Springy spring

Damson

Damson flowering. Prunus Domestica

Its a beautiful day and I am just in from tidying up the garden, clearing the ravages of winter, stopping for a moments rest to have some beer and onions.  Once I post this I will pop back out and shout at the plants in their latin names.  They are all bursting forth so I know they can hear me.

Nostalgia; by Billy Collins

Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.

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Death in Paradise

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As I set up my compost pots and plant my seeds for the coming season I am pondering the rabbit issue.  The word paradise is derived from the Persian word for a Garden.  A garden is the ultimate symbol of man’s dominion over nature.  We build a fence or a wall to surround a patch of land.  Then we drive out the wild influences and cultivate what lies within.  The vegetables are larger, fleshier and sweeter than what grows out in the wild.  The fruits are more succulent and delicate.  The flowers are bigger and brighter.

To create this wonderful space is a statement of the control of man.  This control is represented at its greatest in the gardens of the Augustan period (early 18th Century), paved walkways, symmetrical and geometric layouts, neat box hedges, espaliered fruit trees, pulses supported by cane frames, clear boundaries between the area under control and the wilderness outside.  During the Augustan period this control was celebrated as beauty.  Wildness was represented as ugly.  It was not until the Romantic period that wild spaces and unregulated nature were appreciated.

Control of a garden also involved control of pests.  These can be very small pests, like greenfly, wireworms, codling moth larva.  They can also be much larger pests such as rabbits, dogs, deer and even certain types of people.

The poem below is the sad tale of a dog who had a good thing going until he made the mistake of becoming a garden pest.

A Dog’s Mistake: by Banjo Patterson

He had drifted in among us as a straw drifts with the tide,
He was just a wand’ring mongrel from the weary world outside;
He was not aristocratic, being mostly ribs and hair,
With a hint of spaniel parents and a touch of native bear.
He was very poor and humble and content with what he got,
So we fed him bones and biscuits, till he heartened up a lot;
Then he growled and grew aggressive, treating orders with disdain,
Till at last he bit the butcher, which would argue want of brain.

Now the butcher, noble fellow, was a sport beyond belief,
And instead of bringing actions he brought half a shin of beef,
Which he handed on to Fido, who received it as a right
And removed it to the garden, where he buried it at night.

‘Twas the means of his undoing, for my wife, who’d stood his friend,
To adopt a slang expression, “went in off the deepest end”,
For among the pinks and pansies, the gloxinias and the gorse
He had made an excavation like a graveyard for a horse.

Then we held a consultation which decided on his fate:
‘Twas in anger more than sorrow that we led him to the gate,
And we handed him the beef-bone as provision for the day,
Then we opened wide the portal and we told him, “On your way.”

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Frosty Moonlit Night

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So last night we had a power cut.  I got a phone call at the train station to pick up some burgers and chips for dinner, because we had no electricity, no oven, no grill and no lights.  So I arrived back to a peaceful house bathed in candlelight, no TV, no noise but human speech.  It’s actually quite nice from time to time to take a break from electricity.

The interlude was not long, but it was fun.  Later in the night the moon rose.  Moonlight would have been useful when the power went out.  Instead the moon lingered below the horizon until the power was restored.  Going to bed later in the evening there was little need to turn on lights to see.  The pale monochrome nightworld unfolded in the white light of our satellite.

It’s funny how photos can never seem to capture moonlight properly.  Moonlight photos are weak affairs that do not capture the magic of the moment.  Early this morning the setting moon was still bright in a clear starry sky.  It was practically a glare.  Temperature -4 degrees C, a nice sharp frost. Good for the garden.

 

A Frosty Night; by Robert Graves

Mother

Alice, dear, what ails you,
Dazed and white and shaken?
Has the chill night numbed you?
Is it fright you have taken?

Alice

Mother, I am very well,
I felt never better,
Mother, do not hold me so,
Let me write my letter.

Mother

Sweet, my dear, what ails you?

Alice

No, but I am well;
The night was cold and frosty,
There’s no more to tell.

Mother

Ay, the night was frosty,
Coldly gaped the moon,
Yet the birds seemed twittering
Through green boughs of June.

Soft and thick the snow lay,
Stars danced in the sky.
Not all the lambs of May-day
Skip so bold and high.

Your feet were dancing, Alice,
Seemed to dance on air,
You looked a ghost or angel
In the starlight there.

Your eyes were frosted starlight,
Your heart fire and snow.
Who was it said, “I love you”?

Alice

Mother, let me go!

Full of Beans

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Did a lot of gardening and DIY this week.  Tidied up the downstairs toilet by boxing in all the pipework, cleaned out the lower gutters, staked the tomatoes, planted beans and staked them too.  I have a good bit going on in the garden now.  Peas, Beans, Carrots, Beetroot, Onions, Garlic, new Thyme plants, Strawberries, Raspberries.  The Plum tree is looking good, a lot of fruit buds.  But the apple trees are a big disappointment.  I think I have two blossoms from five trees.  Next year!  Hopefully they will come back next year.

Lots of Elderberry blossoms on the way.  I think I may have a go at making elderberry wine if there are enough.  If not, maybe some elderberry cordial.  I believe you can make a champagne from elder blossom.  Must try that sometime.

There are two young rabbits wandering round the garden.  They are living in the field next door, and have not found the vegetable patch yet.  If they do, their lives may be in danger.

Should have the last of the Leland Cypresses cleared out of the garden this week.  Next door lost most of his in the big storm in April.  I had already been culling mine out of the garden for the last two years, so little to clear.  But the last and biggest decided to go out with a bang and landed on the roof of the stable next door.  Luckily the Insurance company is covering that one.  I am so glad to see them go.  They were killing the orchard and garden here, letting no sun through.  They are trees that do not belong in Ireland and should need a licence to be planted.  They grow about 3 foot per year in this climate.  In the 1970’s they were touted as a great solution for instant screening and wind shade.  Tip for you gardeners – if it grows fast, it grows out of control fast.  Buy slow growing plants and be patient.

Now that the beans are planted I could have gone for “the musical fruit” as a poem, but it’s a bit obvious.  And this one is better…

The Bean Eaters; by Gwendolyn Brooks

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.