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Beltane fires and an excerpt from Uprooting
I sit on the silvered oak that edges the veg bed, burying the roots of pea plants into the soil next to me. It has felt a slow and uncertain spring, my time in the garden rendered in fits and starts, drawn outdoors increasingly urgently during brief bursts of sunshine, to be chased in again, fretting, by the freezing rain.
All of that is gone in this moment as I settle into my task. My hands take up their own rhythm, gently teasing the seedling roots from the pots they were germinated in to keep them from the mice, making small holes to receive them in the earth, firming them into their home for the rest of their life cycle, hopefully an abundant one. I feel my breath steady and slow, my mind calm. Thoughts which have been divided and scattered by the centrifugal forces of work, responsibilities, obligations and care, gather for a moment to this one place, rest with my body in seedling and soil.
I do not have much time out here, taking a moment to get the plants in before the clock strikes again and I must attend to some other need. And yet as I am carried on the flow of my task, looking at the sunny yellow of the dandelions on the grass paths, hearing the bumblebee buzz around the purple dead nettle in flower at the base of the hedge, I feel myself stretch and expand from the tyranny of the clock into the infinite cycles of garden time. It passes differently out here, ticks in a rhythm in harmony with my cells. Too slow to see changes take place, so fast that the garden is a different being every day. So much can happen in a growing season.
We are in a cycle of change with the garden, spurred on by the urgency of spring, triggered to action by events in our lives outside of our control. We have been digging things out. Uprooting plants that we have sat with since our arrival; watched them grow sickly, or be frost-damaged and die, or starve the space of nutrients and light. We fell them one by one: dense conifers too huge for the space, topiary box riddled with blight, the grey wood of the half-hardy. The bonfire they make burns for hours, sacred smoke filling the valley, the heart still radiating heat the following day.
It is Beltane, three and a half years after our arrival in the garden. We have watched and listened to the space long enough, this spring we have stepped into our sovereignty within it. Taken decisions that we hope will improve its abundance for all who live here. Freeing us all up to space and light.
There will be espaliered apples as fruitful hedges to replace the blighted ones, more small trees and shrubs, more flowers all through the year. There will be scent, and medicine, and food, there will be places of beauty and shelter. There will be experimentation and play, successes and failures, freedom of space and light.
It is Beltane, and in my garden I throw off the tyranny of those who would appropriate this ancient festival of summer’s coming, those who would crown themselves false earthly kings, those who would unthinkingly enslave themselves to their rule. I toss the diseased old wood on the blazing fire, offering its smoke to the heavens.
My garden crowns me queen, with flowers. I feel my cells adjust to her rhythm, welcome the green fertility of a new year, seedlings flushing forth over the soil. Together we will grow something new this year. Something beautiful, and full of healing life. I cannot see the change in this moment, but I know it will be a different place tomorrow. So much can happen in a growing season.
A Beltane excerpt from Uprooting
A heavy scent drips through the open windows of the lounge, accompanied by the buzzing of bees. The pale, twisted branches that spiral around the metal support and up the front of the house have revealed themselves to be wisteria. There appear to be two plants, each rooted at either end of the house. I cannot tell which might be older from looking at them, but judging by what I know of the history of when the house was originally built, and then extended, the one which has burst into bloom and scents our living room so heavily must be the elder. The thick trunk that climbs onto the newer part of the house is in dense leaf, but no flower buds have appeared. It reaches out to its neighbour, and their leaves overlap and embrace each other. I inhale the rich scent with half-closed eyes and revel in the wonder of this, that I now live in a wisteria-covered cottage, the idyllic countryside dream.
The long racemes of heavily scented, pale lilac flowers remind me of something, but I do not place it until I am sitting in the window looking out at the blossom while texting with my mother one day, and suddenly a vivid mental image comes to mind. I am standing in a long, straight avenue of vining plants pruned and shaped to standard, lollipop form, and they are in abundant bloom, covered in racemes of sweet-smelling, pale purple flowers. It is May in the petrea avenue at the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the queen’s wreath, or tropical wisteria as they are also known, are in full flower. They bloom for May, for Mother’s Day in Trinidad, for the month of Mary in my school calendar of religious celebrations. We have already had Mothering Sunday here in the UK a couple months ago, but here I am texting my mother to wish her a happy Mother’s Day back home where the Petrea volubilis will be in flower, and here is the wisteria wreathing my home in bloom for the occasion. It comforts me to see it.
The connections between my Caribbean home and this one have seemed profoundly strange, and unexpected, but as I communicate with my mother, thinking of these maternal plants, the links between them begin to fall into place in my mind. England was modern Trinidad’s colonial motherland; the Royal Botanic Gardens where the petrea avenue grows was a colonial creation, established in 1818, as was the introduction of wisteria to this country, brought in 1816 via the Inspector of Tea for the East India Company, who was acting on commission by renowned botanist (or botanic thief) Joseph Banks. The flowers travelled along Imperial trade routes, which moved plants and people around the world, so often violently against their will, like poisoned umbilical cords that bind places together to this day. And yet, despite the ambivalence that may grow as we come to know them as adults, their faults as well as their care deeply embedded in our flesh, so often we still love our mothers. Even hate not love’s opposite, but its perversion.
Uprooting on the road
Time goes slowly until it goes too fast. August 3rd, when Uprooting will finally be released into the world feels light years away, and feels like tomorrow. In the meantime, there are some amazing events being lined up for the summer at which I will be speaking with wonderful people about Uprooting. Here are a few that are ready to share with you.
I’ll be at Charleston Festival of the Garden on Sunday July 16th speaking to Kerri ní Dochartaigh and Lulah Ellender about putting down roots and the meaning of home. The entire weekend looks amazing: get your tickets here. I’ll also be giving a workshop in the fringe festival, which is drop-in and free to attend. I hope to see some of you in that beautiful garden.
My book is having a launch party! If you’re anywhere near Bath, do come and celebrate its arrival at Topping & Company booksellers on Thursday August 3rd. It will be a fun and no doubt emotional evening.
I will let you know more about the launch and other events as they firm up their shape, but it’s going to be a fun summer, and I hope to see you at some of them. In the meantime, happy May Day, welcome summer. May your Beltane fires burn brightly.