Catching a healthy dose of Pteridomania in Canada

It was a real treat to meet one of my favourite gardeners (and friends) when I was in Canada recently. And also to be introduced to the delights of ferns. Which I’ve always thought were just there really to fill up some space. (I KNOW! I have an invisible speech bubble saying – #confession – in my head as I write this, which probably suggests I’m spending too much time on social media and not enough in the garden appreciating all plants.)

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So back to the garden. It is on an island, and so not only has a beautiful ocean view from nearly everywhere. 
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But also some unwelcome visitors in the form of small goats (I didn’t see these although I would love to have done) and deer (which I did see, they were munching too!)

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I don’t think this is their bones above. But I LOVED this desk. It reminded me of the magic that can happen when a gardener is also a naturalist. And how peaceful it looks. This is what is important in life, isn’t it? And she’s a proper gardener too. Just look and admire this compost station.

IMG_0288There’s a wonderful thing going on in this garden. Because of those goats and deer, my friend has put fencing up and is busy recreating the missing middle layer of the natural landscape around. It was fascinating to see this happening so deliberately, and then comparing her natural island garden to the rest of the island. Because before I saw round her garden, I knew something had been missing but I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it. These pictures below are the garden in process, and shows just how much work it takes to create a ‘natural’ look. It has been a particularly dry summer in Canada too, lovely for us tourists but worrying for the plants, many of which were being tended individually. 
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IMG_0358 IMG_0351 IMG_0343 IMG_0332 IMG_0328 IMG_0314This garden is really a work of generosity and skill, using only plants indigenous to this most easterly Gulf Island. It made me look and think again at layers, and proportion, and also about how gardens aren’t just about the plants, but are about light and shade and also shadows they throw. 

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And then once I started looking at ferns, I couldn’t stop. These photos below are from the VanDusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver…

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What joy then to come home and look up Pteridomania, which means Fern Madness or Fern Craze, and hit Victorian England like a hurricane. The name – from the Greek for Fern, coming from Pteron for feather, was first devised by Charles Kingsley in his book Glaucus, or the Wonders of the Shore. Rather patronisingly, he said:

Your daughters, perhaps, have been seized with the prevailing ‘Pteridomania’…and wrangling over unpronounceable names of species (which seem different in each new Fern-book that they buy)…and yet you cannot deny that they find enjoyment in it, and are more active, more cheerful, more self-forgetful over it, than they would have been over novels and gossip, crochet and Berlin-wool.[1]

There are some lovely articles I found here and here, which include this illustration of fern hunting in action:

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And – forget goats and deer – the full baskets shown above were probably the reason this strange notice was put up!

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Anyway, I came back from Canada with a slight touch of Pteridomania, which has led to this latest beauty uncurling itself in MY garden back in Tunbridge Wells:

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And a poem…

 

Lucy’s not crying over her crochet

and Jane’s escaped from the novel net,

Freda and Jo have stopped talking

about how Ali’s wound up the Berlin wool,

 

Because now ferns tickle us all like a feather:

sipping tea in fern cups, fern silk rustling

round our hips. Yes, the Lady fern’s uncurling

our purse-strings into a topknot of Venus’s hair.

 

 

Joining the Blackthorn Garden community

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I am so pleased to say that I’ve just been appointed as a Trustee for the Blackthorn Trust. This garden and therapy centre near Maidstone is a very special place that I’m proud to have supported for several years now.

Here is a little bit about their work from their website:

Anyone can be struck down with illness. For some, however, illness becomes a life-long struggle which can result in losing a job, friends and a love of life. Blackthorn Garden is a community where by working together, one can find friends and security, learn new skills, feel valued and gain confidence to face the world at large.

The Garden was founded in 1991 and has attracted strong support and funding from Social Services and the NHS ever since. It also benefits from grants and donations from national and local charitable trusts, local businesses and individuals. Blackthorn Garden exists to assist individuals (known as co-workers) with a range of mental and physical health conditions, to build or gain confidence and self-esteem and to develop life and work skills.

And this video is a wonderful introduction (it’s silent for the first few seconds so don’t panic!).

If you are a garden writer, or interested in therapeutic gardens, and would like to find out more, do please let me know and I’ll do what I can to help! But in the meantime, I invite you to look at their website and maybe even sign up for the newsletter.

And I can thoroughly recommend the cakes and very special bread from the cafe!!!! It’s a perfect place to write too.

 

 

 

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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.

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(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.