On Growing a Garden
May in Cornwall is among my favourite months. It is the summer before the schools break up and holiday traffic arrives. When we can quietly eat our dinner on the clifftops and find beaches still quiet enough to skinny dip on. It is the month when everything blooms. When the hedgerows along our lane tower over my head, bursting with cow parsley and foxgloves; wild garlic and primroses. It is a month of floating blossom and glowing golden hours; of fox cubs, wild rabbits and solitary roe deer. This year, in particular, has been spectacular. Only the other day, Matt and I watched a deer from our bedroom window as it wandered around just a few feet away. May is Primavera’s sigh. It is birdsong and bumble bees and lying back in the long grass.
At the start of May, we celebrated Matt’s birthday with a trip to The Lost Gardens of Heligan. We’d been planning on (finally) visiting St Michael’s Mount. However the tides weren’t ideal for walking on the causeway, so we switched to Heligan. Quickly realising, upon seeing the bluebells, that May is perhaps one of the best times to visit! I’d been once before with my parents (perhaps around 10 years ago?) when we came down on holiday. Certainly, I was of an age where garden-appreciation came less naturally. Nowadays I find myself tuning into The Chelsea Flower Show each evening, full of fascination – the designer in my head already drawing up ideas for the garden I’d (theoretically) put together! FYI there’d be water features and hammocks and herbs-galore. Also for any who’ve also been following Chelsea, my fav gardens this year were the Walkers Wharf Garden, the Seedlip Garden and Chris Evans Taste Garden. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments – I need more people in my life to talk to about this!
Anyway back to Heligan! Full of greenhouses and glasshouses; traditional beehives, chickens and terracotta pots. Heligan holds so much that beguiles and enlivens me. I came away feeling that this was maybe more of a treat for me than Matt! *Insert hands-over-mouth shameful monkey emoji* But I think gardens and green spaces, have long been places that I’ve been drawn to. From a sense of connection and calm, but also intrigue and a desire to better understand.
My Mother is a gardener in the same way she is a mother. It’s not her full-time job. But at the same time it kind of is. That is to say, it’s not her profession. But still, year round, she tends and waters and nurtures and grows. Whatever the weather, fingers in the dirt, she’s doing what needs to be done. And in turn, we grew up in the garden. We grew up to the smell of cut grass and plastic Early Learning Centre furniture; popping peas from their shells and turning potatoes out the earth. Heaving a heavy green watering can around and leaving a dark damp trail on the ground behind.
In summer there was mayo-y potato salad with chives I’d snip just seconds before. And on Christmas Day we’d eat Brussel sprouts, grown just a few metres away. In between there were marrows. So many marrows. Too may marrows. Marrows for meals. There was courgette and ginger soup, rhubarb crumble, leek and leftover turkey pie. There were countless evenings spent with empty ice cream tubs, picking blackberries from the bush down the back. There was the generally unsuccessful strawberry patch and the tiny wild strawberries that tasted extraordinarily better. There were tall trendrilly beans and peas and more recently purple sprouting broccoli. There were sunflowers too before the greenhouse was put up. And occasionally beetroots or pumpkins or plum tomatoes.
On one occasion my Mum even got me out of school to attend (what I think was) Gardener’s World at the NEC. And now I, at 24 – the successful grower of two succulents and the beginnings of a vegetable patch – aspire to a green thumb myself. Because all of life is to be found in the garden. These curious places that order and maintain nature, hold enough lifetimes to provide understanding for all things. Like exhibitions on living. On what it required to grow and live well. There is allegory to be found among the alliums.
Like how through pruning and cutting back, we better understand what it is to fast. To feel discomfort or allow sacrifice in order to move forwards. To push a seed below the surface, into the darkness of the earth and understand it must die for life to come forth. It is in gardening that we best see the seasons; both scarcity and abundance. Bare branches and fruit bushels. It is here we see the need for strong roots and faces that look for the sun. It is in gardening we see how much help is required for some plants if they are to simply grow as well as others; that not all life is created quite the dame and nurture shouldn’t be withheld if needed. It is in the soil that we see fragility; raw and organic and sacred and wild. It’s in looking around the garden we understand its beauty is found in its diversity. In the many shapes and sizes and colours and patterns. And in so much, our patch of turf makes better sense knowing this. Feels a little more homely at least.
It’s in these parallels we find ourselves. Simultaneous and alternate all at once. Not quite knowing where to extricate our humanity. For nature knows no difference in our biology. And so it makes a great deal of metaphorical sense to me that in the Bible it is said man’s birth, came when God breathed life into the dust, the earth.
“The garden is one of the two great metaphors for humanity.
The garden is about life and beauty and the impermanence of all living things.
The garden is about feeding your children, providing food for the tribe.
It’s part of an urgent territorial drive that we can probably trace back to animals storing food.
It’s a competitive display mechanism, like having a prize bull, this greed for the best tomatoes and English tea roses.
It’s about winning; about providing society with superior things; and about proving that you have taste, and good values, and you work hard.
And what a wonderful relief, every so often, to know who the enemy is.
Because in the garden, the enemy is everything: the aphids, the weather, time.
And so you pour yourself into it, care so much, and see up close so much birth, and growth, and beauty, and danger, and triumph.
And then everything dies anyway, right?
But you just keep doing it.” – Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird