Peas and Poetry

Summer is picking peas straight from the pod, that fresh sweet zing of green. Spring is preparing the ground and sowing and planting – waiting, watching, hoping.

I was taking a look at Vita Sackville-West‘s poems The Land and The Garden the other day as I was wondering what to do with my garden and the blog, ruminating on which way to go and how to get there. She gardened at Sissinghurst, a mere 20 miles from me, her references to Spring, written in 1926 have a ring of truth to me today in 2012.

Vita Sackville-West – The Land

An excerpt

Spring –

There’s no beginning to the farmer’s year,

Only recurrent patterns on a scroll

Unwinding; only use in step with need,

Sharp on the minute when the minute’s come;

A watching, waiting thole,

A reckoning by rule of thumb.



Therefore let no man say, “peas shall be sown

This month or that; now shall the harrow go;

Now scuffle with deep coulters, now with shallow;

Wheat shall succeed to clover; oats to fallow;

Roots after wheat to be grown

Such arbitrary dates and rules are vein;

Not thus the year’s arithmetic is planned,

But to outwit the cunning of the land

That will not yield, and will not yield again

Her due of food and wealth

Unless the moment’s twisted to its use,

Wrung to the utmost by a vigilant hand,

Admitting no unseasonable excuse


I grow heritage climbing peas, they give me such pretty flowers, tendrils and leaves tumbling around a wigwam of canes and beautiful flavours to savour. They brighten my day on the plot giving me a visual feast. Thinking of the treat for sore eyes brightens this particular grey day when the clouds are low, there is a drizzle that soaks the ground and a nip to the air. Right now Summer seems a long way away.

OK, from the sublime to the well, you know it, the ridiculous! Remember the peas sown in loo roll inners? They have grown well, if not a bit slowly and are now planted out.

Climbing Varieties ~ Champion of England, Telephone, Salmon Flowered, Serpette De Guilloteau and Robinson’s Purple Podded.


  • Claire, lovely post! Interestingly, we’ve just planted peas (podding) as well – over here we plant them in autumn and harvest them in winter, and when they’re finished, we plant beans. There can never be too many peas in the backyard, as far as I’m concerned! 🙂

    • I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading about other peoples gardens, and the fact that you treat peas as a cool weather plant. It also tells you a lot about our respective climates!

  • Lovely poem and good to see how things are progressing. Have never been to Sissinghurst – didn´t realise how close it was…next trip, next trip!

  • I have to grow peas next spring! And thanks for the reminder as I bought carrot seeds in Scotland and I’ve left them in my suitcase 🙂

    • Arbitrary dates are just that aren’t they? I was surpirsed at how relevant some of the poem still is today, I guess that’s a sign of a good writer!

    • Thanks Marie, I’m hoping the peas haven’t been demolished by slugs and snails, we have had so much rain over the last fortnight iit’s unreal!
      I think I’ll have to get my act together and take us all on a day out to Sissinghurst soon 😉

    • Thanks Teresa, for some weird reason most of your comments end up in my Spam box, I have no idea why, please don’t take it personally!! As ever lovely to hear from you 🙂

  • What a great, Springtime post, Claire! The verse and your pictures are such a great match and I can’t wait for pictures of those seedlings in bloom!

    • Hi Sharyn, the more I read the more I realise the less I’ve read! I’ve meant to pick up both her poems and books for ages, and finally I got round to it. I like the dipping in and out that you get to do with peotry.

  • You’ve given food for the soul today! Last summer was my first to grow peas, just 2 little vines, and they yielded well enough to make risotto with peas.. I loved watching the pods fill out as the vine wrapped around their trellis.

    • Thanks Lulu, pea risotto – delicious! And you made me remember watching the pods fill out – from thos efirst teeny specks of a pea forming inside to fattening up. A lovely happy sight 🙂

  • I loved that poem (and your pics) it made so much sense to me. i want to put it on my wall ! it felt like my mantra! great choice..c

    • Thanks Celi, I found it fascinating that her words, written all those years ago are still relevant – I don’t think I’d expected that. And there is plenty more to come, particularly in relation to sustainability and things like crop rotation, it’s all there ! Feel free to add it to your wall, the more the merrier, C

  • Beautiful post, Claire. The combination of poem and peas made for an illustrated leaf in a poetry book. I love Sissinghurst; I visited there several years ago and have never forgotten the experience and the lessons learned. I am familiar with some of Vita’s poetry but have never read the poems entire – something to look forward to while I garden this summer – thank you.

    • Thank you, you know I’d started writing the post about peas and planting out – and it felt dull and lifeless, more of an instruction manual than a piece of writing. And in the meantime I’d ordered the book, and was fllicking through and the words were leaping out at me and inspiring me. So I’m so pleased so many people found it resonated with them. There’s more to come 🙂

  • Wonderful poem dear Claire, to be honest I don’t know anything about gardening and how interesting for me and also so exciting too… I wished to make something what I learn from you, but I don’t have a garden for this… This is your beautiful world and I enjoy to visit… Thank you, by the way still I haven’t sent to you my surprise, I didn’t forget, I will write to you when I send it… Good luck for your garden projects, wind, sun, rain be with you always… with my love, nia

    • Hi Nia, you are so kind and encouraging. Isn’t it wonderful that we get to share our lives and worlds, I get to look in on Istanbul, and photography, then I pop over to Japan or Italy to enjoy photography, then I peek into a kitchen in Canada. So many ideas and wonderful things to share.
      And a particular thank you for the “wind, sun, rain”, they are our life forces aren’t they. C x

  • I am in a huge condo complex now but there is a 5 ft patch of bushes around the building. It is a little late but will plant green, red and yellow sweet peppers and flowers. In Miami , Florida, USA we have 2 growing seasons: end of Feb into June and mid Sept to December. Mid June through Sept is so hot new plants would wilt and dry despite the rains. Summer here is like the Bataan Death March.

    • This sounds like a great bit of guerilla gardening. A little bit of a green takeover 🙂
      And I’ve just googled Bataan Death March, as I wasn’t familiar, and it sounds positively hellish

  • When reading your lovely post, I feel like I am in the garden with you. An endearing ode to spring.

  • Beautiful poem!
    I grow a few herbs and flowers in pots on the windows and even on a very simple scale I can tell how different things are from year to year and how mush calenders and writen rules don’t always work!

    • Thanks, calendars are a guide aren’t they. I get frustrated with seed packet instructions and garden centres selling stuff that is obviously not suited to our climate or is sold ridiculously early and will probably die off almost straight away. Grrrr. Thank goodness for poetry 😉

  • The poem is so perfect – our Houston spring is a perfect reflection of the words….It is all about being in harmony with what the seasons give you. Our spring was early and my early response to match has paid dividends. These words beautifully illustrate how WE should behave;
    There’s no beginning to the farmer’s year, (note: the word “thole” is very uncommon in Texas – our version of English tends to be a bit less formal!)

    Only recurrent patterns on a scroll

    Unwinding; only use in step with need,

    Sharp on the minute when the minute’s come;

    A watching, waiting thole,

    A reckoning by rule of thumb.

    • I’ve just been trying to read the poem in what I think is a Texan accent, it’s not working so well 🙂 But that could well be my lack of ability at accents! And Thole had me reaching for the google search button as well.
      I’m so pleased the poem has resonated with my fellow bloggers, I wasn’t sure about posting it at first, but have been greatly encouraged,

  • What a beautiful combination of poetry and photos, Claire! Your peas already look delightful to me. I love seeing the loo liners in action! I must give that a try. I love seeing progress…so keep us posted on how they grow. 🙂 Debra

    • Thank you Debra, I’m looking forward to seeing the first flush of flowers – from bright whtes, to maroons and pinks to salmon coloured. I’m hoping for a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

  • I was unfamiliar with that poem, and am very happy to now know it! Thank you for that, and your lovely photos as well. What a nice post!

    • Thank you Cindy for your kind words. Although I knew of her, I hadn’t really read anything by Vita Sackville-West, up until now that is, and I was taken with how as a gardener her words rang true to me. So it’s a pleasure to share 🙂

  • I used the toilet paper rolls for my peas this year per your suggestion. Economical and everyone needs a little ridiculous in their lives!

    • Hi Inger, a big YES to ridiculous 🙂 I hop ethe loo rolls are doing their job! I’ve found germination can take a bit longer but they still work

      • I sat mine in a watering tray on a heater coil, so that may have helped. I was worried they would dissolve in the water but so far so good. Now just need to get my husband to put up the trellis and transplant!

  • I love the line “a reckoning by rule of thumb“; isn’t that the way it always is? Our garden is nearly two weeks behind some that are only 500 meters away, simply because we’re lower and closer to the fjord.

    • Fascinating. Only 500 metres away and such a difference! It gives the expression micro-climate a whole new meaning. I know I notice the difference between our garden which is sheltered and the allotment which isn’t, but I’m not sure the difference is as pronounced as yours.
      I’m so pleased you enjoyed the poem, don’t we all as gardeners use the rule of thumb? I know I literally do when I’m planting seedlings out 🙂

      • Our clay soil is slower to warm up in summer than some of the lighter soils nearby, and of course we’re just that much lower and closer to the water, so the fjord needs to heat up before we get warmer nights. Mind you, this also means that we have a slower transition to autumn, which is nice!
        And putting a thumb into the ground is something everybody should do from time to time; be it with house plants or garden soil, it really is the best way of determining what conditions your plants have at the moment.

        • I understand now what you mean about the fjord needing to warm up. Here on the coast we tend to be warmer than a mile in land, we don’t get the severe frosts anywhere near as much as others do and all because the water (sea) keeps things just that little bit wamer. A reminder of the power of water!

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