Friday, September 30, 2011

Five Books ( Whatever Happened to the Gardening? )

After a dry winter and an early spring advent, we've now got a lashing of winter, with a deluge of late rain and a blast of chilling weather. I have, against the odds, repaired the water-tank - the summer standby - so all the water that was gushing off its top due to a blocked filter is now falling loudly into the tank, and not onto the sodden ground around it.
With oodles to do, I'm found to be inside, my attention absorbed by books, feeding this savage gardener's ambition. If I could get outside for long enough to work up a deep breath, I would. Chairs do get comfortable, don't they? Today, I bought these second-hand books:
First, 'The Observers Book of Trees', compiled by W J Stokoe, first published 1937; this edition, 1963:
Secondly and thirdly, Lord Berners', 'First Childhood' and 'A Distant Prospect', published by Turtle Point Press and Helen Marx Books, 1998:
Fourthly, Russell Page's 'The Education of a Gardener', first published 1962 by William Collins Sons and Co; this edition 1994, The Harvill Press, which I can't wait to read:
Fifthly,  Albert Lamorisse's 'The Wild White Stallion', first edition, 1954, Putnam, which, despite its dodgy ending, takes me back to dreams of childhood ( remember 'The Red Balloon'? ) and the hope of getting a horse one day:
That's me. Gardening's no longer a labour of extreme love, but simply something I do. My horse takes me off across the neverending shores of infinity...( with grateful thanks to publishers, authors and illustrators concerned )...into a garden undying...

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I used to hate cacti - monotonous, miserable, malignant things, I thought, best abandoned to vultures and gun-gripping cowboys. I hoped a savage, whistling wind would  blow them off the planet - to Mars, if necessary.
How very fickle I am. For some time now, seeing cacti as survivors, in a landscape where we're often enough stricken by drought, my way of seeing has altered.
I find them not only strikingly sculptural, but also, with their slow-evolving persistence and quirky formations, a genus to admire. I feel protective towards them, having a better sense of their vulnerability and courage.
And I can turn my back on them, completely forgetting all about them, and they'll make whoopee in my absence. How very congenial. 
Most of mine are in pots, as seen here, but a number - usually rescued from a one-way trip to the graveyard or a callous neighbour - are scattered about in the garden, giving an air of permanence and stark dignity.

On days when I'd sooner draw a curtain on the bigger picture, having a miniature garden of quietly-achieving plants that so much look after themselves is a bit like sitting quietly myself, letting the lusher world sweep vulgarly where it will, without me, into its own oblivion.
P.S. Not all specimens above are cacti, in the strict sense of the word.
P.P.S. Not all strictness is sensible.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Prospect of Wales

I'd heard of neither the artist Kenneth Rowntree nor Penguin's 'King Penguins' series of 76 titles until I found 'A Prospect of Wales' the other day.
A beautiful work of exceptional quality, the copy I have and its watercolour plates are in such excellent condition, I can't believe it was published, as Number 43 in the series, in 1948.
Much can be found out about Kenneth Rowntree over the internet, including an excellent 1997 obituary in 'The Independent'.
An artist with an acutely harmonious sense of colour, Kenneth Rowntree was born into a Quaker family in 1915, was a conscientious objector commissioned to work on the 'Recording Britain' project during WW2, and from 1959 to 1980, was Professor of Fine Art at Newcastle University. With grateful acknowledgement to Penguin Books and to the estate of Kenneth Rowntree, below are some further images from the book: 

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Child of the Book

It may not, but may be known, that I work - apparently - as a bookseller. When I'm not pretending to be some sort of gardener...with little aptitude for reality, such as it is known, I live my life, usually, in books. Their spaces, like those of music, or painting or sculpture, give me the chance to wrestle with a world I am too astonished by to compete with..
Today I bought this book, 'Stones of a Century', by Michael Sharland, published in Hobart by Oldham, Beddome and Meredith Pty Ltd, 1952. An account of Tasmanian architecture and the landscape that engendered it. I am already living there... 

I've run away from the walls of the world, so determined they are. These walls around us, we who are supposed to be advanced, who do not even know our fingertips. We who supposedly control the world, know nothing. We are dumber than savages. We are savagery itself, insisting on our sovereignty, yet blind to all the world around us...
Could it be that the world will go backwards, and find there in its going backwards, its way forwards, or will it insist on its going forwards, and there find its true backwardness?
Such heroes, we, the human race are. Yet we destroy everything in our way. The past is nothing to us, being as it is, another commodity, ready to be spurned. We spurn ourselves, and belittle all that is not commodifiable. If monetary value is the standard by which we judge true value, we have lost our humanity.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Up Close/Close Up

Tonight my friend Ian took me to the Melbourne Recital Centre to hear the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play Sir Michael Tippett's Concerto for Double String Orchestra, Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending and that most wonderful Modernist poem by Edith Sitwell, put to music by William Walton, Facade. Sir Andrew Davis conducted and narrated, Wilma Smith played violin and Yvonne Kenny narrated. I have never enjoyed a classical recital so much, hearing in the music, the dawn of the new age, with all its attendant tension, excitement, woes and playfulness.
But before I went I took these little close-ups, hoping to show you the end of our winter here and the start of our spring, with all its lightened wakening.

It feels like we are ascending, or moving about in the air anyway. Here's to poetry, larks, the gift of wings and new life.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The blurred past is yet real

My grandparents, whom I loved very much, at their wedding. You can see my grandfather's sense of occasion ( he who had fought in WWI, bravely, and at considerable threat to his life ), and my grandmother, who alone understood the very first words I spoke, so joyous. Adelaide, 1920s.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Here Zara's found something ineffably fascinating, but what on earth is it? Does it matter? 
When you love the life around you, the love grows. Love given does not diminish, but increases, and so the world can turn on its axis more peacefully, more assuredly.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Well, heck...

I hate to say it, because blogging means so much to me, but my computer has been giving me enormous trouble lately, and it's a miracle it's come on enough now, that I can write at all...I really appreciate being connected to everybody, but I've not been able to post anything or comment or do anything else, because my computer's been sort of dead, so please don't think I've forgotten anyone, I'm simply INCOMMUNICADO. If there's enough space, I'll post some photos of my doggy, as requested by Thomas...