Q for Quirky, Quiet Gardens – and Q!: Julia Grigg's Morrab Miscellany

Reaching Q, Julia finds gardens that offer moments of quiet, celebrates a radio classic and recalls a poet and novelist who was known as ‘the greatest living Cornishman’.

As letters go, Q is a QUIRKY one in that there are only 80 words in the English language that begin with it, and only 47 where ‘q’ is not followed by ‘u.’

These 80, according to the Merriam Webster Learners’ Dictionary, are words considered to be non-specialist ‘core vocabulary’ (not a Scrabble fanatic’s websearch trove, that is.)

By contrast, ‘s’, the language’s most common initial letter, can lay claim to opening 3000 core vocabulary words.

Q gives us QUIET, one of the most blessed quietnesses surely being the one discovered in gardens designed for contemplation, places where we go to reflect and refresh body, mind and soul – and to renew our commitment to caring for the environment 

There is a Quiet Garden Movement with a mission ‘to provide opportunities for attentiveness and moments of wonder and transcendence.’ Over 200 Quiet Gardens have been created in the UK since the first opened in 1992 at Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire.

Just a few miles from Penzance, in the village of Paul there’s a Garden of this type close by the Church of St Pol de Leon. Open daily dawn to dusk, the garden is walled but widely-spaced with far-reaching views of the sea and St Michael’s Mount.

In Penzance town, a few hundred yards from Morrab Gardens, there’s a tranquil area designated as a Memorial Garden. You’ll find it in Penlee Park, behind the main Penlee House building. A Garden of Remembrance, it contains a small chapel of rest dedicated to the fallen of WW2. As befits the kitchen garden it once was for the big house, the lawns and borders of flowering trees and sub-tropical plants shelter behind enclosing walls.

Q is for QUESTIONS: gardeners have lots of questions. This is evidenced by the longevity and fervent following of the programme ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ (GQT) which since 1947 has been broadcast weekly by BBC Radio 4 to an estimated 2 million listeners. To this day its format’s a winner: a live amateur audience gathered in a village hall, a changing panel of knowledgeable experts fielding the questions while building on the legacy of household names such as Bill Sowerbutts.

Among the thousands of questions posed over the years the ten which recur most frequently are answered on a page of the BBC’s website. Also available after each episode is a factsheet detailing the topics discussed.

With information now found so effortlessly via a few fingertaps on the keyboard you might dismiss the need for a manual to hold in your hands, to consult and thumb. Ah, but that you might reconsider, having once read about the ‘RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening by Christopher Brickell (Dorling Kindersley 2012). The Independent newspaper’s review says, ‘Assembled by a team of specialist gardeners, the book’s info and advice are bang on the money, making this the essential reference you’ll revisit again and again.’

Q – the greatest living Cornishman.

Q is for the surname QUILLER-COUCH. During his lifetime the family’s best-known family member, Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944) was known as ‘the greatest living Cornishman.’ The plaque on his imposing memorial monument at Hall Walk, Fowey speaks of his genius as an author and ‘in his life as in literature’ his courtesy, charity and chivalry.

A plaque on the memorial to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
“Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch Memorial, Polruan, Cornwall” by dan_a is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0.

Under the pseudonym ‘Q’ Arthur wrote prolifically, producing novels and collections of short stories, many based on Cornish folklore and history. As Editor of The Oxford Book of English Verse (1900), Q was the originator of a phenomenal bestseller. Also an educator, championing secondary education in Cornwall, in 1912 he was made Professor at Cambridge where he devised the University’s first degree in English Literature and taught for thirty years.

But surely there’s nothing Cornish about the name Quiller? Correct – this name was appended to Couch by Q’s grandfather, John. A Polperro man, John married Jane Quiller in 1815 as his second wife. Jane was descended from seafarers, her ancestors having arrived from France as Huguenot refugees to turn their fortunes with a family business of privateering. John and his sons Richard the eldest, and Thomas, Q’s father, were passionate scientists/taxonomists over and above their profession as doctors. Richard Quiller-Couch QC (1816-63) lived in Penzance and for many years acted as Chair of the town’s Natural History and Antiquities Society. Q, born a Bodmin boy but loving the sea and sailing, in 1891 came to live in Fowey, making ‘The Haven’ his lifetime family home. Passionate about flowers: peonies and chrysanthemums his favourites, Q cultivated roses in his Cambridge quadrangle and in Fowey, his affection for gardens showing in his choice of Thomas Edward Brown’s robust poem ‘My Garden’ for his 1922 compilation The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  

A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!
Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Fern’d grot —
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not —
Not God! in gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
’Tis very sure God walks in mine.

The largest online collection of resources on Q is to be found on arthurquillercouch.com. a website developed by Andrew Symons, a researcher basing himself at Penzance’s Morrab Library where you’ll find an impressive collection of original ‘Q’ editions, along with copies of the Cornish magazine 1898-99, and novels by his sisters, Mabel and Lilian.

The Sir Arthur Quiller Couch Memorial Fund was set up as a charitable trust in 1945 and today promotes events and supports writers working on aspects of Q’s legacy.

And finally, Q for QUERCUS PETRAEA, the Cornish oak.

Q, looking at the banks of the Fowey River’s tidal estuary that he loved so much, would have been presented with a grey-green panorama; the oaks which then and now adorn their steep slopes, growing right down to the water line. The tree’s botanical name petraea means ‘of rocky places’, indicating the habitat it thrives in, also being partial to moist conditions. Its common name ‘sessile’ is derived from the fact that its acorns have no stalks unlike the oak quercus robur.

Acorns of the Sessile Oak are not held on stalks like those of the English (Pedunculate) oak, but are attached directly to the outer twigs.
Photo: “Quercus petraea” by Hans Hillewaert is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Cornish have adopted the sessile oak as their own, possibly because its timber is so suited for ship-building. It also provides excellent fuel wood. During an autumn with a good acorn crop Q might have witnessed the age-old tradition of farmers fattening their sheep and cattle by grazing them under the trees.

Q for THE QURAN, SURAH AN-NISA’ 57

But as for those who believe and do right actions, we will admit them into gardens with rivers flowing under them … for ever and ever…We will admit them into cool, refreshing shade

Muslims believe the Quran to be more than divinely inspired, to be, in fact, the literal word of God as revealed over a period of 23 years to the prophet Muhammad (570-632) in divine messages via the Archangel Gabriel. Proclaiming that ‘God is One’,  Muhammad preached these revelations, insisting that complete ‘submission’ (islām) to God was the right way for his followers to live life. Non-literate, Muhammad did not write the Quran down, his companions serving as scribes and completing the manuscript after his death. Today it’s regarded as the finest work in classical Arabic literature. It is divided into 114 ‘surahs’ (chapters) of verses known as ‘ayahs.’ The An-Nisa is the fourth chapter and its 176 verses largely refer to matters of significance to women such as marriage rights and inheritance.

Read more of Julia Grigg’s Morrab Miscellany

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