Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy Beginnings and Happy Endings

I've been trying to post this image since the 18th of December when my computer fainted. Things are still dodgy in the I.T. Department.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Taking Time at Inverewe

Scotland has always been compelling to me. The other day I found 'Oasis of the North,' by Dawn MacLeod ( Hutchinson, London, 1958 ), which made me stop and go back to a pace slower than I have to go at now.

The author left a career as a successful Civil Servant in London to follow her heart, take a plunge and accept an offer by her adopted aunt, Mairi Sawyer, to help at Inverewe, the famous 50-acre garden established by her father, Osgood MacKenzie.
The writing is self-effacing, observant. Dawn MacLeod was a newcomer, and obviously prepared to pull up her sleeves. From page 66, I quote:
"I opened the gate and locked it again behind the car, and as we rounded a bend a little low house came into view - perched on a green bank with wooded braes at the back of it, and a stream rushing past a few feet from the front porch. Glimpses of rugged hill appeared at the top of the glen, and down to our left Loch Kernsary reflected the sky. Some blackface sheep nibbled peacefully along the grassy banks of the burn, and a field of oats stood up, tall but yet unripe, inside a high deer-fence."
I am enthralled, not only to enter a slower and more orderly age, with an authenticity and naturalness that have been vanishing, but to read a book whose pace is unstrained, from an open mind.
No-one writes like this any more.
Inverewe, begun in 1862, now belongs to the National Trust for Scotland, having been gifted to it by Mairi Sawyer in the 1950s. I'm pleased to read that it contains many plants from the southern hemisphere, including eucalypts.
I can well understand how someone would chuck in their day job to be there, without knowing, exactly how things would turn out. Dawn MacLeod showed particular courage and faith in her inner feeling.
With grateful thanks to Hutchinson, to the author, and to the artist, William McLaren.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


It's difficult, having any number of interests, to focus on one, on and on. Gardening to me is a mainstay, in that it keeps me sane - as much as it may be construed as a form of insanity.
I don't understand the current insistence we have to allocate ourselves a singular identity, without reference to the subtleties and unknowns we all have within us. Life is so much broader.
Gardening, you will have come to see, is only part of what I do. I dislike being stigmatised with any one identity.
I am not sure if I'm a poet - only because, to me, it's a blessing that can be conferred only after some significant achievement. I have not managed that, preferring to be unrecognised than to be known for what I'm not. Achievement itself is utterly useless unless it has really been of benefit beyond any immediate acclaim.


He sweeps the floor
with hands over-used.
Days later,
he opens the door,
expecting no-one there,

no-one bold enough
to tread with certainty -

and is unstunned
to see there nothing.

And so, without a plan,
but only footsteps resolute,
he leaves the floors
he's swept
and all their endlessness.

Whereon, on his way,
he meets another wandering,

who, wandering, had never given up,
but had nowhere else to go.

Faisal Grant, 10/12/2011.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Not gardening, writing


Even starting to speak
takes air enough
to displace a planet.

It's impossible to begin
to find a word
commensurate with your question.
If I could ban it -

There is, though, a leak
of words. It's tough
to stand here, hearing

my attempt, a sin
if ever I heard
one. I am not a bastion,
but a channel, unfearing.

Faisal Grant, 09/12/2011.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Were I to awaken in a world beyond this one, without reference to all I've known, I'd hope to be fearless.
It might be perceived as a flight into another, or a renewed, state...
amongst an assembly of other entities, my former self dissembled.
I would have vanished then into a landscape where my liminality would experience new qualities.
Alert to other imperatives, the "I" I'd then be would have a new commision, and new exercise.
Never homeless, forever belonging in a universe so vast I would never locate any boundaries...
witness to an everlasting truth, with an evolution unending.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Place and Seeing

Above is my favoutite picture in a newly-found book, 'Piper's Places - John Piper in England & Wales,' by Richard Ingrams and John Piper. It is 'Hartwell Church, Buckinghamshire 1939.' I love the white chalkiness coming out from shadow.
I hope there are others who know this artist who "has pursued so many different careers - not only as a painter but as stage designer, potter, designer of stained glass and tapestry..."  I want to find out much more.
It cost me next to nothing because its value wasn't recognised. It's in almost mint condition. More to the point, John Piper ( 13 December 1903 - 28 June 1992 ) had an exceptional sense of structure and colour, which my amateur, evening photos do little justice to.
Above is 'Littlestone-on-Sea, Romney Marsh, Kent 1936.' How many of us can compose so lucidly?
This, above, is the famous 'Stowe, Buckinghamshire, c.1975. The house from the south; the lake; the Temple of Concord.'  He makes it seem as if he didn't strain to produce his work, and yet something tells me considerable effort and talent went into it.
Dramatic, atmospheric, 'Byland Abbey, Yorkshire 1940' is one of many churches John Piper brought out into the light. 
Above is the abstracted 'Barrow on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, c. 1944.' 
It seems like a photo-montage, but it is not. This is 'Scotney: the "old castle,"' from the frontispiece ( no date). 

All images and quotations from the above book, Chatto and Windus, The Hogarth Press, 1983.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giardino di sculture

I don't have a Fiat or a Lamborghini. Heck, I don't even drive. 
That doesn't mean I haven't travelled to Italy using other vehicles.
Is it the flamboyance or the apparent order that makes sculpture so romantic?
There is not necessarily alot of either in sun-drenched Terra Australis Incognita ( 'Cognita'? ).
There are rocks and chains and shackles wherever you are.
An Italian garden may have its grandiose scale or its gaudy flower-pots. Nothing is different here, except time, which may be much older, if less recorded.
This section of a tree has antecedents stretching back far further than known history. The garden has a renaissance every day.
I like to have pieces around the garden that both disturb and complement it.
This is not an early Italian piece of engineering, but an Australian work-bench. 
You have to look out for artefacts: you can never be sure if they've come up out of a volcano or a factory.
Joyously, both Italy and Australia have landscapes and flora that promise renewal ( renascita ) . The sun is strong in both countries. It has highlighted a magnificent civilisation in one, and it has blazed over the raw subtlety of the other.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, Watching a Mouse, Scuttling Free...

Once, the kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree, with the sun shining on him and all he surveyed, spied a mouse way down below. His eyesight was excellent. Before the mouse could say, "Where am I?," Kookaburra was flying down to catch him. 
But the sun was shining brighter than other days, and even with his keen eyes,  Kookaburra didn't see a gum tree branch in front of him. Oh no! He flew straight into the branch and, instead of touching down beside Mouse, he fell into a clumsy heap!
Mouse was getting a better idea where he was by now, and squeaked to Kookaburra, "My friend, can you still fly?" 
Kookaburra was stunned...not only was his wing sore but, for the first time, a mouse had spoken to him. Usually he just swallowed them.
 "My friend," he said in reply, "I can't move my wing. It looks like I've broken it."  
Mouse was a brave mouse and he knew, when he saw the sun shining into his eyes that morning, that something special was going to happen. 
"Fear not," he gamely said to Kookaburra, "although I look like breakfast to you, I am in fact a fully qualified surgeon..." 
"Impossible," said Kookaburra, still somewhat concussed, and not yet ready to deal with baffling conversation, "you don't even look like you could drive an ambulance!"
Mouse took the insult in his stride, being a generally unflappable kind of mouse.
"If you let me fix your wing, Kookaburra," he ventured, "all I ask is for your protection, and that I may never be seen as breakfast again." 
"Deal done," Kookaburra hastily agreed ( his wing was getting rather sore by now ).
And so it was. Mouse fixed Kookaburra's wing so well he was able to fly again. In time, he forgot all about being compared to an ambulance driver. And Kookaburra? In all his subsequent days of flying, he was always watching out for Mouse, his true friend, who lived to be a very old, uneaten mouse. 
For James Golden.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pictures at an Exhibition

It was an unusually beautiful morning, the ground wet and cool, the sun shining. My neice is going overseas, and today my family had a lunch to launch her. On my way to my sister's inner-city warehouse space, I decided to stop and wander in the grounds of the Royal Exhibition Building and its surrounding Carlton Gardens. Above, the building's wonderful cupola.
"Completed in 1880 for Melbourne's first international exhibition", this impressively massive building was the first in Australia to achieve world heritage listing. Above, some of its very green and leafy grounds. 
Adjacent to the Central Business District, these broad, orderly and geometrically-alligned gardens have a typically Victorian sense of scale.
Nonetheless, a new branch of the Melbourne Museum has been constructed in its grounds. Above, see part of its wonderfully eye-catching, out of kilter annexe, seeming to sink, as it does, into the ground.
Designed by the multi-award-winning Denton Corker Marshall, like many 21st century buildings, it is striking, and relies for its impact on the conservative or natural background in which it resides.  
Much of the planting around the original building is in the traditional Victorian 'bedding out' style. I'm not normally fond of it, but I tip-toed my way through, and understand how easily such a format or approach lends the viewer a sense of propriety, a sense of surveyance.
There are several fountains on site, including this, above, 'The Exhibition Fountain', designed by Josef Hochgurtel in 1880.
Papyrus, of course, were a Victorian favourite...and water, so rewarding.
The scale is monumental, but Melbourne then was the richest city in the world.
The image above gives you a sense of scale.
It was through these doors that I went for  my final school examinations...impending doom or great promise?
Fortunately, and despite the very Englishness of it all, a number of magnificent native Eucalypts thrive, more ancient than the theatre imposed around them.
See our strong light and the clarity of our blue, blue skies.
One of many fine views, above, on the corner of Rathdowne and Pelham Streets, is this, the Corpus Christi College.
And here, above, the resident gardener's cottage, on the corner of Rathdowne and Carlton Streets. Melbourne's history, however knocked about or dismantled it may have been, is its linchpin.
We do not though, stop, it seems, here, in the Southern Hemisphere. See another section of the new Melbourne Museum, above, bold and brave, with its delectably crooked windows..
My favourite human intervention is this, this statue commemorating the reign if Queen Victoria, with its pair of blonde kangaroos.
Beneath the pair, above, this wonderful plaque of an emu, an exception, surely,  to Victorian discipline, yet a prime example of all the Victorians sought to discover.
The day has been so glorious. I was lucky to have had plenty of time to wander through the gardens, and to make my way to my sister's. 
Her home has this unconventional rooftop sitting space, with views across to all sorts of semi-industrial, reclaimed architecture, bits of roof, stretches of sky.
Here she is, Belinda, on the left, having given us a wonderful lunch of all sorts, with kipfler potatoes and shallots, chicken, broad-beans with leeks, pizza, a most glamorous profiterole thing, and Brillat Savarin and blue Saint Agur cheeses, with an amazing hand-made Limoncello from Adelaide, among other things. My gorgeous neice, Georgia, is in the middle, and my lovely mother is on the right. My brother-in-law, Steve, was off on the side, keeping us entertained.
And that's not all. Here, above, is my gentleman nephew, Lachlan, a most charming and good-natured man.
Good, eh? How often do you get to have a day to explore an inspirational garden and connect with family, and be treated with kid gloves?