Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 14

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 14. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

SALTERS’ COMPANY GARDEN, FORE STREET, EC4

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It’s amazing to think this is the fourteenth garden in this series, and I wondered if I would find enough!

Anyway, this one was such a find, although to be honest, even though I had the address, I walked past it several times! Perhaps it’s not surprising … But be bold – it’s open, free and they welcome visitors!

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The garden, designed by the late David Hicks, is tucked away behind this rather unpromising entrance of the Salters Livery Company. Once you are in it though, it really is an oasis of lush green.

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It has been created in a series of rooms so every bench could be occupied, and you would still feel you had some privacy.

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And I was very conscious how much is waiting to burst forth, so I imagine it becoming rather like a fairy tale garden right in the centre of the city. I could see my favourite flowers, peonies, lying in wait too. I love how the blossom here looks as if it is trying to cover the office building behind!

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If you follow the garden round, you come to another gem, St Alphage Gardens, right under the walls of the Barbican. It really does feel like a secret, and I wasn’t surprised when the only other person there came up to tell me how pleased they were to have found it too. Apparently, he has been walking every day to work along a parallel busy street for some years, and for some reason took a diversion to explore that day. It was the first time he’d found the garden.

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When I visited, the blossom was carpeting the floor, so I offer you today a piece from a very unLondon poem, Shropshire Lad by A E Housman

*

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.

*

Now, of my threescore years and ten,

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,

it only leaves me fifty more.

*

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.

*

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And I invite you to write about what might be hiding in your garden….

(ps I do know this isn’t a cherry, but wouldn’t that be fab? Imagine having your office lunch here with a bunch of cherries for after…)

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 13

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 13. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

Stone Flowers

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All the poems I’ve included so far have come from something in the garden. This one is a little different because it was finding the poem that came first, this one by Kathleen Raine…

*

A SPELL FOR CREATION

*

Within the flower there lies a seed,
Within the seed there springs a tree,
Within the tree there spreads a wood.
*
In the wood there burns a fire,
And in the fire there melts a stone,
Within the stone a ring of iron.
*
Within the ring there lies an O,
Within the O there looks an eye,
In the eye there swims a sea,
*
And in the sea reflected sky,
And in the sky there shines the sun,
Within the sun a bird of gold.
*
Within the bird there beats a heart,
And from the heart there flows a song,
And in the song there sings a word.
*
In the word there speaks a world,
A world of joy, a world of grief,
From joy and grief there springs my love.
*
Oh love, my love, there springs a world,
And on the world there shines a sun,
And in the sun there burns a fire,
*
Within the fire consumes my heart,
And in my heart there beats a bird,
And in the bird there wakes an eye,
*
Within the eye, earth, sea and sky,
Earth, sky and sea within an O
Lie like the seed within the flower.

Lovely eh?

It was this poem that made me notice all the flowers around me in the middle of the city.

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Beautiful beautiful stone flowers on nearly every building! How could I not have noticed them before?

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And so I invite you today to look up and write about what you see that you’ve never noticed before before it disappears!

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Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 12

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 12. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

BONNINGTON SQUARE, VAUXHALL

What do you get if you design a garden by committee?

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Well, if you are lucky you will end up with something like Bonnington Square!

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This is one of London’s hidden gems – except it is rightly becoming rather famous. The garden sits in the site of WW2 bomb damage and although at one time it had a children’s playground half-heartedly placed there, it was only in the 1990s – when a builder put in an application to use it as storage – that a residents’ committee was formed to create today’s beautiful sanctuary.

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It really is a place where you can sit, write and read…

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helped with a coffee and cake from one of the pretty cafes around…

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.. unless you are lucky enough to come on the one night a year the industrial wheel turns and brings crystal clear champagne with every circle…

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I visited by day, but I want to go back at night when the trees and garden are lit up by strings of fairy light. Champagne in itself!

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The garden feels like a true work of love, and rather magical, so I’ve chosen this beautiful Chinese poem by Ping-Hsin for it.

**

Love

To escape from thoughts of love,

I put on my fur cloak,

And ran out from the lamp lit silent house.

On a tiny footpath

The bright moon peeps;

And the withered twigs on the snow-clad earth

Across and across, everywhere scrawl “Love”.

**

And I invite you to write about love in the garden today… with a glass of champagne in your hand if you feel like it!

*

Garden enthusiasts will spot the homage Bonnington Square pays to nearby Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, which from the 17th to the 19th century was the premier ‘open garden’ and entertainment in London. Move over the Chelsea Flower Show!

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It’s still an attractive park now, and I was really pleased to see this horse chestnut tree all lit up! I’ve just been reading about the Tradescants, and this was one of the species John Senior brought back – and in fact it helped to make his fortune.

Amazing to think what it must have been like to see this tree in flower for the first time. A garden spectacle indeed.

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Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 11

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 11. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

REDCROSS GARDEN, SOUTHWARK
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This is the garden that Octavia built…
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I love this garden, tucked away in Southwark, near Little Dorrit Street, and still fulfilling its original function – from 1887! – as an outdoor sitting room for local residents.
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It was built by Octavia Hill, one of the great social reformers – as well as starting the National Trust – and she believed strongly that fresh air was important to quality of life so she created this garden as a place for people to sit in to counter some of the problems with the smog and industrial fumes of the time. At the same time, she built the small row of cottages and a ‘village hall’ for activities such as dancing, crafts and skills. Isn’t it hard to believe that this is in the very middle of London?
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The garden has had two reincarnations since, and it’s a testament to the power of volunteers that it looks so tranquil and well-maintained now. It really is a community garden.
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I sat on the lawn to write today, the first time I’d actually walked barefoot this year, and although the grass got so close it was nearly IN my poem…
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… as you can see from what I wrote, I decided just to put my pen down eventually and enjoy the sun on my face and real people around. It really was like a sitting room!
The Outside Sitting Room
After a winter we thought would never end
and a spring that had barely begun,
we come almost shyly – one by one –
into the park. A father lies down immediately,
his daughter giggling as she tiptoes away,
the homesick student listens to music
from her childhood, eyes shut,
head raised to catch these slivers
of sun she’s learning to call summer,
a jogger comes and goes, and a family
takes over the far corner, prams, and aunts,
and picnics, and complicated games
only one boy will ever understand
while I sit, and by the act of recording them all
shut the door on myself.
Put down the pen,
shut the journal,
walk with bare feet on warm grass.
So today I invite you to write about either a garden inside, or a rooms of a house outside… or just take your shoes off and feel the grass under your toes!
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And because I missed out a garden yesterday, I give you two today! If you visit The Redcross Garden, I recommend you walk a little bit up the road to the very poignant Crossbones Remembrance Garden that I wrote about here.

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 10

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 10. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

THE POETRY POP UP GARDEN

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The brainchild of landscape designer, Marian Boswall, the Poetry Pop Up Garden is a welcome addition to the Chelsea Fringe. I was lucky enough to read on it yesterday in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral as part of the Chelsea Fringe in Kent, and the NGS Open Gardens Scheme. And look …. we had actual sun.

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Together with Patricia Debney and two Foyle Young Poets, Dillon Leet and Flora de Falbe, we shared our own poems as well as our favourite garden poems.

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And in between readings, we wrote our own collaborative poem which we read out together later… a real buzz!

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Here it is as today’s poem: I’m calling it Mixed Border because we wrote it line by line like the old-fashioned game of consequences…

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The trees are getting hungry again,

chlorophylls crowd to the leaves’ tips

to devour a flash of sunlight

that trips like tongues through broken clouds,

pours like slow sand through water

and all the healing words, like flotsam

in the static of air that withstands the wind,

crowd with laughter and rhyme.

*

Grown from stone, stuck between sexes,

the statue watches trains swerve by its gate,

and I wonder will we ever recover?

Today we’re a landscape that doesn’t fit,

a shelf of sun in a mid-May shower

that I’ll keep in amber come December,

and forever, I imagine, thereafter.

*

Some flowers only open every century

like my heart, full of petals.

I’m counting out: He loves me

not. He (thirty-three)… he loves me not.

They say daisies in love are genetic mutations,

sometimes we all need extra petals

and a green travel chest to keep locked.

*

Here I remember that afternoon:

the constant tolling of the bells

wafts through sun-drugged air

that blows the commas off my page like pollen

like the dust which floats anywhere.

To create a garden is to write a love story –

lines that twine up balconies, bind trees

at the limbs, the roots.

We dedicated the poem to Marian as a thank you for making us such a beautiful garden to work in.

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The Pop Up Poetry Garden will be at Canterbury Cathedral again today (Sunday) with special poets Jo Hemmant and Abegail Morley taking the stage, and then travels to London on Tuesday to be in the Potters Bar Garden (right next to the Mayor of London’s office). The excellent Emer Gillespie will be taking the stage there, together with special guests… Wouldn’t it be something if Boris nipped out of his office to read a poem or two? You can find out more here.

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 9

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 9. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

MILLBANK GARDENS, JOHN ISLIP STREET

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This little public park sandwiches the Tate Britain with the Thames. I was walking round it thinking how it felt like a sanctuary for residents and nearby workers, each bench was occupied by individuals enjoying a break. This man, for example, works for a nearby pizza restaurant and says he comes here as often as he can for the peace.

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And the planting felt like a picture in itself…

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… appropriate with the Tate Britain so near, and the statue of Millais watching with interest.

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Interestingly, the area used to be the site of the old Millbank Prison, and if you walk along the riverbank you can see the memorial to where prisoners were shipped to Australia.

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And if you walk just one hundred metres from the park, you will find one of my favourite jewellery shops, @Work, which had an appropriate garden display in its windows!

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So my poem for Millbank Gardens is this lovely three-liner from David Ignatow, which seems to sum up the gardens for me, the feeling of peace and the underlying layer of the prison. As well of course as the Chelsea Fringe!

If Flowers Want to Grow

David Ignatow

If flowers want to grow

right out of concrete sidewalk cracks

I’m going to bend down to smell them.

And I invite you today to write about your favourite lunchtime sanctuary. Here’s one of the bench memorial plaques from Millbank Garden to give you some inspiration!

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Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 8

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 8. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL ROOF TOP GARDEN, SOUTH BANK

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Several years ago, on a trip to Hong Kong, I was desperate to sit in a garden but no one seemed to know of one to direct me to. Eventually someone suggested  a concrete sports stadium where I sat, a little uncomfortably, and wrote in my journal for a bit. Well, to be honest I think, for all its glories, the South Bank can feel a little like that, so it’s all the more surprising that hidden away above the Queen Elizabeth Hall is such a pretty rooftop garden.

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With a wildflower meadow even…

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Vegetables…

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Hey – what’s this – a bar!…

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And all, of course, with one of the best views of London.

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Now because the South Bank is also the home of the BFI, the Writer in the Garden has gone all film director-y today, and here’s the writer Will Sutton captured on film for you, reading T S Eliot’s beautiful Le Figlia Che Piange. We are waiting for next year’s BAFTA’s…

So here’s a writing exercise for you today…

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The Queen Elizabeth Hall garden is full of oddities, and not just us…  Write about finding something unusual in your garden one morning, whether it be an object, a plant, or indeed a gardener!