As the saying goes, we live in interesting times! One – among many – blessings of having to stay at home is that I now have enough spare time to venture out into my much neglected garden. My herb garden in particular has been abandoned for at least five years, first while I helped to look after an elderly neighbour and then laterly when I became so involved in my writing.
Perhaps it is because of the menace of Covid-19 that I now feel the call of this sunny little corner, wedged into the right-angle of two protective boundary slate walls. I first designed and built it over twenty years ago when I was recovering from a long term illness. I was also having problems with my shoulder joints – commonly called ‘frozen shoulder’ – but discovered that, while small repetitive movements, such as peeling potatoes, would greatly exacerbate my symptoms, hauling slabs of slate around and heavy digging actually improved them.
As I slowly regained my health, my herb garden became my passion and my lifeline. I could be found out there, even in the cold and damp. If I wasn’t working in the garden itself – carrying a plastic chair about with me so that I could regularly sit down to take a rest and recover my energy – I would be sat in my little garden outside my backdoor – another link in my recovery… a story for another day – sowing seeds or potting up seedlings. When I was too weak, or the weather too bad to get out into my garden, I would lie in bed and gaze at the poster-sized picture of my garden in the sunshine which I had hung on the wall opposite me and dream and plot and plan and enter into another world altogether.
The natural world is naturally healing and for those of us lucky enough to have access to a garden, allotment or land – even a balcony or windowsills – we can use these small spaces to connect to the wider world and all the growth and new life which is bursting through the old, outworn winter dross. Perhaps there is a parallel to be found here as we leave behind our previous lifestyles and enter new, uncharted waters? Here we can find inspiration and healing, for the soil itself contains enzymes which mend frayed nerve ends and uplift our depressed emotions. Here, some of us might be lucky enough to find the way out of the conflict of life before coronavirus versus the new regime now imposed upon us, and the crisis of emotion and fear which has resulted from it. As in the case of my own neglected herb garden, none of us should have abandoned Nature and now she holds the key.
In my own time of need, I find myself reaching out for the magical little plot of land which helped me once before. There is something unique about what can be created when humanity and the natural world come together and harmonise in a symphony of mutual respect, effort and growth. It is quite different from the wild, untamed spaces, or the distorted and abused areas of mass agriculture. When humanity and nature listen to each other and connect in loving like-mindedness, then truly can we create heaven on earth.
As for my own recent endeavours, I was fortunate to have help with the clearing of my faithful little plot. Under a summer-hot sun but cooled – and buffeted – by strong, warm winds, we valiantly wielded saws and secateurs as we carved our way through the over-arching brambles and cut back the prolific ivy which had encased the walls in three feet deep lush green growth. I would normally try to avoid strip clearing in this way, but in this case, there was no sensible alternative. The nine foot long brambles, multi-rooted couch grass and other so-called ‘weeds’ have loved and protected my earthy space while I was busy elsewhere, and it is time for them to hand that responsibility back to me. Now the plot is practically a blank canvas. Only my lemon verbena bush and lad’s love (both wildly leggy and misshapen) remain, along with some red veined sorrel, agrimony, a few purple polyanths, a feeble acer and a cypress tree which began life as a forgotten seedling in a six inch pot and is now a tree of over ten feet tall!
I assiduously sorted through my box of old seed packets last week and have sown lots of test trays and pots to see what might still be viable. I prefer to bring plants from seed – unless they really are difficult or more rare – I’m not very good at stratifying stuff in my fridge! If possible, I would prefer to ‘use up’ what I have left over from other years before I am tempted to seek new seed. I find that there is an odd freedom in not having so much choice.
As my own personal symbol of Life and Hope, I shall keep you posted as to how my reclaimed garden develops. Next on the agenda… getting to grips with digging out the roots!!!