Category Archives: gardens


I like Chelsea. I’ve been going there every day since Christmas, to the English Gardening School at the Chelsea Physic Garden. A diploma in garden design (it’s finished now…have I mentioned that I got the prizes for top student and for garden writing? Well. I did). It was cold when we started. January. You’d think there’d be not much in bloom but the garden was filled with scent. Sarcococca confusa and S. hookeriana, Viburnum x bodnantense, Daphne bholua quietly infusing still air.

There’s so much to write about but what struck me was that every day I’d pass the local school on my way back to the Tube and, without fail, every day some huge unnecessary beast of a car left badly parked on double yellow lines by an impossibly thin woman with a bad temper would block my way or try to end my life.  (I make sweeping generalisations about people, I know I do, but it’s based on observation….and a bit of imagination.) And on most days school children in long caterpillars would press their noses up against the glass of the Cactus House at the Physic Garden, wide eyed and full of questions.


Pull it tighter



Push it higher



Make it thinner richer

Work it

Hide it behind dark glasses

Behind long shining hair

Behind cashmere rippled with richness

Push it into big cars

No scratches

The yellow lines don’t apply

Shout at it for not doing better

For losing his place

For crying

Lock the door

Look at the cactus

Fat engorged glaucous blue

Eye level

Wide eyed

Small boy, finger out to touch

Out to touch the city from the fifteenth floor

Pink misted London

Spider crawling on his hand

Over cuff and back onto wood

Catch up come on

Pick up the leaves

Breath white plumes of dragon breath

Into that scented air



Filed under gardens, poems, poetry


Finally have my brain back after months of searching for it. About time….




Creep nettle.

Finger your way through hawthorn and fern,

reach beyond aged, cracked blackened roots.

Jut your bold-chinned youth

into the soft earth

and settle.

Claw down your tendrils and twist

soil beneath roots,

coil with bones and ashes and splintered pot and coal mines

and seeping cow piss

and leakage from the stream flood

into a labyrinthine sprawl.


I lifted fibrous forked out slice

steel cut against clay earth,

and slung into fire

a shaken head of ochre root hair.

And another and again

until the soil sank to soft crumb




Filed under gardens, poems, poetry, writing

FoodInteriorsGardens (FIG)

You really need to see this because it’s fab.

A new blog by my chum Pascale.

Serious talent.



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Filed under gardens, oddbods, writing


It’s been a while…..

I’ve been busy gardening for a bloke in Greenwich who’s never there.

Been given carte blanche.

Been distracted from everything else.

It’s great spending other people’s money, especially on a creative project. Trouble is, I can’t see the garden from my kitchen window or walk on the grass in bare feet when the dew settles or smell the paeonies at dusk infusing the air with their slightly too sweet fragrance. I have to give it back….

It’s been hard work. I’ve wrestled with waist high grass and yanked out distorted quinces and untangled roses and found Jerusalem artichokes and the most glorious small blue flower which as yet remains unidentified. And the best thing? Stepping into a cool shower and feeling hot skin soothed.

Slim edge of desire,

a yearning for water.

Salt skin singed, hot and

rimmed with dry earth.

A face lifted to the cool

gasping shock,

spray spitting against the shower curtain.

Slide the soap, made cold from an open window,

against breast and throat.

A lava flow of greybrown grained

suds slips

from shoulders

to hip, thigh, shin.

Wash soil, spade, trowel from skin

flush tangled roots from pores

leave my garden, your garden, a perfect picture of glaucous blue.

Watch the foam gathering speed,


to pool brown between toes past

ankles white bleached with tapioca-ed nettle stings.

Taking a shower in mid afternoon

in not the cool sun of morning

but in the worked, earned buzz of afternoon heat.

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Isn’t this aubergine beautiful.

It’s mis-shapen (according to the supermarket) and therefore cheaper than the uniformly straight, uniformly purpled aubergines which cost twice as much.  Pretty difficult to tell the difference (THAT should be the new moniker….’Tell the Difference’….) once it’s bubbling along with the lamb in a tagine for supper.

Anyhow, it got me thinking about the big, beautiful, imperfect houses which I walk past every day and which are slowly being deprived of character and turned into Barratt houses….if you want a spanking new house then go and buy one and leave the characterful ones to those who appreciate a scuffed skirting board and less than perfect plaster.

Arts and Crafts

It fell down last March.

A too-warm day and the blossom out on the cherry, early,

in the front garden.

Paths and lawn and drive dull-churned to screed

and gravelled runnels

where the lorries had pushed their way in,

shaving the stone pillars as they reversed,

spewing diesel,

shoving branches ’til they cracked.

It’s just a tree.

Just a wall.

But a young man built that wall,

hot august burning his young neck to leather

cradling the stone in his arms like a child,

finding the right fit.


The house was careful, crafted, waxed and nurtured.

It was settled and bedded into the earth

and breathed deeply, rhythmically,

suiting its people,

its rippled glass glowing comfortable yellow light.


It’s screaming now.

Men important in yellow hats pose and peer and nod safe agreement

and the man with the sleek car whose doors close with the thunk of wealth

stands and strokes his prize.

I can hear it from the door,

open like the shriek of a mouth:

the rip of wooden panels levered from brick

hurled into a skip, nails clawing the air,

the smash of splintered porcelain

crazed nickel taps lying in shock

and the milk green bath that cocooned us

and comforted us and heard our childish gibber

lies exposed and shamed.

Window sills singed with stubbed out cigarettes

and branded by the dust white heat of a mug,



They heave in limestone and marble and halogen

and clear untroubled glass

to dress its nakedness.


It felt its disgrace too hard and

started a low grumble

which grew to a screeching din enough to cleave open the earth.

Clay and flint exposed for an instant til

the house cracked and tilted, drunk, and fell

wall against wall

roof against cellar

to a satisfied mound of lime spewing rubble.



A paint chart still flapping, floundering in dirt.




Filed under gardens, poems, poetry, writing

Nursing Home and Nice Roses

The Iceberg roses are beautiful this year.

My mother had a hedge of them in her garden: a mass of white billowy pompoms. I’ve got more than I probably should have in a tiny garden and the delphiniums have taken the brash hump and pushed their way through.

We took a huge bunch of roses to put in my great aunt’s room when she moved into the…

Nursing Home


We put her there when we couldn’t cope,

when she’d tired you to bone.

Not meaning to.


Three years she stayed with us,

snug in that arm chair where she could see you in the garden

and wave,

her hands arthritic gnarled, veins creeping proud violet.

She had her things:

silver hair brush, remote control, Woman’s Own, a box of toffee and

I sat and brushed her hair sometimes and brought her tea.

You heaved her unable body and cleaned her and smoothed on the cream that stopped

the red sores, acid-burned into her skin.


We should have cried at the hallucinations,

the loose-lipped rabid talking without pause,

but she spoke of your childhood:

shoo-ing the geese from the yard, high pitched,

talking gently to the cows

broom in hand, arms outstretched

asking me to close the gate behind them.


We didn’t like sending her away.

Even just for a weekend to your sister

so that you could

just breathe

and sit.


You paced in her empty room and nettled your conscience

and burned cigarette ends into your guilt.


But your colour came back

and your eyes widened to clearness.



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Filed under gardens, oddbods, poems, poetry, writing


I spent my time in Wigan digging dad’s garden. It used to be mum’s garden but gardens don’t live after the one who loves them dies and it had turned scruffy, despite my desperate attempts to nurture it. Nature is simply too powerful and I couldn’t maintain it from 200 miles away and I’ve had to watch it slowly turn feral. I pulled out nettles and brambles from the back field last October which had found a joyous and unhindered path under the hawthorn hedge and turfed over the unkempt borders now invaded by pulmonaria, that velcro-leaved thug, and mounds of concrete-rooted geraniums. At least dad can cut grass. Just about.

But this time, I restored a part of the garden that had been hidden by dead leaves. There is a row of Cyprus trees along one edge of the top garden, in front of which mum had planted slow growing doily-leaved acers, each in its own precise square of large grey pebbles. It was a such a lovely part of the garden: neat, elegant. And over time, although the acers thrived, it became over grown and forgotten. This week I raked off the rubbish and dug out all the stones and smoothed the earth and set the pebbles back into their neat squares and lifted the moss so that fresh turf can be laid and gave the acers a hair cut and it made my cry with joy to see it back to near-perfection. There’s a bit of mum still there.

I think I need to get this off my chest……

Last Day Here

I knew that you wouldn’t come back.

I watched you go. Pale. Dark-eyed and dying.

To Christies.

Dad backed the car out of the drive and you went from me, not waving.

You wore the trousers that you had bought in Selfridges a year ago,

me with you, pregnant.

Laughing in the changing room. They fit!

Fine black wool. Wide legged with a heavy swing: elegant, perfect.

You charmed the assistant and a strange woman smiled a wide smile at you.

But that day they hung from your hips in loose folds

and no one noticed.

You were too hot although it was March

and a cold wind blew hard into the house from across the fields

through the open windows.

I wedged open the doors with cushions to stop them banging.

Your skin like aged parchment, yellowing.

Always tanned and glowing before.

We put our cheeks together, mother and daughter, and I felt your bones.

I fed my daughter while you slept

and then lay down next to you like a child,

my head on your shoulder, trying not to touch your body,

in case it hurt,

your liver gun shot with cancers.

You had nice skin once.

It always turned brown in spring after gardening started

and your fingernails were always broken and rimmed with soil

and your finger skin grained green.

I stroked your arm.

Bring me my bible, you said, the black leather one, the one I had as a child.

I forgot the first time.

But I put it in your case the day we left without you and read what you had read.

I pulled your case through the foyer

into a clear blue morning, sun splintered,

my daughter strapped to my chest, head nodding, small socked foot in my hand.

I had your gold bracelet in my pocket, its smooth yellow discs, limp.

I couldn’t take off your wedding ring.

Couldn’t even try.

Couldn’t find your other nightdress anywhere either;

best to throw it away, the nurse had said.


Filed under gardens, oddbods, poetry