Thursday, 3 July 2014


There was a huge, sprawling, lopsided purple hebe, six or eight feet high, in the centre of this picture. I had looked at it for years, thinking, it spoils the sea view, then thinking, Fuck the seaview, no shortage of them, on an island,  but there is a shortage of hedges and so I left it.  This year, however, most of it was dead, so I have sawn it back to a couple of feet, it may come back but in the meantime the view of the sound, out towards the ocean, is nice.  We had some old friends, staying,  both widowed gardeners from suburbia.  I handed one of them an AEG reciprocating saw, it's for construction timbers, really, but it's very good on trees and hedges.  Here y'are, this is what you need, secateurs aren't any good for this job;  she got right into it.  It's not tools you need, on this scale, it's machinery.

I don't know what's happened, maybe it's a matter of him having settled-in now but for a long time it was impossible to take a decent snap of Harris.

Now it's not.
He looks as though he belongs here, perhaps more a case that here belongs to him.  He's got everything he needs.

There has been unprecedented growth this year,  these whitebeam, knee-high when we came, seem to have put-on about thirty per cent,  the canopy is high yet the side branches race out, 
threatening to strangle one.

 The sycamore border, on the far side, here,  
also seems to be twice what it was

As does the fennel, here, above.
Last year, we planted a thousand daffodils in this far  bottom quarter of the bottom half of the garden and hoped that they'll proliferate as have all the other clumps;  there were  a few score in the whole place when we came,  there are now thousands upon thousands, Life, tumbling over itself.  After the new ones  had bloomed we allowed the meadow grasses to grow, the flowers are gorgeous and who knows what's alive in there, feeding and fed-upon.
We mowed a path through to identify the four quarters which are daffied-up.
Visitors have commented on the profusion of bees and butterlies, and the   birds are thicker than ever. The nearest trees and hedges are some miles away and you can bet your arse that they will have been  cultivated by incomers. Arboriculture is frowned upn by locals, some locals, gets in the way of the tractors,  there shouldn't be trees in this lane, whined one local delivery driver, rip Hell out of the lorry, they will, just shouldn't be here, trees.  I wanted to grab him by the throat and say to him Do you know what trees do,  you fucking imbecile?  And anyway, I've driven seven-ton lorries round Birmingham where there is solid brick or concrete  an inch on either side of your mirrors, you'd shit yourself.  Instead, I asked him to show me the damage which my hedges and wee trees had caused to his HGV.  There wasn't any but he still went off muttering.  I recounted this to a nurse and she told me a tale of a younger woman she had known, who, in her twenties, when her mother was going into  hospital, had to be moved to another house because she was frightened by the trees,  a handful of scrawny, wizened old thigs about six feet high.  She couldn't see through them or around them and it frightened her; if my oil deliveryman has that condition he shouldn't be driving.  
 The willow aren't so good, too much dead, dry wood, they are thick with weeds and I haven't been well enough to clear them out, I have a big fuck-off petrol strimmer-brushcutter but not the strength in my neck and shoulders to pull the wretched starter cord.   I hate those fucking things, neuro-surgery due in ten days, hope that works.
These sycamore don't normally top the wall.

 Despite the odd growing season, I think these firs have to go, although mrs ishmael resists the removal of anything, dead or alive,  there's growth at the top, she protests.
I shouldn't grumble, ongoing plastic surgery on my foot and the need top keep off it,  have, for a year,  now, seen me in a wheel chair, a really clever knee-scooter or, while in the garden, on the big Honda mower; mrs ishmael, it is, who has maintained things this past while. 
We eat the peashoots as salad, double-shell the broadbeans and freeze them; potatoes and herbs  I grow in tubs of compost, nobody can grow potatoes here that are not watery, insipid abominations.
 This entire bottom section, half an acre, when we came, was a ploughed field, filled with rubbish.

Difficult to recall, now, what a shitheap it was.

In the 'sixties the neighbouring farmer had owned the place briefly, ploughed-up the garden  and grew turnips for his cattle; this section  had been the walled kitchen garden for the clergymen who lived here with six servants and fertilised for centuries with seawood, horse, chicken and cattle manure, we add to it, today, as much as we can. 
After we had cleared the rubbish out - loads of barbed wire, glass and rusty corrugated iron - I brought the new farmer in, with his tractor.  He levelled the place and with a digger uprooted the random willow clumps and - after we had installed a seephose beneath - planted them in a more or less traight line, as a wind barrier and a border, 
he then seeded the whole place with a pasture mix, he did it in a day, charged me ninety quid and forty of that was for the seed.  It would have taken us years. 'Swhat I mean about machinery.
I built six massive compost bins, years ago,
 three here, three at the other end,

 and they have delivered very well;  we also buy lots of compost from Lidl, maybe fifty, a hundred bags a year, one way and another, sometimes we get horse manure and when I'm up to it I collect, must be tons by now of soil enricher - rough, woody  compost - from the local tip,where it's free.  All the white junkmail, all the Amazon cardboard goes in along with some of the grass cuttings - can't use them all - and all the kitchen waste and the sawdust from the workshop,  the fallen leaves, the rhubarb leaves.  Even so,  there's never enough.  I wish I could be like Monty Don and just seem to have absolutely unlimited supplies of fine, beautiful, home-produced compost. But I can't. No more than can he;  the PBC lying and misrepresenting, even in its horticultural outposts.

 In another couple of years these Pampas will screen the bottom  bins, even so, I'll have to remake them, only had twelve years from them.  Dunno what Monty'd say, perhaps have one of his theatrical  nervous breakdowns.

 The rhubarb,  this is about a third of it, we figure is ancient, we eat a bit of it,  give away loads of it and compost the trimmings, it has been heavily picked in this shot but it can look strikingly large and colourful, architectural, isn't that what they call it, the Montys?

Earlier in the year, I slashed this old willow back by about twice as much again as you see here but there's no stopping it, when it hits the wall the branches just do a ninety degree turn in another direction,  there are right-angled branches in there that must be forty years old.

I keep the comfrey - and a house full of scented geraniums - in memoryof my late brother.  Despite a life spent avoiding paid employment and a professor's knowledge of the Child Poverty Action Group's Welfare Benefits Handbook, Joe toiled hard in his allotment.  Forty years ago he was an organic grower, a student of Lawrence Hills and the Henry Doubleday methods.  In a terribly troubled and angry life, growing spuds and carrots brought him more comfort, I think, than anything else.  Even that wouldn't last though, wouldn't escape his self-destruction; he fiddled the allotment society's accounts, pocketing a few quid and was asked to leave.  He raved about comfrey as a green manure;  we just grow it;  the bees love it.
This was piously re-cycled, from a scaffold board and a telegraph pole. 
 I made the mistake of using a spirit level and not my eye, so it looks crooked, even though it's everything else that's out-of true.

I quite like this darkening arch and on the other sides of this avenue, what used to be bright, sunny, lawned enclosures, are now dark, spooky, woody places. They need a wolf or two, or a bear, a unicorn, maybe,  but you can't always get what you want.

 It's not for everyone, gardening, it requires time, space and stability and often we have none of these, much less a full house.  It came late to me and so haphazard are my efforts that some would say it has yet to arrive,  I prefer, in any event, to think of my doings as projects,  rather than as any innate or cultivated green-fingeredness, many of them are heavy duty work, clipping the hundred metre hedge in the lane, however,  that is a meditation.  I wish, I wish, I wish in vain that I had several more energetic decades to plant woods and see them grow woody.  If you are going to take it up,  this nurturing thing, don't leave it too long for, as we hymn here, occasionally, who knows where the time goes?


Rosevidney Rustic said...

Well done, the pair of you! Our garden is only just over an acre but it is a cruel taskmaster. People wishing to have a windbreak should be aware of Escallonia. Lovely for 20 years then it spreads untidily, becomes a haven for brambles and then dies after 25 years. I wish I'd never clapped eyes on it.

Woman on a Raft said...

What an encouraging and comforting report. Harris looks like a talking dog, capable of giving orders and guided tours.

I will get some comfrey in and anything else to support the bees. I am told I am over-reacting but I have seen very few this year.

N.B. Do not plant choisya, unless you are a car park or trying to disguise a public toilet. The things are tough as old boots, require little care, and will grow on the dust in tarmac. They are thus ideal for local authority use to disguise dustbin areas, but in a garden they are pushy, stinky, and have only mean little white flowers of no distinction.

callmeishmael said...

it is the hundred metre escallonia meditation hedge which I referred to , thank you, rr, for your kind words, it is eight feet high by three feet deep and as long as I keep it trimmed it is fine, I have others, unkempt, which behave as you say. It is extremely resistant to gale-borne salt blasting all winter from the shore, by spring it looks as though it has been treated with a flamethrower yet every year it restores itself, lush green with bright pink flowers. i must, however, think on this 25 year lifespan and start growing replacements. I will post a view of the hedge over the weekend, it ain't home counties topiary but it is magnificent.

Bungalow Bill said...

This is a lovely interlude thank you. Hope your pains may at least ease a bit in the not too distant. I love gardens but I'm a looker not a doer. I envy those who have the eye and craft.

Anonymous said...

Nice garden, beautiful views. I'd add a pond, can't beat one with a nice bench beside it. Our locsl council took over a stately garden with a huge and ancient pond, with massive goldfish, frogs, newts etc. Now it's black and lifeless, constantly raked to remove "green scum" or duckweed as most people call it. They even dug out the little stone island that the moorhens nested on.
My own pond, about six feet across, is teeming with invertebrates plus a bulrush and sticklebacks. Council shite; ten guys with leafblowers chasing
about in an excess of panic in case life might carry on for free instead of costing the ratepayer.
Hello to the doggy.

callmeishmael said...

I have related your words to Harris, mrs woar, and he seems pleased. He does try to talk, communicate, by means of growls and grrrrs and looks and is often successful. He likes people to be in the same room, on the same furniture and in the same positions as when he arrived and he badgers us with grrrrs and scratchings on the floor and pleadings until things are as he likes them, then he promptly goes to sleep on somone's thigh.

We over-wintered some honeysuckle in a conservatory and the bees came indoors, making a bee-line for it, and risking heatstroke, unable to find their way out; they like the chive flowers and the differing clover flowers, it may just have been a coincidence, a one-off, by the comfrey but they seemed to like it, it is easy to grow and you can make a liquid manure from it. Bugger over-reaction, the decline of the bees and butterfliesb is - or should be - terrifying, although there are probably a million Nigel Lawsons paid to say otherwise.

callmeishmael said...

I am surrounded by sea, mr richard, I know it's not the same as a pond but I don't feel the need for water in the garden. Further, I have tried them in other places and they've become like the council swamp you describe. I may yet decide on one, now that I am smart enough to operate a mini-JCB. I do like bullrushes.

Mr tdg likes the garden, mr bungalow bill, without, I believe, having one and I like him to see it, when he's around.. The doer and the looker, it's a moot one, that. I always thought myself the latter, until, one day, I found I was the former. A lot of it, like most things, is in the language; I would never call myself a gardener - or a writer - it's just something I do, helps me make a better job of being. You should try it, a window box, a bit of mustard and cress, even; plant some conkers in a flowerpot, it's alright, Ma, it's life and life only. Who knows, you might, like me, wind up longing for a hundred acres and another lifetime.

I am glad you enjoyed the pictureshow.

Bungalow Bill said...

Ah, another lifetime.

callmeishmael said...

It's not a lot to ask, considering Eternity.

Anonymous said...

"The bench is level but the garden's bent."

Nicely done, Mr Zen.

I'd wish you luck with the sawbones but guess you'd settle for competence; may the Green Man grant you that, and more.



callmeishmael said...

Honest, mr verge and not invent; I had spirit levels on the uprights and across the seat. It's something I never do indoors because everything in the world is crooked, untrue to itself, haveta trust your eye, but I thought: outside, every bastard and his mrs'll see this, better make sure it's straight. And it is fucking straight and level and the legs are perpendicular, I make furniture, I understand squareness but the garden floor, it IS fucking bent.

Thanks, it's two different operations by two different surgeons under the same anaesthetic. Couldn't make it up, not even here.

banned said...

I would be jealous of you Mr Ishmael but I prefer it down here in Devon.

mongoose said...

But then, Mr I, imagine being a poor, rectilinear, immigrant engineer in a house bent in all three directions but plainly and visibly so. Why, you'd never nail put stick to another. I make it all square to the imaginary axes that that Greek bloke left to me.

BTW Your garden makes me tired just looking at the pictures.

callmeishmael said...

I like Devon, thecSouth coast, like the West country, holidayed there a lot, like the moors, love Cornwall, Helston and Porthleven, I miss Hereford and Worcester and Wales, the Marches, Shropshire, but gradually I became drawn to the North, never felt that I belonged anywhere, really, but this, mr banned, is the best yet, not because of what's here but because of what's not.

callmeishmael said...

No need to tell me, mr mongoose, I have over two hundred years of slippage and distortion to work in, over three floors. Not as old as yours, perhaps but problematic. Last year, I laid a new floor on top an unsandable old one, new skirting boards, panelling and mouldings. I thought I'd have a brainbleed, working out the angles. And I don't know any Greeks.

In real life, the garden is like a slo-mo, green vortex, very soothing, entrancing, I can look at it for hours.

callmeishmael said...

Or maybe it's looking at me.

Mike said...

Lovely garden - really its nature, not a garden - Mr I, and Mr Harris is looking fine as well.

Down here, the flaura, fauna and wildlife is a little more treatening - just playing golf your life is at risk.

Alphons said...

I admire your effort and the results enormously mr ishmael. I do feel, however that your forebodings about the future are well founded.
We moved from the Yorkshire dales into the Yorkshire flat land thirteen years ago, purely because we were tired of the rain,
We bought a bungalow that had been built in the orchard of a semi disused farm. We then spent ten years creating a garden out of the wilderness before realising that we were too old to maintain it and so we had to move again into a nearby village.
May you live long enough to enjoy your efforts and may you be called before you loose the ability to maintain it.

the noblest prospect said...

An Orcadian Pastoral. Splendid, Mr Smith.

inmate said...

'Tis a truly beautiful place.
"May you live long enough to enjoy your efforts and may you be called before you loose the ability to maintain it." Maybe hire a Polish Gardener till your back fighting fit.

Much better on the eye than my corner of the world, a once gritty, northern mill town, now disassembled and resurrected in the image of Kabul or the outskirts of Istanbul.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Escallonia...I planted a hedge some time ago, and have had alleged gardening cunts knock on my door offering to trim my hedge....

"What type of hedge is it?", I ask.


"Fuck off".

The old common name for it was Dutch Broom, little red flowers, evergreen etc...

mongoose said...

Older perhaps, Mr I, but not pegged out next to the North Atlantic.

The mad workshop/shed/platform in the garden incorporated the willow tree growing through the middle of it, and quite well for a decade or so but the tree broke in two in the gales before Christmas. The remainder snapped back upright and now said platform is two inches higher to one side and is somewhat to the right of where it once was. You need eyes in the back of your head in this lark.

callmeishmael said...

My old friend, not only a beneficiary of the Rewards of Obedience, suffered from the teeth-sucking pragmatism which afflicts the impractical, he visited often, bless him, and often the burden of his song would be You Gotta make this garden low maintainance, gravel, that's the thing, none of us getting any younger. But, I mused, maintaining this maintains me, nurturing this nurtures me. He is dead these four years. I try, therefore, mr alphons, not to heed forebodings, my own or anyone else's, and intend to crop 'til I drop.

Dutch Broom, so much easier to say and write, so shall it be, mr rwg.

It is a metre thick, mr mongoose, this place, yet will surely tumble one day, as will they all.Yours is oaken, jsn't it? Good for a thousand years of mongeese.

callmeishmael said...

A micro-pastoral, mr tnp, contained and private. Herr Ludwig would be unimpressed. But it has moments.

Agatha said...

So much green, Mr.Ishmael. So much green. In the green time, memories of the sere, withered, winter stark and February fill-dyke fade away.
I was struck by your turn of phrase, Mr. Inmate - I know exactly what you mean; I was born in Bradford and brought up in Halifax, and the buildings were Victorian-magnificent, although they - and the sparrows - were black. It was only when I went to University South that I realised that sparrows are brown birds. Ours were a local adaptation, protective camouflage against the soot-black buildings. Anyroadup, I never went back to Bradford until some 30 years later, and was puzzled to find all so much changed. I looked in vain for the market halls praised by John Betjeman, where I used to buy fabric for school dressmaking classes and where Morrisons started with their first stall and where I'd eat pie and peas with Tizer at Pie Tom's. All gone now. Maybe replaced by great new things - the Victorian Law Courts, where I had my first job, were washed to a creamy beauty - no more soot - but I was looking for a place that exists only in my memory, so was disappointed. My dear husband found a great website the other day - It has photographs of 7000 towns and villages taken between 1860 and 1970. There's a great sense of affirmation in seeing the memories as images - yes, it was like that, honest, but it used to be in colour.

inmate said...

Thank you for the link Mrs Agatha, yes your side of the 'big hill' the mills would be more solid, more substantial, made of Stone. This side was all Accrington Brick, the mills and row after row of terraced houses with real communities hunkered down in them, generation after generation.Until that is Maggie removed restrictions and the mill Owners upped sticks to exploit some poor sods in Romania or Bangladesh.
I too remember the sparrows and starlings dressed in black, alas they are no more in these parts, pests apparently.
Of course it's more colourful now, culturally we are told, but that's the price of progress and the relentless march of ruin.

yardarm said...

Yours is a different order of beauty, Mr Ishmael to which Mr Banned and I enjoy here in , tonight, verdant and dripping Devon. The Atlantic wells the tide up only a few hundred yards from Yardarm Towers but here its tamed by an estuary; there you live cheek to jowl with a very different beast. I remember you posting while back on the storms you have weathered.

Not always so verdant. As I head to work, get to Crediton and the soil turns red and I`m passing through what used to be a desert before the rise of the dinosaurs.

And Mr Harris is looking fine.

tdg said...

I do like the garden; I will always live in inorganic jungles whose elements change only from stillbirth to death, for that is where my quarry is to be hunted. But I wish it were otherwise.

Perhaps it is that distorted perspective that makes me see in your garden something of the shores of lake Nemi.

callmeishmael said...

It is a commaning site, this, mr tdg, of some ecclesiatical and Nordic antiquity, there are certainly wrecks ancient and modern, bobbing ghosts, martial and placid off my shore and I wouldn't be surprised were there treasure in my soil, wherein it can remain. Such grandeur as haunts these acres does not, however, compare with ancient Rome. The grounds and gardens are all the things they tell to me but it is good to learn of how they speak to others.

calmeishmael said...

I remember Crediton, Tiverton, Exeter, lovely country; when I was a kid, Devon and Cornwall were cheap and the destination of what we would now call Quality-of-Lifers, fleeing mr tdg's inorganic jungles; North Wales, too, attracted large numbers of Brummies.

Now, where I live is the lunatic fringe, virtually penniless people arrving, hoping to restore a croft, drive a Land Rover, keep a few goats and learn to play the fiddle; electronic nomads, skypeing and twittering their disappointments, ailing goats and rusty LandRovers make a costly and unpalatable cocktail.

It takes resources. physical and emotional, to move here and so many who have neither, now, due to property prices in your world, mr yardarm. fetch up here, where properties are cheap but everything else is costly.

Living in a leaky caravan, whilst trying to rebuild a pile of old stones in a force ten gale is a fool's game, there oughta be a law against it.

tdg said...

I do not know what to make of the desire for isolation. Hell may well be other people, but so is heaven. Lawrence is hard to counter in his commentary on it, in "the man who loved islands". And digital company, for all the advantages of its infinite liquidity, is far from the real thing.

callmeishmael said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
call me ishmael said...

I feel for those fleeing the various Islamic upheavals, their lives in ruins, the order they knew shattered for I am a cityboy, not a metropolitan, just from the second and third and fourth cities but now I am exile.

I used to love the city's culture, its plenty and its edge; its markets and opportunities, its bustle and speed; the city is civilisation, who could not like it? Came a time, though, the time of what some call the selfish, whining monkeys, a time of greed and self-absorption, coarseness and stupidity. 'Twas ever thus, ruffians, footpads, whores and cutpurses, rubbing along in symbiosis with jurists and merchants, clerks and haberdashers; nobility, guilds and peasants; artists and dreamers; I loved the city's neon midnights, the jubilation of fear confronted; in the darkest of nights I would walk the mean steets of Anywhere,

Whatever it was that happened, what I abbreviate as Ruin, I just grew weary of it, weary of its corosion, weary to my bones I feared I would, outraged, start punching people's faces off and so we came here, not islanders, refugees.

As for digital company, I think it's too soon to know, too late to stop. What are we to each other but agreeable, trusted fixtures, which we can take or leave; everybody here is here for what they bring, grins of assent or frowns of discord, it doesn' matter, there is an undercurrent of fellowship.

I have ordered that Lawrence work, mr tdg, to see what it brings.

Anonymous said...

Your gardens are magnificent Mr I. Clearly you, and indeed Mrs I, are as formidable as gardeners as you are as a blogger. I have not made it as far as the Northern Isles having only got as far as the Uists which are bleak and barren but also beautiful in their own way. I imagine Orkney to be somewhat similar and, if so, your gardens quite an achievement even with the considerable, and necessary, means you appear to have at your disposal. I wish you all the best with the impending surgery and look forward to your return to the fray. Good to see that you have Harris out on patrol too! SG

call me ishmael said...

Thank you, mr sg. Don't know about considerable means, it's just choices, some buy a season ticket to watch the Villa, take regular foreign holidays, we buy tools. And sewing machines.

You should visit, people travel to Egypt to see stuff that's newer than what's here.

Anonymous said...

Well, many things are relative I suppose. However, it looks like you made some good choices Mr I. The difference between investment and consumption perhaps. Travel is generally good, in my experience, but football greatly overpriced. Also, if I read you correctly, you are right about these islands - they are loaded with treasure much of which is seen by few. SG

call me ishmael said...

There is something cavalier, also, mr sg, something romantic, in burying good money in the ground, be it in the form of plants, trees or flowers; I keep saying I'm gonna stop doing it, it's fucking crazyman stuff, easier just to burn it in the fire, save all the backache, but there it is, we do what we do, and then repent.

Making good choices makes me sound like a grown-up, something I'd rather leave to proper grown-ups. I'll admit to an element of bloody-mindedness, an Otherness, but grown-up, people shouldn't call me names like that.

It is an unusual place, here, strange and soporific, not visibly touched by the hand of man, a skyline unchanged since the Ice Age, 12,000 years back. I will try to write about it, one of these days.

Harris killed a hedgehog, the noo, he's in the doghouse.