Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Christmas loot and no sweetpeas

I didn't plant any sweetpeas this year at Christmas. Something about the day had left no space. Maybe I need to kick it forward to Boxing Day. Never mind, plenty of time.

I didn't put lights on Spriggy my topiary chameleon this year. The solar powered lights were underwhelming, and seemed not worth the work in putting them up.

I was given a gardening journal. It's very pretty, and so far I've been using it to store the plants I fancy trying, culled from the gardening catalogues that come thick and fast this time of year.

I tend to buy my mum-in-law plants at Christmas. She, like me, likes to have living things about the place in the depths of winter. Last year I ordered fancy things from the garden suppliers and they were not good. This year I just got something simple from one of my local suppliers.

I didn't buy Christmas tulips. I never saw any good ones. I like them red, garish, with glitter on. But I expect some years are better than others, even for plants forced under glass.

Christmas feels muted this year. 2016 was difficult.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

gardens of death, again

A final indulgence for the deep glooms of December before entering Christmas; meet the poison garden.

Like many people, I first encountered this concept as the Garden of Death in You Only Live Twice. I didn't read many Bond books - possibly just this one - but Dr Guntram Shatterhand's plant list made a lasting impression. The idea of the black garden full of poison plants has appealed to others, as well; and there is more of an echo of Blofeld's protective gardening suit of samurai armour and beekeeper hat about head gardener Trevor Jones as he tends the Duchess of Northumberland's poison garden.

Fumaroles, Piranhas and venomous snakes are presumably not included.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

gardens of rest, and all of the rest

Cemetery gardens are a thing apart. I've been to three this year, all very different. I think that probably the experience of a cemetery garden is always different, individual, defined by the path that grief it taking for you, and them, and the time of the place.

The Oxford Cemetery in April, for a sunny midday funeral was suitably beautiful, understated, an attractive Victorian chapel in a vast blossoming garden full of old friends and memories, the shifting fields of an active busy life intersecting and introducing echoed in the large airy bright space with its different plots and spaces from the formal rose and fountain garden all the way out to the tall beeches at the edge of the countryside. The cemetery is up a bit, above town, and a fresh wind blows through, sweeping and dispersing the sorrow.

October, in a home counties market town cemetery, fuelled by lemsip and a nervous kind of regret. Bright weather, but the gardens were barricaded by trees and municipally smart hedges framed carefully selected view. The planting was green and tight, privet, box, hebe, viburnum and tedious containers, everywhere, boring, annoying spikey things in pots, geraniums, shopping-centre benches, the cheap red-and-tan of tile and brick, like it had been bought in a job lot with a shopping centre. A tight, awkward space for hugging in grief and fretting over people who'd gone on sooner than you'd hoped, but longer than expected. The usual wall of trees guarding the car-park.

Finally, the Norfolk Cemetery on the last of November for an afternoon funeral in the dying of the light. Sat in a tangled hollow, a long taxi ride from town. There was frost in the lower plots that hadn't melted all day, memorials jostled together under the shadows of the dark conifers, fading frost-brown flowers, thin ice on tiny waterways. I went up a hill to get out of the ground's shadow, and up on a low rise at the edge of the site, there was a small stand of pine trees lit bright by the sun, the ground beneath them carpeted thickly with pine needles. A crowded, lonely, confusing place, dark with odd flashes of complicated emotion; strange messages on tombs, weird choices of memorials. The chapel itself, a narrow bricked-in space, almost black in the sinking light, sits at the focus of the hollow, dark in the dimness.  

I didn't go to any wedding this year. I suppose it's a lifestages thing. 

Thursday, 15 December 2016

the glorious continuation of Christmas trees

Two visits to London in the last two weeks. The first, to see the Turner Prize, four little garden rooms which create as much coo and trill as show gardens always do.

First up was a spectacular Junkyard Assemblage Garden by Helen Marten. Lots of her pieces were hand-cast; all invited closer looks, in more detail. The use of a dividing wall made peek-a-bo games of the pu blic presence. Next up, a Kinky Walled Garden by Anthea Hamilton, firmly in the decadent gardener tradition with high brick and floral privacy walls enclosing a world of golden buttocks, pants and discarded clothes. The Modern Art Enthusiast Garden from Josephine Pryde took a leaf from Banksyland and offered the unfulfilled promise of a ride on a tittle graffitied subway train. The the incredible Apocalyptic Beach Garden from Michael Dean finishes the show, with its solomn pebble drifts and jutting semi-sculpts. This one wins for me.

On the way out we spot the Christmas tree: nice work.

On the second trip we visit my sister for first Christmas (large families mean we have several). The tree arrives when we're there and is put up. The kids are of an age when decorating the Christmas tree can be a whirlwind, but I time them to 13 minutes.

Christmas is coming.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

ice across the Thames

It was only for a few days, but the Thames iced across this week.I was starting to get worried that we'd get no cold at all this year, so this should help the plants get their winter chilling... but...

It still wasn't really cold. There was just, inexplicably, a hug bung of cold that suddenly froze the Thames across at Donnington Bridge. By yesterday it was gone, and it was warmer again tonight, and we went out for a pokéwalk which went on a bit. We're getting out and about more nowadays and that's for sure.

Here are the river's resident feral geese, standing in the middle of the river.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

unironically-meant austerity Christmas tree

Modern Art Oxford have made an Austerity Christmas Tree. You can even go help them decorate it.

I'm helping them get started by hanging a Zubat on the tree.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

living ink signing off

I've declared the last of the living ink done. At first glance it looks like it hasn't done anything (bar the mould blooms) but if you turn it over you can see a faint speckle of algae. This was the moistest bit of the paper, and the bit in contact with the agar jelly. If you click through there are even some growth rings. This, more than anything else, convinced me that there were actually some algae spores in the mix, although I'd hesitate to call the results artistic.

and here's the final picture so, where's the algae?

The jelly went to the food waste, mould cultures and all, and I declared this last bit of paper a bit too mouldy to keep, plus I found the heavily pixellated image annoying. In the bin.The red ink (slow) in common with the first batch, never did anything at all on the front of the paper, but the algae on the back coincides with some of the brush strokes. It may just be coincidence.

Last of the living ink not my best kickstarter ever

The green ink is just visible to the naked eye (the camera can barely see it) but didn't develop as excitingly and unconvincingly as it did when the ink was freshly cracked.

loot shot (used)

Here's my final loot shot. Living ink, used. As you can see, the original picture has faded, but still looks more like invisible ink than algae. Other than that I have some mouldy paper, wet kitchen towel (the whole think leaked water), an "easel" (five bits of wood and some bolts), and a plastic container full of used growing medium (probably agar jelly, but documentation consisted of instructions only).

Saturday, 26 November 2016

little bits of darkness in the garden

I'm preparing for my third funeral of the year, this one entirely unexpected and unfathomable. First that, then the election and November coming down like a grey curtain of rain over everything. My friends are changing their nationalities, or trying to, or complaining that they can't. The world seems at odds with itself, with everything.

The garden is too wet to go out into. The ground is mud, and the grapes are rotting on the vine. It's too wet to clear them away. The air is clammy and dull.

So. Now is as good a time as any to explore a curiously dark story about a beautiful mossy forest in Japan. I first found out about it from the Kurosawa Corpse Delivery Service series, which mentioned both the beauty of the Aokigahara Forest and how it is now used, as a final destination, by many Japanese people.

This is from quite a garish news channel, but there is a gentleness and a determination about the geologist monk who presents the piece, as he does one of his usual rounds of exploration, persuasion and discovery. There are warnings on the way in, and the preview image is indicative.

Watch only if you are calm and aware.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Saturday, 19 November 2016

living ink continues to unconvince

If there's one thing I can say with confidence, it's that evaporation has taken place. Here's the view of the grow-house. You can see squiggles where the "quick" ink has developed. The gaps are where the "slow" ink was. It didn't develop; presumably it died in transit (or something).

developed picture

I must, right away, acknowledge both the mould, and the fact that one of the inks did disappear and reappear. It looks like green ink, though; even up close, there's none of the unevenenness you would expect from a grown product. And of course, being wet and November, it grew black mould.

with added mould! hmmmm

The ink is visible all the way through the paper, but you'd expect that from an ink you had to use on wet paper, and that had sat on agar jelly for ten days, anyway.

hmmmm can't stop the paws

Harley got interested and decided to add her pawsworth to my doodlings. You can see the easel behind her - this came in the package. You stood the ink picture in its greenhouse on it for three to ten days for the Living Ink picture to "grow".

what? pawprints

My soggy, mouldy, paw-printed magnum opus:

drying out completely

I think we can safely say that this is not a Kickstarter you'll see for sale on Firebox any time soon.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

autumn in the watery city

The halloween sprinkles left by our slightly embarrassed trick-or-treaters are still out and about. Normally we'd have a pumpkin nailed to our doorpost (we're trick-or-treat friendly) but somehow this year we didn't get to it (that's someone else's below) but a few hardy souls braved the chameleon and our fright masks and got given M&S candy and plastic rats. I found one discarded just down the road, among the pumpkins and feathers:

vomiting pumpkin halloween leftovers 2

Watery mists in the morning, and the beginning of fade on the leaves. The river colours are muted, as if pigment is seeping up from the ground and into the leaves. Even the evergreens are joining tin the party, wreathed in spiderweb tinsel and dewdrop sparkles.

autumn reflections fading ivy leaf

Everything plays dress-up at this time of year.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

the greenhouses behind the switch house

In the main hall of the Tate, bacterial cultures are deciding when the sculpture environment in the Turbne Hall shudders into life.

control room reaction of people

The usual lounging masses are on the concrete parkway, marked with the pocks and cracks of previous art. The children like the sudden lurches of movement. We take a peer behind the curtain; the door to the control room is deliberately left open, perhaps to silence those who would claim a human orchestra or artist. There's no reason why it should be faked, though. Why not use growth as the trigger mechanism? Anything that produces a large enough signal to be detected can be converted into art.

We head into the new switch house, crouched like a confused origami animal in the shadow of the glass towers of the billionaire fishtank flat complex behind. The spaces between the bricks are the exact size that a pigeon can't fit into, somebody tells us. This disappoints me; there should be space for life even in the white fridges we build to preserve our art from the wrong kind of culture.

switch house 2 viewing gallery

Of course we go and goggle off the platform in the general direction of the fancy flats. For the domiciles themselves, it's a weird combination of supplication and a sweet-shop window; the tail of an expensive cat visible here; an expanse of shiny worktop, a tastefully fancy lamp. One imagines aspirational brands bribing residents to place their products in the overlooked windows, more money draining into the smart cupboards of the extraordinarily well-off.

the fishtank flats doomed megalopolis

But on the top floor, as I hoped, an atrium garden is visible. Planters full of cordylines and other drought-resistant plants, a garden under glass. Traditionally, this is the architect's penthouse, and home to mad ideas like orchards, olive groves and lawns. This one seems quite modest and disappointingly tasteful by comparison with the tales we hear of penthouse excess.

It also looks completely sealed, in the modern style; a bottle garden for the doomed megalopolis.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

the urban crack garden in autumn

small garden
It's a sad time of year for the plants growing in the pollutant and run-off murk that gathers in small depressions in the pavement. The temperature of the concrete and paving surrounding them is plummeting, turning into an overnight cold-sink faster than the sparse and shortening sunshine can warm it up. One last hectic scramble to flower and seed (and the chickweed might make it) and then it will all be over for 2016.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

B's plant list from visiting Kew

Here are the plants B noted down for me, when we were visiting Kew; all the plants we took a shine to, wanted to have, wanted to bring home.

At first I was wrting them down:

Begonia Maculata "Wightii" - Silver spatter pattern species begonia
Aloe Pendens -  Yellow flowered shrub aloe
Selaginella - clubmoss, spikemoss
Adiantum Trapeziform - Silver Dollar Maidenhair
Hibiscus Schizopetalus - Japanese Lantern
Pavonia Bahamensis - Green Bahama Hibiscus (hummingbird pollinated)
Begonia Cleopatra - Maple Leaf Begonia

Then B took over:

Guzmania Omer Morobe - Torch Bromeliad
Lizard (we saw a lizard)
Nyphaea Thermarum - Pygmy Water Lily
Ludwigia Sediodes - Mosaic Flower
Cyperus Alternifolius - Umbrella Plant
Black and Yellow Frog (we saw one of those too)
Passion Flower Lady Margaret
Butterfly Lily (Ginger Lily) 
Maranta Leuconeura var. Leuconeura 'Fascinator' - Herringbone Plant
Ruellia Squarrosa - Water Bluebell
Phlebodium Aureum Mandaianum - Crested Bear's Paw Fern
Pelergonium Carnosum -  Fatstem Pelargonium

Then she got bored and I started again:

Passiflora Foetida - Carnivorous Passion Flower
Pepperomia Camptotricha - Mexican Pepper
Cleistocactus Winteri - golden rat's tail cactus
Pelargonium x Schottii - silver feather species pelargonium
Escallonia "William Watson" - scented pink evergreen shrub
Ilex aquifolium fructu aurantiaca - sunset berried holly
Ilex Decidua - Possum Haw
Zelkova Serrata - Kayaki Elm
Fastigiate Hornbeam - Pyramid Hornbeam

Then I got bored and we played the minister's cat all the way back.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

kew and the hive

The hive is gently singing. As the sun warms the hive, the mumbling music intensifies, and the buzzing twittering ringing noises rise into something richer, more urgent, more harmonious.

Inside the hive

tim in the hive   sun through the hive

It's beautiful and extraordinary, the hive at kew, but it's not the best thing, according to B (aged 6). The best thing is the Princess of Wales Glasshouse.

exotic colour leaf patterns
flower spikes houseplant run riot
I'm noting down names of plants I like when B asks if she can write down their names. I pass over my notepad and she procedes to be my secretary, writing down their latin names while me and B's mum explain what the words mean, drawing on childhood latin lessons.

And then we get interrupted by this:

Thursday, 27 October 2016

prowl one (of many)

Our little kitten had his first garden prowl today:

first time outside hidden behind a leaf
everything is amazing she is unimpressed

He says that the outside smells and tastes AMAZING.

Leaves! What are they about?

Saturday, 22 October 2016

living ink on the paper

The official paper and grow-house (which contained a hefty layer of ?probably agar jelly) took only a tiny fraction of the "ink" -- this is a mixture of the "fast" and "slow" inks, in the process of fading. They disappeared entirely in the end, and I propped it on my windowsill on the wooden "easel" it had come with to await the coming of the algae.

the official growhouse

The remainder of the ink went onto some super-thick handmade paper I'd been given for free when I bought some very fancy scented ink. It seemed to resemble the paper I'd been provided with, and again the ink successfully disappeared on this paper. I put it under my grow-house lights in a still plastic portfolio that resembled the "growhouse" that had come with the pack.

this skull sadly never grew     the ink, disappearing
Like all very watery inks, it was a problem to manage. The ink was watery and made large, blurred lines. By the last of the paper, I was starting to get a handle on it, kind of.

I saved a little ink for my spare sheet of paper, for though the ink was getting old fast I only had one grow-house, and I had strong suspicions that the algoe would not grow except in the supplied grow-house, on that mysterious jelly.