The last tree…

One of the highlights of the last summer was a trip to the Gothenburg Botanical Garden. There was so much to see that we decided to spread our visit out over two days, which was lucky because on our first trip, we’d completely overlooked the Sophora Toromiro…

IMG_6032

And why should that matter? It looks like a little, not to be rude, insignificant?

IMG_6028

Well, as the label above suggests, this little gem is actually one of the last remaining trees of its species. I couldn’t stop thinking about that line – that it was thought to be in danger of extinction ‘mainly due to human endeavours.’

Endeavour = to try hard to do or achieve something.

Makes you proud, doesn’t it? Maybe if the tree had been put in a special cage, or viewing room, it would be less affecting. It was also so moving to see how normal the tree was. I’d built it up in my mind. THE LAST TREE OF ITS KIND….

In my defence, it’s not often you get to see an almost extinct species, and because of that – especially in the middle of all the other green fertile bounty of the botanical garden – there was a certain thrill to it. Rather like funerals can sometimes make you think about life.

And how ordinary and insignificant – and therefore beautiful – that can be.

Here’s the poem that came up…

If this was our last night
Sarah Salway

Please let us still
watch television, let me
get angry at how you
never bother to ask
if you can change channels,
let the shepherds pie
be burnt, the tomato ketchup
finished, another bottle
of wine gone. Let the wind
catch our garden gate,
the apples lie where they fall.
Let’s not bother to call
our mothers, children, friends,
but moan as usual
about meetings and to do lists,
plan Christmas and work
on the allotment, let us finish
our books later in bed,
let me be wearing those glasses
you hate, let us turn off
our lights in unison, and for you
to whisper, I love you,
and turn it into a song,
IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou.
Let me drift off to that.

Doing better in 2018

While this has mostly been a happy year for me full of garden visits, gardens and weddings, it has also been a year when all the blog posts, journal jottings and photographs of things I had wanted to share here began queuing up and arguing with each other in the dark rather than coming dancing on to the stage.

I have SO MUCH I had wanted to write about – rare trees, special benches, sea shanties, garden jewels, history gems – but maybe they are just taking their time, rummaging around in the compost heap so they can shine later!

So as Christmas comes, and 2017 closes its curtains, here’s perhaps my favourite gardeny-related photos for you… a converted ambulance selling plants and Christmas trees. An emergency relief vehicle if there ever was one.

plant ambulance.JPG

And while we’re on lost … posts, thoughts, opportunities to share… here’s a poem on lost gardens. I’m grateful for the poetry magazine, The Rialto, for publishing it.

Reading a book on lost gardens
Sarah Salway

Endlessly sunny, with trees a line of dots
like small boys’ knees in an old school photo

so I read it in the same way, a fascination
in the butterfly-pinned moment.

I stroke black and white grass, pick fruit
with my finger and thumb from walled gardens,

trace the serpentine walks I’d take, my full skirt
brushing at the knots until the scent of box

releases, each path could be a wish or a regret.
Can photographs be capable of happiness?

Because as I turn the page I see an open gate
beckoning to the future, and I bend with jealousy

at how they’ll never watch each other grow old
or laugh at all that time left for flourishing.

I hope to see more of you in 2018! Thank you for staying around, and also for those of you who keep a blog for all your beautiful words. I do enjoy reading everyone else!

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

IMG_7259

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.

almanac3

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…

almanac4

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.

almanac2

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.

almanac33

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…

hfsayescourt

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?!)

hfczarst

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…

johnevelyntree

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.

IMG_6869

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.

IMG_6858

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

IMG_9543

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