Poor Susan and the sounds of the city

This week I was lucky enough to go on a guided walk around the city of London with Rosie from Dotmaker Tours. She was concentrating particularly on the sounds of the city – we walked without talking, just listening (almost too intense, was the verdict), we talked how the city would sound in the future and how it sounded in the past. I wrote a poem for Rosie after, you can find it here.

The walk was wonderful, and one thing that stood out for me is the little park Rosie took us too, between Cheapside and Wood Street. It’s just a park with a tree you’d just pass by normally. I wasn’t even sure why we’d stopped there to be honest, although it was interesting to find out that it had been the site of the church, St Peter Cheap, which was burnt down during the Great Fire of London, (interesting to find out that Cheap was the medieval word for market). And also to see these benches. I’d never heard of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, and looking at their website after I see loads of useful information about London’s green spaces.


So it was particularly lovely to find out from Rosie that it was this very plane tree (below) in the park that had inspired William Wordsworth to write his Reverie of Poor Susan. And here it is – proof that even in the city, nature can be the real time-traveller. To the past, as well as the future. Amazing to think of Wordsworth walking down these streets, looking up at the tree and him, in turn, thinking of poor Susan walking the same steps… and so on!


The Reverie of Poor Susan

At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears,
Hangs a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years:
Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
In the silence of morning the song of the Bird.

‘Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
Down which she so often has tripped with her pail;
And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove’s,
The one only dwelling on earth that she loves.

She looks, and her heart is in heaven: but they fade,
The mist and the river, the hill and the shade:
The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
And the colours have all passed away from her eyes!

On the anniversary of Lancelot Brown’s death

Lancelot – Capability – Brown is best known as the creator of our current vision of the English landscape, so would it surprise you to know this is where he died?


It happened on the 6th February 1783, 235 years ago today.  Apparently the night before he’d collapsed on the doorstep of his daughter Bridget Holland’s house in Hertford Street, London while returning after a night out at Lord Coventry’s.

Researching on the Historic England site, Henry and Bridget Holland lived at no 17, although there’s no plaque or general excitement. In fact, it’s now serviced flats, I got some odd looks when I was taking photographs of the doorstep – I think people thought I must have been a private detective! And slap next to a Prezzo.  I like to think of Lancelot Brown nipping there for a meal – it’s obviously a favourite for some locals! 

Jane Brown writes this in her wonderful biography, The Omnipotent Magician:

At the beginning of February he was spending time in town, staying with his daughter Bridget Holland and her family at their house in Hertford Street in Mayfair. It was an ordinary business trip, which enabled him to visit his clients at their London houses; on the Wednesday evening, 5th February, he was dining with Lord Coventry at his house in Piccadilly, and while he was walking the short distance home he collapsed from ‘an apoplexy’ and the next day he died.

His place of death couldn’t have been more different from his birthplace in rural Northumberland, right in the middle of the city, and I think even then full of secret private clubs such as the one now at No 5. And maybe even it was the footmen from General John Burgoyne’s nearby house who helped him home.

At least, he’d have had a view of Hyde Park running across the bottom of Hertford Street, I like to think of him not being too far away from green. His death, not surprisingly, caused a stir, with Horace Walpole wrote to Lady Ossory: “Your Dryads must go into black gloves, Madam. Their father-in-law Lady Nature’s second husband, is dead! Mr Brown dropped down at his own door yesterday.”

(Wouldn’t Horace Walpole been the best tweeter? Complete with exclamation marks!)

Lancelot Brown’s body was taken quietly to Fenstanton in Cambridgeshire to be buried, where he’d been Lord of the Manor. As his will stated, ‘my body I commit to the Earth to be decently buried.’

So here’s a poem to remember him today, based on something his contemporary Richard Owen Cambridge apparently said, which was that he longed to get to heaven before Brown, so he could see it before the great landscape gardener had ‘improved’ it. It’s a ‘mirror’ poem.

Views Reflected
Sarah Salway

By the time it was heaven’s turn,
the formal landscape of England
had changed forever:
a gardener and a duke
working harmoniously together.
Scattered trees,
a serpentine lake,
the ‘gardenless’ garden
painted a new picture –
Brown, nature’s second husband,
moving mountains from his path.

Moving mountains from his path,
Brown, nature’s second husband,
painted a new picture –
the ‘gardenless’ garden,
a serpentine lake,
scattered trees
working harmoniously together.
A gardener and a duke
had changed forever
the formal landscape of England
by the time it was heaven’s turn.


Cauliflower cheese with Charles Dickens


Charles Dickens isn’t an author I normally associate with writing about gardens. The grimy back streets around Covent Garden might come closest, but last week, recovering from a nearly all-night election watch, I visited the Charles Dickens Museum in his childhood home in Doughty Street…


… and had a pick-me-up bowl of cauliflower cheese soup in the garden.


And what a little treasure this city centre garden is…






Hmmm. Just so this isn’t a post about ‘writer eats soup’, here is something I found about Charles Dickens and ferns. But mostly so I can revel in the word pteridomania. Poor Mary, not worthy of a fernery…


If you click here, you can see a picture of Charles Dickens and Mary in the rose garden of his Kent house, Gad’s Hill.

But anyway, if you are in Doughty Street, or near, this is a hidden gem of a garden with delicious food and lovely staff. Thoroughly recommended. And what a privilege to sit there, as I did, and write in Charles Dickens’s garden, even if it is to be reminded that ‘spring is the time of year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade’…


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! 

Grass Mounds, Taking Risks and Riots – Spa Fields, Exmouth Market

I’ve been to Exmouth Market several times, but never ventured down this uninviting passage to visit Spa Fields


I’d thought it was a perfect place to take a plate of street food from the market, but then I read a little about its history.


Turns out that its well-known for the Spa Fields riots of 1816, and later, between 1821 and 1824, as the base of a community led by a group of printers and based on the co-operative ideas of Robert Owen, the visionary founder of Scotland’s New Lanark.


Ups and downs though, and after only several years, the community floundered. Perhaps because, apparently, ‘The community also set up a ‘monitor’ system whereby each monitor looked after one person and acted as his ‘confessor’.


Before that though, in the 18th century, it was known for ‘the rude sports that were in vogue’ and thieves who knocked down passing pedestrians and ‘despoiled’ them of ‘hats, wigs, silver buckles, and money’.


Luckily I was allowed to eat my lunch in peace.


And when I visited, just round the corner, round three corners in fact, there’s an inspiring children’s playground – not a park though. And an adult-free zone to boot. It may not have ‘monitors and confessors’ but it does have some rules I loved!


I say when I visited, because sadly I heard that the playground had a fire just after I’d been, and was seriously damaged. You can read about it here.

So I offer you this poem from Robert Louis Stevenson which reminds me so much of playing as a child, although we had nothing as exciting as this wooden structure which was destroyed by the fire. Heartbreaking.



The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing,

   Up in the air so blue?

 Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing

   Ever a child can do!


 Up in the air and over the wall,

   Till I can see so wide,

 Rivers and trees and cattle and all

   Over the countryside–


 Till I look down on the garden green,

   Down on the roof so brown–

 Up in the air I go flying again,

   Up in the air and down!



And I invite you to write about being allowed to take a different view of the garden, as with these giant chairs. I’d have LOVED these as a child. In fact I’d love them now.  A real boost for young imaginations.

It seems that Islington Council are committed to repairing the playground. I hope the children can play again very soon. 

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…


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.


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)


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


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!


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’).


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 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.)



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 …


..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…


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…


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.


But this is good too – school planting in action.


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.


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 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


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…




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.


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


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


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.)


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


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


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.


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



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


.. 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…


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!


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.



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!


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.


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.