Tag Archives: London

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At the newly refurbished award-winning William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow on Sunday I was reminded how much I admired this Victorian Renaissance man (1834 – 1896).

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How not to admire someone who did so much and said such wise and prescient things:IMG_7950

 The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.

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 No man is good enough to be another’s master.

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It was heartening to see a new garden taking shape behind the house on the edge of Lloyd Park, designed according to Morris’s principles and incorporating some of his trademark flowers.  In the sunshine you could almost imagine you were in his ‘Earthly Paradise’.

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Muse and Meadow

IMG_7899 Even if not here, Spring is always happening somewhere.  This weekend I tracked it down in London, galloping ahead of us like a runaway horse. At the Poetry Society’s gathering for the Ted Hughes Award and the National Poetry Competition, I was delighted to receive First Prize for my poem Bernard and Cerinthe, which began life among the gorgeous blooms in my friend Susie’s garden. Garden of verses … Honeywort or Cerinthe major Purpurascens – one of the romantic leads in

Cerinthe is a stunner, also known as honeywort or wax flower.  I intend to try and grow some in my garden this summer.  If this fog lifts and the soil warms up.

IMG_7893 It also gave me an excuse to visit the lovely Garden Museum and see their exhibition on Fashion and Gardens. Lots of fascinating connections – fabrics, prints and paintings, as well as several mannequins dressed to kill in garden-inspired outfits.   The highlight, almost literally, was Rebecca Louise Law’s installation, The Flower Garden Display’d, named after the 1734 book, a month by month directory of flowers, by Robert Furber, on loan from the British Library.

IMG_7922Standing beneath it, the world was turned upside down – ceiling became meadow and, as the flowers were drying and dying, marriage bed became winding sheet.   It seemed more Elizabethan than eighteenth century somehow – redolent of strewing herbs and embroidered bodices, Shakespeare sonnets.  In the vaulted ceiling of the converted church, catching the light from the arched and stained glass windows, it was sublime – sacred and secular. To walk beneath it was to cross the threshold into whatever April might bring.

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Chokushi-Mon

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freed from all fear of man

You are lost
until the gate
is found

under the Chinese Nettle tree
spangled shade

gravel
raked
just so

island of white
a single stone

king of the garden
a peacock
cloaked in terrible eyes

shining paths
lead up and down

on a gentle rise
shades of pewter
and lichen

grandfather pine
the tallest tree

all of us wishing
for the same thing
I toss in my silver

the only colour
five-petalled mauve

are they flowers
or seeds dusting
the master’s haiku?

cast in bronze
letters I can’t read

the carved bird
forever on the brink
of flight

sprinkled awake
by the circling spray

facts speak
for themselves
no one listens

always stone
that takes us home

pruning the yew
a line of string
precisely level

enough work
today dreaming

may we all live
in houses stronger
than earthquakes

on the Atlas Cedar
new cones ooze resin.

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A nijuuin renga at Chokushi-Mon,
Kew Gardens
on 18th July 2013.

The title is a line from Kyoshi Takahama’s haiku set in the Japanese Landscape at Kew. He composed it there on May 2nd 1936 and it was installed as a feature, in English and Japanese, by his daughter 43 years later.

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There are actually two peacocks although I couldn’t tell the difference between them.  One is called George – presumably after George III, in whose reign so much of Kew as we know it now was established.IMG_5931

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Kew Gardens

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The true motive of travel should be to become lost and unknown.
Lin Yutang

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The Garden in Winter

A weekend in London and a visit to the wonderful Garden Museum

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Tucked away next to Lambeth Palace, the Museum is housed in a converted church.  The 16th century plant hunters, gardeners and collectors, John Tradescant the Elder (c.1570-1638) and Younger (1608-1662), are buried in an ornate tomb in the garden.  Apparently they used to have a small botanical museum in the area, which they called the Ark.

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At this time of year everywhere’s rather bare and back to the bone, but I look forward to returning to see it during the summer.  The knot garden and its surrounds are planted with species introduced by the Tradescants – such as the scarlet runner bean, red maple and tulip tree – and many others grown by them in their Lambeth garden.

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A great way to spend a winter Saturday, looking at old spades and hoes, mowers and watering cans!  Lots of quaint adverts reflecting changes in horticultural fashions.

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As well as the permanent collection, there was also an exhibition of art inspired by gardens over the centuries.  I found a lovely book in the shop recording Charlotte Verity’s year as Artist in Residence – beautiful, delicate paintings and drawings.

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I envied her the chance to observe the changing seasons in such a small but resonant space – time to go deep into it and let it go deep inside her.  I felt something like that during my time at Moorbank.  Looking more widely now at a range of different gardens, I am missing that sense of a clear boundary.  Poetry for me works best in sharp focus, in miniature.  The absences associated with winter also make for a certain spareness just now.  Perhaps the turn of the Solstice will shift things…

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What Love is Like in Winter

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