Six On Saturday 28-12-19 ‘Six Of The Best’

2019 is drawing to an end and this seems like an opportune moment to look back at (almost) a full year of the schoolhouse garden. Retrospectives and compilations are a perennial feature in newspapers at this time of year. I suspect this might be in part because they are relatively easy pieces to compile without an awful lot of thought at a time when many staff are on holiday.

Looking back at my year of keeping a garden diary has proven surprisingly difficult to encapsulate. Where do you start? A picture for each month? A selection of the best pictures? And what does ‘best’ mean anyway? A success, a failure or simply something that looks nice?

Instead I have decided that my final six of the year will be six of the things I have most enjoyed about contributing to Six on Saturday – a weekly garden diary from all around the world. You can find other garden diarists in a similarly reflective mood over at the propagator blog

1) Honeybees

The most exciting new chapter in my gardening life has been the arrival of the honeybees. Actually they came here in summer 2018 but this year marks their first full cycle in the garden. It has not been straightforward and I have learnt a fair amount about the fragile and complex life of the colony. I like to think the bees have also been learning a little about me during this time and can forgive my clumsiness and ineptitude. As future generations of bees become accustomed to foraging in the neighbourhood  I hope to gradually understand more about how they see the world that we both share.

2) Flowers

Perhaps an obvious choice. There is so much more to gardening than colour and blossom but it would be churlish to pretend that this isn’t one of the main things that I enjoy throughout the year. Not just in the summer (when we are bathed in every hue and fragrance) but at harsher times of the year too – from the very first snowdrop to the last falling rose petal there are always precious fragments of colour to be found in the garden if you look hard enough…

3) Following the seasons

At times keeping a diary of any sort can feel like a chore. And yet that is the whole point. If you didn’t do it every day, every week or at whatever interval you commit too, you would miss all the subtle gradations of change in between entries. Sometimes it is the space in between dates that tells you as much as the entries themselves.

Every week there are jobs to be done in the garden but the backdrop is the never-ending drift of the seasons. Trying consciously to see the good or the interesting every week has made me realise how naive I was not to appreciate that every season has its charms. Even now in the bleak mid-winter (which I dislike for a whole host of other reasons) spending time in the garden can be just as rewarding as at any other time of year.

4) Noticing the small things

It is easy to be drawn to the grand vista, the showy flower or the ‘perfect’ planting combination. Yet one of the most rewarding changes for me this year has been spending more time looking at the other end of the scale and the fascinating hidden world that underpins the visible dimension of the garden. One of my favourite hours in the garden this year was spent on a bench with a cup of tea taking pictures of insects. Would I have sat still for so long and contemplated this if I wasn’t writing about it? Could I do this more often in the future without always needing to have a ‘purpose’?

5) Gardens near and far

We have been extremely fortunate to have spent precious time with friends in various parts of Europe this year. At the same time I have enjoyed reading blogs written by gardeners all over the world. This is a reminder that everywhere in the world can potentially appear exotic to someone out there. While I might dream about having a tropical garden or growing scented, tender plants outside all year I like to think that someone out there might dream about having the perfect conditions to grow meconopsis even if that meant living in a cold, dark, drizzly patch of Fife. As the world changes I think I will be flying less (if at all) but will be just as enthralled to visit more of the gardens on our doorstep.

6) The light and the dark

Time and again this year I have felt myself drawn back to the notion of balance or continuity in the life of the garden. The last two photos of this year are of the front path in the garden by night in mid-winter and by day in mid-summer.

Perhaps the most fundamental lesson that the garden can teach us is to understand that it is a not just a microcosm of the natural world but it also has a connection with our inner life. With the ups and downs, the good times and the bad, the joy and the grief. Contrary to a lot of popular psychology that is written these days I don’t accept that ‘gardening makes you feel good’ any more than I believe that breathing makes you feel good. Writing about the garden, working in the garden, being in the garden doesn’t make you feel ‘happy’ or make you feel ‘sad’. It just makes you feel.

If you would like to follow the schoolhouse garden please click on the button at the bottom of this page. Worpdress promises to store your email address securely and I will only send you bunches of flowers and not any nasty weeds.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Noelle says:

    Excellent retrospective…beautifully written.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keith says:

      Thanks Noelle.


  2. It is beautifully written – although I’m not sure I entirely agree with your premise. Physiologically, gardening can make you feel good, since you’re outdoors, breathing deeply fresh oxygenated air, being exposed to a bit of vitamin D, moving muscles. Psychologically, or spiritually, gardening can become meditative, allowing time for thought, or no thought (weeding comes to mind…). Perhaps, though, it all does boil down to your final sentence – gardening makes you feel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keith says:

      Hi Chris and thanks for reading. I totally agree that gardening ‘can’ make you feel wonderful for all the reasons you mention, after all that’s partly why we all spend so much time doing it. For some people though gardening can be just another thing to do or to worry about – it becomes like outdoor housework. I think sometimes when people advocate a specific activity as being therapeutic (whether it be nature, exercise or art) we sometimes forget that it isn’t necessarily the activity itself that is important. It is how you engage with it that is the magic ingredient. Perhaps the thing that distinguishes gardening from anything else is that that by its very nature it forces you to slow down, to accept that change and imperfection are unavoidable and to appreciate the opportunity to see, smell or touch something outside of yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it does force you to slow down. And, hopefully, to ‘smell the roses.’

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Heyjude says:

    Such a lovely round up. I have to disagree with your last statement though, although I do understand what you said to Chris about gardening can be a chore to some people. It has been for me at times in my life, but whenever I’d finished mowing the lawn etc I would always feel a sense of accomplishment. Now being in the garden is essential for my wellbeing, this wet winter is really having an affect on my mood. Fortunately reading posts like this cheer me up as do the other SOSers 😊
    Happy New Year Keith, and roll on spring!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keith says:

      Happy New year to you Jude. During mild spells like today it feels like spring isn’t all that far away but I know there are still some tough days ahead in January and February. The nice thing about reading other peoples blogs is that even when it is miserable and dark out there you can allow yourself to day dream about brighter days ahead.


  4. Some really nice photos there. Especially like the ones of the butterfly and ladybird. So jealous that you have honey bees in your garden. Hope you had a great Christmas and a great Hogmanay/New Year

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keith says:

      Thanks, hope you enjoy the New Year too. I know that there is at least one honey bee alive as I saw one out patrolling the entrance to the hive yesterday. As for the rest of her sisters we will have to wait anxiously until the spring to be sure..

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lora Hughes says:

    The question you asked yourself – would you have stopped to look for things to write about if you didn’t have the SoS gang out there waiting for you – resonated w/me, perhaps w/more than myself. To me, it’s become a conversation – sometimes a real one like you had w/Chris & Hey Jude above. Sometimes, simply a reminder it’s time to prune roses or an answer to a garden problem I didn’t share. You pulled together some beautiful photos here. Hope you see many many more of the sisters in the coming months.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Keith says:

      Thanks Lora. I think there is definitely something about sharing a diary (even with one person) that encourages you to stick at it otherwise it would be just another of a long list of good intentions that I wouldn’t get round to doing! Hope you have a peaceful new year and next year brings you lots of memorable days in the garden.

      Liked by 1 person

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