I don’t have many memories of time spent just me and my mother when I was child, but most Sunday mornings we would make a cup of tea, and usually in our dressing gowns we would walk around the garden. We would amble at the very slowest of snails-paces and she would point out to me every single plant, she would tell me its Latin name, and make some comment about how it was doing, where it was in its life cycle, how the seasons were progressing. Now I had absolutely no interest in gardening, couldn’t ever remember a single one of those names which sounded more like magic spells than flowers, didn’t even much like tea at that age, but these were some of my most cherished childhood moments.
Whatever the weather or time of year we would be out there, sometimes with wellies and coats over our dressing gowns, gripping the hot mug tightly to warm my freezing hands, or basking in the summer sun. They seemed to last hours these parambulations, but that is probably the warped clock of childhood, with large chunks of silence whilst my mother found the next plant that interested her. It was just her and me, and it felt magical. As I grew into a miserable teenager I still always agreed to the Sunday morning ritual, though I grew less and less interested in anything she was telling me.
It was many years later when I had my first experience of gardening myself. My daughter was around six weeks old and for some strange reason my father gave me a ‘grow your own potatoes’ kit. It seemed like the last thing I wanted to be doing at that precise point in my life, but I got a strange enjoyment from growing these potatoes, and although we didn’t get many, the resulting meal we cooked from them was one of the finest I’d tasted!
The next Spring we pushed ourselves further, and despite living in a rented house where we weren’t allowed to plant anything, we filled the patio with grow bags, and grew a whole host of herbs and veggies. It was wonderful seeing my daughter pottering around and getting soil between her fingers, and it felt like such an achievement to have created actual food!
Since then we have bought our own house with our own garden, and somehow those years of garden walks have percolated my soul. Being out working in the garden makes me feel whole and connected and productive. It brings something to my life that I don’t get in any other way.
Our house was a new build, and when we moved in it was essentially a bare, turfed expanse. We were blessed to have one edge bordered by an old Cornish wall and established trees and I loved the wild plants covering it. The rest however was very much a blank canvas. We were quick to get some raised beds in and seeds planted to emerge the next Spring. We planted hundreds of bulbs and got three fruit trees new homes with us. This process felt essential as part of us rooting ourselves into this family home, a statement of our intent to live and raise our family in this space, this ground that we had bought.
Over the subsequent years we have had highs and lows in our garden. It has made me acutely aware of the passing of the seasons, from the midwinter mud bath where our whole garden seems to be a swamp covered in sludgey fallen leaves and broken twigs from our trees, to the glories of summer, with our land overwhelmed with life, growth and fecundity, as we can sit in the sunshine and hear food growing around us.
This particular moment in the year is one that is most precious to my heart. This time two years ago I was eagerly awaiting the birth of my second child. I had planned a home birth with the birth pool installed in the kitchen. The kitchen has French Windows leading out to the garden, and with the bare trees of winter we look out onto all our neighbours. Once the leaf buds start to burst these neighbours start to become fuzzy and then get excluded entirely, until it feels as if we are living in the middle of our very own countryside idyll, miles from everyone. In the weeks leading to the birth I watched these leaf buds intently, as the pale silver green leaves unfurled, each one making me feel more safe and secluded. By the time my boy arrived it felt as if I was in my very own green womb world, where anything was possible and all life was just beginning. It was a beautiful feeling and I can’t help but get a little overwhelmed by that memory every time I notice those new leaves emerging, and I wonder if I will carry that feeling with me every spring now.
Our blank canvas is now far from blank, and the wild of the old Cornish wall tries to encroach on us with brambles and weeds, and we are learning to find a harmonious balance with them. We have gained some chickens and they definitely add to the inherent chaos of nature. Our garden will never be neat and ordered, landscaped and formal. It is ramshackle and wild, fertile and productive.
My son’s umbilical cord is now feeding a cherry tree, rooting him forever to this spot in the world where he began. My daughter chose a hazelnut tree to grow alongside it in her honour. I look forward to watching them grow and fruit as my children do too, and I’m already practicing my parambulations, tea in hand, telling them all the Latin names.