The Gift Of A Mandela Book

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This morning, whilst drinking my early morning cup of tea, something prompted me to look across to the little bookshelf beside my bed.  As I glanced up to the top shelf, a book almost spoke to me to lift it down and open it … this book … “Mandela. My Prisoner, My Friend”.  I obeyed.  I held it, I stretched out my hands and looked at the cover, I drew it close to my chest and hugged it, as if to feel the warmth of southern hemisphere sunshine … and then I opened the covers and peeped inside.

I knew that I was taking a chance by opening the book, potentially exposing myself to pain, at seeing evidence of things about Nelson Mandela’s life which I know were brutal, creating uncomfortable feelings of despair and utter shame, coupled with longings for the country of my birth, and yet I knew that it really was time to face whatever the pages contained … but I was only going to peep.  A little.  It was not my intention to spend too much time on the book today, with a list as long as the proverbial piece of rope of things demanding my attention, but I felt that I was being guided to read some of it and to at least make myself acquainted with a little of what the text contains.  The book had been given to me some time ago, a surprise gift, and it was time I gave it my attention, bravely.

As so often happens, I feel intuitively that I should do things and, instead of questioning the prompts, I usually tiptoe or stumble forth in the direction where I am led. And so I prised open the unread book, and I recalled the immense sense of amazement that I had felt when it had first been given to me, as I read the handwritten inscription inside:

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“To Holly,
Nelson Mandela was / is such an inspiration for me, as are you!
Keep shining your light and doing what you do.
Kirsti   x  “

[gifted to me on 28 April 2016]

Once again, as when I had received the book, which had been a complete surprise, I felt a wave of humility mixed with pleasure, at being thought of so highly and in such a wonderful way.  I cannot imagine anyone on the planet not being touched to be associated with “Madiba” in any sense at all … what a tremendous honour that I should be so blessed to remind someone of him, so much so that they would give me this book with open handed love.  It’s no small thing to have received this, and I remember at the time I could not comprehend why, nor quite take it in.  I still cannot see how I bear any passing similarity to Nelson Mandela, but life has been incredibly challenging to me as well, starting with a turbulent and at times heart breaking childhood, and has taught me so much through those challenges.  I suppose this gives a tiny reason to feel that Mr Mandela and I might have, had we ever met, been kindred spirits.  Each of us, people acquainted with harsh reality and at times extremely unfair judgement, both very much in love with Nature, people and the African soil, giving some vague reason to believe that perhaps we might have had some things in common while he lived.  I would have loved to meet that real, power filled man – as many would have, I know.

And so, I turned another page, to see what I was being led to read.  The few pages that I opened spoke deeply to my consciousness and, whilst I could not face reading into the detail, what I read was enough for today, enough to make it worthwhile to have opened the book – almost a year since it had been given to me, in April 2016.

In the Prologue, these words by the author, Christo Brand, struck my soul:

“Nelson Mandela spent his boyhood in the green and golden hills of South Africa’s Eastern Cape.  There he ran wild with his friends in the village of Qunu.  He has told of the happiest years of his life – shooting birds out of the sky with a catapult, gathering fruit from the trees, catching fish with a bent hook and drinking warm milk straight from the cow.

Just like me, he sometimes looked after flocks of sheep and would go home to his family’s little house after playing till dusk, to eat supper and listen to his mother’s stories around the fireside.

As a young boy, he had no immediate knowledge of apartheid.  In his small, safe world there was no obvious menace.  His childhood was secure in the rural Xhosa community where he belonged.

I also knew nothing of the cruel racial boundaries in our country as I grew up.  My father was a farm foreman in a fertile part of the Western Cape.  All my young life I played with black and mixed-race children who lived on the farm with us in Stanford, many miles from the city.

Looking back, Mandela and I both enjoyed childhoods full of innocence and charm, although many years apart.  We were both brought up in the Christian tradition, our lives ruled by strict but loving parents who taught us right from wrong.  All that mattered was home and family, with rewards for good behaviour and punishment for bad.

He and I, in contrasting worlds, came to know in our different ways the full cruelty of the apartheid laws, and those worlds collided only many years later when we both found ourselves on Robben Island, the bleak maximum security prison where he was serving life and I was his warder.

I was 19 years old when I came face to face with Nelson Mandela.  He was 60.  Until that day I had never heard of him, or his African National Congress, or the deeply held reasons that meant that he and his comrades were prepared to die for their cause.

I found a man who was courteous and humble, yet at the same time the powerful leader of many of the political prisoners serving time on Robben Island.”

and

“He wrote of his ‘long walk to freedom’, and I walked some of that road with him, an incredible journey that defines my life today, as well as his.

In truth, my life began so much later than his.  A white Afrikaans boy born into the very culture that created Mandela the revolutionary, I’d had no idea it was going to lead me to him.”

~ * ~

Unlike Christo Brand, whose childhood and life story are also described in the book, I did not grow up in a Christian household, and my home and background influence were very definitely liberal British / generally English ones, but I too experienced the times of friendship with ‘forbidden’ others, and the wildness of living free during part of my childhood in the African countryside.  In this way, I suppose one could imagine that each of these aspects makes us plaited and pure South Africans of the apartheid era, kindred spirits in all sorts of ways.  There are aspects of imprisonment which Mandela experienced, that I could identify as similar in various parallels with my own life on other continents where, despite appearance to the contrary, I have also experienced the sheer despair and discomfort of being contained, misjudged, overlooked, misunderstood.  It is in the nature of some of us to express ourselves openly and to put our gifts to use with excellence and generosity; when we are constrained, those energies can be directed inwards and threaten to overwhelm us … Nelson Mandela showed that they and the opposition he faced would grow him, instead, and indeed they did.

As I turned to a few more pages, before getting up and on with the day, I came across a page that struck me as special to share, and so I took a quick photograph (a bit blurry, given the time of day!) ..

On one page, two human beings whom I have a huge amount of respect for, both having been at the receiving end of unimaginable condescension and criticism, both heroes of their day, despite (and perhaps because of) it all, both educated, civilised, philosophical giants, with warm hearts and the grace of forgiveness in the fibre of their make-up: Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.  Each man a legend, in his own right.  Each man someone I look up to as an example of a fine human being.  Each man with roots in Africa. Each a leader, against all the odds.  Each man a lion-hearted soul.

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At the front of the book, US President Barack Obama’s message in the visitors’ book on Robben Island, dated 30 June 2013, is quoted and reads:

“On behalf of our family, we’re deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield.  The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit.”

These words deserve a moment …

I am one of those people who will often read the final pages of a book, and then go back and absorb the detail, quickly, or pausing to comb through the fine print, savouring each page like a morsel of delicacy.  Thus, confining this one quick comb through my precious gift of “Mandela.  My Prisoner, My Friend” to another ten minutes or so of perusing the content for now, I turned to the last couple of pages, where I read the words of co-author to this story, Barbara Jones:

“It was soon after dawn on Sunday, 15 December 2013 when Christo Brand walked through the ancient fields of Qunu village and past the river where Mandela played as a child, on his way to a sad but fitting ceremony, the last goodbye to the great Nelson Mandela.  Security guards noted his damp and muddy shoes and insisted on brushing them clean for him.  He continued alone right up to the burial place and looked into Mandela’s empty grave.

‘I thought to myself how he would now be able to look over the whole of that green valley he loved so much.  Madiba had come home, just as he always longed to,’ he said.

Christo was greeted warmly by a group of military generals, every one of them an ex-prisoner from Robben Island.  Film producer Anant Singh, whose “Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom”, had recently received huge critical acclaim, persuaded Christo to sit nearby, along with actor Idris Elba, who took the lead part.

Mourners started up their beloved freedom songs dedicated to Mandela, and Christo felt proud.  Close to tears, he listened to Mandela’s grandson Ndaba giving his moving speech.  ‘I closed my eyes and I could hear the man himself, and see him in his youth’, he said.  Granddaughter Nandi was also impressive and talked of Mandela’s warmth towards his family.

Daughter Zindzi saw Christo, gave him a special smile, and thanked him for being there.  The singing stopped and everyone stood.  It was the moment for Mandela’s coffin to be carried solemnly past the mourners.

‘The coffin was close enough for me to touch but I didn’t think that would be right,’ said Christo.  ‘And it was enough to know that our lives had touched for so many years.  I said a silent goodbye to the best, strongest and most honest human being I have ever known.’ “

I don’t think I have spoiled the story by sharing these last few lines in the book … most of the world was watching the procession of Nelson Mandela’s coffin on that day, we all know how the story ended … I, for one, was glued to my television screen, candles lit and with tears pouring down my cheeks.  Scotland, where I write this from, is a long, long way from home.

God bless you, Madiba.  You, Lion of Africa, gave eloquence and elevation and grace to the people and to the country I am now so proud to call my real home.

To the friend who gave me this book so unexpectedly, your generous gift has blessed me with a renewing, an additional and special link to a country I left thirty two years ago this December, two weeks after my twenty third birthday, a country that was in turmoil … leaving a country and a people whom I miss with heart and mind and soul.

Holly x

The book was published by John Blake Publishing Ltd, in 2014.
ISBN 978 1 78219 743 0

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Test it all against the truth of Love

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While we whinge about aspects of our First World lives, so opulent in so many ways, babies are starving, people are aching for unconditional love, mothers are desperately trying to rise above the humiliation of poverty, business people are seeing the futility of the fast buck when they receive medical shocks … people are sleeping rough on the streets, children are crying and afraid, parents are carrying their children away from war torn conflict, the earth is heaving and groaning in agony as we treat it like a useless machine … Every man has a duty to wake up and examine himself. Every woman has a duty to forgive her peers and show them unconditional love … Every one of us has a duty to work on returning to what really matters and that is not One Upmanship … What really matters is how much we love. Love is an entire subject of its own. Love does not rob, covet, nor harm in any way. Love loves. That’s what brought us each into the world. That’s where we came from. That’s where we might return … To Love. How we live now determines how we’ll be then. Love applies to everything. Test it all against the truth of Love.

~ Holly ~

When People Talk About Others

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When people talk about others, remember that they are just as capable of talking about you. Be careful.

When you notice that people have slipped into the shadows, know that they have not collected their facts. Be careful.

When groups fall off the ledge of your life, know that they have been spreading rumour and gossip. Be mindful.

When people turn their back on you or walk away, instead of towards you with love, let them go. Carefully. Remember: they were never meant to be there for ever anyway, and their thoughts are none of your business.

Go mindfully through life.
Don’t gossip.
Gossip and slander hurts.
And it bites back
Always.
That’s just how the Universe works.

Appreciate those who love you, regardless, unconditionally.
They are the treasure.
Focus on them.
Practise love anyway.
It always wins.
That’s just how the Universe works.

~ Holly ~

 

Being Optimistic – A Quote

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“Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

~  Nelson Mandela

 

from his book “Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela”

 

 

~ : ~

 

Keep hope alive,

 

Holly x

Snowdrops on International Women’s Day

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On this International Women’s Day, I thought I would post a few photographs of the delicate white blooms carpeting areas of our garden at the moment, a little visual gift to those who love snowdrops, and with thoughts of all the women around the world who are making a difference on our beautiful planet right now.

I read a quote today by Magnify Magazine, which said: “Behind every successful woman, is a tribe of other successful women, who have her back.” There is a lot of truth in this statement, although so often women can be one another’s worst challenges and bitter rivals instead! Successful women, however, in whichever areas they work or perform their vital roles, know that it is in the lifting of others that we rise to greatness or prove to be of value ourselves.

It is so important to remember how much women do in our society generally, and how far they are prepared to extend themselves, in order to maintain peace and dignity on our planet. There is a long way to go towards making women feel more appreciated for all the roles that they perform, so many unrewarded, undervalued or ignored. There is also a distance to reach yet towards recognition of the fact that women are the ones who instil so many of life’s worthwhile values into the children of our world. To those among us who are making a difference, even in the smallest of ways, I salute you.

Enjoy this snapshot of the last moments of the snowdrops shining in my garden this week, soon to be retreating into the background, where they will regain their strength to bloom with vigour next Spring, and give way to the crocuses and narcissi who will take centre stage.

 

Holly x

 

 

PS. I think the white streak down the photograph below, might have been an early bug in flight … (or perhaps even a fairy?).  There are sure to be fairies in this garden of biodiversity somewhere!

 

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Copyright ©  The Holly Tree Tales

Give Up Concern For Man’s Opinion

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Give up
the concern for Man’s opinion.
Seek only to do what brings excellence
and peace
to your own divine relationship
with your Creator
and your Source
of all …
and all else will follow
calmly and simply and beautifully and well.
Love will follow as you fully love,
and all will take place in the correct way
and at the right time,
even
through the trials.
Perfect freedom
is
the result
of
correct
focus.

 

 

 

 

With love,
Holly x

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright ©  The Holly Tree Tales

Trump’s Card?

This is an opinion piece, noting my personal thoughts out loud. I am not a politician, dedicated political observer nor a journalist. This piece has been shared in good faith, purely as an observation from the side lines, and from another continent, recognising that what happens in America affects most of the rest of the world … and bringing it all down to basics.

 

~ : ~

 

TRUMP’S CARD?

Despite all his bravado, all his supposed success, all his money, Donald Trump has shown himself to be a very weak human being, fickle too.

It begs the question: what makes a man successful?
Truly successful, that is.

Is it money?
Is it the size of your personal aeroplane?
Is it the size of your mouth?
Is it the connections you have?
Is it your belief in yourSELF?
Is it business acumen?
Is it wit?
Is it personality?
Is it how much property you own?
Is it how great a bully you are?
Is it how persuasive you are?
Is it your size?
Is it your status, inherited or earned?
Is it the money you have control over?
Is it your sexy body?
Is it your ability to conjure whatever will buy anyone?
Is it any of these, or more?

What is the most common thought or wish of a dying person?
Is it to have had more of any of the above?

Might success in life, perhaps, be about being a human being of integrity while you are being the best being you can be, and depending on grace to be the most loving human you can possibly be? Just perhaps?

See, where there is love, there is respect, there is kindness, there is even the strength to face a giant in the eye without having to chip away at his armour. Strength is being courageous enough to stand, to stand still and to let the waves hit your face.

Donald Trump does not possess that key to success. Those who do, are and will be the successful ones.

I do hope, for the world’s sake, that Donald Trump does not get a chance at ruling America. If he does, it will only be in order to show us how not to do things.

May we see America vote with hearts, heads and hands of common sense.

 

 

 

Holly x

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright ©  The Holly Tree Tales

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

 

~ : ~

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.

 

 

~ : ~

 

 

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 Letter To My Brother

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To my darling brother,

Whom I have known for fifty years today,

A message that is on my heart to share with you,

On your special birthday far away …

 

I am not sure how to write this, nor how to best begin, and so am going to pretend that we are in the same part of the world and this is my speech for you, as if standing before you, amongst a crowd of well-wishers. I wonder how many know how lucky we are to have you with us still?

When I woke this morning, unusually early at 5.50am, I immediately knew that today was your birthday and the enormity of this realisation hit me like a boat paddle across the head. Thoughts flooded my mind, memories of our childhood – sweet, adventurous, challenging and complex all at once – and tears tumbled out as I recalled how we so nearly lost you. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you did not die … and that you survived each additional time that you heroically diced with death …

The fact that you are here today is, to me, nothing short of a miracle. Does anyone else know this, I wonder?

It was such a long time ago, and yet even today I cannot bear the smell of chemotherapy. I recall as if it were moments ago, visiting you in your hospital ward, climbing up onto your bed, and you handing me your beloved ‘real rabbit skin’ koala bear … which I took back to my convent boarding school with me, stuck my head into every single night, and cried into as if my heart would break.

You had no hair, your leukaemia treatment had been fierce and your battle was being lost … only one in ten children were able to survive back then, if that, and you were fast fading away. The smell of chemotherapy was powerful in the hospital, and it followed me powerfully everywhere, captured in the fur of the little koala bear. My pain at our separation was unbearable; our broken family disintegrating before my eyes, and the thought of losing you too was inutterably painful. I could not understand what all the words meant which described your health challenge and treatments, nor why I had to lose you, but I knew that I would not be able to go on if you went away forever. With my fervent little girl prayers, I prayed my heart out to the God that I knew and trusted, and I begged him to let you live … I can’t remember what I offered in return, but I begged for my brother not to leave me.

I was in a convent for two years from the age of seven, separated from you from when you became ill aged five, and cannot remember how long the treatment went on for, but every day was like forever. I know that we were hardly ever able to see one another in that time, and much about each other’s life then has been lost to both of us, but I remember the relief when I heard that you would live. You were dying. The doctors had done all that they could to save you. It was just a matter of time … and then one night, bruised and completely spent, you suddenly (miraculously) turned the corner, and your body began to heal. To this day, I believe that God granted the miracle so fervently sought, and that you were supernaturally healed. You were not strong physically, although clearly your spirit was phenomenal, and we had to take the utmost care with you … by then your and my childhood rough ‘n tumbles together had completely ceased. Your body had to be protected, and we were taking no chances with it.

How you got from there, aged five, to where you are today with a beautiful family of your own, amazes me. I am in awe of what you have survived, thrived despite all challenges to do so, overcome and risen above. The thing that I find truly astounding is that, not only did you stare the demon in the face and overwhelm it, but you then went on to tease the darkness several more times, coming out on top each time. Do you remember how, not long after surviving cancer, you climbed up into and then tumbled out of a huge fig tree … hitting your head on the concrete ground below? How did you walk away from that? Fervent prayers again, I wonder?

Do you remember the time, in about 1973, when we went on an adventure to find out where a swarm of honeybees had built their nest? We climbed up a narrow metal rung ladder in the garage, up to an attic space above … I remember clearly telling you to walk along the rafters (how did I know that, aged ten?) … but you disobeyed, and promptly fell through the roof. Your arrival into the living room was so dramatic: not only had you blasted through the ceiling like a super hero, but your steering skills went slightly awry … you took the brass candlesticks with you, as you flew past the stone mantel piece, thrashing your skull before you crash-landed onto the stone-flagged floor below. Why did you do that, my brother? Why did you have to go and crack your head open yet again, and on the day that we were due to travel in a group to Ifafa Beach? Do you know that, while your body was being put back together in hospital, yet again, none of the adults would speak to me? Do you know that they all thought I must have been trying to extinguish you? If only they’d known. What a sad, lonely time that beach ‘holiday’ was … but, thank the Lord, once again you survived.

We had so many adventures … did so many things that most children would not dream possible … our escapades colourful and inventive. I remember watching you, a tiny boy aged ten, swimming across the Vaal River in flood, to collect a dassie or mongoose that had been offered to us, so that we had something to cook on our fire. Our little African friends thought you were Superman, I’m sure. How did you survive that, my brother? Where do you hide your cloak?

You were such a brilliant companion and you have been such a clown all our lives, that I would not trade you for all the world. The times when our joking banter would bemuse others, and your dry humour infuriate them, are so innumerable that I have lost count of all the jests. Perhaps if people had known about your ability to overcome beasts and dragons, as I did, they would have shown you more compassion, as well as much-deserved respect? You certainly have mine.

As I think back over just those few incidents in the fifty years that I have known you, my brother, I see how much I have been blessed to be a part of your life. I have known for a long time that you stand head and shoulders above the crowd. What I did not anticipate, aged fourteen and you aged twelve, was how quickly you’d fall head-over-heels in love with all the Bob Marley music I played. Having rocked to the Reggae beat consistently for several years, disinterested in any other beat whatsoever, you finally gave in and increased your music collection, and yet to this day you remain an avid, loyal and dedicated fan. Rastaman vibration, yeah.

Happy Birthday, my brother. You are a truly bright, shining star and you have been my one rock, one constant, for a full half a century, through treacherous seas, through thick and thin. Here’s to the next half, and may you continue to be blessed.

Congratulations on reaching this fabulous milestone …
No … more than that … THANK YOU.
I do not know what I would have done had you left me behind.

With love, positive beats and admiration,

Your sister always,

Holly x

 

 

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PS.

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Thinking of Nepal

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *
Thinking of the beautiful people in Nepal, and praying for all those affected by the earthquake and aftershocks in the region, or involved in the rescue and recovery efforts.

May beauty somehow rise out of the ‘ashes’.

Peace and love and healing prayers,

Holly x

Potted plants in a peaceful courtyard ... Magnolia stems, Pieris shrubs (one in bloom - little white bells), with first Camellia flower of the season (Camellia x williamsii “Donation”) ... each fed with wood ash from our fireplace.

Potted plants in my peaceful courtyard … Magnolia stems, Pieris shrubs (one in bloom – little white bells), with first Camellia flower of the season, this week (Camellia x williamsii “Donation”).