Conscious Incompetence

This week I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the issue of whether it might be better to live in blissful ignorance. This has been prompted by the whole online photography course thing, and realising that, before I took part, I happily went out into my garden and snapped away with my iphone, and felt really pleased with the results. And now I’ve come over all professional, and I’m thinking about backgrounds and where the light is coming from and which lens to use….

AND IT’S DRIVING ME MAD.

So I can’t help thinking about how – before I started looking into all of this stuff, finding out about apertures and exposures and f-stops and such – I was perfectly content, and looked at my photos with a sense of pride and pleasure which at the moment is escaping me. Because now it feels like much more of a challenge, and I’m aware of how much I don’t know, and I’m frustrated by how much there is to learn. And would it have been better if I hadn’t started the whole thing in the first place?

Breathe Jane, breathe…

Because, of course ignorance isn’t bliss. And I’m conveniently forgetting that I signed up to do the course because I wanted to get more proficient at something I really care about, which is taking better photos of the plants and garden I love. And the better I get at it, the more pleasure I will get from it.

My sister told me this interesting thing about the four stages of competence. You may know of it already. It goes like this:

  1. Unconscious incompetence
    This is the stage when we don’t know how to do something, and either don’t know or don’t care that we don’t know how to do it. In order to move on to the next stage we have to recognise we can’t do the thing and realise that it’s a useful thing to be able to do. Otherwise we just sit in blissful (or not!) ignorance. 
  2. Conscious incompetence
    This is where we realise that we can’t do something and recognise that we really want to. This stage is often all about making mistakes and realising that there’s much more to the thing than we realised when we started. Which makes it the most painful stage. Which is where I am on the photography  front (and lots of other fronts) right now!
  3. Conscious competence
    This is where we are beginning to understand and know how to do something. However, doing it takes a lot of hard work and concentration. It doesn’t come naturally or easily. Phew!
  4. Unconscious competence                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Hurrah! This is where we all want to be!! We’re so adept at the skill that it                        becomes second nature and we do it without thinking.

But do we ever get there?!?

Well ,of course we do. But you know what they say about practicing making perfect. And I have to keep on reminding myself that getting there is as much part of the experience as the arriving. (Which reminds me of one of my favourite poems by C.P. Cavafy introduced to me by one of my daughters – click here if you want to read it.)

All of which is a very long lead into the purpose of this post which is to give you my (slightly late) weekly update on what is happening in the garden. As is so often the case with the wayward month of March, last week we enjoyed days of blissful spring mixed in with days of murky gloom. Blissful spring saw me out in the garden with the macro lens taking a photo of what I have learnt from Steve at Glebehouse Garden is Crocus Pickwick.

 

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Crocus Pickwick

 

It also saw me potting up my dahlia tubers, having gone a bit mad on the ordering front this year after falling in love with Otto’s Thrill and Cafe au Lait and Chat Noir and… and… and… You get the picture? (What would I do without Peter Nyssen, bulb and plant supplier of the very very best kind!) And let’s not forget Jescott Julie and the Bishop of Llandaff, who have been tucked up in newspaper together under the stairs for the winter!!

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And there are viola glowing in the sunshine. And winter flowering honeysuckle – Lonicera fragrantissima – whose scent spills out of its corner behind the garage in waves, and whose scent also fills my entrance hall, but who drops its flowers in an infuriatingly negligent manner which makes me slightly lose patience with it.

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And last but very much not least are the goldfish on the bird table. (Forgive the poor photo but taken through the window with the iphone in a state of great excitement.) I’ve had a seed feeder hanging ignored in the tree for months with absolutely no interest shown in it by any bird apart from those using it to queue for the peanuts and fat balls in the other feeders. I was on the phone to my daughter a few days ago when out of nowhere two… yes that’s two!… goldfinch (finches? finchii?) turned up.

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I know – but they really are goldfinch I promise!

Shows the level of excitement in my kitchen. So incoherent am I that my daughter thinks I’m telling her that there are goldfish on the feeder! Now to her that does sound exciting!! She’s a little disappointed when I explain. But not me. I am thrilled!

 

 

Big Brother and Bokeh

So it’s Week Five in the Big Brother house.

What am I saying…? I’m not in the Big Brother house. I don’t watch the Big Brother house. I have no interest in the Big Brother house. But, since I started these weekly posts, whenever I start to think about the next one I hear a booming voice in my head saying ‘Week Five (or four or three or whatever week it happens to be) in the Big Brother garden.’ And I know it’s time to get writing.

Maybe it’s the weather that’s making me hear voices. This week it feels colder and greyer than ever and I’m beginning to feel a little bit stir crazy. I’m looking out at the garden, and I have absolutely no desire to go out there. Which is making it something of a challenge to come up with what to write.

But, luckily for me, there was a day this week that the Great Garden God smiled. And the day he did was Tuesday, which happened to be the day that Chris, the Rose Pruner, was coming to help me with pruning the roses on the pergola that are too high for me to get to on my own. It was the day that the wind dropped and the the sun shone, and we were able to get on with pruning, and I tidied up the apple trees which have been nagging me  for weeks. And apart from discovering that the pergola that holds up the roses and wisteria is rotting away, which is one of those one step forward, two steps back moments that go hand in hand with being a gardener, it was a really good garden day.

One of the best things about it was that I got to use my new Niwaki telescopic pruner for cutting stuff that is very high up. I bought it for myself in January after last year’s purchase of Niwaki shears changed the box shaping/pittosporum sculpting task forever. (I find it hard to believe that I am the woman who gets excited over a garden tool. But hey ho.)

So I was too busy wielding my new toy to have much time to take photos for this post. Which is not such a bad thing because as much as I love my roses they are not at their photogenic best when they’ve just had a short back and sides. But I did manage to stop and take some shots of the seedheads of the Hydrangea Annabelle to send in for the last assignment of my online photography course.

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Bokeh!

This was my attempt at achieving/creating Bokeh. Have you heard of Bokeh? Me neither. (Or maybe you have heard of Bokeh, and it’s just me.) For the uninitiated let me tell you that Bokeh is ‘the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens.’ It means ‘blur’ in Japanese.

I used to think blur was a bad thing in photography. Which just goes to show how much you can learn in a short space of time.

Each of the four assignments I have had to complete for the course have required me to send in two to three photos. With the lack of flower action in the garden and the inclement weather I had to resort to sending a photo I took last year of Amelanchier blossom shot against Tulip Apricot Beauty as an example of using a contrasting background.

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I was worried it might be cheating to use last year’s material. But I’ve just heard back from Clive (did I mention how much I love Clive!) and he loved the combination of white and apricot. And said it was an ‘attractive flower study’. And he thought the ‘Bokeh’ shot was the best one I’ve sent him.

So I’m happy. In spite of the weather it’s been another good week. And who knows what next week will bring!

Bad Timing

It’s beginning to dawn on me that my timing may be a little out, it being January, and here I am committed to weekly posts about my garden, which at the moment is grey and gloomy and perishingly cold, and reluctant to offer up too many good stories.

So it’s a challenge.

But January feels like a good time for a challenge. And I’m telling myself that if I can come up with something to write about for a post at this miserable time of year, and if I can come up with subject matter to shoot for the online plant and flower photography course I’m doing at the moment with the great Clive Nichols at mygardenschool, then it’s going to seem like a piece of cake when things warm up.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself!

And when I’m really struggling it helps to remind myself of the damp and dismal winter we had last year, when it didn’t get cold, it just got murky. This year we have had more than our fair share of frosty mornings when the the sun shines and the world is ice encrusted and glistening. The silhouettes of the trees stand like sculptures against the winter skies, the sunsets take my breath away. And why is it that on these glorious days I don’t have time to get outside with my camera and only have spare time on days like today when it’s perishing and grey and…

Oh stop moaning woman and get on with the job in hand.

Because the truth is there’s still so much to enjoy in the garden. I just have to brave the elements, whatever the elements happen to be. And even though it’s freezing degrees fahrenheit outside and the ground is rock hard, the plants know that spring is around the corner and they are getting themselves in shape for it.

First the Galanthus nivalis, the snowdrops. Never ones to be put off by the cold they are getting ready to flower any day now.

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Snowdrops getting ready for action

Then there’s the Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ I planted in the autumn. It’s clustering beautifully and getting ready to put on a show at any moment.

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Enough buds

One of my all time favourite plants, the Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, which has delivered its structural elegance to the winter garden, is limbering up and preparing to put on it’s lime green loveliness for the benefit of contrast, so that when the tulips and the daffodils and the scillas and the muscari come into flower they have something to work with. I have several strategically placed around the garden. Last year’s mild winter saw it flowering from November. This year we have to wait. But it’s so worth it.

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Euphorbia with rain

The hellebores are getting ready by the driveway. The Sarcococca confusa is wafting occasional bursts of scent, but really wants it to warm up a couple of degrees in order for it to release the full strength of its sweetness. The Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is laden with buds whose scent is one of the most exquisite of any I know, so that people who rarely notice such things comment as they walk past it to the kitchen door.

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Euphorbia with Daphne and red stemmed Cornus

In the front garden buds are showing on the Amalanchier and the guelder rose and the Prunus. Once you start paying attention it’s amazing how much is happening out there.

And inside I’m playing around with reflectors and backgrounds and apertures. And  I’m breaking my resolution not to buy flowers because at the moment I have no option.

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Tulip against black velvet

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Ranunculus from above

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Don’t know what this is but I like it!

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Inner tulip

I can’t wait until the cutting garden starts delivering because this year I’m hoping that I will have much more of a clue about how to take photos of what comes out of it.

So… I’ve written myself into a good mood. This week’s post has delivered a whole lot more than I imagined it would. And there’s next week to look forward to.

Bare bones and skeletons

So it begins.

With snow.

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Not very much snow. But still a chance to see the bare bones of the garden. Which is as good a place to start this year of weekly posts as any.

But before I embark let me fill you in on a bit of background.

For those who may not know the history of this garden, I should explain that sixteen years ago it wasn’t… a garden that is. What it was was an awkward triangle of about half an acre of sloping lawn surrounded by stock fencing. The kind of space you look over and out of rather than into. It was the garden developers leave for you when they’ve finished. Need I say more!

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Room for improvement….

And this is how it stayed for a couple of years. Until the time came to ask for help from my mate Judes; who happens to be a garden designer of the very best kind. One of that rare breed who understand space and function and form.

Under Judy’s expert eye the contractors got going and the garden began its transformation. Once the landscaping was done it was time to get on with the planting. In a haphazard, unplanned, suck it and see kind of way that taught me a great deal about what goes where and what doesn’t, I bought plants I liked and put them in the ground. Which gave me an unimagined amount of pleasure, along with a fair amount of pain, as things outgrew their allotted spaces, self seeded, spread, grew this way when I wanted them to grow that, looked wrong, failed to thrive, died; in fact did all those things that plants do when you add a bit of sun and rain, and wait to see what happens.

Because when I started out as a novice gardener I was under the impression that you just planted things and left them to get on with it. I had no idea that shoving a drought loving plant into my heavy clay soil was like uprooting a camel from the Sahara and expecting it to thrive in Greenland. Plants know what they like and I learned that trying to force them to do anything different is an expensive mistake.

As for leaving them to get on with it. I realise now that this is akin to believing that the hair on your head should be left to grow as nature intended. Without interference. Now there may be many who are completely fine with this approach, but I’ve always been a seek out a good hairdresser and visit them regularly kind of girl. Plants need to be shaped, fed, nurtured. They need to be re-assessed and re-styled every now and then. It’s not that I don’t love natural. I just think it needs some help along the way.

Two years ago, with the benefit of all the years of hard work in my own garden, along with garden visits, trips to flower shows, books read, garden magazines thumbed, catalogues poured over, conversations had, and my garden design course under my belt, I took a step back, looked at what was in front of me, and realised that it was time for a major re-edit.

I went through the garden bed by bed, plant by plant, getting rid of any that didn’t please me. I drew up proper planting plans for the main beds. I reworked the area on the other side of the hedge which had been field, and was now home to a very uneven lawn, greenhouse and vegetable garden.

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Work in progress!

Over the past couple of years I’ve rejected, replanted, moved, cut back and generally overhauled the entire space. This year I hope to see the fruits of my labours start to deliver. Which is another reason I want to keep this blog/diary.

This week the garden is resting, for a couple of days slumbering under a light blanket of snow, with the odd downpour thrown in for good measure, and today a burst of winter sunshine. I’ve been out there with my camera. This is the time when the structure of the garden is revealed. Now is when I can see if it’s working. And I’m pleased to report that the skeleton is looking pretty good.

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Snowy garden

At this time of year it’s easy to believe that there’s nothing going on in the garden. But when it seems that there isn’t much to look at, you just have to look a little harder!

There’s beauty to be found in the bones.

My Gardening Year

I gave up on New Year resolutions a long time ago. Too easy to make; too hard to keep.

But with the Christmas decorations back in the attic, the pine needles swept away with the Christmas tree, the Christmas cards sent off for recycling, I’m beginning to feel the shiver of anticipation that is one of the joys of being a gardener at this time of year. It comes from spotting the silver green shoots of the snowdrops pushing up through the cold bare soil, from catching a waft of scent from the Sarcococca by the back door when I put out the rubbish, from seeing the spiky fronds of the Muscari assembling along the edges of the pathways. I sit in my kitchen and look out at the bare bones of the outdoor space that I’ve made for myself and I’m full of excitement for the year ahead.

So I know we’ve got Trump and Brexit and melting ice caps and all manner of scary things going on in the world. But – right here, right now – deep in the brown earth of my garden things are gathering strength and energy and getting ready to put on a show. Whatever else happens the garden will do it’s thing for better or worse. And I’m going to be right there with it.

Because this year I’m going to do what I’ve been promising myself for years and keep a regular record. This January of 2017 my resolution is to write a weekly post about whatever is happening in my garden that captures my attention, so that one day I can look back and be reminded of what a year in my garden really feels like. One of my birthday presents at the beginning of December was a subscription to Clive Nichols’ online photography course with The English Gardening School. (Which I’m about to start!) So hopefully, as the year progresses, the photos that go with my posts will have that extra edge. But whatever happens I will do my best to post something, anything to give you, me, and anybody else who is interested, an account of the ups and downs of my gardening year.

So…

Watch this space.