I have a sane and clear-eyed way forward here - I'll step back, I'll coolly assess and consider the situation. I'll balance and rationalise the odds. Only then will I smash in with a polemical attack, fortified and sustained by my own hectic convictions. I'm only talking about gardening remember.
And I want to talk about a sadly horrid fashion in planting (so much for the rational way forward). It's the purple tree; much loved I know and all across the so-called civilised world. I'm sorry about your toes and feelings but no, no, no; enough with the purple trees. Green is right, green is truth and beauty, green is harmony and grace. Silvery green and grey can soften and differentiate, limey green can brighten, blackish green can deepen and shadow. Shapes and textures define and fascinate. What more do you want?
This is not a popular discussion. Many to whom I have mentioned it have attempted to throw me over balustrades, into rivers and lakes. How can I infect you with my flatulent and overstated opinions on this important topic? Can I make you fear the copper beech, can I get you to breathe a sigh of relief as you skitter safely past a prunus pissardii nigra? Could you be persuaded that the purple sycamore, acer platanoides Crimson King poses a threat? To your happiness, your sense of joy, your natural right to greenness? Even if I can make you miserable about them, what's the point when there's nothing you can do?
Well, let's try a few pictures. First though, I'm not saying no purple foliage at all - low down it can be a lovely accent, can even make green more green. This cotinus cogyggria, in a border in Kensington Gardens, looks good pruned low. It will shoot up though, but the trees behind will continue to dominate, and the cotinus may not overwhelm. The fact that it's lower than the hedge is strangely important.
This strong colour needs to be kept in its place or the stain will spread, ruining everything. We can perhaps deal with red wine on a carpet; but imagine it expanding across the ceiling, dripping down the walls. I say wine, but you know what it really looks like, drying. So when it comes to purple plants, not overhead, not bigger than ourselves. Even in the distance, we can always see that these beetroot blobs are bigger than us. The influence is felt.
Here, in the busy public gardens of Les Buttes-Chaumont in Paris, on the 1st of May, a public holiday, the sun shining, the air warming, they don't look so bad at a first glance. We have a rather tatty prunus close to us, and three big copper beeches in the distance.
Apart from naked winter, this is these trees' least stentorian moment, when their colour is least saturated, their expansion least imperial. We can experience them at their imposing, light-sucking worst in August, when even the fresher mid greens become darker and heavier. So if just seeing such a tree, at this stage, is so disruptive to the harmony of the scene, what's it like to stand under one? Soaking in the brown (for let's be honest about the colour), as it were, and looking out?
This is a truly well-used city park. Just like they should be. You can see people breathing in the nature.
Now try standing under the green leaves:
I wonder if it feels any different to you. Try the reality, for these purple trees are absolutely everywhere and see if you agree that the second is more comfortable.
We're simple beings, we mostly need a bit of lightness and brightness to feel at one with the world. Our spirits will not lift with maroon or beetroot dominating the air and consuming all the radiance. And my beef (and doesn't it sometimes look like raw beef) is mostly with public plantings, not so much with individual gardeners in their own gardens. I'm delighted if they love any trees really. And purple or brown trees are not inherently bad, they're perfectly capable of rational photosynthesis. They just, to me, spread alarm and despondency. Not what we need. Not what I need might be more honest.
Ah, the song. Pulsing with barely contained hysteria. It's Where Are You Tonight from the album Street Legal. It's bracketed additional title (Journey Through Dark Heat) strikes me as an appropriately purple passage. I'm not smirking at the song though, not at all, it's one whose feeling I recognise and fear. It's easy to infect one's own self with panic, the spillover to others is inevitable. Calm can be hard to find and hold onto. Working oneself up into a state sometimes seems inescapable, like a black hole sucking you in. The calm and gentle greens count for nothing against those disruptive stains.
But the saddest thing in this song is the sense of a person who is hurting himself, throwing himself around, in despair. It's strongly expressive, you can almost think that the frantic anxiety and the stress could not continue to mount, but they do, even as new trains of thought and images pile in. It's also strongly unified, the density never lightens though the end purports to be a relief or an epiphany. He has survived the dark night of the soul but still seems to be trapped without light. There's a lot of hey-hey-heying at the end, as the female singers take over, but they sing without meaning.
This is not a song to listen to for fun, rather for a somewhat wearing sort of fight for mastery, but I recommend it. It's not only verbally and musically exciting, but there's a truth to it, a truth most of us could recognise - something to do with being our own worst enemy, not being able to manage ourselves or our emotions, longing for help and relief, fearing loss and dissolution. He has self-knowledge, that seems to be his only advantage, but even that doesn't seem to help much. "Well I won't, but then again maybe I might".
I can hear a question in the song - does sadness make us bad, or badness make us sad? And how do some people get away with the badness, and not get the sadness? I added that last question, just wondering.
But this is a Dylan song - there are jokes in it; here's one to smile grimly at -
It felt out of placeIt's slightly overwhelmed by the later lines about the "juice running down my leg" but a sly joke like this is perhaps the real leavener of the song. As with the phrase "horseplay and disease", which are killing him by degrees, I get a sense of reason, humour and humanity, lines in the sand against hysteria and fear. They're slender, wavering lines though; the infectiveness of the song as a whole is high and he sings us through and into an emotional state.
My foot in his face
It's the spreading bloody clots of darkness that worry me about putting big purple trees in public gardens. You might think, surely that's the last thing to worry about, what with the destruction of public services, climate change, and every sort of crisis. But I deal with what I think of, not what's rational. And they can be irresistible, especially when young, beautifully grown and graceful. A strong, emotionally demanding colour - that's what's so dangerous. Not that I like to overstate things, of course.
Here's a single young prunus pissardi nigra in beautiful Mondovi's public gardens. Draw back and you will see a whole line of them, set against the border, where the ground falls away, threading along the path.
Here's a single older specimen in a garden I've been working on. The steps have helped to draw the eye away, but the tree is always a dominating force. And still at its early redder stage, within days it will be the fierce purple.