Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Notes from an English Garden

We awoke yesterday to bright sunshine and a slight frost. “Perfect for photographs,” my husband said, “do you need any?” – to accompany the articles I am commissioned to write, is what he meant to say.

Well as it happened, his offer was fortuitous. Whilst sitting in bed drinking our usual mugs of morning tea, I had completed a short introductory chapter to what will become a part of the ‘Cotswold Scrapbook’ that I am in the process of writing. Or maybe instead  it will take the form of a regular newsletter to go on my website – to be entitled something along the lines of ‘Jottings from an English Garden’. That aside, I jumped at Raymond’s offer of photos: they would act as a reminder of what I would be writing about, and be useful in all manner of ways.

My purpose yesterday was to catalogue every area of the garden, which over the last five years has become so tangled and overgrown, due to circumstances which I won’t cover here. We intend to spend 2009 reclaiming our acre of ground – not for the first time. We’ve been ‘reclaiming’ it over and over in sections ever since we moved here 40 years ago!

Wearing scarf and jerkin, and with pen and clipboard in hand (Raymond with his camera), we began in one corner and worked our way around each of my little ‘mini gardens’; it only took a half-hour but 53 photos later – and with frozen fingers – we had our starting point and returned to our warm living room to reflect over breakfast on the long check list I had by then compiled.

Was I depressed at all there is to do to bring the garden back into full production? Not a bit of it! Although the task is daunting, it was such a beautiful morning, snowdrops out, birds singing and honeysuckle shooting. Raymond was appalled at the overall mess, but I have the infuriating habit of not seeing what I don’t want to see! Of visualising what was, and will be, and not the here and now. Progress (with photos) will be recorded in my gardening blog/website - for the time being on the 'blog' page, and in an accompanying journal/diary. “Not another one ….?” do I hear? It’s my way of keeping track of what will become history, for this small patch of land with its old farmhouse has been here for over 400 years, the land of course for millennia and once under the sea. We are but a drop in the ocean. Documentation in anything I do is as essential for me as breathing, so forgive my indulgence.

Double click on any of the images to view them at a larger size.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Big Garden Birdwatch

Here in the UK, it is 'Big Garden Birdwatch' weekend - an annual event organised by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). 

Gardeners are asked to devote just one hour over the weekend to monitor their 'bird-visitors'; feedback helps to ascertain trends in garden bird population.

We go one better and monitor birds all year round, using a bird-spotting chart I devised about four years ago. Results are quite significant and very weather-dependent. You can see our completed chart for 2008, and a photo of our bird-feeding station in my gardening blog. Click on the link just given; it will take you to my website; all you then need to do is to click on the 'blog' heading. I have included the web address of the RSPB in my website-blog post for today, in case UK followers would like to become involved.

I painted the little Robin watercolours in around 2001; no initial drawing, a paint wash straight on the page. From the look of them, I guess they may have been one of my challenges to myself to paint with my left hand; they are certainly rather wobbly!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The measure of my days

For many years, these little notebooks tied up in a tape measure were my constant companions; one by one I filled them with my scribblings. They were for those 'poetry moments' which all my life have interrupted whatever else I may be doing at the time; very inconvenient, too many burned suppers! There is never a deliberate sitting down in front of a blank page; these 'poetry moments' just happen - and I had one this very morning, 7.30 a.m. sharp: something that sprang into my mind to mark and record this 'Obama Day'.

You can read some of these poetry happenings from time to time in my other blog - 'Journaling the Journal'; just click here, or on the link on the left (Another of my Blogs). Enjoy.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Withering on the bough?

We were working in the garden yesterday, so unexpectedly mild. I had my camera with me, hanging on a snagged branch in the orchard, 'just in case ....' and I spotted these mummified pears. They seemed symbolic, somehow. The tree budded, blossomed, set fruit, ripened - and withered on the bough. It set me thinking: is that what happens to so many of our creative dreams? Do they never reach complete fruition? Significant, I thought, because all the while I was clearing old undergrowth, I was reflecting on the questions that Rosie (a rambling rose) had set me. 

Thankyou, Rosie for challenging me to think back, to delve deep into my inner self. I don't know where this 'necklace of interview beads' began, but it seems such a marvellous way to learn more about the other bloggers and the people we admire. Here are Rosie's questions, and my responses.

1. Somerset appears in your name and your blog title - tell us more about that: it’s my middle name (I was born in Bath, Somerset, England, in 1937). I decided to use it as part of my blog title because it takes me back to my childhood and dreams I feel I have never fulfilled. I was VERY naughty and disobedient as a little girl, wanted to be ‘different’, never wanted to conform. I was a loner, yet fiercely competitive. I suppose I still am (both); though age, marriage to a dear husband for 50 years, children, grandchildren – and running a publishing business – has sobered me somewhat. I am still a wild loner at heart.

2. What makes your child's heart wild? Poetry – it always has, ever since my godmother gave me a fantastic anthology (‘A Child’s Garland, edited by Jane Carton) when I was six. It’s the sound of words that I so love. I subsequently had a marvellous and much beloved English teacher when I was ten, and for four years she nurtured my passion for poetry, words, literature, theatre and Shakespeare. I was so fortunate to have this encouragement in my formative years, for it has set the pattern of my life.

3. As a mature woman getting to grips with new technology and blogging - what has been the most rewarding and most frustrating experiences? The most rewarding experience has been to discover the wonderful camaderie out there; through cyberspace to encounter so many people, learn of their own hopes and joys. This sharing of creative dreams buried within the commonplace of everyday things is something I could never have envisaged. My frustration has been in making the technology work for me – to make the layouts look the way I want them and not to have to follow templates! I guess the failure’s my own stupidity, so having been posed this question and acknowledged to myself that there is SO MUCH to learn, I’ve ordered a book on HTML!

4. Where will your visual journalling take you next? Where would you like it to go? Now this has really set me thinking – and if you could read all the emails that fly back and forwards between me and my dear ‘guiding spirit’ in South Carolina, you would know why! So many little things spark an idea which flame into notes, scribbled sketches and experiments for the beginnings of a journal; but then something always intervenes, or I get cold feet and shove them in a box, and there they sit. I have countless notebooks filled with these ideas. As to where I would like my visual journaling to go this year – well, how perceptive of you Rosie to pose this question. For, recognising this failing on my part, I was already determined this year to complete some of these embryonic pieces. And that is why I have set up my other blog (‘Journaling the Journal’), as a challenge to myself, to share what I create and the notes that accompany the making. It would mortify me to have nothing to post!

5.Your father was conductor with the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra so you have had a musical childhood. How has this influenced your own journey as a writer, poet, gardener and journaller? Being contrary, I decided early on that I would have nothing to do with music, yet years later graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in London (speech and drama teaching degree); more significant was that I met my very dear husband there. Musical influences there were nevertheless: a love of sequence, cadence, rhythm and folk dance, and this still affects the words I write – the sound of them, and their look, like musical notation. Gardening influences came from my grandmother and mother and a love of journaling comes I guess from my great-grandfather who was curator of an academic library and encouraged my love of books, and from my grandfather, who did likewise. But the greatest influence was that of my father’s dedication to the responsibility of ‘putting on a show’ no matter how you were feeling; with my mother’s devoted support, a commitment to duty and perseverance. That I know has rubbed off on me – if they were alive now, I hope they would be proud of their ‘wild somerset child’, for whatever I may have achieved in life has been tempered by their example.

6. If you had no limitations tomorrow what would be your perfect blissful day? What would you eat, play at, dream, wear, where would you go and who with? Please add to this wild somerset child! Ah, well now; if this magical day ever arrived (tomorrow, you say?) I would: eat a salad - a slice of brie with mixed green leaves and snippets of herbs grown in our garden and scattered with toasted pine nuts. I would play at making a ‘book wrap journal cover’ as taught by Angie Hughes (see her blog in my list). Slathering paint over a surface prepared from curtain interlining mixed with diluted PVA (the result feels like suede), embellished with ripped and stitched cotton scrim, gessoed when dry, then coloured. I would dream that I had time to continue the book I am supposed to be writing (through dreaming about it will not achieve anything)! I would wear a beautiful Indian dress I bought on a whim in a thrift shop: dyed muslin in soft shades of currant-red and rust, printed with motifs in indigo and a delicate ochre; ethereal and theatrical, and not ‘me’ at all (I bought it to rip apart for the fabric). Where would I go and with whom – with my ‘guiding spirit’, Kristin Steiner of South Carolina; I would take her to a stimulating local bookshop-cum-café (Jaffe & Neale) where we would eat carrot-cake, drink coffee and would chat for hours about the musings of our respective hearts, perhaps buy a book or two (and maybe we will do that for real, Kristi, when you visit after tutoring at Oxford Summer School in August). This perfect blissful day will need to extend to a week if I am to become a true ‘wild somerset child’ again!! Maybe.

Continuing in 'interview' mode - 'getting to know you': If you would like to be my interviewee, please follow the instructions below. The first two bloggers who ask yo be interviewed will be sent a list of pertinent questions by me. Let's keep this going.

Here are the instructions:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "interview me".
2. I will respond to the first two who ask by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick the
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else
in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five

Friday, 16 January 2009

Bird behaviour

I have had my head in the computer for days now, from first light, hardly time to journal or notice the 'lovely things' I spoke of in my last posting. "Look," my husband said, as we sat in bed drinking early morning tea just after dawn. "Look at the rooks." The usual flock was flying south from wherever they roost overnight (I haven't discovered exactly where yet). Flying in contingents but not in their usual straight line - they came in waves, swirling, circling, loitering almost. Why?

What was different about today? Wind direction? Murky cloud cover? Drizzle? Surely not. I must re-read Mark Cocker's 'Crow Country' - a marvellous and dedicated observation of these gregarious creatures. Morning and evening (when they return to their roosting site) we watch them; such enigmatic birds. As Shakespeare wrote so poetically, "Night thickens, and the crow makes wing to the rooky woods." I should have tried to sketch a rook; in fact there have been so many different species of birds at the bird feeders today I could have filled a page of sketches.

My day has been more than usually hectic but I have a joy to look forward to: Rosie (of ruminations, rambles, reflexions) is "interviewing" me. I am presently reflecting upon my responses and will post her questions and my answers very shortly. Thankyou Rosie.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Lovely things observed

In her inspiring book, 'Finding Water', Julia Cameron sets readers the task to "observe five lovely things" on a daily basis. I was working my way through this book last Spring towards my 'deferred dream' and thought that Julia's exercise 

was a wonderful way to stay connected with the world.

The first day was no problem and then I became busy and realised how difficult it can be during the hurly burly of a busy schedule to stop for even a second to mentally note down the beauty that is all around us. The little things which, once observed, lift the spirit and gladden the heart. It is so easy to remain blinkered, particularly in moments of life-crisis, or depression, or worry.

So I set myself a daily ritual: bought a little desk calender and in it jotted 'lovely things observed'. I created two pages for each week in my journal and used a rubber label stamp for each day (four on each page) and a final one that summarised the week. Once a week I copied in my lovely things, and used the space at the side to comment upon my entries. Sometimes I have to remind myself to LOOK, but find that cumulatively these observations impact on my creativity - any one lovely thing may be the spark to ignite a poem, or a visual artefact ... whatever.

I don't always succeed, there have been lapses since I began last March, but beauty is always there and often catches me unawares. Some days I only record a single thing. I recommend this simple way to open our eyes to lovely things. To readers of this posting, do record what you observe - and I would so love to hear some of your own observations.

My lovely thing observed today was the hoar frost on all the hazel bushes in my garden, with catkins already elongating despite the cold; no longer the hard little bunches but almost ready to spray their yellow pollen over the crimson stamens of the embryonic nuts to come in the Autumn. 

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

A brave new year

I have spent the whole of December 2008 and the first week of January 2009 working on my website and website blog. Do, please, visit that as well: 

My website didn't really seem appropriate for all the varied activities in which I involve myself, and meanwhile, I was not getting to grips with the intricacies of my 'blogger' site; haven't posted anything since my first entry!

So I have now decided that the subject matter of each blog-site needs separating. So this 'wild somerset child' blog will basically follow my creative interests, whilst those of my website will be devoted to my writing, gardening, natural history and travel - though all these topics are interlinked with the creativity I attempt; any one sparks activities in another; keeping them both updated will be another matter entirely!

I have come to blogging very late in life and am finding it so comforting to follow the posts and dreams of so many gifted people. Writing and art are such solitary activities. It's as if someone was throwing me a lifeline; to realise that I am not the only one who agonises over new year resolutions and makes lists of things to be done every year, a tally of one's hopes and dreams. So to all whose blogs I have been following since I discovered this camaderie of artistic beings - a belated 'happy new year' , and thankyou. You all keep my head above water and for the first time for over two months I have been able to spend four days 'playing art'. For me that is MAGIC!