Thursday, 15 September 2011

Choosing - Pledging My Time

A discriminating eye sees to the heart of that which the world offers.  Only the best is selected, the granite work-surface, the perfect wine, the over-designed light fitting.  This has been a truly marvellous way to shift stuff and money in ever-decreasing circles.   And now look where we are!

So easy to sound prissy about this, and I am sorry to admit to having been unwilling to make the best choices in so many areas thoughout my life.  A slight  puritanical contrariness in my nature often means I will cling to something that to everyone else is beyond old hat.

This photo is not old hat, it's old shoe.  You might, if you peer closely, be able to detect the pathos and sweetness of  the observation in it.  It's actually not a shoe, it's some sort of trainer, at the end of some very hard travelling.  My friends bought it for me, appalled at my taste but convinced that my affection was real.  I still admire the skill of its execution although I am bewildered by how it was made, I thought it had been laboriously carved out of stone, someone suggested it was bronze; that's seems even more unlikely.

This story has some kind of moral, though I can't think what on earth it is.  After a period of happy possession, I noticed that there were three strange roundish half orifices around the rim, or upper, as I like to think of it.  It's an ash-tray!  Probably mass-produced.

Let's get back to the safety of gardening.  When we choose a shrub or a tree, we're also choosing a great chunk of time and space, all of which has to be devoted to that chosen thing.  You can't plant on top of it, and it will take up more space than you thought if it grows well.  The time devoted to growing may not be your own but it comes out of your life allotment.  You could always have been growing something else.  And if you don't like it, or it fails, you won't get that time back.  These are the brutal truths of gardening.

Here are two cercidyphyllum japonicum trees, also known as katsura.  Every gardening book will tell you that their dying dropping leaves smell of burnt sugar in autumn, and why should I deny myself the pleasure of repeating it?  I have actually smelt it.  The first is young:

The second is just over 100 years old, it's a Champion Tree in the Morris Arboretum, Pennsylvania. Round of applause please.

Decide to plant a tree and you are tying yourself to a contract.  On your side, you are offering to be happy with your choice as it grows and develops.  The tree, unable to commit in the same way, will simply perform as best it can and be what it is.  So you're the responsible one.  And it's simple enough, just choose the one you like best. Repeat, SIMPLE.

Before we contemplate the task in greater depth, we'll select the Dylan song, a short ditty from Blonde on Blonde, called Pledging My Time.  Is it because it follows Rainy Day Women Nos. 12 and 35 (Everybody Must Get Stoned) which opens the album, that it gets so little attention?  Perhaps everyone is too busy wiping the blood from their ears.  A heavy-handed pun can hurt, when repeatedly and thuddingly thrown.

Pledging My Time seems to me, despite a couple of unexpected lines, a straightforward take on what it means to commit to a choice.  Time is the least and the most that can be offered, and time is precious. Looking back over something close to 50 years, Mr D. must feel he's kept his side of the bargain, in my view the song now reveals itself to have been about the contract he was offering to his audience.  

I'd like to nominate this song, so cheery and forward-looking, to a different category of music  - " the jaunty blues".  Purists will be delighted!  There's even a bit of a joke in it, about the hobo who first stole the singer's girlfriend ( I can't quite bring myself to call her his baby), "then he wanted to steal me".  Sounds better when he sings it.

My analogy with planting a tree collapses at the verse where he points out that he cannot be the last to leave the stuffy room where only he and you (the apparent pledgee) are left.  Presumably this means that he's prepared to walk out if his pledge of time is getting him nowhere, but he's not prepared to be walked out on.  He'll be committed, right up to the point that there's no more point to the commitment.

Let's say that a tree you have planted  is quite clearly a mistake or a failure.  Apart from anything else the damn thing defines you in your own eyes. You're the one who must remove it and plant something else.  Get on with it!  Time is passing.

Don't mess about in a new garden planting the small stuff until you have got the major players in - trees shrubs, hedges.  If you're lumbered with a huge shrub that you're not happy with, try pruning it up from the inside, aiming to achieve a few clear, graceful stems and proportionate trimmed top growth.  That way you steal previously pledged time, releasing a small loveable tree from a hulking mass and making everyone much happier.  It's a moment of accidental luck.

This one is a griselina littoralis, I don't mean to blind you with science with the names, but I would not feel I was fulfilling my pledge to respect my audience if I kept it from you.  It's an appley green, soapy fleshed evergreen, good in most places in the UK, doesn't mind wind.  Whoever pruned it up needs to get back to it, you may be able to detect new growth springing from the right handed trunk.  That needs cutting off, but how little time and effort for such a lovely woodland creature.

See George Schenk (in my book-list) for encouragement and advice on this sort of gardening plus a comprehensive list of shade-loving plants.  It's the best I've ever seen, even if he does cover more climates than might seem immediately useful.  He's a charming intimate writer who speaks from his own experience.

My own garden is a sad indictment of my foolish tree choices.  I have been positively incontinent with pledges to too many different varieties in too small a space.

This photograph is rather flattering of a small but greedy area.  The entire list of trees in my garden would give my kindly correspondent Anne Wareham, who has written a very excellent book - entitled The Bad-Tempered Gardener, absolute palpitations.  I read it this week and was startled by the unanimity of our thoughts about all sorts of things.  But then I look at what SHE has done with her time in creating Veddw, one of the best gardens in the country, versus my own scattered and diffuse achievements.  For I have many gardens.  But not enough clear-eyed commitment!  Not enough discrimination or proper choosing!

How strange that we both found Robin Lane Fox's Better Gardening so helpful - it is is all about choosing plants.   It gives you inspiring advice both on what to choose and how to choose. It looks like one of us heard a subtext - "limit your choices", and it wasn't me.  Hmmmm.  I promise I will do better in my next garden.

This photograph is like a snatch of harmonica in a Dylan song.  It gives us all time to think, and breaks things up. In Pledging My Time you get a heavenly burst of that very harmonica. He stays right there, not leaving, on a high note.  Oh listen, do.

I think I said choosing was simple, a few paragraphs ago.  Just take a glance at the lists of malus and crataegus (crabapples and hawthorns) in Hilliers wonderful comprehensive Manual, or in the RHS plantfinder online.  Smallish, easy trees, but look how many!  And the gardener has to commit.  Someone needs to explain  what to look for and pick a few good ones out and that's what Mr Lane Fox did, in a jovial but opinionated way.

Back to Dylan's song.  I can't leave him without pointing out a crucial repetition.  He is not a man who is prepared to be unrequited.  He pledges his time lightly and generously but "hoping that you'll come through too" .  The line is sung with an equal weight on the last two words and no separation between them so the "through" comes through the "too".  It could be "two", both sides of the contract. Mutual commitment between sentient human beings, that's what he wants.

I have to hold myself responsible for the massed confusion of my trees and renege on my pledges to them. Dylan doesn't need to renege: people are still listening and turning up so as long as he still has time to give, he turns up too.

A lucky accident pops up in the last verse.  We don't quite know what Dylan means by it -  it could even be rather sinister.  It's something gardeners recognise; visitors will often admire a perfect plant for a particular spot,  when all they are looking at is good fortune and a choice which sprang from a chance, not the other way round..

No comments:

Post a Comment