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Winners Announced for the Mollie Salisbury Cup Garden Memoir Competition 2022

This year the Garden Museum ran its fourth Mollie Salisbury Cup, a memoir writing competition named in honour of the Garden Museum’s late president. Entrants were invited to submit an original work of no more than 1,500 words on the theme of ‘Gardening With Secrets’.

Judges consultant and curator Laura Burlington, a trustee of The Garden Museum and award-winning author Cressida Connolly, chose the following winners:

First place

Karen Costello-McFeat: Whispering Grass

Runners-up

Marcus Field: Sunflower Boy
Olivia Meehan: To Plant a Painting

We are delighted to share the three winning entries here for all to read:

Winner | Karen Costello-McFeat: Whispering Grass

By 8am, Emily Rose was already kneeling next to the flower beds. Clad in her workwear of faded, denim dungarees with her unruly hair held in check by a spotted bandana, she looked like a land-girl who had matured by a few decades. She was yanking loose the cleavers that threatened to colonise the entire garden. The chief suspect for their presence was sitting next to her panting. No walk was complete without her collie, Petra, returning with a garland of the weed.

Emily rocked back onto her heels and grabbed her mug bearing the legend World’s Best Teacher. She took a mouthful of tea and grimaced. It was cold.

‘And what’s this?’ she asked the dog while pointing to a slender, pink flower tucked between some salvias. ‘Another of your imports?’

Emily reached to pull it loose, then changed her mind. It was a pretty little thing and did no harm. Her mother had created a glorious cottage garden and when she died, Emily wanted to honour her work while bringing it up-to-date. She added fruit canes and edible plants to the beds, took the insecticides to the dump and let some wild flowers and grasses mingle with the more traditional favourites.

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First runner-up | Marcus Field: Sunflower Boy

I’m growing sunflowers again. They are on the windowsill, nearly ready to plant out. Every year I sow them, but this year they have a new resonance; they are the national flower of Ukraine and the Russian invasion means more people are growing them here as a symbol of solidarity. For me they have another meaning though, one which takes me back to that summer of my childhood; the summer of the royal wedding, the summer of the secret.

*****

It’s July 1981 and I’m 14 years old. I live with my parents in a 1960s detached house of the kind common in every part of suburban England. Our front garden is a square of grass protected behind a neat line of rose bushes. It looks pretty much like every other front garden in the road, but this is the year I decide to change all that.

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Second runner-up | Olivia Meehan: To Plant a Painting

The wild angelica had grown to an enormous height. Clusters of dainty white flowers decorated a network of fine stems forming fragrant posies that lingered above the dense undergrowth, and made a fractured reflection on the surface of the running brook. A beguiling variety of flowers assembled at the water’s edge; they met in the untamed areas and revelled in the company of the allotment’s golden honeybees. I inherited the small plot from a housemate who had moved abroad to take up a prestigious fellowship. At first, I assumed the role of caretaker, but it soon became apparent that the small garden bed and wooden shed were to be mine alone. From the outset the other gardeners behaved kindly towards me, but I sensed that the time spent observing, tending, and harvesting was precious to them and most pleasurably reserved for solitary pursuit.

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Image: Ornithogalum Sochi (c) Matt Collins
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