Archive for August, 2011

Paul Gavarni, Le Flâneur, 1842

Paul Gavarni, Le Flâneur, 1842

There is no English equivalent for the French word flâneur. Cassell’s dictionary defines flâneur as a stroller, saunterer, drifter but none of these terms seems quite accurate. There is no English equivalent for the term, just as there is no Anglo-Saxon counterpart of that essentially Gallic individual, the deliberately aimless pedestrian, unencumbered by any obligation or sense of urgency, who, being French and therefore frugal, wastes nothing, including his time which he spends with the leisurely discrimination of a gourmet, savoring the multiple flavors of his city.

(Cornelia Otis Skinner, Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals, 1962)

“Flâneur” is a distinctly urban concept, connected especially with Paris during the last half of the 19th Century. The quote above defines the flâneur in almost hedonistic terms, whereas others – for example Baudelaire – tended to view the flâneur as more observant and analytic.

There is no such thing as a rural flâneur, of course, or even a suburban flâneur, so talking about “flâneur gardening” will inevitably be a twisting of the original meaning of the term. A real flâneur would probably never get dirt under his nails, nor would he cart around with a wheel barrow full of soil or any such strenuous activities, but this is where the change in time – from late 19th century to early 21st century – comes into play.

When I work hard I sit still in front of a screen or speak to people, and as a consequence time in the garden – fresh air, occasionally hard work and a connection to the soil – becomes a luxury pursuit, just as the act of strolling aimlessly around used to be a luxury reserved for those privileged enough not to have to spend their days working.

You could also argue that my gardening is as fruitless as the perambulating gentleman of leisure; what little produce I harvest from the garden could be more efficiently procured by going to the supermarket. The practical aim of my gardening is decidedly missing, and instead it becomes a pursuit of sensuality, of experiencing the surroundings and taking them in, both visually and by the senses of smell, touch, hearing and taste.

Mind you, I’m not adverse to a bit of old-school flânerie either; I love wandering aimlessly about a city and take in the sights and sounds and smells of the life that goes on around me. Being a casual, nonparticipating observer and spend hours strolling or sitting at a pavement café. Rome and Paris are excellent for this, as is Copenhagen to a large extent when the weather is nice, whereas a city like London is absolutely impossible to be a real flâneur in; the pace is too fast and there are precious few places to sit and engage in a spot of people watching.

I once took it so far as to go to Paris for a week on my own, simply because I had a lunch date with a couple of friends who were over from Australia. The rest of the week I spent mainly alone; strolling around the city, sitting in cafés with a novel or a news paper and only meeting other people when I randomly ran into a friend from London here or a friend from the US there. (I felt terribly glamorous and international, I can tell you!)

So there, that was my contribution to Mrs. Nesbitt’s ABC Wednesday for this week.

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Online? Offline?

It’s no secret that most of the garden blogs I read – and also most of the readers of my blog – are based in different countries. I guess I’ve sort of asked for this, blogging in English, rather than in my native Danish, but Denmark is such a small country that I just felt it would be natural to write in English if I were to make any real attempt at making my jottings accessible to any real audience. (And of course many of my friends are foreigners so if at any point I decide to come out of the closet as a garden blogger, they can actually read this blog.)

However… I don’t really know many Danish garden blogs, let alone bloggers, so when I came across the image to the left, a “virtual flyer” for a garden blogger meet-up here in Copenhagen, it got me thinking about whether it might not be an idea to attend and see if there are some interesting people there whose brains I can pick via their blogs. After all, gardening is hugely dependent on local circumstances, and though it might be nifty to follow gardening blogs from Japan to the US it doesn’t help me deal with local conditions.

So I may or may not go. Last sign-up is September 5th, and it’s a free event with the option of ordering a sandwich lunch.

Edited post-publishing:

I just took one step towards integrating myself in the Danish gardening blogosphere by getting my blog added to a directory of Danish garden blogs, haveblogs.blogspot.com. I need to add a proper link-back to the side bar at some point, and I should really also add links to Blotanical and Kathy’s Cold Climate Gardening and a few other sites.

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The weather was lovely, I had spent most of the day relaxing and reading, and suddenly when I walked through the courtyard I suddenly noticed the blackberries had ripened and were ready to pick.


We don’t have a lot of blackberries, and our fruit bushes in general are terribly unkempt which clearly doesn’t improve the yield, but I got a nice little bowl of blackberries, just enough to warrant making jam!


A bowlful of blackberries, a couple of handfuls of preserving sugar and a tiny dash of water, boil it until it sets quickly when tested on a refrigerated plate and then pour into sterilised jars.


Hopla! Two jars of preserved summer and sunshine to be enjoyed on warm home-baked rolls this winter!

I also picked a few handful of green and purple French beans, blanched them and put them in the freezer, and I picked the dried pods off the peas and shelled them so I can try sowing them next year.

But summer shouldn’t just be about preserving; it should also be about enjoying transient beauty, right? Since I had to go back to town Sunday late morning for the leaving-do of a friend who is moving abroad, I figured I’d bring her a random bunch of whatever is flowering right now:


Crocosmia, goldenrod and gladiolus, with a random Mexican tiger flower from a pot in the courtyard. When I picked them I didn’t actually have any idea that I would end up with a colour scheme that looks intentional, perhaps even coordinated.

(All right, I also picked some sweet peas, but since their stems are so short they ended up as an additional posy.)

This is the sort of wild life I lead… Riveting, isn’t it?

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Garden and Gardener

First of all, help! Does anybody know what this perennial is? It comes from my mother’s garden where it never did anything spectacular, perhaps because it was standing in full shade, but with a bit of sun it has turned into something wonderful. It’s about half a meter in height and I love it to bits.

Then there’s the courtyard. It’s a mess, to be frank, with weeds in the pavement (more weeds than pavement, it seems) and pots that have been knocked over by the wind, but it is also lush and overgrown and in some casual way rather lovely. The glads are beginning to make a show of themselves, and you can also see the lavatera (‘Mont Blanc’) making an effort to show why it was a good thing that Alistair tempted me (unwittingly) into buying some seeds. Between them is the newly purchased clematis ‘Multi Blue’; another temptation that has proved worth while, even though I didn’t expect it to do much this first year.

The beans (purple and green) have given a moderate yield so far and look set to give more if only I would be here to pick them as and when they ripen, but sadly I probably won’t. The same goes for the cherry tomatoes. Sad, but I sort of knew that from the beginning. Perhaps next year I shall have more time to be here doing the growing season, since I won’t be busy decorating an apartment and so on?


And finally there is your’s truly in front of the type of flowers I really like: Flowers that are taller than myself! We do have a few different varieties of goldenrods, it seems, as they grow to different heights and have slightly different flowering habits, but they are all tall and showy and able to rise above however many weeds they grow between.

I will be here until tomorrow late morning, and then I won’t be back for another 3 weeks, so I will be doing a heavy cull of flowers before I leave to go to a friend’s leaving do (she’s moving to Stockholm/Sweden). Surely a bunch of home-grown flowers will be a suitable leaving present.

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Flashback Friday

Over at Kitchen Bouquet, Suzy is hosting a Flashback Fridays meme, and since I’ve already mentioned the goat my dad once brought home after a drunken card game in a comment to A Woman Of The Soil, I figured I’d let the goat be my flashback.

Basically my dad got drunk at the local boozer and won a goat, so the next morning we woke up to a goat tied to the flagpole in the garden. In the picture you can also see the cage for our angora rabbits.

It says quite a lot about my parents’ garden, I think; we always had animals (beside the dog) of some sort. We’ve had rabbits, chickens, ducks and I even reared 18 pheasants once to be released on my grandfather’s land. (If the pheasants had the good sense to remain on his land they will have lived to a ripe old age, since my grandfather was a terrible hunter.)

Anyway, the picture shows me and my older brother trying to get control of the stubborn goat. As it was, the goat remained with us only for a few days, since my mother was not keen on it. It was given to the local hotel where it spent its last years grazing in the park along two peacocks. Bizarre combination, I know.


For more information on Flashback Fridays, head over to Kitchen Bouquet.

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Having just re-read my last entry, I’ve come to think about what I want to escape to, and the following poem really embodies what I would like the garden to be. Our stream mysterious might not be a river, and there might not be a single chestnut in sight, but that feeling, that emotion, that bliss. THAT’S what I want.

There’s calm and comfort and repose, but also history, a local anchoring and a sense that plants can embody – or determine? – a way of life. And in our garden I hope there will always be at least metaphorical honey still for tea.

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester

(Cafe des Westens, Berlin, May 1912)

Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow . . .
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
— Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe . . .
                                     Du lieber Gott !

Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Temperamentvoll German Jews
Drink beer around; — and THERE the dews
Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulated sun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
A slippered Hesper; and there are
Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
Where das Betreten‘s not verboten.

ειθε γενοιμην . . . would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! —
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad’s reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low: . . .
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester. . . .
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.
Dan Chaucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill.
Tennyson notes, with studious eye,
How Cambridge waters hurry by . . .
And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean . . .
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out,
Grey heavens, the first bird’s drowsy calls,
The falling house that never falls.

God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of THAT district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
And worse than oaths at Trumpington,
And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,
And there’s none in Harston under thirty,
And folks in Shelford and those parts
Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton’s full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you’d not believe
At Madingley on Christmas Eve.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St. Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,
To hear what happened at Babraham.
But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I’m told) . . .

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

(Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915)

And if you don’t like the poem, at least some of you might appreciate that he was excessively cute. I’ve had a crush on him for years… (But don’t tell my husband!)

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E is for “Escape”

This entry is part of Mrs. Nesbitt’s ABC Wednesday.

If there is one thing our garden is to me, it is an escape from stress. Not from reality, but from stress. Reality does not equal stress, though stress can at times form part of reality.

You can see the header of my blog above; a beautiful summer day with me and a friend relaxing in the garden (my husband is behind the camera), and below you can see the garden on a winter day when I was up there alone, enjoying evenings in front of the fire place with a good book and a glass of red wine.

Sure, there is a lot of work to do in the garden, and it has more than its fair share of projects pending, some overdue. But… If I don’t get a garden project done, no harm will come of it. It matters, but not a great deal. My husband is happy with the garden as long as things grow and there’s a general feeling of lushness, and actually so am I. (And the plants themselves will take care of that, even if the lawn has not been immaculately mown and the borders need weeding.)

When I sit at my desk at work I have a minimum of 10 program windows open at any given time, often more. I work on my attention-demanding projects while being ready to leave my desk at a 2-second notice to help a co-worker or take a call. In the garden I call the shots. The plants and the weeds and the pests all do their bit, but I decide what I feel like tackling and there is nothing that can suddenly become urgent out of nowhere. And though some things might have deadlines in the garden (no point in sowing annuals in August, for instance), these deadlines can come and go without problems, unlike the deadline for the move from my apartment to our new apartment.

In my everyday life, both at work and privately, things often happen randomly and with little warning, but in the garden there are certainties. Sure, the slugs might eat the bean seedlings and the deer might eat the perennials, but Spring follows Winter and Autumn follows Summer without fail. There is a predictability, a certainty that makes it recognisable each year.

I enjoy this. I enjoy the routines, the circularity of it all, the fact that while external facts might affect the game in the garden, I set the rules myself.

And I can pamper myself by setting aside time to just fantasize about the garden and plans for it, or occasionally I can even indulge in some bulb shopping or whatever. It’s a cheap hobby, and it gives me exercise, relaxation, joy. It gives me something to bring back to my Excel spreadsheets and my employee development talks with our agents.

And it gives me beauty. Beauty and a place to be alone, be with my husband or be with our friends.

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I haven’t had much time for the garden this summer, what with an apartment to redecorate and a move to plan, as well as a busy schedule at work. And I miss the garden…

So last week I got a bit impulsive and decided to treat myself to a little dream of spring. Nothing too extravagant, but I ordered 500 crocus bulbs and 250 tulip bulbs from a Dutch website.

There’s absolutely no grand plan for this purchase, other than trying to get some spring colour in the garden. Both crocus and tulips are mixed colours, so they will go a bit all over the place. The crocuses will probably end up in the lawn and the tulips will be scattered in random groups through the borders.

They’re brash, they’re slightly gaudy and they’re in no way stylish, but they’re lovely all the same. A French woman I once knew adored tulips for what she referred to as their beauté bète; their stupid beauty. Now, some tulips are – to me at least – refined and elegant, but the ones I’ve ordered really aren’t. They are fun and cheerful, though, and I can’t imagine they won’t make me smile when they appear next spring.

And isn’t that a great reason to buy 750 bulbs?

All right, so my crocus lawn won’t look like this. At all. But never the less it’s the source of inspiration; to have at least a section of the lawn suddenly turn into a flower bed each spring for a few weeks before the lawn mower is dragged out from hibernation. There will be no pattern, and the colour scheme will be more random with the yellow crocus contrasting with the blues and whites, but still.

(And the planting will be less concentrated since I “only” have 500 crocus bulbs. For a dense planting like the picture above, I guess 500 bulbs would only cover just over a square meter…)

It will, though, be back-breaking work to get 750 bulbs in the ground.

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New Project

My husband wrote last night that he was considering tearing down the covered terrace.

At present it is perhaps the most dominant feature of the house as it faces the largest part of the lawn. If we remove it, the house will regain more of its original look; cleaner, but also potentially more boring.

I’m torn in two over this. On one hand I know that the present covering is a poor construction, partly because it adds stress to the house itself and partly because at least one of the posts is subsiding. Also, of course, the shallow incline of the roof caused it to sag by nearly an inch during the heavy snow last winter, expressing both just how shallow the incline is, how poor the construction is and how much additional stress it transfers to the house itself during heavy snow.

On the other hand I love having the covered terrace where the temperature in the late summer evenings is almost 5 degrees Celsius higher than outside and no dew falls.

As it is, though, the current covering will need to be pulled down eventually, if not next year then in 5 years max. So would I want it rebuilt? Perhaps, perhaps not. However, if my husband wants to take it down early, I’ll gladly go along with it and embrace the opportunities it gives.

The covered terrace is facing North-West, so during summer it has a beautiful evening light. If torn down, we’d certainly want to create an open terrace there, but we would be freed from the restraints of the present layout. In my head a new terrace would be smaller, but surrounded by wide borders of – fragrant? – flowers.

The sitting room – with the dining recess – overlooks the present terrace, so clearly a new terrace layout would need to be partly designed to look good through the windows. I could imagine borders with loads of white flowers that would be visible, even after dusk when you’ve retired inside.

It excites me to imagine what we could do if we replace the covered terrace. I love the way it creates a blank canvas for us to create a space that is entirely ours. And I love the way that by removing something so important to the look of the house and replacing it with something of our own invention, we’d be putting our own indelible stamp on the house.

I can imagine raised beds at either end of the new terrace, painted the same colour as the house to create a sense of unity, and a wide border between the terrace and the lawn. Perhaps we could retain the clematises around the present terrace by adding narrow tepees for them to ramble through?

For now this is all just fantasy, but we will spend the winter looking into our options and possible plans for this VERY important part of the garden. There’s definitely potential for an amazing new garden space, even if it would mean that the garden would have another year of looking all rough and newly-hewn…

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With my husband home on a long-awaited 2-weeks holiday, finding time for blogging has not been one of my top priorities. However, I just wanted to share some pictures of the beans in the vegetable garden; some have been eaten by slugs, but most have survived and are now blooming with the prettiest little purple flowers…

I will post more when I am once again a grass (or garden?) widower…

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