How many cities have I flown into at night – full of expectation and delight, already dazzled by the sense of otherness? Those particular patterns and colours nothing like the ones I left behind in that place for want of a better word I call home.
There are three hypotheses about the inhabitants of Baucis: that they hate the earth; that they respect it so much they avoid all contact, that they love it as it was before they existed and with spyglasses and telescopes aimed downward they never tire of examining it, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, art by art, contemplating with fascination their own absence.
From Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities
Steeped in history and beauty, it was easy to forget that Padua is a city. After a week the wonder hadn’t worn off. As a country dweller, I’m interested in the fact that Botanic Gardens through their traditional connections with Universities tend to be based in cities, where what they offer simply in terms of green space is particularly vital. Antonella Moila showed me a passage underlined in one of her books – a quote she likes to share with her students from Marco Guazzo’s description of the garden in Padua written in 1546, just one year after it was first established:
Scolari & altri sign. possano da ogni hora venir nell’orto & ridursi co i loro libri a ragionar all’ombra, delle piante dottamente; & alla peripatetica sotto quella passeggiare investigando le loro nature…
(Scholars and others can at any hour be found in the garden, considering their books in the shade, and the plants intelligently; walking through, investigating their nature…)
Today in Newcastle Padua felt a million miles away – the idea of the need for shade a cruel joke. I went to a meeting of Moorbank volunteers to discuss the future of the garden. It seems to be clear that the University no longer has the will or finances to maintain Moorbank and so the gardening volunteers who keep the wheels turning are stepping up their efforts to try and make it viable as some sort of community venture. I was impressed, not for the first time, by their redoubtable practicality and endless resourcefulness. There will be an initial meeting to garner practical assistance of any kind that folk feel they might be able to offer (not necessarily gardening – admin, fundraising, business acumen, publicity, legal expertise etc) on Sunday 25th November at 2.30 and the garden will be open from 1pm. All welcome.
On my way out of the city I called into the wonderful Amnesty International Bookshop on Westgate Road and couldn’t resist buying far too many books – a mixture of gardening and poetry. Amongst which: a copy of Ida Affleck Graves’s A Kind Husband (Oxford 1994) – a magnificent book I’ve been hunting for in my house for years but suspect I lent it to someone and it never came home; and one by a Canadian poet called Lorna Crozier I’d not heard of before – The Garden Going On Without Us (McClelland and Stewart 1985) – this inscribed by the author ‘For Tom Paulin – words and best wishes from Saskatoon’.
Driving west, leaving the city behind, I stopped off at Bywell where the trees were looking stunning in the afternoon light. Typically, just when I wanted to take some pictures, my batteries were ‘exhausted’ as my camera tells me with such a sigh I can’t help feeling sorry for it. My friend John, man of many cameras, came to the rescue and took these quick and lovely shots. I drove home up the valley in the dark and through snow, all the gold turned to silver – the first of the year; the dream that was Padua receding further and further.
Garden at Night
Leaves flood the yard
in deep shadows. Gourds
float like jellyfish
in the night’s tidal pools.
This far from ocean
only plants know
Even the earthworm
pulls threads of light
through the blackest corner,
the sleeping eye.