My Gardening Month 30th November 2020 … here’s hoping for a Covid truce for Christmas

A report out this month on the Covid situation in New York cites three main factors for the rising infection rates , attendances at pubs , gyms and large home gatherings . One could argue that any or all of these are necessary for mental well being and I am sure that gym and bar owners take as many precautions as they can to keep their business’ alive with regular cleaning and wipe downs but complacency does creep in even with the best of intentions and the infection is passed on .

Apart from complacency what amazes me in Ireland  is the seemingly absolute need for alcohol where the entitlement to guzzle pints in large groups is deemed vital while the pub owners scream to high heaven at how responsible they are . When I was growing up in the early 1960’s as a fourteen year old  I remember how regularly on a Friday which was pay day that friends of mine had to try and catch their Dad’s attention  at the various Clonmel bars on a Friday night so that they could cajole some money from them for their Mothers before it was pissed away totally in drink and how the bar would take their money until closing time knowing full well that this was the family wages being wasted on porter so I have no sympathy for these people now as they contributed to the destitute of generations of working class Irish families .

We all need to keep our vigilance at a high level to protect each other until  the much awaited vaccine arrives .

Good news at least for Washington DC and the rest of the US as we wait for the vaccine to be shepherded in is that the Covid denying idiot and all round obnoxious person  , Trump , is on the way out .

Here in the Water Garden one plant that dominates is the gunerra and a real sign of spring is when the first leaves poke their heads up in late March but it dies very messily in early November with the huge leaves being blackened overnight from the first frosts so correspondingly a real sign of winter for us is the dying gunerra clumps . I cut off all the leaves and fold them back on the plant in a nice parcel which both looks compact and designed but which protects the crown of the gunerra throughout the winter until the new shoots push up through the dead leaves in early spring .

Gunerra packed up for the winter November 27th 2020

No slackening off in the new water area created in September by clearing out an overgrown section in the swampy area backing onto the stream … overgrown doesen’t quite describe just how infested it had become with brambles up to two metres high and so waterlogged that just scraping the surface with the excavator brought water to the top so it was a logical decision to dig deeper and excavate a huge chunk of ground to a metre deep and create a fairly large new pond . The scooped out soil we layered along the bank creating a nice wettish base for bog planting and I have already transplanted off cuts from our hostas , lilies and acanthus  together with donations from a friend who was dividing up a perennial bed so we got buckets of rodegersia and darmera which are  ideal bog plants and two of my favourite architectural perennials with huge leaves . On the dryer edges I have added ferns and ground cover lamium while at the water’s edge to a depth of 4 inches under water I have added primulas and wild marsh marigold I have divided up from other parts of the garden .

Extending the water garden in the wood November 26th 2020

They say a garden is never finished and of course it evolves and changes as your taste in plants and indeed your ambition changes over the years and you learn to never say never on garden designs and this is the case in point here with the new water area . We found that in extending one area a drop in level was created just beside it which never cleared of surface water after rain and became too boggy to use as a path so we decided to continue with the extension to include this new water logged part into the new extended water garden .

Peter Cullen arrived back again last week with his digger and quickly dug out the new area which as before immediately filled with water . Peter has been working on our garden project since April 2006 and has brought many ideas and tweaks to our plans and his expertise in landscape has been a major factor in the development of the garden as it is today , we work well together , no egos get in the way and we go with the best plan and sometimes as in this current work the plan is tweaked and made up as we go along . Peter is a maestro on the digger and can turn it through the tightest of areas , you want this tree removed , bang it is gone and twenty minutes with the digger can clear and dig out and area of thirty square metres and so it was  last week and we ended up with twice the body of water in what was two months ago a no go wet area overgrown with brambles , now it is a small lake and ready for planting both with marginal aquatic pond plants and damp loving plants along the banks .

The new water area excavated , November 26th 2020
Continuing the excavation of the water area , November 26th 2020
The finished water area , November 2020
Snezana at the edge of the new excavation , November 26th 2020

Leonard Cohen died four years ago this November and I was a huge fan of his writing  and his songs which I collected from his first album in 1968 . I read a great a great obituary about him a few days after his death in November 2016 by Claire Vukcevic on her perfume blog site which I recommend to anyone interested in perfume .

“It’s four in the morning, the end of December, I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better…”

Leonard Cohen was following me around Bosnia. Or rather, his voice was. My Dad was a customs officer and had to drive to the most remote border crossing points, and me, being a penniless student with little to do on my holidays, would fly out to Bosnia to spend to join him on road trips up and down the war-ravaged country.

This was the third time we’d stopped, the third bleak, deserted café in the wasteland of Bosnia after the war. Three different towns, three different ethnicities, three different currencies….and the only unifying factor was bloody Leonard Cohen.

 I say “bloody Leonard Cohen” in a fond-but-exasperated way. My father, known in our family as a “Cohen pusher”, would play his records over and over again to anyone who will listen. Holidays to France, with four kids captive in the back seat of our Renault 12, were pure torture.

 In revenge, my brothers and I would try to taunt him by staging elaborate suicide scenes, such as lying in wait in the bathroom with a razor poised at the wrist, or play dead on the couch with pills (Smarties) strewn around our lifeless bodies, croaking “We’re doing a Leonard, Dad”.

Never got a rise out of him.

Anyway, the fact that Cohen’s music was playing in each of three cafes or restaurants we stopped at that day made my father very happy indeed. And in a way, it was fitting, because in this country, as broken and divided as it was, there was always more to unite them than divide them. The coffee was the same, even though they called it by different names. They all ate those sticky, syrupy cakes made so popular by the Turks during their, um, residence in the country. And they all seemed to really like Leonard Cohen. They might have played First We Take Manhattan at the Dayton peace talks and wrapped the whole thing up quicker.

Cohen himself was a pretty Zen guy. I like to think the universe paid him back by giving him plenty of women, acclaim, and mass turnouts at the comeback concerts he forced to do when his manager stole all his money.

Ancient Resins by Aftelier was developed by perfumer Mandy Aftel in cooperation with, and expressly for, the great Leonard Cohen himself. It smells exactly what you’d think a Zen guy like Leonard Cohen would like – a warm treble base of resins that balances the bitter, cleansing properties of something that might be used in a Shamanic ritual with the dusty smell of wood, paper, and rosin breaking down in old record stores or bookshops.

I’m not sure it makes much sense to analyze this beautiful oil too much – just let it wash over you in a peaceful wave, just like Cohen’s music – because it is, at heart, just a collection of resinous basenotes. And yet, the total effect is uplifting in a way that belies the simplicity of the blend.

And Ancient Resins is healing. It is healing and calming and restorative. I can see why Leonard Cohen reportedly wore this every day of his life. I was, coincidentally, wearing Ancient Resins in my hair when I heard that he had passed away. I had been using it almost every day since I received a generous sample of it, because the American elections had just taken place and I was feeling stressed out. Ancient Resins seems to have the power to right everywhere that is wrong in the world, just like Cohen’s music seemed to be doing in Bosnia that day. A knitting together of things that have been fractured.

I like to think that when he died, Leonard Cohen was laid naked in a white shroud, anointed from head to toe in Ancient Resins, and then burned on a pyre that floats off down the Ganges. But recently, I learned that Cohen loved more than one of Mandy Aftel’s creations. In fact, Mandy Aftel told me that Cohen wouldn’t go out without a drop of her Oud Luban on his person.

Learning that made me reassess my imagining of Leonard Cohen as a gloomy, depressive poet, anointed with the biblical-smelling Ancient Resins. Because Oud Luban is an oud fragrance that takes what Luca Turin mentioned as an “inherent brown study grimness” characteristic of the material and shoots it through with a light-strobing blood orange note that makes it feel like liquid late-afternoon sunshine.

And maybe this humorous, fey thing is a truer portrait of Leonard Cohen than my historic, mental imagining of his character. My dad recently told me a story he had read somewhere, of Leonard Cohen at a party. He just sat down on his own, picked up a guitar and started to strum, quietly humming the words to one of his famous songs. Bit by bit, women, young and old, began to kneel down at either side of him, listening intently. One of his friends whispered to him, Leonard, did you notice that you’re surrounded by women. Without looking up from his guitar and strumming away, he whispered back, “Works every time”.

I saw Leonard Cohen live in Dublin at Kilmainham in June 2008 , mesmerising describes him best .

Leonard Cohen , live in Dublin , June 15th 2008 .

I have to declare an interest here in that wonderful writer , Claire Vukcevic … she is my only daughter and I am the customs officer Dad in the trips driving around Bosnia !

One of Claire’s trips to Bosnia occurred just three days before the NATO war with Serbia broke out in March 1999 over the ethnic cleansing by the Serbs of the Muslim population of Kosovo and which was followed by the six week bombing of Belgrade . I was living and working with the EU in Brcko , NE Bosnia , an area with a majority Serb population whose sympathies lay with Milosovic’s Serbia and it was made clear to the EU that in the event of any bombing of Serbia all foreigners in the Serb part of Bosnia were persona non grata and should leave and in fact the local Bosnian Serb TV and radio stations started broadcasting that all landladies / hotels should throw the foreigners belongings out into the street … they fell short of threatening violence against us but no one was prepared to hang around to test that theory . The US State Department had advised that we would be given two hours notice before the first bombs started to land on Belgrade about a hundred miles away and that we should be ready to join a convoy under armed guard to the nearest US Army base in the Croat / Muslim area of Brcko canton . We had our bags packed for about three days when the phone call came at 2pm on March 24th 1999 , get out now , the bombers are in the air  !

Exciting times for Claire but not especially for me as within an hour of leaving my office was thrashed by Serb paramilitaries who made it clear this was a political action and although all the windows and door were smashed and left open to the elements , nothing was removed or stolen .

And just so that we wouldn’t think only the Serbs were paranoid when I drove Claire to Zagreb airport a week later for her return flight to Dublin , a Croat police officer at the airport started screaming at me and drew his pistol accusing the EU and US of planning to attack Croatia … apparently that morning an NGO foreigner was arrested at the border entering Croatia with some weapons in the car and when he saw us arriving in a white Nissan patrol he assumed the worst and when Claire tells the story she says her Dad was the perfect diplomat in a tense situation telling the policeman to step aside as we had a flight to catch  !

Regular readers of these pages will know that I am a big fan of the Balkans and it’s peoples and that my fifteen years working there were the defining period of my forty year career and I learned so much there … including how to stack wood , nobody does it better than a Balkan person !

This proper wood stacking , Brcko , NE Bosnia , January 2nd 2002

And my version of wood stacking !

Our wood shed , October 27th 2020

What started out as the simple moving of a large pot in the back garden this week started a chain reaction of events . I had moved this pot a few years ago as it’s location had been commandeered for a more beautiful Greek style blue pot so it ended up in the line of four silver birch outside the back window , I didn’t really like this new position as I felt the silver birch didn’t need it and it spoiled their line in my opinion however Snezana liked it there and I kind of got used to looking out at it from my desk and the grey leafed hosta halcyon I had planted in it thrived and looked great in the summer . In September we had built a new wood shed and I felt the corner would look great with a large pot so I moved it and yes it just clicked but then the small olive tree that was almost dead in a pot two years ago at the front of the house (and which I had replaced with a purple leafed Japanese maple ) suddenly and steadily had perked up in it’s sick bay location after being pruned back completely and was showing almost full growth again … so I decided to transfer the hosta and install the olive tree .

The newly repotted olive tree , Back Garden , November 27th 2020

Two words for those of you thinking of planting a hosta in a pot … think hard … as it is almost impossible to remove a pot bound hosta which has been more than a year in the pot , the hosta roots are aggressive , will spread outwards and downwards to fill the entire space and will make taking it out very difficult and it is easy to crack the pot in the process . I am not saying don’t plant hostas in a pot , I do it here in six big pots and love their impact which is so nice I am prepared to have nothing else showing in the pots throughout November to March , just don’t be fickle about changing hostas in and out of pots every year or so as it will end in tears !

Anyway after an hour of digging around the hosta I finally got it out , split it in two and repotted it separately for planting in the garden in a few weeks time … the olive tree went into that pot where hopefully it will continue it’s recovery … liberal spoonfuls of slow release fertiliser granuals into the roots of both the hostas and the olive tree to help them bed in to their new abodes .

Finally while the digger was on site I decided to solve the problem of the large standing rock , our “ogham ” stone and move it from it’s original location at the edge of the wood where we first installed it in February 2010 as over the ten years the area around it has become overgrown and it no longer stood out or took the eye .

The original stone pillar when “planted ” , 27th February 2010

Relocating the stone pillar November 2020

In the new location November 27th 2020

The new area is in the middle of the lawn in the woodland area and the stone now dominates again .

Colour in the garden in November

River Birch in the Lower Field , 16th November 2020
The Front Garden , November 16th 2020
Bosnian pot from Jaice N Bosnia, Front Garden , November 20th 2020
Front Garden , November 25th 2020

Finally stay safe over Christmas until the vaccine arrives .

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