How my garden holds me

Aug 31, 2022

The motif of this summer was intense heat and more intense work schedules. A garden participant said to me in one session “how lucky you are to work in this calming garden”. I agree, I am. When I am at either of the gardens I work at I feel incredibly privileged. In those places I have found something I love to do, something meaningful and something I hope I can improve and build upon for a long time. However, I have responsibilities in those gardens, I am thinking on my feet and I’m in a state of alert at all times and wonderful as it is, it is not relaxing. Additionally that time in the gardens where I work is a tiny fraction of what is involved in my job and the other jobs that I do right now.

Bumble bee on phlox flowers

Needless to say, self-care and care of my own home and garden has been pretty elusive these past few months. Looking back, it’s a bit of a blur actually. I did water the garden, that was vital, but it was mindless and rushed early in the mornings or at night with my mind on other things.

Then, when the exceptional heat eased a little, I got one precious weekend in my garden at home. I stepped out of the house, scanned across the garden for the first time in weeks and instantly felt downhearted. All I could see were overgrown poppies and weeds that had lived out their entire lifecycle, swamped their neighbours and already begun spreading seed, dry exposed soil where some plants had died back and nothing had flourished in the space, veg troughs in a mess and a big clear message that this is what neglect looks like.

An orange and a yellow carrot twisted around each other

Deciding to tackle something manageable I started with the veg troughs and noticed that the tiny chard and spring onion seedlings I had planted out who-knows-when ago have grown. They are lush and healthy and ready to harvest, alongside some baby carrots. It turns out that my robotic watering was all they needed from me. The pea plants are desiccated from the sun but the pods I didn’t manage to pick in time to eat are ready to crack. I now have seeds for windowsill pea shoots and shelling them in the shade next to the beautiful acer tree is bliss. This inspires me to sow some rocket, basil and more chard and I pull the last of the red onions to make room for them. The garden always gives us second chances and I feel more hopeful that I’ll look after them and myself better from now on. As always this is nourishment for the body and mind.

The coriander has gone over too but the seeds bounce into the palm of my hand as I scrunch the tops of the stems where umbels of white flowers floated last time I blinked. These are both spices for cosy autumn dishes and new life for the next sowing. The basil is about to bolt but I am just in time to top them and preserve the leaves in oil. In winter I’ll add them to dishes and relish this reminder of summer. Most surprising of all is the hops, the most abundant it has ever been, laden with flowers. There are flowers elsewhere too. The hollyhocks, phlox and unruly nasturtiums and borage are feeding the bees and that alone is good enough for me.

Cut quaking grass dried and shining in the sun

In the shed a bunch of quaking grass I cut when it was still green has turned golden and looks stunning shimmering in the lower august light. I blow them to watch the seed heads dance and they are just as beautiful in death as in life. I find myself breathing more deeply. This, this I remember is the feeling I need to continue to capture and recreate for the participants in the gardens where I work.

Nature has been here all the time, when I wasn’t present at all, ready to catch and hold me. It whispers “it’s okay” in the rustling of the drought crisped leaves. The garden is like those cherished, life-long friends you haven’t seen for a a while. In reuniting you know nothing has changed, I still love you.