“green bursts out on every herb; the top of the green oakwood is bushy. summer has come,”
Irish, 10th Century.
When you have a garden, you have no time to call your own. Flowers, fruit and vegetables are the most demanding of children. In exchange for their beauty, their perfume, their usefulness and their sustenance they have learnt only two words and they use them incessantly: “me, me, me” and “now, now, now”.
There are many textile artists who choose to be inspired by gardens but I am not one of them. I am happy however to use my garden in the same way as I start a piece of stitchery off on fabric. I get an idea which develops and grows almost of its own accord. Mine is just the hand that happens to hold the needle and thread in textile art and in the garden mine is the hand that happens to wield the trowel and spade. In both cases, before you know it, the idea starts to look like it had planning behind it.
Whilst I’ve been preparing for the exhibition on 30th & 31st July at Bryngarw Country Park I’ve also been working on the garden, developing a small area to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Although these may seem like wildly divergent subjects, there has been a common thread running through them – the concept of San Fairy Ann. My late and lovely Aunty Phyl used to dismiss all the awkward happenings which came her way in life with a casual toss of her hand and a good-humoured “Oh, well. San Fairy Ann.”
Only recently when I was doing a bit of research on the First World War did I realise that Aunty Phyl had probably inherited the phrase from her Uncle Sid who had been a sapper at the Battle of the Somme. “San Fairy Ann” is generally accepted to be an Anglicisation of “Ca ne faire rien” which means something like “nothing really matters” . I can have no concept of how people like great Uncle Sid coped with the reality of the horrors of war and the imminent and random nature of a brutal death but it may be that accepting that life itself is imminent and random so that nothing really matters was the only way to face each day.
In developing the work for the exhibition ‘A Habitation of Dragons’, I’ve been thinking long and hard about dragons. The last official sighting of a dragon in this country was in 1743 which is not that long ago. It’s easy to think that the things which happen in our lifetimes are of earth-shattering significance and, on a personal level, they may well be but we are such short-lived creatures. To a dragon, to whom time is an illusion that holds mankind in its thrall, the traumas of history would ebb and flow in the same way as the moon waxes and wanes, the tides ebb and flow. One of the hangings I’ve created for the exhibition is of an old, wise dragon called Col whose expression probably reflects the same realisation that “nothing really matters” .
I recently read an interesting article about a woman who lost her son when he was just a young man. She asked the journalist who was writing the obituary to keep her son’s death in perspective because it had taken him just a few minutes to die but before that he had lived for 27 years. When I was planning the garden to mark the centenary of the Somme, I thought about that a lot. We look back on the horrors of the First World War, at those gaunt and traumatised faces staring out from grainy black & white films and it’s easy to forget that they, too, had gardens to dig, seeds to plant, weeds to pull. There would have been a Jack Russell to walk, a cat to stroke, a book to read, a football to kick around the park with a couple of mates. We have focussed on their end, not their beginning or middle. Focussing on their end may be right but it should not be exclusive.
So I called my garden the “San Fairy Ann” garden and I set about building as a celebration of all of their lives and their hope that nothing really matters. As with so much in my garden, I don’t know the Latin names of plants and quite often, not even the English names of plants. I know their colours, if I like them, if the bees like them and if they come back year after year or are one summer wonders.
I foraged some 100 year old bricks from the reject pile in the old brickworks near our house and I edged my little curling path that winds in and out of the dappled shade so there’s a sense of motion but you don’t actually get anywhere. One of the roses is called ‘Absent Friends’ and many of the plants have been given to us to plant by our present friends. There are happy plants and there are poignant plants growing side by side. There are seashells and windchimes and little solar powered lights and everywhere there’s a sense of things weaving in and out. To them, there probably seems no order to anything. To me, when I was planting the garden and laying the paths, there seemed no order to anything but now that summer’s here, it has all come right.
Bydd croeso i bawb i ddod i ymweld ag ein gardd ni ym Mis Medi. Ewch at y cadwyn isod am ragor o fanylion. Byddaf i’n hapus i siarad yn y Gymraeg ar y dydd pe hoffech.
And that has made me realise that maybe great Uncle Sid and his compatriots may have understood the lyrics of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in a deeper way:
“Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really mattered at all”.
Incidentally, there was a happy ending for great Uncle Sid. He returned from the First World War, married his sweetheart, Charlotte, and went on to become a grower of the best and tastiest runner beans in his village. I think he’d be very happy to see our San Fairy Ann garden. If you’d like to see it too, you can come to visit when we open our garden for the National Garden Scheme between 12-5pm on Sunday, 4th September 2016.
Dw i’n gallu cofio Wncl Sid yn dda iawn. Roedd e’n ddyn hyfryd. Roedd e’n arfer rhannu ei ginio o bysgod a sglods gyda ni. Roedd e’n arfer ysmygu pibell gydag arolwg o dybaco melys. Mewn storm, roedd e’n arfer cerdded lan i’r mynyddoedd achos bod ofn arno fe.