Saturday, 21 April 2012

Being A Bee - Dark Eyes

Now here's a fretful, plaintive little song, one that starts so small and weak, only gradually building strength, even then sadly thin and fearful.

I'm not about to claim that I understand what Dylan wishes to tell us about in this song, but I can hear him buzzing, like a puzzled bombus terrestis or bumble-bee; knocking about, from image to image, looking for nectar.  Does he find it?  Listen and see what you think.  He starts off near some people drinking and laughing by the river, then flies heavily off contemplating life and death, the doom that awaits the bee.  His wings are not graceful, stubby bits of gauze, more like fans than wings.  His purpose seems confused.

He's looking for dark-eyed flowers perhaps.  He's focussed on dark eyes, even in his sadness.  He pays a heavy price for hunger and revenge is of no interest to him.

Perhaps he's really a she and looking for the dryish part of an ordinary open compost heap.  That seems to be a favourite area for nesting.  My sister and I, who share an allotment, were once beset by bees.  We'd left some dry leaves in a wheelbarrow, in the open.  Bumble-bees considered it a desireable residence and  failed to apply any theoretical understanding to the meaning and purpose of a wheelbarrow.   You could say we were bedevilled, every time we turned round there was another one, demanding to know what the hell we thought we were doing, coming so close.  We quite enjoyed the squawking and the running about though - you might as well have a bit of fun.

In the end, we had to abandon that area, kindness NOT fear, for most of the summer.  Yesterday, in a garden where I work, I noticed a huge buzzing materfamilias, prospecting round a leafy heap under a tree.  This time I felt blessed and enthusiastic.  She's clearly an intelligent and discrimating animal, who's picked a perfect spot.  So we choose, so we judge; nature's beasts but persuaded of our omnipotence.

The song, Dark Eyes, is the last track on Empire Burlesque, a generally poorly acclaimed album.  I say no more at this stage.  It is a quiet little song of searching and memory, just guitar and harmonica, none of the musical backing used elsewhere.  This makes it stranger, even more plaintive and other-worldly than it might otherwise be.  That's my strongest feeling about the song - this sense of lonely alienation and distance, like an inability to be roused by more ordinary worldly concerns, a loss of contact, of warmth and emotion. 

And let's have a look at the other-worldiness of the bumble bee.  For a start, it's awfully hard to understand how the poor thing, so bulky, so frail, achieves flight at all.  Phalanxes of scientists have not yet been able to explain exactly how such a body/wing combination is able to rise into the air and stay aloft.  More wing is needed, or less body.  But it happens, so it's a failure of research money and understanding, not the laws of physics; something to do with angles, speed and type of flapping.

Bumble-bees look shaky as they tool about, heavy but uncertain, clumsy but fragile.  I feel like that sometimes - it's not comfortable, like riding a bike with a lot of luggage.  Yet I feel a deep fondness for them; a robin and one of these, so long as they're just researching food and nest options: they're the perfect company as you weed.  I would love to comfort a bumble bee, and I have a plan to do so.

We all know that bees are in trouble.  And why should they be alright?  Given the state of everything else, it would be odd really.  I'm not complacent, just convinced that the whole issue of honey bees is so fraught with strange agricultural practices, commercial considerations and deeply compromised interests that we're not going to get any real sense out of the situation.  Anyway you already know all about it.  Over-fertilised monocultures, that about sums it up.

I want to mention another book here, one that may be hard to obtain but is delightfully sensible and sensitive. It's Hedgerow by Anne Angus, a transplanted American who took up residence in Wales.  She observed the life of her local hedgerow with a diligent intelligence that gives the reader a clear understanding of an entire separate universe right under our feet.  It's a book that helps us to garden too, warming our hearts and minds.

Enter Ken Thompson too, who I've mentioned before, and who still fills me with confidence and enthusiasm.  He makes a lot of things clear, things that otherwise get lost in a haze of sunshine, guilt and confusion.  For a start, you don't have to have a meadow to do your bit, all you need is a regular domestic garden, with lots of plants and variety in it, plus a general aim of having something in flower for as long as possible, and a few easyish practices. Foreign plants are good for lots of things.  Don't use insecticides, don't be too tidy.  Try and find space for a bit of long grass.  Grow single flowers where there's a choice.

Here's a honey-bee observation, made by me in two different gardens in America.  The mountain mint, or pycnanthemum muticum.  I hope you can see them, I can count  24, on this area alone.

I have never seen a plant so adored by honey bees, and it's a shimmery bluey silver - very nice.  I tried to grow it here but it didn't germinate.  This means nothing of course, lots of things fail for all of us, I ought to try again, being more careful, but you know how it is.  Further research tells me it's so easy to grow that it can be aggressive so you will find me firmly in my place for the rest of the day.  But, I'll point out, in a whiney voice, maybe it justs grows well in America.

Anyway, it's good on woodland edges, so it can cope with a bit of shade, it's a perennial member of the monarda tribe, it smells of mint, it flowers for a long time and both times I saw it it appeared to be a bee factory, so many were on it and around it.

Butterflies love it too, the flowers have nice platforms for landing on and are composed of round masses of florets.  Perfect.  If you can, give it a go, it should be in every garden.  Constant, even moisture is mentioned but that may be a counsel beyond perfection, so we'll draw a veil.  Of course it's not blazingly colourful, and that tells you something about bees - they're not bothered by colour apparently, and red is a turn-off.  Their eye-sight is extremely poor.  They might be helped by bee guidelines and dark eyes.  I have no idea how anyone works out what bees think about colours.

This next plant appears not to grow well in America, at least according to a relative.  But here it's indispensable for the early bees, who need good spring provisions to start their cycle of nesting and procreation.  I understand it's becoming rare in the wild, and I hope it won't suffer the fate of so many discreet perennials in gardens, and gradually be supplanted by more glamorous temporary inhabitants. It's pulmonaria officinalis, in all its forms.

A shade lover, rapid and promiscuous but clearly clump-forming, nearly always busy with bees, like all the comfreys, its close relatives.  As it becomes preoccupied with seed production and its flowers start to fail you can, if you have a sweet nature and especially if there's some other worse, more pressing task calling you, settle down beside it and pick out all the gone-over stems, just with your hands, like picking flowers.  That will stop it seeding for a bit and make it flower longer for the bees.  It will also make it look prettier.

When the flowering is finished, strim or cut it to the ground - instantly it will produce beautiful new fresh leaves which will look good for the rest of the year.  If you don't do this, it will gradually exhaust itself with seeding, mildew and sad muddle-headedness.  That's what makes it unpopular.  These small attentions you know, they make all the difference in small gardens.

What I originally wanted to say though, is slightly different - it's my usual hobby horse, derived from many years of gardening every day, in an area where winters and summers are not different worlds but shade into each other.  And it's about planting for continuity of nectar and pollen, using  layering, shade and shrubs and trees as well as the usual knee-high flowers in the open sunny spots.  That way, you cover shelter for hibernation and nesting as well as supermarkets for food, as provided by colourful and beautiful meadow planting.  That's it really, an unoriginal thought but one that gets ignored when it suits fashion to reject shrubs.

Here's a mahonia, possibly aquifolium Smaragd, in a cold garden on a cold  showery day, so not covered in bees.  It's looking gorgeous, and strangely sunny with the white dicentra;, very few would choose to plant it these days, but it furnishes, shelters, feeds and protects.   Dicentra too is popular with bees, you see them hanging underneath, shouldering their way up into the gentle waxiness, the lovers' pearls we hear in the song perhaps.

In the UK, you can cover the entire year, quite easily, providing comfort stops for innumerable different pollinators, just by including a few common stalwart shrubs and trees in your planting.  Mahonia, so good in dry shade, hawthorns, apples, cotoneasters, hydrangea villosa (blue legs are charming on a bee), flowering ivy, eupatorium ligustrinum, eucryphia Nymansay, ligustrum of any kind, escallonia bifida - all of those will be beseiged, massing flowers in three dimensions.  Robinias, honeysuckles, wisterias, brooms - they will all assist and comfort.  My beloved vinca difformis is useful whenever there is warmth between November and May.  It has dark eyes, but they're actually small pits.

So let's go back to the song - of course it's not really about a bumble bee but it's oddly apposite, that notion of "a million faces at my feet" and "Time is short and days are sweet".  There's a bit of drunken driving about as well and a sense of resistance to mechanisation.  A war seems to be going on in the background, with soldiers and sad mothers: that must be the war on wildlife and pests, conducted by anxious humanity, bound for sterile cleanliness.

Do you remember when every hardware outlet offered complicated insect zappers, ones with some kind of sonic allure, calling out to all flying insects in the vicinity.  They would home in, only to die, singed on a kind of electric net.  I despised them, mosquitoes do bother me and I'm quite keen on the idea of genetic modification to eliminate dengue fever, hopefully malaria could go the same way eventually.  But the idea of simply eliminating mildly inconvenient insect life, all of it, struck me as beyond hubristic.  May the inventors and buyers of such gizmos die in the flames of their own patio heaters - the heat and flame of the song, where beauty goes unrecognised.

The awful thing is that these zappers are not half as prevalent as they were, I fear this is because the number of insects has become inconsequential.  Like the loss of squashed hedgehogs on the roads, this doesn't mean the hedgehogs have got street-wise and safety-conscious.  Just that there are so few left; they're not lurking comfortably in warm happy hedgehog homes you know, telling each other that they won't go out until the traffic's died down.

Swallows, house-martins and bats are dropping in population  - they all depend on skies full of insect life - there are more like that than I can enumerate.  Oh God, I'm driving myself into a sad low state.  All I see are dark eyes, not at my feet for I am not a rock star, but under my frantically beating wings, peering up towards me as I blunder vainly about, searching for pollen for my losing larvae, nectar to fuel myself, not avenge myself, and hope for the future, just for survival. I must memorise life and death, otherwise there really is nothing left at all, those dark eyes will be empty, no pin points of sparkle, no come-hithers or stay-heres.

But I don't like to leave you, or myself, like this.  Let's comfort the earliest bumble-bees with sheltered garden niches, made to imitate warm, busy populated hedgerow bases.  There we can grow violets, ajugas, sedums, thrifts, nerines and zauschnerias for much later, origanums, maybe species tulips or anemones.  I'm startled to see how much life there is in a tiny semi-circular bed against my terrace.

It's so full I barely ever weed it, but it's always colourful and active, it doesn't need tilling and resowing like the gorgeous annual meadow beds made by the council in the centre of the dual carriage-way, the first photograph in this piece.

I just sit beside this little bed every now and then and tidy it a bit, when I'm worn down or exhausted, and I become so fascinated by what I find that I can hardly tear myself away.  That's when gardening is truly therapeutic, when there's really not that much to do and you sink into the vast complexity of nature in its smallest, most detailed form.  All the little eyes darting and winking, their darkness revealed by light.  That's when I feel I have found the strange peace that the singer seems to convey in his final two lines, when he seems to connect with the million faces.  He doesn't do it closely or easily but he seems to feel the dark eyes in their massed otherness, even as he sees them, they're alien but alive.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Mortified By Dimity - You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

What a relief!  Partly, we've had a few drops of rain, partly everything else.  Always a lovely thing, when the tension breaks,  people start to chatter and laugh, the light brightens and a breeze blows through, lifting our spirits.  This is the moment to glance laughingly at the person on your arm, satisfied that there has not been and there will not be pain.

We're in a perfect moment, the sweet shallows of careless love - that is, love without cares, or perhaps love without care: the love of the song of the day.  It's from Blood on The Tracks and it's called You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.  (But not as lonesome as all that) is the disclaimer which should follow the name of the song.

For the protagonist is disingenuous. His tongue slips when he mentions careless love; this temporary attachment with an easy end is what he wants.  He sounds as if he might be going to be sad, for the woman he's singing to plans to leave, but in fact he's just playing.  In the last verse he runs through what it will feel like when she goes and how he'll get over it.  This is not a love song, it's the song of someone sliding out of a brief, almost  holiday connection, sunshine and flowers, nothing more.

You might have glanced in horror at my title, as afraid of arch cuteness as I am.  But I'm just saying what happens, honest, true as I sit here, I am a little bit mortified by dimity.  Let me explain.

The perfectly pretty, prettily perfect world of gardening is the problem. My age and type counts me out of even imagining I want riots and revolutions; I don't enjoy peril much, even when it's safely on screen.  But that doesn't mean I like everything to be gentle;  a connection with reality never goes amiss, and I like things to be interesting and true.

Dimity is my representative word for all that lavendery, bonnety, pastel side of gardening.  The one that makes women (in my culture anyway) exclaim to each other and men fall silent, knowing there's nothing to be said, and not quite sure of their ground.  Some would rather deal with a ravening beast than all this prettiness and innocence,  muslin and speckled eggs.  I have no intention of mentioning Jane Austen.  The whole thing's a little bit embarrassing in this hard world.

This is from Bosvigo in Cornwall, the wall dimity is erigeron karavskianus and an unremembered rose

I have a dear friend, ironic and clever, good at everything.  She has no pretensions to garden design but unimpeachable taste, unlike mine, which is influenced by far too many extraneous factors.  She had a small enclosed garden, behind a cottage. One day I visited, only to be mortified by dimity.

The trellis dividing the garden was wreathed, from end to end, top to bottom,  in summer jasmine, tight to its host, perfuming the air, the minute magnetic flowers exquisitely  spaced amongst the delicate dark leaves.  The walls were equally evenly swagged with small pastel pink roses, Paul's Himalayan Musk, and laced with layers of hydrangea petiolaris. I don't remember what was at floor level, campanulas and alpine phlox I think.  It was unforgiveably pretty.

I had not imagined that that selection of plants could result in such a bath of sweetness.  The whole garden seemed decked in living fabrics or wallpaper.  I was mortified, for my own suggestions were completely wrong and superfluous.  And I succumbed mentally, whipping my bonnet out of my bag.

I should have had my camera, of course; then you would see exactly what I mean.  Sorry to say, it never looked  exactly like that again and I'll explain more about that in a minute.

Allow me to define dimity more precisely.  In real life it's fine cotton fabric, woven to make a stripey texture in the cloth.  It's usually very pale and often scattered with evenly spaced, small, spriggish flowers, open-faced and simple.  Pretty young girls wear it, tossing their hair and carrying baskets.

Transferred to real plants, it's those that can cover large flat areas with gently coloured, separate, small flowers; the structure of the plant and the leaves are merely background.  I'm inventing its garden application, I have no justification for it.  The pale flowers stand in for the pale cotton background; the whole effect, in its most perfect form moulded to an architectural host, scattered with spots of brightness, is what I'm talking about.

This one's a bit too brash and bright.  In general, good examples are hard to find, they're space and labour-intensive.

Here's a wildly daring experiment in gardening for the public.   It's in Italy, near Turin, at La Venaria Reale, an enormous palace. It doesn't look wildly daring but in this vast space, where huge sheltering steel tunnels connect all four sides, only two varieties of rose have been used.  I think they were Bloomfield Abundance around the tunnels and Little White Pet in the beds.  The idea is to create a tasteful dimity on a vast, possibly inappropriate scale.  I'm a bit worried it's too pure and too abstemious.  It's rather a trek round, though scented and sparkly. 

The song is light and flowery.  The protagonist is flippant and dismissive about pain in the past, equally so about pain in the future.  There's no proper bravado, he sounds light-hearted and relieved, distracting our attention with some pretty, bucolic details - there aren't many songs with Queen Annes Lace in them, I think.

Those crickets, talking back and forth in rhyme, they're just right.  Down there at ground level, where she lies with her hair across her face, you'd hear them coming from different sides.  I'm not going to say it's a dimity song; that would be ridiculous.

But perhaps there's a tiny bit of dimity in the ersatz nostalgia as well as the flowers.  She hasn't left yet, this woman, but he already knows how he'll remember her - like someone who no longer exists, in other people's faces for example.  He's enjoying this pretty shallow moment, and makes a joke about giving himself a good talking to in the future.  And there's nothing wrong in any of it, it's a perfectly achieved song, a slippery exercise in total ambiguity, and fogged with extra thoughts about French poets and the like.  Lonesome?  I don't think so.

Remember that woman I said I wouldn't mention? In some ways we've got a very complex piece of  coded etiquette here, worthy of Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility.  Actually worthier, Willoughby was clumsy with his kiss off  and subjected Marianne to public and private mortification.  This song dices around with attributions of responsibility, but it's kind and face-saving.  Or is it a double double-bluff?   Are we supposed to see through it to the kindness or one level below, to the steely resolve to be done with her, whilst looking kind?

Let me turn back to the jasmine, jasminum officinale, a flower we all think of with nostalgia, even when it's with us.  That's partly because its perfect moments, in this country at least, are so elusive.  The problem lies in the nature of the plant;  it longs for a west-facing sheltered spot, plenty of sun, but not scorching, a long warm summer, a mild winter.  Straight after planting it will send out long feelers; it has the capacity to extend to 40 feet.  You, the kind gardener, will tie them in to the bit of trellis you have allowed them in your already full town garden.

 Next year you will have a good number of flowers; if your trellis is small, it will be your best year.  If it's extensive trellis, like my friend's, and getting the right level of sunshine, the following year will be your jasmine apotheosis.  Covered in flowers, happy as Larry, chucking out the scent, you will wonder why jasmines aren't growing everywhere, funny how you don't really notice them, when they're this easy and lovely.

As that year ends you'll be thinking the jasmine looks a bit of a mess, there's masses of growth, it's getting tangled and showing some nasty brown stems.  The trellis is disappearing.  The jasmine seems to be growing most strongly above it.   Time for a little prune you might think, but stay your hand, knowing it doesn't like the winter.

Come the spring, you cut it back; it's confusing, the bright green growths come from the old, at every height and level but there's least from lower down. On each bright green growth there are dozens of new shoots starting. Cutting it back to a framework, like wisteria or a vine, seems the only option.  And the flowering this year will be paltry and late, but the plant will be a massive mess again by October.

The problem is that jasmine produces an overwhelming number of new shoots, from its upper and outer parts, almost at the same time as it flowers. By September, there will be masses of long fresh stems all around the outside of the plant.  They're the ones that will produce another mass of new flowering wood in the spring.  You could cut them back in the autumn, but jasmine doesn't like too much cold and it will be slow to start next year.  Equally, if you cut it all back in the spring, the plant won't have time to produce long enough, ripe enough, flowering wood.

If you don't cut it back, which the plant might like best, you'll have a great tangle of brown in the middle of the plant - last year's flowered growths and the ones that flowered this year going over.  You're in a muddle, it can only get worse as the flowers proportionately decrease and the tangle increases.  It's not your fault, obviously;  it's the too-pushy and inadequately-ripening jasmine's, it's the sad lost dimity of the garden.

That was a long explanation, I hope it was worthwhile.  You notice a less troublesome version of the same problem with all those flowering shrubs that get fiercely pruned into bodge shapes in the autumn - all the shoots that are getting ready to flower next year are chopped off, and you're left with worn out old wood.  But they don't look as bad as jasmine, and they can be brought back into shape and floriferousness with care and earlier pruning, sorting old from new wood and preserving some of the latter or starting it off from lower down by cutting there.

You can try cutting your jasmine back to a couple of feet from the ground and see how it does - it'll take a few years to flower again and then you'll be back in the same position.  But I can't tell you it likes it, mine has never been happy again. I will admit it's in too much shade, so you might do better.

Mortifying isn't it?  But at my friend's house that year, when it was all in balance, the flowering growths fitted the trellis, nothing had to be cut away, that was the year of the divinity, dimity. 

You can try different varieties of jasmine - "Clotted Cream" is the new one and supposed to be less vigorous, so might be more manageable. "Affine" is even more vigorous so I have no hopes of that.  You can grow coloured leaved ones, variegated or limey-green, and prune them hard, to a framework in Spring, treating the flowers as a secondary, minor,  attraction.  Here's my "Fiona Sunshine" on the right - hardly an 18th century colour, and not much good with that pale blue clematis, Blue Angel.  Sometimes this jasmine surprises me with the number of flowers it produces, - it thinks I don't care you see, and in some ways it's right, I don't care for it much.

My rather obvious suggestions for easier climbers that might work better are trachelospermum jasminoides, and solanum jasminoides album.  The first smells lovely, but its leaves are evergreen and not delicate.  The second has larger flowers, utterly scentless, unreasonably tender really.

Now, the song's disappearing from us - it's a nostalgic memory even though it's still here.  I'm leaving you with a picture of Gresgarth Hall - I think it's got the right floral, dotted pastel look.  See how unifying it is, even against such a large background, and even without climbers trained flat.  But that big blank space of wall is crying out for a bit more dimity - just to pull it all together.

And the truth is that keeping large but delicate looking climbers flat against walls, whether roses, jasmine or clematis - it's always a labour of love and elimination, constant attention, endless sorting out and tying in.  The song is a bit of a con, careless love just about sums it up.  It's a contradiction in terms, like jasmine, so easy but so difficult.  Dylan carries off the kind cut better with his song than most of us can ever do with the climbers we use when we aspire to dimity.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Witting or unwitting - Someday, Baby

 A certain amount of humour makes life worth living, whatever you're doing. Of course gardeners, often struggling around on their owns, have to learn to appreciate their own jokes - I've always found that a very satisfactory way to go on.

In a minute I'll show you a few gardening jokes, but before I do that, I'd like to introduce the Dylan song.  It's Someday Baby from Tell Tale Signs.  I don't know if it's known for being funny, and there are many more clamouring for notice, but this is one with a certain tone of voice in a couple of lines that makes me smile wryly, or, according to mood, laugh aloud.  So give it a listen and watch the negative interplay of love and the self.  It is only on this version by the way.  Don't listen to the one on Modern Times and lose all faith in my glorious and complete objectivity.

Wit's a slippery beast anyway as we all know. I am not one of those who ever likes to turn to dictionary definitions - they often seem to lead down another set of equally blind alleys when you're trying to think about something.  I can head down those on my own.

So, none of that, just what makes me smile, with the full knowledge and agreement of whoever made me smile, for surely the creator must be aware of the joke, otherwise it is just ridiculousness, or oddity, or worse.  Gardening jokes are often like slow-motion versions of those fragile, exquisite moments, when you say something and it comes out meaning more than you thought, funnier, more revealing.  Others laugh, and, being human, you claim it for your own.  Wit is in those who hear, as well as in those who speak -  it's a shared endeavour, although people who do it for a living won't think so.   But they don't have the help of nature, which can throw in a comedy turn too, though it may be the defensive wit of the bullied, the attacked and the interfered with.

Here's a garden, now sadly lost to us, which, though it wouldn't have made you shout with laughter, was imbued with some sort of soul of natural wit.  A skit on domesticity and wildness together, each crossing the boundaries into the other.  It's Priona, made by Henk Gerritsen, in the middle of the blandest possible landscape between Holland and Germany.

Those rearing, looming shapes, had such life, and bafflement, about them - pity, laughter, surprise, all at once.  You can almost see the collaboration of growth and an amused perceptive gardener.

Topiary chickens in front of a henhouse were more obvious and have been much copied.  Here are two other subtler moments.

I'm not saying it's hilarious, but it's not just a box hedge, it's a comment on a box hedge, it's not just different and pretty, it's clever, it looks like box is made of something heavier, and more fluid.  Or it's like some sort of sewing.  I don't know, is it just me.

Let me try one more.

Subtle beyond bearing, this was witty in its effect upon the visitor - like a pinball, if that's what they're called, you boing ( that's "boing") from one directionally placed but short hedge to the next, and all the while there's this soft woolly wildness all around, a little bit caged in but not quite, flowing over and under the edges.  I can't possibly ask if it's just me again, but here I am, amused and pleased.

So that's my exemplary witty garden - I'll offer a few more in a minute.  Someday, Baby.

Any self-respecting Dylan fan will point out that this song is copied, some words, basic structure, tune and feeling, from a blues standard of the same name, attributed to Sleepy John Estes - but Dylan elaborates it, builds upon it and holds the unstated threat in the title up for unsparing examination.  I suppose he also shifts its setting, as he must, creating a complicated integrity - it's barely bluesy, not perhaps so desperate, or subjugated. 

The song is, on one level, a devastatingly casual but complete condemnation of a current or soon-to-be-ex female partner.  Any moral attribute you think a partner ought to have - honesty, kindness, loyalty for example, well she's the proud possessor of the opposite.  The protagonist explains his sad situation, he is indeed Po' him.  She has destroyed his self-confidence, taken his stuff, worried him incessantly, kicked him out, put him down and tied him up in knots.

Surely this can't be funny, especially when he's upset and angry.  Or maybe he's a straightforward abuser; he's going to wring her neck, how can that make anyone smile?  He's not a character who seems to find any joy in life, or take any responsibility for himself. 

Well of course that's it.  We accept his initial description of the situation, knowing nothing else.  But as the song proceeds the light falls on him as well as her - we end up seeing the distortion of a relationship where unreal love has been replaced by malice and disappointment.  It's the self-pitying bombast that makes it funny - you could feel sympathy, but there's not a lot of point with this sad character.  You can only laugh and step aside.  It's the inflections that make it hilarious:

"When you was cold, I bought you a coat and hat
I think you must have forgotten about that"
Sly and self-congratulatory, the bean-counter emerges, ready to slaughter because his gift has not received the returns he expected.  It's like a parody of generosity, but recognisable, like a Hogarth caricature.

And there's another line as good "You're potentially dangerous, and not worthy of trust".  Nothing on it's own, but sung with the ring of strict judgementalism.  He sounds like a thwarted lawyer, pompously arriving at a measured conclusion - she's risky, she might be very risky.  He goes on to contemplate his chances of destroying her - he's an unattractive Hamlet who's got everything backwards.  But you have to hear the tone of voice, it's not the words, it's the way they're sung.

Well, I won't have convinced you if you didn't already smile when you heard this song - that's the way it is with such precarious knowing wit.  And the version on Modern Times doesn't even include these lines, let alone the inflections, so loses itself back in the rather general misery.  If you're  fond of the Estes original you're unlikely to hear the humour in this one.  Not everything works, in gardens, or Dylan.

Here's a garden that could be considered witty, and colourful, and clever.  It's The Little Cottage, in Lymington, Hampshire, UK.

I understand Anne Wareham set an old television in her woodland at Veddw, thus questioning most things we take for granted.  I never saw it but it's there in my mind's eye.  My mind's mouth smiles.

Let's turn to Madoo, a garden in The Hamptons, on Long Island, New York State.  Robert Dash made it, and has written a delightful book about the experience, called Notes From Madoo.  It's a more practical treatise than one might expect, but wise and wittily eccentric.  Strange that he does not talk of humour, yet his garden is a series of humorous vignettes.  It must be me then.

And in fact that is so.  On rereading his book I become aware that the thinking behind the garden is deeply serious, underlain with excellent principles and an acute sensibility.  Here's a man who strips the leaves from his macleayas ( you know -  that incredibly tall rampageous plume poppy, little bunches of beige flowers at the top of bluey white trunks beset with large fan-shaped nacreous leaves), strips the leaves to reveal the full beauty of the stems - these plants are herbaceous and grow as you watch; they also exude a golden sap.  So he's not slapdash.  He is however a follower of abstract expressionism in the garden and this explains his use of colour, his distribution of effect and his completely fresh thinking.  He's also American, his garden is American, his plants are mostly American.  He is marvellous for that; he may use all the multi-cultural paraphernalia of gardens - but you can't detect it, it all looks like where it is.

Maybe that's the wit - a freshness of vision and a sense of delight in the essential nature of the place and the plants.  Here are a few poor photos.

Here we see a collaboratively witty theme of the garden; wonderful pruning, stems and trunks, bending and turning.  Also maze-like wandering paths, turning and connecting.

Then there are proper jokes, a tiny gesticulating Neptune caught in a wire cage and  upright concrete logs set symmetrically, but falling about wildly, like leftovers from an earlier garden. 

Here, a lilac gazebo, embedded in a milkweed border, not set apart in the open, like a gazebo ought to be.

Here, well you can see.  The box knot is a minimal reference, the ladder steals the scene.

A lathe passageway to a sublime collection of trunks.  It's the live and the dead, the light,  the use of real stuff, and the care for the simple that surprises.

 Here's the best-known element - influential in its time.

And the last one, seats gazing at a buddleia-backed artwork.  Note the colours and the masses.  Theatrical.  But buddleia!

Like the song, this garden is not a simple description of a situation.  It's a comment, it's conscious; we're asked to consider the nature of the endeavour as well as enjoy it for its own sake. Madoo uses quiet American wildflowers like the most desireable of exotics. Vegetables too occupy prized positions.

Garden humour often aspires at the squirting of water at surprising times on people passing by.  No, that's not very witty, though fun if you're small.  The Villa D'Este may pull it off, of course.  Or it places amusing artifacts here and there, dragonflies made of scrap metal, or huge stone acorns under oak trees for example.  Written comments are employed, but I exempt them, autocratically.  Clothes and gardens should not be written on.

Here are colourful terrapins. 

On the whole, such things just cause me to experience patience.  No one could deny the benefits of that.

Finally, here's an example of garden humour that makes you laugh with sheer wonder at the daring expenditure.  It's a bronze fallen tree in the centre of the Tuileries gardens in Paris.  Enormous.  And funny because you could just as easily miss it.

Not at all sure that I've convinced myself, let alone you, with today's conjunction.  Wit is not easy, it may be the hardest thing - no wonder we value it so.  I set myself a hard task, and now I'm sorry.  Po' me.