Sowing poetry seeds in two very different gardens

Over the last month, I’ve ‘appeared’ in two very different gardens…

Just last week, I was lucky enough to read from Digging Up Paradise at Long Barn, probably one of the most beautiful and interesting private gardens in Kent.

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The evening was organised for the charity, Haller, aimed at empowering communities in Kenya. It was generously hosted by the owners of Long Barn, who also had organised some delicious sunny weather for us! Because Haller is all about sowing seeds, this is one of the poems I read during the evening:

Seeds

Deep in the root ball of the ship
the plant collector is making a nest.

He counts his catch, tucks each seed
in its own hand-labelled box, an ebony

cabinet ticking with paused hearts.
Soon he will grow a fresh desert,

bring back to life these dried moments
of the old land. And as he waters

his dust, the sailors sleep on,
and no one sees how the wooden

mast dances its memory of the wind’s
song until, reaching for water, it leans

too far, loses balance. White sails,
like baby gowns, christen the sea.

me and marian!
(Here I am with the inspiring landscape architect, Marian Boswall, who is currently working on the garden at the Charleston Farmhouse, surely the mothership of Literary Gardens!)

The second garden is the Kensington/Olympia Community Garden in London, right on the edge of the train track. This is an amazing idea – local residents are encouraged to take over one of the brightly coloured wooden boxes to grown their own vegetables and fruit. And how they did! What I loved most was how different each box is.

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It was inspirational! And well looked after by the community gardeners, including Will Gould (that’s him above) who had asked me to run a poetry workshop there for the Chelsea Fringe. It was such a pleasure to have two unsuspecting tourists from Sweden join us – they had wandered in to see the garden and ended up writing poems too. Below the photograph of us all ‘in action’ is the group poem we wrote during the day. It was a serendipitous mix of random memories that created something beautiful in its own right – much like seeds!

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A Group Poem – Kensington Olympia Community Garden
May 2015
Garden Memories

We remember sitting in the garden,
eating a cabbage,
walking barefoot,
being told not to walk barefoot,
crawling through damp rhododendron tunnels
and waist high backyard fields of wheat,
seeing how paths between emerged.

We remember late Spring,
walking in the greenhouse,
watching new life,
biking home from school and climbing a tree,
eating plums until our stomachs ached;
we remember smelling a mint for the first time,
cutting grandmother’s grass,
and we remember to be humble.

By
Denise, Magnus, Will, Anna, Lisa, Zoe, Nigella, Ginny, Isobel, Sarah

Happy birthday, Digging Up Paradise!

Hard to believe that my little book is a year old now.

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Especially as it’s out there walking and making its own way in the world without me!

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I’m still smiling with the memory of the launch though, and one particular moment when I stood in the shop window (where we were having the launch party) looked out at the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells and saw my friends and family and even strangers laughing, talking and holding MY BOOK!

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anna reading

I’m not too proud to admit I cried! So when I got my writing group to write about joy recently – not pleasure, or contentment, or even happiness, but those moments of clear joy – it was that night I thought of. Here’s my poem:

The sun’s been changing clothes
all week, only now, today,
does it blaze out, saying,
I’ve made an effort, just for you,

and it dresses us too in gold,
there are sparklers in our hair,
rockets in every hand, passers-by
marvel at us, we’re gods

come down to cartwheel in the Pantiles,
we’ve been given the keys
to the treasure chest, turned
the whole world into a garden,

and when I stand in the doorway,
see friends, family, carrying my book,
the sun dazzling us all, until
even my tears taste like nectar.

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Haha! Silly maybe, but that’s really how it felt. And we should treasure those moments, shouldn’t we? Never grow up, little book! May you always be cartwheeling in gardens.

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A little wander round RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015

An invitation to Press Day at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is definitely one of the most amazing things about running a website like this. Rain aside…
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Here are some of my favourite bits of the show. First of all, of course, the big show gardens – Matthew Wilson's Royal Bank of Canada Garden. Just look at those benches…
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And the Sentebale – Hope in Vulnerability garden designed by Matt Keightley designed to help the vulnerable children in Lesotho (and supported by Prince Harry). I loved the gentle wildness of this garden.
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I felt the grey rainy English day didn’t do justice to The Beauty of Islam garden, designed by Kamelia Bin Zaal. I would love to see it by moonlight, but here’s Anne Marie Powell brightening it up.
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A Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse, designed by James Basson…
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… the stunning Morgan Stanley Healthy CIties Garden by Chris Beardshaw, which is being transplanted after the show to Poplar in East London…
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… Dan Pearson’s AMAZING Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden which did make me gasp out loud when I walked towards it…
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… the moving garden building Harry and David Rich’s Cloudy Bay Garden (which actually moves on rails, not over water as these rainy pics might suggest!)
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…and of course, The Writer’s Retreat in Jo Thompson’s M&G Garden 2015, which she would not let me move in however much I begged..
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Beautiful. I did go looking for other possible writer’s retreats though. Look…

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Ahhh… The Artisan’s gardens were – as always – charming, inspiring and full of story (and clever planting)…
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And highlights for me in the Great Pavilion were… the potatoes. I bloody loved the potatoes. But then I do have them in my book title!…
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… the frill on these tulips…
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… feeling I’d walked into a science fiction movie…
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…before I really did walk into a science project…
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Other highlights were the Fragrance Garden from Harrods (designed by Sheena Seeks)
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… seeing the Great Chelsea Garden Challenge winner, Sean Murray, surrounded by female fans at every moment…
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…imagining waking up to this in my garden…
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… dreaming of this in the sun…
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… but being cheered up by these colours in the Artisan Retreats…
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… and longing to climb these ladders…
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… and then walking home behind this…
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… and even when I reached Sloane Square, finding the show still wasn’t over as I bumped into Alyssa from Marian Boswall Landscapes making this beautiful fairy tale garden in the window of Hampton’s Estate Agents…

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I LOVE CHELSEA IN BLOOM! I’m not an expert, but I think this may be the best Chelsea for a long long time. I can’t wait for the judging results now.

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Cauliflower cheese with Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens isn’t an author I normally associate with writing about gardens. The grimy back streets around Covent Garden might come closest, but last week, recovering from a nearly all-night election watch, I visited the Charles Dickens Museum in his childhood home in Doughty Street…

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… and had a pick-me-up bowl of cauliflower cheese soup in the garden.

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And what a little treasure this city centre garden is…

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Hmmm. Just so this isn’t a post about ‘writer eats soup’, here is something I found about Charles Dickens and ferns. But mostly so I can revel in the word pteridomania. Poor Mary, not worthy of a fernery…

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If you click here, you can see a picture of Charles Dickens and Mary in the rose garden of his Kent house, Gad’s Hill.

But anyway, if you are in Doughty Street, or near, this is a hidden gem of a garden with delicious food and lovely staff. Thoroughly recommended. And what a privilege to sit there, as I did, and write in Charles Dickens’s garden, even if it is to be reminded that ‘spring is the time of year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade’…

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A Little Chaos – the fictional dream

Imagine the excitement in the Writer in the Garden household this weekend: There’s a film about proper gardening. Even Tim Richardson says it’s ‘squarely and actually about gardens and garden design’. Do we need to book? I think we should book. I’m worried it’ll be full….

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Hmmm… we didn’t need to book. Sadly the cinema wasn’t full, not even in Tunbridge Wells, but nevertheless I loved this film. I think you will too – if you’re reading this website at least. There’s a phrase from the great writer and teacher, John Gardner (good name for this post!) to describe how in our fiction writing, we need to allow the reader to enter the ‘fictional dream’ – so the writer takes a step back and allows the story to come to the forefront. And that’s what happened in this film for me, so while I was watching I didn’t care about details. Although if anything I could do with a few more bits about gardening – the scene with Monsieur de la Quintinie whispering to his pears was delicious! And then La Barra interrupting the King in the enclosed fruit garden made me want to be there too.

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Although when I got back, I wanted to look up a few facts.

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And not just for the excuse of gazing at pictures of moody Matthius Schoenaerts as Andre Le Notre…

… who actually was an old man when Versailles was created, and looked more like this..

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And of course the garden designer Sabine de Barra was fictional. Ho hum. Although maybe she’ll encourage more interest in women gardeners in history, such as the fascinating Thomasin Tunstall.

And of course Versailles is Versailles… and the soaring computer-generated image of the gardens at the end made the heart soar too. And long to go back.

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This is a poem I found by Rita Dove, The Great Palaces of Versailles. Click the link for the whole poem, but here’s an extract below. Funnily enough, this wasn’t in the film…

Beulah had read in the library
how French ladies at court would tuck
their fans in a sleeve
and walk in the gardens for air. Swaying
among lilies, lifting shy layers of silk,
they dropped excrement as daintily
as handkerchieves. Against all rules

she had saved the lining from a botched coat
to face last year’s gray skirt. She knows
whenever she lifts a knee
she flashes crimson. That seems legitimate;
but in the book she had read
how the cavaliere amused themselves
wearing powder and perfume and spraying
yellow borders knee-high on the stucco
of the Orangerie.

Why this bench made me cry…

I’ve decided to move my bench posts from my old website, A Quiet Sit Down to here as, to be honest, trying to keep so many blogs in the air was driving me a little crazy, and benches fit in the garden just perfectly.

So to celebrate, here’s an example of why memorial benches matter so much. Meet Leslie and her bench to be found at Rye Harbour…

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… and then this postcard, spotted by my friend Gaynor Edwards, last summer and left pinned on Leslie’s bench. A birthday card on what would have been Leslie’s 70th birthday.

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I know we visit the bench in Chichester dedicated to my parents whenever we can especially on special days. Silly as it may seem, it feels like a chance to sit down with them again. And also, as the lovely Colin shows above, a place to chat too.

It is here now! It has come, the Spring! Dickon says so!

Writer in the garden, pah! Bricklayer in the garden more like… or at least for three bricks!

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Inevitably having a wall built round my garden has sent me back to one of my favourite childhood books, The Secret Garden.

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And then it was even more of a joy when I saw how beautifully Frances Hodgson Burnett writes about spring. So as my garden’s a building site, these quotes are illustrated by pictures from my allotment…

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On that first morning when the sky was blue again, Mary wakened very early. The sun was pouring in slanting rays through the blinds and there was something so joyous in the sight of it that she jumped out of bed and ran to the window. She drew up the blinds and opened the window itself, and a great waft of fresh, scented air blew in upon her.

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The moor was blue and the whole world looked as if something Magic had happened to it. There were tender little fluting sounds here and there everywhere, as if scores of birds were beginning to tune up for a concert. Mary put her hand out of the window and held it in the sun. ‘It’s warm – warm!’ she said. ‘It will make the green points push up and up and up, and it will make the bulbs and roots work and struggle with all their might under the earth.’

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“Things are crowding up out of the earth,’ she (Mary) ran on in a hurry. ‘And there are flowers uncurling and buds on everything and the green veil has covered nearly all the grey and the birds are in such a hurry about their nests for fear they may be too late, that some of them are even fighting for places in the secret garden. And the rosebushes look as wick as wick can be, and there are primroses in the lanes and woods, and the seeds we planted are up, and Dickon has brought the fox and the crow and the squirrels and a new-born lamb.’

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‘I can’t wait! I am going to see the garden!’

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She unchained and unbolted and unlocked, and when the door was open she sprang across the step with one bound, and there she was standing on the grass, which seemed to have turned green, and with the sun pouring down on her and warm, sweet wafts about her and the fluting and twittering and singing coming from every bush and tree.

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She clasped her hands for pure joy and looked up in the sky, and it was so blue and pink and pearly and white and flooded with springtime light that she felt she must flute and sing alound herself, and knew that thrushes and robins and skylarks could not possibly help it.

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HAPPY SPRING EVERYONE!