The moon in our pocket – or why we need Lia Leendertz’s Almanac today

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Lia Leendertz is one of my favourite writers – and her latest project is so important right now as nature seems to feel more and more distant from us, and yet we appear to have a real hunger to learn more about it! The Almanac, crowdfounded via Unbound, revives the tradition of the rural almanac. As soon as I got my copy, I checked the time the sun rose and set that day, but also the moon which just filled me with joy.

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I checked the constellation of the month (Andromeda) and what I needed to do in the garden according to where the moon will be. I made a note to make an apple brandy hot toddy (there’s a handy recipe) and even noted that not all spiders are spiders… although I’m not looking forward to spotting the zebra jumping spider…

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It’s glorious. A throw back to the almanacs of the past which were used for ‘predictions about shipwrecks, floods and harvest failure’, not to mention war, hate and treason. Here’s one from a recent visit to the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp.

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Or there’s this one (below) from 1576, which predicts ‘flying locusts. They will cause the eclipse of the sun and the decay of all fruits. The locusts blow fire and smoke, their breath stinks and they are as poisonous as scorpions.’

Woah. It felt like that the other day, didn’t it? With that red sky in the afternoon and strange heavy sky.

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Funnily enough, Lia’s Almanac doesn’t predict locusts, or not that I read anyway, but it’s such a beautiful thing, and you really can keep it in your pocket. AND for under a fiver. So I wrote a poem for it…

Lia’s Almanac

Sometimes to feel the ground under your feet
you need to look up to the sky,

watch for the moon to rise as well as the sun,
let your heart burst at Andromeda’s trillion stars,

and it’s never just a bird but a redwing flying
home at the same time a housemartin travels south,

a circle, like when an honest harvest’s offered freely
from the same open hands that seed the soil,

your mouth open to drink each month’s rainfall
and your body turning too in tune with the tides,

because yes, the year will carry on without you
but how much beauty may you miss?

Sometimes to feel part of the world,
you need to carry her in your pocket.

 

ps the photograph from the top is when I took the Almanac into a meeting at the Blackthorn Trust, where I’m a trustee. This is a Steiner-based charity which works with a garden, cafe, crafts studio and therapies to help people at a point of crisis in their lives. Come and visit us – or at least our website here. We’re currently planning our own physic garden at the moment, under the care of Marian Boswall. It’s going to be extraordinary, a chance to take time for the spiritual as well as the physical.

Not just a tree – John Evelyn’s Mulberry in Deptford

We spent the day in Deptford recently, taking photographs of various street names for a family project, but I also wanted to explore a little of John Evelyn’s history, and his lost garden, Sayes Court. We didn’t find the garden exactly but…

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I love street names for the quirky glimpses of history they give into a place. Here’s Czar’s Street, named to commemorate a famous visit by Peter the Great to Deptford in 1698 to learn about shipbuilding. (Ps, don’t I have lovely models?!)

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By all accounts it was a memorable visit. Peter the Great joined in Deptford living with verve – not least carrying out important ‘research’ into ALL the pubs. One report I read even suggested that St Petersburg was based on the layout of Deptford. Wonderful.  I didn’t investigate that much further because I so don’t want it to be wrong. And then there’s this tree we stumbled on…

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This is known as John Evelyn’s Mulberry because it stands on the original plot of Sayes Court and it is known that John Evelyn had mulberry trees – both black and white.  So it’s not just an ordinary tree. It is also under consideration for the title of Tree of the Year. There are many rumours surrounding this tree – and some tremendous research carried out here  as part of Morus Londinium (Mulberries in London).

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if this particular rumour that Peter the Great planted it for John Evelyn to make up for the damage he caused to the Sayes Court garden one night after a drunken rampage in a wheelbarrow was true?

After all, here’s a contemporary account of Peter’s stay at Sayes Court (taken from Sarah J Young’s facinating website on Russians in London) :

No part of the house escaped damage. All the floors were covered with grease and ink, and three new floors had to be provided. The tiled stoves, locks to the doors, and all the paint work had to be renewed. The curtains, quilts, and bed linen were ‘tore in pieces.’ All the chairs in the house, numbering over fifty, were broken, or had disappeared, probably used to stoke the fires. Three hundred window panes were broken and there were ‘twenty fine pictures very much tore and all frames broke.’ The garden which was Evelyn’s pride was ruined. (Grey, p. 229)

In some ways though, it doesn’t matter how it got there because this tree is one of the most beautiful reminders I’ve seen of what London would have been like when all its glorious parks and gardens were blooming. There’s something poignant about this tree still (almost) standing proud in the middle of Deptford’s industrial and housing estates. It feels so friendly and it’s clear that it’s rightly very much loved by locals.

John Evelyn’s tree is shortlisted for the award organised by the Woodlands Trust – you can read about the other notable trees here.

 

Searching for silence in The Phoenix Garden

I’ve found a new favourite spot to read and think.

Beautiful, eh? A haven of peace, probably miles away from anywhere noisy or busy? Well, no. The Phoenix Garden is a minute off London’s Charing Cross Road and just two minutes away from Tottenham Court Road. Best of all, it’s right opposite Foyle’s Bookshop, so a perfect place to take a newly discovered book too, and just read. Even the benches feel like poetry.

If you look closely, you can see the buildings surrounding it on all sides. But they feel more like walls than intrusions.

 

But despite the numbers of other people here, it still felt as if I got a corner all to myself. Perhaps that’s because of the number of people reading, writing and even meditating – a full crossed legged closed eyes pose that I didn’t want to spoil by taking a picture of. Shh… you can picture it though, can’t you?

And like so often happens, I found myself reading the perfect paragraph. I’d shut my book – Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal – to see if I could really hear birds this close to central London. Yes, I could. When I went back to my book, I found this description – how grown men remembered their childhoods when they heard the birds sing. I loved how I got the shadow of the trees over the page too.

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If you’re in London this weekend, you can even go to their 8th Agricultural Show, with a WI cake stand, London Pride Morris dancers, beekeepers and a brass band. Maybe it won’t be quite so peaceful. IMG_6855

The Phoenix Garden is Covent Garden’s last remaining community garden. It was created and is still maintained by volunteers. It’s an extraordinary project. f you want to donate to help keep it up, you can find out more or become a friend for only £12 a year here.

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Fancy a London garden mooch?

There are some beautiful, interesting, inspiring, almost secret gardens in London. I did a virtual tour of them a couple of years ago for the Chelsea Fringe, and although some may be out of date now,  you can find the full list here

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Five I would particularly recommend, and which are a little bit different, though are:

Flowers in the Fish Factory

On a recent holiday to Sweden, we were lucky enough to stay in a unique bed and breakfast at Edshultshall on Western Sweden’s wild coast. Ladfabriken (as the name suggests) has been lovingly converted from an old fish factory, and the owners, Johan and Marcel, have a unique sense of style and are such generous hosts to make this a really wonderful experience.

Not least because of the garden. It was no surprise to find a copy of Derek Jarman’s Garden in the house, because Johan and Marcel have created a garden by the sea too. Just look at this lushness…

 

There are flowers everywhere – even on the breakfast table…

 

And most of all the sea and rocks at the end of the garden… seen through a prism of flowers…

Here’s a poem I wrote at Ladfrabriken, sitting in the little yellow room looking over the garden:

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We made our boat of rose petals,
wove lavender into oars, covered
thorns with lichen, stuffed black
violas in the gaps, and at night,
we held up pink peonies to light
our way safely back to shore.

And now, every time we pick a posy
we smell seasalt, see petals
shining like fish scales.
We feel the high wind brushing
our cheeks and we know that,
though we could sail anywhere,
the garden’s where we put down roots.

A garden and a library….

That’s all you need, according to Cicero, and I’ve just had a joyful residency in both! The Women’s Library at Compton Verney to be precise, looking out at grounds laid out by Capability Brown.

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The project was part of Spreadsheets and Moxie, a year of research and development into professionalism in the arts for women writers which I’m carrying out with fellow writer, Viccy Adams, and which is supported by Arts Council England. We first went to Compton Verney for this back in January, but this month I went back alone for a very good reason – the arrival of Viccy’s beautiful baby, Archer.

I wasn’t really alone though, because of the number of wonderful visitors to the Women’s Library who I cornered to ask for the one book they might recommend – written by a woman. From top left, working clockwise we have – I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach, One Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler and The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. And then there were the recommendations left in our #100Women100Books visitors book.

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The residency was part of the overall year of research and development into professionalism in the arts, Spreadsheets and Moxie, Viccy and I have been working on, and which is supported by Arts Council England. For this, we devised a model project – #100Women100Books – specially for Compton Verney’s Women’s Library. We asked 100 women in our lives, from toddlers to the over-eighties, what book they would recommend to other women now, and why. The resulting list – A Women’s Library for the 21st Century – can be found and downloaded from our website here. It’s fascinating reading, and we’re so pleased how many people are already downloading it. Do let us know if you do, and also leave us YOUR recommendation. You can follow us on Facebook too, or on Twitter using the #100Women100Books hashtag.

The project fitted in well with the Compton Verney Women’s Library too, which has just undergone a splendid restoration, as part of the Unsilencing the Library project. It’s really worth a visit, virtually via their website or in real life! When Viccy and I visited back in January it was a strange experience not least because there were no books. There were bookspines however (above) – a ‘false library’ of what books would have been recommended for women in the 19th century when Georgiana Verney, wife of the reclusive 17th Lord Willoughby de Broke was thought to have created it. She was an enthusiastic champion of women’s education, reading and suffrage, so it was lovely to sit writing in the library and feel her presence. And also to be with other readers, as the Unsilencing the Library team asked different individuals and groups what books they would like to see in the library. There was Emma Watson’s shelf:

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Margo Jefferson’s shelf:IMG_6309

And The Prison Reading Groups selection (I loved the wide range here):IMG_6305 2

Amongst others. And of course, outside the library there were the grounds. Can you imagine the bliss of sitting in this chair, looking up from a book and seeing this view?

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So a last shout out to Gary Webb, who is in charge of Capability Brown’s vision now at Compton Verney. Here he is standing on Capability Brown’s bridge, with the house behind.IMG_6296

And here’s the poem I wrote for #100Women100Books with lines taken from the reasons people gave for picking their own book, and collaging it into just one book!

This book