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.




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.


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





















Come Sit Beside Me, Please


Come Sit Beside Me, Please

We all need a call to wake up
To attend to right now, right here
With a quorum of the senses reporting for duty
To cast their vote, for slow

Not like we need food and shelter and all the things in Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs
But, like we need poets and psalmists and prophets and spring
And two thin slices of white bread, to be soft enough to hold a thumbprint soft
So that when thick cut bologna bound with red wrapper and Dukes mayonnaise conjoin to Be pressed forward on the roof of one’s mouth, it’ll stick, (serving its white bread pre-Destined purpose of being bookends for meat) later requiring manual unsticking
And requiring two Diet Cokes to wash down the chips that served as a side in lieu of fresh Fruit at the deli counter  at the Harris Teeter which serves Boar’s Head beef bologna and The best salt and vinegar chips anywhere served politely by the shy but friendly silver Haired lady with the hair net that she wears with pride because she cares to follow the Rules and she cares too

Like we need a young man on a plane to remind us that twenty two year old adventurers
Have not had time to grow old and cold and jaded like the sad stooped man in 19B
Who doesn’t remember what time zone he is in or what his anniversary is or was before She left him for someone who remembered every year with a Hallmark card and a night Out on the town in her church dress and hose

But rather like we need rust on tin to prove there was a time of new and green
And how we live for low tide to find the rare left-handed conch brought in by the Preceding high tide, deliverer of treasures needing a hand to carry them home

And like we need a toe headed toddler who pats the sofa
With his sausage fat fingers and a nose that needs Kleenex
A diaper that weighs heavy with the need for changing
A pat, pat, pat
Slow as a metronome slow on the far left setting
And says “Read me ‘Good Night Moon’ again”
And only you know,
But don’t care that it’s the 23rd time, since Christmas
As he adds, “come sit beside me, please”

And you do.







The Backside




The Backside

A hundred stories blew right by
Unseen by the naked eye, a hundred and one
If you count the one so wind-soaked, water-logged and beat down
There is nothing left to tell
Shreds of truth washed out to sea
Particles of memory swept up in the counter-current backside of the beast

A hundred years from now

Someone will dredge it up, tell it to a crowd of hungry men, women and children
Hovered on the edge of their seats to know about the day the wind raged
History, a fan of repeating herself

At the hair salon
She said the waiting was the hardest part of all
Tell me your story
I’m beginning to try to listen again

Forgetting doesn’t help remembering
Warnings came from somewhere down the coast, farther south
Watch out for the backside,
The tail end
Every cliche, metaphor
You’ve heard them all
Listen up, for once, to talk of eyes and calm

While we wept for Haiti
I wept over Vascular Dementia, ALS and Cholera, hunger and disease
And Haiti some more
The Shirley May, The Mary Margaret and God’s Grace
They made it through, tethered to a wide and weary oak
Simple solutions mock me

Anticipating, we know too much of what we do not know
Wringing our hands over unknown outcomes
And then the shaming began
For the stayers and the ride-it-outers
Who know the nuances of wind and tide
But are certain of not one thing

The quiet dark of the blind preparation
Is a quiet we never knew

Run a bunch of models
Focus on the European One
Fine lines  wear the well-honed edge of a butcher’s knife
Lord have mercy plays on rewind and repeat
In sharp contrast
The Weather Channel, bless its heart
I thought I’d die if I heard one more warning of how bleak my future looked

When the wind blows
Echoes from my childhood
We are slowly prepared by  nursery rhymes
For what’s ahead

When the wind blew
At hurricane force
I sat on my backside

Resting up
No one named the raging storm in my mother’s brain
After one of the gospel writers

There is still a storm that’s raging
Though not at sea
For me
Waiting is the hardest part



And I Suppose




And I Suppose

Dead-headed blood-red geraniums lay in a weary heap
Someone deemed them past their peak
Guilty as charged
I re-adhered them
Bloom by spent and weary bloom

In my imagination lit up with wild hope of on second thought
Second chances defied nature’s laws
For blood-red geraniums who’ve been sentenced to the gallows

I suppose I followed some fool’s
Unwritten rules
Instead of following my own
Protocols of beauty

For a time

And I suppose I am a first rate fool
For once practicing
Deceptive rules of beauty

Explicitly implicit
Many may be found on the compost heap
Beside the geraniums past their prime, clipped and deemed unworthy

One more chip

Shipwrecked ships

I am a fool
Following the broken to a watery grave
Compelled by the cryptic stories they beheld

And for building my own defense