Sunday, 16 January 2011

musings on gardening

I took the advantage of a break in the generally rainy weather to get out in the garden and do some much-needed tidying up. My virginia creeper (parthenocissus tricuspidata - 3 points on the leaf) although pretty in autumn when the colours turn, was rapidly creeping over my shed and coming in the door and windows. Time for a drastic prune so I got out there with the secateurs and trimmed it back to a sensible starting point for the new season. It will undoubtedly make up the difference within the year so in order to keep it to the desired spread I must do this every year.

While there I also cut my herbs back - the ornamental sage and camomile which has suffered the snows and subsequent floods with equinimity are now looking decidedly folorn so I set to and trimmed them to a mere shadow of their former selves. Cutting back hard at this time of year (except for lavenders and rosemary - don't do it they hate it) is generally a good thing as it gives the plant the suggestion that spring is on its way and new buds form further down the stem (in fact they had already begun to do so which shows me that the timing is spot on). My camomile were carefully planted in the gravel garden that separates the stone terrace from the wooden deck. Over the summer they were a riot of unruly colour but they also needed taking back now. The bergamot that had self-seeded just needed pulling and the old leaves came away leaving the new to take over. As I was doing this minimal intervention I began to think of Derek Jarman and his beautiful beach garden on the shores of Dungeness (one of my favourite books is his record of that garden) and how, though on a much reduced scale, I hope it has something of its beauty in the unexpected and unplanned nature of this sort of garden. I know some people look at it and think 'it's a mess why has she got weeds growing through he gravel'. These are usually 'tidy' people, the sort of gardeners who like nice gaps between plants and nothing that grows over anything else. They are not my sort of person, and it is definitely not my sort of garden.

Last summer I went with a friend to visit two local gardens open to the public as part of the NGS Yellow book scheme. They couldn't have been more different. The first was an exercise in control. Everything was perfect. Even the shed looked like a TV stylist had been at it. We gasped in incredulity and amazement. There must have been hours/days spent arranging this so it looked as good as it did. But still I was not moved by it. I suspect this was a man's garden, and I'm sorry if I'm going to sound sexist but I can usually tell. It's the orderliness which gives it away. A sort of extension of the 'man and his lawn' syndrome.

The second garden was completely different, everything fended for itself but was artfully placed with loving care. I immediately relaxed as this was a garden I could relate to. Where the other had made us all feel guilty and ashamed of our slovenliness here was a garden that suggested ease and contentment. When I met the owner I was not surprised gardening had been in her family for a few generations (like mine) and she 'blitzed it' twice a year then maintained the lawn and edges during the summer. That was it. It made me smile as it so encapsulates two different approaches to living. Some of us make hard work for ourselves - we struggle to 'fit it all in', always feeling guilty that we're not doing more but making ourselves stressed in the process. For others (not me, though I am trying) life seems easy, they take it in their stride and c'est la vie, que sera, sera to mix my metaphors. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the book of the armchair gardener, do what is needed when it is most useful and then just let things take their course. I try to remember this when the back door jams, I drop something and it chips the sideboard and damages the floor, and I can't file my tax return because the IR website is frozen (as all happened yesterday). I wanted to scream and then I realised that you can't solve everything. Take one thing at a time and remember to breathe.

So, this is a big week for me, with another scan and consultant appointments. I hope the news is good. I hope I get a date for my procedure as I am in quite a lot of discomfort now which makes doing things a slog. Most of all I want to feel me again, this 'thing' seems to have taken me over.

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