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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Clare Leighton's FOUR HEDGES

At the bottom of the pile of old books appeared a couple of old gardening books, one British, one mid-40's American. Clare Leighton, British wood engraver (among other media), illustrated and wrote the first. To say it is a delight is mild. Titled FOUR HEDGES (printed in 1935), the recounting of the four seasons and associated 88 engravings reflect work or its results during each time period.

How about a look at her chronicle entry for June? Here in the middle of the country, the middle of our state, rain has blessed us rather steadily which makes it practically impossible to take up the tasks of mowing and weeding. The enjoyment of a good book pacifies, does it not? Here we go.

A little preparation - she gardens BIG. And, words and images are being used these w/o permission so beg forgiveness. (They appear all over the Internet - who's there to ask?)

The quote begins:

Darville brings us young cabbages and sprouts, savoys and broccolis. He plants them out between the lines of potatoes. He sells them to us by the quarter hundred. As I count them I see thirty of each variety and question him. He sems amazed at my ignorance.

"Why, didn't you know that we always sell plants in a long hundred? that's a hundred and twenty. So of course a quarter hundred is thirty."

I feel rebuked.

The large perennial bed is a blaze of colour; delphinium, lupin, anchusa, veronica, bloom with unusal intensity. The red and yellow gaillardias, a gift from Darville, flower madly, in Noel's eyes ruining the colour scheme of the entire bed. .. He wants to uproot the wretched gaillardias, but I tell him that it would be too unkind to Darville. So he picks off the flowers and gives them to Annie; but the more he does so, the stronger grows the plant and the more it blooms.

We have other undesirable creatures in this big bed. Unsown poppies are sprouting up everywhere. One is lenient towards flowering weeds in the first year or two of a new garden, glad of the colour of anything that blooms. One even declares that one is striking out against snobbishness in gardens and will find room for such beautiful things as scarlet poppies. And so, for a year or two, they do bloom. But, also, they seed. And we are paying for our soft-heartedness. From now on the wild scarlet poppy in our garden is doomed...We defended its beauty to people who condoled with us on the appearance of such a lusy weed in the middle of our best bed. We laughed...We have learned better."

Later she reports that the loveliest creature in the garden is the mullein caterpillar and includes a delicate carving. Leighton's curiosity leads her to take one inside, something she probably does to study not only for its habits but also for its beauty. It takes less than a week for the caterpillar to more than double in size and then engulf itself in a provided mullein leave which becomes the cocoon framework.

There. Are you tempted to enjoy what nature provides or to find some of the flowers mentioned herein? If it's raining where you are and you cannot go play outside in the dirt, escape with a great book by someone who did do just that and then took the time to re-tell the experiences. Just in these few paragraphs clarity reveals we face the same concerns and share the same joys, whether this side of the ocean or the other, whether this century or the last. If we can have such simple things in common is there any doubt we have many more likenesses?