When I visit a town or city for the first time, I like to stroll through a public garden or park. I’ve found that the number, variety and the care given by citizens to their public parks and gardens can be an expression of the values and sensibilities generally embraced by the townspeople. This practice is what brought me to the Morrab Gardens in Penzance in Cornwall, England
Penzance is a seaboard town situated at the convergence of the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean and the Celtic Sea along the south-west coast of England. It’s “hard by” (as the English would say) Lands End, a 5 to 6 hour train ride (about 300 miles) from Paddington Station in London. My husband and I stayed with Diane and Norman Cope, the gracious proprietors of the The Corner House, a lovely bed and breakfast located along the Penzance Promenade over-looking the waters.
One of the very attractive aspects of Cornwall is its climate. The mild, almost Mediterranean, climate allows a variety of tropical and sub-tropical plants and flowers to thrive there. People are always surprised to learn that palm trees grow in Cornwall.
The sub-tropical three-acre Morrab Gardens is a public garden. The morning I visited, mothers and children, couples, both young and old, solitary readers and a few tourists were enjoying the park. It’s a well-manicured park with a variety of beddings and plantings, stone pathways leading off into several different directions around the grounds, well-placed benches, fountains and a bandstand. Discreetly placed signs tell visitors about the plants and wildlife of Morrab Gardens as well as its history. Clearly the people of Penzance are proud of Morrab Gardens. None of this was unexpected, of course, after all, this is still England.
However, one surprise did await me in Morrab Gardens. Along the path which circles the bandstand was a bedding of well-established agave plants with very large fronds (perhaps as wide as 6 to 8 inches across). Given the mild climate there, agave plants are quite common in Penzance, but what fascinated me and made these agaves so unique was that the surfaces of several of the fronds were being used for public social communication – that is to say – there was graffiti etched into the plants.
Clearly this was the handiwork of Penzance youth, carrying on somewhat in the tradition of their outlaw pirate forefathers who had put Penzance on the map, as it were. Amused, I thought about the universality of graffiti and how any readily available surface is always fair game for it. Using the fronds of their ubiquitous agave was exceedingly clever, I thought. It did finally occur to me to consider the adults who put time, money and care into Morrab Garden. I wondered what they thought and how they address the “problem” of plant graffiti? Or do they even consider it a problem at all? Clearly the adult perception of and reaction to the activities of their youth tell me more about the values and sensitivities of the people of Penzance than even their gardens. Perhaps I’ll drop a note to the Friends of Morrab Gardens and find out.
Note: After four days in Penzance my impression is that it is a lovely, peaceful, quiet, clean, friendly and graffiti-free town! Great restaurants, too…but that’s for another blog.