garden notes no 27, repetition, moralising, looking

So what do they ‘really look like’? see  Garden notes no 25, Clematis jackmanii, coming true from seed, white variants, ways of seeing(no 25) For an interesting image the photographer often squats or kneels or even lies flat. Down low looking up. Climbing up and looking down. Gets in very close, using a lens which seems to magnify the view. Looks for the light that shines through the petals. Under exposes the shot to bring out the detail in a white or yellow flower. Interferes with the subject, tidying away dead stalks and leaves which might be a distraction, an intrusion of the everyday. The result can be unfamiliar and make you open your eyes. We tend to think that what things really look like is how they seem to us with our eyes between five and six feet in the air, not too far away, not too close, and (for some of us) without our glasses, whether for distance or for reading. Why is it assumed that you would only need to see clearly close-up in order to read, why always ‘reading glasses’? And why do so many people say they only wear their distance glasses for driving? Wouldn’t you also want to see the hills and the trees and a friend walking towards you clearly?

My old English teacher at school had a favourite couplet to illustrate the pathetic fallacy (it’s not pathetic as in wimpish.)

Il pleure dans mon coeur     /   comme il pleut sur la ville.

Very handy that in French weeping and raining are so close. It might as well rain until September provides a variant: the singer actually wants it to rain to reflect her mood. (That song has been annoying me on and off since 1962!)

It’s the idea of an almost magical correspondence between one’s self and the natural world. I sometimes think that the overblown claims for the beneficent effects of jolly green nature are a kind of pathetic fallacy. Sure, you wouldn’t feel happy in a post-nuclear winter or if rising sea levels had washed away your house, but does a walk in the park really make you feel happy and relaxed? More than a session at the gym or an hour on a yoga mat or a bottle of wine between friends?

In the wrong mood I might look out at the scarlet dahlias and wonder if they’re trying to kid me. And D.H. Lawrence keeps coming back to annoy me: that so-called love of flowers which is just a kind of possessiveness. (see no 10.) As they go on well into the autumn tender plants like dahlias represent a kind of defiance of nature, a rage against the dying of the light, if you like. Until the first real frost and then they’re blackened and dead, whereas hardy plants prepare sensibly for winter by ripening, shutting down, then they bide their time. I think again of that beautiful verse by George Herbert:

          Who would have thought my shriveled heart

Could have recovered greenness? It was gone

Quite underground; as flowers depart

To see their mother-root, when they have blown,

      Where they together

     All the hard weather,

         Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

(See Garden notes no 22. Cistuses, George Herbert’s ‘shriveled heart’, eryngiums (again).

I exaggerate, of course. After the foliage of the dahlias is frost blackened, dig up the tubers, before they too are killed by a harder frost, and keep them through the winter, dead to the world, in a frost free place. these days they will often survive outside. But slugs love them, and wet weather can rot them.

But there is a harmony about hardy plants in autumn which you don’t get from daring, excitable tender plants which are not programmed for our seasons and go on and on through the shortening days until they’re stopped dead in their tracks, like teenagers who won’t go to bed but want to party all night.

It’s wanting to have it all, to live in Eden and defy winter/old age/death (with the help of greenhouses). It’s a style of gardening quite popular with sober-minded protestants who haven’t really thought through what they’re doing. If their god had known about greenhouses he would probably have put them on the forbidden list. Coming from a sober-minded family myself I was impressed as a boy by the fable of the ant and the grasshopper – the ant makes preparations for winter, has a cosy subterranean household, the grasshopper just goes on having a good time in the meadow (and scoffing at the ants’ industry) until suddenly one day it realises it’s all over! He’s dying and the ant, the hard-faced ant, won’t give him shelter.

If you have a patch of wild flower meadow, it’s a good idea not to cut it all down when you’re tidying up in the autumn: some grasshoppers leave eggs clinging to dead grass stalks all winter.

Here’s Clematis jackmannii again, hit by a narrow beam of evening sunlight which found a chink to shine through.

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