I have been tending to the Word Garden since May 2010. It has been a genuine delight to have had the opportunity to think and write about urban (and not so urban) green spaces. I have been touched by how many people have responded to this blog and offered their ideas and images for me to work with. It has also been a joy to visit the other Secret Garden Project commissions, which have offered such fertile ground for my own writing.

This is my last blog post on the Word Garden. If you’re visiting for the first time, do please have a look around; there’s lots to read, and some treats to download. If you’re interested to see what else I am up to, please take a look at my websites: sarahbutler.org.uk | urbanwords.org.uk.


You can download a beautiful book of words and images created by Saturn Class, inspired by London Fieldworks’ Spontaneous City in the Tree of Heaven, in Duncan Terrace, just round the corner from St John Evangelist School. Just visit the downloads page.

You can also read the book online, using Bookleteer.com’s fabulous software.

Flat-hunting in a city I wasn’t sure I wanted to live in. It’s in need of modernisation, the estate agent said, which meant we could afford the rent. By modernisation she must have meant central heating – the kitchen like a fridge in the morning, the storage heaters shedding their warmth by the time we got back home. The oven was too narrow for the salmon we tried to cook. The lino hadn’t changed since the sixties. The buses heaving themselves up the hill rattled the windows. A one bed flat, with a view that made it feel like a mansion.

A bit grown-up, buying a place, and a house at that. We paid a man to cut down the trees too big for the front garden – I couldn’t stop apologising. The woman who’d died left a lamp shaped like a hippo, and a sticker in the bathroom reminding us to save water, when, as it turned out, there were other things we’d have been wise to pay attention to. So many choices to make: colours, tiles, floorboards, women. By the time we were done you wouldn’t have recognised the place, the same way we don’t recognise each other these days.

From home owner to house mate. I lived at the top of a flight of concrete stairs, arranged everything I cared about in one room, with varnished floorboards and a view of the school. We were across the river, but still a black dot on the Northern line. Sinking. The Victorians cared about detail. They carved flowers around the windows and lined the hallways with tiles the colour of clotted cream. I hung fairy lights above my new bed, lined up my books on new bookshelves. We baked cakes. We drank wine. I tried hard to remember who I was.

Knowing your neighbours pays off. We moved across the road. The two of us carried my mattress propped up on our heads, dipping into the space between us. It could have been identical –same doorway, same window frames – but it wasn’t, quite. This flat felt new – a clean, cream space. The kitchen was more like a corner than a kitchen. We hung curtains to keep the light from streaming in. She grew tomatoes on the terrace and I sat and drank coffee and watched them grow, along with the new building at the end of the street. Nothing felt permanent.

You are generous to a fault. It’s yours too you say, and we choose which colour to paint the living room walls. We pay a man to build a shed, which is really an office. I buy a desk, a chair, more bookshelves, more books. I blu-tack pictures to the walls. The streets smell of cooked rice and cardamom. We buy fried samosas and champagne, put tea lights in jam jars and get to know each other’s friends. We drive up to Manchester to buy a fireplace, and I learn how to lay newspaper, kindling, coal. The world settles down.

habitat walkInspired by Tania Kovat’s sculpture HABITAT. This text formed part of a walk for London Open House on 17th September.

Planting List

Listen to Planting List

Meadow Sweet, Cotton Grass, Wild Red Clover
Scabious, Cowslip, Sorrell
Yellow Rattle, Toadflax, Ox Eyed Daisy
Marjoram, Milfoil, Yarrow.

Water Mint, Musk Mallow
Birdsfoot Trefoil
Cat’s Ear, Weeping Sedge
Salad Burnet

Ragged Robin, Campion
Ladies Bedstraw

Hawkbit, Plantain
Tufted Vetch

Cranes-bill, Self-heal
Yellow Flag Iris

Buttercup, Betony, Bulrush

In advance of the Walk | Talk on 17th Sept – a piece inspired by the list of plants used as ‘plugs’ for HABITAT, and those found growing in the meadow turf.

I will be leading a walk | talk around Tania Kovat’s HABITAT, in City Road Basin at 11am on Saturday 17th September, as part of London’s Open House weekend.

HABITAT has been designed for the watery haven of City Road Basin. Constructed from a floating pontoon, it consists of planted trays and a damp water meadow of increasingly rare local aquatic plants. The island garden includes several sculptural nests inspired by local birds such as moorhens, herons and swans.
I will read from my own work, which responds to HABITAT as a structure, and to associated themes of birds, nests, and home. I will also be looking for ideas and inspiration from participants, for new writing to be shared on the Word Garden blog.

Meet at 11am in City Road Basin, by the steps leading down from City Road.



They’re coots she says, not moorhens. It’s a matter of white or red – the kind of thing her mother-in-law would get right. It chimes with you too – school days and spotting guides. You tell yourself coot rhymes with root, shoot, fruit, and all through that wet evening, and the long grey journey home, you think about the colour green.

Inspired by the launch of  Tania Kovats’ HABITAT – a Floating Garden, on 20th July 2011


They build their nest in the shade. Neither stop to wonder if this structure they have found is a tree, or another nest, or a piece of art, or maybe something in between. He collects, she arranges. A private island in a prime location – water and green, fishermen and factories, banisters and benches. It is a good enough place to raise a family.

On land, there are others building homes – cranes and scaffolding, metal and stone, glass and dreams. These are islands too, of a sort; nests too, of a sort – four-walled, roof-tiled, gardenless.

Home is a moveable feast, woven from things picked up along the way. Re-configured. Re-arranged. Memories locked into furniture, cushion covers, kitchen utensils, plant pots – do you remember when….?

Inspired by Tania Kovats’ HABITAT – a Floating Garden, where I saw 2 moorhens building a nest on Wednesday 29 June 2011

My final Winter Garden piece is now available to download and print out (it’s a square, so you might want to crop it to make it look even prettier!)  I hope you enjoy it!

The Word Garden is almost fully grown, but there’ll be a few more posts about some work I’ve been doing with local primary schools, and Tania Kovat’s Floating Garden, so do come back and check those out.

I’ve been working on my final Winter Garden piece – here’s a sneak preview! The rest to come very soon…

I’m still working on my final Winter Garden piece, which should be ready in a couple of weeks…

For now, here’s a sneak preview of some gorgeous work done by Saturn Class at St John The Evangelist School in Islington, inspired by London Fieldworks’ fabulous sculpture in Duncan Terrace.

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