I was able to commit to the idea of ‘birthing’ a garden well before I saw the actual thing. That commitment has deepened and diversified in the subsequent months.
To my great surprise, gardening has become a real joy since I arrived here six months ago. It is so wise and dispassionate somehow, and it teaches you so much – both about the earth beneath your feet and, at one remove, about human nature.
As soon as my ex-husband and I put our house on the market, and I started looking for something I could afford to buy, a small garden – even if it was little more than a square of grass – was important. My reasoning, at that stage, was little more than instinct. I have never been a gardener – and, although I love colour and scent, have never tended plants in any serious way.
Then I found a little house I liked in Wrington. It had a little garden, a tiny patio and, wonder of wonders, a summer house. I was hooked – and, although this abode was sold before I had the wherewithal to put in an offer, the vision of a garden of my own became even more strongly incorporated in my search.
I first visited this house almost exactly a year ago – with my son. In fact, we saw two places in Glastonbury, this one first – and both agreed that this was The One. Although I only peered outside on that initial visit, something drew me to the garden instantly. It was bare then and almost devoid of grass. Several of the fence panels were in a parlous state (and, in fact, succumbed to Storm Doris some two months later) and there was no colour to be seen. But I sensed potential lurking beneath the soil and in the water-starved plants which dotted the place in small arid groups.
The whole place had a good energy – and I could envisage light pouring into it. I was right. It does, and is a continuing delight. I could also see growth, in nature and in myself, lying ahead. Oddly – or perhaps not – I could see this garden thronged with people; it seemed to whisper of social gatherings, of happiness, of shared food, of magic and the imagination, of love, of tribe.
Initially, I left it to its own devices – other than replacing the rotten panels back in February. But, drawn by curiosity and the nurturing urge, I started to engage with the space in a more physical and pro-active way. My son and his lass did the first planting for me. I did not, at that stage, have the confidence, feared I’d get it wrong. The Young Things dug in the raspberry canes (now proliferating with ripe fruit) and honeysuckle (which has now twined itself round my apple trees and is beginning its soon-to-be-perfumed ascent).
I then bought herbs in pots, lots of variegated flower seeds in packets, tomato seeds – and, in a frenzy of joyous naivety, started to arrange them around the garden. Of course, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing – and now cannot even remember exactly what I planted! In a way, this is lovely: Constant surprise and delight! When the first yellow Freesia opened its bud yesterday, I was beside myself with happiness. The orange Nasturtiums also gave me a frisson of sheer energy and triumph, while wholly un-expected small pink roses brought tears to my eyes!
But then, the truth about the new and the old, weeds and flowers, began to dawn on me. Much space was taken up by withered, dying, diseased plants, or pretty weeds which were strangling everything around them and dominating the garden. I knew I had to cull, fairly ruthlessly, for the good of all plant-kind!
This I have now started to do. My old philosophy of, ‘If I nurture you for a bit longer, maybe things will turn round and you’ll flower/fruit for me…’ has been replaced with a far more hard-headed attitude, a kind of, ‘Your time in the sun, in the bed, has passed. Now you need to go in order to give way to new growth, different colours, more subtle scents.’
The herbs, now freed from their pots – other than the mint which has a deserved reputation for spreading itself generously! – are, as of yesterday, dug into the small beds in the front garden. They have replaced a load of tall, pink-flowered, weeds and a decrepit wallflower plant! Another honeysuckle has been planted in front of the back fence panels, so that their wooden rawness becomes softened by trailing plants and my life soothed and enhanced by that wondrous smell. Clematis, planted next to the small rose bush, should add texture, covering and colour in that part of the garden.
A life-long creator with words, this movement – in late middle-age! – to an entirely different form of creation is tremendously liberating and exciting. I am, if you like, ‘writing’ an extended poem with soil and seeds, flowers and fruit. I, an Earth Sign, am expressing something of myself, my tastes, my philosophy, my hopes and, longer term, my gift to the future, in the space I have been so lucky to call my very own garden.
The analogy with humankind is exact. We all, at some time or another, have to prune back our relationship plants, making often difficult and heart-breaking decisions about which ones can stay and which need to go. It takes ruthless honesty and the aid of a dispassionate trowel/fork/spade. It takes another skill utilised in gardening: The ability to predict, to look ahead, to sum up the likely outcome and the bigger picture; to know, in other words, which plants are worth nurturing for another season and which would be better uprooted and recycled!
I think this can be done gently. We can, in effect, say, ‘You have enhanced my garden for a while, and helped make it beautiful, but now you are poisoning plants around you and dominating the space with your our-of-control growth – and you need to go. Thank you. Goodbye.’
Yes, I have come naturally to the world of the garden – and love it with a passion!