Announcing my Canterbury Laureate project

… a creative pilgrimage around Kent’s gardens.

It’s been both a lovely and hard couple of months since the announcement that I was to be the next Canterbury Laureate. Lovely because of the people I’ve met, the literature I’ve read and have been sent, and the projects I’ve seen come into fruition, or which are being planned.

It’s also been hard though because I haven’t really been able to say too much about what I’ll be doing. And indeed that’s still half the case – we’re waiting for funding before shouting properly about an amazing community project that’s currently planned, but given that it’s the New Year, I wanted to share my plans for my creative project.

It’s going to be a look at the gardens around Canterbury, but with a difference. I’ve designed a circular route around Kent, with Canterbury at the centre, and I’m going to visit each of the gardens I’ve picked (and there are 32 in total) to write something inspired by the garden. It’s going to be about the garden’s relationship to both the past and the present, how it works as both a public and a private space, and the emotional response visitors, including myself, have to it. By the end, I hope that, through using gardens as my focus, I will be able to form an original and different picture of all the aspects that make up Kent. It won’t just be poetry although there will be some, it won’t just be a guidebook although you’ll be able to follow the ‘tour’, it won’t just be a gardening book although it will contain information about plants. If I had to put it in any category, it would be psychogeography, although not all urban, but most of all it will be about storytelling.

You see, it’s my view that gardens are beautiful containers for all the best stories. It’s certainly true that many of the gardens we visit now were planted by people who knew they would never see the garden come into fruition in their lifetimes, so designing a garden is always really a matter of hope and dreams. The secret door through which it’s always possible to enter another world.

And although most of my research has been book and library based so far, I’ve already found stories that have made me cry, made the hairs on my arms stand up in surprise, made me laugh and most of all, made me think.

I hope this will become a book eventually, and I dream about poems and extracts from the text appearing in all the gardens during October in different forms (maybe even on benches, wouldn’t that be fab?). But in the meantime I’m going to spend my time talking to gardeners and garden visitors, and indeed visiting gardens – I’ll post photographs and thoughts up here, and sometimes videos and drafts too.

I’d love to know your favourite Kent gardens and why, and also your favourite garden-based poems too. To start us off, here’s an extract from one of mine, The Garden by Vita Sackville-West:

But you, oh gardener, poet that you be
Though unaware, now use your seeds like words
And make them lilt with colour nicely flung
Where’s colour’s wanted, light as humming birds;

Ahhhh, that’s something good to think of when I look out my little attic window at this wet January weather!

12 Responses to Announcing my Canterbury Laureate project

  1. this sounds a wonderful project! I like the gardens at Hever Castle very much – and Sissinghurst, of course.

  2. Sarah, my mum is a bit of a gardens expert, especially in and around Canterbury. Despite having gone to university there for four years I know nothing about gardens really (pathetic!) – but would you like mum to drop you a line?

    Send me an email if you would and I’ll connect the two of you xx

  3. Thanks, Sarah Jane. And yes when I was with Cheryl and Alistair, they were coming on to see you. WOuld be great to catch up one time,

  4. Dear Sarah,

    Would be delighted to be in touch but I will be away until March 8. I am not sure how much of value I can contribute but one never knows! Seems an interesting project. Best wishes Maureen Hawes (Rachel’s Mum)

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Announcing my Canterbury Laureate project