In addition to the previous post by my friend, this brief story tells my personal experience of the visit to Harwich and the wonderful community-driven event – the Secret Gardens.
I got on a train from London Liverpool Street station to visit my friends in Harwich for a weekend in mid-July. The town stands at the mouth of two rivers and at the end of the single railway line. Only a few got off the train that Saturday afternoon. There was only one platform and I was immediately outside the unmanned station. Standing at an empty roundabout, I looked up at the sky and inhaled the salty air. Seagulls and swallows twirled high and low in the sky. The single-lane town streets were calm, quietly reflecting the afternoon sun. There were blackberry bushes mushrooming over town fences, but not plump yet, patiently waiting for the moment in the July sun. An old lighthouse stood at the end of the old part of the town like a rear guard, peacefully sunbathing.
That weekend various houses were marked out by a paper sign bearing a letter. Although plain and functional, these led us on a journey of discovery, taking us along side paths and through the houses into hidden sanctuaries and magical worlds. Here in these enchanted spaces the air was dense, filled with rich dialogues that would immediately engage and immerse. The bumblebees were humming. The flowers were enticing, chatty to visitors with their visual beauty and fragrance. Everywhere were inaudible conversations between plants and objects playfully chosen and placed by the gardeners; porcelain frogs were taking refuge under a shade made by large palm leaves in passing shower. An old anchor beautifully matted with rust was hung against a wall, finally being dry and enjoying a retied life in a courtyard half covered by grape vines. Someone’s old moccasin was used as a pot for mint (!). These magical sanctuaries were collaborative creation, brought out of intimate connection and trust between plants and people (and bees) and also between people in the community.
Hidden from the world outside, these playgrounds of the creative imagination gave not only a sense of wonderment, but also a warm sense of enclosure and safety. And this sense tapped into childhood memories of adventure and discovery in an exciting playful wonderland full of surprises and endless possibilities, but which also feels comforting and protected.
I revisit Harwich from time to time in my mind. When I do that, I just simply relax and re-experience the feeling of the stillness of the street or firm resistance of sand of the beach against my bare soles. And my mind wanders back through a side alley leading to the rear gates and steps back into those secret gardens.
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