On a day so beautiful even the trees danced…

We had a picnic lunch on a log under this tree today, and I looked up to see the branches swaying in the wind, just as if they were dancing, lifting up their skirts like teasing can-can dancers, so lightly I could almost hear them laughing.

And then when we got home, I realised I left my phone on the log too – maybe the trees had wanted to see the video and watch themselves?

Luckily a lovely man called Dan rang me within half an hour of returning home to say he’d found my phone, he’d had lunch on the same log just after me, it seems. I was so pleased that I forgot to ask him whether he’d watched the trees dancing.

And if you’re wondering how yesterday’s herb workshop went, well, we had cake and made haiku bunting and wrote beautiful poems… there’s a write-up here with some of the exercises we did etc… 



Come and write with me…

Come and indulge your senses with a Herbal Infused Poetry Workshop at the beautiful Physic Garden at Westgate Gardens, Canterbury

Saturday 24th September – 11-1pm

Costs £4 (including tea and cake)


How could such sweet and wholesome hours be reckoned, but in herbs and flowers?

Andrew Marvell

I’m running a workshop in Canterbury designed around herbs – their history, their myths and all the remedies – sensible and gloriously silly – associated with them. Enjoy a morning writing and reading poetry with me, inspired by the Physic Garden. We’ll look at myths, make up new remedies, explore the senses and have fun through a series of practical exercises – all you will need to bring is a pen and paper. This workshop is suitable for all levels of writers, and is a chance to play on the page in the beautiful surroundings of Canterbury’s historic Westgate Gardens.

Sarah Salway is a novelist and poet, and author of Digging Up Paradise: Potatoes, People and Poetry in the Garden of England. Find out more at www.sarahsalway.co.uk

Because numbers are limited, booking is strongly advised, please visit http://www.westgateparks.co.uk/events/ or telephone the Canterbury Ticket shop on: 01227 787787. There may be some spaces available on the day.

Contact Sarah Salway, sarahsalway@gmail, for more information.

This event is funded through Canterbury City Council’s Westgate Parks ‘Parks for People’ HLF Project

Narcissus Garden – a post especially for Sarahs

On a recent visit to Stockholm, we caught an exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s work, and fell in love particularly with Narcissus Garden.


Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm

What’s not to love? Look at all those me’s! It was originally created in 1966 for the Venice Biennale, and consisted of 1,500 of these silver balls on the lawn outside the Italian Pavilion. This is the only picture I could find of it then.


Apparently once the work was installed, Kusama sold the balls for two dollars each to visitors under a sign ‘ YOUR NARCISIUM FOR SALE’. Art as commodification.


In the gallery, we weren’t allowed to touch, let alone buy, so we just all stood and looked, and most of us took selfies of ourselves reflected again and again. Narcissium in action? Of course, back in 1966, this wouldn’t even have been a thing.


It got me thinking about one of the events I’ve been part of that still makes me laugh – in that delighted gurgle sort of way. This is the Sarah Party – a party of people invited just because we were called Sarah. We were strangers who didn’t have to ask our names. Behold us in all our glories in a garden….

sarah party

The postcard of the Sarah Party, with our hostess, Sarah Pletts looking beautiful in the middle of us all

The Sarah Party was the initiative of two producers (called Sarah) at the BBC, and was open to everyone – so long as you were called Sarah. Nearly 75 of us attended, and I can’t tell you how much fun it was. We had badges with ‘hello my name is Sarah’, Sarah tiaras to wear, Sarah food, Sarah games, even a Sarah shrine.

It was even the subject of a 30 minute programme on BBC Radio 4, which was Pick of the Week in the Radio Times (although I do remember the review saying something like ‘maybe of particular interest to listeners called Sarah…!) I have to tell you that even as I’m writing this, I’m laughing to myself. What a wonderfully mad idea it was. A bit narcissistic maybe, especially as we just didn’t care.

Below is the piece I was commissioned to write for the Sarah party, which still makes me smile now. Feel free to share with other Sarahs, or indeed if you’re called Sarah please feel free to share your own thoughts. If you’re not called Sarah, I’m not so interested to be honest.

linda isn't working

Ten things about being Sarah
Sarah Salway

1. Once at the start of a writing group we were asked to tell a story about our names. I told everyone that Sarah meant Princess. ‘That’s so appropriate,’ they all said straight away. I secretly think of myself as modest and humble so I was a little shocked, but when I’ve told other Sarahs this story, they’ve received the same reaction. It seems we can’t always hide the princessy bit.

2. My uncle made a speech at my wedding. ‘Sarah,’ he said, ‘is harass backwards, and she has certainly always been very good at that.’

3. My real name is Sarah Jane. Once when I was being chatted up by a stranger on a train, I told him this. I didn’t think of it as something funny but he started laughing so much that he slapped his thigh too hard and got worried he might have given himself a bruise. Luckily I was able to get off at the next station.

4. Sarah, Sarha, Sahra… how hard is it to spell? Once, after three attempts over the telephone, the man on the other end told me crossly that it would be easier if I’d been called ‘banana.’

5. Ever since that wedding speech, I can’t stop thinking about ‘hairy ass’. Princess, I whisper to myself at these times. Princess, princess.

6. When my children were little, I told them that Bob Dylan had written his song, Sarah, just for me. After that, my daughter kept asking for me to play it in the car. I didn’t feel guilty until she told me that one day she wanted to find someone who would love her as much as Bob must have loved me.

7. French people find it hard to say Sarah. ‘Zhere are..’ they keep telling me and I am still waiting to hear what they are going to say next when I realise they are not just halfway through a sentence but are saying my name. For this reason, Sarahs can often appear suspicious in France. It is as if we can’t always remember what we are calling ourselves today.

8. People are often disappointed when they meet me. They tell me they expect Sarahs to be small, bubbly and blonde, but most Sarahs I have met are dark like me. Dark, brooding and princessy.

9. Sarahs don’t always respond to their name in crowds. There are too many of us. We tend to look a bit wary when someone shouts ‘Sarah’ as if we will be caught out pretending to be popular if we respond. A Mercedes or a Camilla, on the other hand, feels free to yahoo wildly at even the whiff of a ‘Merc…’ or a ‘Cam..’

10. Once when I went into a school to teach creative writing, I spent too long with a little Sarah. She had called the heroine in her story Sarah. ‘Is it about you?’ I asked. ‘No,’ she said, frowning at me very fiercely. ‘Why do you think that?’ I told her I had no idea ‘It’s because it’s the nicest name,’ she whispered to me then, and she put her hand in mine under the table to let me know that this was our little secret.


A snail eats its way to the stars


Tonight the world is twisting its face too hard
against my window – a man guns his way
into a room of beautiful people – a friend cries
how it’s inoperable – the politician who lies



and lies before asking, ‘can’t you take a joke?’
‘Oh’ my friend cries, ‘my children, my children’,
and although the only real answer is ‘your children’,
I lie instead and tell her, ‘they will survive’,


while outside in the moonlight a snail
eats its way slowly through the English hedgerow,
leaving the trail of surprising beauty:
a silver spirograph, laced leaves.


We will all survive, the world’s children,
some of us may even leave beauty behind us,
but it’s slow. So slow. And hard to trust
when even clouds have hearts to break.


Stairway to heaven….

We found the real stairway to heaven recently… and then the day after we climbed it, we read about the court case Led Zeppelin were fighting over the song’s origins. So strange when that happens. And so today, as the court has decided in the band’s favour, I thought I would post about the beautiful valley in mid Wales that supposedly inspired the lyrics.

We came across it by accident, We’d spotted the sign ‘Artists’ Valley’ and were intrigued. Who were the artists? I imagined a Victorian woman with a bun, watercolours and a flirty-eyed husband in an artistically tied cravat, so it was a bit of a shock later when the waiter in the hotel told us the valley was the ‘real’ Stairway to Heaven. Had we heard of a band called Led Zeppelin, he asked.

Yes, we said. We had. And so the next day, of course we had to climb the path up the hill… and yes, indeed, it was heaven. But what was amazing was how what we were seeing matched so many of the lyrics.  Who knows if this is what Robert Plant had in mind. Probably not,  because nothing is so literal as that, so I hope he’ll forgive me, after all sometimes words (and pictures) have two meanings….

First though, here’s a link to the song to listen to when you feast on all this beauty.

Luckily birds don’t know they are tweeting…

… because they might stop at 140 characters then.


And that would be far too short. Turn your volume up and listen….

This clip above was taken yesterday at the RSPB Ynyshir nature reserve in Wales. I was standing there trying to think how I could describe the beauty of the birdsong. And then I thought I don’t have to, I can record it instead and let the birds sing for themselves. Here’s another.

For lots of reasons we didn’t explore the whole reserve, but it does have possibly the biggest bird feeder I’ve ever seen so we sat on a bench and watched the birds come to us.


Including what are called, I’ve learnt from a friend recently, are a charm of goldfinch… Isn’t that perfect? Here are some of the other birds seen there…


And this is a first. The first time I think I’ve put up a photograph of a loo sign from the reserve on this website. But just look how she is dancing… bird10

Perhaps not surprisingly. Research shows that listening to birdsong can help mental wellbeing, increase concentration during homework, and when we are feeling worn out and stressed. 

But we knew that instinctively anyway, didn’t we…


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.


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.


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…



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….


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.

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…


…. 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…