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
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This is the garden that Octavia built…
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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.
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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?
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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.
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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…
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… 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!
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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 5

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 5. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

LUSH SPA KINGS ROAD

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In honour of the Chelsea Fringe, the Lush store in Kings Road has plants everywhere, but it’s what is tucked behind what was one of Lush’s first stores, that I found interesting. Because they have planted out a pretty little courtyard with examples of some of the medicinal herbs used in their products.

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One of the the most surprising of which is ….

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…potatoes! MInd you, looking at most of the beautiful people in Kings Road, it feels more likely that the majority would use them as a beauty product than, heaven forbid, eat even one chip!

Looking much more at home is Orris and the Lush bath bomb in a, er, bath…

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The ‘Spa’ is a great idea. Laura, the manager, seems passionate about sharing the garden as an educational tool so do make sure you ask to see it – it’s at the back of the shop, and the courtyard – strung with bunting made from Lush bags – definitely pretty enough to write in.

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So I wasn’t sure if I could find a poem about potatoes to go with this post, but then I remembered Seamus Heaney’s wonderful poem, Digging… You can read it here

… and here’s a beautiful poem by John Clare set to music by The Albion Band to listen to as I invite you to write about a memory of growing vegetables …

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Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 3

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 3. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)

GEFFRYE MUSEUM, HOXTON

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When I first arrived at the Geffrye Museum, I thought that the ‘garden’ was the stretch of grass at the front. Nice, I thought, but not that inspiring. And then I walked round the back.

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This is a museum of the home, situated a bit poignantly in former Almshouses, and just as the rooms inside take you from century to century, so there are a series of historically researched garden rooms outside. It was fascinating to wander through from the 16th century to the 18th century via the 17th century and back again.

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But never dry. All the senses are engaged such as when you walk past a bed dripping with hyacinths…

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And can’t quite resist touching the coloured knot garden to see if the textures are as subtle… Or you would, of course, if you weren’t as well behaved as me…

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It’s a constant feeling of exploration and yet a sanctuary too.

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Given the weather, it was also lovely to see the indoor garden reading room. I could have stayed in this spot for weeks.

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Another garden magazine? Or a book on historic interiors? Yes please…

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In fact, the whole garden is so peaceful that’s it is hard not to imagine you are well away in the country..

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Until a train comes by to remind you of just where you are!

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As well as the museum, there are two almshouse rooms furnished as they would have been for residents. These  are open at certain times of the day, and well worth a visit. I couldn’t help thinking of a governess like Jane Eyre living here, if she hadn’t of course married Rochester. A comfortable attic at least…

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So here’s Lisa Creagh, an artist who has a show at the Little Black Gallery for the Chelsea Fringe, reading an extract from Jane Eyre. That’s Lily, her baby, you can hear in the background… because she’s named after a flower, it seemed appropriate to keep her in!

And below is the view from ‘Jane’s’ room. Your creative writing prompt for today is to write about a garden seen from a window…  here’s a poem by Emily Dickinson for inspiration.

Tree in Winter

Emily Dickinson

Not at Home to Callers

Says the Naked Tree –

Bonnet due in April –

Wishing you Good Day –

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Please note, Lisa and I will be in conversation about flowers, gardens, art, writing and creativity at the Little Black Gallery on Friday 24th May. Places are free but limited so do nab one if you are interested in coming by emailing info@thelittleblackgallery.com.  We hope to see you there! More details here.