Writer-in-Residence - Bella D’Arcy Reed
The major part of the work of the Essex Gardens Trust has been in recording the gardens of the past, supporting conservation and preservation of these gardens, but it is not just about the past, it is about the present and the future, and the importance of green spaces to people. Not just the pleasure of a day out, or that of creating a personal garden, however small, but how important these spaces are for health and well being, and how people feel about green spaces. That last is vital to the preservation of green spaces and the creation of new ones.
Essex Gardens Trust has therefore appointed a Writer-in-Residence, Bella D’Arcy Reed to encourage people to write and record their feelings about, and their relationship with, gardens, parks, landscapes. We are working with her to create a programme in order to do this which will be rolled out over the next two years, this will give the Trust a valuable resource for its advocacy work. Bella will be writing short pieces regularly here with her own thoughts and observations (a few can be found below), so do bookmark this page!
Bella has had a career in the arts and in garden design working in and for the community. She uses a mobility scooter and is concerned about the accessibility of green spaces open to the public. She created the website accessiblegardens.org.uk now run by Mark Lane, garden designer and tv presenter and wheelchair user. Bella’s designs have won awards for her gardens, including one with Heather Appleton at RHS Hampton Court which was re-created at a charity residential home. She has written two garden history books and articles for garden magazines and now writes fiction and has won two story competitions. She was placed third in the International Historical Writers Association competition in 2018. She can be read at darcyreed.uk.
A recent comment on Bella’s writing from Isla Bissbolissian, Writer, Marlborough, UK:
‘Your pieces are fun and beautiful. Letters from my garden to me, and I to it, would result in vigorous censoring and an 18 rating, as it would be fair to say we hate each other. It will neither make any effort to weed itself, or dissuade pests to take up residence. And I am certainly not going to do all the work while it just sits there lapping up the sunshine and shedding all over the place!’
There is a softness in the mists over Maldon, a silence. Not the deep, hugging silence of new snow, but a silky silence which embraces the still branches, causing the dewdrops on the edge of the leaves to hang a long while before they fall, reluctantly, to give way to another which has slid down the veins. A rose, the colour of a Seville orange, is poised at the end of a stalk of still-green leaves, gently moving from side to side. Its petals are coiled into a flamenco skirt and it moves slightly from side to side, talking to me. Does it want to come inside? I shake my head, no it’s too warm for you here. It nods. Then it bounces ‒ a blue tit has landed on the branch above, turns around and flies away. ‘Go to the back garden, your food is there!’ I tell it, but it knows that, it’s one of three, and seven sparrows, who visit the feeders. I hadn’t seen any in the summer. ‘Summer Song’ the name of the rose, now like a summer sun in the green and the grey.
Early morning. A hazy, horizontal, bulk hovered in the mist. As I crept forward it showed itself to be vase shapes in browns and greens under a lintel: a balustrade. The mist altered from dark to light grey/blue as the sun made itself felt, then, my hands on the lintel, I looked over. Below me was Gertrude Jekyll in vibrant reds, blues and greens, inside bright diagonals of grass. A sudden shaft of light revealed the pergola beyond.
Accessibility: the information on the website is very poor so I got in touch. The manager has promised to ‘get it right’ asap and will tell me when this has been done. Watch this space!
It is interesting that most people I contact say they had no idea about it when I contact them. Of course you don’t until you come up against it yourself, but Managers of gardens must get thinking about access – just ask a person with wheels/visually impaired/uses a stick in the vicinity to visit, that’s all it takes… There’s a lot of work to be done on this
‘We didn’t know where you were, but we’d seen where you’d been!’ Parallel wheelmarks criss-crossing the lawns and along the grass paths betrayed my journey. But not where I stopped, under a raised pergola dripping with leaves and white roses, looking towards serrated palms, the large ‘hands’ of tetrapanax, grasses slightly stirring against orange and red cannas. Water dropped through a metallic sculpture making it glint sporadically where its drops touched the silver, changing the patterns of the sun. The drops reached the pool making a sound like soft air in leaves.
Accessibility: you can get to most parts of the garden with a little hump now and then, but not all. The plant centre is wholly accessible!
There is a satisfaction in geometric patterns, straight or curving, symmetrical. Your eye can follow them over and round, never-ending. You know they are straight, square, rectangular, circular but perspective makes them rhomboid, oval.
In perspective, pergolas become straight lines of stone or wood and vegetation which seem to be joined up. They end in a small frame perhaps containing a minute urn or tiny Venus or a door, as if in walking, you too will diminish and become small enough to sit under a primrose.
Accessibility: in the gardens, make sure your batteries are full, you need to accelerate to get over the grass. You can’t scooter/wheel down the pergola as there are steps.