Field of dreams..?

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Long, long ago, when the world was still young and I was younger still, I moved into a house with a garden. It wasn’t much of a garden, long-deserted, overgrown and gone to seed, but my mind painted it in rainbows. Since getting married, we had lived in a flat and a ‘street house’ that opened straight onto the pavement. My only forays into gardening had been herbs on the kitchen windowsill. It was the first time I’d had a garden of my very own, though there had usually been one at my parent’s home and my grandparents’ long-established gardens were places of magic and mystery.

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It is odd to think that although I remember every home I have lived in very well, as well as those of my grandparents,  I remember the gardens better. I have but the vaguest of memories of my father’s family home. We probably did not visit all that often as my father was stationed in Kent where we lived in married quarters and I cannot have seen Longfield after I was about three years old. I recall the tiles on the floor of the porch, the billiard table in the cellars, and being helped to slide down the great oak bannister that framed the huge staircase in the hall. Outside, though, my mind still paints the shadows cast by the rhododendrons, the slopes that ran down the hillside into the woodland and the wide expanse of the croquet lawn below the terrace.

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I can still see the garden of the married quarters where we lived in Maidstone until I was three and  where I searched for an absconding tortoise. I could sketch, plant by plant, the gardens of my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents. It was here that I first began to learn the names of plants as a child and had my first lessons in herb-lore. I learned which were poisonous, which could be eaten or used in the kitchen or for medicinal purposes, and best of all, some of the folk traditions that went with the plants.

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When I finally had a garden of my own, I remember standing outside the back door one winter morning and looking at the mess we had acquired. I had no gardening tools other than a trowel, no plants and no money. All I had was a dream of life and colour.

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I took the kitchen shears to the vast meadow that had once been a lawn and to the overgrown privet hedge twice as tall as me. It took me days to cut the stuff back. Then I started on what had once been flower-beds, removing the obvious weeds, softening the hard, squared corners and trying to identify what might be in there that was worth saving. Dead wood was removed from old roses, unidentified shrubs pruned and woody stems that still bore traces of life cleared of bindweed. By the time I had it tidy, the snow was falling… and I was in love.

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My love affair with plants blossomed through the dark winter days as I read every gardening book I could get my hands on, delved deeper into herb-lore and planned impossibly expensive planting schemes in my mind. In reality, our meagre budget would not run to plants, so I set about nurturing cuttings, raising seedlings and collecting spare plants from everyone I knew. Even so, the huge empty beds were going to look bare for a long time to come.

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As winter deepened and turned the corner into spring, I began to learn the most valuable lesson of gardening…patience.

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With the winter rain and snow, Nature watered the mutilated garden well. The threadbare hedge I had hacked put out new leaves, filling the bare patches and becoming a dense, dark backdrop against which my few flowers would glow. As the seasons turned, the lawn became a vivid green starred with daisies and crocus. Self seeded lupins, dug up from the old railway line, were steadily filling out and patches of pretty ‘weeds’ I had encouraged to grow, like yarrow and loosestrife, were showing promise. I planted what I had acquired and waited.

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Spring brought clumps of snowdrops and aconite, followed by daffodils and tulips. They had been hidden, invisible beneath the soil and were a beautiful surprise. I recognised the poisonous but beautiful leaves of monkshood. The scarlet leaves that had prompted me to leave an untidy clump of plants alone in winter revealed themselves as geraniums. ‘Dead’ roses and an ancient hydrangea recovered and bloomed and a drift of lily of the valley filled the air with fragrance and memory. By midsummer, the dismal mud-patch had become a riot of life and colour, buzzing with bees and a paradise for butterflies. It had done most of it itself, in spite of the efforts of the novice gardener. All I had done was the groundwork.

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I learned a lot from that garden and the lessons have stayed with me, rooting themselves and flowering, bearing fruit that I have plucked and tasted in many areas of my life. The perfect visions I had created in my mind were surpassed by the hand of Nature when she was allowed free rein. But, no matter what had been hidden in that garden, it would not have thrived, nor would I have been able to see it, had I not cut back all the dead and dying material, letting in the light.

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I had worried about the empty beds; I did not realise that the seeds of beauty had been sown long ago and were silently waiting to bloom. So often we think we must strive to achieve something, only to find it is already there, dormant within us, waiting only for our care and attention to grow.

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In the movie, Field of Dreams, there is a phrase oft-misquoted as ‘build it, and they will come.’ I have read the sentiment before, if not the exact words, in Dion Fortune’s book, Moon Magic, when ‘Lilith’ speaks of building the temple in order for it to be indwelt by the gods. No sacred space, be it temple, church or our own being, is truly alive until it is a home for something more than its physical form, no matter how beautiful. No gardener creates the beauty of a flower. We can only clear and create a space, enabling the conditions in which it can grow and bloom.

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Where I now live, I have a small space I laughingly call a garden. I have planned the garden I would like to make, right down to the last detail… knowing it will probably never be anything other than a dream. For now, there are only a handful of rescued plants, no flower beds to speak of and a threadbare patch of grass that cannot be called a lawn. I doggedly exercise a gardener’s patience, waiting to see ‘what happens next’, trusting that when the time is right, the seed of purpose will grow and reveal itself.

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Even so, there is beauty. I need not lift a finger to see the seasons turn, the light change hour by hour or the stars illuminate the night. I need not dig and toil to create what is surpassed by every blossoming dawn. I need only watch to see the birds and insects at work, the dew scatter diamonds on the grass or the small dog fill the space with joy. Dreams are wonderful things, but you have to choose to make them happen, and you have to work to bring them into being. And sometimes, we work so hard chasing dreams that we forget to see the beauty of what is already there.

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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.

From weeds to wildflowers…

When my son’s old driveway was constructed, no-one thought to lay a weed membrane beneath it. Consequently, when a nice crop of weeds grew between the blocks I, as the designated gardener, had to tackle the things. I won’t use weedkiller,  so that meant pulling them up one by one…and as I don’t like killing plants just because they happen to be growing in the ‘wrong’ place, I felt I should do what I could to salvage them.

I had started learning about herbs and wildflowers in my teens, fascinated by the natural properties of plants, so I recognised them all. Luckily, they were the type of weeds that are being sold as fashionable wildflowers these days.

I don’t have a proper garden here… just a small green space that has been looking at me accusingly, waiting to be transformed. I planted the salvaged seedlings and waited to see what would happen. Not all of the plants survived the move, but by the next summer, I had majestic spires of primrose verbascum, starry white feverfew, the tiny snapdragon-like flowers of toadflax and a small clump of purple loosestrife dotted amongst my few roses. The plants grew, the flower bed was full and the tiny garden was buzzing with bees and attracting butterflies.

This summer has been such a busy one transforming my son’s garden that I did little more than cut the grass in mine. So, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I noticed quite how well the rescued seedlings were doing. They did not merely survive, they flourished and spread. They have planted their own seeds outside my windows where I can watch the bees frantically harvesting the last of the summer bounty from the loosestrife. There is a giant rosette of mullein by the door that will reach over five feet high next year and forget-me-nots tucked in every corner, just waiting for spring. I even have a baby cherry tree that the birds must have planted.

It may sound rather daft, but I was touched when I realised how well the garden was growing. I know the plants are just doing what plants do, but the way they have filled the available space seems almost as if they knew they could have been consigned to the compost bin had I not felt the need to do my best for them.

Without even trying, I seem to be acquiring a garden and it is spurring me on to do my part and start digging flower beds as soon as work, back and weather permits. It may take me a while to make a garden as I will need materials, but gardening is all about patience. And as for plants, I can fill the space with seeds and ‘weeds’ fast enough once the beds are prepared. I have never had a taste for orderly beds and controlled planting. I like cottage gardens that, once planted, are allowed to do their own thing.

I couldn’t help thinking, about the parallels with all the youngsters I have known and who have passed through my kitchen over the years, many of whom would have been considered the ‘weeds’ of society. There were a good many troubled teens within my sons’ circle of friends. All I ever did was feed them, trust them and give them a place where they could be themselves. Almost without exception, like wildflowers they grew and flourished, becoming young men of whom any mother would be proud.

An early lesson in parenting stayed with me, where a study had, over a period of weeks, spread all kinds of food before toddlers, notorious for preferring the ‘wrong’ foods, and let them eat as they pleased. The results were that, given a wide enough choice, the toddlers” diet was a balanced one. Without knowledge of dietary needs, instinct had fed them correctly and with a more varied diet than that provided by their parents. When I had read that study, it had made me think seriously about how I was raising my son…and not just in terms of food.

We have all sorts of unconscious ambitions and expectations for our children. There is a fine line between giving a child the tools they need in order to live at ease in society and shaping them to conform to our image of what they ‘should’ be. It is difficult for a parent who wants the best for their child to simply stand back and let them grow into who they are supposed to be.

It isn’t just children either… all sorts of relationships are subject to those unconscious expectations, from the most casual acquaintance to the closest affection. Even our relationship with ourselves. I have to wonder what gifts they would give if, like my ‘weeds’, we recognised them as wildflowers and let them grow in their own way.

Lord of the Deep. Trees and Plants. ~ Willow Willers

Reblogged from Willow, who continues to share her experiences at the Lord of the Deep weekend:

After the second Drama on the Saturday morning of the Silent Eye Workshop we had a break, then a presentation from Lorraine Munn on The Natural World and Man. Lorraine is a Druid and she is a mentor with O B O D and an ordained minister with the One Spirit Interfaith Foundation.
Lorraine spoke to us about how there is so much in Nature that is spiritual and it’s relationship to man.

Lorraine is a warm and knowledgeable woman who made us all stop and think. She suggested that we can learn a lot from plants and trees. Lorraine is very wise about trees she can commune with them.

 

Continue reading at willowdot21