Tag Archives: spring

In Pelion

Opening into May – one of Northumberland’s most glorious months – I am delighted to introduce a new guest piece brought home from the other side of Europe by a talented young writer I have worked with over a number of years.  Still only 16, Marcie Winstanley is passionate about words – reading and writing – and committed to what I’m sure will be a lifetime of putting pen to paper (or increasingly fingers to keyboard).

I heard that Marcie had written a short piece while on one of her family’s regular visits to her aunt’s cottage in Mainland Greece, looking out onto the Aegean, where the nearest town is Volos.  I was particularly intrigued by the mention of a Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum).  I had to look up the musmula (Mespilus germanica) – and discovered that it is a mediterranean medlar, a cross between a pear and hawthorn, which sounds delicious.  So, enjoy this small taste of a garden in Greece, caught just at the end of April.  The photos were taken by Marcie’s sister, Nina (age 14).  


On a bee’s hum I hear an echo of things that have been, of memories. And I zoom in as if through a camera’s lens on the present, the sense of now, the moment.

Trees grow, thick and leafy and from here I can see the shades that make up the view that shares itself with me, allows me to capture a fragment of its beauty. I see the spring shoots and tendrils of the vine, fresh and light amongst the weathered brown of its trellis and I see the deep green of the musmula leaves, so close I can almost touch them. The grass is speckled with daisies, white.


The Judas blossoms blush pink and petals drop at intervals onto the stones of the terrace below, joining the violet of the wisteria flowers, tumbling from the growing plant, which pokes its head towards the balcony.

A few light drops of rain begin to fall amongst the leaves, touching their edges like tiny feet, and my gaze wanders towards the sea. The mass of tangled green branches of olives seem to run to its edge, merging with the shimmering grey that matches the clouds. A pale blue haze on the horizon fades and ever changes.


Marcie Winstanley


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All This Juice And Joy

As if Spring had even infiltrated the pages of my diary, I’ve been blown hither and thither in the cause of hey nonny no etc etc.  The backdrop of catkins and crocuses, blue skies and birdsong has made my busyness bearable – but my constitutional preference for SLOW is probably why Spring isn’t my favourite season.  The sheer energy and constant motion of it makes me feel quite queasy.

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I’m feeling the undiluted strength of it more keenly this year because it didn’t really happen in 2013 as a result of the seasonal upending that occurs if you spend any time at all in the Southern Hemisphere. And then last Spring itself was so cold and late it quickly came and went.  I remember being very puzzled to return in April after my three months away to a landscape and colours not so very different from those I’d left.

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An unexpected consequence of Climate Change is that Spring is not a cliché any more.  No longer predictable, when it does come, aren’t we relieved, grateful that another year has turned, another winter passed and we have survived to see it?  Although we’ve had a mild, relatively kind winter here, there’s still the feeling among people of relief and revival, the return of the light.

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Apparently, the Equinox coincided with World Poetry Day and World Flower Day – which seems somehow suitable. They all feel like part of the same tradition, fuelled by the same ‘green fuse’, sap rising. Can’t be hurried, can’t be slowed – can only be felt coursing through you like caffeine or adrenalin.

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If you’re going to greet the spring anywhere at all, I can’t think of anywhere better than Edinburgh Botanic Garden.  This weekend dry bright days brought lots of folk out despite it still being cold enough to need hats and scarves.  The rock garden was the perfect spot to savour the year’s new beginnings – everything in miniature, small words after the silence of winter, exquisite forms and optimistic colours, all arranged around the dramatic waterfall, skilfully landscaped levels and winding paths.

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I heard on Gardener’s Question Time that ‘March comes in with an adder’s head and goes out with a peacock’s tail’ (Richard Lawson Gales, 1862-1927).   I like the sound of that, the circle between the two.


Nothing is so beautiful as spring –

            When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

            Thrush’s eggs look like low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightning to hear him sing;

            The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

            The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.


What is all this juice and joy?

            A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,

Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.



Gerard Manley Hopkins

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The S Word

photo 3Our mild early Spring has tempted me into the garden – sadly neglected after my year of travelling.  I’m looking forward to giving it more attention this growing season.  What I got up to today was less gardening than restoring/tidying.  This past fortnight has seen regular incursions by the neighbouring sheep population.  Clumsy-hooved and fat-fleeced, they’ve trampled the already thin grass and snapped off lots of low branches.  One of the few shrubs that thrives up here, a climbing hydrangea has suffered the loss of many buds.  The garden’s been littered with broken stems and twigs, strands of wool trailing everywhere.

photo 2The two brightest sights are: the ivy, glossy and constellated with its strange sputnik flowers, and the small tête-à-tête daffodils, cheerful and resilient.  Both these seem to have escaped the depredations of the sheep and the ferocious breeding and tunnelling of the rabbits.

photo 4What I want to know is where does all the soil go when the rabbits dig their holes?  I spent half my time outside today ferrying soil from molehills in the field to the gaping chasms in what are laughingly called my ‘flower beds’.  Last year on our visit to the Bowes Museum, during our tour of the Library, next to a 1920 book called Margarine, I spotted another with the title The Archeology of Rabbit Warrens.  Maybe that’s what I need now to understand the earth-moving strategies of these creatures that, after twenty years, I’ve become resigned to sharing this patch of land with.

photoThis will be my first year without a conservatory – another rather grand name for what it actually was – rotten and perilous: finally it had to come down.  Andy, the estate handyman, left the stone walls standing and built me a little wooden gate so that I’d have a rabbit-proof space to grow plants in pots and maybe sit and write when the weather warms up.  The sort of gardening I like involves a lot of sitting down between tasks!

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First Snowdrops


This week seeing the first snowdrops in my garden, and just sprouting in the woods behind the house, has made me inordinately happy.  Such a strong sense of recognition and relief – that precious flash of pure white amidst all the browns, greys and muted greens of the winter palette.  It’s easy to see why the snowdrop has come to symbolise hope.  A welcome early indicator that Spring is on its slow and winding way.


The snowdrops in the Manse garden were countless, there were always more, giving a kind of knowledge that nature is inexhaustible, that multitude is her secret, her deep mystery.  There could be no end to snowdrops.

 Kathleen Raine

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Slightly daunted by the task of reviewing and editing all my photographs, I’ve made a start by putting together a selection of pictures from Tokyo for folk to see.  I’m struck by how achingly beautiful it looks, especially in comparison with another damp and dreary day up here on the fell – and hopefully despite the poor quality of the images on youtube, a result of my rather rural internet connection I suspect.

I am full of cold with the shock of returning and the dip in the temperature, still not quite sure what’s what.  On Thursday I went along to vote – a week early.  I am as confused as this stop-start spring and the poor lambs braving wind, rain, hail and snow.  Hard to believe it’s nearly May.

The only thing on my patch that seems to want to catch up with the year is an old amaryllis I’ve brought indoors from the conservatory.  Every day it’s grown at least an inch.  I am crossing my fingers that a flower will appear and open into a kinder, brighter season.


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Spring at Moorbank


It was very good to be back at Moorbank again this week, reassuringly unchanged despite its uncertain status.  Newcastle University’s support will come to an end on 30th November this year.  A detailed Feasibility Study has been submitted to the landlords, the Freemen of the City, and we are currently awaiting their response.


Meanwhile work continues, tidying beds, mowing grass, seed lists exchanged with other Botanic Gardens around the world and seedlings being reared in the glasshouses.

IMG_4467The four surviving renga lilies I’ve reared from seed are thriving much better on a bench at Moorbank than in my draughty cold conservatory.

The garden will be open during the upcoming Late Shows on Saturday 18th May 7 – 11pm and for the NGS on 22nd May 4 – 8pm.


It was very satisfying to see one of the cherry trees in bloom, squaring the circle of my time away.


Prunus kurilensis ‘Brilliant’

We’ve never, no, not for a single day,

pure space before us, such as that which flowers

endlessly open into.

Rilke, ‘The Eighth Elegy’

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Writing Myself Home

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I’ve been ‘home’ for a couple of weeks now and still not quite settled.  Hard to tell if this is an ongoing state of ‘homelessness’ or a reaction against the cold spring and my weatherworn fell, still nowhere near green.

One of my new Sydney friends, Katie, gave me an exquisite pair of curtains she’d made, incorporating screenprints of the patterns on Scribbly Gums.  I hung them at my sitting room window last week so now my view (of a landscape so unlike anything I’ve seen in the past three months I sometimes think it must all have been a dream – or this is…) is framed by a reminder of those wonderful trees on the other side of the world.

photoThe Scribbly Gum Moth lays its eggs in the layers between the old and new bark and, when they hatch, the larvae tunnel their way along, eating the wood as they go.  They loop back the way they came before falling to the ground to pupate.  When the old bark drops off, their tracks are revealed, with the scribbly appearance that gives both moth and tree their name.

photo copyNative to New South Wales, the Scribbly Gum is just one of over 700 species of Eucalypt.  Many of them are hard to identify but its distinctive markings make it easy to spot.  The sense that something is written there – a secret, in code, some mysterious script – is tantalizing.  So much of my journey seemed to involve making translations from the world of nature, reading what wasn’t written.  Strange now to be back at my desk and starting a process of making translations of my own translations, tunnelling between the old and the new – even my curtains asking to be deciphered!


The cold spring falls from the stone.

I passed and heard

the mountain, palm and fern

spoken in one strange word.

The gum-tree stands by the spring.

I peeled its splitting bark 

and found the written track

of a life I could not read.

Judith Wright

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Cherry Blossom in Tokyo


Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a 15-minute walk away from Shinjuku Station, the busiest in the world.  I was staying halfway between the two.  The 144 acre green space belonged to a feudal lord of the Emperor in the Edo period (16th/17th centuries).  In 1879 it was officially named a Botanic Garden, primarily concerned with experiments in fruit, vegetable and orchid cultivation.  Even though it is now used more like a park (opened to the public on 21st May 1949, redeveloped after most of it was destroyed in a World War II air raid), there are still many different varieties of trees (20,000 specimens) and shrubs, a French formal garden and an English landscape garden, a traditional Japanese garden and several tea houses and pavilions, as well as a splendid greenhouse (just finished last year) with some wonderful tropical plants and its own rock-hewn waterfall.  It has been a favourite place for cherry blossom viewing parties (hanami) since 1917.  All these layers played a part in my choosing to make Shinjuku Gyoen my base while I was in Tokyo.


It was my friend Alec Finlay who suggested I make a renga while I was there.  I loosened the form to allow me to write it as more of a journal, a record of my impressions.  The sections (divided by asterisks) represent the passage of the days.  The final part was written more formally at three different locations over the course of my final afternoon.  Fortuitously, the whole thing fell naturally into 108 verses, auspicious in Buddhism – the number of beads on a mala, used to count the reciting of mantras, or prayers.

Sakura is what the Japanese call the cherry blossom and this covers all the varieties, flowering at intervals throughout Spring.  I arrived just past the peak – they opened unusually early this year – but there were still plenty in bloom and people out watching, and picnicking when the weather was fine.  Ordinarily there is much carousing at a hanami party but this being a State garden, bringing in alcohol is forbidden and bags are searched on entering.


Cherry blossom is associated with clouds – a teaching on impermanence.  Watching the petals fall – hanafubuki – is thought to be even more beautiful and special.  If a petal lands on you, it is supposed to bring good luck for the rest of the year.  As far as I could see, it was impossible not to be covered with petals when a breeze blew.

Sakura marks the beginning of Spring and a New Year in Japan: this is the start of the academic and financial years.  The shops are full of diaries that begin in April and there is a wonderful sense of freshness and excitement that winter is finally past.  The whole family goes to see the cherry blossom – walk, eat, drink and take photographs.  To me it seemed like some sort of natural phenomenon and I was very happy to be part of it.


My journey started in January with the Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore, talk of Spring and images of cherry blossom everywhere.  It seems fitting that it ended in April with my getting to see the Real Thing.


Sakura Renga Journal

From the train
and wild cherry

the sight of a pagoda
announces my arrival

in back gardens
trees pruned

agricultural, rectilinear

already blossom
my heart open

an ‘accident’ creates delays
no mention of suicide

a deep bow
from the buffet guy
at the end of the carriage

spiked trees
pollarded, leafless

woken by rain
my first thought
cherry blossom!

even wet and jetlagged
my meridians lift

the umbrellas
of Tokyo
precision choreography

enormous black crows
raucous against pink

falling rain
makes the garden
more beautiful

lawns, ponds, stones
everything just so

for the first time
I see how dark
the bough is

the downpour easing
only the occasional petal

as many blossoms
as people
on these islands

paths dredged
with sugar pink

three, four or five flowers
on each stem

branches’ entrechats
a dancer’s grace

as soon as you walk in
voices call out
to greet you

the most photographed trees
in the world

in Restaurant Yurinoki
even the cake
is floral

soundtrack of cool jazz
unexpected, perfect

a man smuggles
whisky in
with his bento box

cherry blossom blizzard

because we can’t talk
I offer what I hope
are my best smiles

ancient trees
swaddled and propped

stems are shedding
their petals
I’m not wearing enough clothes

wrapped in plastic
guards patrol the avenues

daffodils dying
a different spring
closer to the bone

no sense of the city
briefly elsewhere

the pergola roof
a bird’s nest
of clipped vines

boulders strewn with petals
spring snow

puddles echo
the outline of the ponds
or vice versa

ginkgo majestic
in its original home

stepping stones
invite you
to approach the water

so much on the ground
still so much on the trees

branches bow low
they so want to touch
us, the earth

reflections in the ripples
pixelated pink and green

crows cawing
the park’s four corners

no fresh clever way
to talk about sakura

a gap in the rain
the space
between two trees

like the traveller
it comes and it goes

a bottle
of hot green tea
soothes my hands

the crackle of my poncho
the keening of sirens

in the minority
western faces
wear their own lostness

always another view
to be discovered

there are the trees
and what the trees
make possible

in the absence of rain
everything changes

a spring
like no season
I’ve ever seen before

speckled membrane
skimming the ground

because it’s new
no one knows
what’s about to begin

the rain stops
the people appear

why’s it easier
to love away
better than home?

below a certain temperature
the mind seizes

if I sat here
long enough
I’d start talking Japanese

wind picks up
blossom lets go

a discipline –
staying faithful
to the cherry blossom

everyone still
watching the storm of petals

what falls
is only what’s necessary
to fall

the luxury
of not belonging

this garden
owned by a government
given to the people

one encounter
one opportunity

bearing the cold
for the pleasure
of warmth later

the colour of trust

hooped railings
alongside the paths
are also clouds

dramatic and subtle

baby soft
just born

all the girls gorgeous
round-cheeked and straight-backed

4pm and a ringing of bells
a woman’s voice
the park is closing

the tannoy’s last tune
Auld Lang Syne!

the return
of the sun
an old friend

the garden alive
with voices, laughter

cherry blossom
in sunlight
universal happiness

the trees’ shadows
still in full bloom

that pink
darker, rosier
from a distance

a million moths
petals flying

and the people
are one society

my pages blessed
with the petals’ luck

stripped sepals
clustered tufts

the smallest children
already enchanted

two ants
among the scatterings

the only response
joy, rapture

turtles bask
on the margins
of stone and water

carved from granite
the sunlit lantern

throats warmed
high-pitched birds chatter
hidden in the maples

billows of box, yew
fringe the pond

paper boats drifting
petals float
under the bridge

a single pine
on the peninsula

the tiniest blue tits
on the tallest branches

grateful for the veil
of latticed shade

east meets west
the poet
is photographed

the pavilion roof
flows down, flicks up

out of nowhere
a white egret
alert, inquisitive

a shoal of fat carp
mouths agape

a pause between
two bridges –
where we live

old ladies painting
in sunhats and pinnies

sprays of yellow
compete with the pink –
pink wins

the heat summons
all of Tokyo’s insects

a fetid smell
the opposite
of sweet

a pale grey caterpillar
dangles from my hair

some trees
kept neat
a cherry hedge

her red kimono
embroidered with blossoms of gold

not a place
to be alone in
asking to be shared

meeting the sakura
a heart’s wedding

the leaves
will come later
irrepressible chlorophyll

clear-eyed this is
what hope looks like.

A 108 verse renga
from Tokyo,
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden,
1 – 4 April 2013.


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Despite the rain, the cherry blossom in Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden here in Tokyo is very beautiful – all 1500 trees’ worth.

More hanafubuki than hanami today – watching the petals fall on the wet ground rather than picnicking beneath the boughs.

Part of the significance of the cherry blossom for the Japanese is the way it embodies transience, the ah-ness of things. There’s something melancholy about rain and it added to that sense of fragility and fleetingness.

Especially as I am nothing if not transitional just now. Dropping about ten degrees is one of the ways I’m feeling it. Moving from Autumn to Spring doesn’t sound as if it should involve getting colder, does it?

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