Looking back over nine Aprils


I haven't blogged for a while and seem to be having something of a blogger's block.  There seemed to be nothing new to say.  So last week I sat down and just looked at older posts and tried not to think about writing one.  One of the lovely things about having written a blog for a long time is the ability to go back and see what I have been doing.  It's like reading old diaries.  I have been looking at this time of year on my blog for the last nine Aprils and being reminded of so much that had gently slipped into the stream of time.


Here is a photo from nine years ago looking up behind the house to the Victorian privy.  We never use it, just in case you are wondering.  It  has two seats side by side.  That must have been companionable.  I remember when I was a child going to visit my grandmother's older sister who had one of these.  I was afraid I would fall in and it was a great comfort to have the loving presence of Nana sitting next to me, with her bloomers around her ankles, holding my hand.


Here is April 2008 and the arrival of the wooden greenhouse, a really beautiful one made by Gabriel Ash which has to rank as one of the best birthday/Christmas presents ever.  I had intended when we bought it that it would act almost like a little conservatory and be a place to sit in the sunshine and out of the wind.  It does do that, indeed there are three basketwork chairs in there for that very purpose.  I thought it could also house my collection of scented leaf geraniums and it does that too.  Somehow some other plants and their accompanying detritus have also sneaked in when I left the door open.


In April 2009 I find we went to Great Dixter which did not disappoint.  It is always a bit dangerous to go to somewhere you have long dreamed about.  Sometimes the whole experience just does not take off and then for ever after the dream has lost its lustre.  Not here.  I must go again because the garden was not in its high summer pomp.  The tulips were fantastic, as were the meadows, but the borders should be revisited in June or July I think when everything is throwing out its glory.  Another thing for the list.


I had quite forgotten the beauty of this Frisian cockerel, here strutting his stuff under the little quince tree that has since given up the ghost.  The hens roamed free in those days.  Nowadays they live in a large grassy run behind an electric fence - one too many visits from Mr Fox!




In 2010 things were very different from the way they are now, both inside and out.  Inside the house the old plaster came off in the kitchen and the stone walls were beautifully replastered by a father and son team who really loved working on such an old building.  And outside the apple blossom was out.  It must have been a very warm spring because this year there is no sign of either blossom or leaf on the apple trees, only the plum and the damson blossom white against the sky.


2011 must have been another warm spring  because the peonies were in bloom in late April, in all their brief, lush complexity.  I love them and every year the heavily cut foliage is a real presence but this year the buds are hard and tight.



And in 2012 the tulips were already flowering!  This is Hermitage which has become a real favourite.


And rather less trimphantly, I tried to make an annual wild flower meadow.  Funny how I had quite forgotten how much work it was to weed and rake and sow although the fact that I have never repeated it must mean that at some deep muscular level I remember.  I used a mix from Pictorial Meadows and produced something that was in many ways lovely but didn't quite work for me.


I see that I described it as a mixture of the glorious and the disappointing.  This is a picture from the glorious end.  At the other end docks and hogweed flourished.  I am glad I tried as I learnt a great deal from doing it.  One of things I learnt is that this garden is better suited to perennial meadow.  So many of the annual meadow flowers which I love such as the poppies and corncockles do not really belong up here on the hill where the land is meant for sheep and the native flowers are paler and shyer.  At some level I knew that when I started but I couldn't resist having a go.


Three years ago I had a go at something else entirely, the challenge to "Live below the Line", to live for five days on a pound a day.  The picture shows my shopping for the week.  You can see it was heavy on rice, lentils and porridge oats and had to be entirely vegetarian as the money just would not stretch to meat.  I found soups were easy and  tasty and vegetable curry was satisfying and strongly flavoured.  I really missed cheese and eggs, far more than meat!  I gave the money I would normally have spent on food to UNICEF.  The challenges of the last couple of years with ailing father and father in law have knocked ideas like this right out of my head but I might do something similar again.  I have been musing about eating more vegetarian food although I am too much of a meat and fish lover to turn vegetarian but reading about doing this has reminded me that it is just a matter of committing to doing something different.  Maybe I will commit to two vegetable based days a week.  It would probably be good both for my body and my purse.


Between April 2013 and April 2014, in early November and quite out of the blue, my mother died, tearing a hole in the world.  Life became a blur of long drives up and down the country, my sister and Ian and I struggling together to support my father who was already losing many of his functions through the onslaught of motor neurone disease and Ian and I trying to support his father who was failing too at the end of a long and happy life.  I remember wandering out into the garden, which had received no attention for months over the winter, and finding the erythroniums in flower and the trees blossoming as if nothing had happened.  It is both terrible and consoling, the way the natural world follows its own rhythms.



And last year I went with a friend to Leiden to visit the bulb fields and Keukenhof and to retrieve my long submerged cycling skills.  Ian's father had died the previous summer, a few days before the birth of our fourth grandchild.  My father was hanging on with extraordinary determination and good cheer as his speech began to desert him.  This week was a glorious week of just being me with a good friend who knows Leiden really well.  A space to look around again and see how the world works.


And so we come to April 2016.  My father has gone.  Two new grandchildren have arrived.  The hills are still beautiful.  The swallows are flying.  This is my very favourite time of year.  Time to sit and take in the world, to miss those who have gone but be glad that we had them.

Time for more adventures.

Looking back has made it vividly clear that some things change and others recur.  I am trying to balance the pleasure in those that recur with striking out and making new things happen.  Seize the day and all that.  How would you like to seize the day?  What adventure do you plan?

Comments

  1. Lovely post - it's good to reflect. I nervously await the visit of an NGS regional assessor to look at the garden for opening next year! And plan to take early retirement in August. Open studio in June .... Arrgh it's all too much.

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    1. Now I often think we live our lives by biting off more than we can chew (which is generally not a bad idea, although sometimes we get it wrong and have to lie down in a darkened room). Sounds like you are doing the same, but exciting stuff too! Good luck with it all.

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  2. I find the various rhythms and cycles of life very comforting at times, and rather rely on the way that gardens and plants just get on with it. Mind you, I could do with the weeds forgetting how do grow... Good luck embracing both old and new challenges, enjoy the blossom.

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    1. I think I find these cycles fundamentally comforting too but it does also make you realise how inexorable they are and how they persist when human life does not. A good thing too I suppose!

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  3. A Blog is a great bringer back to mind of all you forgot, I like to look through mine too.

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    1. It is a while since I have really gone back over mine, partly because it has been going for so long. It was a really interesting and satisfying thing to do. So much I remembered. So much which I had forgotten!

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  4. I enjoy that blogs capture snapshots of life, of the good, and the bad.
    So much blurs together and the rough edges begin to soften as the years pass.
    I've rolled over 'writing a letter home' to writing a blog post.

    And I remember tagging along as you renovated your kitchen. Armchair renovating with no dust, no noise, no waiting for ...

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    1. One of the lovely things about writing for such a long time is the sense of connection with people like you who have been reading. I have wondered about the snapshots. I am sure that I, like many people, edit my life in terms of what goes into the blog but I do try always to tell the truth, and occasionally even some warts and all!

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  5. Elizabeth, as you know, you and I have been blogging for quite a while. How fortunate I am to have met you and Ian in person here in NYC last year!

    I began blogging as a way to practice some writing muscles while relaxing at home after challenging days a work. What began as little essays evolved at bit after I bought my digital Canon. (Lots of input from fellow bloggers aided that purchase.) All that seems so long ago.

    Since my retirement from "full" employment at the end of March, I've been wondering about returning to blogging as part diary and part a view of what I love about New York.

    As you have discovered so much more about your garden, and how it responds to your wishes, and about how our family generations undergo unpredictable changes, I have a feeling that this year is going to show me much that I anticipate, but cannot actually predict.

    Spring's annual resumption of more sunlight, warmth and new growth really make me grateful to have another opportunity to see what will be.

    xo

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    1. I hope your year will bring you many anticipated and unanticipated pleasures Frances! You are so right about the impact of the warmth and new growth of spring.

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  6. I've been reading you for awhile, but not commenting, on a recommendation from Pondside. The steady march of times and seasons is interspersed with sometimes cataclysmic personal events. I find that this juxtaposition reminds me of my place in the world, and it's not very significant in the long term. Yet life is full of beauty and projects and challenges that contribute to full living. Your post certainly echoes this.

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    1. I am so glad you commented Lorrie and welcome to the blog! Yes the mixture of huge events and the rhythm of the seasons is really what life is about.

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  7. Nice to see this post. Life is always full of joy and sorrow like your father's passing and grandchildren arriving. Good to see the views of your world this time of year ...one of my favorite times, too.

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    1. Thank you Ellen. Spring is a real time for recharging energies which I hope will help with my resolution for this year: reflection and adventure.

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  8. This was a wonderful read and full of beginnings and ends and the adventures in between.

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    1. That is a lovely thing to say! thank you.

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  9. Worth the wait, Elizabeth! Thank you for sharing these looking-backs with us. It's a privelege to have had these insights into your life. I'm sure others like me respect your open-ness. God bless - Jonathan.

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    1. Thank you Jonathan. I don't feel as though I am being open. There is so much that I do not say, either because it is not my story to tell or because it seems too personal. What I do say I write because to leave it out would mean I could not say anything at all!

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  10. Thank you for your thoughtful post - how wonderful your writing is!

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    1. Thank you. It makes my day when I receive a comment like this!

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  11. Life never stays in one place, although the seasons provide wonderful continuity, and there have been many changes for you and for me since we started our blogs nearly a decade ago. Looking back through your blog is a lovely idea for a post. For myself, I do miss the life I had when I started my blog especially my roles as mother and daughter. My life is completely different now, living in another part of the country, with my new husband and a very empty nest - no grandchildren of my own to focus on, and still trying to come to terms with a world that no longer holds my Mum.

    But today started with a walk in a nearby bluebell wood with our two dogs, which was a complete joy and plans for the house, the changes we want to make now we have decided to stay put, plans for the summer, and a wedding in East Sussex to look forward to, very close to Great Dixter, which I am looking forward to visiting again. I think it is my favourite garden. Good to catch up with you, Elizabeth.

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    1. I'm glad to learn you have made your decision about where to live. You are so right about the way things change and yet don't change and how you have to ride the wave. Just finding the way to live vividly and satisfyingly is the aim I think. I really would love to meet you. I hope we can.

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    2. A visit to Great Dixter with one of my oldest friends is now firmly in the diary! Thank you for reminding me. Enjoying what we have, in the moment, living vividly as you put it, is a wonderful goal and what we all need to focus on although not always easy.

      I feel I already know you, we have been reading each other's blogs for so long now, but it would be wonderful to actually meet you. Is there an email address anywhere on your blog? I shall certainly be in touch if we come up your way again - I do have an uncle in Chester, so not impossible. Let me know if you are ever in this part of the world, or even in London - only an hour on the train for me. Let's make it happen!

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  12. What an absolutely beautiful post -- words and photos -- and it does just prove that live is a circle, indeed. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. The interesting thing about life as a circle is the way that is both wonderful and terrible: wonderful because life persists and that is good, terrible because an individual loss is ultimately not important, yet matters to those of us left behind.

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    2. yes, but individual losses are important and they should matter to others.

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    1. Reminiscence is a lovely word and a good thing to do!

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  14. Spring is a great time for planning adventures. It's my favourite time of year too because it feels like a new beginning each year. We can see it happening all around us in the leaves unfurling from the trees. Enjoy.

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    1. It is a new beginning isnt it and for a long time nothing ever had the emotional clout of spring. As I have grown older I have found myself more able to love autumn. Partly that is simply mathematical. I don't have so much time left that I can afford to get precious about my favourite quarter of life. Partly it is seeing more kinds of beauty. But spring will always sing to me.

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  15. lovely reflections, I hope that the year ahead brings happy times

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  16. I did enjoy reading this post. April does feel like the beginning of summer in the natural world. Being outdoors so much it always feels to me like the beginning of a long season (and the end of another one). But also being outdoors the weather has a huge impact on what I do, and this April feels very different to some of the past (balmy) Aprils you've described!

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    1. I never really understood weather until we came to live here. as you say, so much time outdoors completely changes the way it matters! and now it matters a lot.

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  17. Hello Elizabeth, as always you inspire me to comment. Me too, I appreciate to be able to look back into my blog posts and pictures to recall what happened when. I have been to Great Dixter, twice actually and enjoyed it, as any other of the great gardens I visited - there was never one I would not have liked. By growing older, we think obviously more about the seasons of nature and life and also, because we are sandwiched in between our parents and our grandchildren, we are the ones who seem embedded more - at least this is how I perceive it. Well, I congratulate you on your fine greenhouse! And one item on my wishlist is to be eventually able one day to visit the Great Malvern Show but not from across the channel. My very big focus is now to find our forever dream home in the UK. Anything is possible and we must do it before it is too late. And - oh joy, my first granddaughter will be born in the UK soon. It is really Spring now! Best wishes to you and thanks for your review (can't believe how long ago all that is like your wild flower carpet and one pound week and all other things you mention.)

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    1. lovely to see you commenting and what great news about the move to the UK! where are you intending to settle? it will be fab to be closer to the new grandchild!

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  18. I always enjoy your thoughtful writing. I like my blog as an aide memoir too, it commits to the page memories which might otherwise blur and shift. Very interested to read about blooming times where you are; even in a good year I never expect to see my peonies bloom til June, and the blossom this year is still nowhere to be seen. That's Scottish weather for you! X

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    1. I enjoy your blog too even if I don't always comment! I've got a bit out of the habit of commenting and I must start again as it is one of the great pleasures of blogging and reading blogs.

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  19. Your writing is so considered and well-observed, Elizabeth. It's important to reflect on our past and see how far we've come, the changes made, etc, so we can appreciate and be thankful for what's gone and learn for going forward. Thank you for sharing these reminisces with us. Sam x

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    1. thank you Sam. it is good to look back sometimes. I am amazed at what we have done and what I have forgotten about!

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  20. I wrote a post today that was based on one from November 2012. I sat up late into last night, reading my old posts. There must be something going on with the planets.
    I have been reading your posts through all the Aprils. I remember when your big challenges were different but no less serious - when the long train trips were wearing you down. The new challenges and losses have been huge - that's clear - how can they have been otherwise? I can 'hear' that you are coming back into yourself again, though. Just like the spring. Does that sound maudlin? I'm afraid it does, but that's what strikes me and I have to be honest. These days I have my moments of wondering how some things can seem so normal when others are so terribly not normal. One foot in front of the other until we are through this time - but trying to look up every now and then to see the beauty around me.

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    1. not the first time the planets have aligned between us! I think of you very often and send you and all your family every good wish.

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  21. Hello Elizabeth, your lovely reflective post resonated (again!) with me and, as reader and fan of your blog, I've had the privilege of being able to step beside you for some moments of this nine year journey. Really, what I want to say is 'thank you' for sharing those glimpses into your life. Cx

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    1. thank you Chris. it seems amazing that it is that long ago that I started. without the blog I would never have met you or pondside and life would be the poorer for that!

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  22. Thank Heaven for tulips and chickens , for wild flower meadows and bicycle trips . And thankyou for sharing yours !
    Sometimes life can be just a little too grownup ...

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    1. I am keen on not always being grown up!

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  23. What a good idea it is to review the past from time to time. I so enjoyed seeing your recap and I have found it quite salutary to be reminded how many lovely things I have seen and experienced by dipping at random into my own blog. I have been inclined to some melancholy at this time of change and struggling to see a path into the future without my children and grand child on the same continent for the foreseeable future. Your positive conclusion is something to think on. Maybe I will bump into you and Marianne at Great Dixter one day!

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    1. Wouldn't that be great! I would love to see Great Dixter again and would love to meet both of you. It is rather a long way from here so would need a bit of planning!

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