Wednesday, 16 April 2014

My Own Pet Lamb - Soon After Midnight

I can barely speak for pride and happiness.  I have achieved what I wished for: a garden that fits the space, my needs, some of my desires and the limits of my budget.  It even incorporates some of the left over elements of the garden that was here before, also made by me.  By all these measures it is a success, but I keep my voice down, a little bit worried about hubris.  It is not art and it breaks no new ground, but I look at it with pleasure.  I see that I have made it, and I see that it is good.

Here's part of it it is from the bedroom window.

Here we're looking back to the house from one side.

Here's the garden as you enter along the side of the house.

Here it is from the other.

So, you've got the idea, and you're probably less impressed than I feel you should be.

You see you may be thinking, well I wouldn't have done it like that, I don't understand why the levels drop at both sides, when there's no reason for them to do so.  That  box bush is a wreck and I would have used proper stone, I would have laid it better, I would have made the edges straighter and finished off the pond neatly and well.  Something odd is happening with the whole orientation and why on earth did she make that odd cross shape at the end of the right hand brick path, which is anyway slightly too wide.  As for the pointing on those steps - for goodness sake surely a little decent pointing is not beyond her.

The awful thing is, I can answer every one of  your criticisms and I have good, no, excellent reasons for the absolute necessity of each element being exactly as it is.  Apart from the pointing, which awaits amendment, most can be summed up  as the  inexorable constraints of physics and geometry.  Others as the limits of will, time, energy and creativity.  Those seem just as inexorable to me, for we all mostly do our best, we can only do our best, and I'm sorry to admit, that's what I did.

Never mind, there we are, we're not in a competition. For the time being I think I'll just go back to being pleased with it: that gives me the chance to show you a few more of the positive features that we can only hope will develop with time.

For a start, I've gone for a very gentle mix of formality and informality.  I wanted a sense of order, but no hint of pernicketiness.  So there are geometric shapes, but they're asymmetrical and all the edges are slightly wobbly and imperfect.  You might think I'm making a virtue out of an insufficiency, and granted, you have me bang to rights.

I have indulged in soft lines of planting across the garden rather than mirrored plantings and sharp topiary. We have a line of variegated Osmanthus heterophyllus on one side of the longest brick path, a line of that soft, short hair-like grass Hakonechloa macra just at the top of the badly pointed steps, a line of three tall, thin, small-leaved hollies at the back and a line of liriope spicata to the left of the big acanthus, left over from the last garden.  Finally there's a line of three dwarf sarcococca at the back right, behind the cross shaped paving, for which I find I have less of a coherent explanation than I thought.

This business of planting in lines - it's not supposed to hit you in the eye, it's just a gentle repetition of the horizontal, so good at calming things down.  I like a lot of different plants, but I don't want it to be too much of a muddle.  The lines are different lengths and unevenly placed, to furnish a sort of unemphatic balance.

I wanted a garden that could look after itself to some degree.  This garden will need grooming, but that is both relaxing and rewarding.  I shall like it - trimming, fiddling, encouraging, and removing what offends my magisterial whims.

There'll be a lot of low evergreens - I'm using geraniums, Fragaria Chaval, London Pride, or Saxifraga primuloides and Teucrium chamaedrys, also known as germander, a short dark shrubby perennial.  It looks like a big, scentless thyme and flowers late and pink.  Its nature is quiet and retiring.  People have attempted to use it as a box substitute in knot gardens.  No, not a good idea, it's far too floppy and unsure of itself.  Rosemary Verey gave me a very sharp look when I pointed that out to her, about 30 years ago.  We were like living embodiments of the plants in question.  And I like to drop a name, let me drop a name, though she would not have known me from Adam.

So I will be using that Teucrium, and have scattered invisible little cuttings about, along with Baccharis halmifolia.

That's a very similar plant but with smaller, brighter leaves and puffs of tiny white flowers.  It makes a much taller bush though, and I don't want too much height so I've kept it close to the fence.  Pruning enough, and at the right time is going to be the trick with these two.  I shall be delighted if I can get them to flower and stay smallish.  Both will grow from old wood, so it should be possible to use them as I want.

There was another requirement of course, to use up some things I had no other home for.  I had two deciduous azaleas: fortunately they are graceful shrubs and may contribute a lively, graceful and slightly see-through presence even in full leaf.  I don't want big shrubs standing about like fridges so shall be busy with the secateurs.  In winter they're nearly invisible, having very thin twigs.

Some things, like the Acanthus Rue Ledan, (that big dark heap near the tree), a large shiny leaved fennel, Selinum tenuifolium (an elegant late umbellifer), the two main trees, a big Fruhlingsgold rose and Buddleia Dartmoor have been gardened round.  That is to say, they have stayed where they were, the garden has politely not requested them to move, hoovering under their feet.  They've got themselves nicely settled, I don't want a lot of resentful invalids on my hands and I value their present size or shape.

Once I get going like his I can go on for ever, explaining and defending.  I want beautiful, mainly non-tropical leaves, easy plants, sparse and quiet flowerings.  Provision for birds and bees, complete ground cover and a cheerful, scented winter array, for that's when we will mostly be here to use the garden.

The garden is small, twelve metres wide by eight deep, with a big notch cut out.   It has a rickety bench, which I will replace when I can afford to, on the original old path, which now looks like what we will call the shady terrace or patio.

The garden has new brick paths to draw the eye and pull you in amongst the plants and a main terrace with a pond running all along the back of the house.  Under that are some simple drainage arrangements of stones and supports for the paving, which is not concreted in.
I did not want all the water from the roof running away into the mains - I  believe we're now calling this concept a "rain garden" but it seems like age-old common sense to me.  It doesn't just mean using water butts.  It means keeping the run-off that won't fit in the water butts within the garden somewhere, not so that it creates a quagmire but so that it is slowly absorbed.  Some permeable space near the house is essential and we have plenty of that.   I would have liked to have piped surplus water into the pond but was up against inexorable constraints: gravity and the free passage of people across the paving.

Here's my theory of the song, Soon After Midnight from the album Tempest.  It's all about creativity within constraints, it's about limitations managed with grace and wit, it's about what I and anyone who makes a garden has to do - applying desire to restriction and necessity.

Songwriting is always about this on some level, and often the glory of a song lies in the ability to transcend the restrictions of rhyme and melody, so that they appear as no restriction at all.  This song does something different, it celebrates the very act of the search to fit the words with the music, trying them out, turning them over and around, never leaving the constraints until the end, when it lets it all go.  The" you" of the last phrase has no shape or form, it's just to finish it in the right place, everything where it should be, a nice feeling, a bit of turning outwards.

One of the best things about the human voice is the way it can pull you into another persons world, so that you see through their eyes, because you feel the thrum in your own chest and comprehend the stratagems of vocalisation.

In this song, not only that, you also get a glance inside the late-night songwriter's head or somewhere that feels like it. Nothing much to say but, making do with what he has.  So we get a snap of annoyance with something undefined but visceral, then a visual memory of a woman  You can almost see her walking along, looking back.

He's delighted to have another go at rhyming harlot with scarlet and adding in Charlotte and he has a little ultimate fantasy on the side - a date with a fairy queen.  We'd all like one of those.

But the best bit for me, the bit that always makes me smile, is when he sings, "When I met you, I didn't think you'd do."  What a world of self-knowledge in that slightly ruthless sound, that absolutely demotic swing to the voice.  And it brings me back to the process of creation, the feeling around, trying to get it right, working out what will do, putting up with it, being thrilled with it, changing it round till it fits.

And the song is so pretty, so delightfully listenable with a beautiful swelling melody.  I don't care if he's borrowed some of it: new ideas are unconscionably rare and this is a lovely piece of neat knitting, where everything fits so sweetly, even a bit of rage and horror.  Dylan's wonderful, endless voice, his delicious phrasing and his wit will always have me on his side.  The fun of harnessing chaos to form and the joy of hunting for harmony.  The pleasure of preventing leakage and confusion.  The deep satisfaction of putting what there is in its proper place and of keeping it there.  It all helps to hold the sky up, to keep the world where it ought to be.