Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Blowing in the wind - Harmonic Fields at Portland

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The Sock's have for many years had two little traditions that both take place on the main route along the South Coast.  The first is that the M27 motorway services heading west are always referred to as the Seafood Vol-au-vent Platter stop as many years ago this was advertised there as 'Dish of the Day'.  It would be difficult to think of anything more grotesquely unpleasant to eat service station style - soggy grey vol-au-vents filled with a mucilaginous white sauce containing old fish scrapings, stinking of iodine and just enough dead mussel to ensure food poisoning for a month.  And not just one - a whole bloody platter full!

The second tradition is, on being anywhere within spitting distance of Weymouth (which includes the Dorchester by-pass), to ask "Is that Portland Bill?" and be answered "It is Portland and don't call me Bill!".  Boy do we laugh over that one! So many times over so many years.

Wind music to a backdrop of Chesil Beach

We made our first visit to the Isle of Portland at the weekend and realised that in fact, Portland Bill only refers to a narrow promontory at the southern end of it with a lighthouse sat on top.  It is therefore somewhat unlikely that we have ever actually been within sight of it which sadly, rather puts the kybosh on joke.

The visit to Portland was to see Harmonic Fields part of the Dorset Inside Out Festival, by Pierre Sauvageot an ensemble of 500 instruments played by the wind.  Harnessing this natural energy life is breathed into the orchestra, creating a symphonic soundscape, unique to each visitor.  Saturday was our last chance to see this installation, set in Bowers Quarry and along the sheer cliffs of the Island. (clic on any pic to enlarge)

Bamboo pipes are lined up along the pathway above the sheer drop to the shore

A sunny day had bought the crowds out and I was already in a grump before we set foot out of the car, watching the trail of noisy children and adults making their way along the one mile route around the quarry. As we paid a voluntary contribution to enter the site we were encouraged to try and keep quiet, to stand still by each set of 'instruments', to close our eyes and immerse ourselves in the sounds of the weird and wonderful wind orchestra.  "Fat chance of that", I thought, as we stopped at the first installation to find that the calm conditions were creating only a  mere tinkle of noise immediately drowned out by people loudly discussing what they were having for tea!


It wasn't the kids that were noisy (particularly after I had given a few my evil stare and throat slitting mime).  No, it was the adults! "Oy George come over 'ere and listen to this" screeched one woman, preventing the rest of us from doing just that. My mind was immersed not in music but in a mental rant about unnecessary noise, including my annoyance with the loud builders working on a house behind ours who include a gibbering gibbon, a laughing jackass and a braying donkey in their menagerie. Except that unlike animals their nonsensical noises are totally without point or meaning just empty vessels making most din! Don't get me started....


And then suddenly a slight breeze blew and the empty vessels around the cliff tops started to tune up like the Royal Symphony Orchestra before a concert - not a discordant cacophony but a symphony of strange sounds. I hadn't realised the power of sound to evoke strong memories... the mournfully melodic vibrations of a taut wires on an old half-buried sand yacht in the dunes at Llangennith, which we boarded and imagined our pirate ship.  The keening sea wind cutting into the rocks and gulleys at Kilboidy, blasting salt grit onto my skin whilst I watched the rising tide and my parents fishing.  The jangling metallic music of mast heads around the small harbour on a mellow Languedocienne afternoon where we sat drinking muscat at a tiny deserted cafe.  All these flowed into my mind dispersing the discontent with my garrulous fellow visitors.

My new hattiewat

I concentrated only on the sounds and the sights, my grumps soon forgotten as I allowed the 'music' to transport me.


Although it was a shame that conditions were so calm and there was little wind to fire the 'instruments' up, it was still absolutely magical and I was content with what we had.  Despite the signs along the route entreating people to silence  few took notice.  But even the man calling his children with a piercing whistle, the inevitable girl conducting a long loud conversation into her mobile phone and the equally inevitable person who had not switched her ringing phone off as requested on the signs, failed to spoil my enjoyment (although I did point and tut at the latter perpetrator!).


The Harmonic Field's show is over now.  If it is reconfigured elsewhere (as surely it must be) I urge you to go and experience it - it was quite the best, most original and innovative event I have been to in years.

An orchestra of eccentric instruments fill the quarry with windmusic

 I only wish I could go again and experience the 'music' of a full wind blowing.


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Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Buying Season begins... HRT at the RHS Wisley Flower Show

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Arching stems of aralia cordata

I've hardly blogged this year, a combination of health problems, busy sorting out Sock's Country Pile our new 'escape home' in Dorset and last but not least the bloody awful weather which has left me unenthused about doing anything in the garden other than attempt to save my greenhouse tomatoes from blight!  I had to miss the RHS Malvern Show in April which normally triggers off my HRT (horticultural retail therapy) for the year and whilst I love going to Press days at Chelsea and Hampton Court the drawback is being unable to purchase anything.  By the time the non-summer turned up I was past the point of bothering and found that left to it's own devices the garden actually did quite well without me, self-seeders spreading and turning up in all sorts of interesting places.

The trouble is that everyone has felt like this and plant retailers have had a bad year - particularly the smaller specialist nurseries. So I was more than pleased to find the RHS Wisley flower show 5-9th September overflowing with happy gardeners in full spending mode.  And so was I - so convinced I wouldn't buy anything that I had failed to fill my pockets with cash and had to borrow money from my Heucheraholic friends Jooles and Sean. So here I will give a shameless plug to them as they are lovely people and their healthy heucheras are second to none! Go and buy some and if you can't get to Wisley they are having an Open Day at their New Forest nursery next weekend 15th and 16th September.


Wisley is always a pleasure to wander around and the added draw of the show in the warmth of a late summer's day totally re-ignited my gardening enthusiasm.  I spent loads and I made notes of loads of stuff I want for next year.  Edulis was my favourite stand with a particularly attractive display which would have been my vote for 'Best in Show'.




They have loads of exciting edibles and I will be ordering a wasabi plant from them and one of these for next year - I've never seen an aralia cordata (Japanese asparagus) before and it is absolutely stunning.. too good looking to eat

aralia cordata

The show was filled with exuberant colour... a little too exuberant in some cases!



I bought one of these


for some reason until recently I thought passiflora only came in the white and purple bog standard one but Tynings Climbers (who hold the National collection) had loads of different ones. I grew one years ago and all the flowers turned and looked over the wall into next doors garden so I will try this in a better position.

Hardy's Cottage Plants are always stacked with 'must haves'.  I liked this combo of lobelia 'Hadspen Purple' and the billowy selinum wallichianum so bought both.


Various heritage seeds from Pennard Plants, bulbs from Rose Cottage Plants and some succulents I had hankered after at RHS Hampton court but couldn't buy, filled my bags to bursting.  The only drawback was my diet meant that it was a No Cake day and Wisley have such very, very scrumptious cakes.  But I stayed strong dear reader - you should be proud of me, although I was so hungry that even the sight of this was making my mouth water...



A perfect September day, warm and sunny with that kind of visual clarity that brilliant blue skies bring to this time of year.  I feel horticulturally re-juvenated! It may be very late but at last the buying season has begun!