I’m afraid to say I have been imagining myself as Margery Fish.
I’ve been showing people around my beautiful space, confidently arm waving and spouting Latin plant names with gay abandon whilst couples in gaiters kiss over a thermos of tea and a cheese sandwich down in the fern garden. There are bold swathes of colour, enticing corners, clouds of butterflies… Sometimes I even have a little tea room…
The only problem is that while I have no problem envisaging all this beauty in the middle of a grey/brown warzone I have absolutely no idea how to bring it to fruition or indeed what those bold swathes are made of. I look online and get a bit swoony, but then I read my encyclopaedia of plants and start to feel a bit sick and sweaty at the magnitude of All That I Don’t Know. I recently did a late night guilty spend on the Crocus website, convinced that I was going to turn one of the terraces full of overgrown grass and weeds into a beautiful cut flower garden but alas, 4 of the 60 odd plants (most of them plug plants I swear!) have made their way into the soil and the others sit by the gate whilst I race into the house, eyes averted because they are now homeless and I’m not sure what to do about it.
The truth is, what I really LOVE is clearing.
At first, in the depth of new grief and the shock of dad’s death, clearing was therapeutic. It was painful, physical grunt work with the added bonus of being highly visible. When you are grieving you are useless. In every sense. The house is dirty, friends go unseen, kids uncherished, the business languishes. Nothing can be done that will bring him back, go easy on the arguments, reverse the ingratitude, spend a bit more time just smelling him. So clearing is wonderful. You hurt inside so you go outside and pull things out by the roots, bleed from the scratches,look up and you have DONE SOMETHING.
And after all that blood sweat and tears there is infinite reward. Because underneath all those angry spikes and stings it seems there is a really beautiful, well planned garden. Someone, some people have loved this space and tended it and poured love into it. They have built terraces, created lawns, hacked out paths… I cant even fathom the insight and hard work required to create it. There is a little pond at the bottom of the garden filled with X-rated yellow water lillies and a decaying bench, there are hostas unfurling, buddleia sprouting, a GIANT fuschia bush that overshadows the ripped-to-shreds-polytunnel, raspberry canes are flopping leggily out of the hedge I haven’t tackled yet… I know there are beautiful plants living here amongst us because every spring and summer they start to struggle out of the prevailing wildness and I pick them and pop them into vases to leave for our bnb guests, transforming their simple room into a bower of romance. But I have no idea what they are or where they come from, why someone chose that place for that plant.
But, as I’ve been pondering on Dad and the wonderful things I’ve inherited (singing along badly to any piece of Beethoven, a worrying ability to dance in public whilst sober, general cussedness) it seems to me that this garden too is my inheritance. Passed down to me not only from the people who went before, but also from the landscape that went before. It can’t have been very long ago that all this was the same woodland that lives at the end of the garden down by the river. And the garden knows that and is forever trying to get back; sending up endless baby ashes and birch (to me they look like grey sticks but my brother who likes trees suggests its more than that), plants I cant decipher but see in the woods, wood anemones that Richard Mabey says only grow at a rate of 6 metres every hundred years… These guys have been here long before us and are quietly insistent that they will, ultimately win out.
Despite neglect, the work that everyone has put into this space lives on and now it is my turn. Spring is upon us and there is a natural urgency to start getting stuff into the ground that is undeniable. It can’t all be clearing; it must be added to, there must be boldness and hopefully the genius, power and magic that Goethe promised will follow. True there are about 50 plants sitting out in the rain as I write this but you know what? There is one tiny terrace in the garden that has always been home to brambles and nettles and now it is nourishing up a rose with the best name ever: ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ (which I chose chiefly because her massive sweet smelling blooms that will crawl up the ugly stone wall behind were described as ‘madder crimson’) whilst around her feet will crowd purple salvias and, if I ever get my shit together, maybe some other stuff too…
“Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one
elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas
and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself
then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise
A whole stream of events issues meetings and material assistance,
that no man could have dreamed would come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it now.
Boldness has genius, power and magic to it.
Begin it now.”