Now the soil is moist after several days where we sometimes had heavy rain I am called on the deal with the vigorous growth of much of my plants. I needed to stake my sweet peas, so armed with some twiggy stems I cut and weeded my way in and gently entwined their soft stems on their new supports . It was the weeds that sparked some thoughts, not the sweet peas, although hopefully they will be good enough later to spark some thoughts of praise and pleasure. The moist soil means that the weeds are much easier to remove. The bulbils of pink Oxalis and fragile stems of bindweed are easier to tease out in soft soil. They just resist when the soil is dry. This set me to thinking of the apocryphal stories we were told when I was a student. Marjorie Fish at East Lambrook Manor in Somerset would instruct her newly arrived garden trainees in the identification of weeds. Only the weeds that were in the basket could be taken out. When I was a student at Kew Brian Halliwell, department curator would creep up behind students and ask in his inimitable West Yorkshire style, 'what's the name of that plant ? '. When the answer, especially in my case, was, I don't know, his response was, ' Why don't you know ?, next time I come round here I expect you to know to name of that plant .'. God, did he frighten us, and yes he did come round again and ask for the name of the plant.
I can remember being given a book called ' How to enjoy your weeds ', by Audrey Wynne Hatfield. I could and can only assume she never met Brian Halliwell, and I know that for gardeners the naming of plants can be a minefield, it was for me for many years, and that to know a seedling is not some little delight that has crept in unannounced is part of the search we all subscribe to, weeds can still be a bloody nuisance.
When I was head down pulling out these reprobates this morning I found an Echium seedling, which means I've got 3 now. Alongside the Alstromerias is a group of Nigella Gertrude Jekyll. They recolonise different places and always provide an extra charm to where they arrive. Around the ongoing discussions about the pros and cons of weeds is the complex debate about destroying soil, attracting wildlife, companion planting, broadcast sowing instead of regimental lines. If something was ever designed to get our knickers in a twist this was it. It's funny sometimes that when we start a journey, get on the bus ( this is a metaphor ) we tend to assume that what we see out the window tells us everything there is to know. An easier holistic methodology where we start, wait, observe, start again, wait, observe might help us keep our own counsel. But there again , who am I to talk.
So back to the weeds. Some are indeed first class scoundrels. Popping up overnight without so much as a by your leave. Willow herb host a flee beetle which in turn spreads, i.e. jumps to other plants. The beetles overwinter on leaf litter and the early growth on Willow herb, one of its favourites will indicate that it's around and active. They will nibble on potatoes, brassicas, tomatoes and several other plants and fleece is what works best to protect anything susceptible.
The fleece also protects brassicas from the Cabbage White butterfly from which hangs another story -
So there we have it. A few musings on weeds. We are now 3 months into the lockdown. Things are beginning to ease in the world that humans occupy, but only very slowly and carefully. All the pests and diseases in the plants in our gardens will manifest themselves now the weather is warmer, so along with fleece I have an armoury of defences I can use. Whatever the science, old or new, if it works I will use it. The fringes and borderlInes of science also offer a vast range of approaches, so whether it's granddads remedies, permaculture, bio dynamics, companion planting, they all might have something to recommend them. You pays your money and you takes your choice. As someone who steers away from factional politics all I could say is it's your choice, not mine.
Q. Why did you become an artist?
I have always been fascinated by the creative process. For several decades I worked as a gardener and landscape designer, training first at Kew and then other places. Four years ago I undertook a 3 year course in Fine Art. This has been transformative. I can now combine my practical skills and explore them with my art practice. It is an endless supply of alchemy.
Q. How would you describe your art?
My work tries to use found and natural materials, metal, wood, stone to produce a piece of sculpture. There is a lot of waiting to be in the right place at the right time. They are often installation pieces and can include passive or active participation, performance and collaborative performance.
Q. Which artists have inspired you the most? Claire Falkenstein, David Smith, Andy Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth, Jeremy Deller, Suzanne Philipz, Raymond Hain
Q. Why do you think environmental art is important?
I see this as a unique creative opportunity to access deeper issues without the weight of political and social factionalism. A visual message presented 3 dimensionally has to work in shape and form, ( I am still a landscape gardener ! ) If it does this well, occasionally it gets near, then the viewer or participant can engage from within their own experiences. This is how the work expands and this is how our underlying message becomes part of the collective narrative. There are so many ways of throwing ideas up in the air, so many ways they can land but if you look hard you may see things differently. Our environment is the gift we have been given to share. We are all connected. We are all part of a grand symphony, a chance orchestration within the harmony of the spheres, it is too precious to squander.
Q. Why did u choose DSP to showcase your art?
I am a landscape gardener and have been interested in Capability Brown for many years. To have a sculpture park in a CB Parkland setting seemed like a unique combination and I was curious. Once I had met Philip, we talked for 2 hours on our first meeting, I could see you had something special to offer and I was pleased, intrigued and daunted to be asked to showcase some of my work.
The trees on either side of the road that I was by now freewheeling were big, majestic, you might say their strength and proud stature symbolised the same qualities in the people that lived and worked and grew up in Sheffield. I had lived in this part of Sheffield back in the 1970's which was when I started my gardening career, working for what was the Sheffield Recreation Department. Having left school at 16 and worked in different jobs, went to college at the age of 22 and to my amazement got several A levels, and then to University where I lasted 3 months. Spending the summer in Morocco was not the best preparation for serious study. Once I had partly recovered from what can readily be described as a metaphorical car crash I went back to Sheffield and then decided I wanted to be outdoors, working with my hands. Climbing in Derbyshire and further afield fulfilled the former need. The offer of a job as a gardener/grave digger at the local cemetery fulfilled the other need and suited me perfectly. Simple , repetitive, physical. I loved it. My supervisors there saw something I couldn't. They offered me a job on the mobile maintenance gang. I loved it. Then was the offer of a foremans job for 60 acres of school grounds, I loved that too. Then they suggested I go to college. I ended up at Kew, which I wholly and entirely loved.
Any way, back to cycling up in Nether Edge, the Kew story is more than another paragraph or chapter; another time perhaps.
Freewheeling down the street with big trees I noticed yellow ribbons tied half way up their big limbs. Around the corner at the end of the street the big trees had all gone. In their place were small trees, Cherries, Crab Apples, Birch. Trees that would never grow as big as the Limes. A wiser choice for small streets.
When I got back to Brendon and Hannah's they explained that Nether Edge and other neighbourhoods in Sheffield were where the council had been removing these big trees as part of a multi million pound contract to try to do something about the problems that big trees cause, their roots, branches and trunks getting in the way of pedestrians, sewage pipes, electric cables. They also explained that many of the residents were, to say it politely, surprised at the arrival of teams of chainsaws with instruction to cut down the offending problems. The residents, once they had wiped the sleep from their eyes and woken up, were outraged. Who had authorised this ?why were we not asked ? over my dead body ! A not untypical response I think you will agree.
Brendon explained that some of his friends had chained themselves to the trees, some had been arrested, protests had been arranged, questions asked in the Houses of Parliament by Michael Gove, at the time Minister for Environment. The Sheffield councillor responsible for overseeing this work eventually resigned with stress. John Humphries interviewed Jarvis Cocker on Radio 4 and asked in his inimitable style, well Mr Cocker, what do you think about this situation in your city. Jarvis' reply was, 'it's daft innit'. In Sheffield we would normally say ' it's bloody daft ', but Radio 4 tries to be polite in the mornings.
So, back to the cycle.
Better informed now by Brendon and Hannah, I though I'd better go back and take some photos of the trees with yellow ribbons, thinking this might be part of some future historical record that I should have. Nothing more than that in my mind at the time.
Once we had returned to Devon and our family visit, children, grand children, parents and sister had all been visited, I could take a look at the photos I had taken, and as is my wont nowadays I thought, yes, I can do a painting. These things are a simple way of visually putting down ideas. As the ideas take shape, as the paint I am using begins to move, as I put on different marks the ideas expand and I think of how I can include other images to develop the story line. After the first attempt I was drawn back to the studio and began working on the same idea with different materials and different inclusions, all the time the story expanding and making different references.
As this work was going on I was learning more about the background to Sheffield Councils tree problems. It became obvious that it was much more than taking down old trees. I spoke to many people, some closely involved, many on the periphery but all who felt that trees need as much respect and care as we all do. I found a video recording of 'Careful with that axe Eugene ' by Pink Floyd, a very scary crescendo of rolling swirling organ which I later used as an early part of an installation I did about this situation. It fitted perfectly.
What started out as a bike ride exploring some of my youthful haunts, going back in time to see the roads and houses that were always there, had now become a journey into a world where our anxieties about the world we live in had taken a reality that was first hand. This was not something we heard on the radio or saw on Facebook. It was outside our front door, it was where I used to live, it was where I started my career as a gardener. It was where hundreds of people I had never met had come together in a common cause. It was a demonstration of how, once we rub the sleep from our eyes and are dramatically woken from our domesticities, we realise those big green things outside matter.
So by now I had some paintings and the ideas has grown. I had begun to realise that this taking down of trees in Sheffield was a reflection of the complexities surrounding our relationships with nature. I could see what these big Lime trees were. I could imagine their enormous cellular system that draws up moisture from the ground and transpire into the air, imagining all the birds that fly around, feed and nest in its expansive limbs. I also knew that along side this grand wonder were mundane and everyday consequences of their existence in this urban environment. We make attachments to those things that are familiar to use, give them pet names and make them ours. But they drop sticky stuff on our cars, and sometimes their branches snap and fall on our cars as well, and yes didn't Mrs Phelps at no. 53 have a burst water pipe last year that was caused by that tree outside.
All part of the both sides now equation. But we live with it and fix it and carry on. We don't normally carry out a clandestine execution, not least without telling us.
So the argument is subtle, it is nuanced, there are many sides to this story. Can a work of art help us look more deeply at something like this. I hope so.
Please click paintings to enlarge them:
Photo of the metal sculpture of 'tekin' down trees'.
Photo taken on the beach at Saunton Sands, Devon, September 2019
They're takin down trees, outside in our street
I don't understand, it doesn't seem reet,
Thev stood wind and rain, an two world wars,
Thev stood much longer than thee and I knows
An I know Council sez it's t' do wi' drains,
an cracks in't pavements, but I think it's insane,
how can you think that nature outdoors,
can treted like someat your committee deplores
They said it were National Tree Week next week
In your grand council chamber, where motions are passed
So let's plant a few so't folks see what we do
and with this token gesture we won't be harassed
But that's not what I've heard, no not at all
A few saplings won't mend that hole in the wall
It won't fix that connection my grand fatha felt
when back in 1920 we had our first bit of green belt
and ever since then, when we've walked out our door
We've seen bright shoots of hope and heard songs evermore
and understood what was meant by whispering loveliness
So let's stand together and stop this fuckin' daft ness.
Colin’s first blog
For my first art blog I thought I should give some background to my Australian series
Its title is Gallipoli, Landscape - heritage and sacrifice.
These works are the product of a visit Christine and I made to Australia and New Zealand early last year. We visited relatives and friends and did a lot of traveling around and exploring. Now that I’m doing my Fine Art course at Petroc College and I was, in theory, supposed to be at college I got a dispensation to do my site project based on what I found in our tour.
This was the perfect excuse to visit some amazing art galleries, do lots of painting and drawing and speak to some great people about art things. Above all what soon became obvious was the difference the light made. It was bright and warm and sunny just about every day and when I got out my paint box I used different colours. There was a vibrancy and richness we don’t often get in North Devon. Additionally there were trees, birds, sounds, vistas we never get in North Devon or even Europe. When I travel around our countryside I can tell you what the trees are from a long distance away. When I look around the trees I can tell you the names of the plants that are around them. I know why our landscapes are the way they are. Not in Australia. It was all new, different. It is a relatively new culture and the impact immigration has made on the development of the land has been enormous. Equally significant was the connection the people in Australia have for their ancestors homeland. Our visit could only touch the surface of the great vibrancy of culture and life there, but even with this caveat there was much that struck a chord. There is a massive commonality between our homeland and theirs. Imperialism, colonialism, wars, industrialisation on one hand and music, arts and culture on the other. Humanity often, usually, struggles between these two factions, if thats what they are?
I took with me my own connection to my European heritage and found something as beautifully profound as what I have in my own homeland. The pain and joy we as humans bear and share is not separated by man made boundaries or borders.
The first piece of my Australian series is a personal interpretation of these interwoven ideas and qualities. It is a summary and statement of the relationship between sacrifice and heritage. The soldier is a New Zealander eating from a tin of bully beef, flies hovering around the tin. He is on the battlefield in Gallipoli. The poppies on the right were knitted by ladies in a small town in New Zealand to remember the boys who died in their community in the 2 world wars. The fluid charged landscape between them is meant to depict the power and movement within the new lands their parents had colonised.
The words written onto the painting are from the powerful anti-war song, And the band played Waltzing Matilda by Eric Bogle. They say ‘ From the Murrays Green Basin to the dusty outback’
Throughout our visit we met many people who openly acknowledged the debt they owe to the sacrifice their forebears had made. I am profoundly moved whenever, wherever I see this, and my painting is my token of honour to them.
The painting went through several stages once I started working on paper.
There were ideas and sketches that I had made, and gradually some idea of what I was aiming for emerged. Firstly the composition was a collage, this was then copied and printed with onto art paper. The selected pieces and areas were recoloured by hand in watercolour and acrylic. Then the words of the song were written freehand and very laboriously with a fine nibbed pen and gesso which gave it a certain raised texture.
This account has to be prefaced with a couple of points.
What I write about will not be for everyone following hip surgery. We have to be very careful not to bend, not to do too much, to keep steady on the ground. In my case I have worked as a landscape gardener for over 30 years and have a very productive and ornamental garden at home which covers about 2/3 of an acre. Before my operation, even though mobility was limited I could bend and was able to work in the garden, not all day, perhaps an hour at a time, but sufficient to do the preparation for this years displays and harvests.
Having recently returned home from having a hip replacement and watched the weeds pushing their heads above the parapet, so to speak, my mind it took to wondering how I could deal with their incursions. The grabber I bought from the orthopaedic department before I left hospital ( its like those litter pickers you see being used around town sometimes ) has been invaluable indoors. I did try it outside to pull up some of the weeds but it would need some modifying to work better. However I realised that I could perhaps use my long handled hoe ( without bending ) and then pick up the piles ( without bending ) with the grabber. This worked. Following recent rain the ground is soft and the weeds come up easily.
With the satisfaction this brought me I realised there are several non bending activities in the garden that can help those recuperating to be outdoors whilst staying within the firm recommendations against straining the new hip, so here they are, some of them.
Cooking. As someone who rarely has to cook, even though I can ( my wife loves cooking ) this is an opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen using the produce which my wife brings up from the garden. Red gooseberries ( Whinhams Industry ) and apple and Bourbon pie went down well. Japanese rice with cucumber, tomatoes, pickle and basil was another recipe I found and went well with the peanut butter chicken .
I hope these few observations not only help to keep the outdoors in your heart and soul but also to show how recovery can be a bit more inventive than the strict rules we are given when we first leave hospital, well meaning as they are. We do need to stay within the guidelines, we definitely must not bend beyond what we are are told by the physios, but with patience and care we can still keep in touch with the earth.
Colin welcomes hearing about other people's experiences and observation in similar situations.
Carefully manage to get my way half way down the garden and pick up the long handled hoe. I don’t have to go far to find one of my worst foes, Willow Herb, and the long reach of the hoe allows me to cut through their surface roots quite easily, before their seeds are lifted by the breeze and spread everywhere. The chickweed, fat hen and Redshank all receive the same satisfactory treatment and already I can feel my satisfaction levels rising.
Its a hot, blue sky day here in Devon and I have strains of Joni Mitchell running through my head ‘ the wind is in from Africa, last night I couldn’t sleep’, ( *1) but fortunately for me I did sleep. The flu that wiped me out a few days ago is beginning to recede and I’m sure the doses of natural vitamin D are getting through.
The hoeing is good for my weak frame at the moment. I can’t do too much physically but don’t want to fade away just yet so some light exercise will be what the doctor would order. The last few days of bright warm weather have allowed the flowers and fruit in the garden to really prosper. Many a Devon summer is more green and grey (*2) than bright and blue and most summer flowering plants struggle against the elements. This year there is not much sign of blackspot,the slugs and snails don’t travel far when its hot and dry so without these marauders and the non stop supply of photosynthetic enzymes and chlorophyll they are flowering beautifully. I keep on with the dead heading, which is another job I can do at the moment and more flowers are pushed up and out.
Whilst chasing away the willow herb and not being distracted with other more important things on the list some of the little gems that were rescued years ago and given a place somewhere have established themselves and the long term faith is being rewarded. Amaryllis belladona has sat in the perfect place, dry, tight, south facing for several years now and today it looks glorious, its long throated pink blooms flaring out like an exotic dancer in the Notting Hill carnival. This is the same Amaryllis ( but mine is the species, hence more robust ) with fat bulbs that can be forced into flower for Christmas which is always one of my seasonal treats, some people I know prefer christmas pudding.
I can get over to the green house which is now on the side of the garden away from the wind. This is its first season in its new spot and our crop of Sungold tomatoes are romping away. My Agave americana variegata is now planted beside the entrance. It does just about manage to survive outside here through the winter but it can now luxuriate in its new surroundings. Interestingly it was Pete G who helped enormously in the spring to move the greenhouse across the garden. When I sat in one one of Pete’s music sessions at.the New Inn in Fremington I was able to do a version of the Beach Boys song ‘ Take a load off your feet’ whose first lines goes ‘take good care of your feet Pete, better watch out what you eat, Pete, take good care of your life, cos nobody else will.’
all sung to a sound of tinkling glass and gurgles of water. Seems like music never far way from the garden.......
From my resting place up on the terrace I can look down on our fair acres and across the the green folded fields. The very steep field across the other side of the valley, where there is a big badger sett in the copse was cut a couple of days ago by the farmer Mr Squire. This is the first time we’ve ever seen the hay harvested in that field. The combine edged its way slowly and diagonally across the steep contours and 2 days later the bailer and fork lift also gingerly picked up the bales and took them down alongside the bottom hedge. I recalled turning hay and making shtooks on the Isle of Harris many years ago and Rob recalled the bottles of cider that would be put in the shade of the hedge bank so you could have a swig when you drove past. The Isle of Harris is dry so no cider there.
Closer to the terrace we can watch the wafts of Cabbage white butterflies floating on the thermals, hovering and gliding until they spot a likely brassica or Nasturtium. I often wondered how they worked out that my brassicas would supply their every need whereas my next door colony of Foxgloves were left alone. Apparently, according to the oracle, one of my old textbooks, they have chemo receptors along their spines and when they rub their legs against the plant to release plant juices the chemoreceptors tell the butterfly they are on the right plant. I have made an old fashioned potion of boiled rhubarb leaves which, with the addition of some strong detergent I spray onto my plants. This natural insecticide should deal with any tell tale caterpillars.
One more feature of coming down to the garden and catching up with hoeing the weeds is seeing the evidence of certain feeding caterpillars and their hosts. Schooled as I was in a quite old fashioned approach to growing vegetable one of the core tenets was the use of the hoe little and often. This would remove competition for nutrients, and remove the surface compaction that stops any rain getting through to the roots. Its a bit like combining all those tiny positives to create your best advantage. Equally importantly it removes those hosts that the insect pests live on. I hadn’t noticed the few stray Ragworts before but I couldn’t miss the stripey red green and black of the Cinnabar moth Caterpillar. This doesn’t feed on my vegetables, although it will feed on other members of the Compositae family. Indirectly then this insect serves a useful purpose to the gardener as an indicator. Remove the Ragwort, which is poisonous to horses, and is also a host for mildew, but leave it on the Tansy and enjoy the startling bright red of the adult moth.
The sun will be setting soon and I’ll go back down once more and carefully dig up a few potatoes, Jersey Royals which don’t like to stay in the ground too long. The obvious song must surely be, ‘I’m diggin’ my potatoes, stomplin’ on my ground’ (*4) I know that the original lyrics by Leadbelly weren’t refering to his attempts at vegetable gardening. When he goes on to say ‘I dont want no cabbage sprouts, bring me a solid head’ you can tell what he might be otherwise talkin’ ‘bout. Its a great song for digging up potatoes though.
Day 16 Play list!
*1! Carey Joni Mitchell
*2! England green and England grey Reg Meuross
*3! Take a load off your feet Beach Boys
*4! Diggin my potatoes!Leadbelly
Look up PeteG ie Pete Geiger on Youtube and Facebook
As a test first piece I thought I would write about Basil
I sowed their seed on 17th April. They like bottom heat to germinate so they were in my heated propagator. The seedlings emerged about 10 days later.
Since then they have been inside our conservatory where they get sun, light and regular watering in abundance. It is now 26th June and they are looking good. They don't have fancy compost, in fact the cheapest stuff available. What they love is heat, and some days my thermometer registers over 30 degrees inside, where outside it might only be high teens.
I pot them on when the roots show out the bottom of the pot, which is what I did today. Have to also keep look out for aphids, so they might be placed outdoors on a sunny day and treated appropriately. When I potted them on today I pinched them out so they would bush out. The leaves make a great salad with fresh tomatoes ( not ready yet ) and red onions. Slice, chop etc, add olive oil, vinegar, salt pepper and a little brown sugar. Lovely……
Thats all for my first blog. I'll see if I can add some photos next, the Hemerocallis is about to flower abundantly and the adjacent Galliardia and Geranium make a great Klimpt style colour combination.