23 January 2014

Always look

On a January Sunday, across the tiled rooftops of my neighbours' houses, the sky to the north is filled with bruised purple, dove grey, mushroom pale, latté creamy clouds. They crowd together, jostling and shouldering each other nonchalantly with hardly a breath of wind to liven them up. A wintry sun in the southern sky to the front of the house has just enough height to reach the end of the back garden, warming slightly the winter tangle of Clematis montana, brown and beige, that has wrestled its way into and through the ivy (mine) and Cotoneaster and Griselinia (my neighbour's) that form the back boundary of the garden. Every year I look at the boundary in winter and think I really ought to do something about it, but this year, once again, I reckon I won't. Anyway, once the Golden Hop gets going in May, I forget all about the winter boundary blues and enjoy the mad yellow-green brightness (and yes, even the clash and clang with the blooming C. montana!) of early summer. And a bit of tangle that includes some deep ivy, complete with berries, is good news for the wrens and other small birds.

But at least, at last, I have taken on the right-hand wall, shamed into it by a collapsing rotting trellis, weighed down by inherited honeysuckle that never really bloomed. So on a cold dry January day--a respite between winter storms--out I went and wielded a secateurs and a lovely Japanese saw to cut back a fairly hopeless mess of Cotoneaster horizontalis and honeysuckle. An intricate passion flower used to run through it but one of our bad winters recently put paid to it. There's also a jumble of Japanese Quince, which I may (no, will) trim back, but it'll remain where it is: it was the first gift for my garden when I moved into it almost twenty years ago, a present from my father; very precious. Also uncovered in the cull were self-seeded trees of holly (male) and I think ash? I've cut them back a good deal, but the rest will have to go too and so I think a fork, a spade, a crowbar and some hard graft may feature in my son's future...

After all that's done, I'll face the dilemma of what to put on that wall (all suggestions gratefully received). I'd love to grow some espaliered apples or pears but don't know if I'd have the skill or the patience. But I love fruit in the garden and find it much more appealing to grow than vegetables, especially when I'm stuck for both time and space... How lucky then that some good friends gave me a fruit-growing book for Christmas (thanks CE!). Watch this space.

It hasn't all been destruction in the garden though (and I always feel bad when I pull out something like that tangle, which is so hospitable for the small beasts I share the garden with...). In the front garden the area I cleared under the birch trees is now showing lots of green spears of snowdrops, irises and daffodils. Can't wait! I uncovered some pots down behind the greenhouse that I planted up with bulbs a couple of seasons ago and they're still bravely putting forth shoots so I've moved them out into the winter sunshine near the bench and have my fingers crossed.

The year really feels like it's on the turn now. Finally on the 13th of January, we moved into the significant eight hours between sunrise and sunset , phew! (Interestingly, if we were still using the Julian calendar, the 13/14th would actually be the start of the new year). In the mornings, there have been thrushes singing high in the trees in the park, and wrens and robins giving it their all. There's light in the sky in the evenings at five pm. Everything's moving in the right direction. Gardeners get impatient at this time of the year and already some are planting seeds indoors and/or in propagators... I'm not that organised, but this year I hope to flex some of the gardening muscle by helping out with an AGS project to create a postcard garden for Bloom in June. I'm a bit excited ...

Down it came - clearing part of the side wall of the back garden

Spring's on the way
Much of the last month has been spent indoors, but Izzy and I did get out for the daily walks ... And as B recovered he joined in, much to the delight of all of us. Woodland, park and shoreline were delightful in the winter sunshine - a tonic to help with healing. Here's B's take on one of his own walks locally. The same trees show up from a different angle and in a very different dull morning light in the 21 January bit below.

B took this photo in our local park ... great to have a real photographer in the house
Winter sky and branches in the same park at midday ...

... and in the early morning ...
... the park's grey squirrels have been busy stripping the cones of their seeds ...
... and in some places, the winter storms have left damage in their wake

Bray Head in wintry sunshine
Time indoors allowed for a little messing about with pencils. I'd been invited to take part in a travelling sketchbook project - a lovely idea where a set number of people all buy the same sketchbook, each person does one double-page sketch each month and then passes on that month's book to the next person on the list. At the end of the project, you get your own sketchbook back, filled with the work of different artists. Having bought the sketchbook, I decided--regretfully--to pull out as I'm not certain how well I'd be able to concentrate on the work over the next few months. But I'll try to keep to the discipline of doing at least one piece in my own book per month, and the artists (they're a lovely bunch) have been very kind about the whole thing... You can read about their progress here. Some of the artists have chosen themes for their sketchbooks, others are happy with whatever turns up. I thought I'd like to combine words and drawings in mine and so January is based on a quote from a favourite poet, Paula Meehan. The line is "Her song is the wind in the branches" and here's the sketch--based on winter branches in my local park--that I popped into my book:

Her song is the wind in the branches a sketch based on a line from  'Her Void: A Cemetery Poem' by the wonderful poet Paula Meehan

21 January

Okay, so I can't forget the Twenty-one project. This month they're not great photos: a dull and breezy morning combined with a bit of a rush on the walk ... There's not much change from last month, of course, just the addition of the witch hazel blossoms in the back garden, as well as a kayak that came down off the back wall in one of the winter storms.

And to end this month's post, a reminder to myself and you dear readers, to always look ... even when we can't get out and about too much, there's beauty to be found in the glow of witch hazel in the back garden, in the grace of ferns whether ourdoors or in.

Witch hazel ('Pallida') in our garden, photo by B
Ferns outdoors grace a winter woodland

Shadows cast by low winter sunshine multiply one of my indoor ferns

And speaking of always look...

Go well all.


  1. Wonderful words and pictures,beautiful xx

  2. As ever - informed & informative, elegant & enjoyable SOT

  3. What to plant - what a fantastic dilemma to have ! I agree with you about Golden Hop, it's mad and bad, and never knows when to stop but I love it. I love that I can rip out a rooted stem, push it in a pot, and it hardly pauses for breath, just carries on growing.

  4. Good to have the blog return to us. Yes you can see the 'real' photographer - loved that light...the rest of us jsut ahve to go on 'snapping'...Graineweile