On a Saturday morning in early April I lead a creative writing workshop at Global Gardens, where we used the garden and the act of gardening as inspiration.
In many ways, the workshop was about how anything, including gardening, can be used to get us writing. What was interesting was that the writing we ended up with was not always clearly linked to the garden. When it comes to creating things, the place we begin is not always where we will stay.
A wide range of writers, both experienced and entirely new, joined us for the workshop, including a landscape architecture student, a poet and someone who hadn’t ever done gardening or writing before!
We started off with an exercise that’s wonderful to use whenever you’re stuck for inspiration – I asked the writers to shout out words describing what they noticed and how they felt when they arrived at the garden that day – no one at the workshop had been to the Global Gardens allotment before. Once I’d chalked their words up on the board (ranging from ‘alien’ to ‘escape’ to ‘lavender’) I asked each writer to choose two words, one to begin their piece of writing, the other to end, then they had a couple of minutes to write. The short pieces that resulted were funny, or moving, often both, and showed us just what could be achieved in such a small amount of time.
After the warm up, Poppy took us to the warmth of the polytunnel and we did some gardening. Our second exercise was to write about the experience in the polytunnel and share our work. It was fantastic to hear the range of viewpoints from the writers - the same event was described in so many different ways. A particularly striking image which has stuck in my head was one writer describing digging, and holding a spider in their hand, looking at its egg sack up close.
For the third exercise, I asked the writers to create the opening to a story. The conditions were that it must include somebody digging, and the reason the character is digging could not be revealed until the end of the scene, or not at all. The openings were fantastic, with a couple, including one which can be found below by Janina, full of menace and intrigue. I hope some of these stories will be continued!
Below are three pieces from the workshop that morning.
Touching the lemon leaves
This piece is by Xiaoying, an international student studying landscape architecture. Here is her reflection on our time in the garden and in the polytunnel, where we tied beans to their poles:
Touching the lemon leaves make me feel relaxed.
Walking around the fields gives me a feeling of closing to nature.
Fastening the vegetables make me feel a sense of peaceful.
Cooperating between people gives me a feeling of community cohesion.
Something which struck me, too, about gardening with the workshop group was how chatting, joking and gardening side-by-side was a strong part of what made the morning so enjoyable. I think an important part of the Global Gardens Project is the sense of community that Xiaoying mentions.
I need to tell you something
The next piece to share is the opening of a story, by Janina:
She swore quietly to herself as the handle of the spade fell apart in her hands, leaving a rough jagged end that was difficult and painful to hold.
Was there time to go back and get another? She pushed back her sleeve to check her watch. Two p.m., just an hour before she had to be at the school gate. She’d just have to carry on and grit her teeth against any pain.
The grass roots had interwoven repeatedly, forming a dense mat, under which was rocky soil. She tried pushing the spade into the ground, leaning all of her weight onto the broken handle, wincing as a splinter worked its way into her palm.
Nothing. There wasn’t even a dent in the soil!
“Maybe if I tried kind of chopping it?” she wondered. But even repeatedly attempting to stab the earth with the spade from as high as she could manage, was totally ineffective.
It started to rain. “Today just gets better and better” she muttered to herself, briefly wondering why she was bothering to be sarcastic to herself.
One last idea occurred to her. “Maybe if I use the corner of the spade, it would work?” She tried it, using the sharp point to push through the grass mat and soil and let out a sigh of relief as the spade started to work through the ground. It was difficult and it was slow, but gradually she managed to chip out a big enough hole…
Later that afternoon, already shattered, she forced herself up the three flights of stairs, turned the key to her home and held open the door to let Johnny into the flat. “Johnny” she said, "before we do anything else, I need to tell you something.”
He looked up into her eyes, trying to gauge whether he was about to hear good or bad news. “What is it?” he whispered warily.
She pulled him over to sit on her lap. “I’ve got some bad news love, Barney has run away again.”
Seed of life
This final piece is by Raychel, a poem written during the first exercise of our workshop:
Seed of life
I arrived here
From where did I come
Where shall I go.
The traffic annoyed me on my way
A chaotic start to the day
I infuse expectation in how my day should be spent
When its gone, I look back
And wonder where it went.
I know I make the decisions
It’s my choice how I dance this dance
I can go slow and take my time
I can race ahead in my mind.
Not that it helps me to run ahead
Often need to pause and go back to bed
At least we weren’t too late
Maybe now I'll pause
No need to run
No need to escape.
I’m always amazed by what can be achieved in a couple of hours, so many ideas and wonderful turns of phrase were written that Saturday morning, and it was a genuine pleasure to hear each piece of work read out, and feel the personality of each writer behind their work.