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.

Nov13

Learn To Clip Topiary Workshop 2020

topiary artists

I am running a topiary workshop in 2020 with the wonderful topiary artist Charlotte Molesworth at her spectacular topiary garden in Kent. This is a topiary workshop where you will learn to clip, so be prepared to do some cutting. We start with a tour of the garden, which Charlotte and her husband Donald have been cultivating for 34 years. It is organic, full of wildlife and has the most extraordinary pruned shapes made from yew and boxwood. You can see more photos of the garden in an article in the Guardian here: Topiary Garden In Kent What Else Will …

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Oct09

Hardy Plant Society Middlesex Talk Notes

On Monday night I gave a talk to the Hardy Plant Society Middlesex. Below are a few links for further information based on some of the ideas discussed in the talk: Real Seeds – a fantastic supplier of fruit and vegetable seeds for growers. Boxwood Caterpillar Advice – from the European Boxwood & Topiary Society. I will also write a little companion piece this winter with more information and some topiary techniques, so watch out for that on this website. Boxwood Lure & Nematodes – my preferred option for dealing with the caterpillar. Discount code for 10% off is EBTSBOX29GBZ …

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