Et In Arcadia Ego

14 Apr


Also, separated at birth? .  . .



The Price of Silver

9 Apr

There are no white peacocks to show you, but I do have something else to show that is almost as dazzling in moonlight. A flyer from my local garden centre arrived in the post the other day, offering any one plant at half price. The local place have the odd unusual thing, but at high prices, so I had to take advantage. Instantly I thought of some astelia I saw last time, which I passed by because they wanted £30 for them. Looking around at the garden centre with the voucher burning a hole in my pocket, there was nothing else to better that, so at the price of £15 I have myself a large astelia banksii.



It has suffered the depredations of being moved around a few times since I first saw them, but it still looks pretty. Finding cultivation notes online was a little confusing. What I know for sure is that is endemic to coastal areas of New Zealand’s North Island, so hardiness is doubtful. Some sources say it grows on cliffs (think severe drainage, full sun) and some sources say it grows at the edge of beaches as an understory to metrosideros excelsa (think more moisture and partly shaded). I’ve put it where it will receive full sun from morning until early afternoon and added plenty of grit, composted bark and peat to the soil.
It fits in well with the planned colour scheme. I’ve planted it so that it forms part of a silver line of astelia and puya drawing the eye down the garden – and away from the heap of scrap I just pulled out from behind the garage, ready to throw into a skip. I think it (the new plant, not the scrap) will look especially good with black aeonium planted in front of it once risk of frost has gone.


One other thing: seeds. I limited myself to just a handful of packets from Special Plants near Bath. Ricinus communis ‘New Zealand Purple’ (can you see an antipodean theme developing?), Isoplexis canariensis, Eucalyptus nicholii and Cobaea scandens ‘Alba’. All sown.

Patience, my friends.

Fowl Play

3 Apr

Being on the lookout for any ideas for how to make my garden more overwhelming, I surprised myself when I realised that I hadn’t given much thought to adding drama by using animals as stage props. I’ve considered fish, but they are elusive creatures and therefore poor value. Chickens are popular, but let’s face it, this is the Chthonian Life, not the Good Life with Tom and Barbara. Chickens are for wannabe bumpkins. And they make it impossible to eat alfresco. And they eat the plants.

Peacocks, now that’s more like it. And not just any peacocks, but white peacocks. The received wisdom is that they are only for large country houses, but I don’t subscribe to that cap-doffing nonsense.

So I read up on keeping peacocks. They cost about £90 each. They don’t like to be alone, so you can double that sum. It has to be a male/female pair too. They get up early, like cockerels, and make a racket, especially when they are breeding. And they have a habit of wandering into other people’s gardens.

It makes me grin to think of being awoken at dawn by my white peacocks’ noisy lovemaking. But I don’t suppose the neighbours would enjoy it. But can it be any more egregious than my neighbour’s Jack Russell, which still barks at me when it sees me, even though i’ve lived here for the past eight years?



2 Apr

The work is far from finished, but I have at least dug most of the planned beds now and planted some of the less fussy half-hardy items I have. It’s very satisfying to see it taking shape.



The puyas are still in their tubs while I make my mind up what to do with that long thin bed there.

The echeveria are flowering, there’s this extravagant fellow, E. ‘Perle von Nurnburg’-


Gorgeous, sinuous form. Also, I picked up another, unidentified succulent for £1 last year. I wasn’t completely sure that it was an echeveria, but obviously it is, now I have seen the flower. Glaucous and scarlet make such a strong colour clash, I love it-


Progress is being made, definitely progress.

Bomb Spotting

22 Mar

When everything is bad, it must be good to know the worst.
Theodor Adorno

You know that feeling you get when you see something truly horrible, yet it is so compelling that you can’t take your eyes off it? That’s what I get with The Bomb.

Don’t get me wrong, i’m not expecting nuclear annihilation in my lifetime. Although I do find it hard to believe that it won’t eventually kick off, at least while we organise everything on the principle of competition. We can’t carry on like this forever without incurring various disasters. It’s the same with nuclear energy: it is inconceivable that anyone can possibly guarantee the safe storage of nuclear waste containing radioactive isotopes with a half-life of thousands of years? It’s purely down to short term thinking, ignorant of any notion of the threads that bind humanity together and enable us to see a future beyond naked self-interest.

On the subject of threads, i’ve been scaring myself silly watching films like Threads, The War Game (which the BBC made and then refused to show on television until twenty years later because it was so bleak), A Guide to Armageddon and U.S. Threads-goes-Disney production The Day After.

It is a bit unfair of me to compare the latter to Disney, even though it contains dialogue that goes something like “they gave me this pink ribbon as a comfort but I have no hair left to put it in”. There’s an apocryphal tale that harmless simpleton and leader of the free world Ronald Reagan changed his foreign policy towards the Soviet Bloc after seeing The Day After. Which sounds like complete crap to me. As I understand it, proponents of nuclear deterrence would claim that the horrors of nuclear war do not make their theory appear in the least bit reprehensible, since having nuclear weapons supposedly guarantees our safety from nuclear weapons. Why then would Reagan be moved by a dramatisation of nuclear holocaust? It isn’t like American presidents go around dropping the Bomb. . . . uh, wait, I may have made a mistake there.

There can’t be many other films as grim as Threads. It makes The Day After look like an episode of Friends. If you haven’t seen it, then I would describe it to you like this: imagine the kitchen-sink-drama you may have seen in the past. Nothing much happens. Maybe someone leaves home, or gets pregnant, or gets into trouble with the police. Whatever the issue, it only amounts to the characters dipping a toe into the unfamiliar to see what the water’s like. Nobody escapes the circumstances they’re dealt. Well, that’s how this film starts off. No-one escapes the circumstances they are dealt in Threads either, but the twist is that those circumstances sweep away all familiarity. As if to push the point home, there is a scene that takes place at the kitchen sink, only it’s half buried under brick dust and fall-out, with a radiation-sick man retching into it. The other disturbing thing is the inconsequential way that death is treated. There is a significant sub-plot following the local council’s efforts to wrest some influence over events from their bunker. We don’t see them for a bit, then we find out, almost by accident, that that’s because they’re all dead.

Meanwhile, in an echo of the Cold War, macho kleptocrat Vladimir Putin has had enough of the West’s hypocritical foreign policy (so have I, but you don’t see me going around invading other countries).

Also in the news, Scotland may vote for independence from the United Kingdom in a few months, which is fine and dandy except that Faslane naval base, the home of Britain’s nuclear weapons, will have to be moved nearer to where I live. Add to that the fact that Scotland is sensible enough to barely ever elect Conservative representatives to Parliament, and it will mean that it will be harder for those of us in the remainder of the U.K. to get rid of Tory governments. The Conservative party, as the most right wing of the major political parties, is of course also the keenest on having British nuclear weapons.

This has been a dour post, but the most discouraging (and to me, sinister) thing would be not to talk about it at all, right?

And on a positive note, I am moving back to the old house this Tuesday, where the echium in the front garden is nudging its way upwards of 7′ high and only just getting into its stride.

Plus, Kate Bush is doing some gigs! Miracles do happen!


19 Mar

Recently I have thought a lot about fragrance and done a bit of research into finding a signature scent for myself. The immediacy of perfume is something that appeals to me. It’s preverbal, it works on the emotions. Describing scent is impossible, in a way. Language chases after the affect scent has on the emotions, without ever really catching up. Which gives me a problem because the first thing we experience when shopping for scent is visual: the label and the bottle. It’s a challenge to get past the marketing of them and the presuppositions that underline it, especially since I want to find something that doesn’t go along with the boring, saccharine “sport” fragrances sold to men nowadays, or the fruity perfumes sold to women.

Speaking of boring, i’d stuck to citrus fragrances or “green” scents so far so I thought it was high time I put a bit more effort in. Ones that appealed so far are Blenheim Bouquet, Extract of Limes, Royal Water and vetiver but they are all fairly anonymous.

Terre d’Hermes got me thinking there was a bit more to this fragrance business. Then I found White Patchouli, which is marketed to women but whatever. It doesn’t smell of patchouli at all to me, by the way.

Having since snooped around on the site all these links lead to, ignoring names and all other cues except that I wanted something that was both pretty AND dirty at the same time. I bought a few samples and came up with some that I like. Some were just too feminine, some too dirty, some too powdery, another would make a wonderful room fragrance, but on me not so good a cologne (and with the candle retailing at £80, I won’t be taking that option either.)

Which left three. The first has the most gorgeous, gorgeous dry-down on my clothing, and is dignity in a bottle, but would definitely suit a middle-aged lady better than me. (Any Mrs Robinsons out there? There’s a bottle of perfume in it for you.*)

But the joint winners give a tale of two complimentary opposites. The first is a rose and musk smelling thing. I am convinced that this is useful as a sacerdotal ointment, best worn for enthronements, healing the blind and wiping away sins. £200 for a 100ml bottle though. Bit steep.

Which leaves the other joint winner, called Charogne. It smells like lilies do, but lilies just as the flowers are starting to fade. It also smells of chewed bubblegum. There are the white florals that I like, jasmine for instance. And animalic leather and pepper, all mixed up together. It’s a big character. I had to look up what the name means. It translates as, variously, carcass, blackguard or slut.

I was all set to buy myself a bottle with some Christmas money, but I ended up spending it at a timber merchant instead so that I had something to edge the new garden borders with. See? This post is about gardening after all.

*sorry for soliciting

White Lobster Claw

11 Mar

From seed! I’m really pleased.


Boffin name: Clianthus puniceus “Alba”.

Also, I am attempting Proust again. The librarian had to go find it in the basement. When she came up with it, I noticed that it was an old edition with Philippe Jullian illustrations. The world feels a kindly, familiar place. I don’t say that often.


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