My garden story begins in August, when the plum trees blossom

“I have been on holiday for the past fortnight. I told everyone that I was going to Norway, which was a surprisingly effective means of closing the conversation down. In fact I stayed at home and gardened, blissfully … ”—Monty Don My Roots: A Decade in the Garden (2005)

My first memory of this garden is touched by autumn sunshine. Fast forward—through dilapidation, a weedy wilderness, interminable expense—to the last weekend in July. July slipped into August, and the plum trees slipped into blossom. My garden story begins in August; July is its blank first page.

I wanted, every year, to watch the garden wake up. Every year, the story rewrites itself. I wanted to grow food, and plant trees. A thicket of them filled my head.

I became a weekly pilgrim to Judy Blank’s garden centre. Judy Blank specialised in heirloom fruit trees. When the flowering plum (pink) and almond (white) show their frilly knickers outside my bedroom window, I remember how it was, stumbling upon such prettiness.

I indulge in a little ritual, in memoriam, planting chives, dill seed, and curly parsley. The herb garden was the first garden that I planted, the day the land transferred. It was a gesture of ownership, and intent.

I watch daily, hungrily, for asparagus. Once, a bellbird chimed from amidst plum blossom, while I collected coffee- and cream-coloured eggs, and found what I was looking for.

The plum trees have battered limbs, and wind-twisted corkscrew trunks. They are halves of a heart-shaped whole, and the soul of this garden in spring time.

The wax-eyes work themselves into a twitter of delight, burying their faces in plum flowers. A kereru comes every day, to munch on unfurling leaves. After a hard night’s rain, he risks the top-most east-most branch. It is a twiggy branch, and he is a dignified bird. He puffs his cream waistcoat towards the rising sun, cartoonishly, like a fat man. Sometimes he brings his girlfriend. They will relocate in summer, a few wing beats north, to the wild cherry tree.

Last week, on holiday, I snatched moments from the weather. Torrential rain followed gales; a balmy morning segued into hail that lay on the ground in drifts. Seduced into planting lettuce seedlings, I was out that night under a freezing moon, rigging a greenhouse from ex-windows.

My house is on a flight path. On tranquil spring nights and summer dawns, Canada geese honk overhead. They were on the move that night, and again this minute, as I write this in bed in the dark.

I mowed the lawn. I planted peas. I laid potatoes out to sprout. I pruned trees, and excavated the compost bins. There might have been some pernickety fussing with baby hedges and a pair of secateurs. Hours evaporated in the sunlight, doing nothing useful at all. The sun dappled shade, and stained new leaves like glass.

What was I doing this time last year? Well, I was mowing the lawn, sprouting potatoes, pruning the passionfruit vine and the avocado tree. And day dreaming about hedgehogs:

This was dual-purpose fruit tree pruning. I read about a man who, every year, stacks his apple and pear off cuts in a quiet corner and, every year, has a hedgehog come to hibernate amongst them. I am charmed by this. For years I have longed for a resident hedgehog, and, I now realise, I have the perfect piece of real estate: a snug otherwise-unusable little triangle, fenced on two sides and sheltered on the third by the trunk of the sycamore tree. I filled it with my pruningsa gesture of invitation and hope.

Not long after that, I met a hedgehog hurrying home in the dawn. I was on my front porch at the time. It disappeared beneath my feet. There was momentary scuffling, and then … silence. It didn’t come out again. Evidently our real estate tastes were shared.

I thought for a long time about how to describe the rhythm of this garden. In the end it was simple, like breathing.

Comments (4)

by stuart munro on September 11, 2009
stuart munro

Voltaire had the right of it: 'IL faut cultiver le jardin' Here we can find the productivity and contentment altogether lacking in public affairs.

by Claire Browning on September 11, 2009
Claire Browning

Cheers Stuart. I’m with you, and Voltaire. (Translation, as I understand it: “we must cultivate our garden”; we must tend to our own affairs.). I’m probably pretty well-qualified to assert that the conduct of public affairs is lacking, in both productivity and contentment! That’s why I keep banging on about this, I suppose; I truly believe it’s the heart of the matter.

It would be tempting just to say “fuck ’em” and bury oneself in the garden. Sadly, I don’t think that’s an option any more; what’s needed is a collective effort, facilitated by government, and a bit of decent advocacy. Where you and I probably differ is level of political disillusionment. Not saying that’s entirely without foundation, but I’d still argue that what we’re seeing is MPs playing out on the public stage the views of their diverse constituency, about different “productivity” and “contentment” definitions - rather than proof of corruption, uselessness, etc.

by william blake on September 11, 2009
william blake

thank you.

by stuart munro on September 12, 2009
stuart munro

Coleridge and his fellow romantics looked for the sublime in nature to... calibrate... their moral sentiments.

When I talk about corruption I mean divergence from function - not merely taking money. They are nice enough people but not nice (exact) enough.

How can an educated and liberal country keep producing advocates so happy to settle for less than an enlightened governance? I do not understand.

But gardens ... these I understand.   :)

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