Mixed Borders III Poems from the London Open Garden Squares Weekend
Published by the Poetry School
81 Lambeth Walk London SE11 6DX
Tel: 0207 582 1679 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
With special thanks to the Open Garden Squares Weekend. For more info: http://www.opensquares.org/ Mixed Borders was developed by the Poetry School and London Parks & Gardens Trust. Mixed Borders 2017 was funded by Arts Council England Details of forthcoming courses and projects at www.poetryschool.com
Copyright belongs to the authors.
Cover & back image: 'Wildflowers, Penn Square', Julian Walker
Design and typesetting by James Trevelyan October 2017
Contents Introduction - 9 Alesha Racine - 11 London Plane Tree (1) Pigeon
Alex Josephy - 14 Two Sycamores in Bond-Land Late
Ali Lewis - 17 Hold Protected Views
Andrea Robinson - 20 Hide and Seek Garden of Eden
Ann Perrin - 23 Earls Court Square
Axel KacoutiĂŠ - 26 Autumn Manchester Square
David Hale - 30 Lungwort Monday 29 July 1822
Dorothy Yamamoto - 33 The Garden of the Order of St John
Eleanor Vale - 36 Foxglove The Brunswick Plane
Frances White - 39 Pansies at Woodville Stones of Woodville
Ginny Saunders - 42 Every Day has its Dog in St George's Gardens The First Clean Air Act
Hamizah Adzmi - 46 A Summer Memento
Joanna Ingham - 48 Ode to Triangle Garden Oysters
Julia Bird - 53 C17th Bankside... In the 1870s...
Lewis Buxton - 56 Constellations Alexandra Road Park
Lisa Kiew - 59 Crescent Garden Secret
Louise Adam - 62 Where Shadows Run
Mary Dickins - 64 Curriculum The Grave Robber's Lament
Nicola Jackson - 67 For the Octopus Linden Tree
Ryan Norman - 70 Figured Assembly
Selina Rodrigues - 74 Yellow Iris Red Cross Gardens
Shirley Nicholson - 78 Along Castellain Road Artist
Steph Morris - 81 Plane Speaking
Tolu Agbelusi - 84 One Sunny Day in Postman's Park Any Big Open Green Space
INTRODUCTION For the third year in a row, the horticulturalists of London opened up their gardens to poets for Mixed Borders. Mixed Borders put dozens of poets in allotments, garden squares and other green spaces, to see what inspiration they would find among the flower beds and vegetable patches. The result is this anthology, a bouquet of garden poems: poems in the voices of plants and wildlife, poems about garden visitors actual, historical and imaginary, poems by single voices, and poems by a multitude. Pick a favourite, and press it like a flower. Thank you to all poets, garden managers and owners, the London Parks and Gardens Trust and Arts Council England who jointly contributed to the success of the residencies. I no longer work for the Poetry School, but this project, conceived with Sarah Hesketh of the LPGT, was one of my favourite schemes to work on. Long may its poems bloom.
Julia Bird October 2017
Alesha Racine Alesha Racine was resident in Brunswick Square, a large green space containing one of the oldest plane trees in London. On one side of the square sits the Foundling Museum which records the lives of babies and children left at the original 'Hospital' between 1722 and 1953 by mothers who were unable to care for their child because of poverty or illegitimacy. My poems are written in the voices of the plane tree, the foundlings and the birds that live in the square such as the pigeon in the poem below.
London Plane Tree (1) When I was a sapling I sang as a sapling wind-whipped was my nursery tongue and spindle-shanked the clerihews I flung upon the clodded earth. I cried out to a softling mole, scribbled crane fly, fusty moth listened for the beetle's scratch the drumbeat of a rattletrap. No mother, father did I spy, nor sister, uncle, aunt, the sky was wider than my leaf-bud thoughts and Coram's Field was all the earth.
Pigeon My father's dad were a prize Brunswick Jack who ruled the gaff with an iron beak he'd plump a shiny emerald hackle flick two wing bars black as soot And his claws were sharp as a London rat's his broad heart-saddle were gunmetal grey and his wife she kept him rich in squabs six each batch and all of them fledged See Brunswick Square's my stomping ground the family history flies right back to when this square were roughed-up fields and all them trees were sapling wood
Alex Josephy Alex lives in London and Italy. Her poetry pamphlet Other Blackbirds was published by Cinnamon Press in March 2016. She was resident in the Markham Square Garden.
Two Sycamores in Bond-land Did they blow in here on a whim, twin dare-devils chasing danger, that quest for thrills that sycamore lads adore? Did they twist across the sky in a swirl of ’copter blades, on a mission to unmask the elusive 007, lying low somewhere nearby? Now that they’ve put down roots at the business end of the square, given up the aerial life, found their quantum of solace, company of older, wiser trees, I think they’ll stay.
Late Running back to the house for tea, someoneâ€™s left a plastic tyrannosaurus and a spinosaurus, toppled sideways on the steps up to the slide. In the herbaceous border, time tips too as roots make room for prehistoric ferns that push up, unexpected visitors, through fossil-seeded soil.
Ali Lewis Ali Lewis was poet-in-residence at the Nomura Roof Garden, the private staff garden on top of the Japanese investment bank overlooking the Thames. He wrote free, instant ‘poems on demand’ for visitors and poems about the city skyline visible from the rooftop in between commissions. Below you’ll find one of each. Ali works for the Poetry School.
Hold I carry my thoughts in my pockets. I have sewn them into my hems, and the silk linings of my jackets. Politely, I have swallowed them, and they weigh in my stomach. They lie on the duvet of my tongue. When I hold them, my hands ache and are useless. But when I drop them, they float down to Earth.
Protected Views By law, St Paul’s Cathedral must be visible from important places – Hungerford Bridge, Richmond Park – unobstructed, always like something you said once, a remark.
Andrea Robinson Andrea Robinson was resident in the Share Community Garden, an informal 2.5 acre walled space in the grounds of Springfield University Hospital. The garden is a horticultural training project for disabled adults, filled with food crops and plants, herbs, fruit bushes, a rose arbour, many trees, a willow maze, a wildlife pond. Andrea spent two months writing poems in, and about, the garden, the people who work there, the creatures that visit. Words and lines from these poems were chalked on the pathways, borders and raised beds and Share staff, students and volunteers gifted words to two communal poem trees that she grew in the garden.
Hide and seek We follow the path from the pond to the old gate with a hop, step, hop, step - jump. We tread on every crack between the paving stones, sow ox-eye daisies and ladyâ€™s slippers in the gaps. I circle your wrist with a chain of forget-me-nots (stems slit to poke their heads through) run to hide under the ash tree where the owl sleeps, turn three times and count to ten. When I open my eyes you are gone in a scattering of petals and pollen dust.
Garden of Eden Eve sees everyday wonders in her patch. Ask her, and she will tell you how sweet the runner beans that grow here, how brilliant the colours of the parakeets, how the old rose on the boundary wall sheds its petals for jam. If you ask, she might even share her recipe.
I visited Earls Court Square several times and was made welcome by Chair of the garden committee who has a say in the beautiful planting. I was invited to interview long standing residents which I did. I put laminated poems by famous poets around the square and gave copies of my poems away to passers by. Famous artists and ballerinas once lived in the square. I'm still being inspired to write new poems.
Earls Court Square sunlight through plane trees creates shadow puppets on the grass a shimmering globe mirror of distortion white space crumpled sky a black cat raises havoc with noisy parakeets blackbirds and robins retreat grand stucco-fronted terraces red brick Flemish-style houses untamed ivy creeps into ancient urns at night foxes run over the roofs of parked cars slide down the windscreens drink from the waterfall stone dogs symbols of Egyptian gods sit in state guarding the garden their ears sadly often broken 24
Eyre knows every flower with shears he cuts a bush into a neat ball small rhythms work in harmony with the soil
Axel Kacoutié Axel Kacoutié was a resident in Manchester Square, a beautiful Georgian space with a rich history of people that once lived around this garden. Living at no. 14 was Lord Alfred Milner (1854-1925), a British statesman, leading imperialist, and colonial administrator in South Africa. Axel’s poems were inspired by the four seasons and given Milner’s cold and dark legacy, comparing the lands the two different lands that he’d have called home, felt like an apt way to conclude his readings.
Autumn Death is golden. Beauty stolen from the clutch of time And I watch as she withers with purpose. At this hour it’s time to go. In your exit Creation peeps through the door ajar and winks knowingly telling me one thing and this thing only: “Live to live again.” I was born in the Cola root in the Spring Yesterday I ran through the Plane trees smiling at Ra and Tomorrow, oh, tomorrow, I advance in shadows that cloak empty pods that once trapped life. Bark bones bite and snap with every step that press the brittle crisp leaves that once whispered in the wind. Left the in the memory of you. On that day on the Heath - the day was a slow death. You talked about not being able to see the stars anymore as we watched the city burn new constellations in the horizon. Red lights on top of empty cranes. Longing to see displays of the rare celestial necropolis we ignored where we sat in the purring field. Death was golden like your mane,
Golden like this season. Golden like us but without the promise of ever living to live again.
Manchester Square Are they whispers? Fire? rain? Limp foliage applaud the namesake of this close. By wisdom and effort, we find ourselves here inside this dome. A Betula Chamber, Magnolia home. Tucked within this jade-green dome. Dost thou hear the working bee? Seven Apis on the crest that mark the sign of industry. Iron Honey from a Northern Hive, we now recline in its namesake - a mentha shrine in this microcosm: Azara Chamber, Acanthus home Tucked inside this jade-green dome. Above reigns the Sun. Golden tears as It yawns, Golden tears with wings from the dawn; they dies when It sleeps. Dost thou hear the mystic bee, whirring in your heart? Amber fruit that grow within, will you pluck it from your tree? Knowledge toiled you watched it grow inside your golden home. Rosa chambers where we roam, Here, beneath this jade-green dome.
David Hale Gainsborough gardens is an oval-shaped ‘gated’ garden on the edge of Hampstead Heath, that was originally part of the pleasure gardens (and lake) landscaped by the Hampstead Wells Spa in the early eighteenth century. After visiting it a couple of times in May when the garden was at its best, I decided on three methods of response to the place. Firstly, I wrote eight poems about the plants and the people (Keats and Constable in particular) that used or passed through it at various points in its history. I printed these in a pamphlet which I positioned on benches and tied to trees for visitors to read. Secondly, I handset two of the poems using traditional letterpress technology on A3 colour-washed paper and hung two of the prints at entrances to the garden for visitors to read as they came in. Thirdly I composed twelve herbal haiku which I printed on card, affixed to hazel poles and positioned in flowerbeds at various points around the garden. During the Open Gardens weekend I gave a series of impromptu readings to unsuspecting groups of visitors – I think only one couple asked me to go away. I also gave a reading to assembled residents of Gainsborough Gardens during their party on the Sunday afternoon. It was wonderful experience. The gardeners Adrian and Lynne were a mine of information about the flora and history of the place, and my garden contact Lesley-Anne was extremely helpful. It generated work, I had a great time, the weather was sublime. What more can a poet want?
Lungwort Despite mistrust of sympathetic magic and the doctrine of signatures, Keats picked the speckled leaves and arterial blooms of Pulmonaria that grew so freely in this garden, to make a bitter infusion, a tea sweetened with honey to soothe his ravaged throat, while he sat and dreamed of travelling through realms of gold, the breathless south.
Monday 29th July 1822 after 3 days of squalls from NW
The house full of the cries of sickly children, he pins paper to the lid of his paint-box heads past the old pleasure gardens and shielding his eyes against the glare of a sky less turbulent than in recent days, sketches cloudscapes that refuse to stay still or conform to the principles of slow picturesque composition - lost in the timelessness of process, until par-blind and out of ochre, he sees that to truly understand the moods and vagaries of these shifting vapours, this source of light through which all vision is granted, he must paint it again and again and again.
Dorothy Yamamoto Dorothy Yamamoto was resident in the Cloister Garden of the Museum of the Order of St John, together with Gloria Onwuneme. The garden, with its borders of medicinal plants, reflects the mission of the medieval Knights Hospitaller.
The Garden of the Order of St John When I first came I noticed the olive with its burden of age and sun and raucous birds—crows or ravens?— tumbling from a clear blue sky. Those were dark days—news of a gas attack in Syria and later violence close to home: Westminster, Borough Market, Finsbury Park. But the garden went on growing, and when I returned herbs were spreading across the paving, pigeons strutted with puffed chests, a ripe lemon hung from a branch. The cardoons with their toothed leaves stood tall as heraldry— the time when the Hospitallers cared for everyone, regardless of faith. They smoothed cool sheets on to comfortable beds, offered food on silver plates, as if they were serving their own lord— and I think they’d smile at the paper cups, the windowed boxes of sandwiches, 34
but would agree with the cool fountain where weary workers trail their wrists. They’d know that this small garden is kept alive with small deeds— the straightening of a rusted hoop, shush of a broom on a path— and they would be at home here, in this green place with open hands.
Eleanor Vale The effect on my writing of my residency at Brunswick Square was huge, and proved a valuable way of moving my work forward. The nearby Foundling Museum revealed its strong connections to the Square - the beneficiaries, the benefactors, the Gap still so obvious today and it was impossible to write without being affected by that. Researching the amazing Gingko Biloba, and the London Plane led me to write some ecological poems, whilst the gardening and leisure side of the park helped me to write â€œfragmentsâ€? - pieces lighter than actual poems but acknowledging the physical input from the gardening team, and the sheer pleasure and opportunities access to open spaces can give. I have chosen two very different poems for this anthology - one for its historical significance, and the other finding a connection between plants and our precarious world.
Foxglove, digitalis purpurea each speckled bell a beeâ€™s delight downy leaves long used to calm a racing heart. Steady this trembling world.
The Brunswick Plane (by the site of the Foundling Hospital for Abandoned Children) Floella Burney born June 19;1758…pray let particular care be taken off (sic) this child, as it will be called for again…
Hybrid, cross-breed, composite, compound, grown to cope with city life: my roots take up but little space; my bark of lichen grey and olive green, flakes shamelessly when caked with soot and grime; my leaves are shaped like stars, otter-sleek, easing rain to wash the filth away. I’m tough, but inside each spiky seed-ball lies the softest sphere. See my crooked arms, where babes have lain, where I have hugged too many weeping mothers. I can vouch that infants here were not abandoned - rather handed over with a heaviness that makes the hearts of trees break. Touch my swollen stem, feel sorrows I have known.
Frances White Frances White was resident at the Woodville Day Centre garden which has been designed as a safe, accessible, sensory garden for clients with dementia. Its central feature is a spherical, stainless steel, water feature, mounted on a circular raised flower bed full of pansies. These are surrounded by colourful stones painted by the clients and a covered contemplation area. This gazebo was used to display her poems and provide shade for afternoon poetry readings. 'Pansies at Woodville' is based on the chorus from â€˜Roses of Picardyâ€™, 1916, about a WW1 British soldier who falls in love with a French woman while on duty in Picardy, France. A client at Woodville remembers that her father used to sing this song in a pub where she worked in Spitalfields, London.
Pansies at Woodville Pansies are flowering in Woodville in the hush of the morning dew pansies are waiting in Woodville to open their petals for you. And the pansies will all lift their faces and smile at you when you come to sit out in the garden at Woodville in the warmth of the midday sun.
Stones of Woodville These living stones once cold and dull were brought to life with paint and brush, coloured here in every hue with dots and stripes, and silver stars, faces, zig-zags, golden circles, crosses, kisses, bold initials. Neatly varnished on the table in the gardenâ€™s warming sun, our stones speak words that we canâ€™t say, they turn our days from dark to bright. My hands hold out this heart to show the love we owe to those who care.
Ginny Saunders Ginny Saunders was resident in St George’s Gardens, Bloomsbury. The garden has grown up around a gracefully decaying 18th century cemetery. Weekend temperatures over 30°C did not diminish the gothic atmosphere of St George’s Gardens with its gravestones, dappled shade and lush planting. Poems were displayed on tomb railings (to keep the graverobbers out) and on the majestic London plane trees. Visitors were rewarded with a ‘pot-luck-poem’: a short extract from published poems with a local connection. Luckily there was plenty of choice; Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were married at the cemetery’s parish church, St George the Martyr.
Every Day has its Dog in St Georgeâ€™s Gardens 12.45-1.15 pm A pigeon-grey whippet in a cable-knit vest tiptoes past on bird-thin pins, barely parting the air. A ginger terrier, sweet as nectar with lofty butterfly ears flits past and is gone too soon. A greyhound with go-faster stripes saunters along knowing it could, but for a rabbit, out-run Mo Farah, but not today. A white Scottie on a mobility scooter, head high, nose forward, glides by in state. A King Charles spaniel follows a wayward scent, its sweeping ears tickle the ground, taunting worms who wait for rain. A chocolate lab, tail-propelled, whizzes here and there and there and here. A Chihuahua vortex bursts through the gates wearing aâ€Ś is it? Yes, a handy candy-pink carrier case.
The First Clean Air Act In a pique of petiole, the snap of a twig, the trees take umbrage, they are doing their best. It started with a Devonian period pact, the cycads, ferns and horsetails first got the knack. Giant fronds tamed sulphurous gases from an earth hostile and abstract and a great greening event covered a global tract. While unmeasured time slipped by trees pump-primed the oxygen bed in which runty mammals awoke, evolved and, at the midnight hour, cacked. People primates ransacked the land, burned fossil fuels in forests of blackened chimney stacks. Only when industryâ€™s mass extinction cloud hi-jacked the sun and choked its worker cogs did the big-brained primates pass their own Clean Air Act (dendrologically speaking, that would be the Second Clean Air Act) but still, pre-history forests, industrious lungs, have been hacked further back and back. Today, even the tolerant ginkgo, that emergency transplant, airdropped in to revive sleek city squares, is giving up hope. Even the gung-ho ginkgo is questioning its impact.
The treesâ€™ demand is simple: A Bipeds Must Clean Up their Act Act.
Hamizah Adzmi It was an honour (and a delight!) to be the first poet-in-residence for Ashworth Mansions Garden. The garden has an intimate vibe -- it allows people to gather, but because of its size it also gives people space to be on their own. One of the first impressions I got from the garden was that it must hold a lot of memories for the residents, which was why I focused my poems to evoke a sense of poignant nostalgia. The residents and gardeners were welcoming whenever I was there, teaching me about the garden's history and also beautiful trees and flowers planted in it. I was also graced by five cats while I was writing, so that had been an extra treat (but also a mild distraction at times). More about the garden and its history can be found at https:// ashworthmansions.wordpress.com/. The weather was beautiful on the day of the event itself. I crafted a poetry board, reciting poems based on the keywords they had chosen from the board. Then, I gave away the poems in small seed satchels as a memento for the visitors. It was a small token compared to the valuable lessons I learned while talking to them.
A Summer Memento (from the perspective of a spring flower)
By the time you read this, I would already be gone Tell the cats peeking out of the bushes That I’m done with their mood swings Tell the girl who likes to sing while she reads That I swayed to the sound of her voice Tell the boy who thought his mother didn’t like his joke That I saw her smile behind his back Tell the cherry blossoms not to be scared That they’re the prettiest when they fall Tell everyone who took a second look at me That I’d be their friend if I could I would’ve chased the sun rays if I could And stayed a little longer.
Joanna Ingham Joanna Ingham was resident in Triangle Garden, a private garden square in Little Venice perfectly proportioned as a triangle. She wrote triangular poems and encouraged visitors to do the same, hanging them on her poetry bunting. She also persuaded people to contribute to a group poem in celebration of the garden. 'Ode to Triangle Garden' is the result.
Ode to Triangle Garden or Triangular Grandeur Fever
For you are the dappled shade of sun through the tall trees. Furry figs and lazy bees. For you explode into summer life. You are precision and delight. For you are golden giants. Bark like snow, the scabious floating yellow. For you are freedom and control. You are a secret and a path. For you are acer stars. Soily moss and grassy feet. For you are the violin that soothes from an open sash. You are oasis and retreat. For you are many greens. The planes lift their armfuls of leaves. For you are days with the loves of our lives. You are peace and the tranquil breeze. For you are snails. For you grow despite it all. Let us sit with friends 49
beneath the big horse chestnut, around the rings it adds year by year, look up at the passing clouds.
Oysters In the garden off Randolph Crescent oysters swim to the surface. Sharp moons, the half shells come and come, turning themselves through the dark rooty earth. They have almost forgotten the Thames, their beds in the chains, the bridge struts; the green taste of water. And if they remember being hawked down the streets by women in salty skirts, cheap by the dozen on nights the servants walked out with their beaux, then shucked with a knife to the sinew, robbed of their beards, slurped clean and hurled from the windows, it is only as a planet remembers its star. They go on rising, these chalky bubbles, like the worms children dance for after rain,
like small brittle skulls spinning clear of their graves. They break the ground, hard fins, and do not recognise the paths, perennials, the soles of gardeners, their own dry and empty hearts. Only the handkerchief tree is familiar, petals whitely anxious as napkins. In the flats above, new people tap their laptops, cook vongole, play violin, notes high and far as the river.
Julia Bird Julia Bird was resident in the Dean of Southwark Cathedralâ€™s Bankside garden, a small green space with a pond and a cherry tree. Her flowershaped poems inspired by the areaâ€™s history were hung on a washing line, and read aloud to garden visitors. You can read the shaped versions of all Julia's Mixed Borders poems on her blog: juliabird.wordpress.com
C17th Bankside was home to a bear-baiting pit. George Stone and Harry Hunks are bears made famous by the pursuit, as was Sackerson, a fighting bear who features in The Merry Wives of Windsor. My lords, ladies & gentlemen – connoisseurs of the ursine arts – welcome to the Bear Garden! Tonight’s triple bill is truly a Battle of the Beasts – gaze upon the claws and cruel teeth of Grizzly George Stone, mark the foaming maw of Harry Hunks, behold the bear who Bill our Bard of Bankside has written into immortality: watch Sackerson fling the dogs from his neck, paw the blood from his eyes and burst apart his iron chains. Then watch him watching you.
In the 1870s, a family lived next door to what is now the Dean’s house whose daughters were military embroideresses, hand-sewing decorations for soldiers’ and service uniforms. Britain at that time was fighting a war in West Africa. Dearest Edmund stitch today I sewed stitch a dozen numbers for policemen’s collars stitch and a pair of epaulettes stitch set to be sent out stitch to the Gold Coast stitch to think stitch that they might gleam on your shoulders stitch I pray you keep safe stitch there’s gold thread stitch tangled round my finger stitch if the thread tightens stitch Edmund stitch my finger stitch darkens double stitch knot
Lewis Buxton I was poet-in-residence at Alexandra Road Park which sits in the heart of the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate in North-West London. It is a green elbow patch on a suit jacket of brutalist concrete; the iconic angles and slides and straight lines of the estate are mirrored in the precise geometrics of the park. The playgrounds have a beautiful symmetry to them, the pathways are clear and straight but can swoop round and give you views through the long, thin park. On my first visit I stand with Elizabeth, the chair of Friends of Alexandra Road Park, at the centre of a circle of grass. Here, though we are minutes from an overground station, and only a poppy seed’s throw from the famous Abbey Road, London seems to quiet itself. It feels extraordinarily calm. I ask Elizabeth what her favourite thing to do in the park is. ‘Just walk’ she tells me. It’s as simple as that. The park has so many functions: a playground, a football pitch, a music venue, early morning bird watching, but for some residents it is there for the simple purpose of walking, sitting and thinking. I like this place because it sits comfortably between city and nature, it has the weight of concrete on its shoulders but the clean breath of greenery in its lungs. The poems I have written all come from particular moments or stories I heard about the park whilst I was there. What struck me most on our final day was how generations interact in that place; how the space is shared between young and old; and I hope how it will continue to grow.
Constellations I’d always thought of gardening as an art of precision, of planting at just the right time, hemming bushes so they’re in exactly the right position, sewing seeds like delicate pleats. Poppy seeds - it seems - are an exception. The gardener chucks a random handful in all directions. Perhaps this is how good constellations were made. Anyone could plant like this, she says, even you, and showers seeds into my palm. I scatter them like prayers into the galaxy of dirt, trust the ground to know what to do.
Alexandra Road Park The benches clap under parkour feet, footballs shout hallelujahs against walls on Sunday mornings and neighbours wail IT’S EARLY, WE’RE TRYING TO SLEEP. But mostly this place is quiet, somewhere you can walk in circles for hours and figure stuff out. The park grew, year on year, once full of packed slides and May fairs, but in the 80s fences snapped, it grew dark shadow weeds. Now it sings a cut-grass note. Rose petals settle on the shoulders of old folk and skateboards chuckle round the park. The council has brought in a gardener who knows where’s best to plant. The people, with the park, grow.
Lisa Kiew Crescent Garden is a fascinating three-acre communal garden hidden from the surrounding streets of Little Venice by tall stucco-fronted houses dating from around 1865. It has lawns, fine plane trees, and many unusual plants and shrubs. As a poet, I am fascinated by our changing climate and how plants and shrubs from all over the globe are now becoming commonplace in our cities. I am currently developing a project around the language of migration and its use in relation to plant and animal species. I’m from Malaysia and my mother is a botanist. On the open day, we were treated to tropical heat. Under the shade of a willow, I set up an area for visitors to use prompt words to inspire their own poems, dip into selections of botanical poetry, and discuss the poems and plants. With my fellow-poets based at Formosa and Triangle Gardens, we shared a stanza each from Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘Transformations’; it was a treasure trail with visitors assembling the whole poem after visiting the three gardens. It was a great pleasure to speak to visitors and garden owners during the day with conversations ranging from plant identification and the local parrots, to what is poetry for, local history and current events.
Crescent Garden You think you know it all: how magnolias wave silk handkerchiefs of mauve, pink and truce-white; how lanky bamboo winnows the breeze, rattling dried husks and integuments; how cherries circle, wind dispersing petals in a pale London drift; how willow stoops, snagging shadows. Then a turned corner, a neat bed, and camellias cast all into question: laughing mouths, yellow sticky tongues, sun-flushed cheeks.
Secret how sudden, the descent entrance ramp through black gate to where a palm stands close against the wall admitting each visitor down the path and how startling, the open sky behind towering stucco, the crescent below, curving green and flower beds nodding hidden from sweat-flecked streets and how plainly, the trees shiver shadowing the path and stems topped with ripe pods serotinously scatter seeds to yield new shoots, poetry and how contained, the garden feels the sun, then the rain on each leaf, the grass and the wind calling time to riot, time to be quiet
Louise Adam Louise Adam gained an MA in Art as Environment from Manchester Metropolitan University, following which she spent time in residence at Lothlorien Community and Samye Ling Buddhist community, Louise lives in Edinburgh, where she is currently pursuing her arts and writing practice. Louise was resident in the Sellincourt Primary School Edible Garden.
Where Shadows Run Empty playground Full of sun This is where The shadows run Standing on shoulders, tiny voices Of before Of now The first steps into society Plants as teachers Nature as lessons The garden forgets the feeling Of being in the city As plants grow The distant drone lessens The hanging of hopes On a tree Little hopes turning into big hopes The tree as witness To the four seasons And the seven years Just as old leaves leave And new buds take their fleeting place Shadows arrive And shadows leave The traces of those before 63
Mary Dickins My garden this year was Collingham Gardens Nursery in the heart of Bloomsbury which caters for small children and not plants, as people could be forgiven for assuming. The nursery has been open to children since 1964 and has a strong emphasis on learning through outdoor play. The garden itself is a semi wild space which was willed by John Cyril Lees Collingham “for the welfare of children for all time” in conjunction with the nearby Coram Foundation. It was a lovely place to spend time. Once part of the adjacent St George’s graveyard it has a bizarre and fascinating history. In my residency I attempted to do justice to both the historical context and its current use. In the first poem 'Curriculum' I have tried to sum up the ethos and approach of the Nursery. The second poem is a nod to the macabre history of the area, as in 1777 the first recorded incidence of grave robbing took place next door. The Gravedigger John Holmes and his assistant Peter Williams were found guilty of stealing dead bodies to sell to anatomists. The poem imagines how they might have defended their actions.
Curriculum Horticulture, plant biology, hide and seek and escapology. Mathematics, engineering, digging, planting, weeding, clearing. The life cycle and its chronology, botany and entomology. Puddle sloshing, mud pie baking, philosophy and meaning making. Taking turns, cooperating, building friendships, giving, taking. How to cope with thrills and spills. Ecology, survival skills. Planning, building and surveying. Seeing, making, doing, saying. Mystery and make-believe. No tests or targets to achieve. All this for each and every child who gets to play out somewhere wild.
The Grave Robberâ€™s Lament Scant justice when such fuss is made about our sacrilegious trade. For science sake great men dissect the brains of murderers and wrecks. Too few there are to go around and so we seek beneath the ground. Twice whipped, disgraced and sent to hell to rot forever in a cell. Condemned for blasphemy and greed, in truth we only met a need. Anatomists must leave behind the moral strictures of our time. For a surgeon must know where to hack, oblique or centred â€“ front or back and to understand the human heart it must first be taken all apart.
Nicola Jackson Nicola Jackson was resident in Montagu Square, a beautiful formal garden split into two oblongs by the carriage-turn semicircles in the middle. Her poems, inspired by the Square's plants and by tales of former residents were strung between the trees; children could choose a 'seed packet' poem to take away and 'grow' their own words and plants.
For the Octopus Perhaps this garden is the sea, with flitting birds as tiny fish which brush our tender feet. Perhaps the gravel has been laid by delicate tips of suckered arms a different octopetala making art? We move here in the gentle shade, drift imperceptibly with the streams sweeping us back to quiet glades. Sea fronds sway, light casts beams across the sanded floor. We move calmly with the swish and swell, swept from the maelstrom of the outer reef, protected here to take our time to pause the tumult and the strife. So let's admire the gardener's art; the water baby who built the square. Perhaps the octopus helps out at night?
Linden Tree Step now in the shade of the linden tree, home of the secret wren, wrenching honey sweet the hum of the working bee, the robin who lights the cooling dark with its sharp song. Leaves glossed with star-shine, moon-lit blades which pierce the love-lost, catch the roving eye to spear its sun in passing, rapturous rays of dreamers, gardeners, shards of sky. Ancient ways of woodland, holy forms which thrive three thousand years upon the listening land shed gentle rain drops, while ugly storms figure the carvers knife, chisel the hand. You roof these gravelled pathways gentle soul, sooth the troubled lover, touch the creviced bole.
Ryan Norman For my part in the Mixed Borders project, I wrote for St Georges Gardens, a lovely public space within the centre of Bloomsbury that holds an interesting history as a burial ground. I tried to consider both sides of the grounds in my poems â€“ how the gardens offer a calm space for the community, providing an area that persists in their memory as representative of the time in their lives that the gardens impacted, thanks to the hard work of the Friends of St. Georges committee, and the presence of the mass graves that border the gardens, how many people have ended up becoming embedded in the community space. The writing process provoked interesting thoughts on the impact of place on people, and viceversa. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend on the Open Squares weekend itself, but my fellow poet Ginny Saunders operated in the garden, offering a fantastic and well thought out set of postcards, poetry luck dip, and a â€˜make your own poemâ€™ for children.
Figured We could go alone, being nearby. Drift through the green and stone, along the 8am grasslight in its dew-soaked glimmer. Londonâ€™s waking. Beyond the borders of this hinterland it blooms, a quickening of life loping round the open air of the gardens. In the quiet, the scattering of conifers clot the calm of the path we take by the trees, the tombs with their drizzle of moss that sounds like reverence, whispered gently. It all reminds us of what can pause here, park, and settle in the twist of leaves to be figured as memory, memory that makes itself known even through 60 years of absence 71
from the velvet weave of St Georgesâ€™ community.
Assembly Even now theyâ€™re assembling, or trying to. A mass of character plunged together by dirt, they pressed into their new collective. Tethering identities into one, their histories a fixed present below the floor, they send up their pillar of sodden awe.
Selina Rodrigues I asked, "where have you come from, where are you going?" in this 130 year old community garden "of curves .. near the gossiping tree".* Red Cross was established by Octavia Hill, and now sits amidst private developments, complex coffee choices, social housing and 20 steps from the recent extremist attack at London Bridge. "Oh I'm not creative", many visitors said when I invited them to write, but then told me, of "red hollyhocks to rival the shard ... and hope to rise ... for roses to be purple-r".* Nobody owns anything really, of course. Open spaces like Red Cross (for which most of the gardening is done by volunteers) welcome peoples' restless days and their rootless thoughts. Anyone can enter, from the bricks and cement, to feel a newt slip through their hand.
*Thanks to the local visitors who created these words. 74
Yellow Iris You stretch and blink by Octaviaâ€™s pond, grasp your can like a prayer, loosening smoke as you sigh. Your one cigarette to your mouth again. Strong as an iris, with the same shock of yellow crown. Lemonade dances inside you. You know I am watching you because everyone watches you. These must all be gifts, as you carry no money. An offered cigarette a cappuccino, sushi, falafel encased in cardboard, presented to your seat. Your distant neighbours are lavender, astilbe. Safety has abandoned you Yellow Queen but every garden opens to you, by night, by day. â€ƒ
Red Cross Gardens 1. 1888
A desolate place. A factory of paper, blackened by fire saturated by rain. Do noble deeds, donâ€™t dream them. Our first work to tend to the debris ashes for soil, and saved us costs. A lost lion, an un-named flower pinned again to the wall. By hand, by hammer, by people the warehouse was torn down and so opened the sun in the garden and sight of sky to the tenants.
A desert of cement. No whispers no games. The terracesâ€™ eyes are empty. Underneath, memories are restless. Where have you been? Donâ€™t leave us. We were just girls singing, boys marching. Now no laughter. A crop of poorness, 76
bodies upon bodies here packed tight as hop buds. Vandals had fired the covered way. No tears under the Hornbeam tree. Trees London’s soldiers, London’s guardians.
The Thames is two steps too far, for our children but Red Cross curves, Red cross whispers we are safe. Under the gossiping trees those in sunglasses with wrapped food linger, those too young to know better wrap limbs. Black cat, the perfect occasional friend, winds through Joe Pye Weed. A breath from London’s blasted, brave places. Is there a cleaner chime than water? Soul-talk clear as water as a newt slips in and out of your hand.
Notes on italics: 1. Octavia Hill. Founder of Red Cross Gardens 2. Sir Sidney Cockerell. The Times, July 1948. 2. A plentiful crop of pauperism. Standard January 1894 3. Images given by local people
Shirley Nicholson Formosa Garden, a residents' garden held within three rows of Victorian and Edwardian houses, is a special place to those who live there. It's clear how much this garden is valued by the residents. For this reason a poet's presence was not to intrude at a weekend time when the garden is much used. The poet was asked to be quietly there, sharing poetry in a gentle way. As there were three gardens in the same locality, all with poets, we decided that each of us would share a verse from Hardy's Transformations. Visitors could gather the other two verses as they visited the other two gardens. I fixed laminated garden poems to the trunks of plane trees and these were read and appreciated. I also invited visitors to respond to Formosa by sharing thoughts or phrases that could be used in a poem - or write a poem about the garden themselves. In the wake of the Grenfell tower block tragedy not so far from this garden in Maida Vale, as well as the bombings in London and Manchester, there were those who commented on the value of poetry at these times of tragedy and what it can do for the human spirit.
Along Castellain Road You might walk by this locked black gate a thousand times, not see the garden packaged in the height of houses, not know the length of sky, the peace of green behind the narrow entry or note the beckoning of sturdy planes whose knarled boles mark the unrolling grass, where pockets of flowers flourish, shrubs sculpt darkness for cats. You may hear, with sudden disbelief, a gladness of birdsong, an eruption of sweet sucking sounds and chirrups beside cascading creepers, and pause a moment in a place where roads are neither heard nor seen.
Artist How this tiny, white thing swings from the piece of paper, first spins its thread â€“ almost like telling a joke, holding oneâ€™s attention â€“ then flies without wings or safety net, wide arc to the right, to the left over and over again, then with grace spins one more time releasing itself into a wider space beyond the unwritten page, eight legs barely visible.
Steph Morris Saint Barnabas is the patron saint of encouragement, and helped me write my poems for the residency at the House of St Barnabas, Greek Street in Soho. On the day, I encouraged visitors to write haiku on the themes of support, friendship, motivation etc, which we pinned up. The house is an inspiring place. The lower floors are a club patronised by artists and filled with their art, profits funding training schemes for London’s homeless which take place on the upper floors. On weekdays the garden is used by club members to eat and drink, so for open gardens I created wooden poem-stands inspired by the club’s menu-holders and distributed them around the tables, now empty, with poems for visitors to select. I wrote one from the perspective of the plane tree featured in Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities; wrote about Barnabas, about the penny chute for donations on Soho Square, and touched on the thin line between benevolence and selfpreservation, as the rounded east end of the nineteenth century chapel circles close to the neighbouring building, leaving a narrow interstice. I also displayed two poems by Bertold Brecht I had translated from German. The garden was mercifully cool on this hot day, shaded by the plane.
Plane speaking I’m not as old as I look, I’ll have you know. You’ll fill out one day, stop caring about the knobbles and crevices. They can’t get rid of me now. I ain’t budging. I’m mentioned in a score of books, don’t you know. Go read them and get back to me, you cheeky thing. That Mulberry’s older than me by the way. They have a different figure, Mulberries. She remembers this house being built, pig shit and peasants round here then, some dump you passed through trying to get to Oxford. Got all posh later. Then it was all prozzers and filth. Pretty posh again now, though I just can’t tell these days. Look how they built that extension around her. Have to duck under her to get in the back door. They rest things on her stem. She’s terribly tolerant. I wouldn’t have it. Guess it comes with age. I wouldn’t want to be a sapling now. Damn glad I was young when I was. 82
They’re cannier now, planting all them skinny birches. Coppiced from the start these days. And I do think that ivy needs taking down a peg or two. Better not try growing up me! Never bloody rains in London. That’s some lie put about by foreigners. And everyone’s fighting for what moisture’s left. Doesn’t bother me. You have any idea how far down my roots go? I could tell you stuff about them sewers and tubes and whatnot, make your leaves curl. But I feel sorry for them young ones, putting down roots now, I really do. It must be tough.
Toga Agbelusi Tolu Agbelusi was a resident in Postman's Park, known for the Watt's memorial wall but also home to a variety of trees, flowers and shrubs. Inspired by watching and listening to visitors at the park, she wrote poems that were staked into flower beds, tied onto trees and railings and read aloud to garden visitors.'
One Sunny Day in Postman’s Park A knee-high boy chases one pigeon across the central island footpaths
in what he has decided is their language. Pigeon eschews flight, runs at honey —dripping speed. Each time boy’s feet skedaddle faster than pigeon’s, the bird Stumbles him. Takes boy back to starting block. Waddles again and again until boy masters the art of the chase, the garden Life—one foot before the other.
Any Big Open Green Space Can you hear it? Wind rustling finger length blades of grass, an airplane jumbling thought signals, the vastness of green open space cutting the current to any attempts at locating cohesive thought in a body famished for rest. A bench calls out. Sit. Obey. Everythingâ€™ll stop. Watch you swim in the silence. When you rise, nothing will have changed. Everything will have shifted. Someone is sure to ask why here? You will not know why How to explain this healing â€”jiving leaves, naked turned soil, pink flowers defying a weed bush, communion with something bigger than yourself. Here.
Poems from the Mixed Borders Poets in Residence scheme, 2017, run in collaboration between the Poetry School & London Parks & Gardens Trust.
Published on Oct 16, 2017
Poems from the Mixed Borders Poets in Residence scheme, 2017, run in collaboration between the Poetry School & London Parks & Gardens Trust.