Saturday, 29 September 2012

The clematis itch

I’m afraid this post on my clematises is long overdue all because of our August trip to France. I was too busy both before and after the holiday and forgot to record their blooming that was at its best exactly when we were away. However, as some of them are still flowering I thought why not write a few lines about how this climber sneaked into my life, bit by bit.

Nelly Moser (I think) in mid-August

Hagley Hybrid in mid-August
Etoille Violette in mid-August
You see, gardening is one of the domestic things I’m a complete amateur in but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t own a book or two about the subject. The titles – Instant Gardens, The Pet-friendly Garden, The Scandinavian Garden, etc ­– reveal my books are mainly designed for browsing and not to give you any practical advice on nurturing plants. As unlikely as it seems, when seeing an article in one of my books I got smitten by the clematis bug.

The photos that inspired me were taken in a garden with old trees each of which had a clematis climbing around its trunk and branches. That sounded fascinating and looked wonderful and as there are plenty of decades-old trees at our place I decided to try how a clematis would survive in the care of a very accidental gardener.

Warszawska Nike in mid-August
Nelly Moser in late September
At the beginning a few years ago, the condition was still latent and I started with one simple Jackmanii variety. It lived through the winter and then another one. So I bought another five young plants four of which survived. This outcome was proof enough for me: clematis is not only gorgeous but it might be a species that could flourish even in my garden. That’s when the disease really broke out and last year I planted six more.

Hagley Hybrid in late September

Ville de Lyon in late September
My varieties now also include Ville de Lyon, Warszawska Nike, Etoille Violette, Nelly Moser, Hagley Hybrid and Multi Blue. All the 12 plants are alive and well, considering the rather bad summer season we had. I have placed them to climb several of our old apple trees, a few maples and a cherry plum. One is struggling against the wall of the veranda. I might need a few more to relieve the itch again next spring.

Etoille Violette in late September

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The house my grandpa built

Last weekend, I visited with my brother and both sisters the place where our mother’s parents lived most of their lives. The house has been uninhabited and the property unattended for some 40 years now. The yard is full of knee-high grass and weeds, trees, shrubs and ferns have invaded the small garden, the cowhouse end of the barn that I remember as a henhouse has collapsed, the list could go on forever.

Nevertheless, it is always a joy to see the place because of the fond memories about the house itself and the times spent there. I love the yellow double doors, the paned windows with old uneven glass that look like they were wet even when they arent, not to mention the yellow details on the white window trim boards. Even things I don’t normally like that much, such as the traditional red colouring so common on wooden cottages and outbuildings when I was a child, are becoming to me on my grandparents’ house.

For some reason I always see rowans when thinking about my childhood visits to this place although I also remember the small Christmas tree my grandparents used to place on a round side table in the large kitchen diner. This must be because I sometimes stayed there for a few days with my sister in the summertime, probably towards the end of our holiday when the rowan tree visible through the window of the upstairs room where we slept was full of fruit, just like now.

I have a feeling that in the summertime the left one of the double doors leading to the vestibule was always kept open. It was easy for us children to sneak out of the house to find our little adventures. Our grandmother walked using an underarm crutch because one of her knees didn’t bend. She had fallen down with her bicycle on an icy road years earlier, as we were later told. So it was also handy for her to stick her head out of the open door and call us when she needed an errand to be run: to fetch fresh eggs from the henhouse, to collect some currants for her cooking...

My grandparents were born in the 1890s. They had seen harder times than I can imagine: starting a farm from scratch, losing three of their children to diseases, labouring for their family’s livelihood from morning till night. They were also the last generation who had all the skills required to manage practically everything about their simple country life without any outside help.

My grandfather was not only a farmer but also a skillful carpenter, joiner, cabinetmaker, blacksmith, logger, horseman, anything you might have had a need for when living in a farm in the early 20th century. Every single detail at their place was both designed and built by themselves, not that they would have ever used a fancy word such as designing to describe what they did when planning what to do next and how to craft useful things with their hands.

The house and other buildings surrounding the yard seemed to be sort of grown onto their perfect locations to make the daily life easier. Everything grew out of necessity – the yarn spun, the fabrics weaved, the garments sewn. The house was full of furniture, everyday utensils and textiles of their own skillful making. This is the kind of grandparental legacy not that many members of my generation and certainly no one of my children’s generation can boast.

After my grandparents passed away my mother inherited the property including some fields and a piece of forest land. More than 20 years ago, she passed it on to my sister who doesn’t live too far from there. However, she still couldn’t let go but expected she could continue to dictate the dos and don’ts for the place. Everyone knows what will happen with an ‘inheritance’ you don’t actually have any use for and even if you did find one you couldn’t properly manage according to your own mind. It will be thrown to the wolves.

I have only just realized that my grandparents must have built their place at around the same time our house was built, that is about a hundred years ago. While their cottage was going to ruins, the previous owners of this house started renovation from the very basics here: renewing the electrical wiring, installing plumbing and central heating, modernizing the kitchen, reconstructing the interior.

Why is it that we seldom build up any serious interest in our ancestors and their legacy until it is too late? Perhaps it is in human nature or is it just that in modern times all the glittering temptations attacking our perception from the moment we are born have blinded us from seeing the things that really matter?

I am not saying I would know the meaning of life (although I may have an idea what it might be to me). But I do know we should concentrate less on making money and accumulating possessions and more on ensuring the marks we make on the hearts and souls of the ones who outlive us are bright and worth cherishing. That is the best kind of legacy anyone could hope to leave for posterity these days, in my mind the only kind we absolutely have to aim at. In fact, the only kind we can count on to support our heirs.

(It just came to my mind that I recently posted about a third place of the same age, Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild’s villa outside Nice in France. What a difference in circumstances!)

Friday, 21 September 2012

Truly pierced

Yesterday, we crossed the newly harvested field behind our barn and climbed the hill to the forest to say hi to the two dinosaurs but more importantly to check whether the winter mushrooms that were so plentiful last year had sprung up by now. We didn’t find any traces yet. It seems our autumn continues to be too warm for them and we must wait patiently for the night frosts to arrive.

However, once again I noticed something peculiar up on the hilltop. A rusty old piece of barbed wire was sticking out of a perfectly healthy looking pine tree. A closer inspection confirmed that the wire piercing the trunk had not caused any damage to the tree.

Someone must have tied it around the young tree decades ago, perhaps to serve as a pole for a fence surrounding the lookout post that was there during the war or simply to hold a hunting trap. Whatever the reason, the pine hadn’t let the foreign object disturb its growth but had gone on with its life as usual.

Despite the vital appearance, the past sad events – although healed ­– are still hovering around the tree reminded by the wire hanging from the trunk. Nature is often our best guide as the tree seems to convey a message: even if truly pierced, let the wounds heal but dont try to hide them and you will stay complete.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Showers of pink

Monday night when we returned home having been away for a few days visiting some friends and relatives, I noticed that my Pink Showers climbing roses had dropped their last flowers. I also realized I haven’t posted anything on them yet even though they were blooming quite brilliantly towards the end of their first summer.

I once lived for a while in a house with a very small fenced patch of a garden decorated with a single magnificent bright red Flammentanz climbing rose rambling up a pillar supporting the terrace. I loved it and had a stem or two in a vase all summer. I wanted to have something similar at my place but have had rather bad luck with the Flammentanz roses I planted in my garden a few years ago. They have suffered from the hard winters and now they were not blooming at all as they bloom on last year’s growth.

Knowing this I decided to try another climbing variety and happened to choose Pink Showers. The weather was rather bad this season but they have been a success on a sunny spot by the house, at least for now. Only recently they were cascading so heavily the stems couldn’t hold the blooms without support.

This spring I also planted some shrub roses and happened to choose Bonica 82 (var. Meidomonac). This is a pale pink beauty and seems to be hardy and disease-resistant as promised. All my three plants are still producing buds and should do so until the first autumn frosts.

I can’t wait to see how all these new roses will survive their first Nordic winter. If they make it I might plant a few more next spring. Roses may be just the thing required to wake up the hidden gardener in me. But who wouldn’t love roses! If you had the means it would be so easy to love them almost to the point of obsession and nurture a hundred varieties like Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Ferry go round

Earlier this week we made a day trip to Tallinn. The 80-kilometre voyage across the Gulf of Finland only takes a couple of hours so we seldom stay overnight, just the way most of the other people from around here generally visit Estonia. It is such an easy way to have a very nice day off: you just take a ferry in the morning and another one in the evening and if you want to maximize your time ashore you can have great meals onboard both ways. There are several ferry lines to choose from and as far as I can tell, the buffet is excellent on all of them.

It was raining in Tallinn but the old town was beautiful as always. Once again we decided we’ll have to return one of these days and stay for a night or two. To visit a few museums and to really spend some time in the old town that is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.

Thanks to Tallinn’s (or Reval’s as it was then called) past as the northernmost member of the Hanseatic League serving as a gatepost for trade between Northern Europe and Russia, the old town very much resembles those of the other wealthy market towns of the medieval League in Germany and elsewhere. Visiting Tallinn, if only for a few hours, always feels like you had been properly abroad, to Central Europe almost.

When the return ferry was approaching Helsinki the rain had stopped and the sun was setting. I went out to admire the scenes from the side deck. Our capital is often called the White City of the North. Indeed, with the cathedral dominating the view when you come from the sea Helsinki looks white and beautiful.

This is absolutely the best way to enter Helsinki, through the Kustaanmiekka strait by the islands of the Suomenlinna maritime fortress that is one of our few UNESCO World Heritage sites. For once, we were lucky enough to experience this passage at sunset. We happened to choose Viking Line, which is the only ferry line between Helsinki and Tallinn sailing this way from and to a port close to the city centre. However, if you make the voyage between Helsinki and Stockholm you will pass Suomenlinna every time.