The Poet Thief

I lift the latch of a blue-painted iron gate under the trellis archway laden with the Rambling Rector rose that was the gift of my sister, and enter the garden past the reading-bench tucked to my left under the umbrella canopy of a weeping crab-apple.

Pausing only briefly to admire the unlikely olive tree that has survived in the shelter of this place, I skirt the trimmed box-bushes now grown to the size of large sea-boulders and the myrtle propagated from a sprig stolen by a Scottish poet from a shrub in the grounds of a royal residence, grown from a sprig pulled from a nosegay given to Queen Victoria in 1845 by Prince Albert’s grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Saxe Gotha.

The olive tree in the circular bed, with the myrtle grown from a stolen sprig to the right beyond it.

I ascend a grassy bank springy with tussocks and clustered with primroses to the ruins of the myrtle thief’s chair, still at the uppermost part of the garden, where in her last evenings with us she sat in the dusk among the flicker of hunting pipistrelle bats, the glimmer of the illicit Gauloises betraying her secret vice as I anxiously watched for her while washing the supper things.

My beloved friend Catriona Urquhart died early on May Day 2005, at home in Caerleon with her partner Ian, her mother and siblings and nephew and niece around her. I was sitting in the chair at the top of the garden in Aberporth thinking about her when the call came with the news. I’d spent time with her the previous week, squeezed her hand and whispered my goodbyes to her closed, peaceful face. 

Seventeen years have passed, and still she is with me. Here at Ty Isaf the stick-in-a-pot she gave us is now a walnut tree nearly thirty feet high. Her collection of poems with Old Stile Press, The Mares Tale – still available from OSP – continues with its power to make me weep, because I feel as raw and bereft as I did on the day of her departure. But I laugh, too, whenever I see the myrtle, because Catriona was emphatically not a Royalist, and she would positively crow with delight to see the fruit of her thieving doing so well in this west Wales cottage garden.

The Mare’s Tale


14 thoughts on “The Poet Thief

  1. The phrase “she gladdens the heart”, that was Catriona.

    From working together as teenagers in the House of Fraser Glasgow to present day her warm golden glow still hugs me.

  2. Catriona was too special, too pure for this earth. Her laughter, her love was bright and magical.
    It was an honour to be born on her birthday and my mother misses her so much. We all do..
    She, to me, will always be the magic fairy at the bottom of the garden x

    • Sending love to you and G on May Morning. Here we have rain after several weeks of clement weather. Luckily soft and nourishing for the garden, instead of more storms knocking the hell out of everything. Have a lovely Bank Holiday weekend.

  3. What a beautiful entry !. And not just for the text, for the photos are great .
    This is the kind of rememberance we would all love to have, in the heart of our loved ones , and in the places where we were happy, together. ( Heaven can wait …).

    And, by the way : What a beautiful garden you live in. Here, in Madrid, we have had lots of rain lately, and everything is green, but it shall not last. In a couple of months, it will al be scorched dry and brown.
    Un fuerte abrazo para los dos.

    • The garden pictured here, Maria, is our garden by the sea just down the coast, not Ty Isaf. There are plants from Catriona in both. She died seventeen years ago but the plants she gave us are a constant presence, still thriving.

      • You are lucky:
        For you both May Day is a day of love and rememberance. For the most of the others, it is a day of vindication and of reproaching those with power.
        So, you have Two beautiful gardens of love .
        That is Heaven.

  4. It is good that they are still here with us. Trees, plants, and gardens are all good keepers of memories where they can reside with us forever. Such a lovely spot for the memory of Catriona to be with you always.

    • Thank you, Bev. Yes, the dead live on in the plants they gave us, or planted or loved. In this seaside garden the elderly rose once grown by my father for my mother in a pot on the balcony of their apartment, flourishes around the cottage door, a constant reminder of them both. Catriona and Ian brought hundreds of plants to this garden as we planned and planted it. The box hedges and standard boxes were all grown from plants propagated by Catriona. We had dozens and dozens of them waiting around in their pots while the hard landscaping was done. When she came in her latter days not to garden but to sit and enjoy, she pulled at her shedding white/gold hair, and I thrust twists of it for her into the hedges to make nesting resources for the birds. Here at Ty Isaf the stick-in-a-pot she gave us is now a thirty foot walnut tree. Green springing everywhere. All very reassuring, these living memories.

      • So wonderful that all of these plants and memories exist together, and such a poignant reminder of Catriona’s visits. Our garden in Ontario had many memory plants. I tried to bring some of them here when I sold the farm and moved to Nova Scotia — there are a few, but sadly not many as there was about two years between me selling the farm and buying this property. I potted up a few peony, roses, and others and farmed them out to my mom and a couple of friends to keep alive for me. Some didn’t survive all the shuffling around. I’m sorry not to have some of those plants that connected me to both my grandmother’s gardens. It always felt like there was a bit of both of them residing in my garden back at the farm. I sometimes wish I’d been able to do better at all of this, but realize I was doing as well as I could at that time. Sometimes it just is what it is. xox

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