17th August

We are all custodians of our little patches of earth.

At the end of the day, whether we own them, rent them, or just work on them, we will not be here forever. I hear people talk about gardening legacies, and it strikes me how short a legacy can be: vast structures disappearing in a matter of decades, to be rediscovered like treasure troves just a scant generation or two later, or the sprawling cities of the ancients, just a few feet beneath tangled jungle.

Ten years in the wilderness is a lifetime to something as malleable and erasable as a garden.

The stories of these plots far exceed our own in both directions – far into the past, far into the future. It strikes me sometimes: this place is billions of years old, they say there were lions here once. Before them, great towering caps of ice. Perhaps one day it will be a flooded wetland – playground of millions of sore-throated whooper swans, or patchwork tribes of yet-to-be evolved ducks and waders.

 

David Parfitt

Painting by David Parfitt

Or perhaps, if my plans go as I hope, it will be a forest of mighty oaks –a haven for beast, fowl and all manner of creeping and slithering thing.

Field work

I go diligently about the field at the end of the plot, picking up molehills. It really makes you think. Especially when you overfill your bag – forgetting it’s still clay you’re carrying, because those little moles with their pudgy demon hands have kindly filtered and sifted it for you into pyramids of fine earth, and you forget how heavy it is. I think about the scale of my body struggling to drag bag after bag through the grass, and I think about their tiny bodies – fiendishly strong. The tonnes they must move in a day, their little minds set on what they do: experts of the dark. I think about them, and I’m glad to know them. I’m glad they do what they do, which so helps me out when all I need is good solid earth that I don’t have to cut out like slices of thick, impossible fudge.

mole by Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

Sketch by Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

After collecting as much as I can be doing with on a hot late summer’s day, it’s onto looking for saplings. We have a lot of oak saplings that never make it past ten inches or so – falling either to the field mowers or the deer, and I take their care seriously, even though I know they’ll outlive me to that strange scale again – where nothing makes sense from a human’s perspective.

I’ll be the one setting them up in pots, trimming their leaves to encourage their roots, but it will not be my generation, or even probably two or three that will really be able to relax about the fate of the tree. I will have to take good care of it – watch it for oak diseases, protect it from hungry mouths, or clumsy feet. All the while knowing they never used to need us at all, and there’ll come a time again when these trees certainly won’t miss us.

Majesty 2006 by Tacita Dean born 1965

‘Majesty’ by Tacita Dean 2006

But I want there to be oak trees in that potentially people-less future. It matters to me that these little saplings reach their future, which never really did have anything to do with us. Their ancestors have been great naval warships, and the beams of vast important houses, but they were always meant to be trees, and I only want them to be trees.

As long as they keep finding the light, I’ll keep taking them out of harm’s way, and I’ll put them back when they’re too big for mowers and deer.

11th Sept 2018

I haven’t written in a while because I have been greatly occupied out of doors – something which is now possible with serious vigour, because the sun has finally finished with its infernal shenanigans and we have real weather – like clouds, and drizzle, and wind.

Today a great grey covering of promised rain is being sulkily withheld for the third day in a row, and everyone in the house is both sleepy and tense – a most uncomfortable cocktail – like a late Summer hangover.

I have torn out a humongous hedge which has been creeping out further and further, with its middle getting deader and deader. Beastly, furious work, but it’s left me with a hole to fill, and a gardener loves nothing better than a scrap of blank canvas, even if the ground underneath is brittle as old chalk! It’s a new challenge, a full call-to-arms first thing in the morning. It is a sense of purpose, and an inexplicable current of energy…

All this means that the season is about to turn over.

Harvest tractors plague the country roads, there is a smell in the air.

Autumn is coming.

 

221020164533

Summer Insomnia

It’s not all bad.

I was trying to take photographs of the moon on the night of the eclipse and supposed blood-moon. It was the one day we had cloud cover and thunderstorms. I could hardly begrudge that!

I’m not much of a photographer, but the arrangement of Venus and the Moon over the pines  was beguiling.

280720180533.JPG

 

A little murky, sadly, but I could see it with my eyes, and it was magical.

 

After spending the night with the moon, it would be rude not to hang around for the sun.

6th August

Well, what have I been up to in my absence? Battling with sun-baked clay, mostly.

 

120720180215.JPG

 

There’s not a whole lot you can do for the larger areas of ground, unless you have money and machinery (we have neither). The fissures turn into cracks, the soil turns into dust, the most worrying thing is that the rain pours down into the crevices and undermines the structural integrity of the ground, but I suspect this all part of some perfectly legitimate plan the earth has, so I don’t interfere. I’ll probably disappear into a sink hole one of these days!

With beds, I do try to intervene as best I can: mulching like it’s the end of the world and covering the topsoil with a dense layer of wood chips: I use it like sunblock, hoping the earth underneath will stay moist and protected (wood-chips sweat something chronic en masse), and it will all rot down to provide some much needed hummus. I’m hoping it will retain what little rain we get instead of letting it run straight through into those terrible dry gunnels as well.

 

250720180524.JPG

 

Having clay soil can be a little like having concrete when you get sudden downpours, so we get flooding, even though we’re surrounded by hedgerows and trees to drink it up. Inventing ways to slow down the water and retain it is an exciting prospect, and so-called ‘rain gardens’ are very fashionable in these parts for exactly this purpose.

Half of me wants to collect it for the dry seasons to come, but I can’t help wonder what effect that might have on the wider landscape? Dry rivers and streams need the run off, I’m not sure me hoarding it is the best course of action…

Anyway, for now, I just work on slowing it down rather than stopping it moving altogether.

I dug over two of the small beds and beefed them up with some home-made compost, but I was forced to use a bit more of the grass compost than I wanted, so I’m waiting to see now if that’s a bit too acidic.

The herbs seem alright, the verbenas are managing, the shrubs are fine, and really it’s only the roses which seem a bit bothered by it. I’m surprised because I’ve never known a rose to mind anything!

Still, even on a bad day, you’re guaranteed to get something.

 

120720180222.JPG

 

July 10th

We are not amused.

It is too hot.

I am an English gardener, not a sun worshipper – not a sitter-on-beaches or a basker-in-parks interloper. I should be at rest only during the harshest winter (after a long year’s work), and yet, here I am, not in the garden…

I hide in shade or lurk in cold baths, flashing mossy fangs at people suggesting social events during daylight hours. I don’t mind a summer thunderstorm – how can one resist the decadence of storms? When the cling-film sunshine is overcome by the velvet of actual weather? – But the sun these days is a bully.

Like the grass, I turn brittle in the heat. A newt left out on a paving slab. A dry seed-head rattled by the kick of a leaping grasshopper – legs scraping like nails on a comb. Everything papery and stubbled.

We islanders talk a good game about craving the sunshine, but we still need our regular watering…

I begin to dream seriously of Elsewhere.

 

The soul makes a katabasis. The mind dips deep below the surface, and in a cool place, shimmers. For everything there is a waiting time. Enforced stillness. Lessons whispered in the breath between phrases.

 

This, I suppose, makes the intensity lovely.

 

kenrick-mills-539240-unsplash.jpg

A Cheeky Look Back at Spring…