What do you do with all your garden guides?

We went on a ‘grand tour’ of the Peak District and Yorkshire last week – only one garden a day but even so I’ve ended up with an armful of guides.

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But what to do with them now I’m back? Write a poem about them of course…

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You need to have a plan

They sit on the bottom shelf
entwined with travel books
as if Chatsworth may take up wild swimming,
Castle Howard plan a weekend break
to Finland, and just maybe Hardwick Hall
could manage the night train to Russia,

and in the same way, on winter afternoons,
I’ll pick one out to remember
the cascades, curse how I didn’t find
that fountain, reassuring myself
with how next I’ll be armed with knowledge
of every Duke in England’s family tree.

It seems the lighter the garden’s spirit
the heavier must be the plan,
but at least now I can always trace
that moment we paused,
hit by the smell of rose petals
and how the rainbow entered the lake.

 

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Gods, jade and sulphur – the Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens in St Lucia

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Looking out at grey skies today, it’s a joy to go back through posts from just a month ago and pick out ones from our visit to the Botanical Gardens in St Lucia.

The gardens from part of the legacy of the Devaux family who owned the land since 1713, and which used to be part of a working plantation that once produced limes, copra (dried coconut kernels) and cocoa.

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The jewel of the gardens is the Jade vine, according to the vine ‘first seen by westerners in 1854,’ and still making us gasp…

and a different sensory experience, of course, is the mineral baths and waterfall – the minerals in the water apparently helping those suffering from chronic rheumatism, respiratory complaints or ulcers. I guess sometimes you don’t want the water to run clear…

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We ‘took’ the baths, seen here as they are now and after a less welcome visit from Hurricane Tomas…

…stood admiring the extraordinary waterfall…

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And gloried in the glories of our guide, Alexander (the Great)…

 

St Lucia of course is also the home of Derek Walcott, the poet and playwright and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here’s an extract from The Prodigal which sums up the island for me…

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And here’s a photograph of the Pitons, just up the road from the gardens. We climbed the Gros Piton, easier than the Petit Piton unless of course you are Alexander the Great.

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Snowdrops rising like lanterns

 

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Winter Garden
by Sarah Salway

Like the pilgrim divests himself of worldly goods,
the garden’s stripped back to a skeleton,

only the vertebrae of paths holds its truest form
and even as trees hold blossom close, buds aching,

it’s still the cutting back that matters most,
while through it all the river’s artery rolls,

a trust in what lies beneath, snowdrops
rising like lanterns to show the way.

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Remembering Capability Brown – Lady Nature’s Second Husband – and a little bit of Compton Verney

 

The English landscape gardener, Lancelot (Capability) Brown died 236 years ago today, 6th February 1783 – and fittingly is remembered on Twitter, via @BrownCapability:

“Your Dryads must go into black gloves, Madam. Their father-in-law Lady Nature’s second husband, is dead! Mr Brown dropped down at his own door yesterday” wrote Horace Walpole to Lady Ossory on 7th February 1783.
Above is a photograph of that very front door – next to a branch of Prezzo. Would Lancelot have been on Twitter, would he have popped out for a pizza?
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It’s lovely today then to think of where he might have felt at home, one of those places being beautiful Compton Verney where he designed the landscape and I was lucky enough to have a residency last year. Here are some photos from that time, and below them a poem to remember him. The form of the poem is a specular or mirror, which feels appropriate given the constantly changing reflections on the lake at Compton Verney.

 

Views Reflected
by Sarah Salway

Brown’s contemporary, Richard Owen Cambridge, longed to get to heaven before Brown, so he could see it before the great landscape gardener had ‘improved’ it.

By the time it was heaven’s turn,
the formal landscape of England
had changed forever:
a gardener and a duke
working harmoniously together.
Scattered trees,
a serpentine lake,
the ‘gardenless’ garden
painted a new picture –
Brown, nature’s second husband,
moving mountains from his path.

Moving mountains from his path,
Brown, nature’s second husband,
painted a new picture –
the ‘gardenless’ garden,
a serpentine lake,
scattered trees
working harmoniously together.
A gardener and a duke
had changed forever
the formal landscape of England
by the time it was heaven’s turn.

Silence in the nature reserve

And a happy new year to you all! I think it’s still all right to say that, but this has been my theme recently… just a little too late!

We spent the weekend after the new year in the middle of silence. It was beautiful. I’d been wanting to stay at the Elmley Nature Reserve on the Isle of Sheppey for some time, and it was everything I dreamed of.

We took the little but beautiful Salt Box, which contains a bed, kitchen and bathroom but more importantly this view when we woke up in the morning….

We didn’t take advantage of the outdoor shower – surprisingly! But we did spend time reading, thinking and walking. I made a list of all the gardens I’ve visited this year and haven’t shared with you here, so – again late to the party – I’ll be catching up with them soon.

But in the meantime, enjoy this video taken just outside our little cabin before I sat down to write…

 

Which made me think of this poem, Silence by Billy Collins. Here’s an extract:

And there is the silence of this morning
which I have broken with my pen,
a silence that had piled up all night
like snow falling in the darkness of the house—
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Ernest Wilson – keeping one eye open

There’s a little gate off the main street in Chipping Camden. You might not even notice it, but step inside, and you’re … not in Wonderland, but almost in China!

It’s a memorial garden to the plant hunter, Ernest Wilson who was born in the town in 1876. Here’s his house, just further up the street…

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It’s hard to imagine how different this stone and brick must have been to the paradises – and horrors – he found himself in during his time as a plant hunter around the world, but so famously in China that he became known as Chinese Wilson.

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The garden is a cabinet of curiosities of some of the plants he brought back, some so common now that it feels odd to imagine how exciting it would have been to have seen them flower for the first time. Ernest Wilson is certainly one of the great collectors, he’s thought to have been responsible for introducing about 2000 Asian plant species to Britain.

And of course the names give a clue…

My personal passion for garden history follows my heart more than my mind. Back when I used to hang around my mother’s garden library, it was always the books about plant collectors I’d choose. (And Ernest Wilson was one of my favourites. Perhaps I knew I’d have a much loved Chinese sister-in-law and nephew one day?)

And indeed, this garden is rather like a book you can read, although instead of illustrations we have samples of the plants he brought back, 60 of which were named after him.

His adventures weren’t without trouble. In 1910, his leg was crushed during an avalanche of boulders. Apparently he set it himself with the tripod of his camera, but walked afterwards with what he called his ‘lily limp’. However, he was responsible for introducing the regal lily to the west.

He ended his life in the US, where he was keeper of the Arnold Arboretum, and died with his wife in a car accident in 1930.

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In the garden there’s a tree planted by his granddaughter. This poem came from one of the information boards, which says that in later trips to Japan when staying with headhunters, ‘it is a good idea to sleep with one eye open.’

Sleeping with one eye open

So as not to miss a moment
of the world’s beauty –
bark peeling like sunbaked skin,
petals as fresh as parchment,
the uptwist of a lily,
and a lion’s tongue of an iris,
and at night to dream of birdsong
like the skylark from home,
daisies in the churchyard,
a glimmer of silver on the river,
the honey-stoned Silk Street,
before waking to a fresh morning
on the silk route, searching
every day for one more miracle.

Poor Susan and the sounds of the city

This week I was lucky enough to go on a guided walk around the city of London with Rosie from Dotmaker Tours. She was concentrating particularly on the sounds of the city – we walked without talking, just listening (almost too intense, was the verdict), we talked how the city would sound in the future and how it sounded in the past. I wrote a poem for Rosie after, you can find it here.

The walk was wonderful, and one thing that stood out for me is the little park Rosie took us too, between Cheapside and Wood Street. It’s just a park with a tree you’d just pass by normally. I wasn’t even sure why we’d stopped there to be honest, although it was interesting to find out that it had been the site of the church, St Peter Cheap, which was burnt down during the Great Fire of London, (interesting to find out that Cheap was the medieval word for market). And also to see these benches. I’d never heard of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, and looking at their website after I see loads of useful information about London’s green spaces.

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So it was particularly lovely to find out from Rosie that it was this very plane tree (below) in the park that had inspired William Wordsworth to write his Reverie of Poor Susan. And here it is – proof that even in the city, nature can be the real time-traveller. To the past, as well as the future. Amazing to think of Wordsworth walking down these streets, looking up at the tree and him, in turn, thinking of poor Susan walking the same steps… and so on!

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The Reverie of Poor Susan
by WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears,
Hangs a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years:
Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
In the silence of morning the song of the Bird.

‘Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
Down which she so often has tripped with her pail;
And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove’s,
The one only dwelling on earth that she loves.

She looks, and her heart is in heaven: but they fade,
The mist and the river, the hill and the shade:
The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
And the colours have all passed away from her eyes!