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 Third)

Welcome to Letter Two in the Homebound epistolary journey. To read Letter One, simply visit the page tab indicated on the home page here, at Elizabeth W. Marshall to read each letter in the series.

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March 3, 2017

From the leather sofa, seated beside the wiggly English Cocker puppy named Sweet, in view of copious amounts of pansies.

Dear One:

I am still savoring the words tucked into your recent letter from Maplehurst. Since my last letter we have witnessed both an explosion of color from early spring growth and a re-visiting of what feels like winter creeping back in. The seasons are overlapping and colliding. March is known to come in like a proverbial lion, right? I am looking forward to the birth of the lamb.

The pink azalea bushes are blooming, the ones in the front yard by the sidewalk. They say Easter to me. They always will. I gave into the temptation to bring home pink geraniums. The color choice is always a bit difficult. How odd that we can get stuck on small seemingly inconsequential things like petal colors. Pink is prevalent in my yard this year; pink camellias are still blooming along with the geraniums, the cherry tree and the azaleas. It is a new birth color, full of hope and possibility. It may just be the color of joy too.

I monitor the arrival of spring by taking note of the cherry blossoms. They pop open by the dozens daily, it seems. A favorite, the lady banks rose is climbing up and into the cherry tree, making it appear to be a hybrid with its mix of yellow roses and pink cherry blossoms. No house or trellis is needed. The tree generously gives the rose a home. They seem to be co-existing well, making space for each other.

With so many glorious changes in the yard and even in our lettuce and herb garden, it is easy to be content with focusing on the natural beauty. For now. While the pace of renovation and change is slower than I’d like, I cannot help but be grateful for how far we have come. There is enough natural change to distract me from my desire to make physical and aesthetic changes to Mersea. (And by design, everytime I say Mersea, I am reminded to be grateful.)

I am tempted to shift my perspective back to what I do not yet have. I struggle to focus on what I long for and what I want. There is a tension between contentment and gratitude and longing and desire. Is it always that way in doing the work of restoration?

When the cherry tree blooms I am reminded of that spring we fell in love with this old home. The tree seemed to call to me to explore and consider, to take a second look at the possibilities. And to dream and imagine the potential of making this our home. Beauty beacons us to stop, to pay close attention. And when beauty appears by way of the trees, the limbs, like arms wave an invitation to come closer.

Your own floor restoration at Maplehurst reminds me of our periods of significant restoration. We cycle through periods of growth and change, an ebb and flow not unlike the tides here. Restoration and renovation will come again to Mersea by way of sanding the exterior, fresh paint and new Charleston green shutters. But for now we wait. Thought not always by my design or of my choosing, this slow process of transformation shapes and changes me. It is formative.

I lean into the sacred time of waiting. There is much to learn in listening well, looking closely and seeing well. It happens best when we slow down. Perhaps this Lenten season will be for me about intentionally trying to re-discover the sacred ordinary and savoring the small moments of my life.

Our next big project is to reglaze the windows. The windows are the original ones which means they were born around 1900. There are a few broken and cracked ones, but they are all a little foggy with age. When the reglazing is complete will the pinks seems pinker? How much will our vision change because we have something new and shiny? And how much will be reality, how much only perspective?

Until the big projects get underway, I remain content with small changes. When Daddy came for a visit last week, the first since Mother died earlier this year, I knew exactly what to do. He and I love to porch sit and bird watch together, so I poured my energy into a front porch spring makeover. Somehow, we focused less on our grief and more on the moment. Interesting how something rather small brought us so much joy. In smallness, that is where the joy seems to hide. Grief comes like the tide and like the changes at Mersea, ebbing and flowing. Is it that way by design? Is it more manageable that way, the grief. The pain. And the change.

While Daddy was here, the robins stopped by as they migrated north. Droves of them gathered in the backyard, fueling up for their long trip northward. I wonder what they will find when they arrive at Maplehurst. I grieve with you the thought of spring being snuffed out by the frigid cold air that is predicted to interrupt spring. I am hopeful that you will preserve your early spring beauty and that you too will find joy in the robins this year. There is an optimistic bounce in their step as they go in search of fuel for their journey.

The lady banks, the fruit trees and the robins, I am learning from each of them this year. And from you, my friend. You too, teach me so much.

Peace and grace and warmth as the Lion of March moves through,

Always,

Elizabeth
Mersea

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Visit Christie Purifoy at her blog, Christie Purifoy, A Spacious Place where you can read more or her lovely writing, and learn more about her recently published book “Roots and Sky”.

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A Thousand Hands Have Passed By Here

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A Thousand Hands Have Passed By Here

Maybe hundreds more
But
There was no one there to count

A well-worn wooden handrail
Documents for us

But she will not give up secrets
Of all the living that has come by here
The hurried ones
Tiny pink bare feet
Scampering off to bed
To dream under a mountain quilt, tucked
Under
Crisp cool sheets
As trains go up and down
The mountain tracks
Singing them to sleep

The tired ones who will wake
Before the sun and putter down
The stairs, running wrinkled fingers
Along the smooth and weary rail
Worn by love and life and time
Holding up the aged, the weak and frail

Guardian of more than
One Hundred years of living
Well-traveled
Quiet story-keeper 
Stairwell of this
Old home

Perhaps the next hand, left
Or right from generations
Coming up and down 
Traveling through this  place
Will be a hand of healing
Offering
Sacred grace

Pray blessing and forgiveness
Over those who’ll come here too

Perhaps
There will be a thousand more
Hands traveling down the rail
Bearing witness to 
Humility and redeeming love
For generations still to come

For scores and scores of lifetimes
More
May scamper up to bed
Up, then down, down then up
Living, loving,
In this family place

A thousand hands have passed by here

So
Walk quiet now
Soft and slow and reverently
So
You may hear the tales
Echo in the halls
Wisdom from sojourners
Who came by here before
Pass on stories of
Their living
Loving strong and hard
For years and years

Within these pine-board walls

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Joining Sandra Heska King for Still Saturday