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 Am I Missing?

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What Am I Missing?

If you asked me if I was on a mission,
Had a mantra, a rallying cry
(I might hesitate in feigned humility and feigned surprise)
And then I might say, well yes
It covers the world and the world is covered by it

If you must know
Even if you don’t
Care to ask
Don’t care to listen
Didn’t even ever wonder
That’s okay, ’cause I am still talking
One day I woke up to the wondering of this
And the next day I woke up again to the intense unsettling of this
Days went by and I heard a trembling in my veins and in my sinew and bone
And my insides and my outsides and in time
All the parts of me were singing in unison
And the choir of me was loud
When I listened closely from the outside in and the inside out
It was like the milkyway was an orchestra, each star an instrument
And they played loudly in me, all horns and strings and keyboards, in sweet harmony
I heard a song like a psalm though the Pslams are already written
I heard praise and shouts of blessed remembering
And hymns to no more forgetting to abide awhile in Him and in my days
The verses sang a halelluia chorus of “right now is glory”
Holy is humming in the sacred now
And you are a fool, though a loved fool, to refuse to see
To listen
To behold
To dance in the music of these days
And even though the lasso was ’round the stories of now
And we were tethered, we two
Together at last
And though the harp and the electric guitar played a duet,
A hymn of holy matrimony’s first dance
Paired, partners in listening out for the songs from the milky way chorus of wonder
I with my bucket for catching it all
Slipped and fell
And the stories came shooting out, as if the heavens released the stars like rockets headed toward Earth
So I must go gathering again
And dream some more
Of the places and people I forgot to remember, but first to go see

and go behold

And go love

Because in all the joy I thought I had
My neighbor I had forgotten

Homebound: A Tour Of Mersea

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Christie and I are homebound. She, an author and writer of contemplative prose, is bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse built by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. And I, a writer of poetry and prose, live in a small southern shrimping village. My home, Mersea, is an old white Victorian built in 1904. We are both writers, wives, mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us.

Christie 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 introduces other distances — there¬†is 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 practice of 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.

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Easter is watching all that miserable distance shrink, almost to nothing. Easter is no more letter-writing but a face-to face encounter. Christie and I haven’t yet achieved that, it remains our not-quite-yet, but here is our literary equivalent. Here, for you Christie, and for each one of you reading along, is your very own tour of Mersea at Easter time. I am so glad you’ve come to visit.

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Christie, welcome to Mersea! Not only do I welcome all of ya’ll, but the sounds of the sea gulls and songbirds, and the sweet smells of salt air and sea spray coming on shore, they welcome you too. As if on cue they are singing their own songs of gladness and welcome. Shrimp season has just re-opened here so Sweet, my english cocker spaniel and I walked to the end of the road to the seafood market this morning and bought fresh shrimp for our lunch. So I can promise the shrimp salad is fresh! And the girls provided the eggs for the deviled eggs. So they are fresh too. (Perhaps we can exchange recipes. I’d love some from you all.)

Let’s have lunch on the front porch in the spacious wicker rockers with all the cozy colorful pillows. You will learn so much about this small village by watching the locals walk up and down our sidewalks. There will be lots of bicycle riders too, of all ages. I hope my neighbor rides by today, the one who pedals her tricycle with her big fluffy dog tied to the handlebars. She always makes me grin. My hope and dream and wish is to ride my own bicycle into my seventies and eighties. She is an inspiration.

We will not be bored, watching the world go by, you and I and our lunch of shrimp salad, fresh lettuce greens from my garden and fresh picked chocolate mint in our glasses of iced tea. Every once in awhile a crabber will go by with his or her crab pots in the back of the pick up truck. There is such beautiful simplicity in the design of the pot and in making a living from the sea. The village will tell you some stories, if you sit still and listen.

This wobbly old front porch has recently won my heart and become my favorite room in the house. It doesn’t hide its age or the wear and tear of living. It flaunts the fact that it has survived at least two major hurricanes, if not more. I am sure you saw the sign posted on the front column when you arrived, the one presented by the Village Museum. I will tell you over lunch a little more about my decision to name the house Mersea. You see she already has one “official” name, The Thomas William Graham house. As you will see in a moment, she not only has two names, but two front doors as well.

I suppose I could be a bit prideful about how desperately we need to paint the exterior of the house, but change and renovation take time as you well know. There is a certain special kind of peace which comes in loving Mersea in her in-between place. I am beginning to wonder if she will be too shiny, too new, too polished once her new paint is applied to her old white boards.

Now, which door shall we enter. These two front doors of ours, I find them to be at once doubly welcoming and a bit odd. I have a passion for doors, so this suits me just fine. But when folks come to see us they are just not quite sure how and where to enter when we say “Come on in!”

In the springtime and anytime the weather is showing off, we leave the front doors open so that the outside can come in and bring its goodness. Fresh air and cool winds flowing through Mersea is one of my greatest joys. Open! Yes, open is always preferred. And two open provides double the sea air and gull cries and birdsong and smells of spring.

But we must have screen doors. As you know, the gnats and mosquitoes and the “no see ums” can be unbearable. We joke and say it keeps the village small, as it keeps folks away. One screen door slaps so hard you will likely remember its slam even when you return to Maplehurst. The other door is so loose it sometimes requires an intentional closing. This is one of many juxtapositions and idiosyncrasies you will see as we continue on the tour.

Let’s go through the foyer and through the dining room. Try not to peek as I want to show you these spaces a little later after we go to the kitchen to grab our lunch. You must be hungry as you have come so far. I made a pecan pie and we are having fig preserves with lunch. Both are a hat tip to the pecan and fig trees out back. I don’t make good biscuits, but I buy great biscuits. The biscuits are just a placeholder for the spoonfuls, plural, of fresh fig preserves. Bought too. But this summer I have big plans to make my own, like my mother used to do with figs from her fig trees. I am missing mother this first spring without her. Spring was her favorite time of year. So many things here at Mersea were gifts from momma. I will point them out to you as we go.

Would you like coffee or hot tea with your pecan pie?

To be continued…

(Follow along on Instgram @graceappears for more photographs of Mersea)

 

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Christie Purifoy has offered to give all of us a tour of her home. Click the link here to follow along on her Homebound Home Tour of Maplehurst At Eastertime.

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