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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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.