Sunday, September 11, 2016

From setup to ongoing

Debate has begun about the season.  Is it autumn yet or late summer?  We're in one of those phases where nobody, least of all the weather, can make up their mind.  Transition.  I and my garden are in the same sort of place, almost at the end of the setup stage of The Big Garden Project 2016 and moving into ongoing gardening.

To remind you:  this has been the year when I committed to working part-time (whatever that turned out to be) and therefore having time once again for my front garden, beginning with some landscaping.  Here's my post about it at the beginning, in April, and here's a follow-up in May.  I haven't written about it again here and it's time I did.  But first, a repeat of the "before" photo.

Today I'm really enjoying seeing that photo because things are looking so different now.  The landscaper said he was looking forward to seeing the beds in six months' time and I said it would be at least a year before it looked like much, but contrary to my expectations, the many perennials that I've grown from seed this year have mostly flourished and flowered already.  Things are already bushing out much more than I expected and I've had a lupin flower.

This last is no mean feat because of slugs and snails but, this year at least, I've had great success with some organic slug pellets that are harmless to wildlife and pets.  Even the vegetables have survived the molluscs, though pigeons and caterpillars are trying to make up for it.

I've bought about six plants from garden centres over the last few months and about the same number from market stalls and there have been a few plants donated from friends or Freegle members.  And now, suddenly, here's a colourful and tidy garden again.

It's not perfect.  The lawn has had a bit of a chequered history and still isn't the lawn I think I should have.  The landscaping/maintenance team are working on getting it right and most of it is now improving but there's a way to go.  There's still lots of convulvulus (known in our family as 'white convulsions' since it was described that way by someone known to the family, around 1960) and I'm waging a constant battle with handfork and weedkiller, the only way to kill it off where it has its roots entwined with things I want to keep. 

Against that, though, there are so many things flourishing.  Grown from seed and flowering in their first year have been mallow, commelina, gailardia, antirrhinum, gazania, pinks, sweet william, lupins, chrysanthemum, michaelmas daisy and penstemmon. 

If you're a glutton for punishment, many more photos showing the landscaping, gradual planting and general progress of the garden can be seen here.  I'm not sure there'll be many more added now as I don't think there's much more to flower that hasn't already done.  One last setup job will be to plant spring bulbs during the next couple of weeks and then the setup stage of the project will be finished.

I would like to declare The Big Garden Project 2016 a success. I love being able to wander into the garden and admire the bees at work in all the variety of colours.  The traffic noise will always be there but once again the garden is a place I can entertain friends and family.  For me, 2016 seems to have been a good enough summer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Because I am human

Because I am human I make mistakes.  I sometimes do things that are motivated by emotion rather than rationality, or where my motivation isn't clear because it's a product of years of emtional experiences. 

I'm not sure it's important here to explore why or how, but for a long time I've had a tendency to double check my thinking, apply doubt as if I were a person disagreeing, and this often involves putting myself in other people's places and beginning to imagine what their perspectives might be.  In turn, imagining what alternative perspective there might be to mine or to any widely accepted view has become something I do automatically in many different situations.  Various things result from this:  if I make an assertion you can be pretty sure I don't do so lightly and am now not in much doubt that I'm right; if someone behaves in a way that is hurtful to me or disapproved of by others, I'm likely to suggest what might be going on in the other person's head to have made them behave that way.  If I'm human and make mistakes and have 'baggage' that influences my behaviour, I see no reason why others shouldn't be the same.

When I was younger I perceived much of the world as either-or: blackorwhite, rightorwrong, yesorno, likeordislike, and found it difficult to contain two opposing ideas at once.  These days I do have a few absolute beliefs but in general I see things much more in shades of grey: mostly right but that bit was wrong; on the whole no but a bit of me says yes to that part; like that except for disliking one or two aspects of it. 

I think this part of my experience is more common than I used to believe; many of us struggle with holding two conflicting ideas at once at some time or another.  When we struggle, we often lash out or at least react quickly.  We want to resolve the conflict because conflict makes us uncomfortable.

So why now, why today?  Where is this leading me?  Well, it's leading me to write about my tendency to speak out about the possibility of another point of view.  Occasionally this brings admiration from others if I am able to see the good side of someone who has treated me badly, for instance.  On the other hand I've also been told that I'm "too tolerant".  More usually, I'm just unpopular.  Perhaps I don't make myself clear enough, but when I'm offering a possible explanation or perspective on something, it's often taken as a statement of my own point of view.  Today is one of those occasions when I'm being misunderstood in this way and I'm feeling uncomfortable about how what I've said is being taken.

Today my Facebook newsfeed has been full of reports of an incident on a Nice beach where a woman wearing modest clothing, including a headscarf, had been instructed to remove some of her outer clothing by police.  Most of the friends who shared the items or commented on others' sharing expressed horror or outrage or despair at how human beings were being treated.

I began the day by writing a post about why this might be happening as a comment to each 'share' that appeared on my newsfeed but because some of what I wrote was misunderstood by some other people, I gave up.  And then felt unhappy with myself for keeping quiet.

What I wrote was this:

It is wrong ... and yet ..
Terrorist attacks are random. After attacks we hear on the news things like "A man had been seen in the area carrying a rucksack", or "an explosive device strapped to the body failed to go off."
In a place where dozens
of people were killed or horribly injured, I think I'd worry that there was someone in the middle of a crowd I was part of who was wearing enough clothes to hide a device. We're told suicide bombers are often women. In France this summer I was more aware of such possibilities, especially in Paris, where there have been attacks already.

Yes, this kind of suspicion means the terrorists have won, but it's hard to resist. Like thinking when someone is late that they may have had a horrible car accident. They almost certainly haven't, but sometimes people do, so why not this time?
Of course she was innocently living her life as she chooses to, but the man who drove the bus into the crowds looked as if he was doing that before he got into the bus, I'd guess.

I remember when we had not infrequent terrorist attacks in the UK in the seventies. It does make you change your behaviour and become suspicious of innocent people. I'm not sure I'd go to a Nice beach at all at the moment, to be honest.

What happened was, for instance, someone asking if I thought people should not be allowed to wear trousers or overcoats.  And saying that we must not give in to the fear.  Then other comments were made about what should and shouldn't be.  And so on.  As if I was saying what should and shouldn't be.  Well, at least, that's how some of the comments looked from where I'm sitting.

I'm really not doing that.

I rarely do that.

I just don't want to be silent when I feel some understanding - understanding, not endorsement - about why people behave the way they do.  If you've just read the section in italics you may have noticed that I started by saying what happened was wrong.  I went on to own up to feeling fearful in a way that changes my behaviour even when I know it's not the best thing to do.  Because I am human.  I want to speak for the other humans out there who are making mistakes. 

As I understand it there is a fairly recent by-law forbidding this sort of modest clothing from beign worn on beaches, that has been brought in in a number of French towns to please by a population who are frightened by increasing terrorist attacks in their community.  A population made up of people who are human, frightened.  There is a national law a century old brought in by people who were human, who wanted to stop the serious conflicts between state and church by making the country largely secular where officialdom is concerned.  And each policeman is human, given the job of enforcing a law but inside - who knows?

I don't have to like something to understand it.  If I say I understand why you might behave in the way you did, I'm not necessarily agreeing with you but I am offering my understanding of your point of view.  That feels ok, doesn't it?  Especially as I put it into the second person.  You'd like me to understand you.  Well, ok.  In the third person, singular or plural, I'm doing no more than offering the same to others. 

Because I am human.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Inside Out

How people work has been a subject of fascination for me for decades.  I've been thinking recently  about the inner world of the person and how this relates to what can be seen on the outside.  How difficulties can arise in relationships because what one person thought they said was different from what another person thought they heard.  How assumptions can be made based on what is shown outside rather than knowledge of the rest of what's inside. 

I've written here before about the importance to me of people getting me right and why that might be.  It influences my writing because I'm intent on what I say being completely clear.   Over the last few weeks I've been thinking that my lack of writing might be equally instrumental in what people are thinking about me.

When you arrive at my blog the first thing you see is the last thing I wrote, and its date.  You might think that the mood of that piece, or what occupied me when I wrote it is what's still going on.  It almost certainly isn't, especially if I haven't posted for more than a week or so.

I've been increasingly aware of this over recent weeks, noticing that the previous post to this, the one people have been seeing on arrival at my blog for quite a while, has been about bereavement and the feelings I put into a poem about it, but conscious that this has not been what I've mostly been concerned with since then.

And yet ...  I didn't write anything else.

I usually write only when I've got something I particularly want to say.  Whenever I thought, "I must write a blog post so people don't think I'm still pre-occupied with the bereavement thing," I found I either didn't have time or, mostly, didn't have anything I particularly wanted to write about.

I seem to write posts in batches, so expect to be writing soon with updates to the garden project and updates about my work, as well as other odds and sods.

And I'll be trying to convey my inside - out there!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Writing poetry ... or not.

For me, poems just happen or they don't.  I'd like to write more of them but can never write to order.  It seems that for me there needs to be an intensity of having something to say which requires a poem and then I can write one.  I think I can write well when I have something really important to say, and sometimes that might be in prose, but if what I want to write about is worthwhile but not really important (or even if it isn't particularly worthwhile but is required) I can write well, but don't always do so (and I apologise for the posts I write here which may be more sloppily put together). 

This poem arrived about a week ago. 


For the record

twenty-five years
since my soulmate died
I note the occasion
with good memories
and interest

looking back
a quarter of a century
friends new and old
the real me
emerging then established

I post on social media
to make sure his memory
is honoured
then start to miss
not him, but you

love for a soulmate
is obvious, almost
unnecessary to mention
but you who were not my soulmate
were more loved

were more in a story
we unfolded together
our love and life
a more real thing
that might not have been but was

a marriage of imperfections
worked with and valued
and family
embraced and embracing

he had the easy life
universally liked
while you struggled
to fit in
except in my heart

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A different place

Painting the modern garden was one of those 'live screenings' of an exhibition, which was also so much more.  As well as glorious impressionist paintings of swathes of garden colours, we saw film and photographs of gardens of the time and now, all accompanied by a commentary which included letters and other writings by the artists.  About to embark on my big garden project, I felt enveloped in essence of garden.  I didn't want a plan and didn't get one.  Instead, the images and ideas gave words to the feelings I had about my own garden and what I wanted from it.

One of the most interesting things I learned was that whereas French garden designers might have gone for a more natural look, concentrating on colour schemes and sweeping vistas, German designers often considered areas of a garden almost as different 'rooms';  I realised that recently I had begun to see my own garden, in particular the patio, that way.  

At one end I have the seat and 'coffee table' I've written about here before.  It's great for morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea.  I moved the old battered seat out of the way but found last summer that I really enjoyed its being nestled under the escallonia, suggesting a little shaded seating area.  The problem was that the old battered seat was no longer safe to sit on.  I've looked for a new seat but nothing appealed as much as the old one, so I've now had it repaired and it's nestling beautifully.

The other end of the patio can accommodate a dining table and chairs, or perhaps in the future a hot tub.  It also has the water feature and on warm evenings last year I enjoyed sitting there on the rocker with a book and a G & T.

Then there's the vegetable garden.  Just before the landscapers started work on the front garden I finally got round to having a fence built along the top of the platform and the edge of the vegetable plot.  It was the final stage of getting the yard levelled and surfaced a few years ago that we'd left because it wasn't an essential part of the work.  I always wanted a fence there, though, having removed the big gates and some of the wall which divided the property off.  I like a boundary.  

What I hadn't anticipated was that the vegetable garden now has a very different feel to it - another contained space, which it had never felt before.  And the platform that runs in front of the pottery and the greenhouse is now a safe-feeling area where plants might be hardened off, pots can be dried and generally one can feel one is 'in' the back garden rather than just slightly removed from the road.

All of which brings me back to my title.  My garden, my plot, is now transformed into a different place.  It's once more a place I want to be in as often as I can (weather permitting) and I'm really excited about how it might develop from here. 

And so, of course, I am myself in a different place too. Planted, rooted and growing here and looking forward almost most of all to inviting other people in to share.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The stress of finding calm

Yesterday I had one of those rare experiences of feeling something long-forgotten but familiar as a part of who I am.  The sort of feeling you get in dreams when you recognise something which then disappears and in dreams is often not a real thing.  Intangible.  Almost (though hopefully not entirely, or what would be the point of starting this blog post) beyond words.  And in this case not a dream and therefore, I think, real.

I was gardening.  Well, yes, I've always gardened.  Since I've been working the long hours and long weeks of a full-time artist, though, the front garden has been more or less abandoned (see previous post) and it has just been my vegetable plot that I've kept going. 

So what was different?  I was suddenly aware not just of feeling happy to be gardening (which I have often felt) but also connected, to the plot, the plants, the processes and most of all to a part of myself which has been missing for some years.

I'd decided to spend the week catching up with non-work things.  This is a short week for me, coming as it does between two weekends away with travelling on Monday and Friday.  What I was doing in the garden, therefore, was exactly what I was meant to be doing.  I just worked at a pace suitable for my back, taking breaks and changes of occupation at sensible intervals and doing things that needed to be done without worrying about getting them all done in any particular time frame.  This is different because, although gardening was my only leisure activity for many years (before I began to pick up with reading again), at some unconscious level it mostly didn't feel like what I was meant be doing because there was an idea that work was what I should be doing all the time. 

I knew and felt that it was essential to my mental well-being to be in touch with the soil and the plants and set aside time for that whenever I could. But that time was necessarily limited, and therefore had a constant stress built in to it - to make the most of it, to use it well, to achieve as much as I could in it and ...  well, you see how it goes.  On an admittedly very small scale, there was a stress in finding calm.

I think this paradox is probably present in many of our lives. We learn we should "set aside time" for leisure, for family, for friends and for ourselves and sometimes we are successful in that.  But if what we are making time for is something to de-stress us?  It's like lying awake at night, worrying that you're short of sleep and will find the next day a struggle if you don't go back to sleep right now - guaranteed to have the opposite effect.

So how have I regained this bit of my old self that is calm, and connected to the earth and myself?  I think it's because I have managed, most of the time, to put aside the knowledge that I am still a couple of months off being able to produce much-needed pottery stock.  I get on with my work as and when and sometimes notice how much I've done, with pleasure, but this year I've avoided thinking too much about the things I haven't done. 

What I've learned is that calm results from changing your life to make time and space not from setting aside a calm time.  It might have to be drastic.  Deciding I'm now working part-time did and sometimes still does feel a fairly drastic step.  But it's worth it.  The feeling hasn't gone away.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Big Garden Project 2016

Once I had a lovely garden.  Here it is in 2000, the only time I seem to have photographed it.

It wasn't weed free, as you can see, and the lawn wasn't perfect, but the flowerbeds were full of colour and the lawn was flat and green and much the same height as the flowerbeds. 

Gradually the balance of my work became less and less teaching and more and more artwork.  Artwork isn't paid nearly as well as teaching and by the time I stopped teaching altogether, about 6 or 7 years ago, I no longer had time for the front garden at all because I needed to work very long hours to make enough income.  (I have always managed to keep up with the vegetable garden at the back of the house.)  Mike used to mow the lawn and for a couple of years we did give it some attention, but it was a losing battle and the quality has deteriorated, while the level has risen above that of the flowerbeds.  I'm told this is because of lack of traffic on the lawn coupled with busy worms. I've had a friend do a little weeding some years, but not enough to keep on top of things.  Gradually the beds have become infested with grass. 

Now at last I am working part time and always planned that when this day came I would return to tending my front garden.  Too late!  It's actually now beyond me and my back.  I fall into the flowerbeds from the raised lawn and because I still have some plants I like, it's almost impossible to remove the grass from around them.  Mike was also in charge of tree pruning but that too had got beyond me as I'm not able to lop through branches as thick as the ones he tackled and the small trees had become bigger and straggly and past what I could deal with.  I'm almost ashamed to post photos of what it all looks like now.

And as for the quality of the lawn ...

So 2016 is the year of the Big Garden Project.  In May a landscaping outfit are coming to rescue the front garden and after that I'll be able to work on it myself.  

Today I feel the project has actually begun.  An ex-tree surgeon friend spent a couple of hours removing dead branches and giving a long-overdue cut back to the tamarisk and the smoke bush, so here is the first 'after' photograph of the Big Garden Project 2016.