Plotting

It might have been the reappearance of the sun, after so many days of grey skies. Or perhaps it was simply that I had wandered into the garden with no particular task in mind.

I couldn’t quite bring myself to pull out the cucumbers. The trees are still in leaf, so cannot be pruned. And I flatly refuse to cut away the hibiscus which has grown into my bench. I spent some time diving down the backs of the laurels and lilac, cutting away at rogue brambles. That done, I wandered to the fruit plot, and began to weed.

The strawberries were heavy with fruit which will never ripen. The rhubarb, too, was suffering in the shade of the ash. Both needed a sunnier spot. Which meant that I’d have space for at least three new fruit bushes – blackcurrants or gooseberries, most likely. But in order to move the unhappy plants I would need a new perennials bed, in full sun. I abandoned my weeding and set off, pacing the lawn, carving it up in my mind.

Gardening is an optimist’s game. Ask me, any time, and I will always reply that the garden will be better next year. It’s not just about autumn. In winter we pencil convoluted calculations of appetites and planting distances in the margins of seed catalogues, determined to get it right. Then there’s the thrill of green buds in spring, dancing above us as we nurture the first fragile rows of seedlings. By summer these have translated themselves into fruits and flowers, and we sow the overwintering plants between them.

In each of these seasons we work away, diligent and hopeful, making the very most of what is before us.

In autumn, only in autumn, can we tear up the plans. At a stroke of a pencil, lawn becomes bed, and bed, lawn. New trees are drawn in where, a moment before, there were none. Hard landscaping appears, changing the feel and function of the plot.

We have a window of opportunity, once a year, to reimagine everything. I have a tendency to plan my garden on my own. I ran into the house for paper and pencil, squeezed onto the bench beside the hibiscus, and began to sketch. I got as far as having the old pine tree removed before I paused. If we cut it down at head height, it would leave the perfect space for a den. And the children have been asking whether they might reinstate the secret passage behind the hawthorns. I pushed my plan aside.

In the house, I spread a larger piece of paper on the kitchen table. On it I sketched a compass and the bare bones of our garden. The rest I left blank.

This evening, after supper, we shall fill it in. Together. We can each plot our treasures on this map. It will be a jumble, a mixture of piratical Xs and neat, scaled sketches. But I will make sense of it. I will make a list, alongside, of what is to be done. Then, with everybody’s help, I will begin anew. I love our garden, and with everyone’s input, it will be better still next year.

[whohit]plotting[/whohit]

The morning garden

Each morning, once the breakfast has been cleared away, I head into the garden.

I have tried gardening at all times of day. In the afternoon the gardens roundabout become temporary sitting rooms: people chat over flowerbeds, drink tea on their benches, and play ball games with small children on soft lawns. There are babies, crying in their prams as they wake from afternoon naps in the fresh air: noisy great grubs in their rolls of cellular blankets and crocheted hats.

In the evening the sun casts its long fingers between the trees and plays gentle hymns  on the lawn. From the house I can hear the older children practising their scales. There is a golden, molten quality about the garden, precious but transient. Time moves too quickly in the evenings. John joins me, companiable, and asks what he might do. The children rush out for a game of French cricket before Ilse must go to bed.

In the late hours of the morning, before lunch, the sun sits high above the open flowers, coaxing their scents from them. The last of the bees congregate around the sedum. I can hear Mrs P in the kitchen, yanking strings from beans and clattering the cutlery. Soon the front door will burst open and they will spill in, full of their day, demanding their lunch. My own stomach growls impatiently.

But in the morning everyone is elsewhere. Mrs P is still at home, paring carrots and potatoes for her own husband’s supper. Ilse has joined the gaggle of children on their way to the village infants’ school. Seb, still proud of his new-to-him bicycle, snakes down the lane in Fliss’ wake. Ben is long gone, flying far ahead, as usual. John is waiting for the bus. The neighbours are sitting down with a cup of tea, and a sigh. Their toddlers are toppling towers of wooden bricks. Their babies are having the last dribble of porridge wiped from their sweet chins, expertly, with the edge of a spoon.

It is quiet in my garden. I fancy that, if I listen carefully enough, I will hear the creaking of the woodlice as they go about their business. Today I dig up a patch of ground elder, suprising the white roots as they look up from silent networks in the damp brown earth. I disturb several earthworms, who flail blindly about, accordion-like, mourning their crumbly beds. In the tree above, the mist condenses and drips. The world has shrunk to a flower bed, a trowel, and an old newspaper to kneel on.

I know that when I close my eyes tonight I will see those complex creamy pathways, laid bare in the dark soil. Later, when I am laying the table, or mending Seb’s shirt, or waiting my turn at the grocer’s, I will be able to rest my eyes and, for a moment, enjoy the peace of the morning garden again.

 

[whohit]The morning garden[/whohit]