I have begun to think of the year ahead, and I have begun to act on those thoughts. Yesterday, walking back to the house from the hen’s shed in the morning, I tried to imagine how things might look in six months time, and what I could do to help that happen. I thought about jobs that needed attending to, and others that soon would. I began, quietly, making plans.
Perhaps it was the sight of those green fingertips emerging from the soil, all around the garden – the little bulbs returning to life after their long slumber. These are the first signs of change, and they are as welcome as the sun after a storm. In every bed they are emerging. Beneath bushes and trees they are coming: tiny spears of life; tiny shoots of anticipation.
I got up late this morning, but with no other plans for the day, except to be outside. I dressed, ate breakfast and drank my coffee, then put on my outdoor clothes and opened the door.
The garden has been neglected over the winter, and it shows. On the lawn, leaves have fallen and rotted in ugly piles. The job of clearing them up, which I avoided when they fell, has now become a more difficult task for yet another day. In quiet corners sweet wrappers and plastic bags have blown and settled, and found new homes. Last year’s blooms have lain where they fell; the beds still are cluttered and untamed.
The trouble is, I’m not a gardener. Buying this house we have inherited a piece of ground that was created over six decades. And though different owners have shaped it in different ways, it has taken consistent care and effort to keep it as it has been. But it has also taken knowledge – an understanding of what was required to make things as they were supposed to be.
I don’t have that knowledge, or that understanding. Out here I am ignorant. And blind, too: blind to the possibilities of this piece of ground.
For gardening is not just a response to what is already there. It is also a response to what is not yet there – to the imagined garden. A space like this requires steering. It requires the vision and will to push it in the right direction.
There are many things I would like to change here. And in my head I can see – vaguely, distantly – the garden that I wish one day to have. But as yet I don’t know how to get there.
Up by the workshop – a one-room building referred to by us and our predecessors here as ‘the cottage’ – two tall bushes had been threatening the gutter and the roof, with the help of a persistent ivy plant, whose sticky fingers had already reached in beneath the profile sheeting. I had decided, on this mild, still day, to do something about it.
It was a simple and satisfying job, with long-handled shears, to cut the bushes back to a manageable size and to strip the ivy back to the ground. I enjoyed feeling them take shape as I worked, and the hours passed quickly. When I had finished, twigs and branches lay all about me in a tall, chaotic pile, and one corner of the garden had changed entirely. It was neat, and under control. It was as I wanted it to be.
As the sun began to soften in the afternoon, I finished tidying the branches away and stood by the gate to the back park looking around. I tried then to see the garden not as it was, or as it would be this summer, but as it could be in five or ten years time. I looked behind me, to the park still matted and overgrown by grass, and I tried to untangle it and to create something good. I made sweet, black earth rise from beneath the grass, and I made vegetables rise from beneath the earth. I reminded myself that all this once had been a hay park – before the house, before the garden – then I returned to the work of imagining.