I am writing this after spending an absolutely perfect warm sunny weekend pottering in my garden in Devon. Being in nature, wide open spaces, woodland etc, tends to be my preferred way of unwinding, and this last weekend has been a real tonic, which I needed after what seemed like a long cold winter. At last we seem to be out of that here in the UK, with some decent sunshine and warm temperatures. The sun really lifts your spirits.. and for me there’s little to compare with quality time spent in the garden.
I’ve been busy planting salads, tomatoes, various edible plants and herbs in tubs and pots.. I love to grow much of my own food. The spinach has to be barricaded otherwise the sparrows have it! I do my best with this small mostly paved courtyard garden, and grow whatever I am able to fit into the small space in the border and in tubs. I so wish for a big outdoor space where I can have a proper veg garden (and build a gong studio!) – it will happen one day! There is nothing more luscious than coming out first thing in the morning and sinking your bare feet into earth and grass – I crave that. And from being in the garden all weekend I have the beginnings of a decent tan - not all over unfortunately – this garden is not secluded enough; although I can shower discreetly in a corner under the hosepipe on hot days. If this weather continues I shall be sea swimming this next week!
I never expected to be in my current home for over 11 years, but that’s how it has turned out, and I have made the most of this small garden, and fully enjoy what I have got currently. The bottom part of the garden is quite wild, with cobblestones, moss, violets, ferns and all manner of plants interesting to wildlife and bees, and I have largely left it alone, to encourage them. That little area is quite magical, and would be the type of environment that fairies might want to take up residence in.
My garden previous to this one was large and long, mainly grass, and it was my habit to emerge in the morning and walk barefoot on the grass up to the field at the top – the cats (2 then) loved it too and had plenty of room to play and explore. We had a lovely evening ritual at that house – I would take them for a walk up the garden every day at sunset, and we’d sit on the grass watching the sun go down every evening. I still miss that. I built a veg plot there using railway sleepers, and it was very enjoyable and productive.. I do seem to have green fingers.
When I first moved to Devon from Brighton area, over 12 years ago now, I lived for 8 months in a rectory (one of two I rented short-term) with a very large ¾ acre garden, which unfortunately had been neglected and did not come with a gardener! It was quite a mess. So I had a mission - to bring it back to life and make it nice. I’m not afraid of hard work - never have been - but it was a handful and required daily attention. Learning to cope with the ancient ride-on mower which had a very tricky gearbox was an eye opener, and I fondly recall bouncing around on it on the uneven ground in the orchard, trying to find a slower gear; we often shot off at breakneck speed – it was like being on a rollercoaster! That garden was such a revelation, and in its way it welcomed me to this wonderful land of Devon, where I so enjoy living now.
Over the years I have written poetry when feeling particularly inspired, and that first rectory garden made such an impression that it inspired a whole new wave of poetry – it just seemed to flow out of me at that time. So I am going to include the poem about that garden below. I may periodically post other bits of poetry when it feels right. I hope you enjoy this one :
THE ENCHANTED GARDEN
1 This garden mine, so magical, Such beauty here, a heaven on earth. The sweeping curves & majestic trees Overgrown & uncared-for when I arrived. But I saw how you could be, Given time & love.
2 You drew me in, you needed TLC & nurturing. With my daily two-hour garden meditation, Gradually you came to life, Growing faster than I could work, So that at times I likened you to the Forth Bridge!
3 Jungle-like in places, I cut your invading branches & creepers, Cleared your pathways & reinstated them, twice. Kept clearing & trimming as you kept growing, With periodic help from a loving friend, And many trips to the Tip with your green waste!
4 So much work through sad neglect in recent years. Previous planting told me you had once been loved. I uncovered gems – inspired choices, Combinations of colours & species, Selected for beauty & through love of you, Like the yellow bed on the west side.
5 Even the elder has its place here, It’s role in the wildness. More than a season needed here, To tame the brambles, nettles, weeds. And allow the glory to shine through once more. Not for the faint-hearted, this task!
6 The orchard is another world – my favourite spot. Grass unkempt at first, but hard work hand clipping Revived it. And now the reward Is a harvest so rich, I can hardly keep up with the bounty!
7 And in the far corner, past the rotting compost, We have a small paradise; An enchanted corner reached through the bamboo tunnel, An old seat put here in times past, for contemplation, Accompanied by the bees humming. This was someone’s favourite place. No wonder – quiet, sacred energy here.
8 Sitting, kneeling on the earth, I rooted too in this fair place. Soft & gentle vibrations here, Gradually I made it my space, Grounding on the land here, In this enchanted place.
9 Part of me will remain in the plants I left here, Re-homed, to continue the healing work. I gave myself to this task. My reward - the earth spirits are with me still, For my toil here in this enchanted garden. 10 I loved this garden back to life. Now time has come to leave it. I leave you tidy, until next Spring! Then, new caretaker, beware! This garden will draw you in And discover what you are made of!
11 What a sacred journey To have served in this paradise For even a short while. Never forgotten, my enchanted garden – You welcomed me to this blessed land.
Sheila Whittaker, August 2011