Old maps, hands and ghost gardens…

L1120199

Or fingertips anyway…

This is me joining the marvellous Vegplotting’s Show of Hands for the Chelsea Fringe, and a chance to show you a corner of the ghost gardens that I’ve been researching for my Lost Gardens of the Strand walk.

lostgardens2

See how wonderful they are. And you can see from this map too how they would go right down to the Thames before the Embankment was built, so you would come by boat and walk straight into the garden. Magic.

lost gardens

And the joy of working with someone like the Old Map Man is that he points out the little traces that are still there. How many times have I walked past the York Watergate (above) in the Embankment gardens, for example, and not noticed it?

L1120204

But now every time I go to Charing Cross, I try to spend a couple of minutes imagining what it would once have been like when the Thames was king and the Strand was full of beautiful gardens. So as I walk back, fighting the crowds in Villiers Street, I’m actually getting off a barge and walking straight into a fruit orchard in my mind.

Especially when I see this picture…

L1120207

Here’s an extract from the Spectator of 1885:

FOREIGNERS may say what they like of London and its vast unwieldy size, and may contrast it with the slim elegance of Paris ; but those who love their London as Charles Lamb, for instance, loved it, know where to find its chief beauties, and would never barter the ” silver streaming Themmes ” for any other river. The great artery of the heart of England, with its ebb and flow, its daily freight of barges and lighters passing slowly from bridge to bridge, its mazy windings, outlined at night by countless twinkling lamps, is no longer the thoroughfare of the citizens as it was in good old days, when cabs and omnibuses were not, and steam still sputtered, bubbling and unnoticed, in the kettle. Mr. Secretary Pepys went as naturally by water from his house in Seething Lane to Whitehall or Westminster, as his successor would journey to his office by cab or underground- railway. Charles II. went in the royal barge to dine with the Lieutenant of the Tower, or sallied forth in his pleasure-boat ” above bridge,” or took a particular friend out in his new ” gundaloe.”

Creative writing workshops about gardens and the landscape, plus some walks and weeks away…

I’m delighted to tell you that my latest book, Digging Up Paradise is now available for pre-order. It will come out ‘properly’ at the beginning of June, but in the meantime here are some courses and events which may be of interest:

3rd and 8th JuneExplore the lost gardens of the Strand with the ‘Old Map Man’, Ken Titmuss and me as part of the Chelsea Fringe. This is a two hour walk, starting at Charing Cross Station and ending at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Ken will provide knowledge, maps and expertise, and I will provide poems, extracts of letters and bits of novels which will add another flavour to the imagination. We have been finding out lots of things ourselves and promise some surprises along the way! You can book here, and we’re asking for a donation of £15 per ticket (payable on the day) with £5 of that going towards a gardening charity.

July 2, 9, 16 and 23rd July, 10-12.30pm – A four-week writing workshop in Tonbridge run through the University of Kent called Step Outside and Write. Participants will use a mixture of practical writing exercises as well as looking at published pieces and outdoor writing projects. This workshop is suitable for all levels of writers, and is designed to allow you to concentrate on your individual project. You can find out more and book for the course here

Aug 18th – Aug 23rd – An Arvon course: Landscape Writing, A Field Guide to Writing. Together with Shaun Levin, brilliant creator of Writing Maps, and with special guest, Tristan Gooley, The Natural Navigator, we will be running a week of walking, reading and getting lost with some excellent writers at the Hurst in Shropshire. This week will be an exploration of landscape writing and how it can work for you, whether you have a project in mind or just want to get some new ideas. Both walkers and non-walkers are welcome!

September 13th – A free writing workshop at Canterbury’s Westgate Gardens to help turn the gardens into a poetry park! We will write garden-inspired poetry, share our favourites and hang them from the trees in the park for everybody to enjoy! More details to come.

There will be more… watch this space … but I do hope to get the chance to write with you this summer, even if it’s virtually through this website!

Chelsea Fringe – Cake in the Garden…

Well, I’ve come to the end of (almost) daily posts but haven’t come to the end of all the London gardens so I will be posting more on here. Slowly though. And will be collating them all under the London Garden tab on this website. It’s been yummy, a piece of cake, the cherry on my gardening cupcake…

IMG_5634

I could go on, but this is actually a very clumsy segue into my contribution to Veg Plotting’s wonderful Bloggers Cut event – where garden bloggers share their ‘cake and garden’ moments. So I thought I would make a garden cake. And to celebrate an article about my mum, Elizabeth Peplow, which has just appeared in Herbs Magazine, I decided to make a herb garden cake.

IMG_5636

Thyme and rosemary and chocolate… yes! (I left the lavender out from the recipe because of personal taste and I don’t think it loses anything)

IMG_5629

Topped with ricotta and honey and even more herbs… although one cake wanted to grow its own herb garden on top…

IMG_5632

It’s a tribute to Mum’s herb wheels, I think… here’s one of the photographs from the magazine. She looks so young here!

IMG_5638

And to top it off a cup of herb tea (from one of the Otter Farm plants I’ve just got for my new ‘tea garden’).

IMG_5631

Here’s a poem to enjoy with it… all about Mum’s and chocolate cake which seems appropriate. It’s by the definitely-not-just-for-kids Michael Rosen.

Thanks for all your nice comments and messages during this tour – and to finish, I invite you to write about cake, or even just enjoy a slice for yourself! You can see some lovely posts over at Veg Plotting! Thanks to Michelle for setting this up, and sorry to be late to the party. No need for you to be though, you can still enjoy one last weekend of the Chelsea Fringe.

Roll on next year!

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 16

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 16. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

Pop Up Garden by the Balcony Gardener, Squint

petgard77

This pop up garden by the Balcony Gardener has been a popular part of the Chelsea Fringe – based at the showroom of the innovative furniture designer, Squint. I love their patchworked wonderfully mad furniture so this was a double reason to go.

petgar55

I have a tiny patch of green myself, so it was exciting to see evocative gardens even smaller. And look with sun…

petgar7

Pretty as a picture…

petgard88

You just want to catch it in a bottle…

petgard66

Better than a cocktail…

petgard56

All the equipment you need to make your own mini garden is available at Squint until the exhibition stops on 19th June, but the inspiration gave me the chance to visit my own favourite mini-garden shop, Le Petit Jardin in Tunbridge Wells…

petgar5

Look how pretty Penny makes everything look…

petgard3

IMG_5624

petgard4

And oh oh I can even get animals for my garden..

petgarde

And so I went looking for a tiny poem for these beautiful gardens. What better than a haiku? Here’s one by Kit Wright:

ACORN HAIKU

Just a green olive

In its own little egg-cup:

It can feed the sky.

I invite you to write your own small poem… you can get some help here!

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 15

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 15. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

BLOOMSBURY SQUARE

L1070296

OK, so this isn’t the prettiest London square, and when I sat there a lot of people seemed to be using it mostly as a cut-through, but …. shhhh…. stop a little …

L1070314

..if only to remember April 1694 when Edward ‘Beau’ Wilson was killed in a duel to the death with the Scottish economist John Law – who eventually escaped prison to found the Mississippi Company. Maybe they fought on this spot…

L1070311

Anyway, one of my favourite things about this little square is the story that it used to be one of London’s private gardens but then the iron railings were melted down during the Second World War and it was left open for the riff-raff to enjoy, like me…

L1070293

In fact, it used to be very private. It was originally the forecourt to the 4th Earl of Southampton‘s London home!

bloomsbury square

 Another thing I love is how this statue of Charles James Fox is looking directly at the statue of Francis Russell, Fifth Duke of Bedford in Russell Square. What kind of conversation could they be enjoying? At least they agreed with each other’s politics.

L1070295

But this is good too – school planting in action.

L1070297

And of course, one of my very  favourite cafes just near enough to get a take-away coffee and bring it back – still hot enough – to fuel the writing.

L1070315

I read somewhere that the second movement of Symphony No 2 by Vaugham WIlliams respresents ‘Bloomsbury Square on a November Afternoon.’ I hadn’t listened to it before but enjoyed doing so thinking of this little garden. Here’s the music if you click on this link.

Thinking about the duel in the garden makes me think of the emotional maps we draw of gardens. They become less the ‘you are here’ plan and more the ‘once this happened here’ map. This deceptively simple poem by Hilaire Belloc sums it up perfectly for me:

The Elm

Hilare Belloc

This is the place where Dorothea smiled.

I did not know the reason, nor did she.

But there she stood, and turned, and smiled at me:

A sudden glory had bewitched the child.

The corn at harvest, and a single tree.

This is the place where Dorothea smiled.

And I invite you to write your own garden map today.

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 14

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 14. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

SALTERS’ COMPANY GARDEN, FORE STREET, EC4

L1070843

It’s amazing to think this is the fourteenth garden in this series, and I wondered if I would find enough!

Anyway, this one was such a find, although to be honest, even though I had the address, I walked past it several times! Perhaps it’s not surprising … But be bold – it’s open, free and they welcome visitors!

L1070877

The garden, designed by the late David Hicks, is tucked away behind this rather unpromising entrance of the Salters Livery Company. Once you are in it though, it really is an oasis of lush green.

L1070845

It has been created in a series of rooms so every bench could be occupied, and you would still feel you had some privacy.

L1070870

L1070865

L1070848

And I was very conscious how much is waiting to burst forth, so I imagine it becoming rather like a fairy tale garden right in the centre of the city. I could see my favourite flowers, peonies, lying in wait too. I love how the blossom here looks as if it is trying to cover the office building behind!

L1070887

If you follow the garden round, you come to another gem, St Alphage Gardens, right under the walls of the Barbican. It really does feel like a secret, and I wasn’t surprised when the only other person there came up to tell me how pleased they were to have found it too. Apparently, he has been walking every day to work along a parallel busy street for some years, and for some reason took a diversion to explore that day. It was the first time he’d found the garden.

L1070859

When I visited, the blossom was carpeting the floor, so I offer you today a piece from a very unLondon poem, Shropshire Lad by A E Housman

*

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.

*

Now, of my threescore years and ten,

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,

it only leaves me fifty more.

*

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.

*

L1070886

And I invite you to write about what might be hiding in your garden….

(ps I do know this isn’t a cherry, but wouldn’t that be fab? Imagine having your office lunch here with a bunch of cherries for after…)

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 13

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 13. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

Stone Flowers

L1070373

All the poems I’ve included so far have come from something in the garden. This one is a little different because it was finding the poem that came first, this one by Kathleen Raine…

*

A SPELL FOR CREATION

*

Within the flower there lies a seed,
Within the seed there springs a tree,
Within the tree there spreads a wood.
*
In the wood there burns a fire,
And in the fire there melts a stone,
Within the stone a ring of iron.
*
Within the ring there lies an O,
Within the O there looks an eye,
In the eye there swims a sea,
*
And in the sea reflected sky,
And in the sky there shines the sun,
Within the sun a bird of gold.
*
Within the bird there beats a heart,
And from the heart there flows a song,
And in the song there sings a word.
*
In the word there speaks a world,
A world of joy, a world of grief,
From joy and grief there springs my love.
*
Oh love, my love, there springs a world,
And on the world there shines a sun,
And in the sun there burns a fire,
*
Within the fire consumes my heart,
And in my heart there beats a bird,
And in the bird there wakes an eye,
*
Within the eye, earth, sea and sky,
Earth, sky and sea within an O
Lie like the seed within the flower.

Lovely eh?

It was this poem that made me notice all the flowers around me in the middle of the city.

flowers

Beautiful beautiful stone flowers on nearly every building! How could I not have noticed them before?

L1070364L1070650L1070649L1070374L1070412IMG_5216IMG_5220

And so I invite you today to look up and write about what you see that you’ve never noticed before before it disappears!

L1070378

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?

IMG_5349

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

IMG_5365

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.

IMG_5348

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

IMG_5360

IMG_5345

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

IMG_5371

.. 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…

IMG_5355

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!

IMG_5344

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.

**

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”.

**

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!

*

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!

vaux1

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.

vaux2

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 11

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 11. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

REDCROSS GARDEN, SOUTHWARK
IMG_5541
This is the garden that Octavia built…
IMG_5516
I love this garden, tucked away in Southwark, near Little Dorrit Street, and still fulfilling its original function – from 1887! – as an outdoor sitting room for local residents.
IMG_5505
It was built by Octavia Hill, one of the great social reformers – as well as starting the National Trust – and she believed strongly that fresh air was important to quality of life so she created this garden as a place for people to sit in to counter some of the problems with the smog and industrial fumes of the time. At the same time, she built the small row of cottages and a ‘village hall’ for activities such as dancing, crafts and skills. Isn’t it hard to believe that this is in the very middle of London?
IMG_5525
The garden has had two reincarnations since, and it’s a testament to the power of volunteers that it looks so tranquil and well-maintained now. It really is a community garden.
IMG_5524
I sat on the lawn to write today, the first time I’d actually walked barefoot this year, and although the grass got so close it was nearly IN my poem…
IMG_5537
… as you can see from what I wrote, I decided just to put my pen down eventually and enjoy the sun on my face and real people around. It really was like a sitting room!
The Outside Sitting Room
After a winter we thought would never end
and a spring that had barely begun,
we come almost shyly – one by one –
into the park. A father lies down immediately,
his daughter giggling as she tiptoes away,
the homesick student listens to music
from her childhood, eyes shut,
head raised to catch these slivers
of sun she’s learning to call summer,
a jogger comes and goes, and a family
takes over the far corner, prams, and aunts,
and picnics, and complicated games
only one boy will ever understand
while I sit, and by the act of recording them all
shut the door on myself.
Put down the pen,
shut the journal,
walk with bare feet on warm grass.
So today I invite you to write about either a garden inside, or a rooms of a house outside… or just take your shoes off and feel the grass under your toes!
IMG_5510
And because I missed out a garden yesterday, I give you two today! If you visit The Redcross Garden, I recommend you walk a little bit up the road to the very poignant Crossbones Remembrance Garden that I wrote about here.

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 10

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 10. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

THE POETRY POP UP GARDEN

IMG_5486

The brainchild of landscape designer, Marian Boswall, the Poetry Pop Up Garden is a welcome addition to the Chelsea Fringe. I was lucky enough to read on it yesterday in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral as part of the Chelsea Fringe in Kent, and the NGS Open Gardens Scheme. And look …. we had actual sun.

L1080592

Together with Patricia Debney and two Foyle Young Poets, Dillon Leet and Flora de Falbe, we shared our own poems as well as our favourite garden poems.

L1080591

And in between readings, we wrote our own collaborative poem which we read out together later… a real buzz!

L1080586

Here it is as today’s poem: I’m calling it Mixed Border because we wrote it line by line like the old-fashioned game of consequences…

poem

The trees are getting hungry again,

chlorophylls crowd to the leaves’ tips

to devour a flash of sunlight

that trips like tongues through broken clouds,

pours like slow sand through water

and all the healing words, like flotsam

in the static of air that withstands the wind,

crowd with laughter and rhyme.

*

Grown from stone, stuck between sexes,

the statue watches trains swerve by its gate,

and I wonder will we ever recover?

Today we’re a landscape that doesn’t fit,

a shelf of sun in a mid-May shower

that I’ll keep in amber come December,

and forever, I imagine, thereafter.

*

Some flowers only open every century

like my heart, full of petals.

I’m counting out: He loves me

not. He (thirty-three)… he loves me not.

They say daisies in love are genetic mutations,

sometimes we all need extra petals

and a green travel chest to keep locked.

*

Here I remember that afternoon:

the constant tolling of the bells

wafts through sun-drugged air

that blows the commas off my page like pollen

like the dust which floats anywhere.

To create a garden is to write a love story –

lines that twine up balconies, bind trees

at the limbs, the roots.

We dedicated the poem to Marian as a thank you for making us such a beautiful garden to work in.

IMG_5485

The Pop Up Poetry Garden will be at Canterbury Cathedral again today (Sunday) with special poets Jo Hemmant and Abegail Morley taking the stage, and then travels to London on Tuesday to be in the Potters Bar Garden (right next to the Mayor of London’s office). The excellent Emer Gillespie will be taking the stage there, together with special guests… Wouldn’t it be something if Boris nipped out of his office to read a poem or two? You can find out more here.