.
Then, the Moderns.  They’re all there, from pre-impressionists to nutty splodgers.  I loved the two Hockneys, the usual suspects Matisse, Gauguin, Monet, Cezanne and so on are there in spades, and with magnificent examples from each.  I hated the Warhols but was almost moved, surprisingly, by the Jackson Pollocks.  They look like abstracts but there’s so much to see in them.  Weeping figures, eyes, simple squiggles which describe something human.  



 Barcelona Fan by Miriam Schapiro


The PG studies Manship's bears. 



Barbara Hepworth at the Met.  Oval Form with Strings and Colour.


Our last day was spent at the World trade centre.  We took the subway to Brooklyn and walked over Brooklyn Bridge back to the bottom end of Manhattan.  That, in itself, is a delightful experience, apart from the noise of the traffic.  The distant views are cris-crossed with cables supporting the bridge, creating pleasing geometric patterns.  But you cannot wander off the narrow pedestrian track because cyclists crossing the bridge take no prisoners.

The PGs Shot of Brooklyn Bridge looking across at lower Manhattan


At the 9/11 Memorial Garden, we were frisked and subjected to Airport style security before being allowed into the open space where the massive buildings had stood before the attack.  The area is planted with native White Swamp Oaks, a common endemic in the Easten USA with straight trunks, rough bark, handsome, lobed leaves and plump acorns.

Where the buildings stood are square pits.  Each is now the site of a sort of inverted fountain - massive 30ft waterfalls, run down all four sides into a pool deep below.  Along the rims of the fountain are wide sills, made of bronze and carved with the names of almost 3,000 victims of the Al Quaida attack.

The stark simplicity of this site is deeply moving but also strangely uplifting.  There's a note of steady defiance about the lack of adornment and the absence of any trace of mawkish sentiment.  And there's also a sense, with the young oaks, the cascading water and the open landscape, of rebirth and a new beginning.



Cascading water falls thirty feet, in the inverted fountains of the 9/11 Memorial Garden.  Here is where the building stood and where so many people, about their business, were so wantonly struck down.

But we won't finish on a sad note.  On a hoarding, near the Memorial Garden, some wag had written the words below.  That, in a way, sums up the spirit among a good many people over here.  You get up, you look out, you greet the world and you get on with it, regardless.


I'm sitting on Penn Station, listening, not to Musak but to a Mozart Piano Concerto. Lovely!

This time last week I was frantically trying to finish outstanding copy before flying over the Atlantic.

No film this week.  So instead, on away blogs.  Notes of my all time faves.  Today Casablanca - the finest commercial film ever made with the greatest story structure, the best possible casting and -- well, let's not go on about it.  It's just a great film and that's that.  'Here's looking at you, Kid'  Oh, and yesterday, we drove past Laren Bacall's apartment!  Not that she was in Casablanca but she was married to Bogey.










Friday, 7 September 2012

PERIPEREGRINATION JITTERS

What a simply delicious September some of us are having.  Golden, dewy morns, a touch of mist,
new autumn flowers opening almost every day and warm, balmy afternoons.  Enjoy them while you can.

Lovelies in my garden include Aster asperula which, unlike most autumn daisies, has beautiful, broad leaves as well as sparse but large, soft blue flowers. It's good to team with Schizostylis coccinea 'Major.'   

Pick of the bunch for us, though, has been Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivanii.  None of my plants is a named variety - they're all self-sown seedlings - but what performers! These are proper 'black-eyed Susans' with chocolate centres, durable, egg-yolk ray florets and good standing power.  Few autumn perennials have benefited as much as they, from the wet summer.  

 Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivanii on 6th September in our autumn border.


No time for gardening. 
The PG and I will cross the Atlantic, next week, to travel across the United States.  It's a big trip and more to the point, the first we've taken, in decades,  purely for pleasure.  Work of one kind or another has influenced almost everything we've done overseas, for the last 30 years.  But this trip is, essentially, a jolly.

I'm not telling you our itinerary – you'll have to watch that unfold – but I can reveal that Washington, Chicago and San Francisco are on our route though, alas, New Orleans, Charleston and Seattle are not.

The U.S. Presidential Election campaigns will add political spice.  But they probably won't prevent me from being baffled about how American politics actually work.  We'll see, first hand, the effects of the worst drought since the 1930s, in the Mid-West, and will try to understand its devastating effect on people who earn their living from agriculture.   And in parts of California, there's a potentially deadly mouse-borne virus which may, or may not change our plans.

We will also be spending a night on  RMS Queen Mary, at Long Beach, Ca.  She is not a cruise ship but rather, an ocean liner.  It won't be my first time aboard her.  As I write these words, on 7th September, I recall that on the same date in 1964, I was crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary and would return, four years later, on her sister Cunarder RMS Queen Elizabeth.  More on her in a week or three.

There'll be some strange, quirky and hopefully, entertaining dispatches, on the blog, so watch this space.

Just now, though, we're in a pother and a dither over what to take and what to leave.  It will be hot in some places but cold in others.  And in September it can freeze overnight but swelter at midday.  What's more, we'll be tramping along mountain tracks one day, and poncing about in fancy city venues the next.  And we've imposed a  rule on ourselves that each must be able to carry all our own luggage, so cabin trunks are out and porters only employed when we're desperate.  (Expect a rant, in forthcoming issues, about America and the Tipping Culture!)

One of our fences, expertly wired and beautifully furnished with burgeoning climbers – not! The shadows are pretty, though!

We'll travelling mainly by train – no internal flights.  But every time I think of that, my mind fills, not with sensible clothing lists, but with images of Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in drag, in Some Like it Hot.  Or of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye singing Snow!, with George Clooney's Aunt Rosemary and owner of the world's most waspish waist, Vera Ellen.  What a crime that Vera Ellen was not given equal star status with Crosby, Kaye and Clooney in that deliciously cloying festive extravaganza White Christmas!

And thank heavens for iPads!
Usually, on long trips, we take enough books to fill a cabin trunk - a Dickens or three, some poetry, field guides on birds, flora and mammals, travel guides, real ale guides, restaurant guides and so on.  But for this trip, just The Birds of North America in print and Audubon Field guide Apps for the rest.

I've never read a word of G. K. Chesterton – perhaps a bad omission, so for £1.99 I downloaded his complete works.  And for good measure, added complete works of DH Lawrence and Joseph Conrad, both of whom are overdue for re-reading.  And to think that as well as being weightless and fitting within the iPad, this huge volume of literature has cost me only £5.97!


I'm Listening to Schubert's Der Winterreise sung by the sadly missed and incomparable Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.  He died earlier this year.

This week's film was Ralph Fiennes' adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus.  Not my favourite play, even on stage, but the first part of this film wasn't even Shakespeare.  It began like a Hollywood-style action movie, geared for unhealthy adolescent minds and concentrating on killing as noisily and as graphically as possible.  But after half an hour, and with amazing performances from Vanessa Redgrave and Fiennes himself, the remnants of the original play, and a glimmer of Shakespeare's genius showed through.

COMING SOON...  Heathrow security, jetlag, a dip in the Hudson and a report on whether New Yorkers are as rude as Londoners, these days. 

Bye bye.
















Thursday, 23 August 2012

A SUPRANORMAL SERVICE WILL BE RESUMED SOON.


An elephant hawk moth, Deilephila elpenor,  outside my back door in July. It's resting on Lonicera japonica 'Halliana'

Good morrow, good people, good cheer! 

Sorry, sorry, sorry!  I'm SO sorry!!!!

The more observant among you will have spotted an appalling lack in postings, lately and I'm told that the worst thing anybody can do, with a blog, is to let it go dormant.  So the unforgivable sin has now been committed and I suspect it will need hard work, lots of excoriating rants and scads of jolly piccies to win back your favour.

There are three good reasons, for the gap and I'll list them without boring you;

1. Mother.

2. Indolence, spinelessness, lack of virtuous industry and general weakness of character on my part.

3. A serious frontlog with my work, exacerbated by a bevvy of surprise commissions.

'What the heck,' you'll be asking, 'is a 'frontlog?'   Well, if you write two weekly columns totalling, roughly 3,600 words as well as regular monthly pieces it's pretty important to keep up with the deadlines.  Editors sulk, so, if you're late with your copy.

But if you decide that it would be a great idea to celebrate 40 years of marriage by spending 32 days abroad, you suddenly have two months worth of copy to file in a month.  'So?' I hear you say, 'what's the harm in a little extra work?'

'No harm at all,' I reply, in this enjoyable but hypothetical conversation we're having, 'except that Sod's Law has come into play and there has been a mini-maelstrom of extra assignments. And a self-employed hack whose boss is a complete and utter bastard – always has been –never dares refuse a thing.

So bizarrely, I've been writing November copy, juggling deadlines and unlike James Alexander Sinclair, who juggles with staggering dexterity, I've been close to dropping my little leather balls all over the floor.

As for the other reasons:  indolence or, that musically descriptive word 'sloth' – we say it with a long 'O' in Britain, sounding even lazier and more slobbish – is still the deadly sin of which, I'm perhaps most guilty.  (At my age, lust is largely just a fond memory.)  And Mother is, well, Mother.

So please accept my apologies, for not providing regular, sparkly postings.  And please be ready for  a grand relaunch very, very soon.

I'm listening to Brahms Sextet in G Major Op. 36.

The most recent film was Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.  Sorry, but after all the wild elation and excitement of the reviewers I had high expectations but was rather disappointed.  It's a bleak piece, quite well acted - if you can call it acting - and all shot in the most depressing manner possible, mostly at night, in one of Anatolia's less appealing districts.  There was rather a stink of the Nouvelle Vague about it – a style that brought to cinema what Hirst and Emin have brought to 'fine art.'  Discuss! 

This time last year I was writing regular posts.  I promise to return to form.  Please be patient. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

THE THING WAS VILE WITH GREEN AND LIVID SPOT

Good day to all and a very happy Barclay to all our fans!
The title is the only line I can remember from Keats' Isabella  or The Pot of Basil.


That excellent, though no longer independent newspaper, The Independent, as part of its bid to lure a few youngsters of moderate brain – and to cherish the little darlings among its, ahem, more mature readership – has recently re-vamped its editorial pages and now includes a daily spread which, irritatingly, is called 'Trending.'  Not being a youngster, and having a brain that is dysfunctional, at best and never did fire on many cylinders, I have difficulty understanding what the hell 'Trending' is all about.  Celebrities get sploshed over the page, a bit and there are mentions of popular music groups I've never heard of and food item's I'd rather not try.  I believe the idea is to give folk a little help in recognising things that are to do with the, well, Zeitgeist, I suppose you would say.

But whatever .. . .  Lord, how I ramble! . . . I mention Trendings because I'd like you to regard occasional posts, like this, as being important comments on things of today that really matter. I will endeavour, almost certainly without success, to avoid the usual bilious rantings of the bigger posts, in these, my sort of answer to Trending.   I shall call them Bendings.


Bending Number 1.

Rose breeders have a lot to answer for.  They may have brought us such immortal lovelies as the salmon climber 'Compassion,' the exquisitely fragrant 'Madame Isaac Pereire,' achingly gorgeous apricot old  Tea Rose, 'Lady Hillingdon' and the sublime, crimson, quartered 'Charles de Mills.'

But they have also perpetrated some atrocities.  I cite the hideous blood-and-custard 'Masquerade,' m'lud, and the eyeball-shrivelling, dayglo orange two-tone, egg and gore 'Tequila Sunrise.' Then there's the liverish mauve, always diseased 'Blue Moon' and what, until recently, I considered the world's nastiest rose ever, 'Superstar''

'Superstar,' introduced in 1960, was a  new colour break which not only broke all records for egregious gaucheness but worse, practised deceit.  At a glance, the buds were promising.  Nicely pointed, on bushes that didn't grow too badly, it was quickly adored by all and became Britain's top of the pops rose.   Every garden known to man boasted 'Superstar', from ducal palaces (possibly – not that one, you know, hangs with that many dukes) to what in those days we snobbishly called 'Council House Fronts.'

The flower colour is difficult to describe but was so impossibly artificial for a rose that it shrieked out from wherever the bush was planted – a sort of chemical plastic orange-scarlet-bricky hue.  As a coarse fishing float, that tawdry hue would work beautifully.  As a rose colour, it made me feel physically ill, especially when my mother – we had a bed of the damned things in my teens – once put a large vase of them on the breakfast table.  In June, that rose was extremely nasty; by August, the stems and what few leaves didn't fall because of black spot, were so covered with powdery mildew as to be a rather elegant pale dove grey - making the Kia-Ora-cum-tomato-juice orange of the flowers look even worse.

Beales' wonderful Classic Roses catalogue  says everything you need to know about 'Superstar.' I quote:  'Not very resistant to diseases.  Not very attractive to bees and wildlife.  Nuff sed.

But yesterday, ah, yesterday, at the excellent and comprehensive-ish Waterside Garden Centre, Kate's Bridge, Lincolnshire, I suffered a Heart of Darkness moment; an uncomfortably close glimpse into the Abyss; an encounter with the ravening craw of ugliness; a foetid miasma of tangible, palpable, bristling unpleasantness – a rose of such surpassing ugliness that it was necessary to find a seat, to sit, to screw one's eyes tight shut and try to neutralise the unbridled horror by imagining skipping lambs, primroses, Easter bunnies, Delia Smith, Liberace, Obamacare, Spaghetti alla Carbonara – anything to get my mind off that dreadful cauchemar vision.

Luckily, the PG was with me. 'Have you got your phone?' she muttered.
'No need for that,' I replied, 'I think I'll be able to walk again, just give me a moment.  No need to call an ambulance.'
'To take a picture, idiot,' she replied. 'People should know about this. They'll want to see it.'

So here you have it, fresh from my iPhone 4 – whose camera, unlike previous iPhones, is not at all pants – the apotheosis of rose breeding.  Rosa 'Crazy for You,' as seen in a garden centre.  It's a floribunda, bred, I think, by the Frenchman, Michel Adam and introduced in 1998.


 I'm listening to the PG who is pretending to be running her Dyson around the office, but is actually spying on me to see if I'm working.  Which I'm not, though she thinks I am! Ha ha!

This Day in 2006 I was visiting my parents in Kent.  I record in my diary that they 'are frail, old, weak and afraid.'  My mother was - and is crippled with arthritis.  And yet she prepared quails, that day, cooked gently in a rich jus, each resting on a large field mushroom and followed with a lightly poached peach in a spiced sauce.  It takes guts to cook that well, when every joint is painful to move and your hands are like claws.

And this week's film was Masahiro Shinoda's Chinmoku (Silence) made in 1971 about illegal Jesuit missionaries in 17th Century Japan.  It's dark, brooding and relentless in its portrayal of religious persecution, human weakness, cruelty and in a way, expediency.  A superb film, even though the acting is often wooden and the pacing a little too slow at times.




Another chance for you to enjoy the rose.
Bye bye!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

MUTHAH OF A MIDSUMMER - or - GIS MORE RAIN!

Greetings!.  
And sorry for such a disgraceful gap in posts. Can't believe it's since mid May,  but I've been having something of mid-blog crisis and am considering a change in emphasis.

29th June 2012
Oh dear! When I posted this yesterday, I didn't realise that folk were suffering hideously with flash floods or were being battered by golf-ball sized hailstones or threatened by tornadoes. And I didn't realise that railway lines were being wrecked, or that folk were getting stranded in vehicles - and worse that there were fatalities.

People who have suffered from such adverse conditions have total sympathy from me. Floods are horrible, even when they're not dangerous and my supercilious remarks (below) about folk who moan are in no way aimed at those unfortunate victims. They have every right to feel aggrieved and let's hope their plight is relieved, and soon.

What follows is aimed exclusively at those who complain about the effect of a strange summer on their gardens.

But first, this beautiful creature. . .

An Amur (or Manchurian) Leopard, Panthera pardus orientalis photographed at Edinburgh Zoo at the end of May.  Such feline beauty is deeply moving, especially when you realise that this species is almost extinct.  It comes from the easternmost limits of what was once the USSR.  In the wild, fewer than 40 recorded individuals remain.  

The eyes are a remarkable shade of aquamarine with subtle marks and suffusions that make them resemble precious jade.  And the spots, which are similar to those on a jaguar almost join to form rings on parts of its body.  Look at those massive paws, too.  All soft and 'pussytoes' now, but imagine being clouted, with claws extended.  OUCH!

I felt richer for gazing at this animal but profoundly sad and ashamed that we humans have wrecked its habitat and hounded it almost out of existence. 
(Click pics for bigger view)  More information here 

And now, this. ...

THERE HAS BEEN ALTOGETHER TOO MUCH MOANING!  
These days, wherever two or three are gathered together, in the name of Gardening, conversation turns almost immediately to how awful the summer is being, how the hosepipe ban ruined people's planting plans, how gales and rain have lashed soft summer growth to pieces, how the succulents have all got waterlogged, how there are frogs in water and the water's in the cellar, how ten billion slugs have simply shredded the hostas, my dere,  ... and on and on and on and on.

WELL ENOUGH ALREADY!  STOP IT!   NOW!  AT ONCE!

I realise that my usual function is to rant, but any railing done here, would be at the moaners, carpers, whingers, whiners, complainers and other mardy-bootses who can't stop banging on about the weather.

Yes, the weather has been crap.
Yes, the hosepipe ban was a ludicrous piece of nonsense, except where it's still enforced.
Yes, climate change is going to ruin us all and this is merely an overture.
Yes, this summer's mainly the Chancellor's fault and the sun would shine again, if only he'd stop all these silly U-turns.

But, NO, I'm not fed up with it.

And I don't think it has been a bad summer - just a different one.  Very, very different.  And in certain ways, wonderful for gardening.

For once, here in Britain's usually arid east, it's wonderful to experience what gardening must be like in Devon, or in Cumbria. I've never know such glorious lushness. Look at the pictures of my 'spring' borders, taken a month ago.  An embarrassment of columbines, some of them four feet tall.  And lupins big enough even to satisfy the Monty Python highwayman.  Instead of looking like a well planted border, it all began to resemble a lush, wild habitat.  And I love it.

Bad planting and indifferent design have become all but invisible.  It's just a wild party and any minute, someone's going to rip of her clothes and dance naked on the terrace table!


Our spring border on 29th May 2012. 

The woody plants are having a ball, too.  Young trees and shrubs, planted into droughty soil, last autumn have grown wonderfully well.  Even mature trees, stressed from nearly two years of below-average rainfall, have stretched their limbs and grown more rapidly than I'd have thought possible.  And the colours!  So many variations of green and such rapid changes in leaf colour and shape.  And so far, so little disease.  (Though we have a plague of honeysuckle aphids.)

We planted a length of yew hedge in 2010.  It has grown more, in the last two months than during the previous  two years!

Oh, and our  mini-meadow is nearly shoulder high, but doesn't look bad, despite the ox-eye daisies having over-reached themselves and partially collapsed; and despite the wildlings – painstakingly introduced last year – being overwhelmed by exuberant meadow grasses.  I'm sure the crushed lady's bedstraw, wild sorrel, field scabious and birds foot trefoil will survive.  And meanwhile, the volume of herbage, with grasses in full bloom, is almost architectural.

Looking over part of the spring border at the over-lush meadow.

I'm listening to Wagner's Lohengrin - the Solti recording with a very un-German sounding Placido Domingo in the hero's role and Jessye Norman as that horrible old bag Ortrud.

This time last week I was planting up troughs for my mother who had taken my brother and me out for a hefty pub lunch.

This week's film?  Too many to mention, but a piece of acting knocked me absolutely sideways.  It was in Boardwalk Empire, from the incomparable American HBO.  Steve Buscemi, as the vile and corrupt Nucky Thompson is in dialogue with one of his mistresses, played by Kelly Macdonald.  I won't spoil it for you, but this is an agonising scene with terse, near perfect dialogue.  So much depends on the actors wringing the gut-churning irony out of the situation, but while doing very little.  And this they achieved perfectly.  A television moment which stands up to almost anything I've seen in a theatre or on film.

Toodle-oo for now and thanks for reading this far!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

FAIR DAFFODILS WE WEEP. . .

 Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus the true pheasant's eye in my mini-meadow.


Good morrow all, and a very happy Chelsea to you.

A month since my last post?  Disgraceful!

There's little excuse. Time vanished and ideas dried away  – 'Like to summer's rain; / Or as pearls of morning's dew, / Ne'er to be found again.'  (A minor prize for she - or he - who identifies the boring quote.  Victoria, consider yourself not allowed to answer first. )

There have been a few minor distractions in my life – Mother! Untimely frost!  A car crisis!  Don't Ask!

Also, a slew of unexpected tasks.  I'm appalled at the  mathematical pattern of gardening journalism over the past quarter century.  A bit - but not a lot - like those gases, in Boyle's Law,  the volume of work is inversely proportional to the rate of pay.  I've discovered that in real terms, my average rates, per thousand words are about 60% of what they were when I began this, my third career.

If it's the same for all garden journalists – and I have no reason to assume otherwise – it means we're all having to behave like the White Queen, in Alice who, if I remember rightly, has to run faster and faster to stay in the same spot.

I'm not moaning. It's good to get the work. But it is a little sobering.


Another vexing thing . . .
I've been answering gardening questions for much of my time in this weird life, on radio, television and  - since being given the 'bum's rush' from GQT - mainly in print. And I've come to the conclusion that we're all useless.

Why?  Because the same questions keep being asked every week of every year.  And if questions are constantly repeated, it means we're not giving the right answers.

Whenever I look over anyone's  fence, or peer into the serial cock-up that is my own garden, I see the same mistakes and the same misguided husbandry.  It's hopeless.  No one seems able to learn and as 'teachers' of a kind, that is fairly and squarely, our fault.  We should be ashamed.

In my own village – where there are at least six people far better at gardening than I – I saw daffodil leaves newly knotted.  The bulbs had been 'naturalised' ie, planted in a neat row in a close-mown lawn.  And when the flowers had 'hastened away,' the leaves were skilfully twisted into tight hangman's knots.

Bulb knotting was done routinely, half a century ago, but has long since been discredited because it can foster disease and doesn't help the bulbs.  But it also looks HIDEOUS, UNNATURAL, REVOLTING, PERVERTED AND BRUTAL.

And in the case of this particular garden, the whole effort was wasted because within a few days of  knotting the leaves were mown off and the lawn shaved.

 Why aren't we hitting the targets with our answers?  And why does so much of my query mail look like this. . .

Dear Neil Coletorn
   Can you identify the encl. ( flower/twig/leaf/rotted black mush/torn-off shred of kitchen roll/live hungry aggressive arthropod etc.)

Why, when people ask for a plant identification, do they also ask whether the plant is a weed?  When any fule kno that a weed is identified not by what it is but by where it is.

I also get,

Dear Mr Cobbin,
   How can I kill. . .daisies/pheasants/mice/shield bugs/ants/snakes/lichens/moss etc. 

I've had -  
'How can I keep slow worms out of my wall? And where can I get cyanide to deal with the moles and wasps?  And even 'How can I keep bees out of my garden?'

Also. . .

Dear Sir or Madam
   Now that Arsenic, Lead Arsenate, DDT and Nicotine shreds have been outllawed, how can I possibly grow crops? 

Some folk want to douse their allotments with Jeyes Fluid, others want to know why I don't recommend sowing by the moon and a few attack me for not being organic or permaculturist.

And one final thing.
Why, when sending emails, do some folk think that the shift key and punctuation buttons don't work?

Try this for size:

From - nickandshirl@talktalktalk.com

HiNigel
Wehopeyou'reokwehaveaproblemwithvineweevilstheyhavedestroyednicksauriculasandnow
theproblemseemstobespreadingtoourrhododendronbushesbecausetherearebitesoutoftheedgesofthe
leavesandweareafraidtheywillattacktherootsThankingyouforyoourhelp
Shirl
 
I'm listening to Abba - Lord help me!  (Money Money Money, since you ask.  It's the Euro crisis, stoopid!)

This weeks film was Winter Light Ingmar Bergman's excruciating analysis of faith, liturgy, religion and relationships.  It's profoundly depressing – and when first saw it, in 1965, I was suffering Sophomore blues at Cornell Univeristy.

This time next week Chelsea will be over, as far as I'm concerned, and a good job too.

Thank you for getting this far. Bye bye!


 

Friday, 13 April 2012

THE LOCOG DEVELOPED A FLAT TYRE


What ho, my lovelies!  
First a little ironic symbolism... (CAUTION - the first paragraph contains rude bits.)

This dragon thing guards the entrance to the City of London – a small, but rather wealthy village which makes up part of our capital. Note the open claws, for grabbing money; the inefficient little wings – for flapping, rather than soaring; the slathering tongue, always wanting more; and those genitals, so out of proportion to the rest of the creature's body. No surprise then, that when you've been shafted by the City, it really, really hurts.  


The City of London's motto is Domine dirige nos - 'Oh Lord, guide us' – but that doesn't seem to have happened for a very, very long time.  Or if it has, they haven't listened.


FIRST OF THE MID-SPRING BEAUTIES.
Michael McCarthy, in yesterday's Independent Newspaper discussed the seasons and how they can be subdivided. 'The first Orange Tips are out now,' he writes.  And they are. Yesterday, I spotted our first  for 2012.  It was a male – the female lacks the tangerine wing tips -– and was cruising the ditch below the hedge which lines part of our fenland lane.  It was probably wondering where the vegetation had gone.  The flail mowers worked overtime last winter, not only thrashing the hedges into lifeless stumps, but also sweeping along the ditch banks, shaving away the carpet of sweet violets, meadowsweet, celandines, hedge garlic, cuckoo flowers and grasses which all had helped to hold the steep sides together and which supported a rich biodiversity.

No doubt, dozens of Orange Tip chrysalids were killed, in the cauterising triple chop, so I suppose we should rejoice that there are at least some survivors.  And it's likely that the resilient dyke-side flora will recover - but when?  Meanwhile, where will the female orange tips lay their eggs?

Such thoughtless actions encourage me to work even harder at providing more refuge within our own boundaries.  And as long as creatures are being extirpated, albeit inadvertently by well-meaning but ignorant landowners and local authorities, it behoves us gardeners to make our ground more life-rich.  Obsessive tidiness seems to be as damaging, almost, as intensive cultivation.



Erythronium californicum 'White Beauty'     (CLICK ANY PIX TO ENLARGE.


SYLVAN SEASON.  
The soil in our tiny woodland garden is improving year by year and like wild woods, in April, it's looking extremely pretty just now.  For the third winter, I've refrained from raking off fallen leaves, allowing them to rot ever so slowly into the loam, making it leafier and moister. Signs of success include thriving trilliums and Cyclamen repandum – always a swinish species to establish – and busy dunnocks, wrens, robins  and blackbirds, going for invertebrate life among the decaying vegetation.
Our wood anemones are loving it; gathered bluebell seed, scattered three and four years ago, is producing the first few flowers and the true oxlips, Primula elatior, have gone berserk, hybridising with anything primulaic.  But this year's star, so far, is Erythronium californicum 'White Beauty.'  Lilies in miniature, and all the more enchanting for the beautifully marked foliage.


4. Fritillaria montana - I think - which bloomed in our shingle bank.  This it was supplied to me as F. thessala which it isn't.  Indeed, I'm not sure that name is valid.  It's not in the latest RHS Plantfinder but I suspect the correct name, for that green and brown-flowered species would be  F. graeca subspecies thessala.


IT'S A FAIR COPPICE!
When bashing about in my mini-wood, clearing away unwanted elder seedlings and thinning a thicket, I discovered three  ash seedlings.  Each is about 6 ft high, single stemmed and I'm pondering the notion that these should be allowed to stay and, in the unlikely event that I live for long enough, would be regularly coppiced.

We burn an awful lot of fire wood and ash makes some of the best.  It staggers me, that while country folk all over Britain are installing wood burning stoves – heating oil being suitable only for the wealthy or the spectacularly insulated – farmers, or anyone who owns more than half an acre of land, are not planting ash for coppicing.  Perhaps the megalithic DEFRA should make compulsory coppicing, for fuel, part of a payback plan for the generous subsidies we taxpayers hand over to Britain's farmers.

There's a lead time of at least 10 years, from planting, and initial wood yields are low. But if you look further ahead, it makes perfect sense to set aside small parcels of land for coppicing.  Every ninth year, strong, clean ash limbs would make superb logs and the places where these trees grew would become interesting habitats.


CHELSEA TRACTORS, TWATTICLES AND SUVS.
It was abandoned, rather than parked, in the car park of a certain mainline station. The wheels overlapped the demarkation lines on both sides, so the driver had managed to take up three parking spaces with a single vehicle. At £13 per vehicle per day, I reckoned he or she owed the railway company the best part of £39.

Whenever I see a large four-wheel drive vehicle, I feel a surge of anger welling up. My reactions are excessive but there's something about the smug, planet-wrecking arrogance of these things that get my goat. And the bigger they are, the hotter my ire.

And this one was a monster.  I've no idea what make it was, but the cheap-looking badge on the front suggested, for some reason, Detroit.  Every line made it ugly and it was obvious that a heap like this would be awkward to manoeuvre, sluggish and probably uncomfortable or worse, so soft-sprung that you'd be rocked to sleep at the wheel after twenty miles or a couple of gallons of juice.

These things are sometimes called Chelsea Tractors. Secretly, I've always called them – and those awful cowboy pick-up trucks – 'Twatticles' ie, vehicles for twats.  But the rhythm and imagery in the word is all wrong.  The 'icles' suggests something small, or anatomical, so I'm trying to develop a more fitting term.  I need something that suggests excessive, budget-busting waste; something grossly over-priced, over-hyped, completely pointless and a huge nuisance to those who are not involved and do not want to be.  And I've come up with a winner:  THE LOCOG.

Chionodoxa forbesii 'Pink Giant' earlier this spring, in my gravel.

I'm listening to  The PG, cutting up fruit and carrots for lunch.  We are determined to become more sylph-like.

This time last year, 16 days after my hip replacement operation, I managed, with much help from the PG, to limp on crutches, round part of one of Lincolnshire's best patches of ancient woodland. The bluebells, says my diary, looked absolutely enchanting. We also watched longtailed tits gathering moss for nesting material.

This week's film was Fritz Lang's Der tiger von Eschnapur.  Made, or more accurately, re-made in 1959, this is an unremarkable story shot remarkably.  Lang disliked wide screen photography and one of the visual strengths of this film lies in its being 'full screen,' ie, nearly square, but with spectacular depth. This is especially telling in the many shots which are made from considerable height, looking down, or looking up.  But the story is pretty facile, Boys' Own stuff - potentate falls for beautiful dancer, but so does the handsome western architect. Potentate gets into a cold, jealous fury and commits wicked acts.  Doomed lovers run off into the desert.  The end.

But there's a sequel.   Bye Bye for nowI