There is a God*: hellhounds ate their dinner. For like the first time in a fortnight. Maybe three weeks. I don’t know how much these thrilling new horizons of food prejudice are the new treatment they’re on, how much is the weather—although summer only began about this week**—how much is natural hellhound perversity and how much is the Borg.*** But it is hard on the person poking food down their throats two or three times a day†. I suppose it is too much to hope for that this is a new trend. . . .
Meanwhile. I’ve been singing.†† I’ve had a series of tiny epiphanies this week in a sort of PING-OW-PING-OW ††† cattle-prod pattern. Nadia’s new beginner soprano was ahead of me this week instead of the scary could-have-been-professional-WHY-AM-I-BOTHERING bloke. And she was torturing poor old Caro Mio Ben in a way that made me feel almost nostalgic. But . . . I could hear what Nadia is doing with her. In a way that you can’t hear yourself. I know I’ve been that route‡ but it’s waaaaay different from the inside. I could hear her ‘real’ voice breaking through occasionally‡‡ and I could hear what Nadia keeps telling me about me, that pitch is not the problem, making the sound is the problem, and if/when I make the sound correctly the pitch will be fine.‡‡‡
Last week was not a great week in what I acknowledge has been a too-little-interrupted series of crap weeks, and I was expecting Nadia to have to spend most of my lesson winkling my voice out of hiding. It’s a bit prone to slamming the door shut and hiding under the bed. I’m so used to going to my lesson to be re-set that I don’t always notice what I’m doing at home because it can’t possibly be any good, now can it? Nooooooo.§§ I go through the frelling blasted motions and then take the pieces in to Nadia to do something with. So, for example, I have been failing to notice that recently, even when I’m having a crap week, there’s still enough voice for me to sing with.
I was singing within the first few minutes of warm-up last Monday. SINGING. Nadia didn’t need forceps or anything. And we had a really good bash at Vedrai Carino§§§. And . . . okay, so I’ll never be Joyce DiDonato, but at my age it would be kind of a waste, not to mention that I already have a perfectly good creative career. But . . . I do have a voice. I may never get much beyond singing Jesus Is My Boyfriend for Sunday service at St Margaret’s but . . . I have a voice. I have to stop saying I don’t.
Also . . . my voice got tired before the end of the lesson because it had come roaring out of its silk-lined palanquin with such uncharacteristic dispatch. I came home thinking if I sang more and maybe developed some stamina, and engaged more with what I chose to sing and why I chose it. . . .
PING. To be continued. . . .
* * *
** And my annual anguish about when/if to turn the Aga off.
*** Who mess with our dogs and our rose-bushes as well as our computers to keep us demoralised and malleable. Souvenir de la Malmaison is out there laughing her thorny little socks off because of course Death by Sunlight began after all the rain had wrecked most of her flowers this year as usual. Since she’s now about forty feet tall she’s oppressing all my neighbours too.
† Two bottom lines: they get really ill if they miss more than one meal in a row, as I re-proved recently^, and the new drug has to be given with food.
^ None of us enjoyed the experience
†† Well duh.
††† And another one bell ringing at Crabbiton last night.
I was only the third person to arrive expecting to pull a rope and Felicity was wondering if she should have cancelled practise—it’s June, it’s hot, everyone is at home enjoying the long daylight and either drinking their iced tea or pouring it over their heads to cool off—and Wild Robert wasn’t going to make it. Three more people turned up. Yaay. Crabbiton only has six bells: we’re good to go.
Um. Except for the fact that Felicity and I were the good ringers and . . . um.
The funny thing is . . . we had a good practise. Everyone managed to do something that made them feel they were learning something. In poor Felicity’s case this was mostly the thankless task of holding practise together. In my case . . . she frelling made me frelling call SEVERAL touches of frelling Grandsire doubles.
I used to know a simple-minded touch of Grandsire where if you can count to three twice you’ll do. And then various things happened, including that I started ringing at Forza where there are eighty-seven bells and almost enough good ringers to ring them, and you’d better not even admit that you can (probably) call the notorious beginner’s touch of Grandsire doubles. And then when I recently began ringing at Crabbiton . . . Wild Robert decided it was time I learnt the touch after the beginner’s touch.
I have spectacularly failed to learn this new touch, and in the process—especially since it’s been a while since I tried to call it—I have forgotten the beginner’s touch.
Last night I re-invented it from first principles, with some help from the band.^ It took three tries but . . . we did it. And the teeny-weeny epiphany was: Wild Robert wants me to learn this second touch because it’ll force me to pay attention to where the other bells are, rather than blindly following a simple pattern for my bell. I don’t have enough brain. Counting to three twice is enough, when you’re also ringing a frelling bell.
Except . . . I had to pay some attention to where the other bells were last night, to re-figure out the simple pattern for mine. I didn’t do it well or thoroughly . . . but I did it enough to have a tiny insight into what Wild Robert is on about. And what I’d have to do to call his nasty next touch. PING. OW.
Now I have to decide if I’m going to tell him.
^ YOU CAN’T CALL A BOB THERE.
‡ Including torturing Caro Mio Ben.
‡‡ Note that she has more voice than I did when I began, but, as I was telling someone again recently, everyone has more voice than I did when I began. Nadia, Sorceress. Put her up against Circe and Circe would creep away weeping and get a job as an insurance adjuster.
‡‡‡ This is not to say there aren’t pitch problems out there. I used sometimes to follow a woman with quite a nice voice . . . who couldn’t carry a tune in a basket. I think she has stopped coming.
§ Also just hearing Nadia beginning to open her up is cheering somehow. It makes it more of a process and less . . . sorcery.
§§ I’m also having a meltdown crisis of confidence about the Samaritans as we approach the end of training and the beginning of duty. SIIIIIIIIIGH. I am so predictable.
§§§ Mozart is my man. Although if anyone could find a half-decent edition of Beethoven’s folk song arrangements for solo voice I would be all over it.
We have roses. We’re not supposed to have roses—it’s only the end of frelling April—and we don’t have many, but we do have roses. And they’re not even the so-called species* roses which are often the early ones, but proper overbred garden roses. Peter’s is even an Austin for pity’s sake, although she is on the front wall of the mews, and that courtyard is a heat sink, but I’m used to Austins in Hampshire starting up in June. My two, Sophie’s Perpetual and my beloved Old Blush, AKA (among other things) Parson’s Monthly, are certainly human bred roses, but they are also known for starting early and going on and on.** But THIS early?*** Never mind . . . I’m not complaining.
* Botanical nomenclature makes me lose the will to live really fast. I acknowledge the need for precision, including that everyone talking about this plant rather than that plant can feel sure they’re all on the same page blah blah blah blah blah blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH but I don’t want to hear about it. I have one perfectly practical, working response to plants, in a catalogue, on a web site or at a nursery: (a) roses = want^; (b) shiny = want; (c) meh = don’t want. I don’t care what you call them^^. ‘Species’ roses, or ‘species’ most things that have a large cultivated-garden presence, are, for my money, and you purists out there look away now, the ones that haven’t been endlessly messed with by plant breeders and look more or less as they did when some stalwart explorer first found them growing out of a hillside or a cliff top or a river margin or the roof of the local priestess’ temple and brought them home in the hopes of material gain.
^ This being why I have to chain myself to Wolfgang’s steering wheel when we drive past the one semi-local rose nursery: when you have a small garden you can do a lot of damage in a rose nursery even if you only go there once a year.+
+ Penelope, Harriet and I are planning a field trip that will involve passing that nursery but Harriet is driving. This is ostensibly because Harriet of the three of us minds driving the least and she has a much nicer cleaner car than Wolfgang.# But I haven’t told them about the chaining myself to the steering wheel tactic or they might insist on my driving for the entertainment value.##
# People given the choice of firing squad or death by dog hair inhalation will probably choose the firing squad. Even if I remove the dog beds and sweep out the back seat it’s still a Guinness Book of World Records situation back there.
## Most of my friends have a strange sense of humour, yes. That’s why we get along, innit?
^^ Except insofar as it pertains to whether or not I can grow the sucker. If it’s going to get eight foot tall and is frost tender, no, I can’t.+
+ Which is why the one fabulously successful stephanotis floribunda# I once grew in my office at the old house and which was significantly bigger than I am when I had to move it into town, croaked the first winter. Both of us couldn’t fit in the cottage kitchen at the same time, and I didn’t get it indoors soon enough one night.##
# Botanical nomenclature AAAAAAAUGH. It’s a lot harder to avoid in England, however. You Americans can call it Madagascar jasmine, I think.
## I killed another little one this winter I have no idea why. It had been doing pretty well, I thought, on the kitchen windowsill, and then it suddenly said, bored now, and died. I’ll probably get another one. . . . ~
~ And I think I haven’t told you about the Hibiscus Forest. Peter had a very, very, very, very badly neglected hibiscus houseplant that I tried to kind of fatten up for the chop so I could get some cuttings off it before/when I pruned it because I suspected the pruning would kill it. It did. I had about eight viable cuttings which to my total astonishment struck= which I therefore had to pot on and figure out what to do with. First winter they all fit on the same windowsill, no problem. And then the gardening books always tell you to put your houseplants outdoors for the summer because all indoor plants are ipso facto dying== and this will make them happy and strong to survive another winter on your windowsill.
The hibiscus cuttings hated being outdoors. I kept trying to find the hibiscus sweet spot and they kept saying, no, this isn’t it, waaaaaaah, we want murky daylight through glass, we want house spiders and dust, we want dog hair. I lost three of them. I thought I was going to lose a fourth, but it was still semi-clinging to life by early last autumn when I gave up and brought them indoors long before frost would become an issue. All five of them have shot up and out over the winter and I’m going to have to pot them on and . . . you know, common-or-garden-variety hibiscus get kind of large.
= Ie grew roots and looked like living.
== Although if you want to get technical about it everything alive is dying.
** I’ve told you before that in a mild winter Old Blush will have a flower out for Christmas.^ I haven’t had Sophie in town long enough, and at the old house she was in a dumb place and shut down flowering with the majority.
^ Mythology states that Thomas Moore’s Last Rose of Summer was an Old Blush. Mind you, what exactly is going on in that poem is, perhaps fortunately, a trifle obscure. If he’s really tearing up a rose so it doesn’t have to be alooone, he’s a dipstick with a tendency to vandalism and it’s no wonder he doesn’t have any friends.
*** Apologies to the forum member whom I told quellingly she would not see roses when she was over here the end of April. I hope there are banks, walls and gazebos of blooming roses wherever you are.
So I’m cruising a gardening site because I have no self-control and they’re having a HALF PRICE sale* and I come to the description of something under the ‘cottage garden plants’ category. The heading describes it as a ‘half hardy annual’. This means it’ll die if it freezes, but it’ll be toast next winter anyway so your job is only not to plant it out too early now. And then in the description below the heading you are informed that while it is hardy to 18° F—which is pretty seriously hardy—it would be grateful for a little winter protection which if such is provided it will go on rewarding you with a dazzling floral display for years to come. Oh? Yes? Um.
It’s no wonder people think gardening is complicated and confusing.
* * *
* I didn’t tell you I ordered another eight roses, did I? Speaking of sales. Peter Frelling Beales http://www.classicroses.co.uk/ had a loooooong end-of-bareroot-season sale AND THEY KEPT FRELLING SENDING ME REMINDERS. I KNOW. I READ YOUR LAST EMAIL, THANKS. I WISH YOU’D GO AWAY. THE SALE WAS FOR FORTY PERCENT OFF. FORTY PERCENT OFF ROSE BUSHES???? YOU CAN’T EXPECT ME TO RESIST—TO GO ON RESISTING—THAT LEVEL OF TEMPTATION, CAN YOU? Well, I can’t, and it was my credit card. Besides, I have at least a half-packet of that help-the-roots-to-grow symbiotic fungus stuff left . . .
The thing is I got all those roses I bought from the (relatively) local rose nursery planted and then discovered . . . I still had perennial-shrub sized gaps left. ‘Perennial shrub’ is a slightly flexible concept in my garden, of course, as is ‘gap’: it’s surprising what (and how much) you can get to grow in a too-small pot if you keep it fed and watered. This—right now—is also the most dangerous time of year for me—I’ve probably (finally^) done a certain amount of clearing out of winter detritus: of last year’s annuals, last year’s failures, and the pruning you should maybe have done last autumn but I didn’t not only because I’m absent-minded and disorganised but because if you have a hard winter some things, including roses, will probably die back some, so if you have to take the last six inches off a three-foot stem that still leaves two and a half feet of live plant which you can prune later on if you want to for shape and so on. If you cut it down hard last autumn, six inches of dead wood may leave you come spring with three inches of live plant, which is risky. But I’m not a hard pruner anyway: I figure if a rose bush wants to be five foot—or fifteen—you’ll make it unhappy by trying to prune it to be three or six.^^
. . . Anyway.^^^ This time of year there is probably bare earth out there. Bare. Earth. In MY garden. Somewhere I could PLANT SOMETHING. Or wedge a pyramid of pots into/onto/around. This goes badly to my head. Despite the fact that by the end of March I’ve frelling DONE ALL MY SPRING ORDERING. I DON’T NEED TO DO ANY MORE. Except that what I’ve ordered is beginning to fade into the dank dark mists of the previous winter during which you wrote out copious lists of possible plant orders as a gesture of hope and belief in the future and a quelling or at least muffling of cabin fever#. And of course I never get around to printing out the invoices## of my final orders. . . . And then the frelling sale come-ons start appearing in your email. . . .
Coming up ten (gleeeeeeep) years ago, when I bought the cottage, I looked at the Way Too Gardenery a Garden that the previous owner### was leaving me and thought, I am not going to turn this into a Rose Garden. I am going to evolve it a little more toward Old Fashioned Messy Cottage Garden and away from Plantsperson’s Educational Display . . . but it’s NOT going to be a rose garden with a few pansies.
Well, it isn’t. It’s a rose garden with a few pansies, clematis, delphiniums, foxgloves, primroses, fuchsias, begonias, dahlias, hellebores, daffodils, hyacinths, a few tulips, one trillium, snowdrops, crocuses, lungwort, corydalis, epimedium, geraniums/pelargoniums/whatsit, two bleeding hearts, snapdragons, cosmos, one hydrangea, one gardenia, daylilies, irises, dianthus, dwarf Japanese maples, Japanese frelling anemones, camellias, dwarf rhododendrons, peonies . . . some other stuff, including several things I either don’t know the name of or have forgotten the name of . . . and a flowering currant, a corkscrew hazel and an apple tree.% It’s a rose garden with friends.
. . . It’s okay though. You can click on the Peter Beales link, the sale is over. I don’t recommend you sign up for their email list, however, unless you live somewhere Beales won’t ship to.
^ No, no! You’re supposed to leave your rubbish alone over the winter! It gives WILDLIFE SHELTER AND FOOD! ‘Wildlife’ includes the frelling mice I yesterday animadverted, as well as slugs, snails, vine weevils, lily beetles and black spot fungal spores. And my incredibly spoilt local bird populations don’t eat seed heads or berries or rose hips. And the bats are hibernating.
^^ There are fashions in pruning as in most things. Some years I’m in fashion. Some years I’m not in fashion. Feh.
^^^ Buckminster, our vicar, gets quite a lot of stick for being easily distracted. Church services when our vicar is preaching+ have been known to run on quite a while over time because Buck has been chasing hares (again). I was thinking this Sunday while everyone was giggling that it’s a good thing no one at St Margaret’s—so far as I know—reads Robin McKinley’s Days in the Life.++ Especially Buck himself. It might give him ideas.
+ You want to get home on time, pray Buck is not preaching.
++ With footnotes.
# Yes, you can get a cabin-fever equivalent even in the south of England, although in my case anyway the lack of daylight is almost as claustrophobi-fying as not being able to get out the door because of the snowdrifts.+ This winter, of course, the solid wall of falling water that went on for about three months accentuated that shut-in feeling.
+ Pay the guy with the bulldozer scoop on the front of his muscle pick-up who clears your driveway for you promptly. Never mess with a guy with a bulldozer scoop on the front of his muscle pick-up, especially not in a winter with a lot of snow.
## I’d only lose them. So why bother.
### Trained horticulturists. Double feh.
% And I’m TRYING AGAIN with the witchhazel and the magnolia stellata, drat them anyway. And does anyone know how to get a frelling foxtail lily to FLOWER? The beastly thing is coming up for the third year in a row but I’ve yet to get a flower out of it. But three of my meconopsis are alive. YAAAAAAAY.
I bought nine roses last week.* AND I PLANTED THE LAST TWO OF THEM TODAY. It’s only been a WEEK.** And I’ve already got ALL OF THEM them in the ground.*** Are you impressed? Trust me, you should be impressed.
So I thought I’d give myself a Slightly Short Blog Day to celebrate.† And maybe I’ll do a little work. Or go to bed early.†† Or something.
* * *
* Hey. I need more roses.
** I can’t remember if I told you this story or not^. I’d ordered from a rose nursery that isn’t impossibly far from here and said I would pick them up. When they rang me that my roses were ready I suggested to Peter that he come too and we’d go on afterward to the big public garden nearby and have a wander. So that’s what we did. Except that by the time we got to the big public garden . . . we were too tired.^^ So we didn’t walk around it. Ho hum. Life in the Slow Lane. But I did get my roses.
^ And the Footnote Labyrinth makes trying to look back and check somewhat challenging.
^^ In my case all that frelling driving was aggravated by a long conversation I had with one of the rose-nursery proprietors about, how surprising, roses. She was full of embarrassing information I should have known.+ I have, for example, never had any luck with the symbiotic fungus stuff that you put in the hole when you plant your rose, and it colonises the roots which then develop like crazy in all directions and your rose is very, very happy. Except it didn’t and it wasn’t. I thought it was another fashionable scam. Nobody told me that root fungi don’t like blood-fish-and-bone which is the traditional rose and general perennial shrub food. You ALWAYS put BFB in the hole you’re planting a rose in. Not when you’re using mycorrhizal fungi. Oh. –So I bought some more of the frelling stuff and have used it. Except I’ve only used about half the packet and it only keeps for about a year and it’s stupidly expensive, you wouldn’t want to waste it nooooooooooo. . . . .
+ Although we did a little mutual howling about people who don’t get it that roses are, you know, living things. I told her a story I know I’ve told you, from when we were still at the old house and opened our garden on the National Gardens Scheme. I had someone at least once every open day saying, your roses are amazing, how do you get your roses to be so amazing? My roses are barely struggling along. And I would say, well, what do you feed them? And they would look at me blankly and say, Feed them? FOR PITY’S SAKE, GUYS. HOW DO YOU THINK ROSES PRODUCE ALL THOSE FLOWERS? MAGIC? How can anyone look at a modern, repeat-flowering rose, frelling bowed down by the weight of its flowers, not least because it’s been overbred for flower production at the expense of everything else like leaves and stems and good health, and not realise it’s going to need a little more help than scratching a hole in the ground and plonking it in?? That’s like buying a racehorse and feeding it straw. GOOD GRIEF.
*** Well. Mostly not in the ground. Not in the All the Plumbing in Hampshire cottage garden. Most of them are in pots. I suspect I have rather good drainage, between the builder’s rubble and all the plumbing in Hampshire, but most roses that aren’t major thugs, in this garden, do better in pots, possibly just because they don’t have to fight off the thugs. But I lost a few this wet winter that I don’t think I should have lost so . . . more pots. A few of the new intake are in pots smaller than they’ll stay in forever . . . but they’ll do for a year or two. Or three. Just keep feeding them.
† Also because I took Peter to the ex-library again today and we battered our way through all the other media and went and hung out in the small dark corner where the books now live. I found a little trove of knitting books . . . and then read one of Peter’s thrillers over tea. During which I absent-mindedly ate a Very Nasty gluten-free pistachio cookie. I think I object to a book so absorbing that you can eat nasty food without noticing till it’s too late. That’s the problem with thrillers: they make you forsake all rationality and keep turning pages.
And then I went bell ringing at Crabbiton for the second week in a row. I haven’t been ringing, I’m too tired, and the idea of facing eighty-six bells and a ringing chamber the size of a ballroom at Forza is too much for me. Crabbiton has six bells, and a pretty laid-back and low-level band, and I found out by accident that Wild Robert has started teaching there pretty regularly again. So I went along last week and made bob minor possible—they generally only have four inside ringers, and bob minor requires five—and so this week they were really glad to see me. It’s a hoot being one of the big kids. Although Felicity had to go and wreck my feeble glow of self-satisfaction by inquiring if I wouldn’t like to make up the number at Madhatterington on Mothering Sunday. Nooooooooooooo.
So . . . after all this febrile self indulgence . . . work would be good.
†† No! No! Not that!
I AM SO TIRED OF WATERING. TIRED. WATERING. OF. ARRRRRRRRGH. We were supposed to have thunderstorms over the weekend. We were supposed to have TORRENTIAL RAIN! We were supposed to have sporadic downpours, some of them heavy, today!
WE HAVE HAD NONE OF THESE THINGS. We had two minor bursts of real rain which according to my rain gauge total a little under a quarter inch. This is not entirely negligible . . . but NEARLY. I heard some distant thunder while I was at the monks’ Saturday evening. Nothing else happened. And we do really, really, really need rain—anything that isn’t a garden tended by a (possibly) obsessive and irascible gardener is brown. I HATE WATERING. WATERING ISN’T GARDENING. WATERING IS A BORING BORING BOOOOOOOORING TIME SUCK. And while you’re wasting all your gardening time lugging cans of water* around the jungle that you had so laboriously somewhat brought under control is rioting freely again.
Snarl. I took advantage of a rose sale last winter. I wrote all over my order NO SUBSTITUTIONS. They sent me a sub anyway**. This one. Grrrrrrr. So, okay, climbing pink rose. I’ll live.
I do splash some water around and there’s a little trash soil from crumbling mortar and what falls out of my pots, but they’re basically growing out of ROCK.
And they’re all frelling thriving, in their miniature way. Ordinary garden snapdragons, which are a lot bigger of course, are also thirsty. Geraniums will put up with a surprising amount of drought: snapdragons won’t. First they wilt and then they develop mildew. And this year’s astonishing crop of volunteers must be all garden offspring, and first generation so far as I know, unless snapdragon seed lies in the ground/mortar/flint shelf until suitable conditions occur, like decades-old poppies waiting for the plough.
It’s certainly enough to make you a really untidy gardener for the rest of your (gardening) life. Especially if you’re that way inclined anyway. But this one is clinging to the few grains of soil in the unswept-out whorl of the rubber stair treads.
But I’m not exactly wasting my time with all that dratblasted watering, am I?
* * *
* The problems of Hosepipe Management in something the size and intensity of planting of the cottage garden are debatably worse than just gritting my teeth and bowing to the inevitability of can haulage.^ I do use a sprinkler occasionally but by the time I’m thinking about it we’re probably into drought conditions and it feels illegal even if it isn’t.
^ I can do a fair amount of damage with my big feet when I stagger in the wrong direction, but on the whole I leave fewer swathes of destruction carrying watering-cans than when I’m trying to cope with a frelling+ hose. Also with a dingleframping++ hellterror about the place you have to roll and/or hoick the thing out of reach every time you’re finished using it or at least before the hellterror is loose again.
+ Didn’t some polite newcomer on the forum recently ask where ‘frelling’ came from, that she’d used it in company and got stared at? RAISE YOUR CHIN AND TELL THEM IT’S A PERFECTLY LEGITIMATE COINAGE FROM FARSCAPE. You can google it. And I should pick up ‘dren’ while I’m at it.
++ And sometimes, when I’m feeling somewhat pent and fraught I just make something up. The presence of a hellterror can make one feel pent and fraught rather easily. Ask Darkness.
** When I protested they told me I could send it back. Uh huh. Sure. That’s totally practical.