One of my early posts for this blog was about the first project we were set at the start of this term. We had to come up with ideas for the Chelsea Fringe, a festival which takes place in London around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show. My concept for a Graffiti Garden was inspired by a quotation from a poem that I saw written on the John Lennon Wall in Prague.
Ever since I came up with the concept I’ve been thinking about starting a collection of garden related poems and quotations. But it was when lovely Gussy, a fellow student on the KLC course, gave me a copy of the poem she read at her grandmother’s funeral a couple of weeks ago that I decided to include it and some of my other favourites in this blog.
Gussy has gardening in her blood. The garden of her family home, Mere House near Maidstone in Kent, has been opening to the public as part of NGS open day scheme for the past 50 years. It’s particularly famous for its snowdrops and daffodils (and for her mother’s cakes!) I’m really disappointed that I’m going to be away for their next open days on Sunday 24th March and Monday 1st April. (For the cakes as much as for the garden!)
It was Gussy’s grandparents who moved to Mere House in 1958 when her grandfather became MP for Maidstone. They created the garden from scratch. And, as if this wasn’t enough to keep them busy, they also started a nursery and used to go to various shows, even winning some medals at Chelsea. The hurricane of 1987 destroyed the vast greenhouse they used for the nursery, but undeterred her grandfather started a company called Wells & Winter selling all those essential garden items like plant labels, stakes, books and gloves that gardeners can’t manage without.
Gussy’s grandfather is about to be 88 but he’s still propagating plants and selling them at markets. Meanwhile her parents have taken on the garden and all the hard work that goes with it. So gardens and gardening are most definitely in Gussy’s blood. She’s even married to a garden designer, and she works with her husband Rob for his company Naturally Creative Gardens…. when she’s not doing planting combinations and designing gardens in Balham with the rest of us at Hampton Court.
Gussy’s grandmother died at the end of February. This is the poem she read at her funeral.
Upon a day, a woman who had died
Came to the gates of Heaven, and saw outside
St Peter, writing in his book of gold,
The dreary lies that everybody told.
The woman waited, with averted head,
Until St Peter looked at her and said:
“Tell me oh traveller, with the pilgrim pack,
What loves and hates you carry on your back.”
“I love my garden, Sir,” the woman said,
“I loved my flowers, and now that I am dead,
I only ask that someone will be kind
To that dear garden I must leave behind.”
The key was turned, the gates were opened wide
St Peter and the woman walked inside;
And there, within the sunshine of the throne,
She saw the garden that she had grown.
I thought these were wonderful words to read in memory of a woman whose gardens and gardening had played such a vital part of her life. And it made me think of a poem I came across last year after my mother died.
It’s a sad job packing up a house when a parent dies, made even sadder for my two sisters and I because our father had died two months before our mother. But one of the things that was really comforting was coming across the books and poems that our mother had loved. I found an anthology of poems that she must have had from when she was girl, because her maiden name, Jean Simpson, was written in pencil on the flyleaf. The book fell open at a page marked by an old postcard with a picture of freesias, and daffodils and lilac. And there was this poem, written by Katherine Tynan …..
SHE ASKS FOR NEW EARTH
Lord, when I find at last Thy Paradise,
Be it not all too bright for human eyes,
Lest I go sick for home through the high mirth –
For Thy new Heaven, Lord, give me new earth.
Give of Thy mansions, Lord, a house so small
Where they can come to me who were my all;
Let them run home to me just as of yore,
Glad to sit down with me and go out no more.
Give me a garden, Lord, and a low hill,
A field and a babbling brook that is not still;
Give me an orchard, Lord, in leaf and bloom,
And my birds to sing to me in a quiet gloam.
There shall no canker be in leaf and bud,
But glory on hill and sea and the green-wood,
There, there shall none grow old but all be new,
No moth nor rust shall fret nor thief break through.
Set Thou a mist upon Thy glorious sun,
Lest we should faint for night and be undone;
Give us the high clean wind and the wild rain,
Lest that we faint with thirst and go in pain.
Let there be Winter there and the joy of Spring,
Summer and Autumn and the harvesting;
Give us all things we love on earth of old
Never to slip from out our fond arms’ fold.
Give me a little house for my desire,
The man and the children to sit by my fire,
And friends crowding in to us, to our lit hearth –
For Thy new Heaven, Lord, give me new earth.
I sat on the edge of my mother’s bed and read this with tears in my eyes.
If anybody reading this has poems or quotations that inspire them I’d love to hear them.