A garden girl in Paris…

(with apologies to John Denver)

Three nights in Paris, bucket loads of rain, cafes, people watching, a bit of shopping, cake eating and champagne drinking too. But also galleries. Lots of them, and I got interested in the gardens attached. How artists, even in the middle of a city, need space. Here are three of them…

  1. Musee Rodin is probably the most famous artist jardin, and even in the drizzle, it’s obvious why it’s so popular.


After Rodin left his works and collections to the nation, this house (where Rodin had been a tenant) became an official museum. I loved finding out that other tenants included the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, Isabella Duncan, Henri Matisse and Jean Cocteau.


The garden is divided into four main areas, and you’re greeted by an extravagant rose garden which smells just as good as it looks…


The garden is perfect for displaying the monumental sculptures, such as the Burghers of Calais (which I’d seen in London but they looked so different in a gallery). Here I found them unbearably moving

And I learnt quickly to duck and pose so I could photograph the sculptures without catching the other tourists…

… although of course it is impossible to resist some poses…



And now the second garden, a surprise for us this one, is the Musee Delacroix in Rue de Furstenberg. 

IMG_0299The painter lived here for the last few years of his life (he died in 1863), and wonderful to see the view of the garden he would have seen from his studio, although these may be *new* chairs and benches….


But it’s still possible to imagine it as he might have done when he wrote: “My apartment is decidedly charming… Woke up the next day to see the most gracious sun on the houses opposite my window. The view of my little garden and the cheerful appearance of my studio always make me happy.” Even in the rain, and imagining different planting, it was easy to see why. You can see some of his paintings here.

And the last garden is a bit of a cheat because it wasn’t directly connected to a gallery, but it was just round the corner from the Picasso Museum, and was just a delight – Square Georges Cain. 

A beautiful circular design with a bronze statue of Aurore in the centre by the 17th-century sculptor Laurent Magnier. The  gentle planting  is deliberately soothing, and in fact a sign at the entrance says ‘too bright colours would spoil the view of the passer by’. And oh, look, a chess board just waiting for you to play there.

I tried and tried to hear the ‘Le Rossignol Electrique’ by Eric Samakh, a small electronic bird that starts singing whenever the wind blows, but I think it was raining more than windy. I did spot a bit of Parisian beauty rivalry though which got my writing juices flowing. There are archeological relics around the edges of the garden, and I was taken by this beauty – so beautiful that someone has stolen her face…


…. could it possibly be this woman lounging on the exact opposite side of the park, rather smugly holding up a mirror at the perfect angle to catch my faceless goddess. Perhaps if you stand still long enough in this little park then your face will be taken by the mirror thief too…


Tulips and Tortoises



It’s joyful tulip time, tumbling over each other as they draw every little bit of attention in the room to themselves and no wonder they do what they want. These are the kings of spring flowers, and once they would have sucked up a bank balance as easily as they drink every drop of water in the vase. Here’s an account of a tulip party I would have so dearly liked to have been at:

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 here’s a beautiful poem by A E Stallings (click on the link below to read it all). I love it when poetry makes you look again, because tulips do faint, rather than wilt! :

The tulips make me want to paint, / Something about the way they drop / Their petals on the tabletop / And do not wilt so much as faint,

Source: Tulips by A. E. Stallings : Poetry Magazine

An ode to Allotmenteers


HAHA Allotment, March 2016

Hello allotment, it feels like it’s been a long time…


What’s that? Oh right, yes it has. But hurrah, it’s gardening time again. And look at these potatoes in the allotment shop waving at us. Pick me, pick me…

So here’s a poem to all of us, peering at our allotments at this time of year and hoping the digging elves might have popped in to help us secretly over winter.

We rarely appear in winter,
although some have been spotted
like cat burglers reaching out
to pick up cold earth, sniffing it.

We know the seed catalogues backwards,
pictures of our ideal weedless plot –
vegetable heavy, dahlias and sunflowers
waving – hide somewhere in our hearts.

Through summer, we’ll greet each other
with seedlings, surplus tomatoes or shakes
of our heads. We have our own gods:
the ones here everyday, the giant pumpkin growers.


How to be Capable (ity Brown)

I’ve been thinking about Lancelot (Capability) Brown for probably far too long. Here’s a post I wrote about visiting his birthplace, Kirkharle in Northumberland. So it’s lovely to join in the celebrations for the 300th anniversary of his birth, with a series of poems coming out in the commemorative copy of the magazine for the Follies Fellowship.

The visit to the Church above, the path he would have walked to school every day, and the countryside he grew up in (not his house, that’s now a car park!) all informed writing an imagined view of how he became the ‘Shakespeare of English gardening’.

How You Learn To Be Capable by Sarah Salway

Never be told you can’t.

Walk to church every Sunday, sometimes more, past stories that thrill even when they should be scaring you, and although you know you shouldn’t speak about the past, let the land whisper it with just a sideways glance at a mound or an old bent tree.

On your daily trek to school, surprise yourself by glimpsing future stories hiding in clumps of trees, behind a hill, swimming down stream to a lake where they are lost before you fish them out.

Lancelot, your teacher smiles, now do you know where that name comes from? And although you’re only five, you do. So you tell him of ancestors, of the land, of the trees, of woodsmen and the earth, of the pride of being a servant to a good man, of what it means to be a Brown.

There is another story, he says, and that’s how honour, and gallantry, and most of all, maybeoneday, enter your world.

Now when you walk to school, you place the rises and falls, the trees and the rivers in different places in order to catch the future better.

One day when you are in the kitchen, you tell your mother that you’d like to move the hill in front of the house. And she doesn’t laugh, but looks out of the window as if she can see over the horizon now too.

You walk to school through rain, walk to church through rain. You get so tired of rain rain rain every day.

We need the rain to keep our lands green, the preacher says that Sunday, and because you listen hard every time he mentions land, you start to think again about water.

Because what if we could control it, you ask your teacher, what if we could turn the weather on and off when we need it. Not just for the land but for beauty too.

 Shhh. It’s by scaring your teacher that you learn another story. That Control is something you have but pretend you don’t. Power exists when it’s not questioned. And Stories don’t have to be spoken aloud to be heard.

Control and Power and Stories are like you and your brothers. You may fight, but you can’t be separated, and in some people’s eyes and shakes of their heads, you are one and the same. Those Brown boys. The ideas in them.

 But God, your teacher says, is the one who holds the Order.

You say, Like my Lord Loraine, but now your teacher, your mother, even your brothers, tell you not to think so much.

You’re still thinking when your father comes to say he’s got you a job, working on the land, working so hard that your mind will stop worrying at itself like a dog with a bone, and although you agree, of course you do, if you hold your head a certain way, if you were to move the hills, rearrange the trees, let the rivers flow in a new way, you know you can rewrite Order’s story. Because you are a Brown, but you’re a Lancelot too, so the Story you keep inside, and don’t even have to say out loud for people to listen, is for Beauty too.


The rest of the poems will be in the magazine, due out in May!

Eel Art in the Public Garden

IMG_2478This is probably one of the best known views in Britain, the Octagon tower at Ely Cathedral. It’s got special resonance for me, to be honest, because I was at boarding school here and we used the cathedral as a playground, short cut, an everyday part of our lives. It is only now that I’m realising just how lucky that was. And how much it has informed my aesthetic as a writer since.


But it’s another artist I wanted to talk about here. One new to me, and it was a joy to come across her work when I was visiting Ely last weekend. In 2003-2004 Elizabeth-Jane Grose was commissioned to create an Eel trail for Ely (once the Isle of Eels, of course) and as I walked round looking for her work, I fell increasingly in love with the way she obviously had researched her subject, resulting in a beautiful mixture of knowledge, sense of place and also sense of play.

Here is the eel art I found, I could find surprisingly little information online, and when I went to the Tourist Information Office, the woman there mouthed through the window that the office didn’t open until 11, despite the fact that it was 10.55 and pouring with rain outside, so I gave that a miss.

First one was the Eel hive, at the foot of Cherry Hill, next to the Cathedral. From the path running through it, it’s obviously well used and well loved, but could do with a bit of a haircut!


Second, is the Yellow Eel mosaic in Jubilee Gardens. Beautifully sparkling in the brief sunshine, and made up of fragments found in a recent archeological dig.



And then there are the Ely Glaives, outside the  Maltings. These are based on drawings in the museum, and have been used since Anglo Saxon times to catch eels. The shape of the sculpture matches the Octagon tower. Oh how much I was crushing on this artist and this particular body of work by now!



And lastly, my favourite, a special cheer for Elizabeth Cromwell’s seat, outside the Oliver Cromwell museum. Running round it was the recipe for roast eel, taken from Elizabeth Cromwell’s recipe book (also in the museum). I might have sat here forever, if it hadn’t been raining. But hey, this is Ely and you don’t get eels without a bit of rain… which was probably why the tourist officer was going to make me wait. Just so I could appreciate it more. She probably didn’t realise I’d already had years of ‘appreciating’ it in the past.