The other night, I was binge-watching The Durrells, I couldn’t help myself, I just had to, I had fallen in love with their place by the sea, their entire living situation in Corfu is totally gorgeous, much more than the family itself, they’re really lovely but also quite odd, truth be told, I wouldn’t have watched the entire first series in a row if it hadn’t been for their garden, as a matter of fact, I’ve started wondering if our garden has the same effect on people, do they only come to visit for the oleanders in bloom, I would get that, I was most attracted by the ones in the Durrell’s garden, they were most beautiful, and do they endure our conversation over tea only for our hydrangeas, just as I was enduring Lawrence Durrell’s obnoxious love for his morning gown only for his family’s olive trees? Is our garden an escape for our friends where our presence is being tolerated just as long as we keep serving drinks, just as I was tolerating all this English eccentricity when escaping to Corfu last night, a place that’s actually Greek, not English? It’s hard to say, I guess. But I better keep the garden in shape, otherwise I’ll end up as a hermit.
So, there I was, stranded in our garden with my Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte and a cup of coffee, the cake on Spode, the coffee in IKEA, but with no place to have it—after all the rain, the gusting wind, and cold of these last autumn-like days the garden looked a bit dinged up, like it had been in the wars, leaves everywhere, all kind of leaves, some of them from trees that don’t even grow in our garden, branches from God knows where, and dirt in all places far and wide, the garden really was a bit under the weather, even now the sun had come back. But I don’t give in, never, and if I wanted to drink this coffee while it was hot, I did have only one option, just like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, to get along with the circumstances, however unpleasant, and have my Nachmittagskaffee in this utter mess.
But please don’t feel sorry for me, I’m already looking at the bright side of it. You see, after coping so successfully with this afternoon’s tribulation—the cake was really good, by the way—I’m pretty sure now that I can cope with everything the future will bring.
Of course our garden’s not really a secret one, it belongs to a house with an address, as a matter of fact, the postman knows about us and our house, he delivers our mail on a daily basis, sometimes though, when heavy rain weighs down the overhanging branches of our huge magnolia, a magnolia inhabited by a sweeping wisteria at that, the poor guy has to make it through this our jungle, but as soon as he complains, it’s understandable, he’s very tall, 6.5, I guess, we’re all smaller, I’m the tallest with 6.2, anyway, as soon as he complains the branches get cut, but however successful he has made out our house in this green, flourishing opulence, he’ll never make out some of the roses, or the bust my mother put some place years ago and that I rediscovered only yesterday, or the bamboo wind chime, a wind chime that’s mostly mute as the climbing ivy’s leaves not only hide the apple tree’s apples but also block the orchestration of its pieces, until cut free again that is, but then again, if he did know about all that, it wouldn’t be a secret garden, now would it?
There’s that particular time of day called the blue hour, supposedly a very nice moment to celebrate because it’s so romantic, but I’ve never been really aware of when it starts or ends, I seem to have missed thousands of blue hours in my life—today, however, I was enjoying a blue day. While I was having my first coffee in the garden, the one supposed to bring my brain back to life, the blue hydrangeas in front of our blue garage doors suddenly caught my attention, and I couldn’t stop looking at this blue still life all day, from every angle possible. In fact, it’s so beautiful a scenery that I forgot all about my coffee and had to make a fresh one. Later, I mean. Because I forgot all about making fresh coffee, too…
When you’re a farmer, you’re familiar with the sensation you get when you take a walk on your land, when the cotton is high and the fish are jumping and all that, it’s such a bliss, you tremble with excitement out of all that joy, and at the same time, well, not simultaneously of course, but just seconds later, you’re shaken by fear and misgiving, you worry that the sun will burn it all down or that the rains will never stop and everything will rot, I know these feelings well, I know all about them, even though I’m not a farmer. I own a quince tree and a walnut tree, that’s all I got, there’s a cherry tree, too, but I don’t care for cherries too much, I leave most of them to the birds, but the quinces and the walnuts, these I cherish. Can’t wait to make quince jelly as soon as they’re ripe and to crack the walnuts in front of a fire in winter. And while I’m telling you this, I’m having a coffee and watch them grow, I might be of help if some storm’s ahead, or a drout, you never know, I’ll be around, just in case.
It’s hot, the air’s humid, you’re desperately looking for some shade because you don’t care for sunstrokes, and even if the sun weren’t about to addle your brain, your book’s white pages reflect the sunlight so damn straight into your eyes you might well end up blind, so you carry one of the benches, thank God, teak’s so light a wood, into some shrubbery, followed by your tea table, yes, tea, I know it’s hot, but the hotter it gets, the less any cold drinks are advised, least of all iced ones, believe you me, your circulation goes berserk and you’ll overheat like a motor in an Abu Dhabi traffic jam, if you had any relatives that served in the colonies, you’d know, and by the way, tea is from India not from Norway, the Indians should know what they are doing, shouldn’t they, but I digress, anyway, once in the shade, I started to enjoy myself, finally I was able to read without sunglasses; Evil under the sun, Agatha Christie’s lush novel, that I started some days ago while it was raining, finally was an approbiate choice. I wonder who’s done it…
I spent the entire day in the garden, comfortably installed in a chair, looking at what was in front of me, and wasn’t bored a single moment. He must really be into roses, you might think, and partially you’re right, but truth be told, I had my iPhone with me, initially to take some more shots of the garden in bloom, when it suddenly occurred to me that I had Netflix on it, now an Obama approved entertainment device, and as I felt like something British, I started the original version of House of Cards, after I had made tea of course, as I can’t watch anything British without the most British beverage there is, tea. Over Fortnum & Mason’s Royal Blend—royalty, by the way, is quite British, too— I took a crash course in advanced manipulation and found Ian Richardson’s Francis Urquhart much more interesting a character than Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood, you may replace “interesting” by other adjectives such as vicious, refined, monstruous, vile, evil, foul, wicked, elegant, cynical, or pleasant. Pleasant, mainly because I like a character, any character, well played, quite especially such a complex character as this excelling manipulator on the run. Well done, Mr Richardson. I watched series 1 entirely, intermitted with occasional looks to the left and to the right, to hydrangeas in bloom and ageing terracotta pottery, and if it weren’t for my cat and his dinner, I’d still be outside, watching series 2 and my garden in the moonlight.
At the beginning of James Ivory’s wonderful film Howards End, a perfect adaptation of E. M. Forster’s novel, Vanessa Redgrave walks through a beautiful cottage garden, it’s hers, no doubt, she’s so very much at ease, she’s contemplating everything with such devotion as if she wanted to soak it all in, as if these flowers, trees, and the mere grass she’s walking on were as essential as the oxygen in the very air she’s breathing in, she’s completely in her element, utterly invigorated—this scene is of no particular importance to the film, at first glance she might appear just as another elderly Victorian lady from another English period drama, her role is just a supporting one anyway, but to me, this scene is everything, to me, it’s the best scene of the entire film, however more significant the rest of the content is, it’s just so true a moment, there’s nothing better than to take a walk through your garden, paying a visit to all these plants you’ve known for years and years, watch them grow and bloom, branches, boughs, and trunks, leaves and blossoms, they all have your complete attention, every single one of them, and this attention is what takes away your every problem, some kind of gentlemen’s agreement, you care for us, we care for you—pacta sunt servanda, and on goes the hose.
I didn’t talk much at dinner, actually I didn’t talk at all. I just ate. Can’t remember what we had though. Something with grilled octopus. I didn’t care. I had just committed murder. A brutal murder. Most foul. Unforgivable. I had cut off an innocent rhododendron’s branch, a branch with tree blossom buds. Perfectly healthy obviously, not dead at all. Not even in bloom yet. Botanical abortion. Unforgivable, as I said. In court, my attorney might come up with excuses like he didn’t know what he was doing or he was in a hurry or even worse the lighting was bad, you see, he was working late, right before dinner time, the sun had almost set, but all this would be just some disgusting bending of the law, juridical malpractice, truth is, our rhododendrons are in bloom, the pride and joy of any gardener and the perfectionist I am, I was cutting dead wood, I had these flawless gardens in mind you see on Instagram, and was being careless, yes, totally careless, it was murder, no doubt, manslaughter at the very least – I am guilty of rhododendronslaughter. That’s a great word for scrabble, by the way…
Within a week, everything went from pale green to bright green, the magnolias and the azaleas burst out into splendour, the apple blossoms overcame their basic shyness, they’re not yet in full white bloom, they’re just peeking, all pink buds, but blushing is very becoming, that’s at least what Oscar Wilde once said and he should know, all while the camellias try to outbloom everything else. I spent all day readapting my eyes to spring, to tell apart all those different shades of pink, amethyst, purple, rosé, red, ruby, maroon, and fuchsia, shades I then had difficulties to specify, defining needs variety per se, but a variety that makes you run out of words is quite unsettling, what do you call a fuchsia with a touch of orange? Or worse, a lavender that is somewhere inbetween lilac and violet? Obviously, the human speech cannot not express in entirety the richness of nuances in these blossoms, our vocabulary does not reflect nature’s absurd wealth of shades. So, I came up with some new colours: opyr, trevine, joaquinth, horsate, satch, dorrak, and poppyl. Poppyl is popylo in French. The others, I’ll still have to translate into all known languages. I’ll keep you posted.