Category Archives: trees

Celebrating Capability Brown

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John Cobb as Capability Brown in ‘The Eye Catcher’ at Kirkharle Courtyard

 

Making the Lake

 

This far north

dips and hills

unpredictable as summer

 

outside the tent

tall grass waves westwards

 

making the lake

a long lead time

different machinery

 

capability shifts landscape

in the mind

 

chittering swallows

twist in flight

white-blue-white

 

on the ridge of his horizon

a skeleton tree

 

pegs show contour

banks woodbound

piles driven level

 

bring me a basket of bread

for the road to Cambo

 

moon in his eyes

will he be hunter

gardener or poet?

 

wheelbarrow stands in sunlight

casting a dark green shadow

 

these rattling meadows

our ancestors

our hope

 

a spider runs between cracks

in the dried earth

 

for this place, this day

a necklace of beads

of heat, mud, honey

 

where is the boundary to be drawn –

planned and unplanned?

 

begin with an outline

a structure, a framework

anchor it then overlay

 

Kirkharle – eight hours from Newcastle

on dirt roads

 

harsh edge of roofs

gives way to

serrated larch against the sky

 

the price of a line of beauty –

twanging muscles, calloused hands

 

looking north, new energy

beyond the oil route

wind turbines, wood

 

when the wheel stops

it starts all over again.

 

 

A renga in celebration of Capability Brown

on 17th August 2016

at Kirkharle, his birthplace three hundred years ago.

  

Participants:

 

Birtley Aris

Jo Aris

Michelle Caulkett

Linda France

Patricia Gillespie

Rosie Hudson

Lesley Mountain

Diana Smith

Tony Smith

Clara May Warden

Liz Wilkinson

Margaret Williams

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Inexplicably…

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…in the trees at Varna Botanical Garden/Ecopark…

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…Having a few technical problems here – if anyone has Instagram, it seems to be easier for me to post pictures there – I’m at lindafrancebooksandplants

 

 

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Postcard from the Antipodes

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Visiting Logan Botanic Garden in the Rhinns of Galloway was a cheap ticket back to New South Wales.  A stunning collection of eucalypts.  If I could catch the smell for you in these pictures, I would…dusky, soothing, clean.  A beautiful garden, maverick and refreshing.  While I was there I also caught a glimpse of Tasmania and New Zealand, Chile and South Africa.  I didn’t want to leave.

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The Tulip Tree

Only pale by the evergreen,

hardly distinguished by leaf or color,

it used to slide a little pale from other trees

and – no great effect at our house –

it sustained what really belonged,

but would, if severely doubted,

disappear…

 

from William Stafford’s The Tulip Tree

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Night Inks

This week at the NCLA we launched John Halliday’s stirring new anthology on Ageing Don’t Bring Me No Rocking Chair (named from a Maya Angelou poem).  Douglas Dunn came down from Scotland to join us and read some wonderful new poems, as well one of his from the book, Poem for a Birthday.

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I have enjoyed being reminded of familiar poems and discovering new ones.  Reading these poems is helping me further rehearse the ageing process and I’m happy to see several with a botanical flavour – plants perfectly reflecting our own cycle of blooming and dying.  Ranunculus Which My Father Called a Poppy by Peter Porter takes us to Australia, where we’re also shown eucalyptus, paw-paw, dahlias, salpiglossis and antirrhinums.  We’re teased with a snatch of Heaven in MacDairmid’s  A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle.  Gillian Clarke’s Blue Hydrangeas recalls her mother’s loveliness, the aching intimacy of mortality.  What is it about blue flowers that is so evocative?

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Blue Hydrangeas

You bring them in, a trug of thundercloud,
neglected in long grass and the sulk
of a wet summer.  Now a weight of wet silk
in my arms like her blue dress, a load

of night-inks shaken from their hair –
her hair a flame, a shadow against light
as long ago she leaned to kiss goodnight
when downstairs was a bright elsewhere

like a lost bush of blue hydrangeas.
You found them, lovely, silky, dangerous,
their lapis lazulis, their indigos

tide-marked and freckled with the rose
of death, beautiful in decline.
I touch my mother’s skin.  Touch mine.

Gillian Clarke

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Still cold and dark with flurries of snow up this way, we’re not quite ready yet for the short time of Herrick’s Daffodils or for Larkin’s Trees to begin afresh, afresh, afresh.  But soon, soon.

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In And Out Of The Woods

IMG_7405As yesterday was the anniversary of my arrival in Sydney (for my stint at the Botanic Gardens in 2013), it seemed like the perfect day to receive an email from the folk at Plumwood Mountain (An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics) letting me know their first issue is now available online.

The poem of mine they have included considers the ants I met while I was in Australia.  I like the idea of them being called back home, to the forests where they belong.

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This week I’ve been enjoying listening to Germaine Greer read from her new book White Beech: The Rainforest Years, about her conservation efforts on 60 hectares of an old dairy farm in south eastern Queensland.  It’s a great venture and her narrative is teeming with powerful evocations of the plant, bird and insect life at Cave Creek in the Numinbah Valley.  As Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says in The Independent, ‘It really is some story’, written by a woman who is ‘a force of nature and among its most erudite defenders’.

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Closer to home, several of the trees in our woods were perilously near to crashing down in last autumn’s storms so they’ve had to be felled.  They’re such enormous trees, fir and spruce, that their shift from vertical to horizontal makes the space out there feel quite different.  It’s as if something’s been erased, a stretch of time lost.  But I’m sure the ants will be very happy.

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‘How long does it take to make the woods?’

How long does it take to make the woods?
As long as it takes to make the world.
The woods is present as the world is, the presence
of all its past and of all its time to come.
It is always finished, it is always being made, the act
of its making forever greater than the act of its destruction.
It is part of eternity, for its end and beginning
belong to the end and beginning of all things,
the beginning lost in the end, the end in the beginning.

What is the way to the woods, how do you get there?
By climbing up through the six days’ field,
kept in all the body’s years, the body’s
sorrow, weariness and joy, by passing through
the narrow gate on the far side of that field
where the pasture grass of the body’s life gives way
to the high original standing of the trees.
By coming into the shadow, the shadow
of the grace of the straight way’s ending,
the shadow of the mercy of light.

Why must the gate be narrow?
Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.
To come into the woods you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf.
Wendell Berry
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How To Get Through The Winter

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A friend brought me three pomegranates, a traditional New Year’s gift in Greece.  I can’t remember how many years ago I last ate one.  When I was a kid, we used to eat the seeds with a pin, which seemed like great fun.  Apart from the fat shiny russet globes warming up my winter kitchen, it’s been an intense pleasure spooning out the garnet seeds to eat raw, add to yogurt or scatter onto salads.

photoI can’t agree with Jane Grigson, who calls them ‘unrewarding fruit’: no more than a closet of juicy seeds, each one gold in a deep pink jelly, the sections held firmly in a yellow astringent pith.  She quotes an extract from André Gide’s Les Nourritures Terrestres (1895), a long poem in praise of pleasure, dedicated to the pomegranate.

A little sour is the juice of the pomegranate like the juice of unripe raspberries.

Wax-like is the flower

Coloured as the fruit is coloured

Close-guarded this item of treasure, beehive partitioned,

Richness of savour,

Architecture of pentagons.

The rind splits; out tumble the seeds,

In cups of azure, some seeds are blood;

On plates of enamelled bronze, others are drops of gold.

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The story of Persephone tells us that the maiden, abducted to the Underworld by Hades, made the mistake of eating six pomegranate seeds while she was there.  According to a law decreed by the Fates, this meant she had to stay there for six months; only then could she return to the surface of the earth for the other six months of the year.  Her mother Demeter’s grief explained the alternating seasons – decay, barrenness, growth and harvest – the cycle of life.

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Image from collaboration with Hexham Embroiderers’ Guild for Hexham Hospital

Pomegranate (Punica granatum) literally means ‘seeded apple’ and it’s easy to see how eating them might feel like sympathetic magic.  Winter will pass. Things will start growing again soon.  Early agricultural communities, after many thousands of years’ hunter-gathering, utterly dependent on a good crop, created stories and rituals (like that of Persephone and Demeter within the Eleusinian mysteries) to affirm the rhythms of their labours to survive and flourish.  What do we look to encourage us through the winter?  A well-stocked larder, a good book by a roaring fire?  Don’t we all have our own talismans to help us get through and out the other side of the dark?

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In some Jewish traditions it is thought the pomegranate was the ‘forbidden fruit’ of the Garden of Eden.  In the light of the vast mythological lore surrounding this remarkable fruit, that would make sense.  In Tamil the name for it – maadulampazhum – means ‘woman’s mind’.  The seeds (between 200 and 1400 in one fruit) represent the multifaceted way the female mind works, apparently unfathomable to the male, as the pomegranate seeds are hidden by the skin.  Persephone, Demeter and Hecate were all seeds of the same fruit but it fell to Eve to claim free-will for human beings, making grown-ups and gardeners of us all.

The summer had been ended for some time

If not officially

Before the shock of greyness, blanketing,

Pressed the blind season up against our faces.

Winter, my God, a familiar I had forgotten:

That’s all I needed.

The portcullis dropped and locked around our houses.

The long worthwhile campaign to build the town up

Surrounding it with fruitful fields was seen

To have been only a little flourish; frivolous –

The house of straw of the pig before the wolf.

‘The dark is back’ the eyeless morning said..

From Persephone by Jenny Joseph (Bloodaxe 1986)

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Windows & Walls

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Let us love this distance, which is thoroughly woven with friendship, since those who do not love each other are not separated.

Simone Weil

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I know that the writer does call up the general and maybe the essential through the particular, but this general and essential is still deeply embedded in mystery.  it is not answerable to any of our formulas.

Flannery O’Connor

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A Door into the Dark

All I know is a door into the dark.

Seamus Heaney – The Forge

IMG_6980On my last visit to the Botanic Garden here in Durham I was struck by the changing view of the trees.  Most of the leaves had been shed, revealing the familiar winter silhouette of bare branches.

IMG_6983One of the trees previously unfamiliar to me is the Japanese Elm, Zelkova serrata, still clinging on to the last of its beautiful ochreish leaves. Rare in the wild, its name derives from the Georgian for ‘bars’ and ‘rock’, reflecting the hardness of the wood, used in architecture and as railings.  I was interested to discover that Georgian is what is known as a Kartvelian language (or South Caucasian).  It is not thought to be related to any other language genealogy, making it one of the world’s primary language families. There are approximately 5.2 million speakers of Kartvelian languages worldwide (mostly in Russia, the United States, Israel and Turkey).

IMG_6984It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable, experience to be lost in the woods any time.  Not till we are completely lost, or turned round, – for a man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost, – do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature.  Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realise where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.

Henry Thoreau – Walden

In the garden, or at my desk, there’s always more to know, to find out and I often feel lost in the midst of it all.  I’m especially aware of that in this University town so dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.  Every day I am learning something new, expanding my small view of the universe.  Today’s lesson was about chlorophyll (courtesy of astronomer Bob Fosbury) – how it both reflects and transmits light, like a thin scattering of snow on the surface of a leaf; how it existed on earth long before we did and made (and still makes) human life possible.

I find myself thinking a lot about the colour green at the moment, and about the limits of what I, and we all, know – in my mind they’re somehow connected.  Bob also showed me an infra-red photograph of an avenue of trees, reflecting so much light beyond the range of what we can see.  As if what is visible to the eye weren’t astonishing enough…

IMG_6986Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark.  That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go…

A student came in bearing a quote from what she said was the pre-Socratic philosopher Meno.  It read, “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?’…

Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration – how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?…

Socrates says you can know the unknown because you remember it.  You already know what seems unknown; you have been here before, but only when you were someone else.  This only shifts the location of the unknown other to unknown self.  Meno says, Mystery.  Socrates says, On the contrary, Mystery.  That much is certain.  It can be a kind of compass.

Rebecca Solnit – A Field Guide to Getting Lost

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Under the Toffee Apple Tree

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At Durham Botanic Garden yesterday I enjoyed my second autumn of the year (although this one more sure of itself and familiar than in Sydney in March) and the sweet, slightly burnt fragrance of the Katsura tree.  For some people it evokes the smell of candyfloss – definitely something Bonfire Nightish about it.  Cercidiphyllum japonicum – the leaves are like heart-shaped spoons, pale gold, veined with green.  Rising here from a five-stemmed trunk, the branches are whiskery and tentative, but generous.  It is pleasing to discover that the wood is often used to make boards for the game of Go.

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