Monday, 23 June 2008

14 gardens all in a row

Jasmine and honeysuckle fragrance a breeze that wildly flings itself about. Haphazard lines of people snake in and out of back doorways, onto square grid lines of pavement and street corners, through and around every garden. Snakes and ladders board. The backs of the white terraced houses somehow loom taller from each narrow strip of tended ground and each narrow path. I love the uneven line of roofs against the scurrying sky, and shining black lines of gutters and drainpipes that remind me of London's tube map.

Walk this way and in this order with a long line of folks right behind you. Not quite my style, but I am curious and this is only happening for one afternoon a year.

Waiting by the sweet peas for a line of elderly people unsteady on their legs to pass, I couldn't help but hear the man in front of me describing a recent Auschwitz trip to his friend. It made my pulse race, about how he said that the train - that train truck, we all know the sort he meant, clear in our collective memory - didn't bother him really. Then they went straight back to talking about the roses just as if his trip had been to a conventional destination. I turned away as I heard them catch up on more jarringly resonant travel notes and admired a clump of hollyhocks about to burst and sway into flower. They were growing right out of a crack in the paving.

A courgette plant, polished by the rain, sat in splendour above a mulch of grey blue slate chippings. The yellow mouths of it's flowers sang out against that background. Wonderful foxgloves taller than me, speckled and heavy, hung in a corner. A delphinium almost knocked your eye out with it's fantastic blue, and apricot roses hanging high on a thin branch were planning a route into next door. Ferns shivered in the cool corners of shade in hidden little places to sit and disappear for a moment next to the lawn roller. A curly fern had a scent like basil.
No surprise that there were no birds here, no flick and flit of small wings above all these people, only a telegraph pole outrage from a distant exiled blackbird. In the spaces, if a moment of solitude blessed you, you could just hear the swishing voice of ornamental grasses, the prickly drag of rosemary against your leg.

These were huge homes so different from mine, homes with the luxury of space indoors and out. They had summerhouses and workshops and sheds, some so huge I could have lived in them. They had garages stacked with the interesting wood of projects put aside for today and tidied up a bit. I could have set up a studio instantly in any of them and I pictured myself sitting in front of open doors looking out at gardens in the rain with no one else there.