Monday, 14 November 2022

Books, Gardens, and a little Lesson in Humility

I have only very recently discovered a new to me, very powerful, story teller: Elizabeth Strout.  "Olive Kitteridge" is a beautifully observed novel, each chapter introducing and later revisiting and fleshing out a set of characters, all interconnected, living in a small town in coastal Maine, New England. It took me a long time to accept the emotional pain and troubled lives Strout uncovers for the reader, but she is gentle and empathic at all times and her characters, though complicated and flawed, become likeable in spite of themselves. I am glad I persevered, I have already bought "Olive Again" and will certainly explore more of her books, which are quite famous in the UK now, since she won the Pulitzer Prize.

I have been reading a lot of lightweight mysteries, as well as rubbishy novels which I've given up on (life's too short to let irritation take hold); lately I have felt that a better reading diet would do me good, so I've downloaded Anne Tyler, Penelope Lively, Rose Tremain, Maggie O'Farrell, Ali Smith, and a few others whose work I don't know yet; and for light relief, Nancy Mitford and P.G. Wodehouse. I have just counted the unread books on my Kindle, including non fiction, Travel, Myths, Nature and Poetry, there are 40 books in total. The unread books on my shelves come to a hundred or more; is it time I stopped buying new books?  Is it possibly an excuse that my Kindle books are all very cheap, under one £Sterling, all offers by clever booksellers and publishers to draw the unwise in? Winter is coming, it's too cold and wet to do much gardening, and I can most often be found curled up in a comfy chair with a book (or Kindle) in my hand. 

Talking of gardening: I haven't yet mentioned the Open Gardens on the last weekend of June. As always, visitors seemed to enjoy themselves. Saturday was cool and damp and windy and there were fewer than a hundred people all told.

On Sunday the weather was glorious, warm and balmy, neither too hot nor too cold and crowds turned up.

I sat on the sun terrace and had generously placed a few garden chairs around, there are always lots of people who have need of a sit down and many gardeners enjoy a natter about all things horticultural. As do I. There are also a few benches dotted about here and there and visitors are always welcome to make use of them.


I had quite a number of enquiries this year about trees; I watched a group of people clearly wondering what sort of tree my elderly walnut tree was and seemed unwilling to accept my explanation - in a nice way and with much exclamation of surprise. Not many people nowadays have walnut trees in cottage gardens. Another couple was smitten with my weeping pear tree. I admit it is a rather splendid specimen, I hadn't cut its umbrella of thin, graceful ash grey branches and silver leaves at all this year. It looks like a ballerina in a wide hoop skirt about 2 ½  metres across. I too would admire it if I came across it in somebodies garden.


I am glad that I decided to put myself through the effort and hard work; I freely admit quite an important reason for my decision was to show the world my "suffering at the mean hands" of my neighbours. (He actually turned up, the cheek of the man!) That's not all, of course, I like gardening and am quite proud of the result of my labours, as well as the positive feedback from visitors. Nearly everybody always praises my views; like I told the estate agent who came to value my house "It's a location to die for". Well, maybe not quite.

There is something I learned from the Open Gardens too, something about a failing I know I have and have had forever: I am inclined to judge people by their appearance.

There was this elderly couple, late 60s maybe, a little drab, even shabby looking, with the colour of people who work outdoors, gently strolling about. By and by they reached the sun terrace where I was sitting and stopped to chat about a plant or two, I forget which. I don't know how it happened - did they ask who tended the garden?, was I the only gardener?,  did I live alone? how did I cope? ; eventually, in the most unassuming manner, without in the least pushing themselves forward, they opened up and said that they had both been widowed and quite accidentally found each other and saved each other from the blight of loneliness. I was right to think that they lived on and off the land. She said "he brought a flock of sheep into the union." They were quietly happy and contented, probably not very well off. I had the impression they had everything they needed. So there was I, sitting on my sun terrace, with a house behind me larger than one person needs and proudly showing off my garden to these people who have so much more than I have in my lonely existence. Me and my stupid middle class superiority, I have swallowed wholesale the idiotic English attitude that class matters. Time I remembered where I come from.  I have envied the little couple ever since.


 

23 comments:

  1. I'm glad you're enlarging your reading repertoire. I hope Mary Wesley and Barbara Pym get in there, too! I love Strout and Penelope Lively. Are you reading Kate Atkinson? All powerful writers to read and re-read!

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  2. We can learn in unexpected ways and from unexpected people, including the little couple you met. He brought a flock of sheep into the union, I love that. Reading your post reminded me of how Queen Elizabeth would dress at horse shows, an old coat and a scarf, and she was often not recognized. I am always widening my list of novelists i enjoy, D.E. Stevenson is a treasure and Anthony Trollope.

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  3. That's a wonderful post! I love seeing yet more views of your garden -- plus the story of your opening it to the public, and the drab couple, is so personal and descriptive. Thank you.

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  4. Echoing everyone else. This is a lovely post - and how I would love to wander round your garden. Definitely taking a seat at intervals.

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  5. My reading pile is nowhere near as big as yours, but there is a Rose Tremain which my sister bought at The Little Ripon Bookshop this summer. I don't think I have ever read anything by this author and am quite looking forward to it.
    On my kindle, the number of unread books has been greatly reduced from well over 70 to maybe somewhere around 30. But I keep finding new ones every now and then, and my kindle remains my trusted companion for those frequent train trips.
    I would love to see a picture of your "ballerina" tree! We have plenty of walnut trees around here; they seem to thrive in our climate.

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  6. I am fascinated by the Open Gardens event in June. I am certain you were very proud if your hard work and beutiful gardens..
    Also your unread books list is incredible. I enjoy reading Elizabeth Berg. Her best book in my opinion was The Last Time I Saw You, a story about a reunion. Made me laugh out loud in places. You should check it out. I also enjoyed Olive Kitteridge.

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  7. Thank you for the lovely post and the ideas for reading new authors. I'll definitely check some of them out. It's awfully nice to hear from you after so long. :-)

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  8. Your Open Garden sounds like a lovely time. I thoroughly enjoyed your story of the unassuming couple. How quick I am to judge by appearances, and how often I am taken aback.
    As to unread books - I have quite a number on my shelves, and it's good to know that there are books in reserve in case of unforeseen circumstances where libraries and bookstores are closed. Covid was one such time when I perused my library to discover unread treasures.

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  9. Good to be with you as your garden is admired. And as usual your post leads to someplace one is happy to end up. I really appreciate your post today and your conclusion. Wishing you all the best for a pleasant and safe winter!

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  10. Love your garden and the authors you mention. Add to the list The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain and The Garden of Evening of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng. Your story about the shabby elderly couple is lovely. Great to find love so late in life. Material things are meaningless without someone to share them with.

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  11. What a fine group of authors on your list! A couple of weeks ago I was looking for something new to read and with all the books in the house, couldn't get satisfied -- started two and dumped them after a few chapters. The next day I took a bunch to resale and got $55 in store credit. (I did find some things I WANT to read -- but they weren't hitting on that particular day. You have to be in the right mood, don't you?)


    Your open garden day sounds beautiful and your garden is a haven. I think someone else mentioned wanting to see the ballerina tree, and I would, too. It sounds beautiful. I love that bed of colorful blooms (though I couldn't tell what they were.) And those purple thing climbing the wall, wow. Gorgeous!

    I loved reading about the couple who came to visit you -- that they had all they needed and were happy together. Sometimes it takes an encounter like that to jumpstart us into reality and gratitude and remind us that appearances, in the end, don't mean all that much. Maybe even more at "a certain age" when you ask "who am I dressing up for, with uncomfortable shoes or clothes?" These folks have so much to offer and they don't even know it. Maybe they should come to tea! (And bring a friend.) I love that they "accidentally found each other" and maybe that's something for us all to remember -- that no matter our age or circumstance, we can accidentally find people who "fit us" -- we just have to be open to the possibility. (By the way -- I take exception with your description of the couple as "this elderly couple, late 60s maybe." Late 60s, even early 70s, isn't elderly yet in my book. Just seasoned!

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  12. Lovely post Friko and poignant too. I suffer from the same judgmental condition but have been , like yourself, so pleasantly surprised when I let go of it and really pay attention, particularly to the ear-ringed tattooed crowd who have taught me many a thing over the years.
    I have always loved Elizabeth Strout, love her writing.
    And your garden, a work of love and commitment and joy. I am so glad you shared it with others including Mr. Nasty.
    XO
    WWW

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  13. You do have a beautiful garden and rightly proud of it. Also too cold and wet to work outdoors here though it will pass and we will still have some days in the 70s. I volunteer at SHARE here, a food, clothing, household goods, financial aid center for the poor and needy. Of course some people are regulars but I try not to judge. Who knows what their story is, how they were raised, what opportunities they never had, what their situation was that formed them.

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  14. Judging by appearances is often misleading and even cruel. I like your story of the elderly couple whe though probably not well off, had everything they needed, and looked quite happy.

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  15. I had to smile at your description of the elderly couple "in their late sixties, maybe." Having just turned 76, my definition of 'elderly is continuing to shift forward. Now, I think of the term being suited for people in their 80s, perhaps. I absolutely loved their story: that he brought some sheep into the relationship is perfect in so many ways. I grinned, too, at them having the color of people who work outdoors -- that's something I certainly know about!

    Your garden is glorious; I certainly would have enjoyed a stroll through it. My recent gardening feats include killing a cactus by overwatering it, and losing half of a beloved kalanchoe because I put it on the same plant stand the squirrels like to use as a ladder. Ah, well. I manage to feed the birds without difficulty.

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  16. Your garden tour sounds lovely and you most definitely have a beautiful collection of plants. The old saying, "Never judge a book by the cover" is so true." First impressions are just that and often very limited. The couple you met sound like fascinating people with a lovely story. I'm glad you met them and I bet they enjoyed talking to you and visiting your garden.

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  17. Life lessons are all around ud and good for you for that realization. I'll check out some new authors!

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  18. Being classless is something we all work at. We grow up trying to fit into a secure class (at least those of us who grew up poor) and as we age realize the class system is an artificial structure that we dance into and around. I will look up that book because your blog writing is so well done that I know the books you read are good also.

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  19. What a lovely little essay about the couple! And how beautiful your grden looks!

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  20. You've reminded me about the dozen or so books on my Kindle and the two dozen on the shelf of my very small place. And the story about the couple is wonderful. I can be judgmental myself and though I remind myself that much of my own good fortune is simple luck, I forget too often.

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  21. Of course your garden was a hit with visitors, Friko. You gave him a lot of strength and deservedly can be proud of the garden. And you, as always, are frank and strict with yourself. A couple of visitors have told you about their lives and how they found each other, don't be jealous of them, dear. You had a wonderful beloved with whom you also lived for many years in complete harmony. Of course, life makes its own adjustments.

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  22. Dear Friko the original portrait of Lukas was in my post. It is digital.

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