Tag Archives: gardens

And do something different now…

About three years ago a friend and fellow gardener told me of a wonderful book she had read called The Morville Hours .  Written by Katherine Swift it tells the story of the creation of a garden at the Dower House in Morville, Shropshire.   The Morville Hours is not your normal gardening book of Latin plant names (don’t do them), pests (got too many of them) and so on; rather it is an invitation to follow the author on a very personal journey of self-discovery with digressions into planting, history, nature and the priniciples of the Benedictine Rule.   I know this because three years after Susan lent me the book, I have reached page 164 (which means there are 184 to go: at this rate I will finish the book in October 2019).

Dyffryn Gardens (National Trust)
Dyffryn Gardens (National Trust)

I should now apologise to those who lectured on the Creative Writing Course at the University of Glamorgan, in particular Maria Donovan , Barrie Llewlyn and Rob Middlehurst because my speed and enthusiasm for reading books is no further advanced now than when they despaired of me between 2004-2007.  Maria instilled the values of sharp editing and good punctuation into me, Barrie taught me objectivity and quality control while Rob and I shared a fondness for 1940s detective stories and surreal humour.   None of them persuaded me to read for the sake of reading.

For a little while I considered whether I should continue my embryonic career in writing but when push came to shove, I found that I could either write or sew – there wasn’t enough in my creative reservoir to do both.  The call of the needle and thread proved stronger than the pen or keyboard and the rest is history.  Except, that is, for me  nurturing a small disappointment that I never did the MPhil in Creative Writing.  At the end of this month however, I embark on the MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts which should satisfy my postgraduate tendencies for a bit.

Carnedd Cynddylan
Carnedd Cynddylan

I was accepted onto the MA course by virtue of embroideries like ‘Carnedd Cynddylan’ and ‘Dark Tonight’, and tempted by the prospect of learning how to blow glass and forge metal that I could use on pieces of Textile Art.

dark tonight

Over the summer my idea for the MA project has developed and spread like one of the plants in Katherine Swift’s garden.  At first I intended it all to be inspired by my interest in landscape history.  Then I thought about how I could incorporate myth and legend; next came the need to include artefacts and relics; now I realise I have the opportunity to include all the things I learnt through studying Creative Writing with Maria, Barrie and Rob.  Whether all my ideas and plans will ripen into fruition is another matter but I am nothing if not optimistic.

Back at the start of the year I set myself some goals (as opposed to New Year’s Resolutions).  The first was to do some form of further education so I think that one can be ticked off as achieved (or at least a work in progress until December 2017).  Another was to end the year leaner and fitter than I started it.  To this end my sister and I have been doing a 500 mile challenge to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. (You can track our progress here .)  It started back in March with the Carmarthen Mayor’s Race and

I am not the green dragon.
I am not the green dragon.

our challenge finishes next weekend at the Swansea Bay 10k.  In between, my quota of 250 miles has seen me doing a fabulous run around the National Botanic Gardens of Wales,  trekking miles along the wonderful Wales Coastal Path

Llanrhystud Beach
Llanrhystud Beach

and completing the iconic Severn Bridge Half Marathon.

Sut ydy’r her  o deithio 500 milltir cysylltiedig â Chelf Tecstilau?  Oherwydd fy mod i’n cael fy syniadau gorau drwy bod y tu allan.  Does dim ots a fydda i’n rhedeg, cerdded neu eistedd a chael picnic!  Mae rhaid i fi fod yn yr awyr agored i gael syniadau ac ysbrydoliaeth am waith creadigol.

In much the same way as Katherine Swift and the garden at Morville came together to produce a magical book that was as much about the human condition as it was about gardening, I find that just being outside is a huge inspiration to my Textile Art.  I saw  the glistening raindrops on moss covered stone walls that edged the lanes I was running through at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, I felt the sense of isolation and aloneness along parts of the Ceredigion coast and I smelt the swirling muddy waters of the Severn Estuary.  These are memories which no camera could capture as an image.  The next time you find yourself short of inspiration, try moving through the landscape whether it’s a worked garden like the one at Morville , the wild and rugged hills of Wales or anything you are within reach of!

 

 

San Fairy Ann

“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”.

Sticks and Stones
Sticks and Stones

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.

Green Man
Green Man

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.”

The pre San Fairy Ann garden
The pre San Fairy Ann garden

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.

Aunty Phyl
Aunty Phyl

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” .

Col the Wise
Col the Wise

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.

One of my San Fairy Ann moments
One of my San Fairy Ann moments

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.

Everyone loves a garden
Everyone loves a garden

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”.

Old friends having tea on our lawn
Old friends having tea on our lawn

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.

Great Uncle Sid
Great Uncle Sid