Creative writing in the garden, Week 2

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If last week’s prompt was all about memories, this second writing prompt is all about looking forward in time.

Imagine it’s some point in the future – five years, ten years, twenty years hence. Now picture yourself in the garden. What do you think that future you think about what you are doing right now? What will the plants be doing? What will be coming into its best?

And how would you like to be thanked for your present hard work?

It’s a strange thought, but one beautifully given life by James Lasdun in his poem, Blueberries.

I’m talking to you old man.
Listen to me as you step inside this garden
to fill a breakfast bowl with blueberries
ripened on the bushes I’m planting now,
twenty years back from where you’re standing.

You can read the whole poem here, and then write one for yourself. If you like begin with that phrase … ‘I’m talking to you..’

Another suggestion might be to write back to yourself from that future you. What would they think of what you have done in the garden? What might they even wish you had done?

You probably know Audrey Hepburn’s quote, ‘To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,’ but another I love is from Rumer Godden who said, “A garden isn’t meant to be useful. It’s for joy.”

What are you planting or building in your garden for future joy? Rather than a list, this poem or letter exercise lets you time travel to capture that moment and have your reward now as well as later!

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Feel free to share in the comments, or on social media using the hashtag #writinginthegarden or #witg

Week 1 of Writing in the Garden – a free creative writing exercise

Hello!

I had such a lovely response to my recent article in the RHS Garden magazine on reading and writing poetry that I’ve decided to put a different creative writing exercise up on this website EVERY WEDNESDAY. We’ll see how we get on, but I suspect we will make some poetry and prose creative fire between us!

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Personally I know how much pleasure I get from taking my journal outside to write – there’s no need for expensive materials, subscriptions or even a completely quiet and free hour (what’s that, I hear you cry!). All these exercises have been designed that you can do them in ten minutes – or take as long as you want. You can do them even if you have never really written creatively since school. And heck, you can even do them with a pencil on the back of a seed packet, or whatever comes to hand.

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You don’t need to share unless you absolutely want to. I hope you will though. Please feel free to post in the comments here, or send them direct to me at my email – sarah@sarahsalway.co.uk. I won’t comment on them, but I do promise to read them all. Also for those on Twitter or social media, let’s use the hashtag #writinginthegarden or even #WITG to link through. I’ll try to collate and retweet some every week.

If you want a warm up, do use the exercise I posted from the Garden magazine article here. But otherwise, let’s jump in….

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WRITING IN THE GARDEN, Week 1

We’re going right back to the beginning – using memory, and with a little bit of help from Joe Brainard . He was an American beat poet who in 1970 who published the first edition of his memoir poem, I Remember which quickly became a classic. This book consisted of a list of one or two lines of memories, all beginning I remember. Here is an extract:

From I Remember by Joe Brainard

I remember ‘no ankles’ on some old ladies.
I remember trying to imagine my grandfather naked. (Eck!)
I remember white marshmallow powder on lips.
I remember a very big boy named Teddy and what hairy legs his mother had. (Long black ones squashed flat under nylons.)
I remember Dagwood and Blondie shorts before the feature started.
I remember not allowing myself to start on the candy until the feature started.
I remember big battle scenes and not understanding how they could be done without a lot of people getting hurt.
I remember crossing your fingers behind your back when you tell a lie.

There’s something about the rhythmic pattern of this repetition that brings up memories we might have forgotten, and allows us to move onto the next memory without pausing.

So I invite you now to write your own list of I remembers… but sticking to garden or outdoor memories.

Set your timer for six-eight minutes and just keep writing. Don’t worry about making them chronological, or even intelligible to anyone but yourself. Don’t censor your memories, or worry about grammar at this stage. You’re just collecting information, gathering seeds if you will.

If you find yourself getting stuck in one particular memory, then I suggest you move yourself out and deliberately pick another. In my experience, it’s the random quality here that works rather than trying to craft something right from the beginning.

And remember what James Thurber said, ‘Don’t get it right, just get it written.’

What next…

Well, you may want to finish there. I think you could usefully do a list like this this every day and just the process of writing things down would be valuable, but it may be you are inspired to take it further.

So… circle or tick the lines and memories that have particular energy for you. Just three. And then from those, pick one.

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Now shut your eyes and try to time travel yourself back into that moment. Go through the senses – what could you hear, what food did you like, were there any smells, what was the weather like? Now think externally – how old were you, who else was there, what was on the news at that time, what records were playing, what were your big concerns and excitements? This is your map.

I treat this kind of writing like compost – the words sit in my journal and sometimes they stay a messy mess, but more often than not, they transform themselves into something that brings another idea to life.

It may help for you to read these two poems, When I was A Bird by Katherine Mansfieldand The Elm by Hilaire Belloc. For me, they both catch exactly what it feels like to be a child.

When I was a Bird
Katherine Mansfield

I climbed up the karaka tree
Into a nest all made of leaves
But soft as feathers.
I made up a song that went on singing all by itself
And hadn’t any words, but got sad at the end.
There were daisies in the grass under the tree.
I said just to try them:
“I’ll bite off your heads and give them to my little children to eat.”
But they didn’t believe I was a bird;
They stayed quite open.
The sky was like a blue nest with white feathers
And the sun was the mother bird keeping it warm.
That’s what my song said: though it hadn’t any words.
Little Brother came up the path, wheeling his barrow.
I made my dress into wings and kept very quiet.
Then when he was quite near I said: “Sweet, sweet !”
For a moment he looked quite startled;
Then he said: “Pooh, you’re not a bird; I can see your legs.”
But the daisies didn’t really matter,
And Little Brother didn’t really matter;
I felt just like a bird.

 

The Elm
Hilaire Belloc

This is the place where Dorothea smiled.
I did not know the reason, nor did she.
But there she stood, and turned, and smiled at me:
A sudden glory had bewitched the child.
The corn at harvest, and a single tree.
This is the place where Dorothea smiled.

And here’s a short prose extract from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The sun was shining inside the four walls and the high arch of blue sky over this particular piece of Misselthwaite seemed even more brilliant and soft than it was over the moor. The robin flew down from his tree top and hopped about or flew after her from one bush to another. He chirped a good deal and had a very busy air, as if he were showing her things. Everything was strange and silent and she seemed to be hundreds of miles away from any one, but somehow she did not feel lonely at all.

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So now, from all the material you’ve now collected, try to jump into the moment of your memory rather like these writers have done. Please do it in poetry or prose as you want, but if you are writing prose and you can do it in less than 500 words, so much the better. The idea of this exercise is to bottle a particular memory, rather than expand it into a novel. For now, anyway.

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But most of all, enjoy! Do let me know how you get on.

A Trip to Tropical Tresco

See whatttttt I did there?

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We’ve just come back from the Isles of Scilly, it was the perfect holiday but interesting how loads of people have heard of them but aren’t quite sure what – and where – they are. And those who have, say ‘ah Tresco,’ as if that’s the key one. Although yes, let’s be honest, there is a particularly splendid garden there.

We stayed on two islands, Bryher, and St Mary’s. To get between all the islands you have to – obviously – rely on boats. We soon found out that the boat to Tresco got very crowded, very early. Competitive island hopping? Luckily we had an excellent captain.

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Also, let’s be honest, we legged it inelegantly from the harbour up to the garden so we could be there before the crowds. Absolutely worth it. As well as the amazing diversity of plants from all over the world, this seems to be a garden about views, and catching surprising glimpses. Perhaps appropriate given I read this in Augustus Smith’s wikipedia entry:

In 1866 Lord Brownlow tried to enclose Berkhamsted Common with 5′ steel fences built by Woods of Berkhamsted and therefore, claim it as part of his estate. Augustus Smith MP brought out a gang of navvies on a specially chartered train to roll up the fence and leave it within sight of Brownlow’s house, demonstrating his will to protect Berkhamsted Common for the people of Berkhamsted. 

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You can find out about the history of the garden on the website here, but there’s something about certain gardens staying in one family, having that one thread running through them that gives a certain quality to the place. There were spots were you certainly could feel the spirit of Augustus Smith. And not just in his collection of figureheads, many from local shipwrecks.

 

And talking of glimpses, we JUST caught a red squirrel… look again, look a bit harder…

 

But luckily the benches were sleepier. I’ve being doing a #365haikuchallenge over on Instagram – here’s my one of the day from Tresco…

lie down for a while
my cobwebs on your eyes, 
what will you dream about? 

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Why gardeners should read (and write) poetry

It was Cicero who said that if you have a garden and a library you want for nothing, and I’m proud to have an essay in the RHS The Garden magazine about why gardeners should read poetry.

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It was a joy to share lines of some of my favourite poems in the essay, and if you have come here from the magazine wanting to read more, here are links to find more:

The Trees, Philip Larkin

Alice Oswald, Mother of Thousands, from Weeds and Wild Flowers

Marge Piercy, Attack of the Squash People

Louis MacNeice, The Sunlight on the Garden

Esther Morgan, The Long Holidays 

John Updike, September

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If this encourages to write your own poem, here’s a creative writing exercise for you, I’d love to see any results if you wanted to post them here…

Take your notebook and pen into the garden and set your timer for ten minutes. Record all you can see, hear, taste, feel, smell during this time. However tempted, don’t turn this into a ‘to-do’ list of jobs you notice, but let yourself stay aware of all your senses. Do this as often as you want to, but even f you make sure you do this at least four times a year – spring, summer, autumn, winter – you are engaging with your garden in a new way. When we are not being so deliberately mindful, too often we privilege our sight so I guarantee you will find something in your notes, both as you write them and when you look back after, that surprises you.

And in the article, I mention the wonderful Lost Words book by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane. I’d also like to direct you to my recent TEDx talk which concentrates on the everyday words we use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The News From the Garden

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is earthshattering,
a blackbird’s made its nest
in the hawthorn tree,

and breaking as I write,
seedlings planted a month ago
are bursting forth, teasing

us with their rainbow hints,
but if you rub 
a leaf
between finger and thumb

you can smell summer
already; a baby is kicking 
its legs
in response at the clouds

rolling over her like a news tape
filled with sun-bites,
while over by the swings,

a camellia 
leads an uprising
of blood red against the privet,
tulips and bluebells form a late coalition,

and even the grass strengthens its position
near where this morning, at five past eleven
dizzy with dandelion flowers

the cat let a pigeon fly free.
Only the plane tree, obedient
to the season follows the prompts

while propped up against the wall
already warming itself for glory,
the first rosebud waits for her cue.

A garden poem for meditation – walking in Stand Wood above Chatsworth House


We were too early to get into Chatsworth House so walked up to the Hunting Tower in Stand Wood while we waited. It was as if we’d wandered into a magic kingdom, and I suddenly realised how many times I’d walked here before in my imagination during meditation visualisations. Here’s the poem that came from it – and a video to enjoy at the end…

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And then Imagine a safe space

Even when they say beach, I’m here:
a messy set of steps, rocks,
the sound of water, and always trees,
their roots clambering
to hug the landscape, the touch
of moss on bark, branches entwining
and above, light filtering through leaves.

I’ve been here when I can barely listen
for crying, when I want to punch
that calm voice telling me to breathe,
and even those times feeling so helpless
that pressing play has been impossible
but still within minutes, I’m there,
this place I dreamt up in my imagination

and yet today, I walked inside it,
you’re here, you’re safe, and best of all
I could walk out of it knowing next time
I shut my eyes, it’ll be waiting,
this grove deep inside me, my body shifting
to make room for it, heart growing.

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And now I’m interested – where do YOU go when you meditate?

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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