My garden is the closest place to heaven that I know. It’s an allotment in a walled garden that was built hundreds of years ago to grow fruit for the lord of the village where I live.
So it’s very sheltered, like a little wild oasis. When I first came there in 1996, it had been abandoned and was covered in brambles and nettles and docks, so I had to painstakingly dig and clear every square foot that I wanted to grow things in. Thus I made the acquaintance of several cheeky blackbirds, who now come swooping down when they see the worm producer appear in her muddy boots and dirty old sweater.
Over the years there has, I must admit, been a bit of mission creep. You might call it colonial expansion. I started with a few vegetables, and then a friend built me some raised beds – and that was a completely different thing altogether, because you don’t really have to dig them, as long as you don’t ever walk on them. That way the soil stays light and aerated. Then I got a beautiful curved bench as a birthday gift, which now sits at the end of the path, surrounded by old roses.
There’s apple trees, pears, plums and lots of raspberries. Currants I steal from neighbouring gardeners who have too many anyway. For a long time I had a tattered old plastic poly tunnel, but then I invested in a wooden greenhouse where I potter like Mr MacGregor. But we don’t have rabbits, so my sadistic tendencies are reserved for slugs.
I have a seven-year-old boyfriend who seems to have a passion for gardening; he comes to plant seeds with me on his way back from the local primary school. He remembers absolutely everything I tell him. Often I don’t remember. So when the second version is rubbish he tells me off, and we get along quite well like that.
A friend of mine says: “The information overload can be so distracting that you disconnect from your own inner self and can’t read the emotions or the impulses that drive you. There is something about physicality, walking and thinking, gardening and reflecting that allows those reflections to become clear.”
Working in this garden is balm for my soul. When I’m distressed or anxious, it’s where I go. To have my feet in the earth simply brings me home. The wood smoke from the fire and the deep scent of the roses is what I want to breathe, when I stagger back from days of meetings in stuffy rooms in the city. I feel deeply blessed to have these times, when the chattering of my mind slowly yields to the songs of birds, and I actually notice the delight that surrounds me.