Friday, 20 January 2012


Well hello!  It's been ages, hasn't it?

Somebody phoned me this week and asked if I was devastated about the demise of the Busy Lizzie which has succumbed to Downy Mildew.
I answered, 'No, I'm absolutely delighted.'
'But what will people put in their hanging baskets,' asked my questioner.
'Nothing, lets hope,' I replied, 'but since there are, let's say, 50,000 other dangly plant varieties available, they should be spoilt for choice.

The RHS has flogged the lease on the Lawrence hall and will have lots of lovely dosh to blow on big projects.  One is a massive prairie or meadow garden at Hyde Hall, to be developed under the guidance of the incomparable Nigel Dunnet.  But here's a piccy of relatively self-made, natural 'upper saltmarsh' at Cley, in Norfolk.  The flora, here, is rather nondescript, but in my view, sublimely pretty.
As often happens around here, the pictures on this post bear little or no relation to the text - hurrah for lack of an editor!  CLICK THE PIX FOR A BIGGER VIEW.

Now, where was I . . . Oh, yes -–
I was sitting in an extremely posh kitchen, not a million miles from London having admired a rather delightful garden.  I was supposed to be politely listening to my hosts, while sipping coffee of herculean strength and admiring one of the most beautiful and characterful cats I've ever seen.  This cat had a sharp sense of humour, as well as spotted fur and unnervingly frank, pale green eyes – a micro-leopard.

But instead of living the moment, I had to endure a sustained vibratory assault on my left nipple.  The iPhone 4S – to which, I'm told, you can speak but which I've always felt too embarrassed to – was leaping and jerking about in my breast pocket like a March frog.  It was receiving a severe twit-storm of tweets.

The whole drama was sparked off by a certain illustrious editor (tweet him at @SeeWhyGardens) who confessed to dreaming that he had co-hosted a posh dinner party with me, somewhere oak-pannelled and clubby where we ate scallops and behaved raucously while being funny and charming.  There was talk of decanted wine and various clubbable guests who, says the tweeter, 'loved us.'

(I believe 'clubbable' means suitable for belonging in a club. However, some of the 'clubbable' people I know would benefit from being bludgeoned into oblivion.)

I haven't yet asked my co-host who, specifically, was there but it seems to have been a rollicking good party and we must have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Soft Cranesbill, Geranium molle, such a tiny, insignificant weed that you wouldn't think twice before yanking it out of the ground. And yet John Clare would rave over such a plant.  Is it time we tolerated beautiful species like this in our gardens, perhaps even making more space for them, and for other species which benefit from their presence. 

Meanwhile, I've been a bit worried about Phenology.  

A yellow crocus popped out in my meadow, just after Christmas and now someone is tweeting about swallows and asking if we've seen any yet.  I put this down to misguided optimism in both cases. The crocus got eaten by a sparrow, by the way and the swallow tweeter is almost three months early.

The wonderful sightings of winter migrants continues on our local Fen, however.  The PG and I admired a superb male hen harrier, cruising along the dyke yesterday and since Christmas, 'ring tail' - ie, female or juvenile hen harriers and short eared owls have been spotted almost daily.

But back to phenology.  Weird climates - and ours has been abnormal for so long, now that we've forgotten what a normal year is like - should be blowing a howling gale of fear up all our skirts big time.  Climate change – or rather Global Warming – if you read the GM, hormone-treated, fungicided straws in the abnormally strong and capricious wind, is accelerating.  At some point, maybe soon, we reach a point of no return.  What happens after that isn't nice.

Personally I believe, as humans, we deserve all we're going to get.  The idiotic mantra 'Save the Planet' keeps being chanted, as people recycle tokenistically and eat imported organic bananas, but I'm pretty sure the planet is absolutely fine and is in no way under threat.

Earth, as we call it, will probably continue to be an insignificant fragment of a universe that blew itself apart, a while ago.  And to think that we, as humans, can have the remotest shred of influence on its ultimate outcome is a shining example, wouldn't you say, of the Sin Of Pride.

No, it's just us folk who are under threat, as we fully deserve to be.

Except that it isn't just us, is it?  It's a pretty huge hunk of terrestrial life that will perish, when, as Johnny Cash would say, The Man Comes Around.  It'll be good-bye to life as far as we and a good number of cohabitee taxa are concerned –- but by no means good-bye to life itself, I'd suggest.  The Earth will still be here, doing what planets tend to do, long after we've buggered it all up and gone.

I suppose I should be censured for such a dark attitude but I don't see this as bad news at all.  From primordial slime to Leonardo da Vinci, Beethoven, Shakespeare and Newton is not a bad bit of progress.  But when you move on to, say, the Birdy Song, MacDonalds and Damien Hirst, it's perhaps time to say enough already – bring on the fire and brimstone!

Field scabious, Knautia arvensis, which I regard as an essential meadow plant.  I wonder whether it will feature in in the Hyde Hall prairies?  I also grow it in my gravel garden where it seems happy and has not, so far, become a nuisance.  It's far prettier than Knautia macedonica and doesn't get mildew.

This week's film was ... but first, I have to tell you about THE SHELVES  

In our house, DVDs are stored haphazardly in all sorts of odd places.  But in one room, there are shelves reserved strictly for what we know as film classics. These may not be high art, as in, say Bergman's Seventh Seal or the perplexing Last Year in Marienbad - though both are there.  Instead, the shelves are reserved for titles which the PG and I regard as great, ie films that we can happily watch on a regular basis and seldom lose interest in.  Casablanca is there, of course, as is In the Heat of the Night, The Life of Brian, Brief Encounter, Fargo, Tokyo Story, Seven Samurai (next to The Magnificent Seven,) Withnail and I, Cabaret, Dirty Harry and many more.

Few films get transferred to this place of honour after a single viewing. It takes time.

BUT-  A Separation, written and directed by the Iranian Ashgar Farhadi is an exception.  It has gone straight onto THE SHELVES.

The story structure is, in my view, faultless.  A married couple in oppressive Iranian society, find themselves impaled on the opposite horns of a hideous dilemma.  One partner wants to emigrate, to make a better life for their child; the other feels duty-bound to stay behind to nurse a parent with advanced Alzheimer's.

The film opens at the point where the problems are sparking off a divorce.  Events occur, through the ensuing two hours which get you so caught up with the agony of the main protagonist – the husband – that you feel you are there.  There are Kafka-esque courtroom scenes showing a shambolic judicial system; moments almost of farce, when things go wrong; deep tragedy as mistakes and deceits bring unwelcome consequences and, above all, acting and directing which gives the characters and their situations amazing clarity.

Before seeing this film, I hadn't a clue what life might be like, for a middle class family living in urban Iran. It's 40 years since I last visited Tehran and the Shah was in charge then, but this immaculate portrait and riveting story has filled me with information as well as providing two hours of fascinated absorption.

Do watch it, if you haven't already.

Good Lord!  If you've read this far, you deserve a candlelit dinner in a romantic location with the date/partner/friend of your dreams.

Bye bye for now!


  1. I claim my candlelit dinner :D

    I agree with you completely about the End of the World as we Know It. Don't think you're being dark at all: just truthful. I just hope the apocalypse doesn't arrive during my lifetime, or my children's lifetime, or my children's children's lifetime. Sadly I think by the time we've got that far it will probably be quite imminent, and very hot.

    Incidentally I think Withnail & I is better in retrospect than in reality. We re-watched it the other week, for the first time in some time, and as card-carrying Grownups (i.e. Non-Students). What had been a film I worshipped in my student days just seemed... well... hmm. I was heartbroken. I think I will stick with the remembered version in my head from now on.

  2. Well I read all the way through that expecting to learn something about bumps on the head.
    Perhaps reading glasses would be in order next time.

  3. I happen to think we are an arrogant and greedy species and the western variety is the worst. I could rant for ages and I do get weary of all the do-good shouts about climate change etc. I always wonder why there is little recognition that the earth's climate goes through changes, after all back in the 18th century (I think) the thames used to freeze regularly. I think the whole climate change industry is just that an industry, just as the millennium bug industry was. I do recognise that the world i warming up and that this will impact on what will grow where and when but that is how the earth works, just as some species of fauna or flora disappear often because they were out evolved. I dont understand this need to try and stop everything at a particular time and preserve everything but then I have never been someone to look backwards.

    I wasnt invited to the party:( Not in the incrowd - probably too stroppy

  4. So many stimuli for comment that I almost dont know where to start...but I think I must alight my mental comment bus on THE SHELVES. I like the idea of THE SHELVES. I have, without meaning to, a kind of protoversion of THE SHELVES...although this has mostly come about by tryin to keep my favourite few at a height sufficiently distant from my 6 year olds grubby mitts to keep them in playable condition. As with you, I think only one has found its way onto that shelf after a single watch - the jolting 'Festen', best watched with no idea of the plot other than it's a family get together to celebrate the father's 60th. A bit of a Marmite film I should imagine. I shall look out A Separation asap

  5. Oh Nigel, I have to say that I am a little sad about Busy Lizzies - sorry. I suspect I have no taste. I have hanging baskets, there I have said it!

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    Ms B - keep on with your Hanging Bs - I quite like them, too, but not when they're overdone. Do not allow snobbish rants like mine to put you off!

    Mark D - Festen almost made it to THE SHELVES first time, but we watched it again, pretty quickly and then it won its place. BTW a friend of mine's 2 year old son posted an entire packet of smarties into the slot of their then very new and ritzy VHS player.

    Patient G - you are absolutely invited to the party, on condition that you behave extremely badly.

    Anon - that missing 'R' got you. Phrenology = head cases; Phenology = timing of natural biological thingies.

    Constant G - I sort of agree with you about Withnail but it still stays on THE SHELVES because looking back to indigent student days is such fun.

  7. I entirely agree that the human species is doomed to self-inflicted extinction. Let's just hope our evolutionary descendants take note - not that there will be anything much left for them to exercise self-restraint over.

    I loved 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' for much the same reason, the insight into middle class tensions in modern Iran. Have never been there, regrettably.

  8. I agree with you about Busy Lizzies and hanging baskets...there is enough to do without sticking a piece og garden up in the air!!
    Geraniums, yes!! I love the New Zealand Black, named for its small dark leaves which show its tiny delicate white flowers so well. I miss the garden in front of the cottage I had in North Wales,with twenty or more sorts of Geraniums. I worked in the bookshop at Portmeirion, and the head gardener there (in the mid 90s) was a geranium enthusiast too.