Flowers, here

We sat in an elegant, sparsely furnished room at Tintinhull, its dark panels, a blackening fall of rain and the murmur and flicker of Sue Palmer’s film keeping us from the garden outside.

 

Silent words, slow paced and shamelessly repetitive, appeared on the screen: rhythmic insistence on another garden that can no longer be visited or simply spelled out in words.  Scraps: the baseline hum of bees; a distant voice, calling; the video camera momentarily re-animating meagre stills from a photographic past. 

 

The next morning I woke to the sound of childhood holidays by the sea.  I sensed their thrill under my skin even as I registered – not for the first time – the pebble drag and swish as workday traffic of an ordinary day.

 

Eyes shut at Hadspen

Eyes shut at Hadspen

In Flowers, where is the garden – a film that locates the now geographically unlocatable garden of Hadspen – Sue Palmer’s methodology is perhaps that of the dream. Her methods construct the condition of half-waking.  Drugged by her sounds and rhythms, we see and sense for real, a garden lost to us in reality.  And we cosset the lovely ache she has placed in our stomachs as we walk out of the dark room into the day.

Photo credit: Sue Palmer

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a return, loss and gain

June

An opportunity is given to me, to return to Hadspen to see the garden, and discuss opportunities for filming there.

The house has been for sale for two years, and is now being sold, on the cusp of changing ownership, from over two centuries of being in the Hobhouse family.

For information about the history of Hadspen Garden, please go to this page on my own art and horticulture blog, Inquiline.

I return for the first time in 9 years to the garden.

Half of it is so nearly the same, half of it is so very different.

The smell of the former tea room, as I opened the door to the small empty cottage, is time travelling.

Allium Sicilums are in full flower, bumble bees.

Ancient nails on the parabola wall.

I spend a few hours – longer than intended.

A few weeks later, I receive an email that the new owners would rather I didn’t use any footage that I had filmed there, and that it would not be possible for me to return to film again. Understandable perhaps, given the complex recent history of the garden.  But also short-sighted.

In some ways it was a relief.  Even though I never intended to make any kind of ‘peeling paint’ video about Hadspen, now there was no option, although documentation of the garden as it has changed over time, as it is now, is so valuable and powerful.

I went in through a window.

I stayed too long.  I didn’t stay long enough.

Eyes shut at Hadspen June 2013

penelope and victoria

Two very significant conversations.

The first with Penelope Hobhouse in April.

About Hadspen, and the history of the garden, and her life in that garden. Plants, about the relationship between the gardener and the garden. About Central Asia, tender evergreens, Iranian plants.  Self-seeding plants, and an increasing love for them.  And her allotment back at Hadspen around 2007 (as the garden redesign was happening) sewn only with poppies from Kabul  – poppies that will continue to self-seed around Hadspen probably for years to come.

Talking with her was great. I liked seeing how she gardened now, in her own garden, away from management or expectation, and a sense of knowing exactly what she wants to grow, and to look at.  Cerinthe seedlings around and in the greenhouse.  A shared love of green flowers.

I love self seeders. I do have to edit them. I love seeing where they turn up. I love the fact that they’re happy enough to do it.

Our conversation recalled something Mary Keen wrote in the Telegraph in 2012 in relation to Hadspen and ‘a garden never lasting’ …

“There is an exemplary no-dig patch and until very recently Penny Hobhouse had a plot where she sowed opium poppies collected in Kabul. Now they seed all over the garden in shades of coral and raspberry pink and blackest purple. I suspect they may continue at Hadspen for hundreds of years, like Reseda luteola, the plant Romans used for its yellow dye, which surfaced after the excavation of a Roman site near Cirencester. It is, in the end, the seeds of former crazes that remain in gardens long after the designs their owners planned are blurred with wilderness.”

 

The second conversation with Victoria Glendinning later in April, who had moved into the Pope’s house when they retired and left England.

Victoria very generously showed me round her garden, pointing out plants that remained, or she herself had acquired when Niall Hobhouse and Nori Pope had invited gardeners to come in to dig up plants from the parabola, before the garden redesign began.  Victoria had prepared a list of plants that she had from Hadspen or from the Popes, and rather brilliantly, had written it in the back cover leaf of the Pope’s book ‘Colour by Design’.

We talked about the plants she had inherited or acquired from Hadspen Garden, in particular some dusty corms in a box which turned out to be ‘absolute thugs‘.

Victoria's list in the Popes book

And Victoria had created a special border which she had titled ‘Homage au Popes‘ –

“They adored plants with dark red or dark foliage, so I moved them all here to this bed.”

Victoria's list of plants

Cerinthe

One of my favourite plants is Cerinthe.  I first encountered it at Hadspen growing around the place.  My gardening friends in Sicily have the yellow one growing everywhere and almost consider it a weed.  For me, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ with its dense purple and grey green pearlescence is structurally fascinating.  The bees change the tone of their buzz when they go up into the flower bell – the pitch shifting to a high tone – ecstatic perhaps?

Here is the 9th generation of Cerinthe from the original plant I bought at Hadspen Garden growing in a pot outside.  Every year I collect the seed and then set it off come spring.

Image

In focusing on the ‘extinct’ garden of Hadspen for the ‘Abundance Garden Trail’, I’m paying extra attention to all the plants growing in my garden that came from the nurseries there.  I’m considering their qualities, and why I like them so much. So of course, there is a resonance between the growth of the seedling and the slow forming of the piece that I’m making.

There is more information about my work and Hadspen Garden via my research blog ‘Inquilines’

Sue

a letter

For a very long time after Hadspen Garden closed, I had wanted to write to Nori and Sandra Pope, thanking them for their garden.  Research on the internet over the years told me they had returned to Western Canada, and I tracked down a connection via mention of a talk they had given, with the right postal address confirmed via a friend of theirs who contacted me from the ‘call out’ for plants.

7 years later, a letter.

Letter to Nori and Sandra

Letter to Nori and Sandra with photos

If the garden...