Saturday, 26 January 2013

Banging About - Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar

You know how children like to fling themselves about?  Bright-eyed toddler aliens running around, penned in for safety, banging about in a box.

Sometimes I can tap right into that bubble of energy, and feel the blood of agitation coursing through my veins.  I can get that inner push, that need to feel my own edges.  I want to bump and to be bumped back at.  I'm alive and rushing about, not going anywhere, not getting anything done, just feeling the dash and the crash of it.

In illustration, I have the perfect song, a gardening theme, and even an appropriate gardening moment to throw us all together, rattling, into the square space.   Shame about all the mess and the pots - they're going to stop our freedom of movement.  They're just waiting for someone to come and tidy them up.

So here's the moment, and the beginning of the theme.  We've had a bit of snow and we're waiting for more.  I've not gardened anywhere for over a week.

Can't do much, stuck here, waiting for something to happen, all fired up, ready to go.

I thought I could get started here, on this new/old garden, which used to be mine when we lived in our old house.  I thought I could, but I have to wait.

So I'm waiting.


So we moved into this new house at the bottom of our old garden.

The garden now requires nearly complete renewal, for the shape is different, it's approached differently and it's a completely different size.

More of a box really, a thoroughly fenced box with a corner cut out.

I thought I could have got started on it by now, but I have to wait.


I know!  I'll listen to the song!  Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar.  Sometimes it has a The at the beginning.  It's the 4.05 minute version and can be found on Biograph and on the album Shot Of Love.   Magnificent heavy blues about waiting whilst moving: running about while fenced in, explosions in a confined space.  Play it loud, it'll shake in your seat and get you romping.

First of all, I'm going to get something off my chest.  You will note that I have Michael Gray's Dylan Encyclopedia on my list of Books I Love.  And that ought to be quite right too, I often have a quick read of it.  He writes very well of this song and I may even have borrowed his "banging about in a box" metaphor, because it scored so high on the palpable hitting meter. 

But I am, sadly, going to have to think about removing Mr Gray from my list.  As this is really only relevant to the Dylan enthusiast, I will explain my reasoning on a separate page or Page as they're called in this format.   I'm extremely picky about what I have on that loved books list and when my feelings get this mixed, well .......

Back to today's subject.  Whenever I have to make a smallish, squarish or rectangular garden, walled or fenced to about six feet high all round, the problem feels similar.  It's about balancing movement and stasis.  You don't want it feeling airless and dead, your eye shooting over an empty centre and bouncing back again when it hits a wall.  Nor do you want the suck and drain of a low central feature, pulling everything in. Straight borders following the lines of the walls will feel like the plants are desperately crowding to the edges.  They'll look a bit fearful. Not relaxed, not relaxing.

Of course people make wild successes of all sorts of different things, wiggly organic shapes might work well for some, calm curves will be fine for others.  Offset rectangles, spirals, horizontal lines - you can have what you want - but they'll have different effects.  A bit of geometry can look right next to buildings.  There are no rules though, and no answers.

Anyway, let's try for distraction and variety, but avoid clutter and confusion. The problem, and this  particular solution, will feel cliche'd and old-hat to any garden designer, and I'm sorry about that. I could call it the dynamic diagonal and I might, if I didn't mind sounding quite that glib.  Here it is in a garden I made quite a few years ago.  Excuse the mess again, this is a proper, used garden, not for show.

And here it is in a Dutch demonstration garden, called Boomkamp.  Thumping great scale, elegant hedgey architecture.  But it's active and interesting.  You want to follow the paths, you feel firmly held, but able to move.  If gardens are enclosure and people like to feel free, this might be the way to do it.  

Sometimes just a touch of a diagonal can alter the whole feel, sending the mind off in a different direction, making the air move, destroying the dullness.  This garden, part of the gorgeous Cothay Manor, where I noticed the motif was used again and again, has very little of the imprisoning boxiness about it.  The central diamond however, makes sense of the whole space, enlivening the straight loose hedges with contrasting angles.  Simple, but effective and sharpening.

I'll show you a few more in a minute, after a wild swerve into the story of Claudette, the invisible, lost but forever demanding bride of the song.  The protagonist couldn't have married her, they never even sorted out the most basic issue of any relationship, namely who owes what to the other, who's going to pay, and how willingly.  It all seems to be summed up in "I'd a done anything for that woman if she'd only made me feel obligated" which is what he sings in this version.

The written lyrics say something else, namely "I'd have done anything for that woman, if she hadn't made me feel so obligated".   That sounds like the opposite problem, but, as we all know in our hearts, both complaints are just ways to bang against opposite, or adjacent, walls in the same space.   If your partner wants you to feel obliged, you won't like it, but if you don't feel some sort of obligation, perhaps you won't bother with any of it.  What a ghastly mess it all is.  Freedom within boundaries,- the human battle.  Sometimes composed of careening, from one side to the other.

The singer, who's in another, different, ghastly mess, presumably stuck with waiting for the bride, running a high temperature, his face in the cement, fighting on the border, points out that as soon as you get what you want there's a risk you won't want it any more.  His answer seems to be to leap out of the confining space, into a new age.  But I'm not so interested in the leaping out: that theme won't help me with creating my new garden, which has to be done right here, inside the fences.

Do listen to the song if you don't know it. You might find the lumbering, familiar blues rhythms, pounding away in your head, rather dominating for a moment or two. It's what he does inside them that matters, exactly the conundrum that faces the owner of the small boxed garden.

I may have used a picture of the space above before - it's such an unusual, (and expensive) piece of modern garden architecture.  From The Garden House in Devon.  Hard to plant, hard to relate with anything else, it looks like a piece of sports equipment, but of course, isn't.  The speed and number of the curves is right for the sound of the song, but they're not diagonal enough, sacrificing length for pace.   The soundscape of the song is more like a series of offset angled lines, cranking at the turns and sometimes incredibly long.  But still in that tightly enclosing blues box, and still banging back and forth, irregularly.

Try singing along with this song: I rarely do, but sometimes feel I could.  Then I realise it's nearly impossible - the singer seems to have broken some sort of natural law about how many conversationally inflected words it's possible to fit against a strong beat whilst sounding like you're singing with it.  And the rhymes are ridiculous but magnificent, at the same time.  Here's a song where power is magnified by paradox, you can always find more of them. 

And I have a gardening paradox here.  One of the ways of creating diagonal dash and movement in a garden is simply to set your squares and rectangles plum to the sides.  Face on, they might seem predictable and heavy-handed, but they instantly rearrange themselves into longer, more complex and dynamic diagonal lines as soon as you move to the side and look across them.  Even a novice photographer like me does it automatically, knowing it will look more interesting.  France is the place to find all the illustrations you want of this rather obvious discovery.  This one's from the immaculate, exquisite Abbaye De Fontenay in Burgundy.

Below is the garden at Bury Court, a real designer's garden.  Ranks of equal oblongs, set at right angles to each other, strict straight paths between.  Planted as it is with massively tall grasses and herbaceous perennials, in the summer you can't see easily across it.  To me it loses interest because of this repeated tight enclosing and the obvious geometry of the paths.  Perhaps it gains a maze-like, hidden mystery because of the enormous concealing planting.  In gardens that sort of mystery can be over-rated; we are not goldfish, we are cursed with memory, you can't spring that sort of surprise on us more than once or twice.  Once you've understood it spatially, you're more or less done; and the plants are similar and repetitious.

It's my impression that over the years this garden has existed additions have been made to meet this problem and vary the lines - the massive gazebo has been added, the pond enlarged.  So now you can do a bit of seeing across at the diagonal.  Much better.

So, turn yourself to an angle, or turn the garden to an angle - that seems to be about the size of it. Here's another of mine: the photograph is taken from the kitchen door, just enough of an angle.  The minimal curve of the hedge above the bricks is really a short diagonal.  I like the formality slightly broken up like that, a little bit of movement, but you might think that the garden is wide enough not to need it.

You might like to have another look at the photos at the beginning, my current challenge.  Another relatively wide garden.  Once the snow has melted, my impatience can convert to action, I can start laying out my lines and clearing my spaces, hoping to set them in a dynamic, lively relationship to the heavy pushing back of the fences.

What can I say about the song, the theme and the snowy moment?  I hope the connections have emerged and that you're not just shaking your head, thinking of all the interesting lines and rhymes in the song that I haven't mentioned.

Let's say that it's all about tension and its release. Regardless of the chaos and misery in some of the song, the blues here is just a box, just a basic shape.  You're bouncing back and forth against the sides and you're either taut with waiting for something or just making the most of your confined space.  Having  pulled and pushed us about where we stand, confused us with paradoxes and shown us how to release a bit of pent-up excitement and impatience, the protagonist of course chooses to bound over the top, giving up entirely on Claudette.  Typical.

1 comment:

  1. That vaunted extra Page is not ready yet. Couple of days.....