I moved to Cardiff in September 2017, and it took me less than a month to get involved with Global Gardens. The sort of project I’d always searched for but hadn’t found until now, Global Gardens had the perfect mix of activities: you can get involved with transforming the garden, learn fascinating things about plants and the practices of gardening, do arts and crafts, share meals (often with home-grown ingredients) and get to know people in your community you may not have otherwise met.
This November, I had the wonderful opportunity to lead a writing workshop at the garden focusing on growing and memory. We sat in the shelter of the greenhouse (although, by some miracle, it was a gorgeously sunny autumn morning!) and the first writing exercise of the session was for everyone to write about the first garden they could remember, to write as if they were standing in it, and to tell us what they saw.
The workshop had writers who’d grown up in different countries, and so what we ended up hearing as we went round in the group and each shared our writing were some incredible memories I had not been expecting. From Iranian gardens to the lilac-leafed autumn of Johannesburg to Lithuanian orchards, the writers’ memories were so vivid I felt as if I’d just visited these gardens myself.
I then asked the writers to have a wander around the garden and come back with a list of personal observations about what they saw, heard or felt. As they roamed around, occasionally coming back to the greenhouse for tea, I found myself smiling watching everyone watch the garden, recording their thoughts. It was a beautiful day - a soft, low light was spreading over beds that were winding down for winter.
Everyone came back to the greenhouse to free-write (write without stopping, editing, or overthinking), expanding on each observation they had made and eventually I asked them to select three favourite phrases they’d written in this exercise to write on slips of paper. We then mixed these up and read them out one after the other, making a group poem about the garden. The final poem we ended up with had a lot of wonderful lines, condensed down from everyone’s experience that day. Reading it out was a lovely way to share what we’d seen, but it was also true that the lines did not always fit together, and we giggled through a fair bit of it!
Sometimes these things work, but it is inevitable that they rarely work first time; it was, after all, the first draft of a collaborative poem. Below, I have selected some of the lines written that day and rearranged them – though not necessarily a perfect poem, I think it speaks wonderfully about the changing garden at the time of this late autumn workshop.
I loved the experience of hosting the workshop, and left with more appreciation for the garden than ever. When everybody shares what they notice, it lets us see more of what is around us.
The Global Gardens Poem
I remember the sun lighting the polytunnel as I was picking salad for my daily meal
Chard, you grow so well, with your wonderful rainbow colours
Mints are not always green, but strong in any season, freshness is what they exhale
Rosemary smells like my mum’s garden – my cat used to sit in its shadows
The sunflowers have shared their seeds with the birds. Dusty now, like velvet
Lone leaves on the tree, ghosts of the apples that grew
Decaying leaves insulate the tips of new growth
As I pull up your root, this is now where life is
Highway full of running trees, their joints creaking after a long sleep
Cable cars for ants travelling to see their families for a Sunday roast
Artichokes, a new discovery! Growing slowly all year round…
On the ground I saw the wild worlds kept giving birth