The garden is more than just a bunch of plants in the soil
My garden last spring
Currently my days are taken up with journeys, endless back and forths. I rush through the crumbling suburbs of east Birmingham to visit the hospital. We watch TV, the two of us cramped on that thin bed, trying to pretend it's all normal. The time is too brief. I rush home to shut up the chickens.
A lot has happened over the last few months. I woke up this morning and contemplated all that change. It seems a lot all at once. Finally I am having time to reflect on everything. I rarely just lay in bed, but it felt right, even the dog agreed. So I let myself off and just drifted through thoughts.
And one recurring thought is that I am probably turning into a fruitcake. Though I'd like to think I am a nice, luxurious one with a big thick layer of icing. For instance, I went to the allotment and stuck my fingers into the freezing soil and sat there staring at the world. The soil is good, rich soil. It was cold and I looked, frankly, ridiculous but it grounded me for a few minutes. Then I attacked an old blackcurrant bush with a little too much vengeance. It was not a nice sight. And once the poor bush was up-turned I felt a great deal of remorse that I had been so angry at it for being unproductive, though grateful for the new space. It actually made me cry. See I'm a fruitcake.
My daily walks to the allotment are more than just exercise for me and the dog. They have become a necessity. I fret if I think I won't get there. I obsess over what I could and should put in. Do we want to eat Turkish rocket? (It would work well in the shadier spots). How many raspberries are enough? Should I make the polytunnel smaller, it is mad to build a self-watering one, will I actually get to do it?
If I were to fall into a pop psychology trap, my allotment's role has become all too obvious. I have taken to nurturing the soil as if it was a person. I have ordered the shed, drawn plans, made lists as if somehow this battle plan might save us.
I got an email about an event in April and I unraveled. How can I be asked to think that far ahead? Then the chillis germinate, the coriander in its little pretty 1950's sugar cup grows stronger, faster, the Saracenia flava starts to flower, the hellebores unfurl and the snowdrops sparkle. Spring is coming whether I am ready or not. I am so glad that the greater picture goes on regardless. It spins and awakens. It grows and gives forth. And my fingers in the soil register how alive it all is.
I've been reading the wonderful Joan Gussow's 'Growing, Older'. Gussow is, I guess, the Joy Larkcom of the American organic movement. She's a nutritionist and gardener. This book is her autobiography about losing her husband, her passion for the environment and her Hudson garden that floods regularly, but still provides her with all her food. She is 82 years old and makes growing old look like one of the most pleasurable activities. The book has some wonderful passages. It's truly hard to put this one down and yet I have that feeling that comes with all good books that I'd like to eke it out for as long as possible.
Anyhow there's this bit where she's wondering why she doesn't feel alone after her husband has died. That sort of hit me. I think anyone who loves their garden, however big or small, will have had one of those moments, so hard to explain to non-gardeners. That the garden, in its whole sense, is so much more than just a bunch of plants in the soil, that it literally roots your sense of well-being to the world around you. Joan:
"That no such loss occurred, that I didn't fell bereft of interaction puzzled me and became another mystery to explore. After years of self-examination, I stumble across another reality that had been staring me in the face all along. As a gardener, I had life all around me. It's just that most of it was not human. As it turned out, the many other species - especially those that appeared invited or uninvited in my garden - were central not only to the maintenance of the planet but to the happiness of my life."
I doubt this book will get many reviews here as Gussow unfortunately is just not known about, but I urge anyone with a love of the earth to read this one.
Learn more about Joan Gussow:
Video: Joan Gussow discusses nutrition, her life, and her new book, Growing, Older - blip.tv
Joan Dye Gusson - wikipedia.org
About Joan's garden - joansgarden.org