In recent times I have started to really enjoy gardening. I’ve always loved gardens – it must run in my genes – my grandfather spent most of his life in his garden and grew the most amazing chrysanthemums and dahlias, as wells as beautiful rose bushes. His passion was passed on to my mum but it’s not been something any of my siblings has taken much of an active interest in. I started to be interested when I made an effort to make our back yard a bit more colourful with some pots. There was something quite exciting about seeing how plants turned from tiny little leafy things to gorgeous tall and bushy flowering plants. I had around 30 pots eventually in the small, paved gardens of our house in Marple and brought them all with me to Holmfirth.
We have a much larger garden here – with grass! And trees! It all makes me feel rather rich! And now, having more time, it’s a lovely break from sitting at the computer, to wander out into the garden and get my hands dirty in the compost, deadhead some dying flowers, prune back a few shrubs, pull up some weeds or plant something I’ve bought recently in a special little place I’ve chosen for it. I can’t tell you the thrill I get from wandering round seeing what has ‘come up’ over night. I am fascinating watching buds slowly open over days, unfurling to become something really colourfully beautiful. In the garden I can lose myself completely for hours at a time. I can take my stunted thoughts and, whilst pottering around, grubbing in the soil, I can process my thinking and move myself on; make decisions that I didn’t even know I was considering or imagine new possibilities. But gardening is also an end to itself – it’s such a lovely thing to do. And I know this too – it’s the sort of hobby that can also eat away at your budget! There are always such delightful new plants to buy at garden centres – even the supermarket or corner shop sell lovely things to tempt us to try and grow!
As I said I brought all my pots from Marple and have had such an interesting time planning where they will go and preparing a way for them. You should see how some of them have flourished now they are released from the prison of their pots! There’s also something about continuity. I was looking at an Acacia I had in a pot at our last house and seeing it now, in early Spring, rising tall above my garden wall, with its tiny buds ready to burst, just thrills me that once it overlooked a busy, noisy main road – now it is in such a peaceful setting, watching dogwalkers and ramblers make their way to the woods and the hills; smilingly watching our dog go loopy on the lawn. It’s made a journey with me and both of us are enjoying, and making the most of, our new setting.
At the front of our house here is a strip of grassed land that used to get very boggy when it rains. It’s at the bottom of a steep, sloping lawn and persistent rain often turns it into a swamp. People sometimes stepped on it, the dog would run across it and trample mud into the house. It also didn’t look very pretty. The answer was to cut the turf from it, dig it up, enrich the soil with compost and put in bog-loving plants. I had decided on rhododendrons, astilbe and geraniums. My friendly garden-labourer suggested Achtea too. ‘Beautiful shrubs’, he tells me, ‘with dark foliage and gorgeous creamy white flowers and they grow to 5 feet.’ Sounded perfect. It would be lovely to turn in the drive and see the colourful range from this grouping, set in gold and white gravel. He sent me off to a specialist nursery in Halifax, “Dove Cottage”. I rather liked it just for the name, being a Wordsworth fan. So I set off there, very excited. He’d told me that the plants there were so superior to other nurseries and garden centres. The owner could not have been nicer. She was serving when I got there, so I had a wander. All I could see were lines and lines of pots with nothing in though, but clearly there were parts of the nursery that weren’t accessible to the general public. ‘The real plants must be up those glass houses,’ I thought. It came to my turn and she asked me all about what I wanted and what sort of garden I had, where the sun came up, and what the soil was like. She agreed that an Achtea and a couple of Astilbes would be perfect. She also had some Geraniums which would enjoy that sort of ground, she said. Off she went and I expected her to be ages as the greenhouses were up a hill, but instead she went to where I had just been wandering and brought back two large pots (3 litres), filled with compost and set them down at my feet, ‘They’re really lovely Geraniums, with good spread and I know I’ve got an Achtea somewhere’ – she scooted off again and was back in less than a minute with a slightly larger pot, again with nothing in but compost and a white tag, dashed away again and I watched, open-mouthed, as she rotted among identical black pots and came back with 2 more. For a moment I just couldn’t speak. £8.50 for dirt in a pot!!
Now, if you’re an avid gardener you may wonder at my gormless reaction! You see, I’d only ever bought from a garden centre before and was used to choosing from what I could see. Now it seemed, I was being asked to take, in faith, what I could not see! All I had, for ‘proof’ of what lay beneath that compost, was a printed tag – stating the name of the plant in there, a brief description of what it would be, the heights it would grow to and the spread it would make across the garden. When I looked closely, I could see that there was something poking its way out of the compost. In one of them it looked like dead straw, which she promptly snipped off with her secateurs! I had to take it on trust that what she said was growing there, beneath the surface, was actually there and would grow, from this barely visible thing, to something beautiful – as tall as a person and as broad as a pillar-box, looking amazing when I opened my front door. I had to laugh really! Because I had been so naive. Of course, plants start life as seeds or bulbs and nurseries take cuttings, transplant root balls into pots for people like me to take and lovingly plant in their own gardens and nurture them to full life.
Still some way to go, but definitely heading upwards and outwards!! A lot is going on under the surface as the roots take in nutrients from our well-prepared soil and are enjoying all the moisture from what was previously a bog! John was away when I created this little garden and was delighted to see it done when he came home, but did ask me what the ‘patches of soil’ were spread across the gravel area! It made me laugh as he was obviously as ‘convenience-minded’ as me, when it comes to growth! He expected to see a fully flowering shrub growing straight away. Every couple of days I peer at my plants and I can see something more of them appearing – it’s miraculous to me and it heartens me so much.
There’s a lesson for life here, isn’t there? So often we can’t see growth happening. We can become frustrated that nothing is happening – when under the surface so much is going on. To make something lovely there has to be a lot of spade-work, clearing of debris, preparation of land, adding of nutrients, watering of soil – before the plant can take root and grow. And there needs to be plenty of sunshine to coax the thing to make an appearance! In life, we can all too often trample on the dreams of others who are trying to make things happen. It looks as if there is just ‘dirt in a pot’ and nothing much else – but under the surface there is often a lot happening that we can’t see. The thing is, if we could see, it wouldn’t actually happen quite so well, as it needs to take place underneath to be able to happen. It’s out of the way of the busy-ness of life that much work gets done – it’s in back rooms where policies get written; it’s very often in cold church halls where focus groups and listening exercises take place; it’s sometimes in back bedrooms where emails and letters are written and change programmes are planned.
There’s also things going in the lives of individuals that we can’t always see. How many times have we walked around, knowing on the surface we look just fine, but inside we are desperately anxious about something; or someone we know and live is dying and we can’t be with them; or we have to hide an illness for some reason? And there are those who might simply overlook as they seem as if they have little to say, or nothing to offer us. They don’t seem to amuse or have opinions. Who knows what is going on inside their heads? What trauma they might have experienced, or crippling shyness they are trying to overcome. I remember a little girl who never seemed to speak and one day at a party she suddenly started to recite nursery rhymes after an elderly lady had chatted to her for over half an hour without evoking any response. Eloquently and beautifully, for almost an hour, she entertained a group of us who were enchanted and applauded enthusiastically! Seen in a new light, she suddenly blossomed into a confident child and her life changed from that day. Someone saw she had something; nurtured it and warmed it with the sunshine of her smile and watered it with gentleness.
I am drawn to a Hardy poem – aptly title ‘In The Garden’…
We waited for the sun
To break its cloudy prison
(For day was not yet done,
And night still unbegun)
Leaning by the dial.
After many a trial –
We all silent there –
It burst as new-arisen,
Throwing a shade to where
Time travelled at that minute.
Little saw we in it,
But this much I know,
Of lookers on that shade,
Her towards whom it made
Soonest had to go.
Just for itself, this is so beautiful – there’s a calmness and stillness in the words – just waiting for the sun to come back again, hoping it will before night closes in, but holding our breath as perhaps the moment will be lost as the day ends. And sometimes it’s like the early morning sun when it does peep out from behind those thick clouds – and with that burst comes that bright hope – as if we can start all over again. Like the little girl – no one thought much of her – a shy wee thing with nothing to say. A bit of sun warming her, coaxing her from the shell she’d found herself hidden under and she was away! A new thing. Like my plants. Hidden under dirt, waiting for the right conditions to make their appearance – to grow into what they were intended to be.
So where will we let our own rays of sunshine fall upon? Who or what can we coax into the light and nurture into becoming that something they have the potential to be?