Yesterday was gorgeous. The mercury climbed all the way up to 15 degrees and I spent the day outside in my new boots. We enriched the front bed and planted out some roses, artichokes and bits and pieces that had multiplied over the summer. I dug in the green manure and spread some manure about deserving plants. I filled up one black copmpost bin and got it ready to stew, and repositioned the other one. I planted out some more local plants in the little patch at the back fence. Best of all, we all marched up the land slip area at the end of the street and collected kindling, and some oak leaves and clover for a new compost pile.
As a tangent: I spent my teenage years convinced my mother planned the embarassments she heaped upon me on a seemingly daily basis. I can't remember what was so dreadful but it can't have been as odd as marching the family up the hill, wearing my 'gardening hat' and wellies, with one baby in the backpack and the other in the wheelbarrow, dog lead by a piece of blue string taken from a hay bale. Marching down again, we pushed the barrow full of pine cones and sticks and carried big bags of organic matter. Norma across the road has long suspected we are not like the others; yesterday's excursion must have convinced her.
Anyway, the point of the list of jobs done is this: it's like nothing was done at all. I sat down at the gardening calendar this morning and filled out squares for the next two months; I wandered outside and saw jobs to fill a dozen more. I love gardening but unlike lots of other hobbies, it's not something to be done only when I wish. It's lead by seasons and cycles that are dictated by forces beyond me and while there is some leeway as to when a task is completed, if I don't get things done I may not have another chance in the year, and plans and produce can fail. We sing the praises of gardening but it can be another rod to my back, a source of guilt and oppression at the end of a long week of rods, guilt and oppression. There's an ambivalence in my love of the veggie patch.
When we talk about gardening organically it's most usually discussed in terms of sustainability, environmental and financial. I think Al and I are a point where we're achieving these positions. But I want to think more about emotional sustainability and how I can achieve this in my life and my garden. A garden's no good to us if it is a series of tasks to tick off and re-list, even if we save thousands on lettuce and reduce our carbon footprint.
I enjoy each garden task in the moment but finding the time to get to them and the overwhelming sense of 'too much to do' can make it difficult to step outside the back door. I need to remember what the garden gives us, and then I think some of the frustration will leach away.
My garden gives me a sense of security and stability and a sense of place - it roots me (pun!) in my home and my community. It offers the opportunity to complete a task, to tick something off a list, and to use my body in a contextualised way. It gives me great joy to feed my family from what we grow, and the food is so much tastier - there are no measures for just how much better it is. The garden offers stillness: on a Sunday afternoon when the jobs are done it seems nothing surrounds me but sunlight and birdsong, and time stops still - a cliched and banal phrase to write and a deeply calming sense to experience. It also allows a stillness in my mind as my body slips into well learned movements and patterns; the garden offers relief from an intellectual and hyper-verbal life.
Finally and most importantly, the garden allows us all to work together with a common purpose, in a shared space and time - experiences that are rare today but so valuable in developing our sense of how we fit together as a family. I come back to yesterday afternoon up the hill in the sun, Lucy, Al and I searching for pine cones and singing 'Daisy, Daisy give me your answer, do" while Nell-Nell warbled along in her backpack and the dog tore around, mad and still puppy-ish beast that he is. In an L.M. Montgomery book, A Tangled Web, a young girl dropped a handful of rose petals into a glass jar to mark each day of perfect happiness. (One night, jilted and heartbroken by her unworthy fiance, she buries the jar in the garden before it is full.) I'm not one for those kind of gestures but if I were, any day marked would have been lived in the garden.
Remembering this makes me think again on how good my life is and feel a little less overwhelmed by next Saturday's list:
* clean chicken coop;
* spray burgandy mixture on peaches;
* get manure;
* mulch fruit trees with manure;
* plant potatoes in back plot;
* be happy.