Seven on Sunday: Low light, Gogmagog, props, progress, plastic & the politics of rewilding

It was dark and wet on Saturday morning, with not much sun in the garden.

Our house is in on a hill, with steps down to the front door – which need another sweep up of the fallen autumn leaves.

At this time of year, as the sun sits lower in the sky, and the back garden is mostly in shadow.

In the garden at 8 ish in the morning there’s no sunshine except on the top of the trees.

And without direct sunshine, the solar powered fountain is inactive.

Here’s how things look later in the morning. The sun’s a bit brighter, and it’s really clear now how much of the garden is in the shadow of the house. Our house isn’t huge! It’s a two storey, 3 bed semi, but the shadow looms long over the garden in the winter months.

By about 1pm, sunshine finally reaches the solar panel, the pump gets going, and the fountain starts to bubble. A joyful moment!

I really like how the fountain is a feature so utterly dependent on the weather. In summer sunshine we have a big fancy fountain, and in the winter it’s naturally slower and less energetic. There’s something ‘suitable’ about it that appeals to me. It would be wasteful to use fossil fuel energy to power a fountain, but it’s joyous to see it go when the sun shines.

Replying to last weeks blog, ‘Rogue Garden’ said he likes the little carved head keeping guard over the pond. I’m very fond of it too, and we have another of these figures on the toolshed.

We call the pond guard ‘Gog’ and the shed sentinel ‘Magog.’

Magog: The sentinel of the toolshed

These wooden carvings are from Wells market. We named them Gog and Magog, after the Glastonbury oaks, which were named after legendary giants. The names Gog & Magog feature in the bible (Christian and Jewish versions) as well as the Quran, and can describe a land, tribe or people, and they often represent an ancient enemy of the north.

In the first history of Britain, written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1135, the story goes that Brutus and his Trojan forces landed and defeated Gogmagog, the king of the indigenous giants of Britain. Gogmagog was flung from a cliff into the sea and shattered into a thousand pieces. Brutus founded London and the nation of Britain was born. Over time Gogmagog became Gog and Magog, and to this day they appear as giant figures in the Lord Mayor of London’s parade.

Trojan land grabbing is a heck of a myth to found a nation on, but for a country that calls itself ‘Great’ and ‘United’ when it often isn’t, and has an actual unicorn as a national symbol, this nonsense seems to me to be entirely within the character of British myth-making. For more info about Gog & Magog read London Gothic: Place, Space and the Gothic Imagination https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ti0dCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA122#v=onepage&q&f=false

Anyhoo…

There’s a little succulent pot in the porch that I’ve been meaning to put on the blog for months now. This gorgeous pottery planter once housed a lovely bonsai, which died, so I’ve potted it up with succulent specimens. It’s in a sheltered spot on the front porch and I expect that these resilient plants will do better than the bonsai did.

I love the variety of forms, and how easily some of these propagate.

It’s kind of freaky that a whole new plant can grow from a single leaf.

Here’s a couple of snaps showing progress in our back garden. First, how things looked just after we arrived in spring 2019… The shed looks as knackered as it actually was – but that summerhouse was much more rotten than it appears.

We foolishly spent a bit of money fixing the roof, before the walls collapsed.

So here’s that same space now – with a new toolshed, greenhouse, and pergola. Those exceptionally dangerous steps by the back door have been replaced, and the horrid concrete slab pathway is gone. Next year I hope to have roses here.

Finally for my six, I wanted to share the less good stuff – and that’s all these pesky plastic plant pots I’ve accumulated. I’m trying to garden in an eco-friendly way, and I avoid peat, pesticides and weedkillers, but I’ve still managed to bring more plastic into the place than I would like to. I’m going to try to avoid impulse purchases of brightly coloured bedding plants that only last for a few months in the garden, while the plastics they were transported in could pollute the environment for hundreds of years.

Too many plastic pots.

Well, this post has been a rambling ramble, interrupted by an internet rabbit hole of research into the myths of Gogmagog, and then a lovely impromptu afternoon visiting some of Frome’s finest beer gardens with my lovely husband.

And so I’m making this a seven for Sunday instead of a six on Saturday.

And for my seventh thing I’m going to write a little bit about the politics of rewilding. Regular readers my recall that I visited Knepp this summer, while filming ‘Wood for the Trees.’ This is a series that I’ve worked on with my boss Tom, who runs Vastern Timber and Charly, my forest school and filmmaking colleague, which has looked at all sorts of issues related to woods and trees, timber and tree planting, forest management and rewilding.

Rewilding is a process of land management that allows nature to return, and it can be of amazing benefit to do so. The land at Knepp was ‘marginal’ farm land and it was not financially viable to farm it using conventional methods. When (aptly named) environmentalist Isabella Tree married the landowner Charlie Burrell, they began ‘rewilding’ the land at Knepp, allowing nature to return and replicating the natural processes of the ecosystem.

It’s a beautiful place, which is home to some amazing wildlife, produces high quality meat and has a very successful tourism business. It’s more financially successful this way, and it’s better for nature.

But the issue that concerns me is about access and ownership. William Burrell bought the Knepp estate in 1777. He was a director of the South Sea Company, which profited from the slave trade. Generations later it’s very nice that the Burrells are nature friendly landowners these days, but I can’t help feeling like there’s a historic wrong that’s disregarded routinely, as though it’s simply fine to keep hold of the wealth that your ancestors stole and it’s jolly rude to start talking about the politics of property.

The landed gentry and financial interests that fucked up the land, now want to buy more land, and profit from not fucking it up any more. This strikes me as very problematic, but from (wealthy landowner) Ben Goldsmith’s point of view it’s the critics that are the problem:

But what about equity, access, and repairing the damage caused by capitalist exploitation? Isn’t the idea of making ‘nature pay’ is what got us in this mess in the first place?

I’m very sceptical that these wealth funds and ‘benign’ landlords are the answer to our problems. George Monbiot writes about the need for ‘private sufficiency and public wealth’ as the way forward:

Cultural power relies on a hypnotising fairytale. Capitalism persuades us that we are all temporarily embarrassed millionaires. In reality, some people are extremely rich because others are extremely poor: massive wealth depends on exploitation. And if we did all become millionaires, we would cook the planet in no time at all. But the fairytale of universal wealth, one day, secures our obedience.

While there is not enough ecological or even physical space on Earth for everyone to enjoy private luxury, there is enough to provide everyone with public luxury: magnificent parks, hospitals, swimming pools, art galleries, tennis courts and transport systems, playgrounds and community centres. We should each have our own small domains – private sufficiency – but when we want to spread our wings, we could do so without seizing resources from other people.

COP26 will be the twenty sixth ‘Conference of the Parties’ to discuss taking action on climate change. During the past 25 of these conferences, global carbon emissions have continued rising, biodiversity has massively declined, pollution has increased and sod-all has really changed.

So I’m not terribly optimistic that anything more than ‘blah blah blah’ will happen at COP over the next couple of weeks, especially when the host nation is the UK, founded on a myth of ‘greatness’ and denial of the historic looting that generated the wealth that built this nation’s great houses.

This isn’t a usual blog post with pretty pictures from the garden, but I’m going to post it anyway. I have no idea how to solve the problems we face, but I can’t believe that the same people and attitudes that messed things up are going to have the answer.

But anyway, later today I’ll plant out a few bulbs for the bees and me to enjoy this spring and I’ll refill the bird feeders, as the garden is being visited by a lovely flock of blue tits and seed supplies are running low.

Whatever you’re up to, I hope all goes well, and that any difficulties you’re having with your aristocracy will be resolved shortly.

J x

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