THE MODERN MINT BLOG

Jun11

Kavalier and Clay

This is an extended quote from a Michael Chabon book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – it is a wonderful narrative about two cousins who write comic books during the second world war.

We read the book many years ago, and have recently revisited it (when we ask why we chose to read it again, it is difficult to work out… we would never read Ulysses again, because it felt long and arduous.This book did too, in places, the first time we read it. But it did keep calling from the bookshelf. We think the reason we chose to read it again is because of the cousins hard work knocking out stories and pictures. They were making and creating all the time and not always being perfect but they just kept on turning up all the same… we love this idea, it is one that suits the gardener – just keep turning up! Some days you will feel great weeding a border, others day you will feel tired, but the act of being in the garden is what gives the garden a feeling of life… atmosphere… care… that seems to be the main reason why we read it again, because the way the cousins created their work is how we try and work in the garden!)

Reading it a second time, it did not feel arduous at all. We got much more from it, could really see how simple the narrative is. It is a huge and far-reaching story, but the author Michael Chabon has really cherry-picked the major moments he wants to tell us about, and each chapter is full of purpose and surprise. Really fine story-telling, giving the illusion of huge complexity, yet built on such strong, clear foundations…

Here then is the quote we wanted to share with you, from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The reason why follows…

“The surprising fact about the magician Bernard Kornblum… was that he believed in magic. Not in the so-called magic of candles, pentagrams, and bat wings. Not in the kitchen enchantments of Slavic grandmothers… Not in astrology, theosophy, chiromancy, dowsing rods, seances, weeping statues, werewolves, wonders, or miracles…

What bewitched Bernard Kornblum, on the contrary, was the impersonal magic of life, when he read in a magazine about a fish that could disguise itself as any one of seven different varieties of sea bottom, or when he learned from a newsreel that scientists had discovered a dying star that emitted radiation on a wavelength whose value in megacycles approximated pi. In the realm of human affairs, this type of enchantment was often, though not always, a sadder business – sometimes beautiful, sometimes cruel. Here its stock-in-trade was ironies, coincidences, and the only true portents: those that revealed themselves, unmistakable and impossible to ignore, in retrospect.”

Before this part of the book, young comic illustrator Joe Kavalier is given a (slim) lifeline of hope that he can bring his brother out of Prague, away from the Nazis and to the safety of the USA. What follows this strange passage is Joe going outside and joining a crowd of people watching an enormous moth resting on a maple tree in Union Square, New York. He discovers it is a Luna Moth.

One incredibly real, sad and dangerous moment (the possible chance to reach safety for his younger brother) followed by talk of magic, the impersonal magic of life, and then something as odd as a large moth. For us this captures the depth of the book perfectly.

The reason to share it with you is that the best gardens have this depth too.

The best gardens are not necessarily the famous ones we read about and see in magazines. They are the ones whose owners work hard in them, are gutsy enough to have a philosophy about how they run them and stand by that philosophy, the best gardens are the ones that we spend time thinking about when we leave – the ones, we must paraphrase from above, that reveal themselves in retrospect…

When creating your garden, don’t aim for surprises or cheap delights or simple charms… aim high – aim for the impersonal magic of life.

Here, you can buy the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

Feb22

Guanock House – Trainee Topiary Artist Needed

guanock 1

Guanock House needs a trainee topiary artist! Some of you may know it as the first home and garden of designer Arne Maynard, but is now owned and maintained by Michael Coleman and his wife Michelle. They offer meditation workshops and retreats there and it is as beautiful a house and garden as you could wish to visit. They called me in last Autumn to help shape up some of the topiary as it was all getting out of hand, but what it really needs is someone with a steady hand and lots of patience to take over the clipping …

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Feb09

Topiary In The Snow

Here are some photos of work I have been doing at the garden of Charlotte Molesworth in Kent. Snow and ice brings out the depth of the different planes and angles carved into the boxwood. A garden has to look beautiful in winter – and topiary (green architecture)  helps do that! For more topiary pictures, click here.

Feb01

Topiary Teaching For You

Topiary Teaching

I am an experienced teacher of topiary and pruning, running workshops in the topiary garden of Charlotte Molesworth in Kent, as well as for The English Gardening School and The European Boxwood And Topiary Society. So if you are a keen gardener, a garden club, a group of friends who want to know more or even an absolute beginner who has been bitten by the gardening bug, then do contact me about what you might like to learn. What a laugh we are having in this workshop session I ran for a group of friends in Essex… Many people employ …

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