Yesterday was the first morning of sunshine in quite a few days and it beckoned me ceaselessly to come out into the garden. Over the winter many jobs got left undone and now I had a surfeit of choice. Where to start? Down to the vege patch I went, surveying the posts planted around the edges of the garden which will, eventually, support the anti-rabbit mesh. Anyone who has read Beatrix Potter will immediately recognise me as a present day Mr MacGregor. My greens have been ravished; I’ve taken to planting in the glasshouse so we actually get some food!
I have to say that this didn’t bring out the best in me; I know bunnies are cute but the are devastation on four legs with a fluffy tail! So now, feeling provoked I turned my vengeful gaze on my potting shed and its numerous inhabitants. It too, hasn’t seen much of me over the winter. A new granddaughter was being incubated and she arrived at the beginning of June; so I’ve been Grandma-ing not gardening. Now was the time to take up the reins again. It was no surprise to see the mass colonisation of spiders; nature will encourage all her creatures to do that. After my rabbit-reflections I was in just the right mood to to deal with spiders. Generally, I’m not afraid of spiders and actually find some quite beautiful, but these had to go. I am not Arachne and need no spinning lessons.
Calling upon my Kali aspect I mixed up some pyrethrum spray that urges spiders to move on – at least two continents away! I swept, I stacked, I sprayed. Spiders packed their bags hastily and left, an exodus akin to the Hebrews fleeing Egypt. Today I will go down again and clean the windows so all is prepared for Spring planting.I know that Persephone is making her way up from the underworld because my Almond is blossoming; she is always the first orchard tree to express her joy at the returning of Spring. All around I can feel the garden waking up; we have ben visited by the quail for the first time after their winter holidays. It is fascinating to notice the turning of the wheel; i have so much gratitude for being able to live close to the natural world and to feel communion with her. So much mystery abounds and like a small child who has secretly peaked at her Christmas presents prior to the day, I am allowed to understand the mystery and experience the magnificence. The life of a gardener is glorious and gifted.
And the greatest mystery of all is that of life and death. I have learned to honour this cycle even though I know that the beautiful Magnolia flowers that have bought me such joy these last few months are now in their death throes as the way is made clear for an abundance of foliage. I will mourn their loss even as I yearn for the emergence of fruit blossom, gardenias and rambling rose blooms. With every ending there is always a new beginning.
We’ve just experienced the equinox this week and along with it the usual equinoctial gales. It now finally begins to feel that Spring is here; for some time now we’ve lived with t he dry bones clatter of the death Goddess as she moves through bare branches on a chill wind, shriveling the life out of any new and tender growth.
So it was with joy and anticipation I listened and finally heard the first call of the shining cuckoo a few days ago; the most reliable of harbingers. I trust then that Mother Nature is awakening from her winter’s rest once again. My eyes don’t deceive me either for that Great Lady is now covering her bones with garments of every green imaginable; gauzy limes layered over soft velvety olives and an underskirt of dark glossy greens.
Everywhere there is urgency as birds court flirtatiously and build nests of all manner of wondrous finds. Twigs, feathers, fur and lichen are woven with skill and grace. The call to spend time outside overcomes my concern for wet ground underfoot; a couple of sunny days and all will be dried out once again.
Now as the wisteria racemes begin to unfurl their blossoms revealing a delicious scent I am beguiled and know that I must bow my head in honour of this glorious turning of the wheel.
The ocean roar of wind crashes through the canopy of the eucalypts surrounding the garden with as much power and fury as a west coast beach in a storm. Down below all is calm and bathed in warm sunlight, the merest waving of leaves a pale reflection of what occurs above. Spring continues her unfolding – one step forward, two steps back, emerging then finding things not entirely to her liking she retreats again. It’s as though Persephone isn’t fully prepared to give up her dark lover.
For me too, I’m happy to lay in bed on cold and rainy days, reading a book and contemplating; only to find the next day I’m sun-seduced into a full days garden activity – planting, seed sowing, dreaming up my next project. The creatures also respond to the call of the sun; the garden is full of birds again today, bees are out gathering pollen with serious intent. Fortunately the blossoms seem to have timed their arrival to avoid the stormy period so an abundant harvest is still possible. Although, until Spring has fully unfolded and all her petals have dropped there are no guarantees – she is youthful fickleness – a lesson in both the discomfort and pleasure of transformation. As I embrace the lesson I feel a child-like curiosity and anticipation arise and a quiet acceptance that it is all out of my hands.
I’ve been hearing people saying lately that Spring has arrived, as if it is a date on the calendar. Well, actually in New Zealand we do describe September 1 as the first day of Spring. Herein lies the truth, it’s the beginning of the process of unfolding and releasing the new emergent energy; it happens slowly, one day at a time. In order to notice the changes I am daily in communion with the parts of my garden that express ‘Springness’. I check the plum blossom and the foliage buds on my oak trees. In my vege garden I check the temperature of the soil. It’s still too wet and cold to plant Spring veges. I know this because my brassicas look so fine; they’re loudly expressing that Winter hasn’t fully released its grip. Which is ok too; greens are good for us & we need to eat plenty – or so I tell myself when I experience resistance to the idea. Fortunately as I stand surveying their healthy vitality I’m nourished by the beauty & elegance of the red cabbages and radicchio. Food for the soul is every bit as important. This radiant show helps remind me that the slow letting go of Winter into the quickening of Spring is inevitable and soon a different kind of expression will take the place of my gloriously ruffled radicchio. Even as I write the first plum blossoms are welcoming bees as they feverishly collect pollen to keep the hives healthy in preparation for a new seasons honey making. So much promise yet to be fulfilled.
Now that we’ve had some sunny days I’ve been seduced out into the garden to feel the warm sun on my skin and seek for signs of Spring. Sure enough, there they were, tiny white bumps of blossom just about to burst forth; the scent of grape hyacinths, so big considering the tiny bells it emanated from and the distinctive call of the quail as the return to their summer home. Sometimes when I’m out in the garden the smallest things capture my attention. As I wandered around the vege patch taking account of all the work needed to prepare for Spring planting I spotted the happiest Prunella vulgaris I’ve ever seen. It makes sense really; it was growing in a warm, moist spot which would have been exactly what it preferred; how wise of it! Normally when I see these flowers I’m instantly motivated to pull up the plants straight away; in my garden they’re a weed. This one though, I had to leave exactly where it was – I felt such a sense of pleasure from its abundant growth. It warmed me on the inside and made me smile – how clever to win me over with its show of vigour and enthusiasm – I couldn’t resist taking a photo!
Since then I’ve been back in the garden sowing seeds and watching the bees busy collecting pollen from my profusely blooming Eriostemon. Each time I find myself thinking about that cheeky Prunella. Then, this morning I remembered its common name, ‘Self-Heal’ and immediately began to laugh. I’d been speaking to a friend who’d been sharing her troubles and need for healing. Now I know I‘ll have to send her the photo I took so she’ll be reminded where to start.
I’ve spent a bit of time over the last two weeks staring out at the view through my french doors. I’ve felt irritated. My body, host to an eclectic blend of bacteria and viruses has kept me housebound so each time I looked out I’d notice how long the grass had gotten. Grass – not lawn you understand – an untidy mix of weeds competing with whatever grassy plants were robust enough to survive. I desperately wanted them gone; mown, slashed, whatever it took.
Today I felt well enough to go out and reconnect with all the glorious growth that had continued in my absence. I needed to check up as well, we’ve had a good week of Spring rain and some of my beauties don’t appreciate its effect on their countenance. There’s nothing sadder than the blighting of a souvenir de la Malmaison rose after prolonged rain. So I wandered – pleased to see that apart from some very furry strawberries the garden had weathered the rain pretty well. There were lots of roses and Hemerocallis flowering, their perfumes accompanied me as I wandered. Further down in my wild area I found some new bracken shoots, their tightly clenched velvet fists waving in the breeze. I couldn’t help having to stop and treat myself to a velvet caress. Plenty was running amok, however; I dodged an over-vigourous clump of nettles and contemplated the lawn mower again. I wandered on, in the full knowledge I wasn’t up to pushing it. I pushed aside a wave of frustration instead and walked on. Then something magical happened – thoughts of lawn mowing were banished from my mind as I saw spread like sapphire confetti the starry blue eyes of Sisyrinchium staring up at me from between the blades of grass. Everywhere walked now was speckled with these tiny blue flowers; my heart swelled and my body was flooded with gratitude. My previous thoughts of lawn mowing were instantly transformed as I imagined ways to maintain the starry display for as long as possible. How, I wondered, had these little creatures managed to gain such strength of numbers? I am constantly amazed at these quiet miracles that occur; in the garden. A blue wave of joy, a gentle occupation warming hearts and enticing bees. A simple pleasure , deeply rewarding.
Today as I listen to the rain beating out a dirge on my roof I feel no desire to go outside. There is a gloomy grey and dismal tone to the day; flowers and shrubs bend their heads forlornly. It reminds me that there once was a time when our connection to nature overshadowed all our actions. The ancient Greeks had a ritual for this time, a dromenon, in which they enacted the dance of death and rebirth. They understood that the end of winter meant not only the passing of hard times, but also the loss of many of their people. Spring came, but at a cost. Therefore they ritualised their loss so as to propitiate the spirits of their dead ancestors in order that they would protect the tribe from the spirit world. Attached to this was the celebration of the return of Spring, the possibility of new life and plenty. We live distantly from these concerns now and have become complacent about the power of Mother Nature to impact our lives so intimately. Even so, in my past work as a florist I made many wreaths for elderly townsfolk over the winter months. The winter is a time of harvest too. Looking out the rain beaded window I feel that sense of loss; the weeping heads of the flowers, the wailing of wind in the eucalypts evokes a powerful, palpable grief. It’s nothing maudlin, however, only a reminder of the need need to give thanks for what was. Out of death and decay comes new life. And so it is, that Spring reminds us that after the loss comes the celebration. As I walked around the garden a few days ago I noticed the new figs swelling on almost naked branches. Spring’s promise to us, her little joke, the fruit that is really a flower tricking us into belief in the harvest to come.