Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 7

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 7. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)


lisa 2

What’s this, I hear you cry. This isn’t a garden, it’s an art gallery. Ahhhh… but what’s inside it? An exhibition especially for Chelsea Fringe

The Flowers exhibition  features work by Lisa Creagh and Hiroyuki Arakawa. And if Lisa’s name seems familiar to you – and not just because you know her beautiful work – it may be because I nabbed her to read a Jane Eyre extract at the weekend.

The two artists use flowers in very different ways in their work. Hiroyuki’s are structural, beautifully lit portraits of single blooms, while Lisa weaves hers into intricate patterns.


I want to concentrate on Lisa’s work because I’ve been reading up on her process for our ‘in conversation’ at the Gallery on Friday, 6.45-7.45, (places are free but limited, so do email if you’d like to come). It’s been a fascinating journey and not just because reading Artist Statements is a guilty little pleasure of mine. They throb with meaning, in a way I’ve never seen a Writer Statement doing. We tend to meander round the subject until we end up having to write whole books worth about it.

Anyway, back to Lisa because it IS genuinely interesting… On her website, Lisa writes that on a study tour round Giotto‘s work, she started to notice the patterns which ran alongside the frescos. And then, when she drew these out in her journal, she found the same pattern in places varying from The Book of Kells, the feet on a Buddha statue in the V&A, and even scientific drawings about separation of cells as a human egg is fertilized.


It was, however, when she was studying Dutch Flower painting that she got the idea of her award-winning series, The Instant Garden. The 17th century painters combination of botanical studies and invention allowed her a freedom to try new techniques, and also to think about what flowers meant for her. This ended with her unique combination of a photograph – a ‘trapping’ of a moment within linear time, and decorative arts – a different cyclical temporality including cycles of birth and death. It is a connection and disconnection between the hand-made element of crafts with a digital manipulation technique. I read up a little about this, and was interested to see that this painting below, by Rachel Ruysch, although each flower is technically correct, it is also part invention – the flowers would not have blossomed at the same time…


So it comes back to what it means to control nature, and this is central to any garden, surely? I really can’t wait for Friday night to talk about this more. Come and join us!

The poem I have chosen for Lisa is from an unknown Sufi source, and is based on a Persian carpet.

Here in this carpet lives an ever-lovely spring

Unscorched by Summer’s ardent flame

Safe too, from Autumn’s boisterous gales

The handsome wide border is the garden wall

Protecting, preserving the park within

For refuge and renewal, a magic space

For concourse, music and rejoicing

For contemplation’s lonely spell

Conversations grave, or lover’s shy disclosure

Here, sense and reason in concord blend

In harmony and proportion, in unity transcendent

The mind of God revealing

By our tangled errors so darkly hidden

The goal of all desire

The opener of all doors

The answer to all questions

The reason for all reasons

From snares of self set free

In tranquil beauty

The Beloved’s face at last you see

And there attain our journey’s end

Our life’s reward and final destiny

Refuge and fulfilment in his infinity.

And, following on a little from yesterday’s prompt about the plant as observer, I invite you to write about Flowers, either real or metaphorically, at the different stages of their lives. You can put them altogether in one poem even, rather like a Dutch flower painting.

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 6

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 6. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)


So, this is a little bit of a cheat because the Chelsea Flower Show, big sister to the Chelsea Fringe, isn’t open all the time but it’s hard to do this series and not include it. It’s not even the plants or the gardens I love best, it’s the way everywhere you go, you hear people saying… ‘we could do that.’ Rather like being in a bubble of optimism.


And although the show gardens are the main attraction…


… and queuing up to see them made you feel in danger of growing roots yourself…


… or even running away …


… inside the tents, the specialist flower growers and nurseries put on a display that – sometimes literally – made me gasp…


… oh, I never can’t resist the tulips. The plans I always have every year to plant HUNDREDS of bulbs… every colour, every shape… I could do that!


Look at these beauties below showing off. They know how gorgeous they are, don’t they?


It really is the day when the flowers come first and humans know their place, roles well and truly reversed… I think this man might have hopes of turning into a plant – maybe so his wife will finally pay some attention to him????


So my inspiration for writing today comes from Anna Pavord’s wonderful book, The Tulip, and it’s this account of a party I would very much have liked to have gone to:

Music filled the grounds where the Sultan’s five wives took air. One of the courtyards of the Grand Seraglio was turned into an open-air theatre; thousands of tulip flowers were mounted on pyramids and towers, with lanterns and cages of singing birds hung between them. Tulips filled the flower beds, each variety marked with a label of filigree silver. At the signal from a cannon, the doors of the harem were opened and the Sultan’s mistresses were led out into the garden by eunuchs carrying torches. Guests had to dress in clothes that matched the tulips (and avoid setting themselves on fire by brushing against candles carried on the backs of hundreds of tortoises that ambled round the grounds).


And now I invite you to write about a day at Chelsea, or indeed any spectacle, BUT from a plant’s point of view.

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 5

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 5. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)


lush 1

In honour of the Chelsea Fringe, the Lush store in Kings Road has plants everywhere, but it’s what is tucked behind what was one of Lush’s first stores, that I found interesting. Because they have planted out a pretty little courtyard with examples of some of the medicinal herbs used in their products.


One of the the most surprising of which is ….


…potatoes! MInd you, looking at most of the beautiful people in Kings Road, it feels more likely that the majority would use them as a beauty product than, heaven forbid, eat even one chip!

Looking much more at home is Orris and the Lush bath bomb in a, er, bath…


The ‘Spa’ is a great idea. Laura, the manager, seems passionate about sharing the garden as an educational tool so do make sure you ask to see it – it’s at the back of the shop, and the courtyard – strung with bunting made from Lush bags – definitely pretty enough to write in.


So I wasn’t sure if I could find a poem about potatoes to go with this post, but then I remembered Seamus Heaney’s wonderful poem, Digging… You can read it here

… and here’s a beautiful poem by John Clare set to music by The Albion Band to listen to as I invite you to write about a memory of growing vegetables …

Related articles

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 4

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 4. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)



Now I will admit I thought twice about including Cavendish Square because apart from being a green spot behind Oxford Street, I – sorry – can’t find much to get inspired by it.



…. then as I was walking past the statue in the middle, something didn’t seem quite right. So I looked harder.


It’s made of soap! I love it. Not just ordinary soap either, but apparently Lush’s ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’ range.

It’s the work of a Korean artist, Meekyoung Shin, and it’s a representation of the Duke of Cumberland whose original statue in the square was put up in 1770, and removed in disgrace by in 1868 after his persecution of the Scottish Highlanders.

The soapy Duke will only be there until July, and then what, I wonder? Amazing actually it hasn’t disintegrated more given all the rain we’ve been having.


But in honour of the statue, and soap, and hmmm… this isn’t such a good segue as I’d hoped but anyway, here’s May Sarton‘s beautiful poem An Observation:

An Observation

May Sarton

True gardeners cannot bear a glove

Between the sure touch and the tender root,

Must let their hands grow knotted as they move

With a rough sensitivity about

Under the earth, between the rock and shoot,

Never to bruise or wound the hidden fruit.

And so I watched my mother’s hands grow scarred,

She who could heal the wounded plant or friend

With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love;

I minded once to see her beauty gnarled,

But now her truth is given me to live,

As I learn for myself we must be hard

To move among the tender with an open hand,

And to stay sensitive up to the end

Pay with some toughness for a gentle world.

And the writing prompt for you today is … Gardener’s hands!

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 3

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 3. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)



When I first arrived at the Geffrye Museum, I thought that the ‘garden’ was the stretch of grass at the front. Nice, I thought, but not that inspiring. And then I walked round the back.


This is a museum of the home, situated a bit poignantly in former Almshouses, and just as the rooms inside take you from century to century, so there are a series of historically researched garden rooms outside. It was fascinating to wander through from the 16th century to the 18th century via the 17th century and back again.


But never dry. All the senses are engaged such as when you walk past a bed dripping with hyacinths…


And can’t quite resist touching the coloured knot garden to see if the textures are as subtle… Or you would, of course, if you weren’t as well behaved as me…


It’s a constant feeling of exploration and yet a sanctuary too.


Given the weather, it was also lovely to see the indoor garden reading room. I could have stayed in this spot for weeks.


Another garden magazine? Or a book on historic interiors? Yes please…


In fact, the whole garden is so peaceful that’s it is hard not to imagine you are well away in the country..


Until a train comes by to remind you of just where you are!


As well as the museum, there are two almshouse rooms furnished as they would have been for residents. These  are open at certain times of the day, and well worth a visit. I couldn’t help thinking of a governess like Jane Eyre living here, if she hadn’t of course married Rochester. A comfortable attic at least…


So here’s Lisa Creagh, an artist who has a show at the Little Black Gallery for the Chelsea Fringe, reading an extract from Jane Eyre. That’s Lily, her baby, you can hear in the background… because she’s named after a flower, it seemed appropriate to keep her in!

And below is the view from ‘Jane’s’ room. Your creative writing prompt for today is to write about a garden seen from a window…  here’s a poem by Emily Dickinson for inspiration.

Tree in Winter

Emily Dickinson

Not at Home to Callers

Says the Naked Tree –

Bonnet due in April –

Wishing you Good Day –


Please note, Lisa and I will be in conversation about flowers, gardens, art, writing and creativity at the Little Black Gallery on Friday 24th May. Places are free but limited so do nab one if you are interested in coming by emailing  We hope to see you there! More details here.

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 2

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 2. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)


You may have passed this garden several times already. And perhaps like me, you’ve never noticed it, let alone ventured inside … but St Anne’s Churchyard in Wardour Street is a gem of a green public space, right in the middle of the city.


Perhaps given the location, it’s not surprising it has a rich literary heritage as the burial ground of the essayist William Hazlitt

annes hazlitte2

And I was also excited to see the memorial plaque for David Williams, founder of the Royal Literary Fund (my lovely employers as an RLF Fellow at the LSE for three years).

anne - rlf

Dorothy L Sayers was even Churchwarden at St Anne’s Church from 1952 to 1987. I like to imagine her writing in the churchyard sometimes.

The churchyard however has been a public garden since 1892, and to get to St Anne’s Church you have to go round the corner to Dean Street. Please do, though, if only to see the passersby wonder where you’re off to as you head off down the little passage to get there!


The original Wren Church was destroyed in the war, but there’s a separate Church garden you can see from the Churchyard. I loved these stones in particular.

annes stones

They are embedded in the walls of a secluded circular amphitheatre as if the people themselves are still present:

annes church 2

BUT… back to the Churchyard. I sat there and thumbed through some of Hazlitt’s essays I’d taken with me. He is a beautiful writer, so I was finding myself underlining sentences and then mumbling them out loud just for the joy of hearing the words in my mouth:

If from the top of a long cold barren hill I hear the distant whistle of a thrush which seems to come up from some warm woody shelter beyond the edge of the hill, this sound coming faint over the rocks with a mingled feeling of strangeness and joy, the idea of the place about me, and the imaginary one beyond will all be combined together in such a manner in my mind as to become inseparable.

And here’s an extract from On Poetry:

Let the naturalist, if he will, catch the glow-worm, carry it home with him in a box, and find it next morning nothing but a little grey worm; let the poet or the lover of poetry visit it at evening, when beneath the scented hawthorn and the crescent moon it has built itself a palace of emerald light.

Oh yes.

anne hazl

One of the nicest things about the Churchyard, in my opinion, is that as well as the individual benches, there are seats waiting to be filled with friends, hospitality and you imagine, lots of laughter.

anne triangle

And how about a writing group here?

anne table

So… if you would like to write in St Anne’s Churchyard, or anywhere else for that matter, and Hazlitt’s invitation to visit the glow-worm’s emerald palace in the evening isn’t enough, I offer this prompt today. To write about an ideal picnic. Maybe it’s one you’ve been on already, or have planned, or maybe – given the rain – you’ll take your inspiration from one of my favourite watery  picnics, from Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows, of course:

The two animals made friends at once. Ratty was very surprised to hear that Mole had never been in a boat before.

“There is nothing half so much worth doing,” he told Mole, “as simply messing about in boats.”

Then he had an idea. “Look here, if you’ve really nothing else to do this morning, why don’t we go down the river together and make a long day of it?”

“Let’s start at once!” said Mole, settling back happily into the soft cushions.

The rat fetched a wicker picnic basket. “Shove that under your feet!”

“What’s inside?”

“There’s cold chicken inside,” said Rat, “cold-tongue-cold-ham-cold-beef-pickled-onions-salad-french-bread-cress-and-widge-spotted-meat-ginger-beer-lemonade — ”

“Oh stop!” cried Mole in ecstasy. “This is too much!”

“Do you think so?” said Rat, seriously. “It’s only what I always take on these little outings.”

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No. 0.5

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 1. 

I know I don’t officially start until tomorrow, but I CAN’T WAIT!

chelsea fringe logoSo I’m also cheating because here is a garden that isn’t really a garden…



I hope so. About two weeks ago, I went on a walk round my own homeground, Fitzrovia, with the Old Map Man (aka Ken Titmuss). The idea of these walks is that you mooch around an area of modern London using 17th and 18th century maps to guide you. It’s a fascinating way to see the different layers to a place you think you know well.


One of Ken’s maps from the mid-17th century showed how most of Fitzrovia was little more than fields and farms bordered by Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. Food and vegetables came into the centre from a road named ‘The Green Lane’. Here it is a little closer.


And the bones of that road still remain, albeit joined now by hundreds of others. It’s not called The Green Lane anymore because… surprise surprise, it’s Cleveland Street. To be honest, there aren’t many places there to write or read in peace but it’s still a street that’s not short of literary inspiration because the Cleveland Street Workhouse (facing a current demolition dispute) was apparently the inspiration behind Charles DickensOliver Twist, and the author lived just a little further up the street.


A nice distraction but I was on the look out for garden and nature inspiration, so it was particularly pleasing to find, just 100 metres off Cleveland Street in Riding House Street, this pub.

green man

I really hope it got its name because of its proximity to the original London Green Lane.

green man

But in any case, it is a brilliant excuse to share one of my favourite poems:

Green Man in the Garden

Charles Causley

Green man in the garden

Staring from the tree,

Why do you look so long and hard

Through the pane at me?

Your eyes are dark as holly,

Of sycamore your horns,

Your bones are made of elder branch,

Your teeth are made of thorns.

Your hat is made of ivy leaf,

Of bark your dancing shoes,

And evergreen and green and green

Your jacket and shirt and trews.

Leave your house and leave your land

And throw away the key,

And never look behind, he creaked,

And come and live with me.

I bolted up the window,

I bolted up the door,

I drew up the blind that I should find

The green man never more.

But as I softly turned the stair

As I went up to bed,

I saw the Green man standing there.

Sleep well, my friend, he said.

Hmm, that never fails to make me shiver at the end.

And now I invite you to write something yourself…

Describe the colours in your garden, or where you might be sitting, through another sense. So the red of the rose might be the heat of fire on your skin, the blue of the bluebell in the woods could remind you of the sound of cymbals in a school orchestra, the white of the magnolia is the taste of ice cream…


Here’s a poem I remember learning at school that worked along these lines…

I Asked The Little Boy Who Cannot See


I asked the boy who cannot see,

‘And what is colour like?’

‘Why, green,’ said he,

‘Is like the rustle when the wind blows through

The forest; running water, that is blue;

And red is like a trumpet sound; and pink

Is like the smell of roses; and I think

That purple must be like a thunderstorm;

And yellow is like something soft and warm;

And white is a pleasant stillness when you lie

And dream.’


Please feel free to share what you write in the comments sections, or on your own website. And, from tomorrow, you can follow more gardens on the Chelsea Fringe page on this website. Do sign up in the box on the right if you would like this website to appear in your inbox.