Tag Archives: peacocks

The Garden at Holly Hill



Since embarking on my Botanical project I have been asking various folk if they might contribute a piece for this blog and was delighted when my longtime friend the photographer Karen Melvin sent me this – as well as some wonderful images of her beautiful garden just outside Slaley in Northumberland.


In my first year of work here I was caught by the gardening urge when a colleague brought some plants into college for a friend. I visited their garden. It was Frank and Margery Lawley’s first garden at Wallington. It was like nothing I had seen before. Some flowers were 8 feet high! I thought- I had to have some of these dramatic giant plants. Everything was new to me. Our childhood gardens in Michigan were wild places with birch and willow trees, asparagus growing in the meadow grass, a hybrid tea rose by the door, a conifer to mark the edge of your yard. We mowed to keep the woodland back.



In Slaley all the first plants I got from the Lawleys died. I later found out what treasures they were as I got my eye in. I visited gardens. We cut trees down around the cottage. I carried little plants home in my pocket from Newcastle covered market. I started collecting architectural plants. Cottage garden plants with flower structure like eryngiums, astrantias, aquilegias, tall lilies, poppies, alliums give such a nice mix of soft colour along with things that seed around like campanulas, geraniums, sisyrinchium. I clipped a yew hedge, half of it grown from seed, into Bauhaus shapes, a cube, a cone, a globe, a spiral, a half arch like the kids’ blocks with the other half over the drive like it was just thrown down. A larch tree appeared growing out of a quarry wall crevice so I am trimming it like a Japanese bonsai in the ground. This leads to the moss garden, drying up now. It did so well last year. Dead moss covers the whole length of a dry stone wall in undulating dried-up mounds.


A peacock arrived at Holly Hill out of the blue and stayed all winter, roosting high up in the sycamores. Last year he ate all my gooseberries and blackcurrants. This year he got old enough for a mate, and we (in the five Holly Hill cottages) were all debating whether to get rid of him or to find him a mate. He left just as the gooseberries and blackcurrants were coming into season. Silly peacock. And we have had more strawberries this year than the past thirty years put together.



Karen Melvin 21 July, 2013

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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

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.


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.


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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