Saturday, 29 August 2015

The Lake Isle of Innisfree Garden


The Yeats garden I designed for Bloom was based on his poem 'The Lake Isle of Innifree'.
It had to be. It is, possibly, WB's best known poem, but more importantly, it's the only one about a garden.

To be brutally honest, I don't think Yeats was much of a gardener.
Maybe I'm wrong, but he strikes me as being someone who thought great thoughts and spent a good bit of time shaping them into miraculous poetry, yet somehow I don't see him doing all of that with a hoe in one hand. I reckon that the pen was mightier than the trowel in his case.I see him as being a bit like Wordsworth, in love with the concept of nature, but not getting so close up and personal that he got stung by the nettles too often.

A hive for the honey bee. An original 1890s CDB's hive, lent for the garden

If I'm totally honest, The Lake Isle was never one of my favourite poems, (especially, at the risk of being sacrilegious, when read by the poet himself), but I have to say, that all changed. Working so intensively on the garden for months on end, I found the lines going through my head endlessly, the words repeating and repeating as I planned and dug and planted.
It drew me in, and as I slowly brought it to life, I found myself loving the poem more and more.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

I loved too that this had never been a real garden, so I was free to peek inside the poet's head and create what I saw there - his imagined, secret hideaway on an island in Lough Gill. It made the whole process even more vital that Yeats had written the poem when he was 25 and neither rich nor famous, just a young man living in smoggy London, dreaming of Sligo, the place he called 'the land of heart's desire'. He wrote it the same year that he met and fell in love with Maud Gonne, a love that remained unrequited his whole life.

Nik's mural of Maud Gonne in Sligo. Pic: Internet (Maeve O'Beirne)

I suppose at some level I knew how Yeats felt, because I also lived in London when I was 25, and often dreamed of Ireland's wonderful west coast, the In-Charge's second home. In those days, we spent many holidays here with his parents, and even the dogs sulked when we got back to London, after days on endless beaches, or running free in wild, unspoilt countryside.

Back then, we used to pootle out to Innisfree in my father-in-law's little boat. We'd pack a picnic, the fishing rods and numerous dogs into the boat and head off for the day, stopping on the tiny island to stretch our legs and boil up the 'volcano' to make tea. It was - is - just a small hump in the lake, covered in stunted trees and undergrowth, with a tiny beach on one side, but with all the appeal that miniature things have. 

Pic: Internet  Kelly's Kettles

I designed the garden with the lake in the background, not the foreground. I wanted viewers to feel that they were there, in the garden on Innisfree with Yeats, so I commissioned Nik Purdy, that incredibly talented man, to paint a mural that would curve around the back corner of the garden, to create a view across the lake to Sligo's iconic Benbulben. To create a feeling of distance, remoteness, even a touch of infinity, I suppose.

I'd put a small stretch of water in front of the mural, and the two elements worked together really well, largely because Nik did such a great job, and partly because Famous Seamus's two lads also did a great job - they spent an endless afternoon sticking reeds into pots of cement to put into the lake. You can't have a lake in Sligo without reeds...

Nik with Sligo's iconic Benbulben

It was 60 feet long, the mural and was painted by hand on 15 8'x4' (2.44 x 1.22m) aluminium coated panels. He had, remarkably, painted it off-site - an unexpected complication that caused me (and possibly Nik) sleepless nights, wondering if the painting and 'the lake' itself would work together. But for various reasons (weather, paint toxicity and more), there was no choice.
 In fact he did such a great job that, just after it had been erected in the garden, two women walked by, and one said to the other: 'Goodness, did you see that painting?'
The other one replied: 'Don't be ridiculous, no one could have painted that!'
I suppose she thought it was a nattily reproduced photograph!

60 feet is a lot of mural

The day after we put the lake in, a duck came to visit, which was wonderful.
Seamus, aka The Bear, sent me a photo that he'd taken on his phone.
Even more, I loved the wren, the robin, the great tit and the blackbird who all moved into the garden as we were building. The wren would sit in the beech tree and sing very loudly every day, while the robin followed me round, waiting for the grubs and beetles that were turned over as I dug.

But best of all was the great tit.
My favourite place in the garden was the tiny path that wound down to the lake shore. There were willows planted on either side, that formed a kind of archway over the path, and the birds would sit in the willows close to the water.
One day, when I was standing in the garden with Gary, one of Bloom's official photographers, the tit appeared on his usual branch. A moment later, he ducked down into the shallow water at the edge of the path and had a thorough bath. It was wonderful to watch.
A sort of seal of approval I suppose.

Gary O'Neill's photograph
 Gary O'Neill, photographer

My favourite part of the garden. Photo: Doris Rabe

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