LLFOG #18: The Pleasures of Anticipation

Choisya TernataYesterday, I woke up, looking forward, with possibly more ardour than anything else in my day to come, to digging a hole.

The hole would be required as part of the process of transplanting a large choisya ternata from the back garden where I felt it had been overloading the summer palate with too much yellow to the front, where it would be set against an infinite regress of concrete driveways, and where, I hoped, it would have a better chance of coming into its own. Continue reading

LLFOG #17: The Forbidden Guilt of Unfinished Projects & Unforbidden Pleasures

B_c7nmZUsAMmQBzIf the winter had been colder, I would feel less guilty, but it has not been cold.

In fact, it’s been so freakishly temperate, that many a day, I could have stepped out into the garden quite comfortably with nothing more than a t-shirt, a fleece, some trackie bottoms, crocs (navy blue, so almost permissible, I hope?), and a thick pair of socks on my feet. Continue reading

LLFOG #16: The Clenched Fist of “NO!” – Deprivation, Abundance, Gratitude

The fist of noThere are times, sometimes a whole day or week, or maybe just moments in the day, when life feels like it is waving in our faces a large, hairy clenched fist of NO! or WAIT!: unable, or perhaps unwilling to meet our needs and wants. Our need for affection, reciprocity, self-expression, freedom to play and be creative. Our wanting to have an email answered asap, or for it to stop raining, or for a family member to show interest in us.

Whatever form this deprivation takes, however small or large, it doesn’t feel good. It’s also not uncommon for the clenched fist of NO! to move from the source of deprivation (the resistant, unyielding environment) to our inner-world, feeling like heartburn or haemorrhoids punitive in nature, as if we really are being fisted by someone or something. We might develop a masochistic taste for this experience, but on the whole we are averse to pain, seekers of pleasure, to hands that are open, welcoming, willing and wanting to clasp ours in theirs, leading the way, guiding us, accompanying us on our journey.

This winter of the soul takes on an anthropomorphic resonance as we head towards the dormant season as gardeners. Even though the icy frosts have yet to come, so much in the garden is already dragging, drooping, dying. The tomato bushes still have dots of colour to them, but it is a rancid, inedible red. The late-blooming Michaelmas Daisies of mid-October are now shrivelled, wasted, mortified.

Where does one look for abundance and plenitude when all we can see or feel is insufficiency and want? Continue reading

LLFOG #15: The Garden as a Place of Refuge

6a9db9f3_original6a9db9f3_original6a9db9f3_original 6a9db9f3_original (1) Garden refugeFor it is, primarily that (a place of refuge), and not just for me.

In the last week, a slightly emaciated OAP by the name of Bertie has spent every waking moment in my garden; every sleeping one too.

OAP, btw, stands for Old Age Pigeon. When I say pigeon, please don’t conflate Bertie with those scavenging, winged-rodent ne’er-do-wells you trip over in Trafalgar Square, fighting over a hamburger bun, fouling foul statues.

Rather, Bertie, like me, is a child of the ‘burbs, who along with his wife Bertha, has ever since I’ve known him done his daily rounds of all the gardens in the HA3 postcode. Each spring B&B build a nest in the 40 foot fir tree in my garden, from where they produce their bairns. Continue reading

LLFOG #14: Procrastination

procrastinationThe shadow-side of patience is procrastination. A form of forestalment, with all the discomfort of inertia, torpidity, but none of the dopamine-fuelled incentivizers. As Hesiod, one of the earliest writers on the subject gravely remarks: “a man who puts off work is always at hand-grips with ruin”. Yes, sometimes, it really does feel like that.

So this morning, I sketch out my own HGWR (Hand Grips With Ruin) account in the form of two lists. More undone than to-do lists. One of these contains all the activities I’ve been putting off doing in the garden, for weeks on end, or even months, including building two or three compost bins out of discarded wooden pallets, hoiking the half ton of gravel sitting out in the front on the pavement ’round to the back, bulb-planting, and general weeding and mulching to get the garden ready for its winter snooze. Continue reading

LLFOG #13: Patience

marshmallowAll things come to he who waits, is not entirely true. Even the Victorian poet Violet Fane who coined the phrase feels the need to qualify it in the next line of her poem:

‘Ah, all things come to those who wait,’
(I say these words to make me glad),
But something answers soft and sad,
‘They come, but often come too late.’

Perhaps the alternative motto, Good things come to those who wait, used to advertise slow-pouring foodstuffs like Guinness and ketchup, is a better one for the gardener. Continue reading

LLFOG #12: Late-Bloomers

IMG_2093 Why did I ever doubt I’d get flowers from Jenny?

Aster Novi Belgi Jenny, who after three seasons of growth, is only just now, as you can see, on the verge of bursting forth with an abundance of semi-double, purple-pink flowers.

Being a “Michaelmas Daisy” (a “Fall Aster” in North American circles), perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised that just when sun-coaxing days are waning, Jenny come out to play.

What causes one plant to flower in July and another in October? Continue reading

LLFOG #11: The Constant (Caring) Gardener

IMG_2107If you don’t water your plants carefully and consistently, especially those not embedded in earth, but exiled in pots and planters, they’ll soon let you know, becoming pallid, etiolated husks of their former selves. Take this poor wilty tomatillo plant on the left that greeted me a few mornings back: not a happy camper.

This is the garden’s way of saying to us: “In order to flourish, constant care is what I need. So please, assigned caregiver, try as best you can to develop this habit. For me, but also for you too, for all of us.”

Only the garden gives us such expeditious feedback. If we ignore other valued life projects or goals, they generally don’t let us know they’re on the verge of expiring in the way that plants do. Continue reading

LLFOG #10: Garden companions: Monty Dog vs. Maxi-Max. What’s in a name?

If you’re a Gardener’s World fan, you probably tune in as much to see what a Golden Retriever called Nigel is up to at Longmeadow (mostly activities involving tennis balls) as what his owner Monty Don might be planting that week.

Apart from the creatures already living in the garden, a dog is the perfect garden companion. Alert, and interested in everything; alive to the smells, touch, tastes and sounds of the garden, but never critical of our planting schemes, or yakking on about mortgages or school fees when we just want to get on with the weeding. Continue reading

LLFOG #9: Green unseen

Annihilating all that's made to a green thought in a green shade?

Annihilating all that’s made to a green thought in a green shade?

The other white in the garden, if white often registers for us as achromatic, or a no-thing, is green. Green is the the frame which supports and surrounds the star attraction. Seed packets pay scant pictorial attention to a flowering plant’s foliage, even though it’s the foliage we see as we wait for the culminating bloom. It is also foliage that remains after the flowers have died away. For when we buy a packet of seeds, we’re generally getting much more foliage than flower, and yet this is never acknowledged or accounted for.

Equally our lives are made up of foliage: eating, drinking, sleeping, grooming, defecating, going to the supermarket, listening to the radio, drinking cups of tea. Continue reading