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).