Discover more from These are the things my garden told me
It is nearly the end of the school year. My calendar swells and spills with an abundance of activity, an overgrowth of social engagement. Activities that have been nurtured for months finally bear fruit – concerts, performances, tournaments, plays. It is delightful, heart-filling, expansive… and it is exhausting. I bask in a bounty of maternal pride and attempt to stave off overwhelm.
I pause in the garden on my hurried way through one morning after dropping the kids off for school, before beginning my work day. I stand, and look around me, called to stillness, uncertain why. My eyes move over the plants surrounding me in an unfocused way at first, eventually resting on a different shape. A little frog. Poised on a bed of chamomile, looking up at me, as startled by my appearance in the garden as I am by theirs. We consider each other for a moment. I squat, peer more closely. They allow me to look at them for a long, slow breath. And then they hop away, bounding across the path to disappear under the growth on the other side.
Eyes unthinkingly drawn to try to follow their movement, I find myself properly looking at and considering that growth, rather than simply brushing past it, largely unaware. As ever at this time of year, although it is now familiar that this part of the garden’s cycle should happen, it startles me. The weather has been odd this year (every year, lately?) – hot when it ought not to be, dry when there should be rain. Now, in the height of July, the sky is overcast and it is cool and damp after last night’s deluge. In this moment it does not quite feel like summer. Yet there it is, the plants dense and huge and lush, the frog vanished beneath their thick canopy. The garden is nearing that point of abundant overgrowth at which it threatens to overwhelm me every year. When I feel as though, should I lay down beneath the leaves carpeting the ground, I should soon be swallowed up, devoured whole by its fertile embrace.
We are halfway between the summer solstice and Lughnasadh, on the approach to the peak of this year’s harvest. A season of plenty and abundance, of scurrying activity to make the most of these longest days’ warmth and growth and light. Remembering this, remembering how we too are part of this makes sense of the feeling of things outside my garden, of the general mood of frenzied overwhelm. Our activity may be displaced from the soil and the earth that breeds it, may feel unnatural and strange when confined in concrete walls and our single species, may spin off into dysregulated, frenetic feedback loops of overactivity when severed from seasonal grounding. But at its core, the source is still the same. The recognition calms me.
The roots of our severing run deep. Its growth is pervasive, infiltrating every aspect of our lives. The vines of separation twist and wind along our every natural impulse, like the bindweed climbing the shoots of new growth of our garden’s hedge, distorting their shape. We reach out to one another, attempt to come together and connect, to find community, our urges to find wholeness and love and strength in one another undimmed, though algorithms designed to extract our attention and energy and money and time manipulate and pervert them. In our siloed separateness we fear those we do not understand; the invasive, poisonous, supposedly dangerous other – be they demonised human, or vilified plant.
But still, we grow. We cannot stop it, it is our unceasing nature. We tangle into one another, seeking a belonging we have nearly lost. We long for the holding of community, even if our knowing of what it is to be held, what it is to be loved, has been long colonised into something violent.
I go back into the garden. I have come to know the space and to be known by it. I have shed my cells into its borders, they have been taken up by plants who have in turn shed themselves into me. We consume each other. We grow stronger in our mutual nourishment. I am in a season of growth, nearing harvest, but when the time comes I will lie on the ground beneath the canopy of leaves and rot into the busy quiet of the earth and feel the next cycle’s strong shoots of love wind round my spine, envelop my mind, pierce my heart.
A few things
My debut book, Uprooting, will be released into the world just after Lughnasadh, an apt time for the work of the last few years to bear fruit. If you can, please preorder it from your local independent bookstore, or from one of mine here, or request it from your library. Of all the moments that have given me the most joy in the run up to my book being released into the world, the enthusiastic reception of my wonderful local booksellers, and seeing Uprooting appear on my library’s online catalogue, are two of the best.
The other great joy has come from speaking with people who have read proofs of the book about it, and having conversations that branch and deepen from its ideas. One such was with the incredible Penny Wincer, who took the photo at the top of this post, as she and I wandered and spoke about the garden. More to come about that project later, but after that enriching conversation, and the delights of recent events, I am so looking forward to the ones to come. Next up is Charleston Festival of the Garden this Sunday, but there will be many others, and you can find the evolving list on my website here.
Finally, I’m so honoured to be doing two workshops for the Nan Shepherd Prize on putting together a nature writing proposal. They will be run on Friday 21st July at 5:30pm at Waterstones Aberdeen and Saturday 22nd July at 1pm at Waterstones Inverness. I remember approaching the 2019 winner, Nina Mingya Powles after a talk in Toppings Bath to ask about her experience of applying for the prize when considering submitting my own application. She was so gracious, generous and encouraging with her advice, and I very much hope to pass that on to anyone who might be thinking of applying.