Thursday, 6 August 2015

The Secret Garden revisited

Dear Nigel,

Summer is raging on apace and Autumn weather beckons, it seems. And yet the Holidays have hardly begun for us. The garden has taken over once more and I have given it free rein to design itself this year. Flower begets flower in a passing parade of heady blooms peeping out from a tangle of weeds in the border. Over by the path there is a heavy crop of blackcurrants glimpsed through an undergrowth of dense green foliage. They should have been picked some time ago and yet I let them go, promising myself 'manyana', as always.

I return from town to find Kevin's cockerel and his harem have invaded our space. He takes one look in my direction, and, like a sulky teenager, does just what he always intended - swaggering over with his hands in his pockets and starts to eat the polished black fruit. I shoo him away and one of his giggling entourage makes a dash for the tiny cottage window (thinking it the entrance to a hen coup, no doubt), banging her head again and again against the glass to try and gain entry. Remind me please to source my eggs from responsible chickens with a higher IQ next time - no doubt the yolks will be darker and richer in iron than from this daft bird.

The other reminder, as if I needed one, that Summer is rocketing by at startling speed and leaving me in its wake, comes with a visit from a confident young surveyor. Having assessed the height of the stream and its likelihood of flooding (very unlikely on this gradient), he then turns his attention to my overgrown garden. In particular, the vegetable patch seems to catch his eye. Here, to be fair, it is more jungle than veg. at the moment, and I am a little embarrassed in its defence. There are, however, if you were to look really carefully, lines of carefully planted spinach, rhubarb chard and rocket, but these have bolted now and wave around at waist height looking slightly unseemly.

The surveyor informs me that I am harbouring a dangerous criminal in my midst and severe measures will have to be taken so that I can comply with whatever needs complying with. I frown. I am a little perplexed. I am the harbourer of Japanese knot weed, he claims, looking at the bolted rhubarb chard, and it will need the most potent chemicals to eradicate it ( and which will no doubt undermine my personal organic certification). Hmmm....

I look carefully at his Japanese knot weed which I have lovingly planted, seed by seed, from a packet of Unwins' finest; watered, grown, and tipped into endless stir fries and eaten; and smile back at him. Bless, he is only trying to justify his pay rise.

So, in a bid to prevent the thought police from hounding us out of the district on grounds of letting down the 'best kept village in bloom', or whatever, we start to attack the worst offenders. Will makes short work of the grass, mowing down weeds when the fancy takes him, and I collect in the soft fruit. Apart from the black, red and white currents there are bowls of Gooseberries for freezing. I like to save these for the very end of summer when a soft, tart bowl of whipped fool reminds me of 'Summer's lease', as we sit out, perhaps for the last time that year, and savour all that Summer has to offer.

There are pinkie, hairy gooseberries too - edible ones my mum calls 'the gardener's perk'. But these are fewer and far between. I eat them in passing every time I go up or down along the path. One is enough. Bursting with gelatinous seeds, like an English passion fruit in texture, it is a momentary treat.

They are still collecting in the last of the hay. The little old red tractors are out in force amongst their big green brothers, bringing in the smaller brick-shaped bales from the smaller fields, which horsey people find more convenient to carry. There is a constant to-ing and fro-ing to the barn beside me of these sweet golden parcels. I love the smell of this fresh hay before it is properly dried and make sure I always inhale when passing.

It has been an odd year this one, so far, for me. Much of it has been spent in a great deal of pain, wishing the days away and watching the clock for the release that the next lot of painkillers will bring me. Waiting in a queue for operations has taught me patience and to draw back. That my pain - however severe I feel it to be - is no more important that another person's pain. We are all so used to going out and getting things for ourselves - putting ourselves first at the expense of others without a second thought. And yet it surprised me that I would feel more in tune with others at the very point I should have wanted to put myself first, because of its severity. We should never lose the ability to surprise ourselves.

But it is done and dusted anyway now and life has returned to this old bird - lately turned fifty, and enjoying every minute of it. The garden is a metaphor for a life left to renew and replenish itself at will. Manicured lawns and mixed borders are all very well when life is in control and, like a newly spring cleaned kitchen, a small bit of effort here and there will keep things up to scratch and ticking over. But we all, from time to time, need to let the grass grow between our feet and feel the surge of nature which allows both growth and change and brings us back to ourselves once more, renewed.

Hoping that your Summer has been a more productive one,



  1. A lovely post. So sorry to hear you have been in so much pain I hope you get resolution soon.

  2. Lovely writing, as ever. Sorry you've been in pain but glad you have recovered.