Thursday 31 December 2015

31 Dec : Tree #15

This is the beech tree that I see out of my cottage kitchen window. In summer it glows coppery but in winter the sky fills the spaces between black branches. Standing at the sink I hear the church bell chime each hour, watch rooks fly in and out of the tower louvres, and see that thatched cottage snug behind the churchyard hedge. We have been fortunate in 2015, individually and as a family, but most of all I am grateful to have found a place of quiet in this cottage on the edge of Dartmoor. 

Sunday 27 December 2015

27 Dec : Tree #14

This is MissM pretending to be a tree at Meldon Reservoir. Because when it is so cold and windy that you can hardly stand up straight you have to make your own fun. Shortly after this photo was take a gust of wind blew me over and I fell flat on my face in the mud. Another typical Boxing Day Walk. Never mind, straight back to the cottage for hot tea and saffron cake. The washing machine is going to be busy.

Must dash - lots of people coming to tea - mince pies to make. Back soon to reply to your lovely comments.

Wednesday 23 December 2015

23 Dec : Tree #13

I was in Windsor early in the morning last week and I thought that you might like a peep at this Christmas tree at the entrance to the castle. It had just stopped raining and the cobbles in the deserted streets were glittering like a pebble beach. It has been fun writing these December posts - thank you for your wonderful comments here and for sharing your Christmas preparations on your own blogs. We are drawing the cottage curtains now, lighting the log fire and getting out the special Christmas tea cosy. I wish you all a very peaceful Christmas, full of good things and happy memories.

Sunday 20 December 2015

20 Dec : Tree #12

The Little Boy Next Door was not particularly impressed by our Christmas tree. He said that he had seen it before, last year. I was a bit downhearted because I had braved the scrum at the farm shop, selected the tree carefully and then trimmed the trunk with a saw so that it was exactly the right height but it is possible that the absence of presents underneath might have contributed to his ennui. However, The Little Boy was very impressed by the tiny tree beside our front door which has so many lights on it that it is unable to lift off in the gale force winds. I was slightly mollified when he said it was the prettiest tree on the village Christmas tree walk (which consists of our tree and a blue flashing bush on the other side of the square). Later we admired his own tree and agreed that it was the perfect size and that the tinsel and baubles were quite beautiful. I saw a stripy stocking hanging from a branch which was a gift from his teacher and obviously from the Little Cotton Rabbits pattern. I wonder how many other children will have happy memories of those tiny stockings hanging from the Christmas trees of their childhood. 

Friday 18 December 2015

17 Dec : Tree #11

On the umpteenth day of December MrM and MrsM went to visit MissM in her new flat to admire her Christmas decorations. She has the cutest little Christmas tree that you ever saw - a sparkly delight of baubles and tinsel - and an Advent garland of brightly coloured socks filled with treats for MissM and her flat buddies. MrsM remembered the first Christmas tree she ever bought and how tiny it needed to be because the first flat that she shared with MrM was so small you could almost stand in the middle and touch all four walls. MrsM was just about to get sentimental when luckily it was time for Christmas cocktails.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

15 Dec : Tree #10

Today was not a good day. It started off well when MrsM met MasterM at Honest Burger in Soho. MrsM had iced tea in a Mason Jar! MasterM had Karma Cola! MrsM and MasterM looked around and agreed that it was a very hip joint. But then MrsM and MasterM went shopping together in Regents Street. Quelle Horreur! MasterM needs clothes but could not understand why MrsM was suggesting sensible chinos and practical jumpers. MrsM was shocked by the adventurous colours that MasterM was selecting - why buy pale blue when there is a charcoal grey option? There was a frank exchange of opinion on the fifth floor of John Lewis. MasterM went home and MrsM had a cup of tea by herself. Then her phone died. Then all the paper bags collapsed in the rain. Quelle Désastre! MrsM decided that this was the day to have her first Baileys Latte. Suddenly all the street lights looked extra sparkly and MrsM knew she was on the slippery slope to Mothers' Ruin.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

14 Dec : Tree #9

MrsM and her best buds HelenandCaroline are having a Christmas outing and as a concession to the Spirit of the Season have invited their Spouses. It is an exceedingly jolly occasion and while the Spouses are reviewing the cheese trolley Caroline explains that she has booked the Gardener's Cottage at Hougoumont for a short holiday. MrM is very envious and launches into an analysis of the strategic implications of the Gardener's Cottage in the Battle of Waterloo with MrCaroline who is an enthusiastic military historian. MrsM nonchalantly mentions that she has just walked past the East India Club in St James's Square where Major Henry Percy, aide-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington, presented the Prince Regent with four captured French eagles and Wellington’s victory despatch. Helen is quite impressed and gasps "Alice! How do you know these things?" MrsM blushes and is forced to admit that she read all about it in "A Civil Contract", a Regency Romance by Georgette Heyer. 

Sunday 13 December 2015

13 Dec : Tree #8

It is so long now since MasterM and MissM were at school and I don't feel sad at all about that apart from at Christmas when there is an empty space where the school Advent carol service used to be. The memory is woven through with the shock of frosty air after an hour in the cathedral, a smell of hot candle wax and the smoky taste of cloves in mulled wine. Every seat in the cathedral was taken by a huge congregation of pupils, staff and families, but there was a sense of community and perhaps that is what I miss most. I think I need to find a new tradition for our grown-up family Christmas.

Friday 11 December 2015

11 Dec : Tree #7

I am still in trouble for the time that I made everyone else go skating while I had hot chocolate and took photos so this is as close as I get to an ice rink these days. On that theme I have been indulging in some Vicarious Christmassing thanks to Blogland. Can't get to a Christingle? No worries - there is one at Ipsden Church with everything that you could possibly want - including adorable grandson in homemade jumper. Haven't got time to make a gingerbread house? Shoot off and share the fun with Eleanor and Geneva - there is enough icing for everyone. Worried about choosing a tree? Not me because mine is in the garden, but if you want that spruce smell Sam is on the case. On the other side of the world Diana has made an advent wreath with foliage from her garden - mine has more foliage miles and does not look quite so lovely. Christina is off to Peru for Christmas and leaving all the Christmas chores behind and I am afraid that Lucille's Christmas turkey is looking a bit doubtful but Monica has made a Christmas table runner so all is right with the world. 

Thursday 10 December 2015

9 Dec : Tree #6

Does this count as a tree with lights? I don't know but I feel as though it represents the whole Christmas project which is spinning out of control this week. Planned work on our windows and doors was supplemented by an unexpected invasion of roofers. Downside : noise, draughts, dust, builders' mugs and biscuit crumbs. Upside : the wreath will look fab on the new front door and pigeons will no longer be able to fall down the chimney. In other news I have made the cake and bought the annual tin of Quality Street. We shall not starve.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

7 Dec : Tree #5

After all the family jollifications MrsM takes a moment to sit quietly in front of the tree in the Great Barn at Buckland Abbey. It fills the space with a simple elegance. She reflects on all that she has not done. It is a long list, a very long list. Cards, presents, cake, decorations. MrsM takes a deep breath and launches herself into emergency Christmas mode. Be afraid, shopkeepers of England, be very afraid.

Monday 7 December 2015

6 Dec : Tree #4

Here we are at the Skylon restaurant. All of us.

What's this purple thing?
It's a Heritage Carrot - treat it respectfully
Are you going to take a foodie photo for Instagram?
You can use the hashtag #fiftyshadesofcarrot
What's that?
It's an international trend
You post photos of coloured carrots
Except grey...of course.
MrsM and MissM nod knowledgeably
Well!! You learn something everyday!!

Saturday 5 December 2015

5 Dec : Tree #3

Every year MasterM and I visit the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award at the Natural History Museum. We go past the dinosaur skeleton, turn right at the Pleiosaurus and plunge into the dark exhibition for a satisfying hour or so looking at photos of leopards eating impala and suchlike. It has a womb-like ambience, accentuated by whale music as background sound, which is appropriate because it is a birthday treat for MasterM in lieu of a homemade pirate cake. Afterwards we come out and admire the lights in the trees which never fail to thrill me. There is something magical about these huge trees lit up against the flamboyant facade of the Natural History Museum.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

2 Dec : Tree #2

I took this photo of the huge tree in Covent Garden last week before MissM and I went to the ballet to see the divine Marianela Núñez dance in 'Monotones', Frederick Ashton choreography set to music by Erik Satie. We met by the giant sparkly reindeer which looked as though it had escaped from a pantomime and it reminded me of the time I took MasterM and MissM to London Zoo just before Christmas when they were little. MissM couldn't remember anything about it which was a relief because we went all the way there to see the reindeer and there weren't any. It was so cold that we had to spend all afternoon in the snake house. It was one of my great failures as a parent.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

1 Dec : Tree #1

Walking to the bus stop tonight after a very good dinner I had a champagne-fuelled brainstorm for my December blogposts. (I can't pretend that I thought about it months ago and prepared everything well in advance. My Christmas preparations do tend to be somewhat creative - idleness being the mother of invention.) Anyway - I decided that I would have a Festival of Trees - which you must admit it vaguely gardening related without requiring anyone to get their feet muddy. My first tree - as I happened to be in Trafalgar Square at the time - would be the Norwegian Christmas tree. Unfortunately, at that exact moment the bus came and MrM started shouting in a most ungentlemanly way. So here is Tree #1 from the top of the bus. It's a miracle it is in focus. Actually, it is a miracle the tree is in the photo at all.

Sunday 29 November 2015

28 Nov : Trees

Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy

This huge installation in the courtyard of Burlington House, funded by an innovative Kickstarter campaign, is composed of trunks and boughs bolted together to remake idealized trees. In the context of the exhibition inside which features steel rods removed from the wreckage of schools crushed in a catastrophic earthquake, remnants of the artist's studio after it had been bulldozed by the authorities and reconstructions of a prison cell, these trees felt like a bold statement of hope. If you look at the photo you will see a young couple in the centre who are watching their tiny daughter and I found it unbearably moving to see her running through the trees, Ai Weiwei's vision of her future in China.

MissM had encouraged me to go to this exhibition but I was reluctant because I was sure it was over-hyped. How wrong I was. The courage of the artist in exposing corruption and censorship in China makes it a humbling experience to walk through the galleries and I would urge anyone who lives within reach of the Royal Academy to visit before it closes.

Friday 27 November 2015

27 Nov : Eden

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden
Master of the Embroidered Foliage
(Active in Brussels 1480-1510)

my continued quest to gain design ideas from history...

Notes to Self:
Liking: water feature, standard apple tree, aquilegias and irises.

Not liking: creepy little chap in the background.

MrsM needs to grow hair.
MrM needs more practice balancing ivy leaves.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

24 Nov : Hellebore

Urghh...wet, wet, wet. Cold, dry, blue winter is good but cold, wet, grey winter is horrid. I braved my garden to get inspiration but only went as far as the edge of the patio before plunging back into the house like a bear who has accidentally woken from hibernation and left the cave too early. I took a photo of Hellebore as evidence that I had been outside and noticed that the winter flowering Jasmine is looking very stylish so will show you that another day but right now I am going sit on the sofa and watch Monty Don enthuse about William Kent at Rousham. Don't judge me.

Monday 23 November 2015

23 Nov : Silver

As I walked towards the trees the late afternoon sky was muted silver and I was reminded of our dinner party on Saturday night. The table was set with new beaded silver mats which shimmered in the candlelight just as I hoped they would, logs crackled in the fireplace, corks popped and our dining room filled with gusts of laughter. In the middle of the table there was a low vase of white narcissi and their sweet scent drifted towards me throughout the meal. It was a very happy evening and remembering it today I feel so grateful for the friends who shared it with us.

Friday 20 November 2015

20 Nov : Design

The Lady and the Unicorn : À mon seul désir
(Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris)

MrsM decides that she will not be idle during the winter months but will dedicate herself to a study of garden design through the centuries (although not necessarily in sequence) which will facilitate a profound understanding of the untapped potential of her garden.

There is much to learn from the medieval concept of Hortus conclusus and so MrsM decides to start with the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry 'Taste' .

Notes to Self:
* must have wild flower lawn
* black grass unusual choice - hardy?
* dwarf rabbits - v.cute - hire?

* lawn edging! yes!!
* rose trellis too low for privacy if knight drops in for tea
* strong use of pollarded trees but too high to pick fruit
* long cape to prevent wet dog paws - nice idea
* need parakeet or similar to eat from hand
* is there enough space for unicorn?

Wednesday 18 November 2015

18 Nov : Diversion

St Pancras champagne bar

My mother-in-law says...

Did you know that Limestone Edward lived in the village where I grew up during the war? [MrsM admits she didn't know this] Well, there was only one person who could look after him because he bit off a man's head [MrsM looks aghast. MissM explains sotto voce that Limestone Edward was a horse. MrsM feels slightly weak because she had assumed he was an architect] Well my dear, one day I was pushing my doll around in a little pram. You could let children do that in those days because everywhere was so safe. Anyway, I pushed the pram under a fence and I was in the field with him. He saw me and rolled his eyes and gnashed his teeth and charged. [Audrey does dramatic reconstruction of rolling eyes, gnashing teeth and rearing hooves] So I scuttled back under the fence with my pram and capered off. [MrsM notes concept of 'safety' has changed over past 70 years. MrM considers how close he came to not existing] Of course they shot him when he didn't win the Grand National. [MrsM pours some more champagne to revive herself]

Monday 16 November 2015

16 Nov : Contrition

We did find the secateurs in the end. We also found my favourite mug which had decided to go feral. But not until MrM had sifted all the recycling and raked up all the leaves. Unfortunately, the secateurs were in the bag of bulbs-yet-to-be-planted so not only did I have to explain the uncomfortable reappearance of the secateurs in the kitchen but also the unplantedness of the bulbs. It was all rather awkward until I remembered that I had a degree in Botany and started discoursing on vernalisation, the problem of this unusually mild autumn and my concern that planting the tulips too early might be problematical. Then I made MrM an extremely delicious supper in a craven attempt to get back in his good books.

Sunday 15 November 2015

15 Nov : Galanthus

Today we went to Polesden Lacy thinking to find some peace. We set off across the lawns, dodging excited children and dogs, walking towards the furthest corner where there is a small spring garden. In January this earth will be alight with snowdrops but if you look carefully you can already see tiny shoots. We may not have found quiet but we did find hope in the darkness.

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” 

Howard Zinn

Tuesday 10 November 2015

10 Nov : Blue

Window Box : Fall 2015

In more autumn window box news I can reveal that the tiny pale blue trailing Violas have trailed delightfully. The dark blue Panolas have been a bit sulky and are only just starting to put themselves out a bit. Of course they may have thought that they would always be in that comfortable pot in the garden centre, living the high life surrounded by their Panola pals and cared for by proper gardeners. It must have been a bit of a shock to be emptied out, split up, placed on a cold windowsill and then upstaged by hard working Violas. Life can be harsh sometimes.

Monday 9 November 2015

9 Nov : Orange

I regret to report that I am currently using the Secateurs of Shame which are bright orange and cannot be lost. Unlike the Ultra Secateurs which have titanium edges to the blades, extra safety features and green handles. MrM has lived under emergency measures for the past year with the strict understanding that he must not, ever, on any account, even think of using the Ultra Secateurs which have my name written on them in capital letters for the avoidance of doubt. They have retained their fresh-from-the-box look due to a religious attention to cleaning and oiling. All of which will not help them when they reach the recycling centre in the pile of clippings where I last saw them. All I have to do now is explain the incident to MrM but that is a problem for Future Alice. In the meanwhile here is somebody else's front door and somebody else's Pyracantha.  

Friday 6 November 2015

6 Nov : Confession

I am all over the shop at the moment. It is as though I have stumbled and am having difficulty picking up the rhythm of everyday life again. It is probably a reaction from the Big Birthday Bash but I am not going to indulge myself for long because there are many things to do. Today I was invited to lunch in January which means Spring is just around the corner so unless I get those last bulbs in the ground there will be Bulb-aggedon. The Gaura is looking bedraggled and dripping onto our postie making him even more despondent so need to sort that out. Finally, my dream of a Hellebore border needs to be translated into action - they are not going to walk down the garden and dig themselves little holes. So I am going to write a List. It will be a thing of beauty with priorities and action plans and targets. There will be no more idleness.

Thursday 5 November 2015

4 Nov : Salisbury

When I Am Among The Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Mary Oliver.

From Thirst: Poems
© Beacon Press, 2007

Thursday 29 October 2015

29 Oct : Circumspice

Mark Flanagan MVO, Keeper of the Gardens in Windsor Great Park, passed away this week. He was responsible for the Savill Garden, the Valley Gardens and the gardens at Frogmore and the Royal Lodge which contain a long list of National Collections of plants such as Magnolias, Rhododendrons and Azaleas. I visit the Savill Garden often and have always been grateful for his vision and leadership in the development of this spectacular landscape. His was a life well lived. If you seek his monument - look around you.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

28 Oct : Light

Today it occurred to me that there is no law which forbids fairy lights in your garden in October. I jumped into my car immediately and drove to the far garden centre which is so enormous that I always lose the will to live about half way round. Luckily I bumped into a friend who I haven't seen for a long time so had enough energy to buy some more daffodil bulbs, a couple of Hellebore seedlings and some white Cyclamen hederifolium as well as the fairy lights. By the time I got home the fairy light excitement was too great to wait until tomorrow so I stood outside untangling the strings in the dark, winding them round the box pyramids and feeling quite thrilled. There are eight different modes including twinkling and alternate pulses but I am going to restrain myself to a subtle glow. MrM is going to have a fit when he comes home.

Monday 26 October 2015

26 Oct : Autumn

The day that the clocks go back is definitely my favourite day of the year. Waking up deliciously late and knowing that you have an hour in hand. The knowledge that you must make the most of the light so you spend all day outside. Finally, the drawing of the curtains with the promise of a long evening in your cosy home. Yesterday we did all of those things and felt very satisfied with our industry.

Last year I conscientiously worked my way through a list of 'Things to do in Autumn' but felt disconnected from the season. I see that I have done very few of the same things this year but as I have driven across the country during September and October I have watched the trees change colour in a sequence of rich tableaux and I have experienced a gradual letting go of summer. Now I am ready to look forward to all the good things that winter brings and make plans.

Saturday 24 October 2015

23 Oct : St. Paul's Churchyard

St. Paul's Churchyard is a garden in the heart of a city, laid out on the area of medieval cathedral which was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is not a tranquil space because it is filled with the bustle of city life but you can step away from the traffic and sit for a moment. On the south side there are formal plantings, water features and statuary but it is the north side that visitors seek, a secret garden between the Cathedral and skyscrapers, trees leaning against the massive walls. In the midst of the excited chatter of tourists, the sound of city sirens and rattle of skateboards I watched a little girl stand completely still and coax a squirrel to feed from her hand, welcome silence in a noisy day.

Tuesday 20 October 2015

20 Oct : Arrangements

Welcome to Boconnoc .
It is Saturday evening and everything is ready for a party!

A little earlier in the day
This is Lovely Flower Lady Jenny
and my car full of flowers

Yes, seriously, FULL of flowers.

Here is Jenny precariously balanced on a wobbly stool.
She is working her special flower arranging magic.

Meanwhile the table centres are chilling in the kitchen.

Those mango Callas look good enough to eat.

Sunday morning
Now it is time to party!
Let's peep in before the guests arrive...

Here is the mantlepiece...

look a little bit closer while you can
there will be a log fire here soon.

This is a niche
with a huge urn
and some dramatic Molucella.

Here is a table laid for a feast.

Jenny is a very special florist who lives in our village.
Flowers are a lifelong passion
and it shows in her arrangements.

Thank you, Jenny,  for these beautiful flowers
which glowed all through our wonderful party day.

Saturday 17 October 2015

17 Oct : Cosmos

My mother says "Just LOOK at my Cosmos!! I have been praying every day that it will last a bit longer. Just until this weekend. And it did! Isn't that amazing!"

I stare at this towering display which is growing in three small pots and I wonder all over again what my mother's green fingers can produce from a packet of seeds and a little bit of soil.

My mother is 80 this week and we are having a big party tomorrow. Family and friends all joining together to celebrate. There will be cake.

Friday 16 October 2015

16 Oct : Journey

We drove to Bideford today by the back lanes, just the satnav and me. It is a secret pleasure, this handing over of responsibility, so that I can concentrate on the driving. Sometimes it is a route I would have chosen but quite often we go down the side roads, through little hamlets that I did not know existed. I glimpsed church towers through field gates, a road side stall filled with home made jam and chutney, old avenues of trees, tiny stone bridges, a cow and calf in a field beside a stream, a mossy water wheel turning and everywhere the trees turning the colours of autumn. These small joys are worth the occasional moments of panic when the road seems too narrow or apparently turns in the wrong direction and I must remind myself to have faith. We make a good team, the satnav and me.