Cas Holmes in the Garden

As soon as I saw this beautiful little picture by artist, Cas Holmes, I knew it had to be mine:


It sums up my emotional roots in the Fen landscape just perfectly, and so I wasn’t surprised to find that Cas is from the Fens too. She’s a wonderful and interesting textile artist – just look at her work – and also a friend of this website. She says about her art:

“I like to use discarded items, waste material no longer considered useful and develop pieces using stitch and collage. Looking at translucent layers, connecting paint, mark and print with the found surfaces of fabrics and papers, my work is informed by the ‘hidden’ or often overlooked parts of our landscape, and personal spaces. I am interested in the relationship with domestic interiors and outside places, the views from our windows, the verges of our roadsides, field edges and the places where our gardens meet the ‘greater landscape’. Working with ‘stitch sketching’, I seek to capture a moment or thing before it is gone.”

This is a beautiful piece of hers called ‘Wayside Weeds’:


Recently she sent me some quotes and thoughts about gardens that made me want to dedicate a post to her! Here are some of the quotes she sent:

‘People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.’ Iris Murdoch.


And this from her grandmother, Mary, who was a Romany Gypsy and wrote this while looking at plants in her garden on the advent of the second World War: ‘I watched as the Plumbago flowered and the petals fell and wondered how many of our men would now fall.’

Chilling, simple and true. I don’t think it is connected but it resonated for me with another of Cas’s pieces, Counting Crows:

counting crows

In fact, the Arts Council England have a textile art piece that  Cas made from her grandmother’s old seed wrappers and her aprons, which is called ‘My Grandmother’s Garden’. Cas says about her grandmother, that ‘as a traveller, she often said that the roadsides and the fields were her ‘garden’ and she never tired of the changing aspects.’

But it is something Cas’s grandfather said that gave me the inspiration for a poem today. This was after the Second World War when he was asked why he had flowers in his vegetable beds:

‘I will always plant some flowers as we need flowers to feed our souls as well as vegetables to feed our belly.’

It reminds me of a story I heard about Clementine Churchill who had been told off for planting swathes of bulbs in London during war time. She called it  ‘an act of defiance’,  because in fact what she was planting was hope that there would be a future and that future would contain beauty, colour and scent.

Good Company

And you’re there

preparing the ground

for me to plant marigolds

and tomatoes,

my mouth watering

already at our harvest

of gold and rubies.

If this tempts you to learn more, you can study with Cas at these forthcoming workshops! 

We’re in The English Garden!

Or at least the very beautiful glossy magazine by that name. You can imagine how happy I was to flick through this month’s copy to find a mention of this website by Lia Leendertz. A wonderful surprise. lia In fact  I was SO happy I did some serious squeaking – which isn’t so cool when you’re on a crowded train. Ho hum. Anyway moving on (which was what the other people in my carriage wished they could do when I then started to cry a little) here’s a poem about some other news from the garden for you. It’s one of mine this time, and is especially for Lia who is already a muse:

The News From the Garden

is earthshattering,

a blackbird’s made its nest

in the hawthorn tree,


and breaking as I write,

seedlings planted a month ago

are bursting forth, teasing


us with their rainbow hints,

but if you rub 
a leaf

between finger and thumb


you can smell summer

already; a baby is kicking 
its legs

in response at the clouds


rolling over her like a news tape

filled with sun-bites,

while over by the swings,


a camelia 
leads an uprising

of blood red against the privet,

tulips and bluebells form a coalition,


and even the grass strengthens its position

near where this morning, at five past eleven

dizzy with dandelion flowers


the cat let a pigeon fly free.

Only the plane tree, obedient

to the season follows the prompts


while propped up against the wall

already warming itself for glory,

the first rosebud waits for her cue.

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.)

This is the garden that Octavia built…
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.
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?
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.
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…
… 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!
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 9

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 9. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)



This little public park sandwiches the Tate Britain with the Thames. I was walking round it thinking how it felt like a sanctuary for residents and nearby workers, each bench was occupied by individuals enjoying a break. This man, for example, works for a nearby pizza restaurant and says he comes here as often as he can for the peace.


And the planting felt like a picture in itself…


… appropriate with the Tate Britain so near, and the statue of Millais watching with interest.


Interestingly, the area used to be the site of the old Millbank Prison, and if you walk along the riverbank you can see the memorial to where prisoners were shipped to Australia.


And if you walk just one hundred metres from the park, you will find one of my favourite jewellery shops, @Work, which had an appropriate garden display in its windows!


So my poem for Millbank Gardens is this lovely three-liner from David Ignatow, which seems to sum up the gardens for me, the feeling of peace and the underlying layer of the prison. As well of course as the Chelsea Fringe!

If Flowers Want to Grow

David Ignatow

If flowers want to grow

right out of concrete sidewalk cracks

I’m going to bend down to smell them.

And I invite you today to write about your favourite lunchtime sanctuary. Here’s one of the bench memorial plaques from Millbank Garden to give you some inspiration!


Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 8

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 8. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)



Several years ago, on a trip to Hong Kong, I was desperate to sit in a garden but no one seemed to know of one to direct me to. Eventually someone suggested  a concrete sports stadium where I sat, a little uncomfortably, and wrote in my journal for a bit. Well, to be honest I think, for all its glories, the South Bank can feel a little like that, so it’s all the more surprising that hidden away above the Queen Elizabeth Hall is such a pretty rooftop garden.


With a wildflower meadow even…




Hey – what’s this – a bar!…


And all, of course, with one of the best views of London.


Now because the South Bank is also the home of the BFI, the Writer in the Garden has gone all film director-y today, and here’s the writer Will Sutton captured on film for you, reading T S Eliot’s beautiful Le Figlia Che Piange. We are waiting for next year’s BAFTA’s…

So here’s a writing exercise for you today…


The Queen Elizabeth Hall garden is full of oddities, and not just us…  Write about finding something unusual in your garden one morning, whether it be an object, a plant, or indeed a gardener! 

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.)


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.


And although the show gardens are the main attraction…


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


… or even running away …


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


… 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!


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


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????


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).


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 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 1

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.


One of the the most surprising of which is ….


…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…


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.


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 …

Related articles

Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No 4

Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 4. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)



Now I will admit I thought twice about including Cavendish Square because apart from being a green spot behind Oxford Street, I – sorry – can’t find much to get inspired by it.



…. then as I was walking past the statue in the middle, something didn’t seem quite right. So I looked harder.


It’s made of soap! I love it. Not just ordinary soap either, but apparently Lush’s ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’ range.

It’s the work of a Korean artist, Meekyoung Shin, and it’s a representation of the Duke of Cumberland whose original statue in the square was put up in 1770, and removed in disgrace by in 1868 after his persecution of the Scottish Highlanders.

The soapy Duke will only be there until July, and then what, I wonder? Amazing actually it hasn’t disintegrated more given all the rain we’ve been having.


But in honour of the statue, and soap, and hmmm… this isn’t such a good segue as I’d hoped but anyway, here’s May Sarton‘s beautiful poem An Observation:

An Observation

May Sarton

True gardeners cannot bear a glove

Between the sure touch and the tender root,

Must let their hands grow knotted as they move

With a rough sensitivity about

Under the earth, between the rock and shoot,

Never to bruise or wound the hidden fruit.

And so I watched my mother’s hands grow scarred,

She who could heal the wounded plant or friend

With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love;

I minded once to see her beauty gnarled,

But now her truth is given me to live,

As I learn for myself we must be hard

To move among the tender with an open hand,

And to stay sensitive up to the end

Pay with some toughness for a gentle world.

And the writing prompt for you today is … Gardener’s hands!

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.)



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.


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.


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


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…


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


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


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


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


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


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…


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 –


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  We hope to see you there! More details here.

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…



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.


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.


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.


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.

green man

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

green man

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…


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

I Asked The Little Boy Who Cannot See


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.