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Brother Cadfael and the Chelsea Flower Show


Gardener Chris O'Donoghue has designed a small garden for the Chelsea Flower Show, which opens May 19th. Some of the VPs who attended the preview looked a bit grumpy, but no matter. I often look grumpy in photographs, too.

The Telegraph describes the fewer, simpler and, in some cases, rain-dependent show gardens with pictures here.

I like the inspiration for Chris O'Donoghue's small garden at Chelsea - a monastic garden. He told the Telegraph -

"I hope visitors will be able to gaze at the garden and get a real sense of peace, as pilgrims might have done centuries ago when they stopped off at a rural monastery."

Chris O'Donoghue was a potter first. He took up full-time gardening five years ago at the age of 53. He looks after two large country gardens, and spends the rest of his time designing, advising on and restoring gardens.


Mary Keen's herb garden, from her book Creating a Garden.

Ellis Peters often begins her mysteries in Brother Cadfael's 11th century herb garden. The mingling of gardens and politics always appeals to me. The Pilgrim of Hate opens -

They were together in Brother Cadfael's hut in the herbarium, in the afternoon of the twenty-fifth day of May, and the talk was of high matters of state, of kings and empresses, and the unbalanced fortunes that plagued the irreconcilable contenders for thrones.

'Well, the lady is not crowned yet!' said Hugh Beringar, almost as firmly as if he saw a way of preventing it.

'She is not even in London yet,' agreed Cadfael, stirring carefully round the pot embedded in the coals of his brazier, to keep the brew from boiling up against the sides and burning. 'She cannot well be crowned until they let her into Westminster. Which it seems, from all I gather, they are in no hurry to do.'

'Where the sun shines,' said Hugh ruefully, 'there whoever's felt the cold will gather. My cause, old friend, is out of the sun. When Henry of Blois shifts, all men shift with him, like starvelings huddled in one bed. He heaves the coverlet, and they go with him, clinging by the hems.'

'Not all,' objected Cadfaek, briefly smiling as he stirred. 'Not you. Do you think you are the only one?'

'God forbid!' said Hugh, and suddenly laughed, shaking off his gloom. He came back from the open doorway, where the pure light spread a soft golden sheen over the bushes and beds of the herb-garden and the moist noon air drew up a heady languor of spiced and drunken odours, and plumped his slender person down again on the bench against the timber wall, spreading his booted feet on the earth floor.

Political reverses continue fast and furiously - the triumphant Empress Matilda will be sent packing by Londoners who could not stand her overbearing arrogance. I like to think that quite a few of today's MPs will be sent packing soon, too.

Meanwhile, in the herb garden -

Hedges of hazel and may-blossom shed silver petals and dangled pale, silver-green catkins round the enclosure where they stood, cowslips were rearing in the grass of the meadow beyond. . . In the walled shelter of Cadfael's herb-garden there were fat globes of peonies, just cracking their green sheaths. Cadfael had medicinal purposes for the seeds. . .

A transient yet eternal place, the garden! A place of sanctuary before we head out into the world, a place that welcomes us home.

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