The roadside verges in the south east are looking wonderful now, full of grass seed heads and daisies . . .

. . and at Hyde Hall, this is the first composition that greets the visitor. Not natural but with a natural feel and very beautiful. It’s show stopping. Birch and digitalis, the perfect combination.

Also lovely views across the Millenium Avenue. Not natural but as good as . . . with hares leaping  . . . too fast to photograph or I’m too slow!

In the Dry Garden, great compositions and combinations too .

Further up the A12, around towards Clacton at Elmstead Market,  Beth Chatto continues to amaze with perfection in her planting.

Between us now and here –
Two thrown together
Who are not wont to wear Life’s flushest feather –
Who see the scenes slide past,
The daytimes dimming fast,
Let there be truth at last,
Even if despair.

So thoroughly and long
Have you now known me,
So real in faith and strong
Have I now shown me,
That nothing needs disguise
Further in any wise,
Or asks or justifies
A guarded tongue.

Face unto face, then, say,
Eyes mine own meeting,
Is your heart far away,
Or with mine beating?
When false things are brought low,
And swift things have grown slow,
Feigning like froth shall go,
Faith be for aye.  Thomas Hardy

chronicling the day

April 18, 2012

Leaving the hills around Cabrerolles on the journey to the abbey, one of the routes paases through Laurens where asphodels are flowering under the scrubby holm oaks in the maquis area called ‘sauve plaine’. I was missing the sea and decided to go south to Mèze and sit looking due south where the pedestrian area around the small harbour is being revamped ready for the summer influx. Gorgeous sun if still a tad cold . . . .

 . . wispy clouds overhead remind me of Floating Islands’ made by Betty.

The long view of the Abbaye de Valmagne is stunning even today so how it appeared to travellers in 12 – 14C  is impossible to comprehend  . . . .

 . .  now, we access it through an avenue of planes which are leafing up well . . . .

 . . and on arrival find the medieval garden all brushed up to 21C standards. Tantalising still as the main view into the enclosed land is blocked by rather gorgeous walls! Good to keep the suspense at the ultimum level.

Through the gates, outside spaces and the built structures begin to set the tone – very appetising . . . . 

 . .  the circular shape on the facade now slightly hidden by foliage was a very LARGE rose window. Goodness!  Awe inspiring to those who saw it.  . . .  and equally amazing are the casks of wine – elephantesque in size  –  housed within the nave.

The cloister garden is extremely beautiful with some modern planting like the black stem bamboo and a very established Rosa banksia lutea. Over the fountain, vines clad the fine stone arbour . . .

 . .  a few goldfish lap gently in the shaowy part of the basin . . .

 . .  now the images and the recollections of things seen on the day become abstracted and mellow.  I try to remember that this was a functional and a busy and a workaday environment – for keeping body and soul on an even keel. Hence the poem . . . 

The new-vamped Abbey shaped apace
In the fourteenth century of grace;

(The church which, at an after date,
Acquired cathedral rank and state.)

Panel and circumscribing wall
Of latest feature, trim and tall,

Rose roundabout the Norman core
In prouder pose than theretofore,

Encasing magically the old
With parpend ashlars manifold.

The trowels rang out, and tracery
Appeared where blanks had used to be.

Men toiled for pleasure more than pay,
And all went smoothly day by day,

Till, in due course, the transept part
Engrossed the master-mason’s art.

– Home-coming thence he tossed and turned
Throughout the night till the new sun burned.

“What fearful visions have inspired
These gaingivings?” his wife inquired;

“As if your tools were in your hand
You have hammered, fitted, muttered, planned;

“You have thumped as you were working hard:
I might have found me bruised and scarred.

“What then’s amiss. What eating care
Looms nigh, whereof I am unaware?”

He answered not, but churchward went,
Viewing his draughts with discontent;

And fumbled there the livelong day
Till, hollow-eyed, he came away.

– ‘Twas said, “The master-mason’s ill!”
And all the abbey works stood still.

Quoth Abbot Wygmore: “Why, O why
Distress yourself? You’ll surely die!”

The mason answered, trouble-torn,
“This long-vogued style is quite outworn!

“The upper archmould nohow serves
To meet the lower tracery curves:

“The ogees bend too far away
To give the flexures interplay.

“This it is causes my distress . . .
So it will ever be unless

“New forms be found to supersede
The circle when occasions need.

“To carry it out I have tried and toiled,
And now perforce must own me foiled!

“Jeerers will say: ‘Here was a man
Who could not end what he began!'”

– So passed that day, the next, the next;
The abbot scanned the task, perplexed;

The townsmen mustered all their wit
To fathom how to compass it,

But no raw artistries availed
Where practice in the craft had failed . . .

– One night he tossed, all open-eyed,
And early left his helpmeet’s side.

Scattering the rushes of the floor
He wandered from the chamber door

And sought the sizing pile, whereon
Struck dimly a cadaverous dawn

Through freezing rain, that drenched the board
Of diagram-lines he last had scored –

Chalked phantasies in vain begot
To knife the architectural knot –

In front of which he dully stood,
Regarding them in hopeless mood.

He closelier looked; then looked again:
The chalk-scratched draught-board faced the rain,

Whose icicled drops deformed the lines
Innumerous of his lame designs,

So that they streamed in small white threads
From the upper segments to the heads

Of arcs below, uniting them
Each by a stalactitic stem.

– At once, with eyes that struck out sparks,
He adds accessory cusping-marks,

Then laughs aloud. The thing was done
So long assayed from sun to sun . . .

– Now in his joy he grew aware
Of one behind him standing there,

And, turning, saw the abbot, who
The weather’s whim was watching too.

Onward to Prime the abbot went,
Tacit upon the incident.

– Men now discerned as days revolved
The ogive riddle had been solved;

Templates were cut, fresh lines were chalked
Where lines had been defaced and balked,

And the work swelled and mounted higher,
Achievement distancing desire;

Here jambs with transoms fixed between,
Where never the like before had been –

There little mullions thinly sawn
Where meeting circles once were drawn.

“We knew,” men said, “the thing would go
After his craft-wit got aglow,

“And, once fulfilled what he has designed,
We’ll honour him and his great mind!”

When matters stood thus poised awhile,
And all surroundings shed a smile,

The master-mason on an eve
Homed to his wife and seemed to grieve . . .

– “The abbot spoke to me to-day:
He hangs about the works alway.

“He knows the source as well as I
Of the new style men magnify.

“He said: ‘You pride yourself too much
On your creation. Is it such?

“‘Surely the hand of God it is
That conjured so, and only His! –

“‘Disclosing by the frost and rain
Forms your invention chased in vain;

“‘Hence the devices deemed so great
You copied, and did not create.’

“I feel the abbot’s words are just,
And that all thanks renounce I must.

“Can a man welcome praise and pelf
For hatching art that hatched itself? . . .

“So, I shall own the deft design
Is Heaven’s outshaping, and not mine.”

“What!” said she. “Praise your works ensure
To throw away, and quite obscure

“Your beaming and beneficent star?
Better you leave things as they are!

“Why, think awhile. Had not your zest
In your loved craft curtailed your rest –

“Had you not gone there ere the day
The sun had melted all away!”

– But, though his good wife argued so,
The mason let the people know

That not unaided sprang the thought
Whereby the glorious fane was wrought,

But that by frost when dawn was dim
The method was disclosed to him.

“Yet,” said the townspeople thereat,
“‘Tis your own doing, even with that!”

But he–chafed, childlike, in extremes –
The temperament of men of dreams –

Aloofly scrupled to admit
That he did aught but borrow it,

And diffidently made request
That with the abbot all should rest.

– As none could doubt the abbot’s word,
Or question what the church averred,

The mason was at length believed
Of no more count than he conceived,

And soon began to lose the fame
That late had gathered round his name . . .

– Time passed, and like a living thing
The pile went on embodying,

And workmen died, and young ones grew,
And the old mason sank from view

And Abbots Wygmore and Staunton went
And Horton sped the embellishment.

But not till years had far progressed
Chanced it that, one day, much impressed,

Standing within the well-graced aisle,
He asked who first conceived the style;

And some decrepit sage detailed
How, when invention nought availed,

The cloud-cast waters in their whim
Came down, and gave the hint to him

Who struck each arc, and made each mould;
And how the abbot would not hold

As sole begetter him who applied
Forms the Almighty sent as guide;

And how the master lost renown,
And wore in death no artist’s crown.

– Then Horton, who in inner thought
Had more perceptions than he taught,

Replied: “Nay; art can but transmute;
Invention is not absolute;

“Things fail to spring from nought at call,
And art-beginnings most of all.

“He did but what all artists do,
Wait upon Nature for his cue.”

– “Had you been here to tell them so
Lord Abbot, sixty years ago,

“The mason, now long underground,
Doubtless a different fate had found.

“He passed into oblivion dim,
And none knew what became of him!

“His name? ‘Twas of some common kind
And now has faded out of mind.”

The Abbot: “It shall not be hid!
I’ll trace it.” . . . But he never did.

– When longer yet dank death had wormed
The brain wherein the style had germed

From Gloucester church it flew afar –
The style called Perpendicular. –

To Winton and to Westminster
It ranged, and grew still beautifuller:

From Solway Frith to Dover Strand
Its fascinations starred the land,

Not only on cathedral walls
But upon courts and castle halls,

Till every edifice in the isle
Was patterned to no other style,

And till, long having played its part,
The curtain fell on Gothic art.

– Well: when in Wessex on your rounds,
Take a brief step beyond its bounds,

And enter Gloucester: seek the quoin
Where choir and transept interjoin,

And, gazing at the forms there flung
Against the sky by one unsung –

The ogee arches transom-topped,
The tracery-stalks by spandrels stopped,

Petrified lacework–lightly lined
On ancient massiveness behind –

Muse that some minds so modest be
As to renounce fame’s fairest fee,

(Like him who crystallized on this spot
His visionings, but lies forgot,

And many a mediaeval one
Whose symmetries salute the sun)

While others boom a baseless claim,
And upon nothing rear a name. Thomas Hardy  The Abbey Mason

playing hookey

February 23, 2012

Brilliantly sunny afternoon – 15 degrees apparently – today February 23rd! So after a morning on a site visit, the call of the allotment won over sitting indoors reading documents and preparing talks. I can do that in the dark of the evening after all! The allotment cat was there showing off as usual and being frolicsome and flirtatious.  The seeded Stipa tenuissima that grow in all the most difficult places – like the paths – are also quite flirtatious . . .

Euphorbias also seed around. they look great at the moment – just going into their lime green fancy dress mode – and set off well by the ruby chard. Many pickings from these . . . and a single euphorbia which may be E. ‘Portuguese Velvet’ getting on well with the willow strips that form partial boundary screens. These were a mistake as they grow too vigorously in this situation. However, they might all be coppiced down harshly just for their slender stems that can then be woven into low panels as a decorative boundary line.

The light of the sun bounces of the glistening willow and contrasts with the now papery, brown flower heads of the sedum . . .

. . and ‘the old shed’ which I should write a poem about, or to, as I’m very fond of it, is just staggering into final degradation. The site secretary is now commenting on the state of it. If only we could all look so good in old age!  Just the scent of a new season.

The trees are afraid to put forth buds,
And there is timidity in the grass;
The plots lie gray where gouged by spuds,
And whether next week will pass
Free of sly sour winds in the fret of each bush
Of barberry waiting to bloom.

Yet the snowdrop’s face betrays no gloom,
And the primrose pants in its heedless push,
Though the myrtle asks if it’s worth the fight
This year with frost and rime
To venture one more time

On delicate leaves and buttons of white From the selfsame bough as at last year’s prime,
And never to ruminate on or remember
What happened to it in mid-December.  Thomas Hardy  A Backward Spring

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