Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Two hours between lunch and dusk

Autumn and winter tasks are always piling up. By December, they've piled up so high it feels like they might never get done. Bulbs planted? Well... I could leave it a bit longer, the bulbs might be less happy, but they will also have a lower chance of rot, pest and disease. Broad beans planted? We-ell, you can plant them in a warm spell at any time. Sweet Peas planted? Ever since I found you could leave planting your sweet peas till Christmas, I've been unable to resist doing so. Except then, Christmas comes and you've just eaten a pile of pudding the size of your head and Dr Who is on in fifteen minutes and while you know that theoretically that is enough time to plant a tray of Sweet Peas, somehow it just doesn't happen. Which is how, on the last day of the year, I end up with something like this:

I've got a job to do!

The Sweet Pea seeds are in the padded envelope, and came free with the bulbs (as did that large pack of pale allium bulbs in the middle). That rather nice garden knife was a Christmas present I am already abusing - but I can report that it works just as well as a bulb planter as it does a widger. It's late, and the ground's a bit hard where it's exposed. In the end, I decide it's too cold for the Broad Beans. I'll slip them in in the next warm snap.

But the rest gets done. 

Friday, 26 December 2014

Garden Art : Rose Lowder's Bouquets

Rose Lowder was an artist with a day job (she now is a professor of art!), editing TV for the BBC, taking the unwanted parts of film, slicing them out and throwing them away, all the stuff that wasn't wanted. Sacks and sacks of stuff.

But then, she took herself and her bicycle to France, and in the spaces around work (more work) filmed flowers and their surroundings, using 16mm filmstrips as a canvas. Flowers and scenery, tourists and weeds, litter and animals all mashed together into one-minute bouquets, shot without continuity, interwoven frames creating a multiple persistence of vision that puts the flowers in their context in space and time. (more on her techniques here)

The films are shot in the camera, during the visit/s, frame by frame or passing and repassing the film back and forth. Constructed in the camera, any frame may occur at any time. The resulting films are like small flowerbombs going off, the familiar 16mm flicker subverted into fast-switches of subjects, often with dappled light, sunshine, wind or water adding its own movement to the melee.

Lightcone have an archive, and you can watch most of the Bouquets online (look out for the blue "play" button next to the film thumbnails) including  Bouquets 21-30, and my personal favourite, Bouquet 5. On her art: "I do less, but try to give it more attention."


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Red tulips for Christmas

I'm ready for Christmas, I've bought my tulips:


As usual I also have a bulb in a pot that I planted too late to do anything for Christmas. 

Friday, 19 December 2014

the whole world's sap is sunk

I took half an hour from the time writing my paper this week to sweep some leaves from my neighbour's "miniature" twisted willow tree and drop them into the compost bin. All the gardening books and shows recommend the making of leaf mould, but I have too small a garden to do anything which involves having black plastic bags hanging around getting smelly in a corner. So instead I sweep up the leaves, chuck them in a trug, drop enough in to the compost to provide a brown layer and then scatter the rest on the flowerbeds for the worms, extra thick layers over the softies (a begonia I can't be bothered to dig up, my fancy schmantzy tulips, anything else I can remember) and then usually get bored and dump the rest in a corner (the worms will come out and find the leaves - link to a lovely BBC timelapse video of worms gathering leaves). It's like making leaf mould, but without the stinky black bag stage. Me and the worms take it straight to humus and compost, without the faffing. Repeat as our long, slow autumn drops more and more leaves on the patio, and the garden becomes increasingly brown and ragged.

It's a complicated time of the year for me. On one hand the dead, dull, sere, dead, withering plant is as much the plant as it in full leaf or full flower. But while a slick of frost on blackened foliage and empty seedheads is undeniably pretty, piles of slimy flopped stems (I'm looking at you, geraniums) with the odd evergreen made extra rambunctious by the cosy mess around its roots is a look that's harder to love.

But I am persevering. The satisfying tidiness of a bed cleared down to neat brown rich soil appeals to the tidy human mind that sees seeds, potential, prettiness, order ... but it's not going to appeal to my hibernating ladybirds, busy blackbirds or precious worms. By spring the garden will have absorbed the slime and recycled the stems. The soil will be the richer for the dead things left on it, shedding seeds and nutrients into y improving clay. And in spring the tulips will rise, each one whispering: I am re-begot/Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.

yea plants, yea stones detest, And love - John Donne, A  Nocturnal upon St Lucy's Day

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Season of fairy lights

Walking back from my friend's house this evening, the houses had their bling on. Discreet wreaths in dim doorways, lines of flickering lights, shrubs wrapped up in multicolours, and on the house in the middle of Flo Park, the one I once saw draped entirely in lights, some fully professional flashing neon christmas signs.



This is the outside lights at my work and my home; the lights on Spriggy are solar, which means they're raising enough of a charge to light up every few days. The lights on the beautiful beech tree are super low-energy, and have the same chilly whiteness as modern streetlights. The sort of light that plants can grow in.

Friday, 12 December 2014

December is Cotoneaster

Some days, walking into work feels a bit like an executionary march. This time of year, especially, with my pale Northern skin screaming for a few hours of sun, I instead power through a blessed thirty minutes of low sunlight/flat grey skies, (or occasionally driving icy rain) into the artificially lit and climate controlled officeworld, where only a few hardy pot plants can survive.

This Thursday, I instead had the long walk. Forty-five minutes through urbs, suburbs, business and industry parks around the ring road, and a bright morning to walk through, hazy sun and crisp air. A morning to take every off-road route available. I started along the creekside path. The creeks are cut into our estate to keep water where it belongs; in the Thames. This close to the river they are concrete-lined culverts, deeper in the middle, made for fast drainage and sequestering of floodwater. Foxes and feral cats trot along their concrete banks, and wagtails flicker across the water. Field maples line the river, nettles crowd the path, yellow and dull green, the odd hawthorn making a splash of red. Then into the park, past the morning school-run. The municipal beds have gone to neon-bright pansies and primulas, with occasional pins of small ornamental evergreens in lurid lime green, fairly glowing against the year-round yew hedges.

Then out into the world of front gardens, at this time of year showing wear and tatter, brown leaves scattering the lawns, but here and there a shrub showing spectacular autumn colour; December is Cotoneaster, bright with red berries and redder leaves, black twigs like mucky brushstrokes peeking over low walls, waiting for the birds to become hungrier as the frosts get harder.

This year, I can't help looking for flowers. Fuchsia, still flowering. Chrysanthemums, still blaringly bright. Mock Orange and other municipals enjoying a second flower flush, particularly in the warm particulate glow around the ring road. And the roses! Still powering on, deep into winter, flowers and fruit on the same branches, promise and fulfillment all at once.



Top to bottom; red Cotoneaster, sunny Chrysanthemum, delicate Mock Orange, rufous Hydrangea, orange Firethorn and irrepresible Berberis. 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

In praise of December roses

Don't cut your roses back! Even the twigs may in this cold month do something as beautiful as this:





They may be a bit bruised by frost and tattered by winter winds, but the roses aren't going anywhere this year. Mostly from other peoples' front gardens and municipal planting on sunny walls, but the tiny globe of red rose is from my own back garden (as is the random winter jasmine).

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

First frosts

First frosts have struck. Nothing has reached the ground yet, but soft plants that keep their heads up (New Guinea Busy Lizzies, Morning Glory, Nasturtiums and Begonias) are turning to mush. So this weekend, into the compost they went. I have the bog standard municipally discounted compost bin, which makes me (according to the Alys Fowler system of compost makers) too boring even to mention. Nevertheless, the £20 bin is tiny enough to cram into the sunniest corner of my yard (meaning it gets grazed by sun once a day at this time of year) and big enough to give me two top-dressings of compost a year and fast enough that I'm never stuck for space for my potato peelings or hedge clippings. You're not really supposed to put diseased leaves, pests and perennial weeds in it, but I do. Everything goes in there, especially slugs. They eat the leaves, the worms finish the job, and the potatoes enjoy the fertile seep around the compost bin.

the nasturtium are over First hoar frost

I shook out as many seeds as I could, but it looked like the frost caught them fat with water - they were swollen and popped. Not to worry, though, I have stockpiles of back garden easy seeds (nasturtium, morning glory, nigella, wallflower, marigold, nicotiana, opium poppy, etc.) from more congenial years.

Then I found the tender pelargoniums. I bought two of them for £1.99 in a parlous state from a houseplant sale, snapped off their faded blooms, and popped them in a pot by the backdoor. They have flowered gloriously all summer, but they were never supposed to even live outdoors, let alone spend winter out there. Part of me wants to rush to their rescue, pot them up and pop the into one of my coddle-zones.

The other part is watching in fascination to see how long they'll last.