Sibling Rivalry

My sister has an allotment.

I am so jealous. Of all the romantic ideals a life in Britain conjures an allotment is the most seductive. I don’t know why except that we always think we would do better/ be better if we had this or that, grass is greener etc.

I remember a conversation with a friend in uni in which we agreed that we would be more committed students if we were surrounded by romantic stone buildings instead of Brutalist concrete. Our School of Arts was housed in the former dental building and we were as far from the beautiful gardens our campus contained as could be. Luckily I was never given the opportunity to test this theory and managed to get my degree (eventually) despite the uninspiring buildings. I have also since learned to value the of privilege being admitted onto campus when so many are not.

And yet what is life without envy.

I’m sure her plot is no bigger than my back garden and so far allotmenteering has mostly been collecting glass and other rubbish that has been dumped in it by previous tenants. But now the northern hemisphere is awakening and the romance of gardening can begin, assisted by a myriad of television programmes, seed varieties and inspirational gardens to visit.

She was only halfheartedly interested in gardening before, and when she got her allotment I tried to damp down my overwhelming enthusiasm in case it put her off but now she is as bugged as I am. She will inevitably surpass me in dedication and outcomes but it is nice to have a running mate albeit on the other side of the world. She will be planting potatoes when I should be harvesting them and harvesting them when I must remember to get them in the ground. We can have cosy competitions on the size of our carrots and discuss Monty Don’s latest gardening book. She will probably remind me about all the things I should be grateful for, like the weather and onsite facilities, while I remind her of the value of onsite community and experience.

We all have our own patch of ground, metaphorical and not, how we grow it is up to us.

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Waiting for things to grow.

I am not a patient gardener although I think gardening can teach us patience. If things don’t happen quickly enough I tend to lose focus and get on with something else. It’s a trait I inherited from my mother for whom the rice could never cook quickly enough. My childhood was filled with the smell of burning rice while my mother wandered back to her studio.

After the initial excitement of seedlings comming up, appearing like magic through the soil and putting out their first leaves, now is the boring bit of waiting, waiting, waiting and in the mean time watering. It would be fine if we didn’t need to water and tend, if we could come back in 3 months and pick all the vegetables. Unfortunately most garden jobs and plants, require constance and I try to be the gardener they need. I still harbour a special affection for the plants that do it without me. The annuals that reseed themselves, the bulbs that come back every spring even though I’d forgotten they were there, I feel like those plants really get me.

Last Christmas I lifted and divided a clump of spider lily bulbs. Of course I accidentally stuck my fork through a couple so I decided to use them to propagate. Reading the instructions in my RHS guide it promised that
in a year I would have new little bulbs.hdr And I thought ‘goodess a year is a long way off.’ SInce the bulbs were damaged there was nothing else i could do with them so I chopped them up and sealed them in a bag of vermiculite.

As the saying goes ‘don’t put off a goal because of the time it will take to complete it. The time will pass anyway’. And so it has.

Today I pulled out the bag and planted each little spider-lily plant with it’s own furry roots and smooth shoot. I have twenty plants in large yoghut pots and grow bags. No doubt it will be another year before they grow up and flower but the time will pass with or without my plants so I may as well use it.

Mindfulness

Last week felt depressing, everything dry and dusty and dead-looking. I got into one of those moods where I couldn’t see any sign of things changing; somehow I settled into the feeling that the witch had taken over Narnia and we’d be left in an eternal winter. Of course it’s never true and in the last few days I’ve started noticing the signs of spring coming.

Flowers opening on the jasmine. Oh the scent!

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Strawberry blossom, just when I was thinking that they ought to be getting a move on.

This lovely Spanish lavender I honestly thought I’d killed.

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I think we spend a lot of time not seeing the world around us yet being unhappy with it. We get so wrapped up in our lives that we stop noticing how marvelous the world is, what a completely fascinating, improbably thing life is. One of the great things about a garden is that it brings us back to the essence of life. Every shrub, flower, tree that grows from a tiny seed is a miracle. It is all insanely fantastical and yet it happens, again and again, and we should honour that by taking notice.

Mindfulness is a practice rooted in Buddhist philosophy. There is research ongoing into the positive effects of mindfulness on health and well being and it is defined by the Mindfulness Institute of South Africa as

“[referring] to awareness of present experience with acceptance, which arises when we pay attention, on purpose, without judgment, to what is occurring in the present moment.”

When visiting a garden you wander through in this state of mindfulness, perhaps this is why gardens are being used more and more widely for recuperation and rehabilitation programmes, but often in our own gardens we are so focused on the jobs to be done we forget to visit it. How crazy to put so much effort into our gardens and not enjoy them, like baking a cake and letting it sit there uneaten. Is this just me?

I used to start my mornings with a walk around the garden, a habit I am determined to get back into. When my kittens were little they would follow me; added to my own daily discoveries were their discoveries of the world around them. I remember the first time they stepped on wet grass and saw a dry leaf scuttling past.

Can there be an easier or more pleasant way to improve your health than with a daily walk around your garden, not for the purpose of getting anywhere or doing anything but just to be in it at that moment? Even better, it’s free (or at least you’ve already paid for it).

Lessons from the Garden (that might save the world)

ippYesterday I had a clumsy day. I forgot things, walked into a wheelbarrow (massive bruising) and knocked over a pot. I was reminded of how much a garden can teach you, other than to watch where you’re going. The pot had artichoke seeds in that I was beginning to lose hope for. I planted them at the beginning of May. I’ve been dutifully carrying them out into the sun in the morning and bringing them in at night and although the sweet peas I planted at the same time are about 5 cm high the artichokes haven’t even peaked up. I was beginning to think they’d probably expired or it was too cold, so when I saw the pot on it’s side, a bit of soil out and a beautiful little germinating plant lying there, it took me a second before I quickly put it back and doused it in water. A couple of days later I might have stopped bothering to look after it.

If you want a child to learn patience, teach them to garden. There is only so much you can do to hurry nature up and it’s usually not worth it, you end up with weak, sickly plants or over-crowded beds, so we have to wait, patiently. Some things come quickly, others take more time. It is frustrating when there is nothing you can do and your daily nurturing elicits no response, just sullen soil staring back at you, but waiting is a skill and plants are good teachers.

Hand in hand with patience is being able to see the future. Obviously I don’t mean in a clairvoyant way but in being able to imagine and plan and work towards it.

If you want a child to learn to invest, teach them to garden. I am a product of a instant gratification culture, if I can’t get/do something now I’ve probably forgotten it by the time I can, so this has been a hard lesson which I’m still learning. There are things I know I didn’t do because it seemed like the rewards were too far away (like plant asparagus) but time slips by so fast and it will slip by anyway.

So many people can’t see the future, they can’t see how their behaviour today affects tomorrow and they can’t believe that changing it could change the future. There is a saying that to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow so perhaps the world will be saved in the end not by heroes but by gardeners.