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 (, 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.

Send me your photographs of Digging Up Paradise – and win some writing seeds.

delphine - dup2

Remember – if you have got a copy of Digging Up Paradise, send me a photograph of it in your garden, or any garden, and I’ll pick out a winner for a very special prize.


In fact, unique!

delphine - dup

I’ll make the winner of my favourite photograph a book of writing prompts and seeds tailored to your needs. The closing date is now 7th July, and photographs should be sent to me at

shauna - dup

The above are a selection from those received so far… and I’m particularly enjoying this competition because it means I get a sneaky look at some beautiful gardens too!

DIgging Up the Pantiles

Forget Potatoes, People and Poetry – it was Books, Bunting and Busking in the Pantiles this week for the signing of Digging Up Paradise at Gardener and Cook. As £4 for every book sold was going to SpotlightYOPD, a new charity aimed at raising awareness, support and advice for younger people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, it was particularly gratifying to have signed over 60 books in that one evening.

We were lucky with the weather and so could spill out into the Pantiles where I did my reading (hence the busking). It was the first of many ‘garden’ outings, I hope, for the book. Here’s a flavour of the evening…






anna reading

Jane and lizzie

jo and friend

Kate, nick and liam

marian and friend

me reading

mo looking

neil, jinny, and penny

Sarah and will

sarah, alison and sue

sarah, nick and liam


the cultured llama teamUp

Putting out the bunting for DIGGING UP PARADISE


This week, my new book, Digging Up Paradise, is published – and there have been reports of sightings in gardens around the country.


I’m proud of this little baby – a mixture of reflection, stories, and poetry, with photographs and writing prompts too.


And so I thought I’d run a little competition. If you have got a copy of Digging Up Paradise, send me a photograph of it in your garden, or any garden, and I’ll pick out a winner for a very special prize. In fact, unique! I’ll make the winner of my favourite photograph a book of writing prompts and seeds tailored to your needs.


You can even take a picture of it with a postcard from the hedge…

postcards from the hedge

Closing date is 30th June 2014, and you can send your photographs to me at I look forward to them!

And here’s a blurb from gardening writer, Lia Leendertz about the book:

On this poet’s garden tour, Sarah Salway writes of the gardens’ physical selves, of course, but also of the sensations they conjure, the memories they stir up and the glimpses of history that colour her perception. Each description is rich, layered, personal and moving. It is more like the way we all experience gardens than any garden writing I have come across.

Sarah has a unique combination of a garden lover’s eye and a poet’s imagination, and it is a delicious treat to watch her exercise them on this group of gardens. She makes a fascinating and unpredictable virtual garden companion, always drawing your attention to some unexpected detail, or taking some half-told story, exploring it and breaking your heart with it. At the end I desperately wanted to set her onto my own favourite gardens and see what happens.

I read this book sometimes with a silly smile on my face, sometimes gripped and anxious, often with a tingle running down my spine. Sarah’s poetry has always moved me, and now she writes about my favourite subject, gardens. How lucky we gardeners are to have her in our midst. This could not be a lovelier book.

You can read more at the publisher’s website here but before you do, here’s the favourite part of MY garden at the moment, a red rose that is trying to climb out over the wall so it can throw petals in the path of everybody who passes!


Old maps, hands and ghost gardens…


Or fingertips anyway…

This is me joining the marvellous Vegplotting’s Show of Hands for the Chelsea Fringe, and a chance to show you a corner of the ghost gardens that I’ve been researching for my Lost Gardens of the Strand walk.


See how wonderful they are. And you can see from this map too how they would go right down to the Thames before the Embankment was built, so you would come by boat and walk straight into the garden. Magic.

lost gardens

And the joy of working with someone like the Old Map Man is that he points out the little traces that are still there. How many times have I walked past the York Watergate (above) in the Embankment gardens, for example, and not noticed it?


But now every time I go to Charing Cross, I try to spend a couple of minutes imagining what it would once have been like when the Thames was king and the Strand was full of beautiful gardens. So as I walk back, fighting the crowds in Villiers Street, I’m actually getting off a barge and walking straight into a fruit orchard in my mind.

Especially when I see this picture…


Here’s an extract from the Spectator of 1885:

FOREIGNERS may say what they like of London and its vast unwieldy size, and may contrast it with the slim elegance of Paris ; but those who love their London as Charles Lamb, for instance, loved it, know where to find its chief beauties, and would never barter the ” silver streaming Themmes ” for any other river. The great artery of the heart of England, with its ebb and flow, its daily freight of barges and lighters passing slowly from bridge to bridge, its mazy windings, outlined at night by countless twinkling lamps, is no longer the thoroughfare of the citizens as it was in good old days, when cabs and omnibuses were not, and steam still sputtered, bubbling and unnoticed, in the kettle. Mr. Secretary Pepys went as naturally by water from his house in Seething Lane to Whitehall or Westminster, as his successor would journey to his office by cab or underground- railway. Charles II. went in the royal barge to dine with the Lieutenant of the Tower, or sallied forth in his pleasure-boat ” above bridge,” or took a particular friend out in his new ” gundaloe.”

Love, duelling pistols and an outdoor theatre in a Luccan garden

I’ve been all – and happily Kent, Kent, Kent gardens recently (and a little ghost ones) so this post on a garden I visited in Lucca recently has got lost.


I’m sure the Villa Bernardini can wait though – what’s two or three weeks when you’ve been standing since 1615?


We stayed in the centre of Lucca, inside the city walls (another post on this to come soon) so we hired a taxi to take us the four or so km to the village of Vicopelago . Lucky us, we ended up with the marvellous Elisa Lucchesi, who although not an official guide has lived in Lucca all her life and told us some fabulous stories so we felt like insiders by the end of our day. As did Massimo Fanizza Bernardini, the latest family member to live in the house and garden.


Villa Bernardini isn’t as well known as Villa Reale (which we also visited) and I’ve been half tempted not to tell anyone about it so I could be one of those annoying people who say things like ‘Reeeaaallly, you don’t know it? But then Massimo is a grrraattee chum of mine.’ But wait, a) I’m already annoying and b) although Massimo is so charming it really does feel as if he could be my best friend, I can’t really pretend it was for more than our visit.


Reminders of the sense of history he carries though are everywhere in the crests on the furniture and the family portraits found inside the house, chairs for the country house, chairs for the town, and those rather exciting pistols carelessly laid out on the table…


He was also very patient at how excited I got by the little robot lawnmower doing its bit on the front. When it gets ‘tired’ apparently it makes its own way back to the battery recharger and then, out it goes again…


There are three parts to this garden. The front lawn, romantically and appropriately – given the Villa is a popular spot for the best weddings – is heart shaped. It was remodelled in the 18th century for the marriage of a Bernardini couple.


Then there is the ‘secret’ garden with its stone statues, orangery with a green wall for maintaining temperature and a fountain.






This is where the family would retreat from visitors and the cares of the world. Probably needed since the original Villa was commissioned by Bernardino Bernadini, an influential Luccan philosopher and politician. Here’s his portrait hanging up in the Villa with a plan of the wall.


But the most interesting part of the garden for me was the Verzura Theatre, the green amphitheatre at the back, using the natural dip in the ground and planted with boxwood hedges and box shapes to help with accoustics.


It is used as a mini-Glyndebourne today and could apparently seat nearly 400 people How I would like to see something here. It got me wondering how many times I’ve enjoyed something outside in Britain without being rained on. Maybe this year?


Massimo showed me the 18th century wooden model of the gardens. Interesting to see the parterres that weren’t created.



Yet. It seems there may be plans afoot. Here’s the original plan that the Bernardini’s are looking at to see how they could expand the garden.


And as we walked back through the lemon grove to the gate, Massimo pulled a lemon off for me to take home ‘for my gin and tonic’. Did I say already that he was my new best friend?


And here’s a poem I wrote for every couple who gets married in such a beautiful garden.

The Heart of the Garden
For Villa Bernardini

Dare to walk into the heart’s centre
and the words you’ve come to say
shape themselves with curved arms,
fingers laced to open the garden’s
curtains on the two sides of love:
a high gate protecting secrets whispered
over centuries and you’re safe,
lemons like gold coins dropping in your path
as you walk to the stage, your future
starts now. Listen, the world is applauding.