So I’m on holiday in Puerto Pollenca. And I’m doing the things I always do when I’m on holiday in Puerto Pollenca, like swimming in the crystal clear waters of the bay,
wandering along Pine Walk to the Illa D’Or,
soaking up a bit of sun, trying not to eat and drink too much so that I don’t come home the size of a house. And it’s all pretty much how it usually is, which is pretty much perfect.
Except for something’s different. And the something that is different is that when I’m sitting in the sun reading one of the books I’ve brought out with me, and beside me other people are sitting in the sun reading one of the books they’ve brought out with them, some of them are reading…. MY BOOK. That’s the book written by me.
I cannot begin to tell you how extraordinary that feels. Extraordinary and unanticipated and…. kind of amazing. Because they seem to be enjoying it. And I get to have a lovely time talking about the characters and the places and the plot. Which I love doing, because I love the characters and the places and the plot. Because the characters feel like family to me, and we all love to talk about our family, don’t we?
So here is Sue. And she’s reading The Greenyards Legacy.
And if you’re interested, (which of course you are, aren’t you?) you can find out what she thought about it by clicking here.
….where we convince ourselves that when such and such a thing has happened things will be easier, different, better. When I pass my exams, leave school, lose weight, get that job, find the perfect man, ditch the perfect man when he turns out to be not so perfect, (actually I’ve stuck with mine and am really pleased that I have but you know what I mean), have a baby, get promoted, retire; when the children pass their exams, leave school, lose weight…. oops here we go again….
So anyway – when any and all of these things happen I will have arrived at the place I was waiting for and life will be better.
Well you know what I’ve discovered…. it doesn’t work like that. There are a few problems with this approach. First off, what if the thing you’ve been waiting for never happens? Does that mean life will never be as good as it was supposed to be, you were hoping it to be, you deserve it to be? And secondly, what if you get the thing you’ve been waiting for and it turns out to be different from how and what you were expecting?
Because you know what I’ve learnt…. life is invariably different from what we expect. And thank heavens it is. Because how boring it would be if it was just a question of planning and waiting. The problem is that when we get stuck in the groove of always looking ahead, waiting for the big event that is going to change our lives forever, then we don’t see what is going on around us. And what is going on around us is the really interesting stuff.
Gardens and gardening have taught me a lot about this. Because they never do what they’re told, things rarely work out the way you think they are going to, and even on the darkest days stuff is going on below the surface to bring delight when you least expect it.
You know how it is…. You can pin all your hopes on the roses blooming in June, and like this year they bloom in July. You can plan your entire garden around box topiary for structure and form – and end up with box blight….. aaaaaarggghhhYou can plant four malus coronaria var. dasycalyx (that’s crab apple trees to the uninitiated) and only three of them thrive.
These are the challenges. We have to adapt and move forwards. And more often than not we find that what looked like disaster is a window to a different and better way of looking at things.
That’s gardening for you. If you want order and predictability then you’re in for disappointment. But if you stay alert, keep your eyes open and live in the moment then there is so much pleasure to be had. Like the aquilegia in my garden earlier this year that has self seeded in abundance and joined hands with the tulips. Like the stachys that miraculously appeared out of nowhere (in the compost I’m thinking) because it knew how good it would look with the iris and allium. Like the shuttlecock fern that has spread around the tiny dancer flowers of the dicentra.
These are the joys of gardening – the unpredictable, the unexpected, the unanticipated. We all need goals, we need direction and focus. But if we’re too busy pinning our hopes on the future we might miss what’s going on in the present. And the now is where it’s all happening….
Do you ever have those moments when you just don’t feel right? You can’t quite put your finger on why or what it’s all about. But you just feel a bit s***. And you don’t seem able to do anything about it.
Well this week has been one of those weeks for me. I’ve been feeling like a right old grumpy moody witch. And I’ve been unable to snap myself out of it. And that’s made me feel even more grumpy and moody. So I haven’t been a whole lot of fun to live with….
But have you noticed that if you let it life has a cunning way of getting you back on track? The thing is not to panic. I’m a great one for the ‘I don’t feel right so I’ve got to do something about it right now’ approach to life. The mad busy get out there and damn well sort yourself out girl strategy. But you know something…. I’m learning that it’s not always the best way to approach things.
I saw a very wise friend of mine this week who said something that really helped. She said that we are human beings not human doings. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I’ve realised that I’m very good at doing, not always so good at being. But you know what, sometimes it’s better just to be with the things the way they are and see where life takes you.
And life has taken me to some wonderful places this week. To good friends whose words of wisdom have nudged me in the right direction, back to lovely Long Barn (of which more in another post) for a therapeutic day immersed in gorgeousness, to the cinema to see Rush, a film about James Hunt and Nicki Lauder which plunged me right back into the fabled summer of ’76, to a take away curry on Friday night with all my children home and the family sitting round the kitchen table.
And then this morning….
First thing when I woke up the mist was lying in the fields.
So I took my camera and went outside.
And magic happened in front of my eyes.
The planes were performing miracles in the sky.
Pictures painted by the hand of god….
The northern lights, who needs ’em…. I’ve got them in my own back garden.
Back to earth, feet on the ground (I think!) after time away and stuff to sort out when I got home. And the long hot summer of 2013 feels like it’s drawing to a close. Might have drawn to a close already if the rain this week is anything to go by.
And you know what I say…. Bring on the autumn. Because the great thing about contrast is the way it allows you to appreciate the differences. Between the seasons, the moods, the good, the bad and the ugly. And one of the wonderful things about a really good summer is the way it leaves you ready and waiting for a really good autumn.
But I can’t let this wonderful summer go by without a last post dedicated to its fabulousness. And it’s another one of my ‘where would you be’ tributes to the most ‘where would you be’ place of all the ‘where would you be’ places I know.
My family started going to Pollenca in 1984. It was my parents who first went there and they liked it so much they went back. So then we went with them and the whole thing took off. Things out there have changed a bit over the past thirty years – mostly good things: the beach in the port has got bigger, the centre of the old town has been pedestrianised, buildings have been cleaned up and rebuilt, restaurants have opened and closed. And we’ve changed our allegiances as we’ve discovered more places to go and things to do.
But there is one thing that hasn’t changed. There is one place we have always gone to, and still always go to. And that is the bar at the Ila d’Or hotel. Three generations of my family have sat under the umbrellas with a drink in their hands, gazed out across the blue water of Pollenca Bay, and been at peace with the world.
We’ve gone with the children when they were small, and they’ve swum in the sea while we sat under the pines and ate calamari rings and french fries. We’ve drunk our coffee there in the mornings, we’ve eaten toasted sandwiches and drunk beer there at lunchtime, we’ve had a last thing on the way home night cap there. We’ve taken friends there, presenting it to them with an ‘aren’t we clever to have this on our doorstep’ flourish. We’ve laughed there, sometimes we’ve cried there.
And the thing is that it’s not because it’s really cool, or serves the best cocktails, or is where the beautiful people hang out. Because it isn’t any of these things.
It’s because it’s not any of these things that we love it so much. It’s tucked away at the far end of Pine Walk so most people who go to Puerto Pollenca don’t know it’s there. To get to it we leave our house and walk the hundred and fifty yards or so to the edge of the sea.
Turn left away from the centre of the port, stroll along Pine Walk. And there it is waiting for us.
The hotel is charming, easy, slightly old fashioned, in the same way that the family hotels we used to go and stay as children were. The waiters stay the same, same faces greeting us, same drinks appearing in front of us as soon as we rock up.
The view is always amazing….
Whichever way you look.
You should be there when the sun is going down…..
And there’s no better place for cloud contemplation….
So we sit down by the edge of the sea, and we pick up our drinks, and we look around us and we say……
Isn’t it that thing that teenagers do in the summer holidays? Go and spend a couple of weeks in an office, filing and photocopying and watching the clock until the end of the day. At my age it it’s the last thing I expect to be doing….
The year’s course at KLC requires us to spend time during the summer break working in a garden or a nursery for a couple of weeks. It’s viewed as an essential part of the experience. I had been allocated two weeks at Great Dixter in July, which I had pulled out of at the last minute when my father in law died. And a week at Long Barn at the beginning of August.
Long Barn is the house that Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson moved to when they were first married. They bought it for £2,500 in 1915. It was Vita’s first home after Knole and, with the help of their friend Lutyens, she and Harold created a garden that would be the precursor to Sissinghurst.
It’s a house with an amazing guest list – visitors included Virginia Woolf, Stephen Spender, Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, Hugh Walpole, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. Oh and Jane King of course….
The current owners had been kind enough to offer the opportunity for a couple of us to come and spend some time in the garden, so I went to there to make the arrangements earlier in the summer. And was blown away.
But being blown away by a garden and doing hard labour in it are two very different things. And on that Monday morning in early August, having undertaken the eleven hour drive back from Ullapool the previous day, and with my own garden in sore need of some serious attention, I wasn’t exactly champing at the bit to get started.
Shows how wrong you can be.
This garden is pretty close to my idea of perfection. But it’s not open to the public. So to spend a week there in perfect weather, sun shining but not too hot, working from one area to the next, pruning and cutting back, sometimes talking with fellow student Ann and head gardener Richard as we worked, sometimes quietly getting on with it…. let me tell you it doesn’t get much better.
We pruned roses.
We worked in the vegetable garden.
We got up close and personal with some onions.
And made a lot of trips to the compost heap.
There were unexpected bonuses. I got to spend time with lovely Ann, a kindred spirit in the making. And Richard, the head gardener, was friendly and patient and very kind to us novices.
And then of course there was Vita.
I followed her ghost along the side of the majestic yews planted by her husband.
Walked beside her through the orchard.
Gazed out with her across the fields and wooded slopes of the Weald.
Trying to see the garden through her eyes – and influenced no doubt by the photos I’d seen from the days when she lived here
– I had a moment when I saw the world in black and white.
So that when I snapped back into the present it seemed almost unnaturally colourful and bright.
How lucky were we? Ann and I? To spend time in that special place. To work in that unique garden. No doubt I will visit many more wonderful gardens in years to come. But I can’t imagine I will find one to live up to Long Barn.
This blog is taking on a life of its own. It’s expanding.
It started out as a way of recording my experiences as a trainee garden designer at KLC. But along the way other things have crept in. And recently they’ve been threatening to take over.
But I don’t want you to think that, just because it’s the summer holidays, the course work is taking a break as well. Oh no….
Because there’s the dreaded Construction File to complete, which I’ve been working on since term ended. I’ve still got 11 CAD drawings to do – which I keep putting off, because CAD and me are not exactly what you could call the best of friends… and I know it’s going to be painful.
Then there’s the work experience. Regular readers of this blog may remember that I was supposed to be going to Great Dixter for two weeks. I had to pull out of this because my father in law died, but I did get to spend a wonderful week at Long Barn, Vita Sackville West’s first garden after she left Knole. Of which more to come in later posts….
And running alongside everything else this summer is the project that we have to be ready to present on our first day back in September. Which is no small ask….
This week I’ve been working on the 3D model we have to make as part the project. And it’s been a tortuous experience. There are people out there who are good at this sort of thing. I’m not one of them. I went out last weekend and spent my life savings on tissue paper and plasticine, and anything else that looked like it might help me to build my dream garden in miniature. On Monday morning I went to the little shed in the garden where I work feeling quite excited. The excitement lasted about five minutes.
By Wednesday morning I was on the verge of packing the whole course in. You should have seen the state of my shed. There were bits of torn up tissue paper, drinking straws cut into pieces, broken cocktail sticks, lumps of plasticine, cardboard. It was like the scene of an explosion in the Blue Peter studio.
Which is ironic. Because explosions are what my project is all about.
Crane Park in Twickenham, the location of Project Number 4, is the site of a gunpowder mill which closed down in the early 1900’s. Making gunpowder is a dangerous business. While the mill was in operation there were numerous explosions, some of which could be heard as far away as Heathrow. And over the lifetime of the mill seven workers died.
It was this aspect of the site that caught my attention. So, at the start of the holidays, I began to research explosions. And while I was away in Majorca I spent many happy hours on the internet (feeling uncomfortably aware that some big brother somewhere was aware of the person in Puerto Pollenca typing ‘gunpowder’ and ‘the aftereffects of explosions’ into Google). And this was how shock waves became the theme of my summer.
There was one picture in particular that caught my attention. Not because it was useful for the Crane Park concept –
but because it made me smile.
And I got this idea in my head that while we were in Scotland I should try and persuade the rest of the group to re-enact a ‘shock waves’ moment on the beach up there.
Which is how it came to pass that, if you had been on the Achnahaird beach near Alchiltibuie on a particularly blustery day a couple of weeks ago, you might have been a little surprised to see ten fifty somethings drawing circles in the sand and leaping into the air.
Ok so maybe the jumping isn’t quite as accomplished as the original….
But if anyone else happens to find themselves on a beach with nothing better to do….
Just remember you don’t have to be young to have a laugh.
You know those places…. the where would you rather be places? Well I’ve got another one for you. And of all the where would you rather be places in the world this one is my favourite.
I’ve been going to this particular place every year since I was fifteen. That’s forty years, with only a few missed here and there. Kind of tells you something, doesn’t it.
At the end of July the King family heads north. We pack the car with dogs and children, wellington boots and picnic hampers, fishing rods and golf clubs. And we set off around the dreaded M25, along the M40 and onto the M6. If we’re lucky, as we get up beyond Manchester, the traffic begins to thin. When we get to the stretch of the motorway that runs through the sweeping hills and valleys of the Lake District I begin to feel like I’m on holiday.
We cross the border into Scotland, pass the sign to Gretna Green, where in 1928 my grandfather took my grandmother on the back of his motorbike to become one of the last couples to marry over the anvil. On up to Glasgow and beyond. We stopover for the night in Pitlochry. Then back into the car the next morning for the last stretch. Up through the Cairngorms, onto Inverness, and we drive across the bridge over the Moray Firth, and take the road heading north west to Ullapool.
Because this is where we are heading. Inverbroom Lodge, a sprawling white house on the southern edge of Loch Broom, seven miles from Ullapool on the west coast of the Highlands. It’s an old fishing lodge, rambling and comfortable. Sleeps 20, and we’ve had years where we’ve been 20 and more, with a caravan in the garden to take the overflow. But this year the ‘children’ are all working, getting married, gap yearing. So it’s just ten of us ‘grownups’.
I start the week the way I always do. Wake up early on the first morning. Dress quietly, creep downstairs, trying not to disturb the rest of the house, put on my boots, take my fishing rod and head down to the river. The sun is just beginning to touch the tops of the hills.
It’s quiet and still as anything, just the gentle sound of the river tumbling past. I go to the bridge pool, wade out a little way and cast my first line.
If you don’t fish you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. And it’s hard to explain. It’s kind of meditation and relaxation and thinking time, all tied up with excitement and anticipation and breathlessness. Because who knows, maybe the next cast…. and to catch a salmon on the first morning would be nice. It’s happened before.
This year there were no fish before breakfast. But much peacefulness and ‘glad to be here-ness’. And after a couple of hours it’s back to the house for porridge, and eggs and bacon and sausages and tomatoes and…. Planning the day ahead. Maybe the beach, Inverewe Gardens, golf, a trip into Ullapool to potter about the shops and stop for coffee at The Ceilidh Place. Maybe someone will do the the steep walk up the hill above the lodge to the ruins of the minister’s house. Maybe someone else will decide that this is the year for climbing Stac Pollaidh.
One of the best things to do is drive along the coast road towards Gairloch. We peel off at the wonderfully named Mellon Udrigle, park the cars, take the dogs and follow the path to the coast. If you want views you won’t find better than these. Three hundred and sixty five degrees of …. well actually words fail me. You kind of have to be there….
So I don’t know about you. But I know where I’m going….
You know those places…. there aren’t many of them…. The places that are top of the list when somebody says to you where would you rather be? Well where I’d rather be is wandering along Pine Walk in Puerto Pollenca.
And when I find myself somewhere I wouldn’t rather be. Like stuck on the M25 in a traffic jam. Or wide awake in the middle of the night. Then I take myself on an imaginary walk.
I open the front door of my house and step out into bright sunlight. Past the red hibiscus by the side of the path, out through the gate, and I turn left and walk between whitewashed apartment buildings. Wave at Tony as I pass the little supermarket, that sells everything from lilos to local wine, cross the road and take the turning that leads down towards the Ila d’Or hotel.
But at the end I don’t turn left towards the hotel. Instead I turn right, taking the path that runs behind the old stone villa with the shady garden of pine and palm trees.
Only a matter of fifteen metres and I turn left again. And no matter how many times I do this walk, (which is a lot), I always have to stop. Because here, framed by the wall to the left of me and the stone building on my right, is the best view in the world. The blue water of Pollenca Bay, stretching out in front of me like it knew I was coming and has been waiting for me.
Pine Walk. Half a mile of pathway that meanders under the ancient pine trees, along the edge of the bay, into the centre of the port of Pollenca. I walk by the edge of water so clear I can see fish darting away from my shadow. Past the graceful old villas owned by the Spanish families who can be seen sitting out on warm nights, gossiping and laughing together, their children playing by the edge of the sea.
In recent years some of the villas have been crumbling, the paintwork on the wooden shutters cracked and fading, their balconies propped up by acros. But the past couple of years have seen a transformation – those villas that have been left to decay have had a facelift. They’ve been restored to utter gorgeousness.
When the Spanish do style they really do style. Elegant, understated, fabulous.
As I walk I get a stiff neck craning, trying to peer in and see what new wonders have been introduced while I’ve been away. Things might be tough in mainland Spain but you’d never think it on this island.
From where I stand the horseshoe bay seems totally enclosed, more lake than sea. The water stays shallow for metres out, tempting even as unenthusiastic a swimmer as me to paddle, sand reassuringly firm under my feet, until I take a deep breath and plunge forwards. And you know what…. it’s not cold at all. Of course it isn’t. What did I tell you? It’s blissfully wonderfully warm.
I know I’m coming to the end of Pine Walk when I reach the first of the restaurants and hotels that look out across the bay. But I don’t stop. I keep going until I get to Cappucino. The bar that opened a few years ago in the old Sis Pins hotel. Cafe con leche, (or, if it’s that time of day, Gin and Tonics so big I could swim in them), chill out jazz playing softly, and a view to die for.
To quote a couple of Irish doctors who shared the walk to Base Camp with me: ‘Where would you be?”
So…. just like buses…. no posts for ages, and then they all come along at once.
But I’ve had sketching on my mind. And although I’ve written about it before, I’m going to write about it again. Cos I’m learning a lot from the sketching.
When we started this course in January, and were told that our sketch books were a really important thing to keep up with, it felt like a burden. I’d had a bit of a go before I started and wasn’t reassured.
Before KLC I didn’t sketch because I thought I couldn’t do it. And you know how it is, if you have a go at something you think you’re rubbish at. You look for proof that you’re rubbish. And when you look for proof that you’re rubbish you usually find it. So you don’t do it anymore.
This was my attempt at the view from our kitchen window. And ok so there weren’t any stick people in it. And the perspective was kind of there. But it didn’t exactly fill me with confidence at what was to come.
But the great thing about Claire – who’s the one who teaches us all the creative stuff – is that she gives us techniques to switch off the ‘you’re rubbish at this’ voice. Quick, crazy, sketch in a minute, don’t take your pencil off the page stuff, that makes you really look at what you’re drawing and doesn’t give you time to listen to the ‘are you kidding me? have you seen the mess you’re making on that page?’ screamer in your head.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? When you do something, anything, you haven’t done before it’s very likely, unless you are a born genius (which most of us aren’t), that you are not going to be particularly proficient at it. And the harder the thing is the harder you have to work at it. But if you do, and you listen to people who have done it themselves and can give you some tips, then you get better. And you may not be the best in the world at it, or even the best in the class. But you will be a whole lot better than you were when you started. And that’s a good place to be.
What I’ve discovered about sketching is that it’s much better if you really concentrate on what you’re trying to draw, and forget the bigger picture and what you think it should look like. Really, really look at it. Ignore the voice that says oh yes that’s a leaf, I know what leaves look like, so I’m going to draw what I know they look like rather than what they actually look like. Because then you get tripped up. Because that leaf doesn’t look like what you think it looks like. Because you’ve never really looked properly at that leaf before.
And isn’t that the way we are in life? We meet a situation and we say oh yes, I know this situation, this is what I do, how I behave, what I think, when this sort of thing happens. And we do what we always do, because we’ve always done it like that. But you know something…. What we always do is not always the best thing to do.
So I’m learning that the thing is to concentrate on the bit you’re working on at the time. Really look at it, draw it how it actually looks, not how you think it should look or expect it to look or want it to look. Do it as well as you possibly can and don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Glance at the bigger picture from time to time to make sure the bit you’re working on fits ok. But don’t jump ahead. There will be bits that seem easy and bits that seem really difficult. Enjoy the easy bits and don’t rush them. And really focus on the difficult bits, don’t avoid them or give up on them because they are difficult. Because without them you won’t have the complete picture.
And you know what….. if you work your way through, and do the best you can, at the end, when you sit back and look at the whole, you might be in for a pleasant surprise.
Remember that song of his. How did it go? ‘I don’t want to go to Chelsea.’ Well, as I got on the train to Victoria yesterday morning, for my third visit to the Chelsea Flower Show, that pretty much summed up how I was feeling. And as much as it pains me to admit it, I didn’t change my mind when I got there. Because I don’t know if you noticed, but it didn’t actually stop raining yesterday for the entire day.
Picture the scene. The skies are leaden grey, the rain is of the stair-rod variety. Under a sea of umbrellas as far as the eye can see the Chelsea crowd is wrapped in winter coats, scarves and gloves. And standing on the edge of Ulf Nordfjell’s show garden FOR SIX AND A HALF HOURS is me.
I’m there with fellow student Ioana handing out leaflets and answering questions.
We’re juggling umbrellas, boxes of soggy plant lists and flagging spirits. It’s cold, it’s wet and no I don’t know the name of the peony that everybody is asking about which isn’t on the plant list. It has to go down as one of the longest afternoons of my life.
But two things made it worth the agony. One was Ulf Nordfjell’s garden which continued to look utterly beautiful in spite of the rain. And the other was the Chelsea crowd. Who were just lovely. Friendly, interested, funny. They ebbed and flowed in a constant stream of unabated cheerfulness. They were the only thing that kept me going. Although after a few hours of answering the same questions I began to get the strangest sensation that it was the same people who kept coming round again – the man in the raincoat with the beard, the interested wife with the resigned husband, the group of smiling ladies. It was as if they were on a loop and I was an extra in a horticultural version of The Truman Show.
So the questions were…. Where was Prince Harry’s garden? (Sorry Jinny Blom!) Where was Australian Garden? (Head for the dead tree at the far end of Main Avenue.)What were the pointy trees on Ulf’s garden? (Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata Koster’ commonly known as Cypress Oak.) What was the shrub clipped into mounds? (Enkianthus perulatus.) The beautiful woodland plant with the lavendar backed flowers? (Anemone ‘Wild Swan’.) Where was the Ladies? (I sent people off to the far corner of the showground, not knowing there was one right next to us!) Did I want to head off into the sunset with Cleve West? (I made that one up but you’ve got to dream, haven’t you!)
And finally, at eight o’clock, when the longest afternoon of my life finally came to an end, my lovely husband was waiting outside for me. And he suggested dinner at Como Lario, which is one of my favourite Italian restaurants and happens to be just round the corner from the Flower Show. (Who needs Cleve West?) So I drank red wine and ate wild mushroom risotto wrapped in pancetta, and felt the warmth returning to my feet, and after a while began to feel that maybe life wasn’t so bad after all.