It’s not absolutely all roses. There are a few freshly planted dahlias that you can’t see unless you’re really good at differentiating one green leaf from another.* And how about a nice poppy?
She’s just off screen to the left. Or a nice miniature clematis in a hanging basket:
She’s just out of sight on the right hand side. Her name is Filigree . . . and in the process of scampering through the Taylors Clematis site http://www.taylorsclematis.co.uk/ to rediscover this since of course her label has been eaten by wolves, I’ve compiled quite the little list of new clematis I’m sure I need. **
But I admit there are a lot of roses. That dark red babe on the right is Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which has–heretofore–always been a total flimsy fainting heroine–she even died on me at the old house. I’m not even sure why I bothered to try again at the cottage when I have NO space for flimsy and fainting. But–when she produces them–she really does have flowers to swoon over.
Her first couple of years at the cottage she tried the feeble thing and I was like yeah, yeah, get on with it, either pull yourself together or croak so I can put something else in there. I do keep feeding her. Last year she was pretty good and this year she’s amazing.
She grows in a great tangle with Mme Isaac [Periere], who also likes to bow and lean, but of course I have completely failed to get a persuasive photo of this phenomenon. This is one of those things about photographing gardens that many of you will know: your eye picks out the flowers. The camera relentlessly points out that actually the view is mostly green.
The flowers are unmistakably different as soon as you have the chance to compare them. Mme Isaac is a deep raspberry pink; Tess is rich dark red. Mme Isaac is a genuine old rose and Tess is one of David Austin’s little darlings, and clearly modern. But hey. With roses this superb, whatever.
To Be Continued.
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*Plants. Gaaah. I have [rmmph] dahlias to plant out, standing in little rows in their little pots. They arrived as cuttings, and you whap them into small pots to give them a chance to develop a root system, and then you put them where you want them to grow and be dazzling. You watch them–well, theoretically you watch them–so you can get them out of their little pots before they get cramped and cranky.^ So I’m trying to plant them out as they’re ready. I have one that’s already a good two foot high so I thought, yeep, get that one planted. So I Prepared the Hole and tipped her out and . . . she has no visible root system yet. The faintest of white threads. GAAAAAAAH. I planted her anyway.
^ Although I’ve grown some astonishingly large dahlias in astonishingly small pots when I’ve not been paying attention. Oh, gods, I’d say, and dump a little more flower food on it, and stab in another bamboo pole for it to lean on.
** I also seem to have lost most of an hour. Hmmm.
I’ve been pruning roses. Well, tidying them up a bit anyway. I don’t do much real pruning; I belong to the school of thought that says that a rosebush wants to be the size she wants to be, and she’ll waste a lot of time and energy regaining that size before she starts producing flowers. This varies, of course; roses are fey fickle creatures, and some of them will let you hack them back and meekly produce flowers at the level you want. But my experience is that you will get more flowers if you (a) feed her as if she’s the rooty green equivalent of an entire high school football team and (b) let her grow more or less as she wants.*
You wouldn’t be doing real pruning this time of year anyway or you’d be cutting off your incipient floral extravaganza, which would be even more deranged than growing roses in the first place.** I tend to be so conservative about cutting back in the autumn that I frequently don’t get around to it at all, partly because of that pesky time problem and partly because I worry more about die-back*** than I do about wind-rock†, which means I should do some kind of a prune in the early spring before active growth starts . . . but I usually don’t get around to that either. Which means that when Jungle Season arrives it’s bloody dangerous out there. Literally. We had the whole lacerated-scalp-blood-sheeting-down-forehead thing again today, only this time I noticed it before it started running into my eyes, and managed to dam it before it blinded me.
I have way too many roses that are thornier than average. I’d started by trying to cut out the dead under-bits of Mme Alfred††, who mostly hangs down rather gracefully, like a green awning, but the dead dangling under-bits will get you if they can. But Mme Alfred is only averagely thorny, and I felt quite calm when I moved on from her to Sombreuil. Sombreuil is not perhaps the rose that most needs a tidy-up (spoilt for choice in that category, I am) but I noticed that she had reached a long floriferous arm over the wall into my neighbour’s garden, Mr Ugliest Shed in the Universe and the Roof is Ruining the View from My Office Window, Thank You Very Much You Blergwad and Furthermore All the Ground Elder in that Same Densely Shed-Populated Universe Comes under Mr Ugliest’s Wall into MY Garden, You More Than Ratbag, You Unspeakable Fungus from Yuggoth.††† My Sombreuil isn’t going to waste any of her flowers on him.‡ So I had to haul her back to this side and tie her down. Ow. Ow. OWWW.
One way or another I spent way too much time in the garden today: it’s that time of year. And especially after that burst of decent rain‡‡ everything is storming up, and laying siege to anything it can wind its little tendrils around. If I’m lucky by the time Alicia-my-friend-the-serious-gardener arrives tomorrow we won’t be able to get out the kitchen door. She’s not likely to be in a very charitable mood because I’ll be making her ring handbells.‡‡‡
Although I was thinking today as I found another forty-seven little things in pots tucked away in a corner that I’d forgotten about, it would be surprisingly, if horrifyingly, easy to make a National-Gardens-Scheme‡‡‡-level garden out of something even this size, if you were mad and focussed enough. I’m mad enough, but I’m not focussed enough—there are a lot of healthy, vigorous weeds in my garden and a lot of—ahem—unplanned and possibly insalubrious botanical combinations. I also have low tastes. Dahlias. Busy lizzies. Petunias. Roses. I got away with being vulgar at the old house because the setting was so gratuitously romantic even dahlias couldn’t spoil it—and Peter provided a counterbalance of tactful perennials and a posh accent spouting Latin names—but if I were doing it in a tiny town garden I’d have to turn into a plantswoman and I’m not. I’m not and I’m not going to.
But don’t talk to me about Third House’s garden. Third House’s garden is another small town garden . . . but it’s plenty big enough. Fortunately I still have low, vulgar, anti-plantswoman tastes. Which is just as well. I wasn’t ringing frelling handbells and taking voice lessons when we were still at the old house. There are limits.§§
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* Sigh. The impenetrable-jungle aspect of the cottage’s garden would be significantly less both impenetrable and jungly if I kept my roses to the sizes they’re supposed to be. On the other hand, that would mean spending more time pruning, which means MORE TIME and also more blood loss.
** No, no, growing roses isn’t deranged, but jamming nearly fifty into a space the size of the cottage garden is definitely deranged.
*** Where the stem-tips die, and you have to cut back to live wood. If you’ve already pruned too much off, you’re in trouble.
† Where the wind knocks your rose around so much her roots start coming loose, so the wind is rocking her back and forth, not just the above-ground plant, but down into underground. Roses hate wind rock. Back at the old house I was always torn by the ghastly dilemma of choosing between pruning, and risking die-back, and leaving the above-ground growth available for the wind to get a grip on. Those short skeletal winter rosebushes you see in some gardens are pretty well wind-proof. But the tiny walled cottage garden mostly doesn’t get bad winter wind. So I can pretend not doing the autumn prune is deliberate.
†† —Carriere, who is the creamy thirty-foot-high-and-launching-herself-into-space-over-my-semi-detached-neighbour’s-roof one. I’ll post photos of her this year too.
††† Except for the all-the-ground-elder-in-the-universe that comes in under the wall at Third House. Third House has major bindweed too, which also comes under the wall. Siiiiigh. Neighbours are the blight of a gardener’s existence.
‡ My garden has the cottage on one side, obviously, and my semi-detached neighbour is on the left (as you stand in my kitchen door, looking out in alarm at the prospect), and Mr Ugliest is immediately opposite you. On the right is the neighbour who owns the downhill half of the two-car garage I own the upper half of.^ This is a nice neighbour^^ who furthermore used to have a Climbing Cecile Brunner on that wall so ebullient she used to come freely over to my side. I haven’t seen her in a couple of years and I’m afraid to ask. It’s all right though, I’ve put her—the rose, I mean, not the neighbour—in at Third House. Where she’s joyously eating the hedge.
^ I keep telling you it’s a jigsaw here. The little old section of a little old English village. Get out your micrometers.
^^ Barring their occasional visitor whose unnecessarily large shiny car’s car alarm doesn’t like anyone getting too close to it in the process of getting into the car next to it: Like we have a choice. Shut the ungleblarg up or I’ll give you something to yell about. If there’s an unnecessarily large (shiny: shiny takes up even more room) car next to Wolfgang, hellhounds and I must perforce sidle.
‡‡ Bronwen will be here too, but she’s an untidy gardener, like me, and she likes handbells.
‡‡‡ She says perhaps a trifle grimly, and averting her eyes from the rain-wreckage on the right-hand wall as she looks out her kitchen window.
I haven’t looked at their guidelines recently but when we were opening our garden at the old house the rule of thumb was that a NGS garden had to have enough in it to remain interesting for half an hour. Hey, people crawling around on their hands and knees with magnifying glasses are really slow. Also leaning against the wall in hysterics at the pots-in-pots-in-pots-in-pots array slows you down.
§§ And speaking of Secret Projects, as I was last night in yarny terms . . . I now have a secret gardening project. Mwa ha ha ha ha.^ I potted it on today. Nice root system. If it croaks, it will clearly be my fault.
^ Although this blog business of having to third guess myself because not only do I not want either to Reveal All for a variety of reasons or to embarrass anyone but myself, which is the second-guessing part, I also have to—third guessing—allow for stuff I’d be perfectly happy to tell the rest of you, barring the One Wrong Reader. Feh.
I do know–or anyway I once knew–that ‘Fru’ is ‘Mrs’ (ref a forum comment)–I’m afraid I just like the word. Fru. Dagmar, to my frivolous ear, sounds way too solemn. Fru I’d have round for a cup of tea and a chat, and we’d probably like the same books. Dagmar . . . Dagmar would always have clean fingernails, even when she’d been gardening, and she’d keep trying to get me to read books that would be good for me.
And . . .
Second rose. Old Blush is also out. She is frelling covered in buds. She’ll be amazing in a week or so.
Okay, Agnes, you’d better get a move on. Agnes is also covered in gigantic fat buds however, and will be amazing in due course. Especially the three-storey stem growing straight up. Sigh. I suppose I should get a lasso around her and tie her down. I think putting her in facing Souvenir [de la Malmaison] has been giving her ideas (ahem) above her station. Souvenir is also covered in buds, but they aren’t getting ready to pop in the next three and a half minutes. I can nonetheless tell you exactly when Souvenir’s buds will open: the moment the current drought ends in a downpour that will last . . . as long as it takes to frell all Souvenir’s rain-allergic flowers.
But speaking of amazing things in pots.
No, that’s really her name: Purple Spider. She’s a macropetala clematis which means that over the years she will develop into an intense impenetrable tangle . . . but at least you don’t have to prune her.* She’s also supposed to grow 6 to 8 feet, according to Taylors Clematis where I bought her. http://www.taylorsclematis.co.uk/clematis-purple-spider.html I bought her because I like her, and she’ll also take a fair amount of shade. Usually when some variety of a plant that likes sun is described as willing to tolerate shade, it means she will probably find shade rather quelling. My purple spider isn’t even in a very big pot . . . and this her third year she’s fifteen feet and going on twenty.** She is going to be a serious impenetrable jungle.
Yes, ha ha ha ha ha ha, come back when you finish laughing. I have a pot problem. A flower pot problem. Pretty much the whole garden looks like this (and you know what the front steps look like) but this particular corner is looking toward my sitting room window with the kitchen door on your left in the wall facing you, and the wall on your right is my neighbour’s kitchen. You can see Purple Spider on the right and, oh, I almost forgot . . .
I consider tree peonies to be terribly esoteric and exotic and scary, but they’re suddenly all over the plant-fashion landscape, like lurid clematis a few years ago. I’m guessing that other gardeners find them esoteric and scary however because they suddenly went on major sale toward the end of last season, it was like: Buy a tin of gardening twine worth £2.99 and get a FREE TREE PEONY WORTH £1,000,000! So, hey, I bought some twine. It never occurred to me she’d actually grow up and flower. Gee. Also, I forget what her name is (and of course the label has disappeared) but she is supposed to be deep magenta pink, which she isn’t, she’s sort of a fuchsia purple, but it’s still pretty spectacular. I’ve just wasted about twenty minutes dorking around with my rudimentary and unsatisfactory photo-editing tools trying to get her colour anywhere near reality, and this isn’t it. It’s just better than what my camera produced unaided. Some things don’t change much: most of the reds were a ratbag on film too.
But speaking of red, aren’t these cute?
But speaking of red tulips, what about this one?
To Be Continued again. . . .
* * *
* I try to stick with the Group 3 clematis, which you cut off a few inches above ground every winter. You do have to do it, but at least it’s simple. I have a few Group 1s, which you allow to become a jungle. I avoid the Group 2s, which you have to prune and pay attention to what you’re doing, and even so you’ll do it wrong. Group 2s are the devil’s clematis. I have Nelly Moser anyway, who is a Group 2, because she was the first of the really in your face lurid ones before lurid clematis became a fashion accessory. Nelly was vulgar. http://www.about-garden.com/a/en/1491-clematis-nelly-moser-clematis/ I love her, of course. I’ll try to remember to take photos of my Nelly this year.
** It’s a popular wall. It’s the wall where Mme Alfred Carriere is launching herself into space about thirty feet up over my semi-detached neighbour’s rooftree, and Mme Gregoire Staechlin is not far behind. Lady Hillingdon, only two years old, is gaining . . . and now we have Purple Spider who wasn’t supposed to be a contender.
I think I got some work done this weekend. I forget. I’ve been outdoors a lot. Fresh air and sunlight are dangerous to the middle-aged. It gives them ideas above their mature responsible (creaky) station. I was thinking as I plonked another rose* into Third House’s garden yesterday that there are actually beginning to be stretches of that garden that feel like mine. Chiefly the ones that have lots of roses in them, but it’s a start. This is the problem with taking over someone else’s garden: figuring out what you want to keep and what you want to get rid of, and how to make someone else’s old bits and your new bits Work Together in a Harmonious Whole. I don’t do harmonious wholes too well.**
Georgiana rang up this morning from the wilds of Sussex and said that she was getting out of her seminar early and would we like to go to a garden somewhere this afternoon? And we decided to go look at bluebells. Which meant the hellhounds and I had to go out and find some suitable for Peter’s limited ambulatory range. We came home with a short list which Peter promptly trumped by declaring which wood he wanted to look at. So we went there.
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* Comtesse du Cayla http://www.classicroses.co.uk/products/roses/comtesse-du-cayla/ but she’s a better colour than this. Beales calls her red-orange which is nonsense: she’s copper-pink.^ She’s also been in a pot for the last two years and the pot decided to burst. Thanks, pot. It was even plastic—the only excuse for plastic pots over terra cotta is that they don’t burst.^^ But when this one burst, after I finished dancing around and howling, I thought, oh, what the hell, let’s put her in the ground just for laughs.
^ I have both of the roses at the bottom of her page too.+ Just by the way.
+ Euphrates is a major ratbag, but that’s another story. What I want to know is how they get from a nice little China rose like the Comtesse to recommending the possessed-by-demons ‘species’ Euphrates? I notice that even Peter Beales, champion of all things perverse in the queendom of roses, doesn’t quite stretch to selling Tigris or Nigel Hawthorne which are Euphrates’ siblings. When I decided not to ruin my nice friendly laid back easy going nature# by growing Tigris and Nigel again I didn’t realise I wasn’t going to have the chance. Rats. I like a stupid challenge, especially when it’s a rose.##
# Roses are dangerous
## Tipsy Imperial Concubine seems to have come out of her winter in the greensummerhouse happy and jolly and ready for business. We’ll see. She does seem to be another of these frellers whose flowers are UTTERLY SPOILT BY RAIN. Gah. At least there’s a lot less of her than there is Souvenir de la Malmaison, who was trying to poke me in the eye this afternoon at the cottage.
^^ Okay, they’re cheaper, they also weigh a lot less and don’t need as much watering. But if it weren’t for terra cotta’s propensity for dissolving into tiny splintery shards as soon as it gets cold—and don’t talk to me about pot feet: pot feet are another of those royal-pain-in-the-butt myths foisted on a gullible gardening public—I would never use plastic.
** Ask anyone who rings bells with me. Assuming there’s Monday night practise tomorrow as usual I will have rung five days in a row. Ahem. This is, of course, nothing compared to Niall, who will ring eight or nine times in seven days if Penelope doesn’t hide his car keys and/or lock him in a cupboard. Thursday was handbells, Friday was sacred home tower bell practise, this morning was service ring . . . and I went to a Special Seminar on Grandsire Triples last night which was . . . ahem. Well, time on a rope is always a good thing, it was a tower I didn’t know, the bells were nice and the people were friendly and . . . did I say ahem? Ahem. But they’re going to do it again next month and I’m going again. We can only get better. I hope we can only get better. And while I was sitting out waiting my next disastrous turn pretending to ring Grandsire Triples inside I knitted an ENTIRE hellhound square. To the considerable amusement of several of the assembled. At least one Madame Defarge joke was heard. Knitting is perfect for sitting out—what is everyone else’s problem? AHEM. One of the minders—minders didn’t have the option of sitting out—told me that she’d just bought HOW TO KNIT YOUR OWN ROYAL WEDDING but she wasn’t going to start till after, of course, because she wanted to see what everyone was wearing. Which, if you are going to knit your own royal wedding, seems to me very sensible. I fear I belong rather more to the leave the country now camp, like Georgiana’s horticultural society, who’ve organised a tour of Belgian gardens for that weekend.
You don’t even want to hear about the opera, right? You don’t want to hear how fabulous it was?*
And now I’ve spent so much time on what started out as a single footnote** about the opera that . . . you’re just going to have to wait till tomorrow for the next knitting update. Hint: I finished another square. And it did involve some knitting in the dark. Which may not have been such a good thing. . . .
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* Pretty damn fabulous. http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/season/production.aspx?id=10997
I love Gluck; he wrote the Orfeo ed Eurydice that my pet singing-lesson mangle, Che Faro [Senza Eurydice], comes from.^ But Orfeo is the only Gluck opera I know really well, although I’ve got two or three others on CD. Iphigenie en Tauride is one of them. And I was so blown away by it tonight at Live at the Met in your friendly neighbourhood cinema that I’m going to ask Oisin^^ if, wearing his sheet-music mail-order-shop hat, he can find any of Iphigenie’s music.^^^ She has a couple of arias that have the same kind of meltingly, gloriously flowing line and despair that make Che Faro such a show-stopper.
You know your basic ancient Greek myths, right? So you know that Agamemnon, hot to get to Troy and kill him some Trojans+, asked the gods for a favourable wind, only they were sulking, and he didn’t get one. Gotta kill me some Trojans! said Agamemnon. Whimper! Okay, said the gods. Sacrifice your daughter. Then we’ll give you a nice wind. Oh, okay, said Agamemnon, and laid her on the altar and slit her throat. Gee, dad. So he got his wind, and you know about Troy, and then he came home, and his wife, who was the tiniest bit cross about Iphigenia, killed him.++ Whereupon Orestes, who seems to have inherited the male-honour fetish, killed her.+++ At which point the Furies felt that things had gone too far, and proceeded to drive him bonkers, but with a family history like his I think he was for the pink elephants anyway.~
This opera supposes that Artemis (who is generally the one who wouldn’t give Agamemnon his wind in the first place) snatches Iphigenie out from under her father’s tender care at the last minute . . . and then rather ambiguously plonks her down to be the high priestess with the knife for a king and country who feel that the way to keep their border safe is to murder any foreigners who attempt to pass it. She must be one busy priestess. Anyway, she’s not having a good time, and then a couple of Greeks get washed up on their shore, who prove to be Orestes and his one remaining friend, Pylades.~~ You the audience know who everybody is before they do, so they get to stomp and anguish (and sing) while you are more or less on tenterhooks as to how it’s all going to work out. Iphigenie has been ordered to kill strangers, of course, and Oreste positively wants to be killed, and their family luck is fairly dire, so . . .
It works. I think it works a treat. The whole House of Atreus thing generally has always been way too yucky for me to engage with: killing children, with or without feeding them to their parents, always loses me. But what the story does do is set you up for some characters who are really, really really trapped by fate . . . which is a fabulous opportunity for a really great storyteller (with or without music) to render his or her audience into a wet spot on the floor.~~~
I have some reservations about the staging—I always have reservations about opera staging> —but Susan Graham as Iphigenie is magnificent. Paul Groves is maybe a little over the top but he looks like he was directed to be that way, and he sings gloriously. The only slight disappointment was Placido Domingo—yes! Placido Domingo! who generally speaking I think walks on water—but both he and Graham had (we were told) heavy head colds. She was bearing with hers better.
Anyway. I’m playing the CD now. Graham, I’m afraid, does it better: this mezzo is a little too light. Never mind. Great opera. Not nearly well enough known. Maybe I’ll see what other recordings there are out there.
^ Gluck’s Orfeo is one of my [mumble] favourite operas: off the top of my head [. . . EXTENDED BLERG]. I’d better leave it as [mumble]. I started to tell you my top three operas and then thought, no, wait, what about —? So I raised it to five, and then thought, no, that won’t do, I can’t possibly omit — . Um.
So let’s leave it that if I ever figured out what my favourite operas list was, Gluck’s Orfeo would be on it.
^^ You’re all ready for the Oisin guest blog post riot tomorrow, right?
^^^ By golly I’ll force Wild Robert into those Monday afternoon peals yet.
+ I mean, cheez, his bro’s honour was at stake.
++ One of the things I loooove so much about the standard tellings of familiar myths is the way, in this case, Clytemnestra is demonised: she not only killed her husband—her HUSBAND!—but she had a lover. You know, if my husband killed our daughter for a breeze and then sailed away to a war caused by my sister-in-law running off with a pretty boy, I’d be cross too, and taking a lover would probably be only the beginning. And, uh—Cassandra? Lush little number in Agamemnon’s party? Among his spoils of war, you know. Pity about the gloomy prophecies, but you can’t have everything. She was young and looked good in her chiton. But you know, kings are like that. Clytemnestra—shock horror!—took a lover.
+++ While his remaining sister, Electra, ran around going ‘woe woe woe woe’.
~ Although I prefer the reading—and don’t ask me where it comes from, I haven’t reread my ancient Greeks in a long time—that suggests that Orestes killed his mum partly to take the burden of the family curse—the House of Atreus, don’t marry in—off her and onto himself. In most versions he does then blunder around being insane with everything a lot, which seems to me pretty reasonable, even without the Furies’ input.
~~ There are a lot of eye-poppingly homoerotic friendships in grand opera—one of the most famous is in Don Carlo that we just saw earlier this season—but the one between Oreste and Pylades has just become the eye-poppingest I know of. I’ve read the libretto of course, but that ‘death is a blessing if the tomb unites us forever’ stuff just comes off as operatic silliness on the page, and generally the love-you-bro music is fairly, you know, hearty. The amazingly sweet and lyrical aria Pylades sings to Oreste after they’re captured is a love song. And in this production Paul Groves sings it as a love song. My jaw totally dropped. I was at least half expecting them to fall into each other’s arms and kiss passionately at the end. No. Exuberant forearm grasping only. Good grief. I was just looking at the intro to my Iphigenie CD set and the writer says, apparently straight-faced, that one of the strengths of Gluck’s opera is the way it presents such a range of human emotions ‘without the erotic element’. Ahem. Wrong.
~~~ And I love the Big Three of the ancient Greek storytellers: Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides—especially Euripides. If you wanted to ask me, I’d tell you I like them better than Shakespeare.
> And if I had one wish about operatic staging it would be to Banish Forever the Staggering to Demonstrate Emotion device.
** Some nights I have more of a clue what’s going to happen in advance than other nights