Between the cracks

I wandered out into the early morning garden, clad in sandals and dressing gown, in search of The Ball. The dog had hidden the darned thing again and stood at the door grinning, while I did what I was expected to do and looked for it. The Ball… the only one of the two dozen she owns that is no longer a ball but merely a few disintegrating shreds of furry rubber… can turn up anywhere… in any room…even in a cupboard. But, in spite of the innocent looks, she almost always knows exactly where it is and, if asked, will give you clues.

I had tried all the usual places, like behind the stereo or under the cushions, and eventually found it, with a little help from the grinning fiend, tucked behind the compost bin. Thankfully, mine is not a large garden to search… more of a pocket-handkerchief affair, with one small flower-bed and a lot of digging to be done.

Between the ground baking iron-hard and having spent the past year on my son’s garden, mine needs some serious work and more materials. So, I try to keep it tidy, designing wonderful planting schemes in my head that I know will never happen. On the other hand, the little patch of green offers me wonderful surprises every year as I let Nature play. Unlike the dog with The Ball, I am happy to accept what comes.

The hawthorn hedgerow that separates my garden from the fields is heavy with May blossom, its perfume filling the morning air and its branches alive with birds greeting the day. With robins, wrens, blackbirds and the occasional thrush, it is seldom silent. There is even a nightingale that sings there some evenings.

My strawberries died in the heat last year while I was away. I thought I had lost them completely, with just the brittle remains looking rather forlorn and reproachful in their pot and yet, I have a fine crop of self-propagated plants now growing around where the pot once stood.

With a bare garden to fill, I rescued some of the ‘weeds’ from my son’s old driveway before it was ripped up. I now have a whole bank of mullein, whose pale primrose flowers will grow several feet high. The narrow spikes of purple loosestrife, real bee magnets, are growing in scattered clumps in the flower bed and in the gap between window and flagstones.

And, while I have no idea where the reeds, cornflowers or tormetil came from, the few tiny forget-me-nots I rescued now occupy any space they can find, from the drifts around my roses and across the gravel, to the spaces between the flagstones. I have always grown herbs, even when I have had no more than a windowsill to play with… now, while I have planted only sage, Nature has planted me a herb garden.

I even have the first of my tiny rescued roses in bloom, although an earwig seems to have claimed it as its residence of choice, bringing back memories of the deep, velvet-red roses that once framed my great grandparents’ gate. They had a perfume unlike any other and as I child I would sit on the garden wall and breathe in their fragrance… until the day I found myself nose to nose with an earwig.

So, although, in comparison to others I have planted and tended, I could hardly call this a garden… Nature seems to think otherwise and has made one of her own. And I like that. So will the bees and butterflies that love our native wildflowers.

I cannot help seeing how well my little patch of flowered earth illustrates one of the first lessons we learned during our adventures within the ancient, sacred landscape of Albion… ‘open up and get out of the way’. I could have wrestled with the ground, squeezing a few more traditional garden plants from the budget, hefted a couple of tons of hardcore and gravel and turned the space into a ‘proper’ garden… but would the wildflowers then have a place to grow? Would I allow ‘weeds’ to thrive between the paving slabs or smile at the paths the dog is wearing through the grass? Probably not.

We learned also that ‘leaving space for spirit’… letting the moment and the land work their magic in untrammelled freedom…  allows strange and wonderful things to happen. In consciously relinquishing the need to control, beauty creeps in through the cracks of normality…or, in this case, into every gap it can find.

Nature is a wonderful teacher and, at this time, when so much of our freedom has been curtailed, my little garden reminds me that life and beauty will always find a way.

Chasing carrots

Because I couldn’t find a donkey…

It has been hot in England recently… hotter than usual, even for summer. There has been no rain in my part of the country for weeks now and the ground is parched and cracked. Harvests are being brought in early, fields are already shorn and neatly dotted with straw-bales, and the human population has been slowly wilting in the scorching, heavy air. So, it was with some eagerness that we awaited the promised rain and thunderstorms.

They didn’t arrive… The forecasters shifted their predictions to the next day, then the next… and all we had seen was a spot or two of moisture accompanied by a distant, lazy rumble of thunder. When the rain finally arrived last night, it was no more than the briefest of light showers. The dog and I, nevertheless, headed outside to enjoy the fall of water, watching its instant evaporation on the superheated concrete of the paving, but glad of the momentary respite.

Although the weather is a national preoccupation in England, we generally don’t suffer too badly from its vagaries. Ours is temperate climate. Summers are generally warm, winters cold but not glacial… but whatever the weather is doing, we will soon be complaining about it. On the odd occasion, we do get a severe winter… by English standards… or an unusually hot summer. We are prepared for neither, and both can bring the country to its knees at temperatures other nations would consider mild. We don’t cope well with what we consider extremes of anything… be that weather or behaviour…

There is a ‘normal’ for everyone… parameters within which we are comfortable, because they are familiar. They do not have to be good, or what we would choose… they are just our accustomed and accepted standards of normality. Step beyond their boundaries and, depending upon your temperament, you are in a zone of unease, or one of excitement. Such boundaries shift and change with time and circumstance… and the adaptability that is one of humanity’s greatest assets can also be its greatest handicap, as we learn to accept a new ‘normal’ very quickly and alter the parameters to suit the moment.

I was talking to my son about this as we headed out to the local farm shop on Saturday. Because of the changes in his life and capabilities caused by the brain injury, he has been redefining his ‘normal’ on a regular basis. He tends to forget where he has come from, and what he has endured and achieved to get here, and the latest version of ‘normality’ takes a great deal of the journey for granted.

We took the country lanes back to my home after we had done the shopping, stopping by a field gate so he could get out, lean on the gate, and watch the fast-forming clouds race in. It is a simple thing, but I remembered the first time he was able to do that a few years ago… and the wonder we both felt at that achievement.

This time I watched as he lost himself in the moment, seeing emotions on his face shift from bright to dark and back again, like the cloud-shadows on the land. The wind was getting stronger as dark clouds raced in. The little bit of rain had enhanced all the colours, turning the dry grasses to gold and illuminating the green of the hedgerows, where blackberries glistened amongst the wildflowers. The changing weather and the experience of beauty lifted him out of his normality and allowed him to see what he might otherwise not have noticed.

“You forget,” he mused. “You strive for a goal, but as soon as you attain it, there is always another ahead…. And the goal you just reached becomes worthless, no more than a stepping stone…when you should be content.”
“Carrots.”
“Eh?”
“Carrots on sticks. Donkeys. The donkey keeps walking to where it thinks the carrot was… and when it gets there, the carrot has moved, so it keeps on walking… but the carrot is always out of reach.”
“Expectations. Yep… We do that to ourselves all the time. It didn’t rain… I could be disappointed because I expected rain… but what the day has given me instead,” said the son who had just used his walking frame to cross the rough terrain of a farmyard…and in public… for the first time, “is even better.”

As we drove home, the clouds closed in above us, darkening the sky, deepening all the colours of the land. The wind gathered momentum, whipping sun-dried leaves from the trees into great golden plumes that danced across the road like aureate autumnal spirits. The earth smelled sweet and fresh as the rain poured down on the wide vale below us. Sometimes, you just have to leave expectations behind and leave space for life to happen.