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:

casbetter

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’:

Urban-Nature-Wayside-Weeds2

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.

L1080624

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.)

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 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.)

MILLBANK GARDENS, JOHN ISLIP STREET

IMG_5307

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.

IMG_5305

And the planting felt like a picture in itself…

IMG_5302IMG_5295

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

IMG_5308

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.

millbank

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!

IMG_5312

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!

IMG_5296

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.)

QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL ROOF TOP GARDEN, SOUTH BANK

IMG_5143

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.

IMG_5149

With a wildflower meadow even…

IMG_5134

Vegetables…

IMG_5128

Hey – what’s this – a bar!…

IMG_5132

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

IMG_5138

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…

IMG_5140

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.)

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.

L1080365

And although the show gardens are the main attraction…

chelseagarden2

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

chelseatop

… or even running away …

chelseatreee

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

chelseaflowers

… 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!

chelseatulips

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

chelseaexhib

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????

chelseaman

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).

chelseaphoto

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 SPA KINGS ROAD

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.

lush3

One of the the most surprising of which is ….

lush2

…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…

lush7

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.

lush6

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