We woke up this morning in The Firs to very pleasant weather, bright, cloudy, and with intermittent sunshine. I took myself off to West End Road, part of the A27, and walked down this still generously tree-lined thoroughfare until I came to Haskins Garden Centre in Swaythling Road. Just beyond this establishment I crossed the road, took a likely-looking side track and came to the River Itchen, along the bank of which I walked for a while. Immediately behind the building in this idyllic looking scene soars the M27. The roar of the traffic on this motorway drowns the sound one would usually expect to hear from the rushing water. Having wandered around here for a while and noticed the mix of probably Stuart period and modern buildings blending together, I followed another track a little further along, and discovered a sixteenth century farmhouse. The marvellous garden, with its screen of tees surrounding the house could not keep out the noise. This struck me as rather bad luck. After all the house had been there a lot longer than the motor car.
Taking a public footpath leading off Swaythling Road turned out to be an unsound idea. It was gloomy and squidgy. Soon after availing myself of the towelling stepping stones laid down by some resourceful person, I took advantage of a public recreation ground leading to the comparative safety of the main road. The A27 is much quieter than the motorway, but still pretty full of traffic.
When I arrived back at The Firs there were a number of people engaged in silent contemplation in the garden. Jackie was quietly trimming the lawn edges, and small numbers of strangers were wandering around drinking in the flower beds and the pond; sitting silently, eyes open or otherwise; or, in the case of one young woman, Harriet, painting in acrylics. It was a peaceful scene which has been all too infrequent this stormy summer. I did, of course, know the visitors would be present by the time I returned.
Another Jackie and Geoff live in The Tardis. This is a small bungalow built at the bottom of the garden that once all belonged to The Firs. Geoff sold The Firs to Elizabeth and Rob, and built the bungalow in the part of the garden that he retained. The couples came to a very satisfactory mutual arrangement that they would have access to each other’s gardens; thus offering Elizabeth, now alone, access to Jackie and Geoff’s well, and the others an extension of their space when necessary. The very low boundary fence is unobtrusive and has two gaps for access.
Quiet Days are an example of occasions when Elizabeth shares her garden. The lawn lying at the front becomes a car park and visitors come through from the other garden. As I understand it the object is to allow people to ‘just be’ in mutual solitude, whether through meditation, thoughtful reflection, or an artistic activity. There is clearly a call for this opportunity for spiritual nurture, and the events seem to be well attended. It was apparent today that the beauty of the garden is much appreciated.
Jackie and I spent the afternoon weeding, planting and edging the borders. There is a creature in the large wisteria trunk keeping an eye on things. By early evening, having had no rain, we felt confident enough to light a bonfire. Elizabeth and I continued with this, and with pruning to supply it, while Jackie cooked our evening meal. This was a tasty and spicy concoction involving onions, pork, pepper and paprika. Jackie drank a Becks and Elizabeth and I shared a bottle of Marques de Montino 2007 reserve rioja.