Sowing warmth

There was a road closure on the way to work, so, to avoid the build-up of traffic, I took to the back streets, wending my way through a residential area and passing the house in which we had first lived when we moved south. To let oncoming cars pass, I pulled to one side, almost outside our old home, and was able to see what had become of my garden.

It had been a blank canvas when we had moved in, with nothing but grass and a bedraggled jasmine, struggling to survive in the concrete near the door. With little money, but lots of ideas, we had set about making a family garden. At the back of the house, surrounded by high walls and fences, we made a little wonderland for the boys.

A small pond, just big enough to attract a bit of wildlife, was lined with sheeting supplied by an undertaker friend. He also brought us a couple of sheets of wood, with an innocent suggestion that we ask no questions. These we turned into a wishing well filled with flowers, making shingles for its roof from a scrap of old roofing felt we found in the shed. Disposable plastic tubs were painted to make wall planters. Tin snips made a flock of painted butterflies up the side of the house and we added a waterwheel to the pond. Strange beings looked out from flowerbeds filled with the seeds, cuttings and wild herbs I collected. It didn’t take long before it was ablaze with life.

The front garden, though not the kind of place where you would spend much time, could be seen through the sitting room window and sloped upwards, giving a good view of the bare grass. I dug borders, planted as many cuttings as I could acquire. While they rooted and grew, I threw in seeds to add colour, and within a few months, the garden looked respectable.

While planting the back garden had been a case of filling space with whatever I could acquire, the front was planned with due regard for eventual height, spread, colour and flowering season, mixing in as many evergreens as I could with summer flowering shrubs and plants, so that it would be attractive all year round.

I have often wondered what became of our little wonderland. I can’t imagine anyone else would have enjoyed it the same as we did, when we had all been involved in its creation. The front garden, though, I have seen a few times over the years. At one point, it was an overgrown jungle. Then someone moved in who took care of it and it began to bloom again.

Today I had just enough time to see that what was left of my winter planting had worked and was still offering scented blooms, colour and texture, even on a cold January day. Many of the plants I had acquired were unlabelled mysteries. Unless I could recognise shoot, bark or leaf, I just planted things and tended them. The handfuls of seed fell where they would and grew how they chose. But the known shrubs had done as I had hoped… even though it is more than twenty years since I planted those first little cuttings.

I couldn’t help thinking, as I drove away after that brief glimpse, how good an analogy a garden can be for aspects of our own lives. I am far from the first to come to that conclusion: the parable of the Sower is well known. We never know if, or how, what we ‘plant’ will grow.

What really struck me, though, was that most of the time, we don’t even realise we are planting ‘seeds’. With every anecdote, every bit of life experience shared, every insight or opinion we offer, every bit of hard-won wisdom we can pass on… even in the lightest of conversations. What seems rather mundane to us, might be exactly what someone needs to hear, even though they may not need or recall it for years to come. When the need does arise, that ‘seed’, unwittingly planted, may just flower and bear fruit.

We may not be around to see it and may never know how our words, deeds and actions affect another’s life. It can be the smallest of things… something we ourselves have not even noticed, from a kind word or a shared smile, that changes a day for someone we don’t even know and may never see again. But it matters. Every time.

Seeds of reality

Every year, the garden catalogue drops through my letterbox and I start to daydream. I mentally design flowerbeds when my body is too busy to be doing any of the other things my mind ought to be doing, adding in all the plants I would love to grow for their beauty, all the fruit and vegetables I would tuck in between them, all the herbs I like to use for home remedies. It is a relaxing pastime that costs neither time nor energy, because I know from experience that the reality will never match the dream.

I have always grown things. This is the first place I’ve ever lived where I haven’t made a proper garden, but even so, there are plants on the windowsill and a little flower bed with a few rescued roses, herbs and wildflowers outside.

There are a good few reasons why the garden I miss so much has yet to materialise. Muscle power has depleted over the years, time and energy are in short supply, money even shorter. The main reason, though, is simply the terrain; the gardens of new-build homes seldom have much topsoil and the earth of my small patch is clay. It bakes hard and cracks wide, so before I can waft around planting things, I’ll need a lorry load of topsoil, a shovel and a wheelbarrow. And probably a man with a rotovator. So I look at it and it looks at me and we both hope I’ll manage to do something with it sometime soon.

I look back on past gardens in wonder. Some were huge, some tiny. I planned them in great detail in imagination, poring over plant and gardening catalogues, but none of them ever went according to the dream. Instead, I foraged, salvaged and recycled whatever showed up, fitting it in where I could. I needed paving, so when a house a mile away took up the old concrete drive, I carried it home, bit by bit in shopping bags, to make crazy paving. A fallen sandstone wall on wasteland scheduled for clearing came home the same way to edge flower beds, eight foot deep and fifty feet long. Dying plants and trees were rehomed and resuscitated, mingling with those raised from cuttings and seeds. Native flowers, often catechised as weeds, were allowed to fill the gaps. And, if it took a year or two more for things to start looking their best, well, gardening is all about patience.

 

What with one thing and another, though, I was never in one place long enough to watch a garden grow to its full maturity. It would be green and blooming, but the things that take years to grow into their beauty never did so before I had to move on. Sometimes I drive past old gardens. One of them is completely different. Not a stone or plant is the same… the incoming occupants put their own stamp on it, erasing anything I had created. Other gardens, all different now, still hold echoes of my dreams and I see trees I planted  as tiny saplings casting their shade over the lawns.

Whether or not any trace of my dreams survive really does not matter. They were dreams and I always knew they could never be wholly realised. Even so, the beauty of the gardens grew out of them. They were loved, gave food and pleasure, brought me and my sons into close contact with the earth and its creatures, taught us about the cycle of life and the interdependence of all things, so neither the dreams, nor the work that went into those gardens was wasted.

That, I believe, is true of all dreams, no matter how far out of reach they may seem, no matter how implausible. Their value is first and foremost in the dreaming of them. All great advances, all new ideas, first come into being within the imagination. Some will make their way through into the levels of reality with which we are familiar, others may not, or at least, not in the way we imagined them. But none of these ideas are ever wasted and many will linger as an intangible ‘something in the air’, waiting for the moment and the circumstances in which they can manifest, through the agency of dreamers.

Daydreaming can help us process information, exploring it in ways we can use  effectively in ‘real life’. It hones creativity, increases empathy by letting us put ourselves in situations we might not otherwise encounter, helps memory and, as an added bonus, lowers blood pressure. It is good for us, can be the call to physical action, and can add something to the sum of human experience in an act of pure creation.

“ I have a dream,” said Dr Martin Luther King. “I hope some day you’ll join us,” sang John Lennon. Daydreams are acts of creative imagination, and from such dreams do we sow the seeds of reality.