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…
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.
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.
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