Sunday Morning Mindfulness

Quietly and sleepily sipping my first cup of Earl Grey tea early this morning, I slowly and absorbingly read the pages of a beautiful hardback book given to me by my mother and stepfather a few years ago.  I think it was a Christmas present – there will be a note inside to tell me, as I usually note these things nowadays – and I remember being instantly delighted by the sight and feel of the book, when I received it.

The cover of the book is white, with fine black writing and an elegant picture of a blue flower on the front, details on the back of those writers whose work has been included and form the body of the book, and the inside cover is a lovely blue. Published by the Royal Horticultural Society, it is a collection of prose and poetry with lovely pictures, artist sketches, of the flowers and plants that have been written about.  A coffee table book in a sense, or one to simply pick up and feed your senses with … which is why I picked it up this morning.

I read the other day, in a most unlikely place, that Table Mountain in Cape Town has 1,500 species of plants – whereas the entire United Kingdom has no more than that, indeed less than.  The fact astonished me, as Table Mountain forms only one very small part of the vast and beautiful country of South Africa, a place rich and awash with abundant flora and fauna; a place I miss to my very soul, because of this.  It was, believe it or not, this morning that the realisation dawned on me: “I miss the flora and fauna of South Africa”. More than anything, I miss the sights and the sounds of the natural world … and that is saying a lot, as there is much else in that gorgeous rainbow nation which I miss very much as well.

The little book that I was dipping into this morning, is about plants that grow in Britain, many of which I have come to know since my return here from Australia in 2006, and mostly since purchasing our current property in 2009.  I have learnt a lot about the British climate and natural environment while living in Berwickshire, experiencing life ‘out in the sticks’ much of the time, observing what is going on in our own tiny patch and what is going on all around us.  The monocultures that are witnessed everywhere in the United Kingdom, concentrated in the areas of countryside, are a depressing sight to someone who knows and longs for the biodiversity of a beautiful, natural world.  Instead of focusing only on those sorry and disastrous states, however, I take my focus back to the beauty of individual plants and absorb the wonder of life wherever I see and feel it, plants being only one way (and a potent one at that) of feeling the connection, a tangible connectedness, with the source of all life.

This is another thing I have realised only within the last few days … I ‘drink’ from the beauty of plants and feel drawn into closely observing the presence of bees and other wild creatures resting on or feeding from plants, because I feel a sense of connection to them, a connection to something deeper than myself, something and someone who is my very source.  I am easily uplifted by the sight or smell of a flower, a plant that is in excellent and robust health, a bumblebee or butterfly supping from pollen laden faces or drinking nectar from the trumpets of exquisitely designed little or large flowers. These things really draw me in, momentarily, for seconds at a time even, but powerfully and satisfyingly.  No matter if they quickly pass, the next moment soon comes.

All of these things of nature, strange as it may sound, feed my soul … and yet, so does the sight of a beautiful painting in a gallery, the feel of a special book, the experience of seeing a magnificently designed building or a chic, sophisticatedly detailed car (I have been known to stop and stare, mid conversation, when a Ferrari or Lambourghini has been sighted), a fabulously crafted pen, a stunning dress or creations of our recent past, like blue and white crockery and Bentwood chairs, a cared for old Morris Minor, a mirror or bowl of beautifully crafted glass.  Anything that is beautifully styled for elegance, efficiency, for peace or for speed,  will always draw me in, like a honey bee to nectar or even a monkey to a scene of curiosity, I suppose! I am simply fascinated by beauty, simplicity, form, ergonomic and eloquent design.  I see all of this in nature, and in miniature form it is always communicated to me through a beautiful plant, tree or flower – or even in sand or soil, in sticks of all sorts, in pebbles, rocks and gemstones!

Thus, as I turned the pages of the book my mother had given me, reading with pleasure about primroses, plumbago, giant white lilies, meconopsis (delicate blue poppies), blue iris, hyacinth, and even dandelion, I appreciated every word as one who closely knows the subject that she is reading about.  I feel the essence of a flower so easily … try it, next time you have the chance to inhale the fragrance of frangipani (in other climes), or jasmine, or the deliciously lemony tang of citrus blossom … you’ll connect with the source of all life that way too, I’m sure.

Digressing from my original subject of this piece, I realise, this issuing of invitation to others to feed on and drink from the well of life is a natural one to me too … I love to share what I have been blessed to know, to experience, to have for a season, to love, to learn from (good or bad), to achieve, to grow through, to expand within. There is so much joy in having others on the journey too and the invitation is usually a spontaneous one, invitation being something that has been a natural instinct of mine from a very early age.  In recent times, living in a place so remote and far from most of my friends and loved ones, I have extended the invitation through publishing (mainly online as yet) many writings of my own. Everything that I write and share with others, is an invitation for someone else to share in the experience of, a form of hospitality, a hand outstretched, an open door of sorts. If anything I write helps another, that is a bonus and hearing about it comes always as an unexpected gift.

And so, back to the book and the early morning cup of tea which helped to waken me for the new day …  I looked into the pictures opposite each page of poetry or prose, I read the lines, I felt the scenes, I appreciated the closeness of observation that had enabled the writers to share their presence as they wrote about the plants, and I felt loved. Nature does that … whether out in nature, or in word, or in image, nature nurtures somehow, I find.   There is nothing quite like experiencing the real thing, the sights and smells and feel of life inside elements of plants, flora, or the quirkiness of the fauna of a place, but to read about it is a close thing at least.

As I closed the book for the time being, having finished my cup of tea and feeling that a piece of writing needed to be birthed, I held it briefly in my arms and felt my mother’s love. Knowing that the book had been especially chosen for me, not least I am sure because of its colour scheme on the cover, the white enhanced with shades of blue, for content and for sight, becoming freshly aware of this was another nurturing of sorts.  My mother was born in this country, in Edinburgh, and these are the plants of her country of birth which I am tending and reading about these days.

Perhaps I shall soon find a way to travel easily between the other countries and continents that I love but, for now, I drink in the beauty of elements of the country where I am currently based, as I dream of and plan for what can be. Always, I am grateful for what is and has been, and always I drink in the awesomeness of now, all around me.

It is in the plants, the flora, of a country that we read deep into her soul.  It is in the plants that I find my connection to my source.  It is in the plants that we find our nourishments, our medicines, our fragrances, our hope, so much life, the essence of so much that is sustainable and needed for healthy longevity, our groundedness, our environmental stability, and the source of so much joy and of so much that is meaningful in real life.

Holly x

 

 

 

 

 


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Link to WordPress “The Daily Post”:
https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/inhabit/

 

A Visit to RHS Harlow Carr in Spring

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This is more than just about a garden visit.

I am writing this blogpost retrospectively, having visited RHS Harlow Carr in early Spring this year.  Our visit this time, occurred just as the buds were opening on the blossom trees (prunus of several types), the fresh leaves were unfurling in many shades of green on chilly trees, the bulbs’ leaves were emerging from their cosy soil beds, many flowers bravely blooming in the still and freezing-cold Yorkshire air, and various heathers and ericas were in abundant show-off pink colour blaze.

Harlow Carr has become a special place to me, a place where I have enjoyed a few visits since my children attended boarding school in that British county, which is several hours’ drive south of our current home. Visiting gardens is a way for me to connect with the pure life force that I sense is so lacking in society today, a vital way for me to unwind and to find inspiration for all the tasks I’m still learning to understand and to manage, and for strength in the journey of life itself, as well as simply to be in the presence of beauty and grace, for wonder and for fun.

On this day back in April 2017, my husband and I had driven down from the area where we live south of Edinburgh, met our daughter at a train station nearby, and we’d all set off for an afternoon of grounding, family time and chatting about life plans, on a very rainy afternoon. We were lucky to find a table fairly quickly in the very busy cafe on site, and happily enjoyed a simple lunch in an attractively glassed area, which afforded us the privilege of seeing the beautiful grounds around us, while keeping warm and snug inside.  Magically, the heavy dark clouds had moved on just as we were sated from a few hours of chat, so we gathered our coats and cameras and stepped outside into the crisp, damp, fresh air for a quick and intentional walk around the tidy paths.

 

 

As we live further north than this garden, it was interesting to note what was happening there, and to know that our turn would come next. The further south one travels in Britain, the earlier the seasons begin and the warmer the climate is.  Our growing season is brief, when it finally starts, and I always sense a wave of panic when everything suddenly begins to grow like mad up here, all maintenance and other jobs becoming necessary at once.  Thus, it helps to see gardens further south, for the warning signs before they take place where we are.

As we wandered about, strategically and fast (by then near to closing time), I was surprised to see so many heathers in bloom at Harlow Carr. Most surprising, I thought, was that the hungry bees were already out and feasting on their tiny little blooms … a sign that this (the various types of heather or erica) is a good plant, one type of species to encourage others to include in their plantings everywhere – at least in every area of Britain where it does not already naturally grow in the wild (where still allowed).  The British landscape does not currently afford much scope for wildlife to find either food or haven, there being little naturalness or biodiversity left on the main island of the United Kingdom; in most areas a begging starvation of diversity exists wherever one looks.

Gardeners can address this suicidal environmental travesty, but alone we cannot – the large landowners and land managers must take the situation into their hands too. We urgently have to address the plight of our wild pollinators  and other creatures that exist to form a healthy eco system, which we each will benefit from. I digress.  Lungwort (pulmonaria) in its many forms, is another plant that bees love in the early months of the year, flowering profusely before much else is in bloom.

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Lungwort (pulmonaria)

It was lovely to see everything looking ready to receive the new season’s growth, beds tidied and mulched … no doubt left a little wild during the winter, to afford habitat for wildlife and to allow some seeds to feed birds, as well as to drop into the ready soil.  I especially loved the little area near the potting shed, which boasts elegant garden architecture, as well as tastefully careful landscape design.

 

 

 

The potting shed itself was delightful to visit – attractive and of great interest; it was useful to find a description there of how pest control was managed in the past. Nowadays so little thought is given to the damage that we are doing to ourselves, to wildlife, to ecology, and to the future of our children’s experiences of the natural world by the use of so many toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, all manner of cleaning materials, genetically engineered plants, etc. Indeed, we are “shooting ourselves in the foot”, instead of learning from and following in the footsteps of our clever ancestors, who knew how to work with Nature, to create something out of little, to harm few or none in the process of fending for themselves. I think about these things, when I wander about!

 

 

 

The notice on the potting shed wall reads:

“The Potting Shed

The potting shed is the gardener’s laboratory! Before commercial pesticides became available, gardeners mix their concoctions of chemicals on a stove in the potting shed, using recipes that have been handed down over generations.

Most ingredients can be found easily and cheaply such as soot, elder leaves, dung, urine and ashes.  Other materials that are used can be bought locally such as soap, lime, sulphur and tobacco.

It is a real factory … in order to realise why gardens have so many flowerpots, it is important to remember that every plant in the garden will  have been grown from seed, carefully nurtured and then planted out (there are no garden centres for instant effect at this time).

Potting sheds are the domain of the workforce and the gentry never visit them, just as there is a definite line between ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ in the house.

Use of Poisons

Dangerous ingredients, such as arsenic and strychnine, are used regularly in the garden as they can be bought very easily – however the Arsenic Act (passed in 1851) allows only people over 21 to buy it, and the sale has to be recorded in a Poisons Book.

The most dangerous ingredients are generally kept in a poisons cupboard in the potting shed. In true Agatha Christie style, if there is a murder on the Estate, the first place the police tend to look is in the potting shed!

In order to keep flies out of the potting shed and prevent them from laying eggs in the compost mix, the walls of potting sheds are painted with Reckitt’s Blue.  This is a blue powder added when washing clothes in order to produce a clean blue-white appearance.”

I find all of this fascinating, don’t you?

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A thirsty honey bee, sipping raindrops from the petals of a white daffodil flower.

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Lovely white narcissus (daffodils) at RHS Harlow Carr ~ and the little honey bee I spied, which features in another photo here, captured close up.

As we ambled quickly along the paths, we encountered a few surprises, such as the very tall willow statue of a Roald Dahl story character, The BFG, which would surely delight every child who visits there and also provides inspiration, perhaps, for what one might do with natural materials found outdoors.  He, the BFG, was a ‘friendly chap’ ~ I took a quick photo to remember the artwork by …

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Heading uphill, onto the side of the garden opposite the entrance, we wandered through tall trees and shrubs, admiring the majestic trunks of rhododendrons, many of which were in beautiful (and some fragrant) bloom.  The honey of rhodendron is toxic, apparently, but the bees need these blooms too and the flowers are always a wonderfully welcome sight, after a long, dark period of Wintry gloom.  I have learnt, at cost to one or two of the mature garden shrubs at our home, that only some rhododendrons (of which azaleas form the same general family) are fit to be pruned!  Would that ours could look as tall and elegant as those at Harlow Carr, which have been cared for by clever people in the know about these things.

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I think this must have been about my fourth or fifth visit to RHS Harlow Carr, since our first visit there in September 2011.  On that day, we had been travelling back up north, having taken our youngest child to boarding school for the first time, and my emotions were in torment.  I remember wandering around Harlow Carr on that day, with my heart in my throat, tears brimming, feeling as though I were a tree whose limb had been ripped off in a whirlwind.  It was an ache I shall never forget … and I thank the universe for making sure that everything turned out well, despite the pain and the challenges and the things that were to come, after that agonising time.  My soul was soothed by Harlow Carr, stopping there as if to apply a plaster to a gaping wound, and it helped me to keep breathing as we left the county, where both of our children were now boarding … it is a relief to have all of that behind me now.

If you have the chance to visit any of the Royal Horticultural Society gardens in Britain, do consider doing so; I am sure you will not be disappointed.  So much care goes into preserving precious plant species, designing landscapes that stand out, inspire and motivate and heal the soul … and now the RHS are also behind a great push to make the public, citizens of all ages and all walks of life, aware that we must take care of our natural environment, our pollinators, our precious and vital earth.  I am so grateful for the chance to see such places, to absorb the positive energy there, to benefit from the calm and order and consciousness … very grateful indeed.

In mindfulness,

Holly x


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An Impromptu Lecture by Richard Demarco, CBE OBE

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I am extremely privileged to know the indomitable Professor Richard Demarco (pictured above explaining his Archive at Summerhall), having first come across him in Edinburgh during the early 1990s, and am honoured to call Richard a friend.

As is his wont and despite his advanced years, Richard Demarco continues to be immensely generous about sharing what he has with others, regardless of where he is or with whom, and he loves an audience with whom to engage.   Ever enthusiastic about disseminating his vast knowledge, conveying his passion in every word, and describing his many encounters with bright and brilliant minds, all of whom he recognises as artists, Richard thrives on speaking with anyone who is interested to hear what he has to teach, and speaks with brilliance and compelling emotion about the things most dear to his heart.

On one of my visits to Richard’s administration base in Edinburgh a couple of years ago, a small crowd had gathered, to whom Richard enthusiastically began to lecture. I switched on my camera to capture the moment in photograph, but hit the video setting, in error.  Thus, instead of photographing him, I found I was filming the exceptional moment, which turned out to be fortuitious.  Richard noticed that he was being filmed, but appeared not to mind the ‘intrusion’, so I kept the film running.  To be honest, I wish I had video or audio recordings of every meeting  and gathering at which we have met thus far, all of which have been fascinating, inspiring and intellectually vibrant.  Richard Demarco is a stellar human being and one who never fails to enliven the world around him, a world which I am so fortunate to be able to encounter him in.

I share this treasure of mine in good faith, the result of my impromptu filming of an impromptu lecture by Professor Richard Demarco, CBE OBE on 10 July 2013, at Summerhall in Edinburgh. The film clip contains mentions of the Edinburgh Festival, the climate and Nature, made poignant by the presence of a cherished portrait of the late Joseph Beuys, renowned artist and environmentalist, a much-treasured and missed friend of the great man.  There are also several ‘guest appearances’ through a creaky door, by those going about their business of managing the Demarco Archive at Summerhall.  I hope none will mind being featured in this little film.

 

 

As an aside before ending this post, mere mention of the fact that this was filmed a day after Richard Demarco’s 83rd birthday.  Richard has recently celebrated turning 85, and continues to travel widely to speak of Art, his great love, and many things related, inspiring all who come into his orbit.  What a remarkable man he is!

With blessings,

Holly x

 

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Note:  For more information about Professor Richard Demarco, please search this site for other post(s), where you will also find links to his website.

 

 

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NB.  The film clip featured is the property of and remains copyright to Holly Maxwell Boydell, with all rights reserved.  The film and this post may be shared, but not used elsewhere for gain without prior and appropriate agreement / permission.

 

 

 

 

Copyright ©  The Holly Tree Tales
All rights reserved.

A remarkable man: Richard Demarco, CBE

On 22 March 2014 I wrote a short piece, in honour of a man I am proud to call a friend, which I ‘published’ onto the Facebook social media platform, in order that others might read it too. My short note was received with gratitude and favour by those who hold Richard in high esteem, as I do, and for that I was immensely grateful. These are the words and the image, which I had taken too, that was ‘published’ with them …


A remarkable man: Richard Demarco, CBE

I am writing this about and for Richard Demarco, to show him my appreciation and respect, a couple of days before a special event takes place for him, in a quiet way, in Edinburgh. I am incredibly proud to call myself a friend of Richard Demarco, a man who has had a profound effect on the lives of many and varied people in Britain, Europe, and around the world, through the world of Art, from his base in the ‘cultured’ city of Edinburgh.

On Monday 24 March 2014 Richard Demarco CBE will receive the highest award that his own city of birth has to offer. It has been a long time in coming, and I am one of the many who warmly applaud Professor Demarco in receiving this, the Edinburgh Award. He certainly has gone above and beyond boundaries or expectations and, unasked, has done more than most to foster links and goodwill between the United Kingdom and the rest of the world, using Art in all its forms as his medium and communication tool.

With family origins in Italy, and Scotland as his birth place, in his own right Richard Demarco is a most talented artist, his sketches and watercolours amongst some of the most beautiful, and informed, that I have ever seen, and for this alone he gets my recognition and respect. Richard Demarco is also one of the most passionate people I know, a true phenomenon, with the most incredible stamina and verve for life. Those who have been in his space have felt captivated by Richard and hearing him speak is an experience that few are left untouched by; he is, quite simply, a force to be reckoned with.

For many reasons, Richard Demarco’s own life deserves documenting, his own personality and grace applauded, and his own words heard – but always he thinks of others. Richard quickly sees where there is magic in people he meets, always seeks ways to put people and their given talents together, constantly looks for ways to better others’ lives. He has his own voice, undoubtedly clear and strategic, but he is always mindful of his fellow man… and, need I say, he is always mindful of his environment too. Richard is, without doubt, a thoughtful man, on every level.

Now in his 84th year, Richard Demarco has an archive that would take your breath away. The Demarco Foundation Archive contains immeasurably valuable historic records, incredible and inspiring artworks by others, many that will have to remain hidden, at least until a suitable place is found to safely house and make the entire collection available to the public, in perpetuity. Amongst the vast collection of international artworks, are records of deep and significant meaning, documented life witnessed and shared and expressed by others, which spans at least six decades, including information about and material from each and every Edinburgh Festival since its inception. Most profoundly, amongst the Demarco Archive are excruciatingly insightful, haunting and valuable records, giving glimpses into personal links with all sorts of artists and others in Europe and Britain during World War II. This part of the collection, alone, is worth national protection.

Many do not know this, but Richard Demarco has participated, in one significant way or another, in every single Edinburgh Festival, since it began in 1947. He remains committed to its original purpose, wishing to see it become once again the cultural and elegant festival which it used to be, where people’s spirits were lifted, lives enriched and elevated through Art in its many forms. Recently recognition for his positive role in humanity came from distant shores, when Richard Demarco was named European Citizen of the Year 2013. This is something that Edinburgh should be immensely proud of, and proves not only his commitment and loyalty to people everywhere, but his longevity of ambassadorial goodwill.

A passion that I share with Richard Demarco, besides a commitment to take care of our environment by planting trees (reference the oak trees planted by Joseph Beuys in Europe, as a symbolic gesture decades ago, with the expressed wish for this to continue, to protect the earth, the bees, and our lives), is to hear the voices and the hearts of children everywhere. Children, after all, will grow up to be the people who lead us, and it is for them that we ought to live well and decide our actions with wisdom now. Through Richard I learnt about “Room 13 International”, a movement that began in the West of Scotland about twenty years ago, which is now global, empowering the lives and minds of children around the world. I was especially touched to learn that “Room 13” exists in several areas of South Africa, the country where I was born and grew up, and that “Room 13” was one of the movements close to Nelson Mandela’s heart. He, too, cared deeply for children. Like Nelson Mandela, young people delight Richard Demarco; he never seems to tire of engaging them in elevating thought and suggesting opportunity. Like the artist Joseph Beuys, Richard believes that everyone is an artist – and that this is something to be nurtured young.

While he encourages Art, in its many and varied forms, most of all I get the impression that Richard Demarco responds to beauty, and to where he sees love present, wherever and however it is expressed – however deeply or otherwise – as long as it is truthfully expressed.

In some ways, Richard reminds me of Gandhi, who once said words to the effect that “it is expensive to be my friend …”, because Richard Demarco’s visions are enormous, his effect in the world he influences great, while his own means remain surprisingly humble. I love this man Demarco. I love that he is who he is and has done what he has done. He has annoyed some, he has delighted others. That matters little to me, because in him I see the truth lived out, and he is, like all of us, a mere mortal. I love Professor Richard Demarco’s passionate commitment to the human race and to elevating the minds of everyone he comes in contact with, whatever the means, regardless of age, background or creed. Richard Demarco is fearless in the pursuit of his passion: to stimulate consideration and thought, and to empower others. This I love and resonate with most of all.

As you prepare to receive your Edinburgh Award, so justly and rightly deserved, I want to say that I believe you are a shining star, Richard, and I am deeply humbled and grateful to know you as a friend, and a mentor in the journey of life. Bravo and congratulations on receiving The Edinburgh Award … not yet, perhaps, the greatest of your many ongoing achievements, but certainly a highly significant one, and the one that has been the most immediately deserved, yet has taken the longest to arrive.

Well done, our friend, well done.

Richard Demarco, CBE - in conversation via modern technology, with camera always at the ready - August 2013

Richard Demarco, CBE – in conversation via modern technology, with camera always at the ready – August 2013

 

 

FOR FURTHER INFO:

FB  https://www.facebook.com/richard.demarco.923/about
Bio  http://www.richarddemarco.org/documents/35.html
Digital Archive  http://www.demarco-archive.ac.uk/
Wikipedia  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Demarco

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright ©  The Holly Tree Tales
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