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God but flowers are amazing. How are we not worshipping them daily? All these were taken today at Great Dixter Gardens – and I would have walked past them all without really noticing if I hadn’t stopped at the first one and then started looking properly. And for more awe and a writing exercise, see here...

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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?

What do you do with all your garden guides?

We went on a ‘grand tour’ of the Peak District and Yorkshire last week – only one garden a day but even so I’ve ended up with an armful of guides.

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But what to do with them now I’m back? Write a poem about them of course…

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You need to have a plan

They sit on the bottom shelf
entwined with travel books
as if Chatsworth may take up wild swimming,
Castle Howard plan a weekend break
to Finland, and just maybe Hardwick Hall
could manage the night train to Russia,

and in the same way, on winter afternoons,
I’ll pick one out to remember
the cascades, curse how I didn’t find
that fountain, reassuring myself
with how next I’ll be armed with knowledge
of every Duke in England’s family tree.

It seems the lighter the garden’s spirit
the heavier must be the plan,
but at least now I can always trace
that moment we paused,
hit by the smell of rose petals
and how the rainbow entered the lake.

 

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Snowdrops rising like lanterns

 

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Winter Garden
by Sarah Salway

Like the pilgrim divests himself of worldly goods,
the garden’s stripped back to a skeleton,

only the vertebrae of paths holds its truest form
and even as trees hold blossom close, buds aching,

it’s still the cutting back that matters most,
while through it all the river’s artery rolls,

a trust in what lies beneath, snowdrops
rising like lanterns to show the way.

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Remembering Capability Brown – Lady Nature’s Second Husband – and a little bit of Compton Verney

 

The English landscape gardener, Lancelot (Capability) Brown died 236 years ago today, 6th February 1783 – and fittingly is remembered on Twitter, via @BrownCapability:

“Your Dryads must go into black gloves, Madam. Their father-in-law Lady Nature’s second husband, is dead! Mr Brown dropped down at his own door yesterday” wrote Horace Walpole to Lady Ossory on 7th February 1783.
Above is a photograph of that very front door – next to a branch of Prezzo. Would Lancelot have been on Twitter, would he have popped out for a pizza?
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It’s lovely today then to think of where he might have felt at home, one of those places being beautiful Compton Verney where he designed the landscape and I was lucky enough to have a residency last year. Here are some photos from that time, and below them a poem to remember him. The form of the poem is a specular or mirror, which feels appropriate given the constantly changing reflections on the lake at Compton Verney.

 

Views Reflected
by Sarah Salway

Brown’s contemporary, Richard Owen Cambridge, longed to get to heaven before Brown, so he could see it before the great landscape gardener had ‘improved’ it.

By the time it was heaven’s turn,
the formal landscape of England
had changed forever:
a gardener and a duke
working harmoniously together.
Scattered trees,
a serpentine lake,
the ‘gardenless’ garden
painted a new picture –
Brown, nature’s second husband,
moving mountains from his path.

Moving mountains from his path,
Brown, nature’s second husband,
painted a new picture –
the ‘gardenless’ garden,
a serpentine lake,
scattered trees
working harmoniously together.
A gardener and a duke
had changed forever
the formal landscape of England
by the time it was heaven’s turn.

Poor Susan and the sounds of the city

This week I was lucky enough to go on a guided walk around the city of London with Rosie from Dotmaker Tours. She was concentrating particularly on the sounds of the city – we walked without talking, just listening (almost too intense, was the verdict), we talked how the city would sound in the future and how it sounded in the past. I wrote a poem for Rosie after, you can find it here.

The walk was wonderful, and one thing that stood out for me is the little park Rosie took us too, between Cheapside and Wood Street. It’s just a park with a tree you’d just pass by normally. I wasn’t even sure why we’d stopped there to be honest, although it was interesting to find out that it had been the site of the church, St Peter Cheap, which was burnt down during the Great Fire of London, (interesting to find out that Cheap was the medieval word for market). And also to see these benches. I’d never heard of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, and looking at their website after I see loads of useful information about London’s green spaces.

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So it was particularly lovely to find out from Rosie that it was this very plane tree (below) in the park that had inspired William Wordsworth to write his Reverie of Poor Susan. And here it is – proof that even in the city, nature can be the real time-traveller. To the past, as well as the future. Amazing to think of Wordsworth walking down these streets, looking up at the tree and him, in turn, thinking of poor Susan walking the same steps… and so on!

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The Reverie of Poor Susan
by WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears,
Hangs a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years:
Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
In the silence of morning the song of the Bird.

‘Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
Down which she so often has tripped with her pail;
And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove’s,
The one only dwelling on earth that she loves.

She looks, and her heart is in heaven: but they fade,
The mist and the river, the hill and the shade:
The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
And the colours have all passed away from her eyes!