Archive for the ‘Word Garden’ Category


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.


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Night-scented Flowers



Last year, he planted two lines of Nicotania along the short path from his back door to the walled end of his garden. He works hard, and it is a small, but intense pleasure to greet them each evening. All those daylight hours he has spent in the computer-glare of his office, they have shaded themselves from the sun. They wait for dusk, and his return, to lift their white faces towards him and fill his garden with their sweet, nighttime scent.


Inspired by Matthew’s answers to my Garden Questions

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She opened the wardrobe exactly six weeks after he’d disappeared. Choked by the lines of jackets and neatly folded trousers, she slammed it shut again; waited another month – still hoping – before she tried again. This time she managed to keep her breath steady, and her eyes clear. She sat with her spine curved against the back of the wardrobe, her knees held to her chest, and thought about the soil trapped beneath his fingernails.

Months and months later, when the poppies he’d planted by the shed had finally opened their red hearts, she took the jackets and the neatly folded trousers out of the wardrobe, shrugged them off their coathangers and packed them into sweet-smelling plastic. Horrified, then, by the sight of so many fat black bags – like the slugs he’d waged wars against – she emptied them onto the floor in a tumble of cotton and dust. She returned each item of clothing to its rightful place. I’m sorry, she whispered under her breath, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

The soft brown jacket, with the loose weave and the frayed lining, was too big for her. She found something comforting in the cool excess of material, the way she could wrap it tightly across her bones like a blanket.

That evening she sat at the kitchen table, listening to the honeysuckle tap its fingers on the windowpane. She dug her hands deep into his jacket pockets, and found, nestled along the seam, a line of tight, black seeds.


Inspired by Frances’ reply in Get Involved on July 27, 2010 at 4:42 pm

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… there is always the garden

He was a quiet man, had been a quiet boy too. It wasn’t that he had nothing to say, nor that he was uninterested in the world; it was just that he liked to leave space around things. He liked to take his time. He liked, more than anything, to observe. He didn’t judge people – was careful not to – but there were times he would leave work, or a party, or the pub, with a deep sense of exhaustion, and a prickling dissatisfaction with the world. It was then he would retreat to his garden, where the plants too, grew silently, watchfully; where his shed sat, small and unpretentious, smelling of cobwebs and soil; where he could sit on the faded deckchair, light a cigarette, and breathe in the silence.

Inspired by Emma’s comment in the Get Involved section, mentioning a framed text in her dad’s shed that read: “When the world is weary and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden…..”

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photo: France Gipsy

Winter’s coming, she said, drawing the bedroom curtains to reveal condensation, like mildew across the glass.

She remembered a weekend in Copenhagen, years ago, climbing a thin spiral staircase to the top of the Winter Garden. She’d followed the narrow, metal-worked, platform; drawn her gloved fingers across cold-sweating glass. And beneath her, a cacophony of green – exiled ferns and one fragile scarlet bloom. Later, grounded again, she read faded information boards with their talk of faraway countries: Chile, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Mauritius. She imagined seeds, seedlings, saplings – wrapped in silk, cocooned in glass – brought half way across the world to this cathedral, where they sank their roots into mulch and watched the snow pile up outside.

She wiped her palm across the window pane and felt the cold sneak across her skin; she imagined a crystal dome in the flats’ communal gardens, filled with enough flowers to get her through the winter.

Inspired by cold mornings and conversations with UP Projects about Winter Gardens and the next phase of the Word Garden.

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Lemon verbena

photo: stereogab

K planted lemon verbena because it reminded her of her mother. There had been times, recently, when she found she couldn’t bring her mother’s face, or the tone of her voice to mind. They span her into a panic, these blank moments, sent her running for the line of photo albums in the room they called ‘the study’. She would sit and stare at her mother’s image, until she didn’t seem quite so far away.

Her mother had been one for pot pourri. When she died, K had gathered up a flotilla of tiny bowls crammed with cinnamon, chamomile, and the dried leaves of lemon verbena. She wished, later, that she hadn’t tipped the lot of it into one of the hundreds of dustbin liners she’d filled that month. As way of an apology, she visited the garden centre she suspects is going out of business and bought a lemon verbena in an orange plastic pot. The checkout assistant told her that if she drank it as a tea, it would stop her from dreaming. It hasn’t worked yet, but when she needs to, she rubs her fingers against its citrus leaves and finds some comfort in that.

Inspired by K.Austin’s answer to the question What’s your favourite garden smell? on July 29, 2010 at 8:01 am

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Sudden, treacherous gifts

It was over, they’d agreed that; had spent a long night unpicking and retying threads, getting everything in order. She’d woken the next morning, her head heavy with the wine they’d been saving for a special occasion, her heart bruised. But at least it was clear, she told her friends – herself – at least it was a clean, sharp break; nothing messy.

And now these: a cellophane wrapped cacophony of British Blooms. Brash trumpeting Hollyhocks, blousy Petunias, snooty Irises, and great unwieldy branches of privet, sitting on her doorstep, waiting to ruin her day.

Inspired by Damyanti’s answer to the question What do flowers mean to you? on July 16, 2010 at 11:48 am

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