Serendipity or chaos – it’s in the lap of the gods

WHATEVER you call it – happenstance, serendipity, luck, fate or Chaos Theory – unforeseeable forces rule our lives.

The blinded Duke of Gloucester puts it very blackly in Shakespeare’s King Lear: “Like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.” And romantic poets have hymned the good fortune that attends the happy outcome of their love.

You never know where fate will lead you – tomorrow you may be hit by a speeding car going the wrong way round the one-way system or you may drop into a coffee shop and get into conversation with somebody who shares your interests and will become a lasting friend.

We decided that we should plant a pretty creeper on our new pergola, to add colour in the autumn and shade in the summer, and we settled on a Parthenocissus (Virginia creeper) because we both love the rich rusts and aubergines of its leaves in their full glory. We researched in the on-line equivalent of the Yellow Book – the Royal Horticultural Society plant finder which is indispensable to find people who really know about the plant you think you want, who can advise if it will be right for your soil or the amount of sun your garden gets, rather than the chainstore check-out operators who neither know nor care if a hydrangea that looked pink on the label will only grow blue for you because of the soil, that you can’t successfully grow runner beans in a window box or that blueberries need an ericaceous soil and will not fruit in profusion in your rich clay.

The plant finder led us to Triscombe Nurseries, near West Bagborough, on the western side of the Quantock Hills. We found that they were open on Sunday afternoon and then spotted that there was a local pub recommended, so clicked through to the website of the Blue Ball Inn at Triscombe And so the hunt for a creeper to climb over our garden arbour (sounds a bit grand for such a very small garden, doesn’t it) became a day out. We rang a friend who enjoys an outing to somewhere new and loves gardens. And on Sunday morning, in the sort of sunny spring weather that our souls and our bodies have craved these past few sodden months, the three of us set off.

Triscombe is reached off the Taunton to Minehead road, and nestles (really, not estate agentese, it does nestle) under the Quantock escarpment. The Blue Ball is one of those almost unbelievably pretty thatched pubs, close under the heavily treed lower slopes, with birds singing in the garden and woods, walkers hiking off up the steep lane, hardy folk having their lunch in the garden and a fabulous view across west Somerset towards Watchet and the sea.

After a very good meal (look out for a review on our Food pages soon), we set off to the nurseries which have been in the walled garden near Triscombe House for more than 60 years. They specialise in herbaceous perennials, climbers and shrubs and you instinctively know you are with experts. We described our little garden, and where the creeper would go, and were immediately advised on the right variety of Parthenocissus (Henryana) and the right soil for the big pot in which it will live.

We have some American friends coming to stay in early summer. We met them on a holiday in New Mexico in 1999. Five couples stayed at a B&B in Taos and over the years kept in touch, even if it was only Christmas cards and six of us, three couples, have remained in regular contact through all these years, sometimes by phone and latterly by email. The chance of 10 people with enough in common to keep in touch at all is remarkable, let alone for 15 years across continents – although perhaps the particular allure of Taos at Christmas narrowed the field a bit.

Our friends are currently on a cycling sabbatical, exploring Europe for a year and spending three months in the UK, including East Anglia, the West Country and Edinburgh. They will look after our house while we are on holiday, and asked for recommendations for good pubs – so now we have an excellent new pub to add to the list, a good day’s cycling, good food and with bedrooms so that they can make a two-day break of it, and explore the Quantocks from there.

Perhaps the most extraordinary element in the story of how we came to meet them is how we came to be in Taos in the first place. It all came from a dream many years ago, in which my partner dreamed of “Buffalo Dances.” We had no idea what this meant – how do you dream something about which you know nothing and have no background information in which the thing imagined might ever have occurred? Searches in the library (this being before the ubiquity of the internet) revealed that Buffalo Dances were a part of the rituals and spiritual life of the Pueblo people of northern New Mexico, specifically of the people of San Ildefonso Pueblo, between Santa Fe and Taos. This area has long fascinated artists and writers – DH Lawrence lived there as did the painter Georgia O’Keeffe – but we knew nothing about the pueblos.

At the same time, we noticed an article about an exhibition at the British Museum focusing on the art and culture of the native peoples of the American South West, with a focus on the close relationship between the land, the climate, the celebration of the seasons and harvests, the constant need for rain and the understanding of the interconnectedness of things. The exhibition opened our eyes to a rich culture, that has survived centuries of invasion, by Spanish conquistadors and gold-hunters, pioneers, missionaries and ranchers, spectulators, developers and countless people seeking land and freedom.

We fell in love with New Mexico before we even set foot on its soil – a love affair that began with a puzzling dream and continues through the journeys we have made, the food we have learned to love and cook, the tiny black-on-black pot from one of the San Ildefonso potters that sits on our mantlepiece and the friendships that have lasted.

You can plan and try to control your life and that of others as much as you like – in the end something you cannot see or guess will blindside you for good or bad and your life will take a new direction. So go with it – if not a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, there may be a Blue Ball Inn and a glass of good beer!

Fanny Charles