Beth Chatto Gardens, Essex.

Beth Chatto was an award-winning plantswoman, author and lecturer. Her work at the Gardens began in 1960. She took an overgrown wasteland of brambles, parched gravel and boggy ditches of the disused fruit farm belonging to her husband, botanist Andrew Chatto. She used plants adapted by nature to thrive in different conditions: right plant, right place. An inspirational, informal garden has developed.

The gardens are now  a family business, run by her granddaughter Julia Boulton.The online nursery is open all year around. The gardens and are open to the public seasonally. They cover around 7 acres (2.8 ha) and include a visitor information centre, tearoom, giftshop and plant nursery.

Chatto lived in the white house that remains overlooking the Water Garden. She was often seen about the gardens up until her death in May 2018 at the age of 94.


Midsummer beauty.

On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry,  
the boys making up games requiring them to tear off  the girls’ clothes  
and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer
and they wanted to exhibit them, the brave ones  
leaping off  the high rocks — bodies crowding the water.

The nights were humid, still. The stone was cool and wet,
marble for  graveyards, for buildings that we never saw,  
buildings in cities far away.

On cloudy nights, you were blind. Those nights the rocks were dangerous,  
but in another way it was all dangerous, that was what we were after.  
The summer started. Then the boys and girls began to pair off  
but always there were a few left at the end — sometimes they’d keep watch,
sometimes they’d pretend to go off  with each other like the rest,
but what could they do there, in the woods? No one wanted to be them.  
But they’d show up anyway, as though some night their luck would change,  
fate would be a different fate.

At the beginning and at the end, though, we were all together.
After the evening chores, after the smaller children were in bed,  
then we were free. Nobody said anything, but we knew the nights we’d meet  
and the nights we wouldn’t. Once or twice, at the end of summer,  
we could see a baby was going to come out of all that kissing.

And for those two, it was terrible, as terrible as being alone.  
The game was over. We’d sit on the rocks smoking cigarettes,  
worrying about the ones who weren’t there.

And then finally walk home through the fields,  
because there was always work the next day.  
And the next day, we were kids again, sitting on the front steps in the morning,  
eating a peach.  Just that, but it seemed an honor to have a mouth.  
And then going to work, which meant helping out in the fields.  
One boy worked for an old lady, building shelves.  
The house was very old, maybe built when the mountain was built.

And then the day faded. We were dreaming, waiting for night.  
Standing at the front door at twilight, watching the shadows lengthen.  
And a voice in the kitchen was always complaining about the heat,
wanting the heat to break.

Then the heat broke, the night was clear.  
And you thought of  the boy or girl you’d be meeting later.  
And you thought of  walking into the woods and lying down,  
practicing all those things you were learning in the water.  
And though sometimes you couldn’t see the person you were with,
there was no substitute for that person.

The summer night glowed; in the field, fireflies were glinting.
And for those who understood such things, the stars were sending messages:  
You will leave the village where you were born  
and in another country you’ll become very rich, very powerful,
but always you will mourn something you left behind, even though  
you can’t say what it was,
and eventually you will return to seek it.

– Midsummer, by Louise Gluck

All I ever wanted was a life in your shape

First coffee of the day, a patch of sun coming through the window, a lazy cat stretching its limbs within hand’s reach for the occasional petting, the early morning mist lifting as the radio plays toccata and fugue in d minor once again. The cheap flooring is peeling off. My brand new socks look terrible after just one wear. I think of the toasted bagel I will have later – with the next cup of instant coffee that tastes of routine and it ain’t bad. It’s thursday, there’s nothing special at all going on but I am happy and right this moment I feel privileged.

what is bad now, is bad now only.
what is good now, is good always.

The White Pulse of May.

The very end of spring is green and white. Country lanes are illuminated with cow parsley, a delicate foam of tiny petals in a sea of pale green. Every year, this is what tells me summer is near. A certain kind of sadness for the dying spring, a certain kind of hope for drier days (warm and light don’t tempt me), a certain kind of longing for the autumn that will follow. Fields of cow parsley are ticking clocks of the seasons and life; fresh young flowers blossoming and dancing on the wind now, but just like everything else soon they’ll wither and die. 

“Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass,—
The finger-points look through like rosy blooms:
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
‘Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,
Are golden kingcup fields with silver edge
Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge.
‘Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.

Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky:—
So this wing’d hour is dropt to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower,
This close-companioned inarticulate hour
When twofold silence was the song of love

– Dante Gabriel Rossetti

I’m outside looking in.

An open door says, “Come in.”
A shut door says, “Who are you?”
Shadows and ghosts go through shut doors.
If   a door is shut and you want it shut, why open it?
If   a door is open and you want it open, why shut it?
Doors forget but only doors know what it is
doors forget.

– Carl Sandburg

Bees in the trap.

Brazilian afternoon in South Wimbledon. The restaurant was more like a café; very informal and very small. Food was distinctively average but the chicken hearts were on point and the caipirinha heavy on cachaça, as it should be. Also great coffee, and my dessert (oddly went for chocolate cake) didn’t disappoint. Next time I’ll try pastel and the sausage with fried cassava.

We parked under a tree covered in tiny white flowers and loaded with bumblebees. I managed to control my panic enough to be able to get some photos and videos, but as I was getting back into the car I noticed several dead ones on the floor. Bumblebees tend to form couples for life and look after the grubs together. The idea of baby bees waiting in vain for their parents to come home made me incredibly sad.

Here is London, giddy London

So good to see the city coming back to life. And without the crowds that used to make it hellish. Tourists are needed and need to come back, of course – but for now, while no one is looking, I’ll say yes, it’s that little bit nicer not having to battle hoardes of people everywhere. I just hope it won’t last.

La saison des cerises

Had to prune the photinias before they swallowed up the house. Now I have a bright front room again, but on the other hand I can see outside and become aware of humans – oh well.

In better news, it’s cherry season. At least in the supermarket. Fresh, plump, shiny and sweet, that shade of blood red that would make a perfect nail polish. I ate some sitting in the garden and watching the wooden bench that I need to repaint, the deck that needs to be cleaned, the plants that need to be pruned, the slugs that need to be dealt with, the shed that needs to be finished and realize that I forgot how to relax. The cherries, however, were delicious. I threw the seeds in the garden, knowing they won’t grow.

The petunias are going wild and I wish I had bought more/planted in a bigger pot. They’re annuals and when the long flowering season ends they’ll only serve as fertilizer, but their ephemeral and brightly coloured existence will have fulfilled its mission.

And speaking of nails. Ouch. This is gonna hurt for a few (several) days (weeks) now.