hush house vents 1

He gains all points, who pleasingly confounds,

Surprizes, varies, and conceals the Bounds.

At eighteen, I read Pope’s “Epistle to Lord Burlington”, and while not remotely interested in gardens, found myself compelled by the garden as a source of tension.

Later I became interested in the hortus conclusus, not as an attribute or representation of the Virgin Mary but as Carolus Clusius’s contained contemplative space. Clusius is the man who studied and cultivated the tulip and the potato. His garden at Leyden is legend.

Years after that, I acquired my own garden – London clay, builder’s rubble, a forty-foot pear tree and a bunch of frogs.

I wrote a poem about my garden, or the water contained in my garden, or the ideas contained in the idea of that water.

All the while I was getting older, and wanting my bounds to be, frankly, less confounded. The contemplative space where I might consider the tulip or the potato was becoming increasingly important.

This year I have been working on an adaptation for radio of Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, set in Castalia, the ivory tower of ivory towers. Even here there are several gardens and they are where the real work gets done.

Three weeks ago I found myself in the Hush House (above), a building on a former US military air base in which they used to test jet engines. I was visiting Kathrine Sandys extraordinary low-frequency sound installation which left my cells not only confounded but surprised and varied.

And then I read Ange Mlinko’s post on Finch and Marvell and she gave me a way of connecting this all up.

Out of all of this, a poem has taken shape. As so often, it has taken time and along the way gathered what’s on my doorstep and what happened  200 years ago or an ocean away, what I walk into, what someone says, and conversations with other poets, alive and dead.

A slow falling into place that is somewhat like contemplating a tulip or a potato. You cannot make it happen. All you can do is create and protect the conditions.

Originally Published: April 16th, 2010

Lavinia Greenlaw has published three books of poems, most recently Minsk. Her two novels are Mary George of Allnorthover and An Irresponsible Age and she has also published a memoir, The Importance of Music to Girls. Her work for BBC radio includes programs about the Arctic, the Baltic, the solstices...