Rear view Posted on December 2, 2014

I love just looking, eyes engaged, mind coasting. With a glass of wine, of course.

I never expected, when we moved from the country, to spend the same amount of time late at night sitting in tranquillity gazing into the garden. My chair is in a mere alcove compared with its country place, the garden not a cricket pitch long, but the sense of the day wound down is not so different. There is a bit more traffic to be heard and the sky is lit by electricity rather than stars, but my eyes find a parallel satisfaction in their urban surroundings – particularly, I now realise, in winter. Light and shade are less important; everything is dimly lit. But trees are distinctly gesticulating creatures, not just solid looming masses. Silhouettes and their details all have equal status. I can read plants and buildings better, undistracted by light.

I’ve always enjoyed the paintings of Keith Vaughan at the Royal Academy; a model sitting, usually bare, in the cool north light of his studio with its calculated clutter, big windows and the predictable patina of Victorian London outside. The early Victorian years remembered a Georgian rhythm of wall and window, a nice proportion of dark glass and white glazing bars. This is what I see, with the pale gable of my greenhouse (alias ‘grandpa’s shed’) outlined against the dark walls.

I was thinking of painting a Red Cross on the greenhouse door, but its role is really not so much A&E as R&R. Plants come in for respite and intimate attentions. As winter comes on I’m tempted to mitigate the falling temperature to keep the green in their cheeks: a false move; they must suffer the seasons too. Forty old-fashioned degrees (what’s that in Celsius? About 5′?) keeps the frost out. It also keeps the fan going and the air circulating. ‘Buoyant’ is the term I love.

I kept a tomato vine until the other day for the smell of its leaves. Now Fuchsia boliviana takes up almost all the wall space, with a few scarlet flowers up in the roof. Salvia x van houttei, cyclamen and an indefatigable primula are the other bright spots while we wait for bulbs and a veteran cymbidium we should have pensioned off when we moved house.

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