For when the traveller returns from the mountain slopes into the valley,
he brings, not a handful of earth, unsayable to others but instead
some word he has gained, some pure word, the yellow and blue
gentian. Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window –
at most: column, tower?…but to say them you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely than the things themselves
ever dreamed of existing.
From Rilke’s 9th Elegy
It’s over a week ago that the garden at Moorbank closed its gates and I’ve hesitated to write about it, unable to find the words. The place was still being ransacked even as we held our final fling amidst it all.
I felt as if I was at a funeral, the funeral of someone I loved, my legs hollow and shaky, stomach fluttery and taut. I still can’t quite believe we won’t be able to go back but whatever happens, depending on the course the Freemen decide to take, it will never be the same.
I’m pleased I have so many full notebooks and photographs to return to and summon the garden, its plants and trees, from a mixture of memory and imagination, what I’ve managed to salvage from close observation and what I hope is a reliable, authentic notation.
The Director of Moorbank, Dr Anne Borland, made a wonderful speech celebrating the Garden’s significant legacy. Here’s a small but striking extract, highlighting the University’s shortsightedness in deciding to cut such a valuable resource:
Moorbank has been an important resource for Plant Science research at the University since 1923. Trevor Walker amassed a unique collection of tropical ferns and the discovery of a new pathway of photosynthesis in the 1950s by Drs Ranson and Thomas relied on plant material raised and maintained at Moorbank. Whilst the number of plant scientists employed at Newcastle has declined over the years, Moorbank has continued to support the work of postgraduate students from countries as far apart as Thailand and Nigeria as well as undergraduate project students on a whole range of topics from bird behaviour to plant genetics, important research on Alzheimers (the work of Elaine Perry) and on a personal level Moorbank has been home to my collection of the tropical trees of Clusia, probably the most diverse collection of the genus in Europe, a genus which is now at the centre of a $15 million dollar research program funded by the US-DOE to improve drought tolerance in tree species used for biofuel production.