Chelsea Fringe: Sarah Salway's work for the Wise Words Festival combined an endlessly creative spirit with a love of landscape

Choosing from a box of postcards, visitors could write to strangers, pinning their message to a line with a clothes peg, watching their words flutter in the wind, among flowers and leaves

'I stalked the teacher," Sarah Salway, garden writer, laughs as she describes the slightly alarming enthusiasm she developed in her first-ever creative-writing class. ("Who I am still friends with!" she quickly adds, to reassure me.)

Gentle, kind and totally unstalkerish, these days, it's Salway who is the teacher: with classes in Kent, as well as in Canterbury, where she has just spent a year as the city's laureate. And despite the classroom base, gardens are often the focus of her work. In August, she's teaching an Arvon course entirely based on landscape writing and some of her favourite workshops are conducted entirely outdoors.

For the Wise Words Festival in Canterbury last year, Salway concocted a writing exercise that blurred the line with conceptual art. Choosing from a box of postcards, visitors could write to strangers, pinning their message to a line with a clothes peg, watching their words flutter in the wind, among flowers and leaves. And at least one extraordinary friendship evolved as an unexpected result. "I really like letters and correspondence," Salway explains. "And it was wonderful, because I got a note from one visitor saying, 'I took a card and I can't stop thinking about the person who wrote it.' People were making themselves very vulnerable. And in the end we were able to put those two people together." Was it romantic, I wonder? No, says Salway: just two potential friends who clicked via a single postcard.

Postcards from the hedge: Salway concocted a writing exercise that blurred the line with conceptual art Postcards from the hedge: Salway concocted a writing exercise that blurred the line with conceptual art (Peter Cook)
Salway's parents were both writers, turning out books on herbs and monastery gardens while working day jobs in commercial publishing: her father was assistant editor of Farmers Weekly, no less. And here the connections between past and present begin to become clear: "The garden I grew up in was open to the public, it was a series of Elizabethan herb gardens, just when people were beginning to get interested in herbs in the 1970s, and I remember being in the garden and people would come and be looking round it. I think that's why I'm still fascinated by private spaces within public gardens."

Visitors could write to strangers, pinning their message to a line with a clothes peg, watching their words flutter in the wind Visitors could write to strangers, pinning their message to a line with a clothes peg, watching their words flutter in the wind (Peter Cook)
Then, as Canterbury laureate, she began to work on a portrait of Kent, a county nicknamed "the garden of England", through some of its green spaces, including, alongside world-renowned acres such as Knole, the Secret Gardens of Sandwich, and at least one shell grotto. First it was a blog, at writerinthegarden.com, and now it's a book, out in June, Digging Up Paradise, (Cultured Llama, £12).

The role of nostalgia interests her: "When you read people talking about their gardens, quite often they've seen something in their childhood – sometimes it's just a colour – and they're trying when they make a garden to recover a memory, which perhaps never really existed."

Salway says: 'I got a note from one visitor saying, 'I took a card and I can't stop thinking about the person who wrote it.'' Salway says: 'I got a note from one visitor saying, 'I took a card and I can't stop thinking about the person who wrote it.'' (Peter Cook)
But the 2014 Salway project I'm most looking forward to is her participation in the Chelsea Fringe – a crazy, creative adjunct to the prim poshness of the Flower Show itself, that runs until 8 June across the UK and beyond. Salway has hooked up with the Old Map Man, aka Ken Titmuss, a walking guide with a difference, who takes groups through the streets of London with antique maps in hand, pointing out what's gone, and what's still there. "I did one of his walks, and it was just amazing. So we came up with the idea of doing a walk based on the lost gardens of the Strand."

The Strand is now a busy shopping street, but in the 17th century it was lined with the palaces of London's grandees, with gardens sloping down to the river. "So starting at Charing Cross, and finishing at Lincoln's Inn, we'll be using his maps and looking at where the big houses and gardens were." Along the way, Salway will read poetry and prose evoking London's lost gardens: "I've got bits from Virginia Woolf, Wordsworth and Pepys," she says.

'The Lost Gardens of the Strand' 3 and 8 June, £15; eventbrite.com and chelseafringe.com

Find out more about the Wise Words Festival at  http://wisewordsfestival.co.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future