February 2, 2015
Today is Candlemas or la Chandeleur, the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox- the pagan festival of light when the churches blessed their candles. Snow is forecast so a prompt to get out . . . and walk down from Goult through the pine and white oak scrub covering Les Terrasses to the valley of Lumieres. Poplars, planes and some willow line the river here – delicate ivy clings on its upward journey . . .
. . . a solitary young soldier on a plinth. As yet I have failed to come up with identification. Maybe a question in the epicerie will supply an answer. On the plinth: ‘Ge suis venne au roi de France de par la Vierge Marie”.
Scrambling up the Mange Tian ( a regional cooking vessel at the first level of research – the shape of?? or where food was offered??) – precipitous, slippery but exhilarating climb to the plateau covered with pines . . . and a few bories that young master H. Dupont Fogg would love to investigate . . .
. . . dry stone walls retaining the terraced land and also free standing structures as boundaries. Some ruins of a hamlet . . . about 6 houses clustered here no doubt with livestock – cereal growing, olives, vines and other crops – on the open plateau. The terrain would have been intensely farmed enough to sustain a small community. Now holm oak and the white oak have regenerated to cover the land and the lack of light is evident.
. . . where nature has started the process of reoccupation.
The journey along the narrow paths has dramatic interludes when and where unstable or tired trees perform their dance of death. More dancing from those lively specimens alongside too – all elbows, hips and flashing legs . . .
. . . and then a solitary sign of another wasted object left to rot – Citroen Ami? Interesting that the lichen and algae have inhabited the surface – shows how clean the air is.
Down and beyonds lies an area called Les Fenêtres Rouges where the ochre landscape sits centre stage. This occurs intermittently within this intimate terrain but always surprises visually and evocatively . . . No other souls around. Bliss.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. Robert Frost The Road not Taken.
January 7, 2015
The terraces in Oppède-le-Vieux hold a decent collection of native plants – all labelled with correct nomenclature and explanation for herbal or culinary use if applicable – but it’s difficult to concentrate on these when the panorama is so splendid – the Luberon valley, Mont Ventoux and part of the Vaucluse – like tiers of old stage flats punctuated with pencil slim cypress. Clients often express the misguided notion that trees will block the view but there are ways of planting trees to emphasise the view as shown here . . .
These terraces are dedicated to Sainte Cécile. Flat plates of Umbilicus rupestris – navelwort – are springing forth now in the crevices not only here but in many dry stone walls in the area. Below is the site of the old threshing floor – aire de battage – now an angular foot print but originally it would have been circular so more practical for the tethered animal to do his or her circuit.
From here, the old village is seen spread across the north facing side of the Petit Luberon. The winter sun starts casting its shadow by midday so houses beyond the medieval ramparts are dark, humid and tricky to maintain apparently. The domination of the restored church of Notre-Dame-D’Alidon and the ruins of the castle are felt from a distance as well as within the village streets. I found it a charming and quirky place and many others have enjoyed it and settled here. Following the armistice of June 1940, architect Bernard Zehrfuss founded a commune of artists in the old town, a project that attracted French sculptor François Stahly and the writer and artist Consuelo de Saint Exupéry. The commune proved short-lived but, interestingly, it was the basis for Saint Exupéry’s fictionalized account, published in 1946, called ‘Kingdom of the Rocks’.
Looking at close up details, the clock and bell tower on the town hall and then at even more smaller scale . . .
. . . a statuette, religious of course, as the Popes, based in Avignon, dabbled religiously and relentlessly here. The main route up to the church and castle was the village street; access points of the wash houses and modest homes are still evident . . .
. . . they retain a theatrical feel (like a discarded film set) of the past – very beautiful and evocative. In the 19th century, the inhabitants had enough and started to move down in the valley, dismantling the roof of their houses to stop paying property taxes. By the beginning of the 20th century, Oppède-le-Vieux was a ghost village and a new community was officially established in the valley, with larger streets, cosier houses and farmers closer to their fields – the new village – Oppède-les-Poulivets (“nice view” in Provençal),
The Chapel of the White Penitents is set half way up the stepped ramp path, beautifully laid, and then, in the full light at the summit sits the church (12C) and the medieval fortress.
Spacious steps with integrated landings below cantilevered gargoyles lead to a rocky unmanicured area where temporary safety fencing protects the castle – an engineered structure integrated within the natural environment. Work due to start in 2015.
A line of Renaissance villas line the north facing rock face – a mix of superbe, mysterious and the fairytale. Glamorous and expensive.
Sitting in the cemetery, something I do in a regular fashion, and looking beyond the walls, the tiers of vegetation – ivy in flower, Viburnum tinus in berry, olive, oak and pine gave me goosebumps. And then the surface of the wall, encrusted with stonecrop. Marvellous.
Despite the open window in the room of long absence, the odor of the rose is still linked with the breath that was there. Once again we are without previous experience, newcomers, in love. The rose! The field of its ways would dispel even the effrontery of death. No grating stands in the way. Desire is alive, an ache in our vaporous foreheads.
One who walks the earth in its rains has nothing to fear from the thorn in places either finished or unfriendly. But if he stops to commune with himself, woe! Pierced to the quick, he suddenly flies to ashes, an archer reclaimed by beauty. René Char.
December 16, 2014
The ochre path that extends along the Luberon foothills around Roussillon to Gargas is quite special – originally quarried and now conserved and returned, as much as it can be with many visitors, back to nature. Glimpses of the red earth hillsides are quite tantalising from the surroundings . . . but once inside, the experience becomes a theatrical drama – like walking through a turmeric landscape with mature and fresh young pines – Pinus sylvestris, P. halepensis and Pinus pinaster (the maritime pine) – offering overhead foliage and a lime green ground cover texture. I’m still interested in the spatial areas where visitors can relax and get to grips with the environment, take it all in or just have a good chat. Here oak is used for the stepped circulation, seats and decks along with cor ten steel for the slim protecting elements like hand rails, bridge supports and gates . . . . . . a slim juvenile pine just holding on in the landform. Another vertical tower of the red earth looks like a drunken pepper pot . . . . . . a visual experience and a good walk too. The rationale behind including the Beckett beside his visit here is that there has been discussion on what is boring – life in general – time away from work – lack of social contact – just preferring to be elsewhere – to me, he explains eruditely in the last 3 phrases exactly why I feel so much at home – here; in a convulsive space among the voices voiceless that throng my hiddenness and the whole poem: que ferais-je sans ce monde sans visage sans questions où être ne dure qu’un instant où chaque instant verse dans le vide dans l’oubli d’avoir été sans cette onde où à la fin corps et ombre ensemble s’engloutissent que ferais-je sans ce silence gouffre des murmures haletant furieux vers le secours vers l’amour sans ce ciel qui s’élève sur la poussieère de ses lests que ferais-je je ferais comme hier comme aujourd’hui regardant par mon hublot si je ne suis pas seul à errer et à virer loin de toute vie dans un espace pantin sans voix parmi les voix enfermées avec moi what would I do without this world faceless incurious where to be lasts but an instant where every instant spills in the void the ignorance of having been without this wave where in the end body and shadow together are engulfed what would I do without this silence where the murmurs die the pantings the frenzies towards succour towards love without this sky that soars above its ballast dust what would I do what I did yesterday and the day before peering out of my deadlight looking for another wandering like me eddying far from all the living in a convulsive space among the voices voiceless that throng my hiddenness Samuel Beckett que ferais-je sans ce monde (what would I do without this world)
October 23, 2014
The dutchman‘s work doesn’t figure in the North Park of our new city park – the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – but I feel he might enjoy this area more than where his planting, in the South Park, is squeezed into something resembling a shopping mall. The river Lea makes its way flowing down from Hackney Marsh, in the north, bordered by sustainable planting that should encourage wildlife to enjoy the wetland habitats. Us mortals are also given habitats in the form of thousands of homes being built around the park.
School parties find space for active leisure on Alfred’s Meadow. Good idea to incorporate decent spaces flowing down to the heart of the park – the river – with seating on the higher level. A well proportioned mix of mown amenity grass to rougher wild flower areas and young woodland. There’s space here for cyclists going to + from the velodrome (Hopkins Architects) and casual visitors just strolling or those bent on getting to more physical activity in the Copper Box (Ken Shuttleworth). The bands of planting, especially the dark red Gladiolus papilio ‘Ruby’ looking very contrived. Good plant but wrong place. Something one might mark down on plan but then change . . . are they directional? The directional routes are clearly defined though. A mystery, but one that might resolve in due course . . . someone having to keep the ground surfaces tidy (blowing the loose white granite chippings off the bound gravel and tarmac strips) is poor design.
The soft informal areas are delightfully promising. Good work EDAW.
At Carpenters Lock, where the river splits into three channels, the levels are complex too. The reflecting bridge spanning the higher ground seems to be the belt that holds the two areas of the park together. An interesting feature. Some of my life at the moment is spent in a building designed by the same architects – not such pleasant experience. A brutal and rather clumsy building with the circulation issues of Tate Modern. The jury’s still out as the ‘snagging’ is ongoing. On the South Park, that surrounds the stadium, where the dutchman’s planting (jolly plan on left + 3D visuals of the Outdoor Rooms on right) has to work with all the clutter that developers think we need. His planting needs wider borders and it would be good if the seating faced the borders so that visitors can enjoy and appreciate his prowess. I could go on but I won’t . . .
. . . lights are strung across the main thoroughfare that links to the The World Gardens where plants collected from around the world now have a natural place within our UK planting palette.
The Southern Hemisphere garden based on plants seen in the Drakensberg Range in South Africa in February and March – kniphofia and red or kangaroo grass, Themeda triandra alongside the small Cape grass, Chonodropetalum tectorum, from the restio family. More Gladiolus ( leftovers planted by the Velodrome then) and touches of blue Agapanthus inapertus intermedius with galtonias. All educational.
To the south of the stadium, Nigel Dunett’s pictorial meadows are show stopping . . .
. . . with a view to Bow Quarter and an old home. Great exuberance and a marvellous finale.
The sort of girl I like to see
Smiles down from her great height at me.
She stands in strong, athletic pose
And wrinkles her retroussй nose.
Is it distaste that makes her frown,
So furious and freckled, down
On an unhealthy worm like me?
Or am I what she likes to see?
I do not know, though much I care,
xxxxxxxx…..would I were
(Forgive me, shade of Rupert Brooke)
An object fit to claim her look.
Oh! would I were her racket press’d
With hard excitement to her breast
And swished into the sunlit air
Arm-high above her tousled hair,
And banged against the bounding ball
“Oh! Plung!” my tauten’d strings would call,
“Oh! Plung! my darling, break my strings
For you I will do brilliant things.”
And when the match is over, I
Would flop beside you, hear you sigh;
And then with what supreme caress,
You’d tuck me up into my press.
Fair tigress of the tennis courts,
So short in sleeve and strong in shorts,
Little, alas, to you I mean,
For I am bald and old and green. John Betjeman The Olympic Girl
September 14, 2014
Attractive grouping on plot 30 of Cosmos and Gladilolus murielae (undoctored photo) which I will make a note of. One note is to sow seed of colourful cosmos as against the purist white form – beautiful but leggy, which some might think is a sign of elegance but leggy can also mean floppy – and plant in a block format as against popping in in 3’s into the perennial matrix. Always useful to absorb other viewpoints. The clump is backed by borage seen in the big view to East Hill. The last pic of this planting taken into the light from the west, so a tad bleached out but with pleasing upright strikes of couch grass (can it ever be a pleasure?) in the foreground . . .
. . . now. I’m focused on looking at detail of constructions – mostly pieces of timber that are ripe for reuse and, that over time, fall into disrepair and then disintegrate or get burnt. A constant cycle of hard material that matches with the production cycle. Texture to the fore then without the visual disturbance of strong colour – also shown in the seed heads and seasonal fruits now in late summer (oh, what a horrid phrase) . . .
. . . on plot 53, a self portrait taken looking into the old water tank. I admire the pendulous racemes of Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Alba’ (no scent) brought back from Piet Oudolf’s nursery (when he still had a nursery) and my favourite Rosa x odorata ‘Mutabilis’ supplied by Peter Beales. No perfume either but enough gorgeousness anyway. Lovely afternoon.
I can’t turn a smell
into a single word;
you’ve no right
to ask. Warmth
coaxes rose fragrance
from the underside of petals.
The oils meet the air:
rhodinol is old rose;
gerianiol, like geranium;
nerol is my essence of magnolia; eugenol,
a touch of cloves. Jo Shapcott Rosa odorata
It was a perfect day
For sowing; just
As sweet and dry was the ground
I tasted deep the hour
Between the far
Owl’s chuckling first soft cry
And the first star.
A long stretched hour it was;
Remained; the early seeds
All safely sown.
And now, hark at the rain,
Windless and light,
Half a kiss, half a tear,
Saying good-night. Edward Thomas Sowing,
August 30, 2014
I need to do this more often; just wander through landscapes that have strong undercurrents. There’s no excuse as the Chanctonbury Ring is only about an hour away to the west along the coast road. In France I would have been much sharper on exploring similar landscapes. The uphill meander along the Holloway carved through ancient beech trees, middle-age ash and youthful sycamore has dog’s mercury carpeting the chalk and flint ground on either side. Sounds from the overhead swaying branches and foliage reminded me of a similar walk through Nothofagus woods on the other side of the world . . . . . .
. . . emerging into the light on the summit of the Downs with harvested fields to the south and banks of fruiting bramble encircling the woodland, the curve of the old beech ravaged by the westerlies is revealed standing firm – a living landmark on ancient fortifications.
The storms of 1987 have left some trees from the first planting in mid 1700’s. These grew into a cathedral grove visited by tourists in the early 20th C. arriving on specially scheduled trains from London; thousands enjoyed moonlight walks over the South Downs and stayed to see the sunrise from the Ring. Laurie Lee slept beneath the trees in 1934 and mentions meeting groups of unemployed trudging from coast to the city. Recently Robert Macfarlane, busy cataloguing his journey on foot across the island (The Old Ways), spent the night, somewhat uncomfortably in the ring, hearing screams and cries – human not avian – and voices conversing. Sussex folklore has many descriptions of the haunted areas of the downs – a portal to the otherworld.
‘Legend has it that the devil had a hand in the formation of Chanctonbury Ring. When he discovered that the inhabitants of Sussex were being converted from previous pagan religions to Christianity he decided to drown them’.
‘He began digging a trench down to the sea from Poynings, sending large quantities of earth in every direction, one of which became Chanctonbury. He was not to complete his work however. An old lady living nearby placed a sieve in front of a lighted candle on her window ledge. This disturbed a cockerel perched on a fence. The devil heard the cockerel and, looking over his shoulder, saw what he thought was the sun rising and so fled before completing his task’.
There are examples of the folklore involving interaction other than these:
Walk 7 times around the ring on a moonless night + the devil will give you nourishment.
Walk more times around naked or run backwards around at midnight on Midsummer Eve and you might see a druid, a lady on a white horse, a white bearded treasure seeker, a girl, Julius Caesar and his army ( the Romans were here too).
Sounds busy and a tad crowded. The young males seem oblivious, or are they?
Wild marjorum, Origanum vulgare, spreads vigorously around the south facing slopes; the flower heads more pungent than the foliage. The chalky meadow mix on the open slopes show skeletons of agrimony but scabious, harebells and red clover are still in flower in late August; a soft ground layer around the odd mature tree presumably remnants of the planted cathedral. Back through the lower woodland – the path – the journey for visitors is clearly defined – exposed roots of old specimen beech form beautiful and rather fitting sculptural elements. The seen and the unseen exist here.
The century of émigrés,
the book of homelessness–
gray century, black book.
This is what I ought to leave
written in the open book,
digging it out from the century,
tinting the pages with spilled blood.
I lived the abundance
of those lost in the jungle:
I counted the cutoff hands
and the mountains of ash
and the fragmented cries
and the without-eyes glasses
and the headless hair.
Then I searched the world
for those who lost their country,
their defeated flags,
their Stars of David,
their miserable photographs.
I too knew homelessness.
But as a seasoned wanderer,
I returned empty-handed
to this sea that knows me well.
But others remain
and are still at bay,
leaving behind their loved ones, their errors
but knowing never again
and this is how I ended up sobbing
the dusty sob
intoned by the homeless.
This is the way I ended celebrating
with my brothers (those who remain)
the victorious building,
the harvest of new bread. Pablo Neruda. The Saddest Century
July 4, 2014
Arching mounds of bramble, flowering spectacularly now, on the shingle beach landscape of Romney Marsh. Dipsacus too, form a different prickly statement – more upright but equally statuesque, around the lagoons of fresh and salt water. In July, echium erupts through the herb layer and Epilobium hirsutum shows off the small clear pink florescence on lanky stems in damp situations (at the water’s edge) but also seems at home in dry and inhospitable ground. Denge Marsh, a part of the whole, lies well sheltered behind the storm beaches of Dungeness Point and, houses man made and quite sculptural statements, sound mirrors, (click to find out more) not so visible from a distance . . .
A strange discovery on writing this post as 12 months ago to the day, I posted on Dungeness. No swimming on that day – weather looks a little hazy. But under clear skies on this visit, architectural forms stand out clearly. The coastguard look-out, covered in scaffolding, can be rented . . .
. . . and round the point a ‘bouillabaisse’ where gulls feed off the fish attracted by the outlet from Dungeness B – a motley collection of concrete forms without any architectural merit – totally brutal.
Winching cables make half hidden serpentine patterns by the east facing shoreline. Derelict boats and sheds are gently cast adrift over across the shingle . . .
. . . one vessel is anchored beside the black frame of Prospect Cottage. The seeded crambe makes a good composition . . .
. . . gorse is just green now and the cotton lavender a mass of yellow buttons.
Bye bye for this July 4th. Across the pond, a poem in celebration.