Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

Tuesday Poem: The Seed Shop

Monday, January 28th, 2013

THE SEED SHOP, Muriel Stuart

Here in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry—
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.
Dead that shall quicken at the call of Spring,
Sleepers to stir beneath June’s magic kiss,
Though birds pass over, unremembering,
And no bee seeks here roses that were his.
In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams,
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That will drink deeply of a century’s streams,
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.
Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells a million roses leap;
Here I can blow a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.

Muriel Stuart , who died in 1967, was at one time a celebrated poet, praised by Thomas Hardy and Hugh MacDiarmid amongst others. She stopped writing poetry in the 1930s and her work is now largely forgotten – but I love this example, especially at this time in the Northern Hemisphere when it’s hard to believe that spring will ever come; that gardens will grow again; that “June’s magic kiss” will bring anything to life once more.

For more Tuesday poems go to the main hub site, if you’re not already there, where a main poem is posted each week. Further poems can be found on the blogs of the Tuesday poet members in the sidebar.

And yes, I know I’ve posted this on a Monday afternoon, but it’s already Tuesday in New Zealand where the Tuesday Poem site originates, and the new main poem that’s just up is so wonderful I have to post this myself. Immediately. Got to be there…

The glory of the garden

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

I saw this very sweet piece of garden sculpture in Regent’s Park a couple of weeks ago, and it made me think about gardens and gardeners – which led me to Rudyard Kipling’s poem.

Rudyard Kipling

Our England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.

For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,
You will find the tool- and potting-sheds which are the heart of all;
The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dungpits and the tanks:
The rollers, carts and drain-pipes, with the barrows and the planks.

And there you’ll see the gardeners, the men and ‘prentice boys
Told off to do as they are bid and do it without noise;
For, except when seeds are planted and we shout to scare the birds,
The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.

And some can pot begonias and some can bud a rose,
And some are hardly fit to trust with anything that grows;
But they can roll and trim the lawns and sift the sand and loam,
For the Glory of the Garden occupieth all who come.

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing, “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade,
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives.

There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick.
But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.

Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner in the Glory of the Garden.

Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray
For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!
And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away!

I particularly like the bit that goes: “…such gardens are not made/by singing ‘Oh how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade …”

It also led me to celebrate the old-fashioned heavily-scented roses that I buy most Sundays in Marylebone Farmers’ Market – and here’s the latest bunch. (And the last one for a while; we’re off on holiday until mid-September.)

And, so as not to discount flowers of the more random variety, here is a photo of a wild untended corner at our community gardens. Love ‘em all, that’s my motto.

Our veggie garden’s production this year has certainly been affected by the weather: the autumn-planted broad beans were brilliant but all the later crops (apart from the potatoes) haven’t done as well. And speaking of potatoes, this year we planted five different varieties and all of them have cropped well – but one variety (and we don’t know which) produces potatoes that dissolve in the cooking water! If any readers of this blog know which one it might be could you let me know, so that we can avoid that one in future years? The varieties we planted are: Red Duke of York (obviously we know it isn’t that one), Pentland, Julien, Premiere, and Colleen. For some reason my money’s on Colleen as the culprit – maybe because I don’t think we’ve had that one before.

More Tuesday Poems — from the New Zealand, Italy, the UK, the USA and Australia — can be found here.

A garden is a lovesome thing

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Just look at our broad beans! They were planted last November and they survived the winter really well and are now covered in flowers.

And here they are up close so you can see just how many flowers are flowering. People say that if you plant them in the autumn you don’t get blackfly: I’m not sure. Not yet.

And – trumpet roll – here is the very first potato plant to poke its little nose above ground. I’m pretty sure it’s one of the Red Duke of Yorks – we planted them last year and they were a great success, so they’re one of the varieties of earlies we chose for this year. They only went in on 25th March.

And just for a change, I thought I’d also take a photo of this – it’s a very beautiful installation of a support structure. I could imagine seeing it in the Hayward.

We planted some more chard yesterday; we’re eating last year’s right now because it’s sprung back up in prolific style. And I’ve got out the packets of runner beans and squash seeds …

Gardens are lovely, especially in spring when they explode with promise and beauty. We have bees, we have blossom, we have bursts of rain and bursts of sunshine, and a general lifting of hearts and spirits. This is what Robert Bridges said in April, 1885, which is also the title of his poem.

April 1885

Wanton with long delay the gay spring leaping cometh;

The blackthorn starreth now his bough on the eve of May:

All day in the sweet box-tree the bee for pleasure hummeth:

The cuckoo sends afloat his note on the air all day.

Now dewy nights again and rain in gentle shower

At root of tree and flower have quenched the winter’s drouth:

On high the hot sun smiles, and banks of cloud uptower

In bulging heads that crowd for miles the dazzling south.

Robert Bridges, The Shorter Poems (1891).

Beans, beans beans – and a poem

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Baked beans,
Butter beans,
Big fat lima beans,
Long thin string beans –
Those are just a few.

Green beans,
Black beans,
Big fat kidney beans,
Red hot chili beans,
Jumping beans too.

Last year I posted a photo of the first of our runner beans on 11 July; this year the first baby beans had begun to set by 25th June, although I only got around to taking their picture last Sunday. It’s not surprising that they’re earlier this year; we had such a warm and sunny spring.

This year, rather by accident, we planted a whole lot of different climbers – Goliath and Painted Lady runner beans, and Zebra, Violetta and Neckargold climbing beans. The seeds were delightfully decorative and the flowers are wonderfully varied too – and now we can’t wait to see how the beans taste. We haven’t managed to keep track of which plant is which, though, so if one of the varieties is a star we won’t know what it is, other than delicious.

Does anyone know who wrote the bean poem that I’ve quoted above? I can’t find an attribution for it – it’s one that’s often used with children in classrooms, especially when they’re growing, um, beans.

Of bluebell woods and potato beds

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

On the Sunday of Easter weekend, the first of two sequential public holiday weekends in Britain this year, we visited a bluebell wood that’s owned and managed by the Selborne Society (think of the late great Gilbert White, the 18th century pioneering English naturalist, although this bluebell wood is nowhere near his home in Hampshire). The wood we visited is open to the public only once a year, at what’s usually peak bluebell time, although this year the bluebells were slightly past their peak of wonderfulness. Still, massed English bluebells certainly know how to make you gasp and stretch your eyes.

And here’s a sight that makes us proud: our potato beds. We’ve done very well with potatoes since we started growing them two years ago, and this year we chose four different varieties of earlies, none of which we’ve grown before.  We planted them on 18th March – and baby, look at them now!

This photo shows a row of Sharpe’s Express, one in the middle of Red Duke of York, and one of Casablanca – and yes, we know we planted them too close together but they don’t seem to mind. We also planted a row of Pentland Javelins in another bit of the veggie plot which have been much slower to start, but they seem now to be catching up with their friends and neighbours.

I can’t tell you how exciting and gratifying it is to watch this happening – well I can try to explain but if you’re a gardener you won’t need to be told of the pleasure of plant growing and if you’re not, you’ll think it’s all a bit loopy. This is the season for gardeners to smile beatifically at one another and say things like, “Just look at my [insert name of thriving plant]!” and for their gardening friends to smile and nod. Be tolerant and kind: a brutal cold snap and gusts of rain are just around the corner waiting to destroy our happiness.

I’m even sufficiently crazed by springtime to track down a poem I slightly remembered about potatoes, to see if it was celebratory enough to post. It’s not, really, though it has some great lines: here are the first two verses of Peter Viereck’s “To A Sinister Potato”.

“Oh vast earth apple, waiting to be fried,

Of all the starers the most many-eyed,

What furtive purpose hatched you long ago

In Indiana or in Idaho?

In Indiana and in Idaho

Snug underground the great potatoes grow,

Puffed up with secret paranoias unguessed

By all the duped and starch-fed Middle West.”

I can see why I liked that poem so much as a teenager – it’s rather cynical and mean-spirited. I don’t admire cynicism any more, and especially not in springtime.

Signs of spring abounding

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Someone knows why so many spring flowers come in shades of yellow, but that someone is not me.

But look! Aren’t they wonderful?

The first three examples of spring are blooming in the community garden where we have a veggie plot (four varieties of early potatoes planted last Saturday, and broad beans planted last year with a few extra seeds added in the inevitable spaces two weeks ago).

The last one is in the garden of a block of flats in Primrose Hill Road.

I have no idea of the name of any of them, but that doesn’t stop me loving each and every bloom. Experiencing the first confident signs of spring, I think, is a good way to be happy.

One fine road trip

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

We’ve just been on a terrific road trip into central Florida from Key West. I do love a road trip in any circumstances and this was as good as they get: easy driving on quiet backroads, good weather (OK, it was a bit nippy to start with, but it warmed up later and I stopped thinking wistfully about the snuggly cardigan I’d left behind) and lovely people and places to meet along the way.

One of the games we played in the car was a comparison between Good Things in the UK and those in the USA, but the latter came to mind so thick and fast that we stopped making the comparison and just enjoyed the ones we were experiencing. (Some examples. Clean loos absolutely everywhere, even in places that in other countries you might think twice about visiting. State parks in abundance, and all with excellent facilities like picnic tables and no litter, plus genuinely helpful signs & leaflets, and volunteer staff filled with enthusiasm. Food in little cafés and restaurants along the road delicious and cheap. And in supermarkets, if a piece of wrapped fruit – papaya, say, or pineapple – says “ripe and ready to eat” you know what? It absolutely is.)

One of the first things to catch my eye was this plantation of palms, spaced with such formidable regularity as though the UK’s Forestry Commission had been at work.

I was also amused by this pedestrian push-button instruction: a street called Shade is rather sweet, especially in a town (Sarasota) where there are many streets with names like Shade or Shady, and I also like the one called Ringling. (The circus of the same name used to have its winter quarters here, and there’s an enormous complex of museums and galleries bequeathed to the city by the astonishingly rich John and Mable – yes, Mable, spelled that way against expectation – Ringling.)

The main destination of this trip was to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic homestead at Cross Creek.(It’s a State Park! With great facilities!) She’s a writer I’ve admired for years, and yes you have heard of her – her Pulitzer Prize winning novel was “The Yearling” – and the visit was a big treat for me. The house is lovely, and now restored to look largely as she left it, but her orange groves were neglected and have now returned to a tangle of dense hammock growth. Still, the State Park people have planted a few token orange trees in her yard: here’s one of them.

And two road trip signs that are worth recording:

A sign in front of an ankle and foot injuries clinic that said: “Walk-in appointments available”.

And a piece of graffiti:

“Save the Earth. It’s the only planet with chocolate.”

The last bean

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

I posted a picture of the first bean of summer on 11th July, and now –just over fourteen weeks later and with nostalgic regret – I’m posting a photo of the last of the crop.

We’ve had a terrific bean season this year. The weather’s been just right to bring them on, and a kind fellow-gardener encouraged them along further when we were away in Italy. We’ve done very well. But now the days are suddenly growing cold and so the vines won’t produce any more new ones. I don’t believe that any of the tiny beans left will grow or ripen any further. It’s over, folks, until next year.

I don’t know what made this last bean grow in a corkscrew, but it was hanging quite close to the ground so maybe it was fear of the rampaging corn-eating squirrel.

It takes only one squirrel

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

While we were in Italy one bold squirrel ate all our sweetcorn. Every single cob on every single plant. Our friends at the gardens tried to tuck the net we’d left more firmly around the plants, but the squirrel just laughed as it pushed the net aside and grabbed another mouthful. Pawful. Whatever. We’d probably need a metal cage to protect the plants while they grow, rather than the right-on, ecologically-viable, recycled fabric net we were using.

The squirrel in question has been identified – it’s large (well it would be, wouldn’t it, after all that extra nourishment) with a particularly furry tail (ditto). And it is, it seems, not to be denied. Other gardeners have also had trouble with it – more sweetcorn devastation (obviously it’s developed a taste for that) and even, oh horrors, fresh pumpkin.

We’ll have to revise our planting plans if we’re going to be away in September again, I am absolutely not going to plant and nurture veggies just to feed the wildlife.

Does anyone know of a surefire, humane squirrel deterent?

No? I thought not.

Hurrah! New intro pics!

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Thanks, Greg, for updating these: I expect Jon’s not the only reader who will be so, so glad that spider pic has gone.

I’ll talk about all the new photos in time but I’m starting with this one because its subject reflects late summer so prettily. The other week one of my favourite columnists, the food writer Nigel Slater, said he could smell the edge of autumn in the air – and I was frankly horrified. It’s still summer, for pity’s sake! What’s more, it’s one of the best summers we’ve had in London for years! How could he mention autumn? What foolhardy coat-trailing is that?

But I have to admit that because August is officially late summer a few signs of autumn are already on the scene, breeze, whatever.  I’ve certainly noticed that spiders (sorry, Jon) have started web construction outside our bedroom window, which is an autumnal event. The fruit flies that plagued us in the kitchen during July have all vanished. The salad greens in our garden have gone to seed. I even found myself looking out a cardigan on a recent, oddly chilly, morning. So OK, Nigel, I’m not embracing signs of autumn, but I accept they exist.

These glorious flowers belong to one of our plot neighbours at the community gardens where we grow veggies. I’ve been photographing their flowers for some months now, and I think this recent one reflects an undeniably late summer display of colour. (It also displays just how good the camera in my iPhone is – amazingly so, much better than my old, regular camera.)

So: enjoy the last of the golden weather is what I recommend (with a nod to Bruce Mason’s classic play, “The End of the Golden Weather”).  Enjoy! Enjoy! I’m off to Italy next week in search of sun-ripened figs, but that’s another photo.