On the 1st of November, as autumn chill pressed up against our windows, a small group of creative writers came together for a writing workshop like no other in Global Gardens’ history. From our own homes (which allowed us to welcome participants from as far as Scotland!) we met over Zoom to read and discuss work created for the Word-Share Project.
Word-Share was set up to introduce some creativity and solidarity to our lockdown life – I gave the writers a week to complete two tasks which asked them to explore the role nature plays in the pandemic. Has lockdown altered the way we notice the seasons? Can our back yard or local park become a haven for escape? What if someone in quarantine was to suddenly find a garden outside their door, that wasn’t there before?
The responses from the writers – whose experience levels varied from a ‘dabbler’ to someone with a finished novel – were absolutely fantastic and I’m including a handful of the work created below. What has been achieved is especially impressive given many of these are first drafts, written in under 20 minutes. The writing is rich and thoughtful, capturing m
emories, senses, and stories that extend past the short word count.
For the first task, I asked the writers to pick a certain spot in nature that they like to visit, and capture the sense of place as best they could. I loved getting a glimpse into back yards and local walks – I also enjoyed Edward’s take on the task, highlighting the fact that best laid plans for a relaxing walk can sometimes go awry! You can read the responses below. Following this, task two got the writers to kick their imagination into the next gear, as I asked what it might feel like for someone self-isolating, with no garden, to suddenly find a garden outside their door. The stories and poems that emerged were such a joy to hear, in turn moving and hilarious – again, please read them below.
My favourite part of the Zoom session which really lifted my spirits that dreary Sunday was the discussion and feedback from the writers. The attention to detail, celebration of writing successes, and chats about what we found difficult were at the heart of a productive, encouraging workshop, and I found warmth within our newly formed writing community that afternoon. I’m overjoyed to say that the Word-Share project doesn’t stop here – I’ll be creating a zine full of this writing and more, with creations from original artists and Global Gardens news and knowledge to share. I hope it will bring some light and comfort to anyone who has found their life stripped of these things during the pandemic, or who would like to escape any worries, even if just for a few minutes. The zine will be released in pdf format, and therefore easily accessible for free to a limitless audience. We can’t wait for you to read it!
Images by @lolitaskura
Word-Share: the writing
In the before, we glimpsed
you only from the corner
of our eye, on our way
to some place else: green
mottled with red and blue flashes,
running children behind the fence
but when the world stilled
and we were left alone with ourselves
– do you like what you see –
you became a favourite destination.
I had underestimated you,
the length of your winding paths
the shade of your trees, the sweep
of tall grass densely peopled
with daisies on these maddening
sunlit April days.
We sat on a bench with the black poplars
proud at our back, casting pointed shadows
the whole field to ourselves, the wind’s
soft exhales in my hair
Clouds moved across the sky
brushes of barely white
and watching them gave me comfort,
pinned me down: though everything else
had stopped, the clouds floated away still,
gathering water for the rain.
By Julie Primon
Narnia lies at the bottom of gardens.
Lean-tos, garages, sheds.
Sheds always take me back to home-from-school-key-hunts.
Stacked pots and jam jars.
Half bags of compost, grit, sand.
Seeds-sans-labels, untagged raw-plugs, size-less screws.
A guessing game.
Rusting saw blades, oiled rags.
My grandad’s shed, a garage for a non-driver, smelt of enamel paint and paraffin. Balsa wood shavings curled between paving slabs.
That shed at the caravan park, comically small, just made for an 8-year-old to hide out. I pushed my finger through a weal in the wood, a spy-hole through which to pick-off enemy tribes, wah-wah-ing by the paddling pool.
I painted ours in May, mixing three part-used pots into blue swirls. Sheltering within from the summer shower, petrichor and turps combining in a heady hit.
A lockdown escape just 10m from home.
By Beck Brookes
Dark. Pretty dark. And kind of ugly.
I mean, thinking about it, it’s really not that great here, but I love it anyway. Muddy. Also that. Weirdly muddy. It’s always a little odd. Sometimes there’s cows in the field to the entrance. Sometimes there’s horses. A lot of the time they’re gone though, and I don’t really get that. Where do they. Where do they go? Sorry if this is just hot air, you can tell I’m a city boy.
I always go up here when everything gets too much. To be quite frank, it’s not some luscious, freeing place. Not the kind of thing people usually associate with a little pocket of nature. The space isn’t overtly pretty, there’s no fantastic views as most of the time you just see mud and trees, and if anything it’s weirdly claustrophobic. It’s not full of crisp, clean, open air or anything like that.
When I trudge my way up through the muddy leave-trodden paths here, I’m absolutely smothered above from the dark shadows of the trees.
That’s it. I think I’ve figured it out.
The vaguely oppressive smothering by the trees here, it still has a comfort to it. Like a dark, thick blanket that’s pretty moth-chewed but still the one you always go for. You pull it up to your face when watching a scary movie, and if you hold it there for too long you MIGHT just lose all oxygen, but you grip it anyway. That’s the kind of bizarre cosiness here.
There’s an unconscious contract signed by everyone who waddles up here. The signature is that, despite the fact that we all know this is NOWHERE NERE rural or actually hidden away, we’re all going to pretend like it is. Everyone does the complimentary countryside “hello” to everyone they pass like it’s odd to see anyone up here, even though it’s a 15-minute drive from the centre of the city. Everyone loves to act like it’s some gorgeous hidden little spot that they craftily discovered, despite the car parks, and the fact that you have to cross over a motorway to get here.
Adding to that are the little remnants you can find dotted about. A rotted old DIY swing attached to a branch. Everyone chucks their kids on it for a go, hoping to capture some kind of magical Enid Blyton Swallows and Amazons twee memory. It’s valuable. There’s such a joy here in just how kind of cheap and battered and muddy it all is.
I, too, pretend I am “escaping” away here, but if anything the little reminders of the world around me, the battered swings, the big dumb dogs, that steamed up parked car which oh dear that couple really think this area is more secluded than it really is oh heavens I’ll just keep walking okay let’s ignore that, if anything all these little touchstones don’t make me escape my normal world, but rather they make it smaller.
They take out the noise, and just show me the snippets to make me smile, before I have to go back down into the main show.
By Edward Lee
I wrap my hands around the cup,
inhale the smell of coffee beans mingled
with mock-orange, roses, lavender.
I rub my back; it aches. But there is satisfaction
in the freshly planted borders.
The cyclamen and Solomon’s seal
transplanted from my father’s garden
spread beneath the silver birch.
A hosta snails have yet to find
and hellebores flourish in the dappled shade.
In fuller sun, carnations burn the soil
to ash - scarlet, purple, white.
I drain my cup, toss the dregs
across the new-mown grass
where fearless robins search for grubs.
It’s time to shake the pot-grown bulbs
from root-bound soil, to plant them out
along the path in hope of Spring.
By Angi Holden
I’m sitting in an old banana box so that my tired bones are separated from the cold, grey slate by a memory of a by-gone tree. Before me the box held various envelopes and important documents which are now meeting their fate in the roaring fire in front of me. A moving equipment, a safe and now a chair, since the mad rush to get essential household items before another lockdown somehow didn’t include garden furniture.
I move closer to the hungry beast which demands another log. It’s only six o’clock, but my body knows it’s seven, and the world is coming to an end again. I’m trying to catch the last sun rays coming over the back of terraced houses like a desperate lover running after the long-gone train. Closing my eyes, I get lost in the murmur of two grown trees in neighbours’ gardens, listening out for a bat or an owl. But instead I hear only a loud seagull shriek which may as well be, since I decided that the white, steady sound of the Iceland fan is actually the rumbling of sea.
Behind my eyelids, the fire is mesmerizing. Looking beyond its soft glow into the shadows, my eyes lift reluctantly and survey their new queendom. They need some time to become accustomed to the space, since it is a far away from what they are used to – a haphazard jungle of plants acquired from friends, local plantshares and reduced aisles in garden centres. No, this garden must have been carefully designed by a Gardener with all-year-round joy in mind. Bit intimidating, if you ask me. On the right, there’s a small bay tree in a brown wooden barrel, next to it a plump fuchsia with gentle white and pink blossom, followed by Japanese beauty berries with their exquisite purple shine and a small maple tree rudely pushed around by a sedum.
Separated by two meters of tidy lawn, on the other side is a hawthorn tree, a home to three birdfeeders and an insect house. Below, an elongated patch of mysterious plant with tall, slender leaves and dry flowers. Yesterday I lifted its mouth of dying leaves and discovered a bulb patch-to-be. Yes, most definitely, I glee and in my mind open a catalogue of crocuses, snowdrops, tulips, and daffodils. Dug into the wet Welsh soil, sleeping the winter off and waking up in the spring, they’ll push their heads out in anarchy. And before the hawthorn, sedum and Japanese berries will know what got them, they’ll be everywhere. A cacophony of shapes, scents and mismatched colours, a living spanner thrown into the Gardener’s work.
The fire is dying and instead the palm of a garden is lit by a handful of stars and by a string of lights wrapped around neighbour’s pear tree. I breath in the rotten autumn air, content. Welcome darkness – what will you bring to light?
By Barbora Adlerova
such green waters my eyes
sage moss mint fern
I sense the living the growing
hear blades push up strong
assertive no lockdown here
should I shrink to ladybird
to find companions
to eavesdrop on blue tits' worries?
cradled by bees and blossom
I will still under this sky's blanket
feel the sapphire ease my blues
I will sprout wings
By Finola Scott
She knew before her eyes opened that it was only day five. The knowledge appeared quickly, an unwanted visitor, and she rolled over in bed. Through the crappy curtain of her furnished one-bedroom in Riverside, she could tell it was another ridiculously sunny day, the kind that never happened in Wales, or at least not after a fortnight of equally ridiculous sunshine.
Maeve pushed out a long sigh and sat up in bed. From experience, she knew that it was better to get it over with, rip off the band-aid. She had tried staying in bed, hiding from the world, but it just made things worse. If she got up and had breakfast and showered, it would give her some momentum.
What’s the point of momentum if you can’t go out, the voice in her head taunted? She ignored it. It was day five of self-isolation, and soon enough it would be day six, and day ten, and day fourteen. She had to believe it. Into the kitchen, then, and let the automatisms take over: fill the kettle, put it on, grab a bowl from the cupboard, fill it with cereal, top it up with milk. She was nearly out, and would have to text her friend Austin, ask him to drop her some. How frustrating, not to be able to go out for things as simple as milk.
As she put a spoonful of cereal in her mouth, waiting for the kettle to finish boiling the water, she noticed a door at the end of the kitchen. It had a glass pane where the window had been, but she knew – she had been renting the flat for almost a year – that it had not been here before. Great. She was going insane.
Maeve swallowed her cereal and put the bowl down. One, two, three steps. She put her hand on the door handle. It felt real: a wooden knob against her palm. What was this? Glancing through the glass pane, she let out a gasp. There was a garden.
She pulled the door open. Her flat was on the first floor, but there was now a flight of stairs leading down, a fire escape type of thing. And below, a garden, the grass wet and shimmering in the morning light, trees lining the enclosure, a patch of daisies to the right. When she had gone to bed the previous evening, there had been no door, no stairs, no garden: only a stretch of concrete that the tenant downstairs used to park his car.
It was a dream, had to be. Well, she would make the most of it. Stepping outside in her yellow pyjamas, Maeve felt the wind playing with her t-shirt, her hair; she closed her eyes and breathed deeply, in, out. After five days cooped up in the flat, it was heaven. She went down the stairs, expecting to wake up at any point, expecting the garden to disappear. It didn’t. As excitement bubbled inside her, she ran down the last few steps and, whooping, she went around the garden. She didn’t feel the cold, the wet. She lay down on the grass, morning dew soaking her top, and she spread out her arms, snow angel style. The grass was soft against her palms. Above her, the sky was a pale blue dome, a single white trail slicing across it like a promise.
By Julie Primon
Awake again. So today’s another whole 24 hours. Goody.
Beep beep all the different dings and whistles on my phone go off. Oh fantastic, looks like other people are out enjoying their lives. I’m so happy for them.
Tromble over to the window now. There’s some families mixing. Bastards. Oh god, I’m just like my parents now. Whinging and moaning about everyone not abiding the rules. Honestly though, it’s not hard yeah?
I guess one thing the pandemic has given me is an unending supply of conversations at dinnertime. Not that I actually talk to anyone, living alone in this little box.
Still gazing out the window. The view here is all I see of the outside world until I need to pop to the co-op. Look at them, the “humans” enjoying themselves. I gave up on being one of their kind long ago.
There’s something down by the pavement though.
A tiny bit of a plant, breaking up through the concrete.
Anyway, that’s enough of the window. I’m sweating like a sow and should probably wash.
Plinkplink harsh bathroom lights flicker on, always such a welcoming aura.
Yoink back the mouldy shower curtain.
Oh heavens to Betsy.
There’s a rainforest in my shower.
Well that’s new
The leaves look so warm and smooth.
Where’s the shower head? I can’t see it through all of the vines and --
Ah, there it is. Right, let’s get the water running.
Oh that’s nice.
Ohoho I feel like I’m in one of those Herbal Essences adverts.
At long last, this was what I needed to discover myself. After all this time, I have realised …
I AM Uma Thurman in Batman & Robin
I am blossom incarnate, I am the divinity of mother nature herself, a green-thumbed goddess who strides across this land of—
Oh Christ there’s a bug.
Okay that’s better. You just stay over that side of the shower little mister bug, I won’t hurt you.
This is really nice actually.
The flowers are lovely.
Oh balls I forgot my face wash.