Gardenbound: Mersea and Maplehurst Garden Tours

Christie Purifoy and I are winding down our writing collaboration. For now. With a gardenbound garden tour of our respective homes, Mersea and Maplehurst.

Follow the link at the end of my garden tour to visit Christie’s beautiful gardens at Maplehurst. Christie so eloquently writes these words:

Elizabeth and I exchanged a few “homebound” letters over Lent. The nature of a letter is to communicate over a distance, but the season of Lent introduced other distances – there was the space between winter and spring, the break between longing and fulfillment, and the chasm, so like a tomb, between death and new life. But what is Lent, after all, but a kind of long homecoming? It is a return and a way of erasing distance.

Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them (Psalm 126:6).

This is the meaning of Easter, and the church calendar tells us that even now, at the end of May, we are still in the midst of the long Easter season.

For Elizabeth and I, Easter has meant trading the distance of letter writing for the intimacy of a visit, first with a home tour and today with a tour of the garden. Here is our invitation to Elizabeth’s garden at Mersea.

 

 

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May at Mersea, in the garden

We are turning the pages of the chapter known as spring, here at Mersea. It is an excellent book. One I want to savor, read more slowly. I find myself both lingering on a page, reading certain chosen lines over and over again, and wanting to rush ahead to the next page and the one after that.

We have passed the point of rich pinks. We languished there a good long while. There were weeks when it seemed we were bathed monochromatically in pinks. Shade on shade of this luscious color carried us through the winter and into the birth of a true spring. We observed, no savored, the camellia, the azalea, and the fruit tree blossoms in a full spectrum of pink glory.

I am slowly learning that each season in the yard, in the soil, in the garden will bring something valuable. Something beautiful. I cannot choose favorites. The rapid renewal of growth we are experiencing here at Mersea is life-giving. If I had a favorite it would be replaced by a new favorite the very next day. On the heels of spring, if we attend well and water well, we will have a kitchen filled with vegetables. And we will know the joy of sharing with friends all summer long. Water is the key. We know there will be sunshine and we know the soil is rich. But diligently watering? That is the key to growth. That which is not fed cannot spring forth. That which is left unnurtured cannot bear fruit.

Because the camellia are at home here, they were our trumpeters of joy and hope in the middle of the cold southern winter. I marveled at their longevity and endurance this winter. There is a strong hint of the familiar in their radiant beauty. It seems that many of our well known southern flowers are like women I have known. They are marked by strength, dignity, grace, and a unique beauty.

How remarkable that the concrete things of this earth, the tangible things we can touch and smell and hold and grasp can spark our memories of flesh and blood influencers, companions, and friends. The double gardenia is one of my newest acquisitions, a gift from my dear friend Harriett in memory of my mother who died, as you know, in January. The sweetest of memorials, I planted it in the front yard. It is small now, but potent. From the front porch I can see the whiter than white of its petals. Its fragrance is spellbinding and triggers a flood of memories.

They say that the sense of smell is the strongest of all our senses. I would never argue that fact. Just celebrate its truth. One of my most vivid childhood memories is that of the gardenia blossoms in June. We’d return home from vacation and the fragrance would greet us as we opened the doors to the station wagon. A whole row, planted along the side of our gray salt box with the red door, my child hood home. This house, my formative home, was marked by clematis vine, red geraniums, and gardenia.

I walk to the gardenia in our front yard, here at Mersea, and pick its first double blossom, bring it proudly but guiltily (can they co-exist?) into the dining room and place it into a small silver vessel. My childhood attends every move and I am intoxicated by the memories and the fragrance of the now. I will always love the gardenia, and it will always remind me of southern women I have been privileged to know and call friend. Even after the petals turn from white to brown, I struggle to toss the flowers out. I hold on to them well past their peak of beauty and decide that tans and browns, signs of the blossoms’ age, are beautiful too. Because I remember them at their peak. And if I close my eyes, I can catch the the lingering smells of lovely.

My husband is the gardener, and I am the sous-chef gardener. He teaches me and I am learning by his side. Making my way, often in his shadow. I am hopeful that one day I will be a chef in the garden in my own right.

This morning he walked into the parlor after a brief visit to the garden and announced that my first gladiolas were blooming. And because he knows me well, he sweetly admonished me not to pick it yet. I want to bring indoors all the beauty of my garden. I want to select and fill my favorite vases with the color and vibrancy of spring. But waiting, holding back, being happy with them where they are planted is a good discipline for me. Sometime we pick. And sometimes we just go to them and abide where they are. There is an important balance in this. I can go to the source of beauty and just be there. Receive their gifts on their turf, on their soil. In the place where they have been planted. I am learning from my teacher, the spring garden.

From my window by my chair, the one I sit in and write most always, I have spied a magnolia blossom the size of an elephant’s ear. From a distance I have watched the blossom in the rectory yard. Yesterday I decided that it was time to snap and photograph, but as I approached the huge blossom, I saw that it was drooping and brown. I would have to rely on memory. My window memories. Seeing well the first time insures that I can remember more clearly in my mind’s eye when the blossoms have faded and are gone.

Memory serves as a beautiful keeper of treasures. I sit and recall the magnolia blossom. As as spring moves to summer in our garden, I will recall the cosmos, the zinnias, the gladiolas, and the hydrangae, as they each slowly fade. Hope will transition me into summer here. That and the squash and tomatoes, cucumbers and snow peas. We will almost grow tired of squash for dinner and tomatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner by the time September comes. Almost.

But now it is time to feast and to savor. To whisper prayers of gratefulness over each stem and vine and plant and stalk. And dream a little of next year’s garden. What we might add to the garden here at Mersea. And what might come to us in the days ahead, on this soil, at this place we call our home.

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Here is an invitation to Christie’s garden at Maplehurst – (Click the link to visit Christie’s writing page and gardens)

 

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Homebound: From Mersea To Maplehurst With Love, March 9

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Christie and I are homebound. I, a writer of poetry and prose, am bound to Mersea, a simple white Victorian, nestled in the historic district of a southern shrimping village. She is bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse build by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. We are both writers, wives, and mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us.

This season, as winter turns toward spring and Lent leans toward Easter, Christie and I are writing letters, she beneath the hemlocks and maples and I beneath the pines and pecans. We reflect together on our homebound journeys. We will explore the bonds of love and faithfulness that tie us, and not always easily, to these particular places and to the people sheltered within them.

Please join us for an epistolary exploration of love, loss and restoration.

Welcome to my third letter in the series. To read Christie’s previous letters and more of her beautiful words go to her web site, found here. To read all the letters in the Homebound Collection, visit the tab at the top of my home page, entitled The Homebound Letters.

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March 9, 2017

(From home after being away)

Dear Christie:

The brown leather sofa in the parlor is holding me with a familiar leather scented embrace. A cool night has left the house chilled, but I am warmed by both blanket and puppy. What an apt name my husband has given our sweet English Cocker whose name is Sweet. She chooses to stay by my side as I write, apparently my absence was noticed as she leans in especially close this sunny morning. Perhaps she missed me, as I missed all things familiar, all things home.

Christie, as you know I accompanied my friend to Boston for a trip to Mass General Hospital. We left on a Tuesday, returned on a Wednesday and I am back to my beloved writing on a Thursday. I am viewing home now with the lens of leaving. Leaving and returning bring many gifts, one is a newly framed perspective. I like the frame. It focuses me, like the European silver with a bit of patina that I chose to frame my son’s portrait here at Mersea.

Perhaps leaving reawakens all the senses and plants tiny seeds from the experiences within us. What seeds have I brought back which I will need to tend to and water? How will I grow because of where I have gone?

I imagine we are all being renewed daily. During this Lenten season perhaps I am more keenly aware of renewal. It feels more present and sacred this year. I long for it more deeply, and am even slowly chasing after it. Somehow I feel we are beginning to meet, change and I. She is gentle. And she is patient and willing to wait for me even as I must wait on the minute radish seeds in our garden to grow into edible radishes. I must wait for the natural process of seeds transforming into bulbous red radishes.

But it is worth the wait. For I will slice the radish thinly, place it on a thick slice of grain toast with avocado, arugula and fried egg like the one I sampled in Boston. And it will be good. A simple good that comes along as gift. Why is it that I want to slice the radish thinly so that it becomes translucent, nearly transparent? Are we called too to be transparent like the cut radish?

When I was in Boston, I tried to make it my temporary home. To be rooted there for but a blink. Graciously Boston gave good gifts. The signs along Charles Street provided a curated display of simple art. Each one, uniquely designed and hung with care outside of the shops spoke to pride of place. I walked at a snail’s pace along the bumpy and worn brick sidewalk, looking up and studying the design of each shop keeper’s home.

Rich conversation was a by product of this long journey for a bittersweet visit. The seventh floor of Mass General held both sorrow and joy. During one of our talks, my wise friend reminded me that joy and sorrow can and do coexist. We can celebrate the miracle, slivers and slices and servings of joy even while grief, sorrow and sadness are present. What mystery there is in celebrating what they each bring.

Flying looks like a metaphor for our lives. The experience felt new as I hadn’t flown in a long forever. I have lost my wanderlust. Maybe I have found other things to replace it and it is not therefore a true loss. My desire to go faraway anymore has been mostly snuffed out.

But this was an invitation to go. I wonder about all I would have missed if I had said no. What a place of honor to travel as a companion and co-traveler with my beloved friend on her journey. I call her teacher too. We have much to learn from each other about loss, love and restoration. Christie, oh how I am enjoying your letters! And you too are teaching me about important things.

On this micro-journey, as in life, we experienced delay, turbulence and frustration. But there was joy too in seeing the unparalleled aesthetic beauty of the clouds. Their shape, color and mysterious movements, viewed from a plane window are spectacular. Childlike wonder sat with me. I thought I knew how to press into looking up at the clouds from my earthbound, rooted place. But glimpsing the cotton white masses moving against an azure blue backdrop at eye level reminded me there are new ways to see everything.

And there was joy in being, just being with a friend and meeting kind souls along the way, such as the world’s coolest Uber driver. The news was good in Boston and so we are full of rejoicing. Is this a preview of what is to come at Easter-time?  We are moving in that direction, the place of newness. I hope I am ready and that I am changed.

Today I will go to the tiny post office here in the village to mail some thank you notes. I wish I could box up and mail you a package of springtime. It would contain color and hope, buds and seeds, pieces of me and Mersea. My hope for you is that it will not delay, this true and fully fledged spring.

In time we will both celebrate its arrival. Spring will come for all of us. Newness and change are the sweetest of gifts. I hope I unfurl my clutched fists to receive it all. And to allow the gift of change in me.

Peace and grace to you,

Elizabeth
Mersea

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What Would You Have Said

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We were four. Perhaps you could say we were three against one. (It may be clearer in a moment how we came to be divided in our perspectives.  Before they shifted, again.) Two of us knew the sunset would occur at 6:12, because we had Googled it. A third one joined us. He was no wheel. He was more than welcome on this pilgrimage.

Moments matter. Minutes count. And when you are chasing descending beauty in the sky, and especially when you are chasing the sun as it tucks itself into bed, seconds count. If you blink or turn, the sky performs without you. Nature has no pause button. No rewind.

We didn’t have to go far to watch the sun set, bleed blazing reds and break-open spilling blood orange hues onto the salty creek. Like a dropped and broken egg from my bantam hen, we expected a color explosion to be poured out. A history of admiring the day’s often dramatic curtain closing gave us something we thought we could “count on.” Who among us doesn’t love a sunset.

Three of us walked quickly down the black asphalt road to attend the performance of our favorite star, planet sun. February had just turned brisk again, after she had casually flirted with the air of spring, turning her back on warmer nights. Our speed was due in part to the fact that we were cold and in part because we love the sky when it is drenched in drama. We didn’t want to miss the spectacle.

The sky was a dull and muted mauve this night. Drama had failed to show. As there are truly no bad days when one is walking, breathing, living fully alive, there are no bad sunsets. This one was simply restrained. The sky held nothing head-turning. The beauty was to be seen only by the ones who have eyes for wonder. Who truly know how to look beyond the obvious.

What would you have said? How would you respond to the wisest man among us? The fourth one. The one who just happened to join us, as we huddled up around the chill and swarming South Carolina gnats. The man who had pedaled by us moments earlier on his bike, racing to see the sunset. A sunset that was void of flash and blinding beauty. A close of day performance which was in fact, lovely in its simple majesty.

Our collective response was just short of shame. For we had not seen what he had so clearly seen. We compared the sky to the “night before’s sky.” And concluded it was less than fabulous.

But  he had seen the unique way the light spills before dark. He had witnessed residual pale pinks and royal grays colliding in a 6:18 sky. He saw the shadows and shades and reflections that we did not see. At first. Blind us needed artist him to guide us into the beauty.

At the edge of the creek that night, he delighted in the light. Savored real beauty. And shared his perspective with the three blind us.

I reset my lens. And I silently gave thanks for the man who saw the wonder of a muted sunset; one that came and left its mark on me. One that came as Google said. At precisely 6:12 in all its quiet glory.

And taught me again how to really see. What would you have said? I am still whispering a silent “thank you.” To both of them.

 

In The Coop

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In The Coop

This may be my Walden Pond
Wired place of peace that passes even
My own understanding
Why being hemmed in with these beguiling creatures
Is often my preferred place to be
Still and rest among the fowl plummage

This may be my rock
Here among the current flock of nine
I hide and find a reason
To study nature’s brilliant
Rhythm and routine

At Five they will roost
And I’ll be forced to turn back into the world again
The one where fear and pain and joy collide
Outside

This may be my island
My pilgrimmage to solace and relief
I know the neighbors have begun to talk
And question why I go inside
And talk to them, yes I do
(Dolittle did do that too, you must recall)

Naturally, I do not care a ‘tall
Nor worry about world affairs
While I am hiden in full view
inside my beloved coop

Where I will hide only a little longer, in plain view
A refugee fleeing from the headlines
I share the name of those I  shelter
With
Joy will come in the morning
Alleluia and amen