Garden (and others’) Note Book(s)

With this new garden I have decided to try to be systematic. I somehow know it will not last but it’s worth a try.
So I have started to keep a list of the plants already in the garden and the plants/seeds I buy. I would like to think I will carefully note their position, their progress, what I feed them with, cropping yields, (there’s optimism for you).. and of course bee attractivness etc

So I looked around for a notebook. I think I’ve mentioned before my aversion to new note books or sketchbooks and so the part-used old notebook tucked into the seed box at Dad’s house seemed both apt and appealing.
It’s a small 6 x 3 3/4 inch blue hardback with a grey cloth spine.
One of those anonymous note books without a makers name which you used to find in the old fashioned stationers.  A great size to put in your pocket.

the book bg

At the front there are a few pages of notes from a holiday in Madeira.
Mum has noted the children running home from school, Dad has made lists of costs.
At the back are notes detailing “Good Local Walks”, plant lists and plans for the garden i.e., “move white potentilla to west fenceeliminate wild onion weeds” (sorry Mum,  I know they are still there). The earliest entry is 1987 and notes have been made by both Mum and Dad.

Mum and Dad’s notes: A list of plants and a page entitled “Spring 1998, after a long (cold) dry winter” with an enigmatic small end board sketch of something measuring 8 x17 x10 inches.  

My first notes in the book with sketches of the garden.

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As I was entering my first list, “Plants I Have”, I was also listening to the radio, to the fascinating BBC’s History of the Written World.

Melvyn Bragg was discussing how important writing was and possibly still is, to science. “how the invention of writing made the scientific revolution of the Enlightenment possible “ and how the note books of scientists were key in the processing, recording and passing on of information and ideas.

They were discussing Newton’s 1665 notes made in his twenties, of an experiment on his own eye which involved pushing a bodkin in between the eyeball and the bone and changing the shape of the eye.
On the BBC website there is Newton’s page …how wonderful. Isn’t the potency of the handwritten note and drawing extraordinary?
Even looking at this image on a computer screen sends a shiver up my spine. Prof Simon Schaffer describes the note books as “paper laboratories”  a marvellous description.


The text reads

“I took a bodkin and put it between my eye and the bone as near to the backside of my eye as I could: & pressing my eye with the end of it there appeared several white, dark and coloured circles.”

You can listen to all of “The Written World”  episodes on BBC Iplayer.

I can’t, unfortunately, make a comparison between the content of these notebooks, I can only find a comforting similarity in practice. Newton used both ends of his notebooks.. as did my parents.

My own inconsistency is so great that I use note books randomly, middle, end, upside down and sideways.. but there is very seldom anything on the first page.
I shudder to think what that might signify. The University of Cambridge is making  Newton’s Papers available online see here for a wonderful, absorbing and humbling look at the work of an exceptional man.

There is, delightfully, a wealth of other inspirational notebooks on line. Here is Darwin’s famous “tree” from his Notebook B.


This note and sketch “depicts the branching system of descent with modification which he realized could explain the relationship between different species in the same class or family.”  from Darwin Online.

And one of Leonardo’s notebook pages from the British Libraries, Turning The Pages site  where you can view manuscripts and note books from composers writers and artists etc.


This page is from around 1508 “This double page forms a single sheet containing notes and diagrams relating to balances and weights, with a sketch of a cockleshell in the margin”

Hmm…nice sketch.

I embrace the internet and computers for all the wonderful things they have made possible, especially enabling me to access these fabulous documents from my desk….but I hope people still continue to jot down their lists and thoughts in notebooks in their own hand and not on the impersonal keyboard.

A world without hand written notes would be an anodyne and soulless place.

Garden Ghosts and An Interesting Plant

Taking over a garden is a curious business, initially you feel an intruder and hesitant to make changes.
In my case it is definitely an uneasy new relationship, where circumstances have thrown both parties together, not necessarily by choice.
For my part I have to persuade this neglected garden that my intentions are both honourable and benign.

For its part, I am hoping for some cooperation and surprises.
I am very aware that this garden has its own character, its own strengths and weaknesses and that hopefully we can combine our talents to create something lovely. There will be things to negotiate, some ground rules to establish and both compromises and discoveries to be made.

Ghosts and Discoveries

Currently I’m in the discovery phase. Although superficially there is not much in this garden, as I explore a little more, a distant history of love and care is becoming more evident.
I have found the old remains of a compost heap, its archeological layers revealing a thoughtful past. Digging has unearthed faded plant labels, and a few pale name sticks belonging to the ghosts of plants long gone plants: rue, carrots, santolina, and snow in summer.

There are piles of rocks, and pebbles which are from somewhere else, the leg of a plaster dog, a small concrete toadstool, 2 shiny spiral shells, and some odd pieces of Lego still glowing brilliantly in the earth.
Someone tried to improve this heavy soil with bags of sand, I found one buried behind the shed.

Wooden edging was carefully laid and a swelling  curve was made in one of the borders just to relieve the straight lines.

By the hardstanding is a boat tethering hook. I find all this a quite fascinating and quite touching.

The Cat Flap

But, most poignantly of all, clearing the undergrowth from around the shed revealed a, now rusted, cat flap. I wonder who it was, which Tiddles, Fluffy or High Priestess-Slayer-of-Mice snoozed away their sundrenched afternoons in there.

How many saucers of milk, how many fond strokings and caresses were administered and how many little animal offerings were laid in return at the kitchen door.
I think I will restore it to full working order… just as I will take a strip out of the wooden perimeter fence to allow small creatures both access and escape.  Who knows what little animal might need a refuge.

the hidden cat flap bg

Tiny sketchbook note.. pre shed-painting.

An Interesting (American) Plant

As I go I am trying to identify the plants which already grow in the garden. At  this time of year you have to take care, you really don’t know who or what is sleeping or where.
Already in the desolate wasteland of the front mud patch there are a few bluebells struggling up through the gravel and some daffodil leaves are emerging by the fence… hope!

And over by the fence there is a tall leggy shrub which still has a few leaves. Over the last few weeks I have driven myself mad trying to identify it. Then I stumbled upon it by accident is a Fremontodendron and a completely new plant to me. These are the leaves,  a small mallow shape but with a very rough pale underside, rather like sandpaper.

     fremontodendron leaves

and this is how it will flower…hopefully…  Fremontodenron ….the Flannel Bush

Photo Flannel bush ‘California Glory’ from the RHS website. Family Malvaceae

This showy shrub is originally from the Southwest USA and Northwest Mexico, but does appear to be a good UK shrub, for a sunny wall particularly. Mine does not have a wall to snuggle up to, only a low fence and a bit of hedge and I would not say it is particularly happy…
I am watching the poor thing being lashed by the rain and wind as I write, but it is a rather nice discovery and I am looking forward to those bright happy flowers.

Should we be feeling the lack of Florida sun (yes, we are) this will help cheer us up.  In fact if we are missing the USA there have been some odd comforting reminders here.
We bought the ugly bungalow from a (non gardening) American lady who left a few cleaning products, so when I opened the cupboards there were my old USA friends; Clorox, swiffers, some unidentifiable soaps and bleaching products, all with USA labels, she will have bought them from the local USA air base shop.
And now this USA tree… which I am certain she did not plant.

She will, I think, have been totally unaware of the presence of her compatriot over by the hedge.
Not only is this handsome plant from America, it is also named after an all American hero,  one “John Charles Frémont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890), an American military officer, explorer, and the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States”

There is a fascinating and very enthusiastic website about him which has many accounts of his exploits.

“His enterprises are full of hardship and peril,
and the wildest romance.
To sleep under the open heaven,
and depend on one’s rifle for food,
is coming about as near the primitive state of the hunter
as a civilized man may well get;
and yet this life, in this case,
is adorned with the triumphs of science.”

…Walter Colton

It seems he was a complex man, but amongst other things was an extraordinary explorer and botanical collector. “In the course of his five explorations of the West, Frémont collected over 1,400 botanical specimens, many new to the taxonomy–163 new species or varieties, 19 new genera.”
Below is a surviving specimen sheet of Scutellaria antirrhinoides var. californica, Scullcap, collected on one of his hair raising trips to the West. One where many of his horses and his collected plants were lost.

Image and info again from the Longcamp site, see botany.

Fremontodendron Leaf

A small sketch of the leaf…which was beginning to curl by the time I got round to drawing it.

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I am glad to have this plant growing opposite my studio window. I will be reminded of sunshine and friends, both animal and vegetable, back in the USA and of those extraordinary explorers of the 19th century who I find so fascinating and so inspirational.