:: Greenhouse

warmer notes from a singer’s greenhouse

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020




On the work front, the news is all of writing. The Observer re-published part of a Guardian comment of mine about Covid revealing fissures that already existed in the music profession, and CUP have told us that A History of Singing is being translated into Polish. And I am actually writing (by which I mean I’ve nearly finished) my sort of sequel to Vocal Authority. I feel just like a real writer with a proper routine: write after breakfast, walk before lunch, re-write after lunch, stop for a drink once the sun is over the yard arm (or earlier obviously if there’s no sun). I’ve done this for weeks now. If I wasn’t writing about performing I might be forgetting how to do it.

Meanwhile, the weird weather outside is wreaking a certain amount of havoc outside, but in the greenhouse stuff silently rises inexorably. Here are the crystal apple cucumbers, climbing up the roof:

and we have giant aubergines and peppers…

and tomatoes (that’s a giant Padron pepper in front)…

But best of all so far are these, the fruit of the first bucket:

The outside tomatoes behind are a bit ragged but still reaching for the sky and hoping for sun…


More notes from a singer’s greenhouse

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

Well, the lockdown persists and I’m still unable to do this online performing stuff. I admire those who can, and despite Jacob Heringman’s very insightful blog post analysing his approach to the question and Helena Daffern’s wonderful York Talk on virtual reality singing, I still can’t do it. There was a time, eons ago, when I thought that being in total control of my own sound system was greatly to be desired, but these days I need to be communing with my mates in real time in real space. I’m getting better at the tech though: we watch films simultaneously with the family while watching each other on Zoom or Facetime (hilarious) and I managed a Zoom seminar in Gothenburg this afternoon. The good news on the singing front is that several events are being tentatively re-scheduled including the Swaledale Festival (with its Sting and John Paul Jones premieres) now early June next year, and the Alternative History Madrid gig (Peter Erskine premiere) on November 10th. Fingers crossed – and apologies to those who had tickets for Madrid last week. And if you happened to catch the BBC2 scifi Devs, you’ll have heard Regnantem Sempiterna from the Officium album in the first and last episodes. It’s a much more frightening piece than I remembered (especially in this context) but I look forward to treating myself to a cappuccino on the proceeds when I get out of here.

So…it’s back to the garden. It’s all change on the windowsills: the tomatoes and aubergines are now all in the greenhouse, and most of the peppers. That leaves the windowsills free for bringing on Cosmos, nicotiana and various vegetal stragglers.

Upstairs we have a regiment of cucumbers (2 divisions, one being those spherical ones you can eat like apples).

The other side still has a couple of Padrons and  more tiny nicotiana. The gherkins are also getting bigger. And the first rose has appeared outside the bedroom window:

In the attic there’s fairly slow progress on the cleomes and verbenas but they’re doing better than the other cleomes and centranthus in the kitchen which aren’t trying at all.

The greenhouse welcomes me with its damp warmth every morning and as you can see, the tomatoes (in pots ready to go outside post-last-frost) are doing very well. Three Padron peppers (I have more on the way) have found a permanent home in a big pot (back left), and the aubergines and bell peppers and various herbs are all coming along nicely as well as the Cosmos army, which I’m hoping won’t be there too much longer.

Outside I’ve started hardening off calibrachoas and they’ll go into big pots at the end of the week. The potatoes are earthed up in their buckets (they don’t all grow at the same rate so that was a bit tricky). I’ve actually risked planting out several courgettes (it’s too early really but I have spares). And I’ve prepared the ground for the aubergines, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers that will eventually be divided between the garden and the greenhouse.  There are beans and peas secreted among the flower beds, and I’ve found the perfect place for shiso (I hope). The wild Alpine strawberry just visible in my past post is now planted out, and its tamer relatives are going well on the edge of the veg bed. The back wall may dry out the ground but it warms the air, and the fruit is doing well so far.

All this plant life takes two or three hours a day, which is a lot longer than I would spend practising in my previous life. But of course I know bugger nothing about gardening whereas I know bugger all about singing, to paraphrase  a notorious conductor.

Notes from a Singer’s Greenhouse

Monday, April 13th, 2020

I’ve got huge admiration for those performers who are re-inventing performance in the ether. But I discovered (when offered the opportunity by the wonderful Jacob Heringman) that I just can’t do it: I can’t perform in my living room. It’s not the lack of a physical  audience (I’ve spent years of my life recording to an audience of one) – it’s the absence of fellow musicians. It was quite a shock to discover that the music itself might be less important than sharing it with like-minded people in the same physical space. But it’s not all bad news: in a strange way I’m enjoying this global performance of Cage’s 4’33” that we’re all perforce involved in, and my main contribution is the sound of plants growing.

Last autumn I wrote a blog post about my greenhouse, constructed  over several months between gigs  using windows that we’d recently replaced. It was finished in time to grow cucumbers and tomatoes which I’d bought as seedlings. I’d already decided to grow almost everything from seed this year, and suddenly having a lot of time on my hands has meant that I can do it properly (though I should say that I know nothing about gardening, greenhouses or seeds, so it’s all a bit of an experiment).

We’re lucky to have five south-facing windowsills (with newly double-glazed glass) and that’s where most things start at the moment.  These are tomatoes and aubergines and a courgette growing in our sitting room last week:

Our bedroom has two windows. Here are shiso (L) and more tomatoes with a Padron pepper (R):

The other window had another tiny tomato, more shiso, courgettes and a tray of gherkins:

In the attic we have a dormer which conveniently holds two seed trays, here  bell peppers and Bonariensis:

In the kitchen we have a deep recessed window with a radiator beneath, so we can bring on anything that needs heat. These are Padron peppers and aubergines with three tiny cosmos that I pricked out too early.


The greenhouse itself  (half greenhouse really) is a riot of seedlings, mostly annuals: pot marigolds, nasturtiums, echinacea and several dozen cosmos and nicotiana, not to mention dill, chives, basil and more shiso.

And of course there’s the garden, where much of what survives my pricking out and potting on should end up. We have an ancient apple tree, dating back maybe a couple of hundred years or so when the land our house was built on was an orchard. After years of frustration we’ve just given up trying to grow a lawn beneath it, and replacing our efforts with paving has meant we can extend our little veg patch to meet it. It’s mostly empty at the moment apart from some fruit along the back wall (an Asian blueberry, Japanese wineberry,  some raspberries and a gooseberry, and a row of early broad beans and peas). And there’s a row of spuds in buckets along the outside of the greenhouse. Oh, and there are the Jerusalem artichokes which might one day shield the compost heap.  So far, everything I’ve put in a seed tray has miraculously germinated a week or so later. The next challenge is to wait for the last frost before planting out. It’s a bit of a change from singing, which is over as soon as it’s begun; the life of even the tiniest plant is positively Wagnerian in comparison.




Monday, September 2nd, 2019

So what do singers do between gigs apart from preparing for the next one? From childhood I’ve had a mild obsession with flying. This began with model gliders built from kits and then getting a glider pilot’s licence as a teenager, and reached a high point when I went hang gliding between gigs with the Swingles.

I still have an assortment of flying models, though these tend to be electric nowadays (I even have a rather frightening vertical take-off machine).  I’ve also had instrument-building phases – an Italian harpsichord and a couple of psalteries, all from kits. But when you reach a certain age it’s the law that you have to get into gardening, and gardening means greenhouses. We don’t have anywhere  really suitable to put a greenhouse, but when we had our ancient Georgian-type windows replaced with double-glazed copies there was only one thing to do with the old windows. There’s nothing in the literature about not putting a greenhouse under an apple tree (can’t think why) so that’s where it is, up against the shed.

It began with a model, created by Penny and based on the available windows, some of which I would have to cut up, with additional panes created to fill any gaps.

Then I had to get bricklaying, which turned out to be every bit as therapeutic as everyone says it is; and we bought and restored an old door.


And I bought some tomato plants…

The roof fitted magically as it was the top halves of each of our old bedroom windows (the vertical ones being the bottom bits). It left a narrow strip at the top, too small for any of the remaining spare windows but perhaps solvable with wooden vents.

Then we remembered the apple tree, and that apples can rain down for several months in the summer and autumn. So we temporarily double glazed the roof with acrylic (it’s held on with Velcro), in the hope that the apples will bounce off. So far, so good…

In the meantime, the tomatoes continued to rocket and were joined by a couple of cucumbers;

Then Nigel Wood, who made our new windows, got in touch to say he’d finished the last remaining one, a copy of the Yorkshire sliding sash in our attic. Quite by chance the old sliding sash, cut in half and with a few additional bits, gave us two proper opening glass vents after all.

So that was the spring and summer days off taken care of. Now I have to figure out how to use it once we’ve eaten the tomatoes. Over the winter I’m going to fit it out with shelves, seed trays,  a potting area, loads of tiny pots and things like that.