The Easter Story

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I’ve sold my baby, my beautiful car. Although I got more for her than expected since she is a classic, I still feel like a traitor. I waved the cash proceeds at Attila and demanded something tangible to show for my thirty pieces of silver. Off to my favourite hardware stockist then, for winter pots. Much like my adored automobile, the old terracottas have seen loyal service for many years. Since I never throw anything away, these have been emptied of finished back season bedding. Violas are vile things. To heck with your heartsease, I’m tired of pandering to pansies. I’ve watched the last ones that I shall ever buy, expire in a purulent heap of stringy stalks. The pots have been scrubbed and set aside for re-filling with tender annuals, as soon as these can be trusted with the weather.
Enkianthus campanulatus (ten years of leave and no flower, until now)
Enkianthus campanulatus, ten years of leaves and no flower, until now

The new models are shiny go-faster black, frost proof clay to accord with the gloss painted woodwork. I’ve filled them with lime green Choisya x dewitteana ‘Aztec Gold’ (Mexican orange blossom), two Juniperus squamata (flaky juniper) “Blue Star”, a Pieris, an Olearia (New Zealand holly), Photinia “Red Robin” and some variegated ivies in dusky shades, amongst others. I’ve put them in a sunny spot for the summer, so that they can put down some roots. I’ll sprinkle the arrangement with miniature spring bulbs when they become available. I’m thinking pale blue Iris reticulata and Muscari armenaicum (grape hyacinth), ‘Valerie Finnis’ perhaps. Maybe tiny daffodils and dwarf yellow tulips, “Tarda” for preference, that sounds lovely. In the autumn, I shall drag the display to the front door, where it will light up the corner with a discreet dollop of colour. With a little luck nothing will die by inches or fester in unattractive sodden lumps, since there won’t be a pansy in sight.
Jasminum officinale & Camellia japonica “Nobilissima” in the conservatory
Jasminum officinale & Camellia japonica “Nobilissima” in the conservatory

With the containers corralled temporarily, I can blitz the porch with weed killer and disaccommodate the grass which grows between the tiles. If I can find the tin of brick acid in the shed, I’ll give the surface a birthday it will never forget, at least until next year. While I’ve been fiddling about with my small scale gardens, my right hand man has shipped huge bales of compost to the garage and discovered that the building needs a complete reorganisation, in order to fit them in. Whilst in pursuit of the caustic to enable me to clean the floor of the portico, he found a tin of white paint and remembered another job that needs doing. Therefore he’s been rushing around anointing all of the windowsills, along with anything else that holds still for a moment. Propping up a spade and lost in plans for my miniscule landscapes, I’ve had a couple of close shaves myself.
Akebia quinata (chocolate vine)
Akebia quinata (chocolate vine)

We retired to the kitchen, me with sore knees from crawling, Attila with an ache all over. In recompense in part, I made him cock-a-leekie for dinner, the broth fragrant with vegetables and a bouquet garni made of parsley, bay and rosemary tied with thread. He was so bushed that he ate the herbs, string and all. He was so weary, that he didn’t complain that the strange garnish got stuck in his teeth.

The Enemy At The Door

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Beware of bear’s breeches. I was enchanted by the idea of a plant that would relish the conditions I offer of sand, drought and poor sustenance. Perhaps I should have been more stingy with home-made compost, seasoned with fish, blood and bone fertiliser. My generosity was rewarded by one year’s long season of magnificent spires of bloom in white and steel grey. That was it. Thereafter, the rich, classical leaves turned sickly Kermit frog green, flavoured with unhealthy dirty brown blotches. I gave it twelve months to redeem itself and when it failed, dug it up. Where there was one huge clump of Acanthus mollis, now there are a dozen sturdy sprouts. “You’ll never get rid of that” said Botanical Barbara. I asked her if she would like some. “No thank you, definitely not”.
Primula auricula “Purple Pip”, ten year old plant
Primula auricula “Purple Pip”, ten year old plant

The rather more desirable relative is Acanthus spinosus. The name give you a clue, it does what it says on the tin. The plant stays in a discrete tuft, refusing to proliferate. It goes without saying that the unusual species, the most prolific blossom and the best scented varieties do not spread wildly, or seed themselves about with unfettered abandon. The flowers are similar to A. mollis, with the added excitement of needle like spines embedded amongst the petals. I discovered this for myself, pushing aside a heavy bud to get to a nettle beneath. The stem bounced back and I was assaulted from behind with a blow to the buttock which felt like a mailed fist. My shriek of indignant agony echoed the length of the street, rattling chimney pots and causing twitching curtains as far as I could see through watering eyes.
Sorbaria sorbifolia (false spirea), highly invasive
Sorbaria sorbifolia (false spirea), highly invasive

It is worth noting that if someone offers you a clump of a good doer from their garden, they have found it a pest of plague-like proportions. The Sorbaria (false spirea) is suckering outrageously; If I had known about such a nasty habit, I would have kept it in a pot. Cerinthe major (honeywort) has sent seedlings into the lawn and everywhere else. Borage is a heartless brute that knows no bounds. A friend, and here I use the term loosely, gave me some of the pink Persicaria bistorta “Superba” (bistort). This hardy perennial has infested the front border, swamping the sexy Kniphofia “Ice Queen” (red hot poker) and making the Lilium longiflorum regret the day that it was born. Occasionally, a piece of the beast is requested by one who I hold dear and I hand it over with a caution as to its rowdy disposition. I do hope that they listen.
Euphorbia mellifera (honey spurge), seeds itself freely
Euphorbia mellifera (honey spurge), seeds itself freely

We’re getting ready for summer, weeding frantically. Attila is ordered into the big back bed with remorseless regularity, although he fears that we’ll never beat the wildings. I crawl around, removing hairy bittercress, henbit and plantain on hands and knees. I like to think of their removal with roots intact much like pulling the heads off with their spines attached. I’m only sorry that they don’t squeeze out a blood curdling scream. My husband threatens dandelions and dock from an upright position. When he complains about the repetitive nature of the job or the backache entailed, I clip him lightly around the head with a spade and tell him that the beatings will continue until morale improves.

Gesundheit

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It’s time for the man in my life to stick cold medicine all over the kitchen worktops. Why do partners always appreciate quality in cookware when they’re burning the ass out of your favourite saucepan? They do not necessarily recognise excellence in dresses or superiority of manufacture in shoes. Too weak to scarify, Attila has baked many beans and watched a lot of soccer to build up his strength. He plies his handkerchief like a thunderclap, frightening cats and children. When he sneezes in the house, he cracks the plaster on the walls. If he coughs in the conservatory, he shakes the spiders from their lurkims in the rafters, where they are too high for me to reach. Once grounded, they may be corralled in a glass and ushered outside.
Jasminum officinale in bud (common white jasmine)
Jasminum officinale in bud (common white jasmine)

His malady has done him no good. I’ve chased him up a ladder to tame the Acacia dealbata (mimosa) which has finished flowering and is pressing against the ceiling in the garden room. There is always a place for pruning like a man and Attila has hacked and chopped like a cyclone. The climbers and creepers are looking chastened and despite his proximity to Death’s Door, he’s cleared up his debris behind him. The sitting room windows look out over the tropical assembly. Sometimes I regret not commanding a view over the outdoor borders as others enjoy. Then, in spring, I watch the fresh leaves of Agapanthus (Nile lily) growing noticeably by the day. The Jasmine is peppered with buds, awaiting that burst of blossom and tsunami of perfume. The Passifloras are still a dream of summer.
Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island date palm)
Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island date palm)

I have been re-homing, moving the most needy specimen into my Xmas present mega pot. Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island date palm) now looks fabulous in the company of a self seeded fern and this years’ exhausted Hippeastrum (amaryllis). The bad hair Billbergia (friendship plant, queen’s tears) is in new quarters, propped on top and I’ll see how it settles. The sharp pointed leaves of the palm used to stab me in the eye as I passed, causing pain, tears and expert swearing. Raised in height by twelve inches, it is now ideally placed to rake exquisitely along the parting in my hair. Please don’t worry, I have a suitable word to hand whenever that happens. Once a huge container became empty, I started working my way through the collection, transferring each plant on to the next size up, as it became free. The Lantana (shrubby verbena) now has some leg room and the Orchids have been re-organised. On the smallest scale, I’ve lost a couple of cacti. Their bulbous bodies have rotted from within, so I can’t tell that they’ve snuffed it until I prod them with a cautious finger.
Just waiting for summer
Just waiting for summer

After a day’s hard graft, my spouse retired to his bed of pain in the company of his fifth favourite football team. He’s using beer as an anaesthetic, with a helping of Bombay mix under doctor’s orders. Every mouthful is well deserved, although the chilli is making his eyes water. I have hauled my weary carcass out of my crunchy trousers, regretting for once that my mental vacations consist of reading books on horticulture. I’m so tired, I don’t think that I could lift a lentil.

The Devil Is In The Detail

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After a smattering of sunshine and plenty of rain, the entire garden is going berserk with everything heading upwards. If I turn my back for a minute, the weeds grow by another two inches. There’s so much to do. The roses require pruning and perennials need the old growth clearing, since I left it intact for any wildlife that could make use of it. Lawns are desperate for a little attention and grass in the paths must be eradicated without mercy. Really, I should be mounting a determined campaign of destruction.
Hyacinthus orientalis “Delft blue”
Hyacinthus orientalis “Delft blue”

Instead, I retrieved recently purchased Dahlias from bags all over the kitchen. I took them into my cosy shed and matched them up to plastic pots just big enough for a close fit without stuffing. Ideal roots are plump, generous in size and sturdy. They should be undecorated with mould, slime or other gruesome marks. Single tubers are unlikely to grow, unless they have an eye where a shoot has started or will develop. This does not stop me from collecting them in a spare pot, just in case. I bedded them in with compost, leaving visible heart warming splodges of leaf buds within reaching distance of the surface. Each was labelled with precision, although I’m aware that a season outdoors with weeding, mulching and deadheading going on all around, will scatter the tags like cherry blossom. When they are hardened off and thriving, I’ll take stem tip cuttings which will strike easily and make the parent plant more bushy, with better flowers. More Dahlias and increased blooms, that sounds like a plan.
Pieris japonica “Variegata”
Pieris japonica “Variegata”

Spring is the time to acquire Hellebores. Buying them when you can inspect the petals means that you know exactly what you are getting. Alright, I know that I have a large collection but this year, I found picotee and anemone types. Attila said that he would need a magnifying glass to see the difference but he’s a learner gardener. Give him another twenty years and hopefully, he’ll understand. I had to joust with another wily plantswoman for possession, using umbrellas as lances. I’m happy to report that no blood was spilled and although I emerged from battle with a limp and a few bruises, I won the prize. I shall get them settled in next week with a helping of bonemeal fertiliser, when I can see the perfect place in which to site them.
Mini greenhouse
Mini greenhouse

Along with the Dahlias, seeds that I threw into trays of soil in autumn, have sprouted in the care of the cold frame. There’s a long way to go before admiring the adult specimen, healthy, bug free and laden with blossom but I can see the end result if I close my eyes. If I was to recommend a single piece of kit it would be this, which has been a Godsend for germination, growing on and close supervision. Oh, I love my lawn mower, strimmer and heavy loppers. My secateurs are so sharp, they could slice through time but they are essential. The mini greenhouse is a toy but if I were you, I’d sell my soul to get one.

Unchain My Heart

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By way of a gift, Basil and Angelica have given me a magnificent bonsai. Residing in an elegant china dish complete with practical matching drip tray, Zanthoxylum piperitum (Japanese pepper) requires a cool spot indoors. Sufficient light is a must so the kitchen is out of consideration. Frequent irrigation with a modest amount of water is a prerequisite, meaning that I cannot put it on a windowsill where I might forget to pander to its whims. Being scared of a plant is not a familiar feeling.
Primula auricula “Maggie”
Primula auricula “Maggie”

I’ve settled on the hall as being the best pitch. I think that the long window will allow enough light and although I’m mostly asleep as I stumble to or from my bedroom, I should notice when a spritz from a spray gun would be welcome. I keep other houseplants in the area, so adding just one more specimen entails a major reorganisation if I want to open the front door. I’m not a judgemental person but push has come to shove. Time to earn your keep. Get out and walk, you pay no rent. You can tell that I’m mixing my metaphors and girding my loins. Ctenanthe setosa “Grey Star” (fishbone prayer plant) I’m looking at you, kid. The parent plant has been languishing and dying in slow motion for so long that I tore off a chunk and stuffed it in a fresh pot. The infant is making a cautious bid for life, while the original is still sulking. I took the latter to the conservatory to complete its demise, where I can’t see it or feel pity.
Corylus avellana “Contorta” (corkscrew hazel)
Corylus avellana “Contorta” (corkscrew hazel)

Billbergia nutans (friendship plant) is an epiphytic bromeliad, getting its common name for the ease with which you can rip off a lump to share with other masochists. It squats ominously in its pot, a rat’s nest of scrawny leaves, with a recalcitrant teenaged look about its face. Other growers have left theirs in the garden. Serves it right. Allegedly the plant can suffer down to fourteen degrees of frost but doesn’t like it. Good. It’s also called queen’s tears, from the drops of nectar that weep from the flowers. Supposedly it blooms with arching tails of pink, yellow, purple and green. I wouldn’t know, since after decades of tender loving care, it has given me nothing but bad hair days. I can make better use of the space, so likewise it goes to the mortuary ward.
Zanthoxylum piperitum (Japanese pepper)
Zanthoxylum piperitum (Japanese pepper)

I found the marble table which is the focal point of my display. I was dropping off a trailer full of prunings for re-cycling at the tip and spotted the stone ware, awaiting a strong arm to heave it over the barrier. The gentleman in charge was only too pleased for me to save him the job and I bore it home in triumph. After extensive renovation, the top wobbles fearsomely on its metal skeleton despite the application of many tubs of filler, so it is sited where there is no pedestrian traffic to cause an upset. The handsome miniature tree is now installed in pride of place, where I may admire it in passing, or sit on the stairs to gloat at my leisure. I think that I’m in love.

Magic Wand Required

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Daddy’s little pink pawed princess is leaving billets-doux for her bit of rough. He’s a big black tom cat with a feral air and a pair of testicles so huge, he has to swing one leg wide, to accommodate his stride. If his vocal prowess is anything to go by, he has enough to go around. It’s a mercy at least that she pees in the drain outside the potting shed, to advise on the state of play. She was neutered very long ago by a vet in a land far away, so despite his potent miasma, her swain is destined for disappointment.
Primula vulgaris Belarina™ “Pink Ice”
Primula vulgaris Belarina™ “Pink Ice”

The pond is likewise a disenchantment. In previous years, twenty or more heaving beasties turned the surface into a froggy fornicatorium, with baritone cries of “broughp”. Apparently the “ribbit” with which we are all familiar, is the call of the Hollywood marsh resident. Probably all method actors, they will have their Stanislavski coaches to help them to inhabit their part in the fantasy. I’ve been out every morning to check if any frogs were dogging. Sadly, I am a frustrated voyeur and the live sex show has failed to materialise.
Hermodactylus tuberosus (Black widow iris)
Hermodactylus tuberosus (black widow Iris)

Worldwide, amphibians are a source of constant wonder. Hot countries produce toxic frogs as bright as a summer dress, which advertise a disastrous dining experience to would be predators. Some live by waterfalls where singing signals can’t be heard, so they wave at each other. Around six thousand amphibian species are seriously endangered by Chytrid fungal malady which is wreaking havoc in damp places everywhere. It has been called the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates. The filthy fungus disproportionately eliminates species that are most rare and specialized, so the vivid, gesticulating critters are more in peril than the common or garden variety. The bully boys that survive anything up to and including being run over by an eighteen wheeled truck, can act as carriers, living through the sickness to pass it on to more delicate specimens, like web-footed Typhoid Marys.
Amphibians akimbo
Amphibians akimbo

At last, two exhibitionists are to be seen in my patch, nestling amongst a dumpling of spawn between the Iris stems. The male on top has a vacant, innocent expression on his face which belies his amorous intent. The female is busy keeping her nose above water. She looks as if she’s thinking about ironing which needs her attention. I’m worried at the lack of participants in the orgy. I can see that treatment of wild animals in their natural environment is almost impossible and I don’t fancy dumping fungicide in bulk around the garden. Some of our most intelligent scientists are crawling around the Hadron Collider like worms through cheese. Can they take time off to sip another discipline and concoct a frog death cure? Stick to the important stuff, girls and boys, we need a happy ending. Subatomic particles will still be there after you’ve saved the world, or at least the element at risk of croaking.

Out Of My Tree

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This is all my husband’s fault. I used to remember the names of people and places, with plants being my specialist subject. I could startle any audience with the breadth of my recall and the amount of often useless information at my command. Before Google, Attila used me as a handy human encyclopaedia. He works out answers mathematically and this doesn’t help with “Who starred in “Lawrence of Arabia” and in which other films did he appear?” I don’t do numbers. Once the sum exceeds ten, I have to take off my shoes and socks, to supply the necessary digits.
Helleborus orientalis “Blue Boy” (Lenten rose)
Helleborus orientalis “Blue Boy” (Lenten rose)

We were wandering around an open garden. I left my spouse to his own research, while I furtled in a flower bed, inspecting something unusual. I was dragged away from my reverie, to face a group of gardeners clustered around a modest shoot of purple foliage. Attila squared his shoulders, pride evident on his features. “My wife knows the name of nearly every plant on the planet” he said. Some ten people turned to me, awaiting my pronouncement. I searched within. Nothing, nil, nada, zip. Of course I knew what it was, I grow it myself, I just couldn’t say what it was called. Their expectant faces, my blush of embarrassment and the miserable humiliation stay with me still. My reputation for knowing my onions was in tatters. It took me a fortnight to summon Atriplex hortensis, red orach, to mind. Now I struggle to memorize my address.
Atriplex hortensis var. rubra (red orach) seedlings
Atriplex hortensis var. rubra (red orach) seedlings

Rain has stopped play outdoors and I’m looking for dry jobs that don’t involve cleaning the oven. I have a disgraceful, over-full box of shame in the potting shed, wherein I keep plant labels, empty seed packets and tags of unbelievable scruffiness. Some are finely laminated and inscribed with the most exquisite inks known to mankind, others are written in pencil on the back of yoghurt pot shards. I’m forever intending to put them in an album, since I can’t abide plastic markers stuck in the ground. Any keeper of cats knows that they take a deliberate delight in screwing up a sticker system. I dragged the container to the kitchen and washed the waterproof labels to remove ancient mud deposits. I strewed the lot on radiators to dry all over the house, ignoring impertinent comments so occasioned.
Excess is necessary
Excess is necessary

I trimmed off anything needless, leaving any picture and the official designation of each specimen. I’ve collated the lot in loosely alphabetical order, because I usually think “I’m sure that begins with “P””. I’m often wrong. I have stuck the entire collection to sheets of blank paper, making handwritten notes where needed. Now I have a compilation of many examples of plants that I have introduced, without embarking on an extended trawl through the RHS tome, full of a cast of thousands. I promise to include new additions without delay. My partner in crime suggests incorporating a gold star for good performance, a black mark for something that has died ignominiously and a grey blob for an item that has disappeared amongst the undergrowth and could still be surviving somewhere, for all I know. This is a nerd’s bespoke heaven. I feel an anorak’s satisfaction in a little micro management and I’m better equipped for identification in this blog or summer’s open day. I’m using strong glue in a small room with the door shut, to keep out inquisitive pets and family wanting to help. I’m suffering from double vision and hallucinations; as they say hereabouts, I’m off my face.

Doris Day

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I was woken on the morning of the storm’s arrival by flocks of Anser brachyrhynchus (pink footed geese) flying overhead. They leave early every year, their departure for summer in Greenland and Iceland heralded by honking. Now their calls were tinged with hysteria and punctuated by squawks of alarm. The windows rattled, the doors shook and the chimneys tootled a counterpoint to the poultry panicking in the sky above. The meteorologists have been salivating over the coming tempest for days. On schedule as promised, Doris made landfall on the north-west coast of the UK.
Helleborus orientalis “Red Lady” (Lenten rose)
Helleborus orientalis “Red Lady” (Lenten rose)

I wandered around the garden, tying back anything that had escaped its moorings. I moved quickly through occasional squalls and driving downpours, wind assisted, although perhaps that’s my personal problem. All of the heavy duty supports had withstood the assault of the weather. Sod’s Law states clearly that anything which must be re-attached in a bit of a breeze will have long, sharp thorns, or branches which lash you in the face, or both. Frenzied and inventive swearing drifted over the rooftops, to harmonize with the moaning house and quacking wildlife. The ancient yew trees at the end of our plot have never looked so lively. Neither have the cats, who completed their ablutions as if they had a gale in their tails and rocketed back through the door as if jet propelled.
Primulas (primroses) for planting
Primulas (primroses) for planting

Attila regarded my scratched and spoilt features with considerable agitation; usually I don’t come back from a little horticulture in quite such a tattered state. Immediately he volunteered to shop for supplies, in case conditions worsened and we were confined to quarters. I waved him away, so well wrapped in outer layers that he looked like a beach ball wearing large black boots. Upon his return, we delved into bags of produce for re-stocking the fridge. Vegetables stashed, the last of his treasure comprised a wide selection of lilies from Lidl, £2 for three or four bulbs per packet. Pink “Lollypop” and “Muscadet”, white “Rialto”. Bondage wounds forgotten, I arranged them in the kitchen, where I could admire both them and his acumen. How lovely, I knew exactly where I wanted to plant them. My mind was awash with plans for candy sweet, sugar coated subtle confections of petals.
Winter garden
Winter garden

Last of the lot were bags of “Salmon Star”, which gives you a clue as to the colour but no real hint as to the aggressive shade. I hadn’t the foggiest notion where they would fit and get enough sunshine to bloom. I dare not leave the placing to my spouse, who has no problem with clashes which put the wind up me. Unless I take a strong hand, he would be siting orange next to cerise. Into every life a little rain must fall.

Not Getting The Baby Bathed

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I should be outside, scrimmaging around the rain soaked lawn on hands and knees, in trousers of steadily increasing clamminess, both inside and out. The old leaves need cutting off the Hellebores, so that the flowers may be better appreciated without thinking about demise, destruction and brown crispy splodges. I showed willing and wrestled the spiders in the potting shed for possession of the secateurs. Whilst doing so, I had plenty of time to contemplate the moist footwear that awaited, once I danced through the puddles between me and the job in prospect.
Chaenomeles x superba “Crimson & Gold” (ornamental quince)
Chaenomeles x superba “Crimson & Gold” (ornamental quince)

I’m not as daft as I look. I stayed dry in the conservatory and cut down the Brugmansias, leaving 6 inches (15 cm) of last year’s growth. In a few weeks, I’ll lard them with fresh compost and Gro-sure fertiliser. Thereafter I’ll start mounting an irrigation campaign, so that by summer I will be drenching them with enough water to give the Aswan Dam pause for thought. The old foliage on the Agapanthus (Nile lilies) and Zantedeschias (callas) has done all the photosynthesising it possibly can. Now veering between crunchy and slimy, I cleared it away to make room for new leaves whose snouts are already pushing up through the soil. I chopped down the stems of some of the Hedychium (ginger lilies) to make a path in the undergrowth, thus filling the air with the scent of spices. This certainly beats working.
Snowdrop City
Snowdrop City

I ought to be pruning roses but the wind is northerly and invariably finds the gap between jeans and jumper. Instead I went to Preston and the Harris Museum. They have an idiosyncratic collection of glass and china, some ancient workaday pieces and others too precious ever to be used. A small clothing collection is similarly distinctive, with outer garments to interest all genders. Corsets, bustles and similar underpinnings for female victims of fashion may be viewed in close-up. Mine was not the only hot breath to fog the glass display case and I was able to swap notes with other heavy duty underwear enthusiasts. I told Kevin that his secret should be safe with me, I wouldn’t tell another soul.
Work No. 960 - Martin Creed at Harris Museum, Preston
Work No. 960 – Martin Creed at Harris Museum, Preston

Upstairs we inspected artwork by Stanley Spencer and Atkinson Grimshaw, amongst others. There was one luscious floral painting and an improbable still life with inflated apples and highly varnished grapes. To my considerable surprise, we found an installation by Martin Creed entitled “Work no. 960”, consisting of thirteen cactus plants arranged in increasing size. The uniformed guide shyly confided that they were not to be watered until March. I’ve rarely been so grateful for a modern piece which made me struggle to find a meaning. The botanical content made me feel that despite all evidence to the contrary, I wasn’t slacking it off entirely.

People In Glass Houses

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We were looking for a new home and saw this place after many weeks of searching and failing to fall in love. The whole building was beautiful, crying out for a caring hand, not to mention drills, saws, and several sledgehammers. I clocked the abundant marble, high ceilings and ornate friezes, whilst noting the overarching smell of damp and decay. The main roof was ruined, electrics and plumbing defunct and the kitchen a fiction. Copious fluid secretions from both ends of two gigantic resident Rottweilers didn’t help, since I am definitely a cat person. I saw the conservatory for the first time, sunshine gleaming through the stained glass and was lost to reason.
View from the upper deck
View from the upper deck

The room consists of rendered brick construction, erected as part of the main house in 1902. When we took ownership, the rotting woodwork was painted grey to conceal the mould. Some walls were defaced with an extensive cartoon, poorly painted in garish colours. The effect was so bad that I felt embarrassed for the owner who had perpetrated such a crime. The doors were hanging from their hinges and most of the plaster had fallen off. The corrugated plastic roof was derelict; when the wind got underneath, it clattered, rattled and banged. The ridge beam and rafters creaked like a galleon under sail. How do you belay a mizzenmast? I understand that halyards are involved. The two flower beds were full of dust, dog doo, fag ends and heaps of other rubbish. I didn’t register the wreckage; from the first, a vision of the finished project was burned on my brain.
Acacia dealbata (mimosa)
Acacia dealbata (mimosa)

Whenever I could escape from renovating living rooms, I headed out to stop the worst of the draughts from gaping holes wherever I found them. I cleared the beds of refuse and emptied them of so-called soil as deep as I could and still climb out to make the school run. I refilled them with peat free compost, which turned out to be poor in nutrients but large on planet saving smug gittery. The cactus collection of decades’ standing was spread across the tiled floor, with only minor bitching about their impeding non gardeners’ access to the garage. My first deliberate purchase was Acacia dealbata (mimosa) which I intended to reach the roof as soon as possible. Daughter Cineraria stood on the landing to survey the result and started slowly to descend through the floorboards. Her eyes fixed on mine as she sank, Cindy showed no inclination to move and I dragged her away before she dropped down to the foundations beneath. Thereafter, the builder added replacement of the soggy joists to his extensive list of jobs.
Winter from the sitting room
Winter from the sitting room

We were too busy decorating to have a social life. The étagère bought for serving barbeques that never happened was swiftly pressed into service to hold the cacti. We heated the sun room for the first winter; this town was notably warmer that year. Due to spousal pressure upon receiving the fuel bill, this practice ceased and the greenery had to take its chances with the chill. Some houseplants liquefied under the cruel regime. Tibouchina urvilleana (glory bush) went west, a few Begonias were blitzed and I learned not to risk notable sissies such as Calatheas or Crotons. I bought a Magnolia grandiflora and an Eriobotrya japonica (loquat) to give me a little height. I acquired subsequent treats when I found them, from many and various sources. Annual gifts to me comprised entirely of trellises, obelisks, pots and plants. After fifteen years, the view of the conservatory is nearly identical to the sumptuous picture in my imagination at the start. The bad news is that after all of the scrubbing and scraping, I am looking the worse for wear.