Digging Up Paradise… an ‘Eden of a book’

I had thought that Digging Up Paradise might just be a summer book, so what a treat to have two new reviews this week – all talking about reading it in Autumn.

First of all, a huge thanks to Rosie Johnston from The London Grip who said:

Beside an autumn fire while winds and rain tear up the garden outside, this book is pure joy. I look forward to taking it in the bike basket around Kent in the summer too. It is Salway’s gift for poetic prose that haunts the heart most of all. The harpsichord in Finchcocks Musical Museum in Goudhurst for example has been specially built (Salway writes) so the music can only be heard by the person playing it. I took this thought with me into the garden afterwards as I sat on a bench against one of the ivy covered walls and watched the light making silent songs with shadows on the grass.


And she calls it ‘an Eden of a book’.

I love that!

And also a big thank you to Clare Law from Three Beautiful Things, who reviews it here, and says:

“Sarah’s meditative walks and patient observations have produced something fresh and fascinating that will continue to delight me for a long time to come.”



Now we’ve passed Halloween and even Bonfire night, is this the right time to say that Digging Up Paradise might be a perfect present for Christmas?

Oh go on then.

So just in case you have a garden/poetry lover in your family and this might sound just right gift for them, I’m very happy to sign a dedication to whoever you would like. Just get in touch with me via the comments or my email – sarahsalway@gmail.com. Copies will cost £14.50, (including – nice – postage and packing!).

A day at Long Barn, Sissinghurst’s little sister


I wonder how many people have heard of Long Barn? I’m guessing not half as many who know about Sissinghurst, just up the road. But Long Barn is the house Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson moved into in 1915, living here for fifteen years and trying out many of the garden ideas that became so famous in their next garden.


The garden at Long Barn was partially overgrown fields when Harold and Vita moved in, so they structured the garden with a number of terraces which still exist today. I loved the description of Long Barn by Harold Nicholson that I found, “This house just comes out and jumps all over you like a spaniel.”


Huge thanks to Long Barn’s owners, Lars and Rebecca Lemonius for letting us walk round, and we were lucky to have a talk by garden historian and designer, Marian Boswall. Here she is with Rebecca Lemonius and Louise Piper who organised the event on behalf of The Haller Charity.


Marian explained how Harold and Vita had learnt to garden at Long Barn, and how moving from Knole (with its 365 rooms) would have created the urge to create garden rooms. I had never thought about the two together before, and this is something you can obviously see at Sissinghurst but also at Long Barn. Marian read some extraordinary extracts from Vita’s writing. It was so moving to listen to her words while looking out at the garden she was writing about. For example, we were actually looking out at these flowers and thinking just how right she was when she wrote: “The flowers of Magnolia grandiflora look like great white pigeons settling among dark leaves”. I’ll never be able to look at them in the same way again – a gift!


The couple extended the house considerably by using an old barn that had stood below the house to turn it into the L-shaped property it is now.


The original house is much older, of course, with parts dating bak to the mid 14th century. I loved the story that it is supposed to be the birthplace of William Caxton, the first English printer, and then not only the home for Vita Sackville-West, but also visited by writers such as Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and E M Forster, amongst many. Another visitor was Charlie Chaplin. Can’t you imagine him trip-trip-tripping down these lawns?


I had been asked to read my poem, Leaving Paradise, about how, when Vita Sackville-West had to leave her family home, Knole, she was given a small key so she could visit the grounds any time she wanted. The story goes that she visited only once, by moonlight, and I loved how beautiful the garden Long Barn must look in the moonlight and imagining Vita looking out towards Knole from there. Anyway, after I had read, Rebecca told me that Vita had apparently lost the key mentioned in the poem at Long Barn. It sent shivers down my back!

But it was another resident, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who sparked my interest. She moved to Long Barn in 1936 (renting from the Nicholsons who were by then at Sissinghurst), together with her aviator husband, Charles, and son. They had come to England to escape the media frenzy caused by the kidnap and murder of their baby son, Charles. Long Barn offered them the necessary privacy, and also a sanctuary at such a difficult time. In her book of letters and journal entries, The Flower and the Nettle, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote about an evening in May 1936:

I look up at the poplars and at the house, red brown, now covered with vines, the pink clematis trailing below our window. A blackbird sitting on the roof. Jon’s closed curtains, musty brown and blue through the windows.
I am very quiet and a thrush comes back to the lawn in front of me – triumph!
The cuckoos are going, and some trains in the distance.
I think I must keep this place in my mind always, part of the web of me, even when we leave it – a mark of permanent peace and beauty. As people are marks too in your life even when they are not there, or you have them no longer – permanent values.
I think how small this place would be looked down at from the air – how small to hold so much happiness, such worlds of happiness.


During their three years at Long Barn, they had another son, and I was fascinated to find this little boy was called Land. The name is after Charles Lindbergh’s maternal family, but there’s a happy connection with Vita Sackville-West’s poem, The Land, there too. Here she is reading it. Amazing voice:

Impossible to follow, but this is the poem I wrote when I was there, trying – impossibly – to imagine how the garden must have felt for someone suffering such a loss and slowly coming back to life. It was another reason to feel lucky to have been there to support the charity, <a href="http://haller.org.uk/Haller who do such wonderful work for parents and children.

Climbing like Questions
A poem for Long Barn

English lawns lush green on grey clay,
a magic carpet for when morning rises
over borrowed views… who would borrow,
say, a child in the same way, to never
think of giving back?

Past the straight hedges swaddling
secret corners, the rosa mundi climbing
like a question mark… was it your fault,
did you spend too much time in the air,
try to climb too high?

And from your window, arms outsretched
to almost catch the wax flowers roosting
like Vita’s pigeon’s… to stand on the edge
and be so alone, the sheer drop of
a heart falling.

Deep roots match rising winds
until the leaves dance like words
you can’t quite catch… how can anything
make sense because are you still
a mother if?

Some comfort in that guard of yews,
a row of straight and shadowy soldiers
by the classical grove… something shifts
deep inside, still, a change in the air.

All horizons green on green, hydrangeas
turn from green to pink and back
to green… kindness softens like wild
flowers growing in the space between stones.

PLEASE NOTE that Long Barn is not open to the public, although special provision can be made for group visits by arrangement.

I hung a poem on a branch….

That’s the title of a poem I love by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. I’ve kept a copy on my noticeboard since I first started this website, and today I got to bring it to life at Westgate Gardens in Canterbury.

i hung

Thanks to all the friends and poets who contributed poems, to Westgate Gardens for inviting me to ‘play’ in them, to all those who came along and wrote with me, and to the wonderful Wise Words Festival


It was amazing to see one of my favourite poems brought to life. So many good moments, including hearing a small child shout at the top of his voice: ‘there’s another over here!!’ and rushing across the grass to read a poem he had just spotted to his parents, wondering if the bin men were going to take down the poems and then seeing them reading instead (and coming back to one in particular for a second longer read), watching a group of friends write a poem together and hang it up, listening to the poems we all wrote together in the workshop and wondering all over again at the magic created by people writing together.

… somewhere
bathed in light
a tree
is waving
a poem …























lovely gardens



The beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete…


That’s one of the descriptions of Wabi-Sabi, given in Leonard Koren’s book.


Along with ‘a beauty of things modest and humble’.


And ‘a beauty of things unconventional’.


It is ‘the extinction of a beauty’. 


Things “wabi-sabi are usually small and compact, quiet and inward-orientated. They beckon: get close, touch, relate”


I’ve just been on a walk round our neighbourhood. I took these words with me: “Beauty can spontaneously occur at any moment given the proper circumstances, context, or point of view” These photographs and my walk aren’t traditionally wabi-sabi, I used no conventional aesthetic, but instead concentrated on ‘materials that are visibly vulnerable to the effects of weathering and human treatment. They record the sun, wind, rain, heat, and cold in a language of discoloration, rust, tarnish, stain, warping, shrinking, shriveling, and cracking.” 


Of course, there’s much more and I’m looking forward to finding more, but it seems to fit in with the work I’ve been doing on this website. To catch, and appreciate, the beauty of a garden at all its different stages. 







‘Trying things out’ at Gravetye Manor


Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the garden at the hotel, Gravetye Manor, as part of a tour of garden journalists. Appropriate really because Gravetye is famous, in gardening terms, as the home of William Robinson, (1838-1935), who purchased it as a result of the money he earnt as a gardening writer.


Hmmm, I’m obviously doing something wrong. Still, still… if you are interested in gardening, then you probably know William Robinson as the author of classics such as Wild Gardening and The English Flower Garden. Here he is at Gravetye, he spent the last decade of his life in a wheelchair but still took an active interest in the garden.  


We were taken round by the current head gardener, Tom Coward, and it was fascinating to think about the challenges of maintaining a garden which needs to allow the hotel guests to feel that it is ‘their’ garden for the time they are staying, and will also look good at different times of the year.


Not surprisingly there are intimate seating areas dotted around. Garden service, anyone?



According to Tom, Robinson used the garden to ‘try things out’ that he would later write about. What was so good about the garden today is that it still feels dynamic. The plants in the Long Border, for example, all come from propagated stock, and although it looked good to me, Tom said he wanted it to be ‘bolder’, and spoke about the danger of getting lazy when you found a plant palette that worked. 



One of the joys of the hotel is that it sits between two very different gardening styles. At the front there is the wild garden- a meadow that leads down to the river. In 1904 Robinson planted out more than 50,000 narcissus bulbs in the pasture, woods and orchards, and the tradition continues. Apparently – and I’d love to see this in action – Tom and his gardeners can now plant 1,000 bulbs in 90 minutes, and the wild garden changes according to the season. In the winter, there are sheep to keep the grass down, with an electric fence that sometimes ‘pings’ the hotel guests. Strangely I only spotted the couple in the photograph on the right as I was looking through my images for this post. 



And I’m still wondering whether I’m right in these are old-fashioned stocks… Luckily we were all very well-behaved.



Meanwhile at the back, we walked past the croquet lawn…     …. and up the newly built steps…



…to the highlight for me, the vegetable garden which provides most of the vegetables and cut flowers for the hotel. I’m going to keep quiet now and just let you enjoy…





And now I’m going to leave you with a photograph as a writing prompt… a magical pumpkin. I’m sure that’s been used as a literary device somewhere before! 



Friends and reviews…

Just in this month…

First friends… a page in Kent Life with photographs from the launch, such a lovely memory:


And then reviews, a happy-making review by the garden writer, Annie Gatti in the magazine, Gardens Ilustrated:


And if you still haven’t got a copy of Digging Up Paradise, and would like a signed one, I do have some copies here and would be happy to add a dedication for you. Leave a comment or email me (sarahsalway@gmail.com), and we can arrange payment, postage etc.

Apples, bank notes and a garden at Bere Mill

Bere Mill in Hampshire has a rich history. And I use that adjective on purpose, because it was where the Huguenot family, the Portals, made the paper that was used for Bank of England bank notes in the early eighteenth century. There are still traces of the mill, and also importantly, apple trees. I hadn’t known before that the best wood for mill machinery was that of apple trees because it is both strong and flexible. Isn’t that wonderful?


The current house was originally the home of Jane Deane, as this plaque still states on the side of the house.

bere jane deane

Over the last twenty years, Rupert and Elizabeth Nabarro have created a garden that feels both established and in progress. Something I’ve learnt from my garden visiting is harder than it seems.


I visited the garden at the end of last year so looking at my photographs to write this post is a bit like capturing history myself. However if I had forgotten the vividness of the borders…


… the play of shadow and light in this garden – almost like music – has stayed with me. It’s as if the garden has taken on the watery element of the river and is making shapes that will transform themselves constantly.


Rupert has been very influenced by Japanese garden design and I really liked finding out more about this as we walked round.


As he said, the river – once essential for paper milling – is key in the garden, and not just for its beauty. The river runs through the receptive house for harmony, and the fact that it comes in from the north-east, flows south, and then exits to the south-west – and with the valley sides giving the inverse horse shoe facing upstream – means it adds the needed feng shui blessing.


I was going to say I don’t know much about Japanese gardening, but in fact I know NOTHING about it, so I was pleased to find a little book from our second-hand bookshop and read that in the Nara period (646-795 AD) ‘not only rocks, water, trees, and plants, but even birds, animals and fishes formed part of the material that contributed to their composition.’ Look at these fish in the river at Bere Mill – aren’t they just like a painting?

bere fish

And this is a bad picture, but this sculpture by David Nash sits beautifully in the new orchard.


I had to be dragged away from the Japanese teahouse (built by Australian sculptors, Paul Jamieson and Rohan Ward) because I’ve never seen such a perfect spot for daydreaming.


See the view… can’t you just imagine writing at that table until the sun went down?


But enough. I don’t want to be too gushy in this post because this garden is mostly about daydreaming and silence. It is a private garden, but opened regularly through the National Gardens Scheme. The next opening day is 14th September. I can’t recommend it highly enough. And in the meantime, here’s a poem I wrote for the apple trees and banknotes…


Sarah Salway

Imagine, my father always said
on our Sunday walks, less
an invitation than an instruction,

and because I was too young then
to know that nature’s ‘what if?’
would always trump ours:

the golden section; ants milking
grasshoppers; the bee queening
it over her own slave kingdom,

I loved his games – gold coins lying
under trees like windfalls, to have
a million pounds and spend it in a day.

I wish he’d lived long enough
to hear how Bank of England
notes were milled with apple wood.

How he would laugh. Imagine,
he’d say, money really does grow
on trees, and forever after, I could try

to catch him out lifting his wallet
to his face, trying to inhale a wealth
he only dreamt of, fortune’s wind

at last blowing its fruit his way,
a scrumper, my dad, to the end.