concerto for the elements

February 15, 2014

gull 1

After yesterday’s big weather, slightly calmer this Saturday. Down at Rock- a- Nore (very delicious oyster, thank you, Sonny), the gulls are oblivious to the traffic problems of closed off car parks due to pot holes in the tarmac and the layers of pebbles washed over the interface of beach promenade as they  sway overhead enjoying the rhythm of the bands of the westerlies – all elemental. Us humans just trudge around talking about it all.

gull 2

Cones of strong sun landed on the fore shore within this episodic concerto . . .

sun

rock a nore

cliffs

. . the old pier stands its ground for one last storm before the renovations change its appearance and perhaps its use. How many storms has it witnessed? I find it more beautiful at each sighting and try to absorb the vision so that it’s not forgotten.

Back in St Leonards, the sky to the west grew thrillingly ominous making me rush in to listen to Martha Argerich (most marvellous and Argentinian to boot – the queen of pianists) playing Prokofiev. Oh, can I get to Aix and the Festival de Pacques to hear her live. No, sold out – stupid me as I saw the poster advertising it way back at the start of January. Imbécile. . . .

pier

st l's

last

Now this big westerly’s
blown itself out,
let’s drive to the storm beach.

A few brave souls
will be there already,
eyeing the driftwood,

the heaps of frayed
blue polyprop rope,
cut loose, thrown back at us—

What a species—
still working the same
curved bay, all of us

hoping for the marvellous,
all hankering for a changed life.  Kathleen Jamie  The Beach

quercus ilex

Not France but Eastbourne  – mature holm oaks near the Towner Gallery – great gnarled trunks topped with stupendous heavy canopied foliage that reveals metallic undersides in the blustery weather. Plenty of these trees still line the streets in the old town and match in well with the vernacular pebble and flint of free standing walls and buildings. Up above town on Beachy Head, hawthorns just cling on but beautiful in their own tough, stringy habit. We were all doubled up struggling against the weather this afternoon . . .

hawthorn

turrets

to east

. . and the clouds put on a vivid, visual and aural symphonic performance. All to be admired.

ink

to west

Even here on the chalky landscape, standing water slopped around our ankles.

erosion

Small, humble markers usually crosses are placed at significant points and a plaque with a telling verse from The Psalms erected by the Samaritans presumably (sorry for the quality of the shot). I thought about Plath immediately on arrival. Not from the obvious connection but I think that I see, read or absorb her work as environmental – related to the elements as against the emotions – so more meaningful in the big picture and less personal in the narrow view. It suits me like that I guess.

the sign

hooe 2

On the way back, the marshes around the Pevensey Levels, are a more than usual watery landscape . . . worse for others elsewhere, unfortunately for them.

hooe

Stasis in darkness.

Then the substanceless blue

Pour of tor and distances.

God’s lioness,

How one we grow,

Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to

The brown arc

Of the neck I cannot catch,

Nigger-eye

Berries cast dark

Hooks—

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,

Shadows.

Something else

Hauls me through air—

Thighs, hair;

Flakes from my heels.

White

Godiva, I unpeel—

Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I

Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.

The child’s cry

Melts in the wall.

And I

Am the arrow,

The dew that flies

Suicidal, at one with the drive   Sylvia Plath  Ariel

early december landscape

December 7, 2013

horizon1

horizon 3

This morning, the horizon shimmered with a low misty layer. The sea appeared to be exhaling in long slow sensuous breaths into the huge sky above. The contrast of this light show (orchestrated by the universe) to the raw, stubbly  texture of the newly ‘cut’ hedges (massacred by man) was quite powerful. . . . .

horizon 2

. . . . although the colours of the landscape here in the  Country Park, now are mostly earthy and restful, flashes of brilliance appear on the top of the gorse and from the berries of the stinking Gladwyn iris – poor plant to have to bear this detrimental tag . . .

ulex

iris foetidus

. . . but holding its own against the encompassing mass of bracken fronds looking now like shredded brown paper bags. Attractive in appearance, the bracken masks its true nature  -  pernicious, invasive and opportunistic.coast 2

oak + horizon

 

birds

Scrub oaks and small sweet chestnut are more prominent visually on this sloping coastal terrain. A flock of birds showing as black specks add to the graphic quality of the composition. I feel a stranger in my surroundings. When I look to the horizon from this rather gentrified landscape, I want to know what is happening beyond and elsewhere in the world. I should feel lucky  in comparison with those caught up in violent conflict as the poem intimates.

The seasons are sharp and divide the look and feel of the landscape. It becomes very different worlds when the seasons change. Elements are exposed; then covered, hidden and secret. I think again and again of Ravel’s  sentence:  Music is the silence hidden between the notes.

scrub oak leaning

Was it widthways or lengthways,

a quarrel with the equator?

Did the rawness of the inside sparkle?

Only this is true:

there was an arm on one side

and a hand on the other,

a thought on one side

and a hush on the other.

And a luminous tear

carried on the back of a beetle

went backwards and forwards

from one side to the other.  Monica Alvi  How the World Split in Two

cynara3

The Great Dixter Christmas Fair is held this weekend. After a wander around the stalls set up in the house, a chance to wander around the garden for the last time this year – for most of us anyway. In the Barn Garden, the fig, now bare, stretched out to take as much of the winter sun as possible is a thing of great beauty . . .

fig 1

fig 2 barn garden

. . I find the piles of compost and mulches and the stacks of felled timber equally beautiful in a functional sense.

compost

wood

The clipped buxus by the front of the house have a melodious form. Fergus has tackled a hebe in a similar manner; I’m not sure about this aesthetically or is the formal European treatment of a New Zealander that disconcerts me?  Interesting though. Looking through the archive, I find a post from last November (written a couple of weeks earlier in the month) where a shot of the oast and the border in the Blue Garden is almost identical . . .

front

blue garden

hovel

. . . Dixter is a strange mix of the vernacular and the strength of form and texture in the planting – some contemporary. Very close to the hovel (above) in the Exotic Garden is a great explosion of foliage and vertical, soft and furry buds on a tetrapanax. No sign of the new dogs today, but Titch was around craving attention and receiving much affection. . .

tetrapanax

titch

towards cat garden

. .  across the Cat Garden, behind the Long Border, seedheads are slowly turning to biscuit tones . . .

teazels

long border

. .   but the Long Border itself still has spots of colourful fruits and lingering flowerheads – delicate in composition. And opposite, the mulberry too shows delicacy in its form and texture.

morus

As does this grouping in the corner of the Vegetable Garden looking across the Orchard . . .

from veg garden to orchard

. . .  by the Horse Pond, great stands of gunnera slowly collapsing after their performance. Applause and much appreciation.

gunnera 1

horse pond 2

What’s green is going, taking

with it the last hiding-places

of the light, its spills

and splashes.

The trunk of the one wild cherry

ink black, like the swan’s neck,

its leaves sharp scarlet beaks.

The land’s flayed bare by its reckonings

with the century –

torn off a strip,

like the sod that Private Harry Farr

stops under.

The moon pins its white square

of flannel over the heart.

Dawn drips its slate-light

across the field,

scratches another name

on its sum of wonders.  Alison Fell    November (6)    Lightyear

(Harry Farr was a young Yorkshire soldier shot in Flanders for so-called desertion)

to the mouth of the river

November 15, 2013

tussocks 2

At low tide, looking across Nook Drain, the tussocky forms of Atriplex portulacoides (sea purslane) are revealed carpeting the marsh extents of the River Rother. A hidden landscape at high tide. Foragers will collect the seed for pesto  or something more complicated . .

dispascus2

. . looking to the west across the wader pool, an area of John Gooder’s saltmarsh habitat, the teazels retain their presence. Humans can consume the seeds as a remedy for Lyme Disease but they are much needed by winged foragers as the temperatures drop. Looking again at these photos taken early afternoon, I realise how deceptive they are. In reality the river path through the wildlife reserve was thick with folks enjoying a stroll in the sun – and why not – but my interest lay to the landscape and the eclectic elements within and also in the distance. The large built mass of the power station at Dungeness is just hovering on the horizon in the image below . . .

dungeness

. . closer at hand is one of a pair of WW2 blockhouses and, of course, the much photographed red roofed hut. How many coats of paint or bitumen has this received over the years? The end of the path is blocked now as construction work is being carried out to the long timber river wall but it’s possible to trudge and slither down the pebbles on one side and gain access to the beach . . .

pill box 3

building

. . . and discover the groynes in many shapes, formats and materials.

groynes

groynes water cor 10 groyne

cor 10

Soft textures working their way across the steel and natural stone as well as sculptural man made hummocks of concrete. On the ground there are watery imprints of the tide as it leaves the last surface – sand.

seaweed 1

concrete pilllows

sand

edge

beacon 5

Time to stop intruding and just steal away. A couple of related posts, here + here + here

beacon 2

It was winter, near freezing,
I’d walked through a forest of firs
when I saw issue out of the waterfall
a solitary bird.
It lit on a damp rock,
and, as water swept stupidly on,
wrung from its own throat
supple, undammable song.
It isn’t mine to give.
I can’t coax this bird to my hand
that knows the depth of the river
yet sings of it on land.   Kathleen Jamie    The Dipper

fist view

First glimpse of the harbour arm this morning down at The Stade and once passed the fishing boats the rainbow colours are left behind . . .

over the harbour arm 1

over the harbour arm 2

over the harrbour arm 3

. .  if I’d chosen B+W these images couldn’t be more graphic. Great turbulent sea.

detail

Even the puddles have a marine quality  – this one looks like a large turbot. Nipping into Sonny’s at Rock – a – Nore  turbot wasn’t on offer but no matter as his display looked mouth watering as always.

fish

rock a nore

Battling up the shallow incline of The Old Town High Street to see Drawings Inspired by Great Dixter Gardens which had some resonance with the bare bones of the stormy weather. Large charcoal compositions that ignore one of the attributes that Dixter is famous for – the variety of colour within the planting palette. So, a brave decision, but one that many are appreciative of.

34 old town high street

echo

Artist and gallery owner in deep conversation and an idea of the scale of ‘Echo’, the largest piece. Listen carefully and you might hear nightingales . . . .

paradise revisited

. . I rather like these shots where other pieces are reflected to form layered compositions. I also rather like it when our garden clients come along and make a purchase. Very good choice, James.

dixter

a thousand ways

It’s been a weekend devoted to gardens. And devoted to gardens with yew hedges that provide a still and calming presence. Yesterday was spent at Sissinghurst when we talked a lot about control. How to convey sense of place and mood when writing about gardens. How to describe the character of plants successfully. How to dig deeper and also how to edit. Today, there is no control and hence the choice of poem, but it was a close run thing with Robert Frost.

last

The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep;
A voice out of the silence of the deep,
A sound mysteriously multiplied
As of a cataract from the mountain’s side,
Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.
So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul;
And inspirations, that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  The Sound of the Sea

pines

To the west of Aix-en-Provence, is a site that forms part of ‘Sur les Pas de Cézanne‘, if you are a tourist but is also a splendid place if you are a resident. I was very taken with this well built welcoming  wall but someone else, quite small, charged off to see what happened beyond the far gate. The gate was quite lovely and well designed – everything was looking very promising until we hit the visitor’s centre . . .

wall 1

wall

gates

entrance

. . . peering into the entrance through bars, we discovered that unfortunately we’d missed the only slot of the day for a guided tour. This happens at  9.45am but only on certain days. So I am grateful to Louisa Jones + photographer Clive Nichols for these scans below taken  from Mediterranean Landscape Design – a wonderful book – of the scheme. Philippe Daliau (ALEP Agency) has created fine and sensitive interventions within the exposed stone providing a walk over differing surfaces with differing treatments – timber, metal -where views are encapsulated and framed by angled mass of the rock – some hewn and some natural.

quarry 1

quarry 2

Wandering through just part of the 7 hectare site that provided stone for the building of Aix (up to the end of 18C), we came across individual stone landscapes. In a certain way, it’s like a lost world but then in another, it’s seems well used. Rock climbing at a novice scale, mountain bikes carefully controlled, joggers, picque niques and large family get togethers and 4 legs all jostling together in a merry fashion.

rock face

Scrub oak, arbutus, pistacia lentiscus and pine form the major structural planting with some cistus, rosemary, euphorbia and rambling lonicera in the sunny patches  . . .

pines 2

upwards

mont ste victoire

. . framed views of Mont Sainte – Victoire and the barrage Zola taken while we lounged around on a rocky outcrop – an indulgent pastime for a Saturday morning and why not?

mont ste victoire + barrage

And moving on we find a built structure, not a cabanon that Cézanne might have used during his time drawing and painting here . . .

structure

. .  but a building that encouraged interaction and it had with a great view. Can’t take my eyes off the landscape.

view south

The Irish lady can say, that to-day is every day. Caesar can say that
every day is to-day and they say that every day is as they say.
In this way we have a place to stay and he was not met because
he was settled to stay. When I said settled I meant settled to stay.
When I said settled to stay I meant settled to stay Saturday. In this
way a mouth is a mouth. In this way if in as a mouth if in as a
mouth where, if in as a mouth where and there. Believe they have
water too. Believe they have that water too and blue when you see
blue, is all blue precious too, is all that that is precious too is all
that and they meant to absolve you. In this way Cézanne nearly did
nearly in this way. Cézanne nearly did nearly did and nearly did.
And was I surprised. Was I very surprised. Was I surprised. I was
surprised and in that patient, are you patient when you find bees.
Bees in a garden make a specialty of honey and so does honey. Honey
and prayer. Honey and there. There where the grass can grow nearly
four times yearly.  G Stein  Cézanne

14lago argentina 1

Small jetties stretch into Bahia Redondo of Lago Argentina laying west of the centre of El Calafate. The town is small in relation to the size of the lago – and nowhere near as interesting but then it doesn’t purport to be anything but a base for visitors exploring the glaciers. I’ve looked at these images many times and resisted using them in a post mainly as I have a feeling that pics are done and dusted when added to the narrative . . .  don’t want to let these go . . .

1ago argentina

. . . Laguna Nimez and Laguna Secondaria gently embrace the marshland and the dune landscape of the nature reserve in an organic formation and, in quiet contrast, to the urban grid of the paths, roads and the geometric building mass of the town. We came across this young lad smothered in a patch of anthemis covering land destined for development  . . . .

2lago argentina 2

2.5calafate

. . . and then immersed ourselves in the wetland area  - with these larger inhabitants.

3marsh

4horses

Typical vegetation of Berberis heterophyllus and ‘neneo’ Mulinum spinosum. The small furry foliage of Senecio patagonicus forms the ground cover. El Calafate was named after the berberis (calafate) bush  - the landmark plant where the stage coach stopped.

5berberis + mulinum

Calafate puro or jam is totally delicious and makes a good ingredient for ice cream. Song birds and small rodents feed on the berries too. So bog standard berberis that we use freely in supermarket planting schemes has, after all, a more personal quality. Good.

calafate puro 2

5.5nimez lagoon 4

Without resorting to lists – Snipe, Chilean flamingoes and black necked swans pad about and dip their beaks and necks into this watery ecosystem and the rush bird is also active within the reeds.  Finches, sparrows, wrens  and mockingbirds find protection amongst the calafate bushes. It is a list of course.

6nimez lagoon 5

7lago birds

8bird

Rather out of focus but fitting in with the colour background is a long tailed meadowlark.  A pair of young buzzards scan the ground for promising food. Other things fly here . . .

9birds 3

10nimez lagoon 1

. .   and early snow  cover sits on the peaks in the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park to the north.

11nimez lagoon 2

12nimez lagoon 3

Hummingbirds and blackbirds and two great poets. Poems to read and absorb in tough times.

13lago argentina 3

And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and Lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.

*

And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.

Seamus Heaney   St Kevin and the blackbird

The hummingbird
in flight
is a water-spark,
an incandescent drip
of American
fire,
the jungle’s
flaming resume,
a heavenly,
precise
rainbow:
the hummingbird is
an arc,
a golden
thread,
a green
bonfire!

Oh
tiny
living
lightning,
when
you hover
in the air,
you are
a body of pollen,
a feather
or hot coal,
I ask you:
What is your substance?
Perhaps during the blind age
of the Deluge,
within fertility’s
mud,
when the rose
crystallized
in an anthracite fist,
and metals matriculated
each one in
a secret gallery
perhaps then
from a wounded reptile
some fragment rolled,
a golden atom,
the last cosmic scale,
a drop of terrestrial fire
took flight,
suspending your splendor,
your iridescent,
swift sapphire.

You doze
on a nut,
fit into a diminutive blossom;
you are an arrow,
a pattern,
a coat-of-arms,
honey’s vibrato, pollen’s ray;
you are so stouthearted–
the falcon
with his black plumage
does not daunt you:
you pirouette,
a light within the light,
air within the air.
Wrapped in your wings,
you penetrate the sheath
of a quivering flower,
not fearing
that her nuptial honey
may take off your head!

From scarlet to dusty gold,

to yellow flames,
to the rare
ashen emerald,
to the orange and black velvet
of our girdle gilded by sunflowers,
to the sketch
like
amber thorns,
your Epiphany,
little supreme being,
you are a miracle,
shimmering
from torrid California
to Patagonia’s whistling,
bitter wind.
You are a sun-seed,
plumed
fire,
a miniature
flag
in flight,
a petal of silenced nations,
a syllable
of buried blood,
a feather
of an ancient heart,
submerged. Pablo Neruda  Ode to the Humminbird

hastings old town1

The country park is also a nature reserve that spreads itself over the cliffs to the east of Hastings and further along the coast to Fairlight and Pett. It’s good to escape the town in the early morning and explore and stroll freely before the dog walkers arrive. This environment combines heath, grass and woodland in well balanced amounts, all battered by strong, salt laden winds, mostly westerlies. I liked both images of the town nestling between the two cliffs and really couldn’t choose one or the other  . . .

hastings old town 2

. . .  seats are placed to take in views of all aspects. This very grainy image into bright 9 o’clock sun taken from the favourite bench offers a glimpse of leisure craft and fishing boats and containers mingling together – they’ve all been out for hours!.

view from country park

The footpaths are disappearing now under the rampant  growth that happens with a sunny summer with spasms of  useful rain. Brambles are just fruiting up nicely and in fact I picked a blackberry this afternoon.

track

stream

Water flows through the glynes down to the sea. At this point, the way down to the beach is via a rope  - about 4m long – well secured to the sandstone rock.

view from edge of cliffs cliff edge meadow

Ecclesbourne Meadow is part of a restoration project to prevent the encroaching growth of scrub and bramble but, also, the detrimental effects of modern intensive farming techniques.  Areas of insect friendly wild flower planting is marked off with mown paths offering close engagement for walkers – these areas are also carefully managed by grazing.

meadow 2 oaks

Ecclesbourne Glen is the home of ash and scrub oak – with contorted sculptural branches –  bracken and now, epilobium. Pools of shadow envelop the wooded landscape that spills down directly to the town.

epilobium 2 oak branches

The beach belongs

to me. A dark tide

stretching the moon.

Waves splutter

“The beach is ours.

It saves us when

our waters break.”

Pebbles shriek

“We are the beach.

You pound on us

with energy rude

and swell subdued.”

God coughs politely.

“I think you’ll find

the beach is mine.

I share the sea, the sea

with one whose mind

was breached.”  Pam Hughes  The Beach (for Iris Murdoch)

front meadow

Early evening at a Great Dixter Friends’ event – cloudy skies mean little shadow.  Softness is the prevailing texture in the front meadow with quiet colour allowing for the full picture of buildings, trees and hedging to read in complete proportion. I’m always aware of the buildings here with the spaces around the buildings having a clarity as well as differing character. Good design.

cenolophium 1

In the Sunk Garden, a mass of Cenolophium, unusual placing in a confined space – but it works.

cenolophium 2

cenolophium denudatum

pool garden

The division  - brickwork and planting – between the Sunk Garden and the Wall Garden, contains a bold combination of magenta lychnis + small dark dahlia.

lychnis + dahlia

long border1

Groups of cornflowers, seemingly the favoured annual this year, repeated at intervals down the Long Border. Yellow tones  read well in low light with the clearest and brightest seen on the torchlike stems of verbascum.

long border fennel + vrebascum

verbascum + e primrose 2

Quite lovely pale evening primrose in this composition . . . .

verbascum + althea

verbascum + e primrose 2

. . . and a stronger coloured form stands up well with purple tones.

verbascum + oasts

e primrose stipa

Across the Cat Garden, shimmers of stipa flowers bridge the gap between the perennial layer and the yew hedging.

hydrangea

The growth especially of perennials in the Orchard Garden is overwhelming and luxurient. . . .

pear, salvia turkestanica

. . and right at the furthest boundary of the Vegetable Garden,sits a long thin border packed with matrix planting.  Jewel like perfection.

matrix bed 1

matrix 3

matrix 2

The use of colour here has always been bold – it takes confidence to mix these 2 tones of blue with a touch of cerise . . .

corn flowers

. .  but a more obvious tried and tested combination of yellow flowering ferula, purple clematis and soft pink rose.

fennel clematis

inula + cal KF

Exuberance of planting around the Peacock Garden contrast with quieter but, as complex, combinations such as low euphorbia in the selective mix of species in the Prairie . . .

euphorbia

. . and teazles with onions.

allium + dipsacus

There is another sky,

Ever serene and fair,

And there is another sunshine,

Though it be darkness there;

Never mind faded forests, Austin,

Never mind silent fields -

Here is a little forest,

Whose leaf is ever green;

Here is a brighter garden,

Where not a frost has been;

In its unfading flowers

I hear the bright bee hum:

Prithee, my brother,

Into my garden come!  Emily Dickinson

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