Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Sweet Peas for Summer - notes on a book launch


 An  invitation to a book launch blew the miseries of  March away.. What could be more enchanting than a  celebration of Sweet Peas for Summer written by the sublimely lovely Laetitia Maklouf taking place at (the almost as lovely) Landscape Man's horticultural heaven, Clifton Nurseries set in a pretty and posh area of London.

But what to wear? something feminine and floaty to honour the woman who has put the gorgeousness back into gardening.  I try on my prettiest floatiest dresses and the only comfort I can feel is that I can actually still get them on - but at a very definite stretch.  I am 'too fat to float' and I blame the fact that I ate too much and most of that was cake!  I find a pretty floaty scarf and that has to do in the femininity stakes - as Oldmasock used to say in my long gone teenage years "I don't know who you think is going to look at YOU anyway!"

So off to the big city to meet dear friend and fellow invitee Lazy Trollop who is wearing a pretty dress which no-one  will see as we keep our coats on all evening!  We arrive unfashionably early on a warmish sunny evening, find a canal side pub in Little Venice and  treat ourselves to a couple of G&T's.  Then on to Clifton Nurseries where we are greeted by the Managing Director himself

who understands our needs well enough to guide us straight to the drinks table.  The room is full of beautiful and expensive obj├ęts

a posh cloche - I don't know what it is but it's expensive and I need one

a rather nice handbag belonging to one of the guests which a group of us spent some time admiring

the remnants of a bottle of some really rather excellent Sipsmith's gin which we didn't want to go to waste at the end of the evening

so I liberated it at the behest of fellow invitees who will remain nameless because I am not a snitch

and the most beautiful, scrumptious, impractical pair of garden wellies ever..

which of course belonged to Laetitia

and my fabulous friends Helen Reeley and Jo Thompson who I hope will forgive me for burbling away all through our post-book launch pizza!

Also enjoying the evening were Dawn Isaac (wearing a gorgeous flowing floaty long skirt of which I was rather jealous), Naomi Slade, EW_Gardens (Ursula)  and FlowerFarmer (Georgie) who I can now add to my list of twitter friends made real.

Ahh! You are thinking.. OK we've seen the 'Hello' style Who, What, and Where photos but what about the BOOK!!!

Well I haven't read the book 'Sweet Peas for Summer' yet but I flicked through one at the launch (making sure my fingers weren't sticky from the cheese straws first!) and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful. The general, genuine consensus was that the book - Laetitia's story of creating her first garden from scratch, aimed at those new to gardening - was beautifully written too.  If  the book is as full of charm, humour and warm hearted appreciation of life and love as Laetitia herself,  then it will be a very good book indeed.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Woe and Betides of March...

Black cat in white greenhouse at West Dean

(Strange - if you click on the pic above you get a nice crisp picture but it looks fuzzy on the blog itself for some reason..? It has nothing to do with my post anyway)

I've scarcely blogged this year.. a few ideas for posts that may have amused drifted into my mind and just as quickly drifted out.  There has been just too much going on elseblog, a course at West Dean College (see pic above), the Bedsock's flu (proper flu not just man flu!) which I seem to have a lesser version of, the purchase and set-up of a weekend home in Dorset (more on this some other time) and now a tricky situation with a nasty neighbour has left me worn out, anxious and depressed.  So all is not as it should be at Socktowers!

After my lovely elderly neighbour (who I wrote about here) died a few years ago her house was eventually sold to a family who had builders in for most of last year renovating it.  The lovely, if a little old fashioned, garden had provided a wall of mature shrubs, tangling over the decaying shared back wall from her trellis onto mine.  The new neighbour immediately trashed the entire garden, hacking and slashing at everything in sight, stomping over the bulbs and wrenching the shrubs out destroying all the privacy that they had given me and his adjoining neighbours.  "I don't like flowers" he said "I'm going to put a barbeque at the back nearest the shared wall". Somehow he made that sound like a threat. The casualties of his attack extended to my adjoining neighbour's ancient forsythia which was supported by the entwined shrubs reaching over from his garden.  This totally collapsed into a mess of decaying stems right by the side window of my greenhouse.  This neighbour is old and unwell and  I can't suggest to her that I tidy it up as her son lives with her who is quite capable but doesn't bother to do it himself.  Her garden is an overgrown tip but as it is a haven for wildlife it is somehow more pleasing than the barren mud waste of the stripped garden behind me - although I could do without the constant battle with bindweed wending its way from her garden through the slats of my new fence.

I spent last summer putting up with the noise of oiky builders on the new neighbours house shouting inane rubbish at each other, as they do, just to hear the sound of their own voices.  Still we have all had oiky builders in at some stage and he can't be blamed for that.  My privacy was a little restored by my beautiful vine covering my trellis and blocking the permanet view of their washing hanging out on the line. The line that they originally tied to one of the slats of my trellis, reaching over the wall to do so, until the Bedsock suggested that whilst he didn't mind them tieing the line to one of OUR posts the slats were likely to break under the weight.  At this point we began to wonder if these neighbours were perhaps not quite as pleasant as they had seemed and that we would be best to keep a polite distance.

I fought my way through last summer, my garden assailed with builders noise from all directions - the street outside filled with overflowing skips that selfish neighbours allowed to spill into the road and not clear up joining the usual mess from rubbish bags torn open by foxes and seagulls and strewn all over the small front gardens. The only people who took a pride in this street are the older generation now dying off, the young 'professionals' who moved here take no responsibility for anything outside their own self-interested domain.  Don't get me started.... perhaps I am, myself just growing old...

When the leaves fell from my vine my view of the neighbours wasteland was opened up again, the lines of washing - always out come rain or shine, in the middle of a winter, - become a constant irritant.  I have to force myself not to become obsessed - its only washing.  Their converted kitchen boasts  a wall of glass doors onto the garden meaning I can see into their lives and they into mine even though I don't want to.  There is no escape from them and their house with it's lights blazing everywhere the entire time.  Breathe deeply... don't let it get to you... as the Bedsock says the neighbour said he would be putting up a fence when he decks over the garden and then they will be (for the most part) out of our lives.  I am scared he has no intention of putting up a fence, he has asked me about the badly built crumbling low wall which forms the boundary between us and holds my raised garden back from falling into his.  I tried to be as vague as possible about the ownership of the wall - I would imagine it is shared responsibility although most of it's buckled shape is actually on my side of the logical boundary line.  If I claim it entirely as mine I suspect he will say it is dangerous and that he will sue me if it falls into his garden - although it wouldn't be crumbling so much if it had ever been maintained on his side.  I originally said that I was open to discussion if he wanted to do anything about it but now I don't trust him enough to enter into any joint enterprise over it.

Over the winter he has stored some builders junk on top of the wall directly behind my greenhouse window.  My lovely Gabriel Ash greenhouse which is my pride and joy now looks out onto rubbish at the back.  This dumping stuff on the wall feels like an attack on me - no decent or normal person would store this stuff on a shared wall would they?  I breathe deeply, I force my obsessive thoughts to the back of my mind.  It is winter and I don't need to be out in the greenhouse very often.  But every time I go out there to check how damaged my aeoniums really are after the frost-free heater failed on the coldest night - my heart sinks to see his stuff on the wall.  In the end I tell myself I am being stupid.  This man doesn't know how upset I am as I haven't even told him and no doubt if I mention it he will say "Oh yes, sorry, didn't think!" and move it as any decent or normal person would. Or at least I would even if I felt that complainant was being a bit precious about their wall because it would cost me nothing to do and keep the peace and well being of good neighbours.  I am also aware that experience has taught me not to trust people and to expect the worst,  I am frightened that if any of my neighbours take against us they will take it out on my cats and this has turned me from a feisty person prepared to stick up for my rights, into an appeaser.

Breathe deeply... you are being ridiculous.. just ask the man nicely to move the bloody rubbish off the wall!

I catch him in what can no longer be described as his garden and call to him over the open plan area that forms his boundary walls.  He strides through the washing.

"Hi,  would it be possible for you to move the builders materials you've stored on the wall - only its not very nice looking onto it from my greenhouse." I keep the hard shrillness I am feeling out of my voice.

"Well I'll tell you what" he replies. "I'll think about moving that if you stop your cats from crapping in my garden."

My heart starts bounding in my chest... I knew this would happen, I knew it.  He knows my vulnerability about the cats as I have foolishly told him how anxious I get about them after Luka's death. I should know that the less you tell people the safer you are.

"Actually, whilst I totally sympathise about the cat poo I don't think it's from mine.  Whilst I can't guarantee that none of it is, they do mainly go in the grit box we have for them. To be honest I have to de-poo that so often I find it hard to believe they could do any more poo elsewhere."  I keep my voice on an even keel but every vile swear word I would like to call him is rising up within me

"Well I'm fed up with it" can't you spray your wall with pepper or something? I like cats but I don't want them crapping in my garden."

"I know how you feel - I read a lot of the gardening message boards online and one of the most frequent questions asked is 'How can I stop cats in my garden?' Nothing really seems to work from lion poo to water scarers.  But as I said it is very unlikely to be my cats doing it.  They cost me a fortune in cat grit but I think it's the responsible thing to do when there are so many cats around."

"Oh" he says "you know you told me about your cat that was killed on the road outside my house? Well another one was killed same place at the weekend. Still they have four cats so I don't suppose they will feel so badly missing one."

By this time my heart is thudding so massively in my chest that I feel on the edge of a full blown panic attack.  I want to say "Well if one of your daughters gets killed in an RTA I guess you won't miss her too much as you've got a couple more.." but of course I don't.  His entire conversation has been a thinly veiled aggressive bullying attack on me and I don't want him to gain the advantage of knowing how deeply this has affected me. I have only just trained myself to allow Spook out of sight for a while without panicking that he will be killed on the road (see kitten diaries).  Now all my fears have been reignited and I can barely let him out of the house.

"Well if you could move the stuff off the wall that would be nice" I say by way of closing the conversation.

"Why do you want the stuff moved anyway" he says "its only a greenhouse"

"It's a greenhouse that I have invested a lot of money and effort in making a little happy retreat for me" I smile and walk away from the conversation.

There is no retreat for me there now and never will be.