Silence in the nature reserve

And a happy new year to you all! I think it’s still all right to say that, but this has been my theme recently… just a little too late!

We spent the weekend after the new year in the middle of silence. It was beautiful. I’d been wanting to stay at the Elmley Nature Reserve on the Isle of Sheppey for some time, and it was everything I dreamed of.

We took the little but beautiful Salt Box, which contains a bed, kitchen and bathroom but more importantly this view when we woke up in the morning….

We didn’t take advantage of the outdoor shower – surprisingly! But we did spend time reading, thinking and walking. I made a list of all the gardens I’ve visited this year and haven’t shared with you here, so – again late to the party – I’ll be catching up with them soon.

But in the meantime, enjoy this video taken just outside our little cabin before I sat down to write…

 

Which made me think of this poem, Silence by Billy Collins. Here’s an extract:

And there is the silence of this morning
which I have broken with my pen,
a silence that had piled up all night
like snow falling in the darkness of the house—
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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.

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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.

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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…

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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….

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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…

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…. 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…

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Reading and Writing … at the Chelsea Fringe

WRITERINTHEGARDENI’m delighted to be – virtually – taking part in the exciting Chelsea Fringe Festival this year.

I’ll be posting from a selection of London gardens and parks – some well-known, some you may have overlooked – with photographs, a little bit of gossip, and for each one, I want to offer you a poem to read which has been chosen specially to add another layer to the experience of the park.

There will also be a series of creative writing prompts to encourage you to write in a garden – wherever you are! I would love for you to join me.

My Chelsea Fringe ‘virtual tour’ starts on 18th May. See you then!

Bardini Garden, Florence

We visited several gardens during our visit to Florence – watch this space for reports on Villa Gamberaia and Boboli Gardens – but by a stroke of luck, Bardini Garden was literally just around the corner from our flat.

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The garden, like many, is a work of love – several times over. The current garden has been part of a renovation project lasting several decades, since the last member of the Bardini family left in 1965. The fact that this significant green landmark was then abandoned led it to being called the ‘Bardini question’. In the guidebook, the back page is given over to a quote from Raffaello Torricelli, who led the garden back into its current beauty: ‘The Bardini Garden is part of the countenance of Florence. A reason for giving new thought to the city. We must make something that lives.’

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Walking round the gardens, it was clear that this goal has been reached. This isn’t just a ‘historic garden renovation’, but a living place. At the heart is a central stairway, which was once lined with vines.

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Admittedly we didn’t go in the best time, plant-wise, but it was still clear to see how the separate parts of the garden – the flower garden, the olive grove and rose garden, the camelia garden, the peony garden, the fruit orchard, the English wood – would all work together to form a harmonious sanctuary from which to both escape, and watch, the busy commercial world of Florence down below.

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Even though it’s now open to the public, it still retains this feeling of a private sanctuary. And this is enhanced by the surprisingly tender statues, that seemed to make it less a place to impress (as so much of Florence is) and more a garden for conversation, love and stolen moments..

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I definitely want to go back and see it in full bloom – the ‘Calendar of the Blossoms’ in the guidebook make me think, hmmm… I need to be there in May for the Hydrangeas, Wisteria, Judas Tree and Peonies…. although there’s June for the Roses, Iris, and Viburnum. And then July, for the Dahlias….

And then again, there’s something about seeing a garden stripped down to its bones. Certainly it made it easier to look out…

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And so, for my creative inspiration, I took the view (and what we might say that could be true or false in conversations) …

Ten True Facts I’ve been told about Heights…

* When David Collins’s dad went up to the top of the Post Office Tower in London, he got a certificate to say he’d been in space.

* If you throw a penny from the top of the Eiffel Tower and it lands on someone in the street below, it will kill them.

* Until the spire collapsed in the 16th century, Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building on earth.

* There are a number of buildings that are haunted because a construction worker died in the lift shaft. There is nothing more scary than a haunted lift shaft.

* Women over 35 can’t go on rollercoasters because their balance changes.

* In the 18th century, hairstyles got so elaborate they could reach three foot high. Hair was wound over horsehair pads, and could be designed in the form of ships, buildings and gardens. Rats were a problem.

* The front row of the top deck of a London bus is a good place to eat tomato sandwiches.

* The tallest dog living is called Zeus. He’s a Great Dane and measures 44 inches.

* The average woman uses her height in lipsticks every five years.

* The West Tower of Ely Cathedral is so tall, and the land around it so flat, that it’s possible to see the tower from all the churches in the diocese.

* If you counted all of these and found there are actually eleven not ten, you probably aren’t aiming high enough in life. On the other hand, it’s lonely at the top.