Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 12

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 12. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

BONNINGTON SQUARE, VAUXHALL

What do you get if you design a garden by committee?

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Well, if you are lucky you will end up with something like Bonnington Square!

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This is one of London’s hidden gems – except it is rightly becoming rather famous. The garden sits in the site of WW2 bomb damage and although at one time it had a children’s playground half-heartedly placed there, it was only in the 1990s – when a builder put in an application to use it as storage – that a residents’ committee was formed to create today’s beautiful sanctuary.

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It really is a place where you can sit, write and read…

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helped with a coffee and cake from one of the pretty cafes around…

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.. unless you are lucky enough to come on the one night a year the industrial wheel turns and brings crystal clear champagne with every circle…

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I visited by day, but I want to go back at night when the trees and garden are lit up by strings of fairy light. Champagne in itself!

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The garden feels like a true work of love, and rather magical, so I’ve chosen this beautiful Chinese poem by Ping-Hsin for it.

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Love

To escape from thoughts of love,

I put on my fur cloak,

And ran out from the lamp lit silent house.

On a tiny footpath

The bright moon peeps;

And the withered twigs on the snow-clad earth

Across and across, everywhere scrawl “Love”.

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And I invite you to write about love in the garden today… with a glass of champagne in your hand if you feel like it!

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Garden enthusiasts will spot the homage Bonnington Square pays to nearby Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, which from the 17th to the 19th century was the premier ‘open garden’ and entertainment in London. Move over the Chelsea Flower Show!

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It’s still an attractive park now, and I was really pleased to see this horse chestnut tree all lit up! I’ve just been reading about the Tradescants, and this was one of the species John Senior brought back – and in fact it helped to make his fortune.

Amazing to think what it must have been like to see this tree in flower for the first time. A garden spectacle indeed.

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Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 6

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 6. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW

So, this is a little bit of a cheat because the Chelsea Flower Show, big sister to the Chelsea Fringe, isn’t open all the time but it’s hard to do this series and not include it. It’s not even the plants or the gardens I love best, it’s the way everywhere you go, you hear people saying… ‘we could do that.’ Rather like being in a bubble of optimism.

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And although the show gardens are the main attraction…

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… and queuing up to see them made you feel in danger of growing roots yourself…

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… or even running away …

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… inside the tents, the specialist flower growers and nurseries put on a display that – sometimes literally – made me gasp…

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… oh, I never can’t resist the tulips. The plans I always have every year to plant HUNDREDS of bulbs… every colour, every shape… I could do that!

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Look at these beauties below showing off. They know how gorgeous they are, don’t they?

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It really is the day when the flowers come first and humans know their place, roles well and truly reversed… I think this man might have hopes of turning into a plant – maybe so his wife will finally pay some attention to him????

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So my inspiration for writing today comes from Anna Pavord’s wonderful book, The Tulip, and it’s this account of a party I would very much have liked to have gone to:

Music filled the grounds where the Sultan’s five wives took air. One of the courtyards of the Grand Seraglio was turned into an open-air theatre; thousands of tulip flowers were mounted on pyramids and towers, with lanterns and cages of singing birds hung between them. Tulips filled the flower beds, each variety marked with a label of filigree silver. At the signal from a cannon, the doors of the harem were opened and the Sultan’s mistresses were led out into the garden by eunuchs carrying torches. Guests had to dress in clothes that matched the tulips (and avoid setting themselves on fire by brushing against candles carried on the backs of hundreds of tortoises that ambled round the grounds).

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And now I invite you to write about a day at Chelsea, or indeed any spectacle, BUT from a plant’s point of view.

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No. 0.5

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 1. 

I know I don’t officially start until tomorrow, but I CAN’T WAIT!

chelsea fringe logoSo I’m also cheating because here is a garden that isn’t really a garden…

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Confused?

I hope so. About two weeks ago, I went on a walk round my own homeground, Fitzrovia, with the Old Map Man (aka Ken Titmuss). The idea of these walks is that you mooch around an area of modern London using 17th and 18th century maps to guide you. It’s a fascinating way to see the different layers to a place you think you know well.

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One of Ken’s maps from the mid-17th century showed how most of Fitzrovia was little more than fields and farms bordered by Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. Food and vegetables came into the centre from a road named ‘The Green Lane’. Here it is a little closer.

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And the bones of that road still remain, albeit joined now by hundreds of others. It’s not called The Green Lane anymore because… surprise surprise, it’s Cleveland Street. To be honest, there aren’t many places there to write or read in peace but it’s still a street that’s not short of literary inspiration because the Cleveland Street Workhouse (facing a current demolition dispute) was apparently the inspiration behind Charles DickensOliver Twist, and the author lived just a little further up the street.

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A nice distraction but I was on the look out for garden and nature inspiration, so it was particularly pleasing to find, just 100 metres off Cleveland Street in Riding House Street, this pub.

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I really hope it got its name because of its proximity to the original London Green Lane.

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But in any case, it is a brilliant excuse to share one of my favourite poems:

Green Man in the Garden

Charles Causley

Green man in the garden

Staring from the tree,

Why do you look so long and hard

Through the pane at me?

Your eyes are dark as holly,

Of sycamore your horns,

Your bones are made of elder branch,

Your teeth are made of thorns.

Your hat is made of ivy leaf,

Of bark your dancing shoes,

And evergreen and green and green

Your jacket and shirt and trews.

Leave your house and leave your land

And throw away the key,

And never look behind, he creaked,

And come and live with me.

I bolted up the window,

I bolted up the door,

I drew up the blind that I should find

The green man never more.

But as I softly turned the stair

As I went up to bed,

I saw the Green man standing there.

Sleep well, my friend, he said.

Hmm, that never fails to make me shiver at the end.

And now I invite you to write something yourself…

Describe the colours in your garden, or where you might be sitting, through another sense. So the red of the rose might be the heat of fire on your skin, the blue of the bluebell in the woods could remind you of the sound of cymbals in a school orchestra, the white of the magnolia is the taste of ice cream…

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Here’s a poem I remember learning at school that worked along these lines…

I Asked The Little Boy Who Cannot See

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I asked the boy who cannot see,

‘And what is colour like?’

‘Why, green,’ said he,

‘Is like the rustle when the wind blows through

The forest; running water, that is blue;

And red is like a trumpet sound; and pink

Is like the smell of roses; and I think

That purple must be like a thunderstorm;

And yellow is like something soft and warm;

And white is a pleasant stillness when you lie

And dream.’

 

Please feel free to share what you write in the comments sections, or on your own website. And, from tomorrow, you can follow more gardens on the Chelsea Fringe page on this website. Do sign up in the box on the right if you would like this website to appear in your inbox.