Monday, September 21, 2009

Camblidge, chickens and a birthday

Running rather late in recording what I've been up to, not least because my Dongle ran out of juice and so I can't put in things as they arise. It won't work again until Wednesday. Very good discipline, and much more progress on work.
I went to the Arthur Ransome Society's biennial Literary Weekend in Missee Lee's own Alma Mater Cambridge on  12-14 September. Extremely interesting talks, notably by Jim Ring and Own Dudley Edwards. But all were good, and it would be invidious to rank them as the approaches were so diverse. Nostalgia reigned as I tramped Sidgwick avenue and recalled being batwoman racing home for 11 o.clock in the statutory gown. I'm so glad I now live in Oxford away from all the alluring Cambridge ghosts. A free afternoon was well-spent punting

Then a good quiet session in the gardens of Newnham. I had the Sidgwick seat to myself.
I've now finished the gardening anthology's contents and sent them off to Naxos. A great incentive to get gardening in my own little paradise. - I had Sam and Olivia for the afternoon, and with Adam's help we had a humungeous bonfire before giving them supper on the lawn.

The chickens are tame enough to follow me around. I can easily get them back as they now respond to me tinkly-winkling a small brass bell, racing back to their run for mealworms. I planted a wallflower and muscari border with sumptuously enriched earth [manure, topsoil and compost], so I look to impressive results in the spring.

It was Sam's fourth birthday on Sunday; Phil, Ros, Steff and I all scratched out heads putting together the ride-on tractor with trailor I'd got him - it seemed to be a hit judging by enthusiasm of the guests at this party in teh afternoon.
Now back to Napier on Swynbrook and Ewelme and a lovely book called The Stripling Thames, written by Fred Thacker in 1900 or so. He is an effortlessly interesting writer, like a good friend chatting. Perfect to read aboard Dulcibella, and the weather for the week looks set fair for such an escape - but first I must earn it by making progress on Alice 1. Plotting is the thing. I'm finding John Goodall's God's House very inspiring. Which of the 13 almsmen will be found in the well??? Maybe I should reread Agatha Christie . . .

Monday, September 14, 2009

Arts and Crafts Gardens in Gwent

Had a wonderful weekend in Gwent with the Garden History Society, an inpulse when I found a link to their excellent website which answered a horticultural query I had googled. A fine drive early on the A40, leaving Oxford by moonset: a huge pale orb descending in front of me as I drove west. Fine views over Birdlip, then I wound through the Forest of Dean to Monmouth, then checked in to a Old Hendre farm, a B&B high in the hills above the town, then navigated – oldstyle using real maps, I can’t be doing with those mental-nurse-voiced Tomtoms – to Clytha Park. Not much in the way of flowers, but a lovely lake and high on the hill ‘Clytha Castle’, a splendid folly (NT/Landmark Trust] looking over the hills and far away – a magnificent [if necessarily best-selling] writer’s retreat.
Next we visited Raglan Castle, which had once sported a magnificent terraced pleasure grounds complete with huge lake; Liz Whittle mapped its invisible shadows with the enthusiasm of the aficionado – she dreams of a restoration.
Then to High Gwynau, where Helena Gerrish gave us a beautifully constructed talk on Avray Tipping, who’d lived there and designed its garden; she also showed the transformation they’d effected on the gardens since they came 7 years ago. We wandered around its borders and greenhouses [succulent grapes] and down to the deep heart beat of the ancient ram pump at the bottom of the valley in front of the house – Tipping and his architect Eric Francia had a genius for making the most of a place. We had supper there, and much good talk, and I found a fine passage for my anthology in Helena’s collection of Tipping’s books: ‘We have become a nation of gardeners’.

The next day we moved to the environs of Chepstow and the extraordinary gardens and Pulhamite stone grottoes of Dewstow – created by Henry Oakley in the 1890s, cemented over into a farmyard by the tenants of his successor and lovingly recreated by those tenants' descendants – who have made a decent profit from their two golf courses - today. Much faithful restoration, but also many sparks of independent spirit.

So to the most atmospheric of all – Wingfield [check] court – another Avray Tipping house, with a distant view of the Severn estuary.
 Its owner died a few years ago, and it is being restored by the relation who intherited it, with a view to his 12 year old son living there one day. The boy has apparently got decided views on it already. A very friendly and welcoming chatelaine showed us round – she kenw her plants wonderfully well. Amazing that one gardener now keeps it going.

Next to perhaps the msot inspiring – because so many inexpensive and doable ideas – garden of all – The Feddrw, also very close to Chepstow. Established 25 years or so ago by squatters rights, and now a wonderfully rambling place of exciting plantings, maze like hedges and a black-dyed pool. Website see thinkinggarden

So home on a lovely road along the west side of the Severn, admiring Newnham, namesake of my alma mater – wonder if there is any connection – I ought to know – and stretching my legs at the unexpected little port of Lynmouth; steepest and deepest lock into the Severn that I have ever seen; surreally quiet yacht basin high above the then very low river. And a William Sugg gaslight on its lamp-post – happy memoires of writing Mangle to Microwave and discovering the chatty and informative catalogues of William Sugg and his daughter.

I can recommend the Garden History Society – deeply knowledgeable and very friendly people.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Delights of Dulcibella

This is a useful corrective to the picture on my home page, much more true to character. It is also to record the new upstream location of my camping punt, Dulcibella. She is now 18 years old, and I'm planning a refit for her at Oxford Cruisers; meanwhile, I'm exploring the Thames upstream of Eynsham in her. She glides into tiny backwaters, through fallen willows to such oases of calm as this; christened Port Naumann as it was discovered with my good friend Diana, daughter of the poet Anthony.

I'm reading the first print-out of the audiobook Garden Anthology I'm doing for Naxos, a wonderfully distracting piece of work which has taken me into all sorts of new and fertiles pastures. Most notable the C9 Walafred Strabo, author of Hortulus. 'No joy is so great in a life of seclusion as that of gardening . . . The gardener must not be slothful but full of zeal consinuously, nor must he despise hardening his hands with toil or pushing a full dung barrow out onto the parched earth and there spreading its contents about'

 I wonder if Helen Waddell knew of it. Have just finished Corrigan's excellent biography - not without tears.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blanket of the Dark

I can see this online diary is going to be very useful. It is like writing for the papers; as I have no idea who is reading it [in all likelihood no-one] so write very unselfconsciously.
I've just finished Blanket of the Dark by John Buchan. He does write superbly. this one is set in his own home country - the woods and moors north of Oxford, going as far as brother John's country near Birdlip, but centring on Wychwood Forest. How's this for an ambush:
'They were in the deep brake at the wood's edge when a low thin whistle cleft the air, clear as a bird's call and no louder. Sir Miles did not hear it, and was conscious of no danger till a long arm plucked him from his horse.//Out of the bracken under their feet, men rose, as stealthily as fog oozes from wet soil.'

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Beginner's Mind

I daresay enthusiasm for these notes will abate, but at the minute, I feel like recording everything that strikes me deep. I'm reading Felicitas Corrigan's biography of Helen Waddell, whose books I have long loved. It overflows with memorable moments and HW's infectious enthusiasm. We share an irrational passion for the medieval, and I think I will reread both Wandering Scholars and Abelard alongside getting on with Alice. I've ordered her first book, Lyrics from the Chinese, on Amazon, delighted to find a hardback at a very reasonable price. I do prefer reading editions that are of an age with their author. Also FC's anthology of HW's writings, discovered deep in the bowels of the Stanbrook Abbey website . Sadly FC died in 2003, so it is too late to meet her. But the idea of a few days in retreat at the Abbey does appeal.
Research for the gardening anthology keeps throwing up new delights. Everything has to be out of copyright [which is rather a relief, as there is so much post-1931 stuff] - some of which i will preserve here. Like this nice quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh, another of my benchmark authors:
'Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day - like writing a poem or saying a prayer'.
This, and the next, are from Eileen Campbell's The joy of Gardening
Mary Sarton, Plant Dreaming Deep: 'Gardening is one of the late joys, for youth is too impatient, too self-absorbed, and usually not rooted deeply enough to create a garden. Gardening is one of the rewards of middle age, when one is ready for an impersonal passion, a passion that demands patience, acute awareness of the world outside oneself, and the power to keep on growing through all the times of drought, through the cold snows, towards those moments of pure joy when all failures are forgotten and the plum tree flowers.'
Have just ordered this and a 1907 hardback of Helena Rutherford Ely's A Woman's Hardy Garden
Sunshine, and it's gone midday - I can't resist getting out into my own blessed plot.