I read last night and into the early hours and wept. It’s rare for a book to hold me in this way. Despite its title, Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening is not a gardening book although the education of a gardener is the premise for the story. Nor is it about the author’s battle with breast cancer although this cannot be ignored. No, this book is about the human condition with all its frailty and contradictions. It is about a friendship that struggles to emerge but blossoms into something truly life affirming.
The writing isn’t sophisticated nor does it try to be clever. It is brutally honest but in a quiet understated way. The author, Carol Wall, confronts all our fears. The fear of making a fool of yourself, appearing to be racist, saying the wrong thing, and worse not realising it, the fear of losing your parents and the terror of dying yourself. But through the author and Mr Owita’s evolving relationship the author learns and grows. She confronts her fears and in turn develops a deep understanding of her new friend and his family, who it transpires are dealing with their own demons.
Despite what might sound like a rather depressing storyline, Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening, is a joy to read. The characters are engaging from the first page and with their back stories slowly unfolding throughout the book we are drawn into their lives wanting to know more.
But the real message I took from this book was that the most important things in life are those that you cannot buy; the importance of real friendship, friendship and love which puts some one else first without hesitation and how we should cherish such friendships as they are very special indeed. A timely reminder at this time of year.
I would like to thank Kathy over at Cold Climate Gardening for featuring this book on her blog as I would never have come across it otherwise on this side of the pond. As ever the joy of blogging is the connections we make which lead us to discover all manner of things we wouldn’t normally come across.
I have a weakness for books, for plants and gardens and for embroidery so to discover a book that brings all these together makes me very very happy indeed.
I came across a review of this book, The Embroidered Garden by Kazuko Aoki, in the latest edition of Stitch magazine and of course it was too late to ask for it for Christmas so, well.. I just ordered it for myself as an early Christmas present and I am thrilled with it.
I think my embroidery style is quite traditional. I see a lot of very contemporary embroidery, mainly machine embroidery, which doesn’t inspire me very often but there is something, to my mind, very special about some ‘simple’ traditional hand embroidery. However, this book seems to move it just a little along the path towards modernity because if you look very carefully at the front cover you will see that the hatching at the base of the arrangement is actually tulle which has been applied.
I also love this project which is a modern take on the Victorian obsession with collecting and displaying butterflies but in this case no butterflies will be harmed in the process. I think it would be fun to do this based on British butterflies and get it framed in a Victorian style frame and I love the butterfly brooch.
So I am a very happy bunny flicking through the pages and pondering what to have a go at first; in the meantime I must finish the cross stitch Christmas cards.
I’ve been out in the garden this morning to dutifully take some photographs for tomorrow’s End of Month View. Whilst it is blowing a gale this hasn’t normally thwarted my enthusiasm in the past so to feel that I had to make myself go out added to my general feeling of melancholy at the moment. The photographs I started to take really reflect how I find myself increasingly seeing the world. However, and there is a big however self-realisation is a powerful tool against depression and melancholia. I am well aware of my tendency to let the black dog through the door and I generally recognise the signs of it creeping up on me but this only works when you have had time to think clearly and this luxury has been in short supply lately.
My current struggle is more of a struggle with a complete lack of self-belief and confidence. I have never been a confident person and find myself time and again deferring to others and then being irritated with myself. I have been through phases of having to work hard to deal with this and find ways of working through it. On a normal day to day basis it doesn’t cause me too many problems and I manage it OK but over the last year work in particular has been incredibly challenging and over recent weeks it has got the better of me and my demons have found cracks to sneak through and play havoc. I hate feeling as I have felt recently. I have had to battle with not bursting into tears in front of work colleagues, I have felt vulnerable, I have found myself physically grieving for part of my former role as it was my security blanket.
BUT I am lucky as I work in an environment where others seem to see something in me which I can’t see. They have given me the opportunity to step up and take on significantly more responsibility and challenges not because they want to test me or catch me out but because they believe I am very capable. I have been told by the big boss that they want to give me a chance to flourish, I have been told by the nearly big boss that I have been growing over the last few months since the box I was trapped in was opened, and that I underestimate the high regard my colleagues hold me in. I have had a pep talk from the biggest boss about pushing out of my comfort zone, through my learning zone, and reducing my panic zone. I know it sounds all gobbledygook but the diagram he drew to explain made real sense. Every one, it seems, believes in me apart from me.
While I have been busy over the past 6 months dealing with the transitions, covering essentially 3 roles until a few weeks ago, and wondering what on earth the answer is to countless questions I have also been unconsciously putting up my self-protective barriers. I have always done this at time of stress and unease. I’m a natural loner, a real introvert, and I retreat even further when I feel threatened or vulnerable and I realise now that this is what is really behind my withdrawal from social media, first Twitter, then Facebook and latterly my blog. Perversely due to my struggle to find anything in the garden to blog about, mainly I think because of my depression, I tried to find other inspiration which led to the attempt to do the blogging challenge which in blogging terms pushed me over the top!!
Yesterday, I went to the HPS group and was cross with myself, yet again, for not joining in the group discussion about a plant I grow which few do. Mr Brown told me off, nicely, but he is right. So it’s up to me now. I have to pull myself together and start believing in my abilities and stop worrying that I will make a mistake, or look stupid, or upset someone.
Last night I went back on Twitter, very hesitantly as it can be a challenging place for someone of a fragile nature, but I was welcomed back and had a good chat with a fellow plant nut, something I missed. This morning in the garden after seeing the decaying roses and leaves I started to notice the new growth including the bulb above, which might be a Scilla autumnalis, and today I have written this post. I have written it to tell myself off, to rationalise the emotional maze I am stumbling through at the moment and to try to make myself move forward. Readers of this blog have always been incredibly supportive and I am not looking for more support or crying out for help – as I have said above I am not short of that both at home and work. I suppose I am just throwing down a marker to myself that I need to move forward now.
There are two ways to look at most things in life – either you take a positive approach, the old glass half full approach, or a negative approach, the glass half empty approach. Being a positive kind of soul, often on the verge of turning into a middle-aged (now there’s positive) Pollyanna I like to find an upbeat spin to most things. So I will not be saying I have failed with the NaBloMoPo challenge – although I have. Instead I am going to tell you how trying to write a blog post a day has been a bit like some form of aversion therapy for my blogging habit, albeit unexpected.
I was doing Ok until last week. Last week was a crazy week. We had our award ceremonies at work so I spent 4 days hosting VIPs during 8 ceremonies: transporting them backwards and forwards between venues which meant something like 16 coach trips; eating seemingly piles of couscous salad and tartlets and other things which I can’t even remember now; attending two dinners; and making more small talk than any one person should be expected to. This meant that at the end of each day I was collapsing through the door brain-dead and on the couple of evenings when I might have had time to write something there was definitely nothing there to be said. So the blog was forgotten.
Now a strange thing happened. It didn’t bother me that I couldn’t write a blog post and even stranger this weekend I couldn’t be bothered to write one even though I had plenty of time and my head had cleared. This is very strange indeed as for the past 8 years I have blogged religiously 3 or 4 times a week, and sometimes more. When I have been away I have missed blogging. I have often said that I have done it so long that it is part of my routine, it’s a habit – but it seems not.
Why this change? I don’t really know. There is an element of work being very challenging of late leaving me exhausted but I am also spending more and more time on other things apart from gardening. Dont get me wrong I love my garden and I am still fascinated by plants but I don’t feel a need to write about it all the time any more. I have been playing around on the blog experimenting with writing about other things and its Ok but if I am honest doing the NaBloMoPo really made me feel that I was writing for the sake of it and any enjoyment I might have got was lost so why do it. When I started blogging all those years ago it was primarily to connect with other horticulturally minded people and I have done that which is great but I have also in the last few years met lots of people in the ‘real’ world through the various groups I have discovered. These groups have led over the last year to me being involved more in horticulture such as my role as recorder for the RHS Symphyotrichum trial and I think my need for horticultural input is being met more, these days, in this way than on-line.
I doubt I will stop blogging, and I will definitely finish the End of Month meme this year but I have a strange sense of being liberated from something which is quite wonderful.
The only reason for this post is to reassure regular readers that I haven’t completely fallen off the planet.
I am quietly thrilled with the plant above. “Why?” I hear you ask, “It is but a small orchid with no flower!” “But look at the small shoot that has appeared between the leaves and is growing rapidly upwards – it could be a new flower shoot”.
I have never ever managed to re-flower a Moth Orchid, it’s just one if those challenges I have failed at and the plants generally end up on the compost bin. I stopped bothering buying them as I was so fed up but back in the spring I was tempted to have another go. Surely it can’t be that hard, my aunt has one that never seems to stop flowering and she says she ignores it most of the time.
Then back in May when I visited OurGarden@19 I was reminded that Irene is a whizz with orchids and has quite a display. She kindly gave me some tips about feeding them regularly and watering and that I should cut the flower stem when the flowers have finished down by 3 nodes. I have failed with this last instruction as each of the 4 plants I have seem to have finished flowering and within a short period the stems go dry and brittle. Maybe I am leaving it too long and need to cut it down before there are no flowers left. But I have been feeding the orchids and there have been new leaves on all of them and now this shoot so fingers crossed.
October has been a kind month to this gardener. We have had generally dry weekends with milder temperatures than normal allowing me to spend some quality time in the garden. My efforts have been small but widespread and really have been little more than planting out bulbs and some perennials. I have spent as much time looking, peering and pondering.
As you can see the Field Maple, I think that is what the tree is, is dropping its leaves. There were nearly as many a week ago and the tree has still more to drop. I love autumn leaves; they always take me back to my childhood and jumping into large piles of beech leaves in my parents’ garden. But I can’t leave these leaves as they make the steps too hazardous. I also don’t agree with the whole slow gardening approach which argues that you should leave the leaves in borders etc to rot down and feed the soil just as happens in nature. This does not take into account that we, well I, garden my garden more intensively than happens in nature and the decaying leaves act as an overwinter home for all sorts of slugs and pests. It always amuses me that those who extol the virtues of slow gardening loudest are also the ones who complain most about slugs!
The milder temperatures mean that a lot of deciduous plants are still looking very green and even attempting a second flush of flowers. Many of my roses have more buds on them than they did in early summer although I think it is unlikely that many will actually open. I have started to cut back and tidy the Big Border. I generally work through the borders on a regular basis cutting back any plants that are going over and once I have an area that is pretty tidy I give it a good mulch of home-made compost. Due to the number of bulbs in the garden this is probably the best chance I will get in the year to mulch as come early spring there will be too many bulbs pushing through the ground to work round.
The top of the woodland border has really come on this year. Most of this area was dominated by an Acer which sadly died just over a year ago. There are quite a few shrubs here now but they are all still quite young and will take a while to bulk up so I have been planting the rest of the border up with other woodland favourites including epimediums, hellebores and honesty. I am hoping that next spring it will look very pretty. I will also get to see whether I had relocated some snowdrops here or not!
The bottom half of the woodland border is more established having been planted some 3 or 4 years ago. I am pleased with the foliage textures but it needs a bit of tweaking; I’m not sure what exactly but something. I will have to look back over this year’s photographs to try to identify why my instinct is telling me this area needs some attention.
And finally the grass path which has survived my ponderings of removing it and is now enjoying the unusual prospect of being a fixed element of the garden. Over the last few months I have added a number of grasses to the garden particularly either side of this path and they have brought some sort of cohesion to the planting as well as providing movement and airiness. I need to work on the border to the right of the path. The planting between the grass in the right hand corner and the small prunus is distinctly lacking. In the spring it is full of hellebores and other spring delights, followed by hostas and I would like to add something to bring interest to overlap with the end of the hostas. Something to ponder over the winter.
So that is my garden at the end of October. If you would like to join in the with the End of Month View please do, the more the merrier. You can use the meme in any way you wish. I tend to take photographs of the same views during the year, others like to do a tour of their garden, or use the meme to follow a project. Whatever approach you take all I ask is that you link back to this blog in your post and leave a link to your post in the comment box below. It will help us find each other and pop by for a look-see at what is happening in your garden.
Here is my response to WordPress’ weekly photo challenge: “(Extra)ordinary.”
I thought for a while about what I might have seen this year that was extraordinary. I was reminded of my trip back in May when I took my Mum to Rome. She had a desire to see the Trevi Foundation whilst I was determined we would go to the Pantheon and see its amazing brick-built dome; the largest unsupported dome in the world. My mother was rather blank about this place I kept mentioning. Luckily it wasn’t that far from the Trevi Fountain and with lots of eateries in the small roads around it an ideal lunch destination.
I have been to the Pantheon once before; some 9 years ago the day after my 40th birthday. I was in Rome on a mad work trip which lasted little more than 24 hours. Our hosts were so determined that I should see the sights that we did a tour of Rome at midnight which was quite magical but the Pantheon was the one place we couldn’t look inside at that time of night.
I am so glad that I insisted we went to the Pantheon. It was the highlight of the trip for me. I found the vastness of the interior awesome especially when you think it was built around 125 AD in the reign of Hadrian, he of the long wall. The opening at the top of the roof is 8.8m in diameter that’s 28.87 ft ; the total diameter is 43.2m (141.73ft). Added to this is its religious significance. I’m not a religious person but whatever your faith or lack of faith you cannot help but be moved by the religious imagery throughout the building.
The Pantheon – a truly extraordinary place.
Having spent the day recording the new RHS Symphyotrichum trial at Old Court Nurseries I thought it would be appropriate to focus on ‘Asters’ in this month’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post. Above is one of my real favourites, Aster x frikartii ‘Wunder von Stafa’. I love the large daisy like flowers, it has a nice open habit and being of short-medium height works well in the border.
Symphyotrichum ‘Les Moutiers’ is another one which I have been admiring for the last few weeks. It has strong stems so needs little supporting and the flowers are more pink that it seems in the photograph. It has a very elegant habit and a nice height of 4-5ft (difficult to tell on my slope) and is clumping up well.
Another aster whose photo doesn’t really show its colour properly is Symphyotrichum ‘Ochtendgloren’. In reality it is a much pinker purple. A medium height plant so good in front of taller grasses such as Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’. I am hoping my plant will clump up well as it is such a pretty colour and bounces well off the nearby Cotinus.
On a much shorter scale is Aster trifoliatus subsp. ageratoides ‘Stardust’. I don’t think it is as pretty as the others but it doesn’t mind a bit of shade which makes it a good doer for brightening up woodland planting at this time of year.
Finally we have Aster novae-angliae ‘St Michael’s’. I have to confess that I bought this some years ago as it is named for a local hospice charity, as opposed to the well-known department store, and some of the price went to the charity. However, it has really been attention grabbing for the last few weeks with its big bluey-purple flowers and interestingly was one of the varieties that we identified today as one to really watch through the trial. Mine has found it way through various plant moves to the woodland border and is surprisingly looking very good.
So those are my October blooms, for other bloggers’ blooms pop over to May Dreams and check out the comments box.