I more or less decided to buy our house, after seeing pictures of it online: it had 9 of the 10 things I was praying for. And one of these was a massive garden.
Much to my husband’s annoyance, when we viewed the house, I asked to see the garden first. I fell fast in love, and then only showed (and felt) a cursory interest in the house. The realtor never had an easier sale!
The house I could change–as I have (putting in huge windows in the kitchen and Zoe’s room; building a new 30 sq. m conservatory; knocking down walls between the kitchen and utility room, creating one big sunny room) but the garden!! What luck to find a 1.5 acre garden in Oxford!
I grew up with a one acre garden surrounding our house, a mass of fruit trees, vegetables, and flowers, so many flowers. We gave everyone bouquets, and could not spot the loss.
But when I bought this house and garden what I had overlooked was that we had a gardener who lived on the premises. We also had a live-in maid and a live-in cook, who all helped in that intensively planted garden. My mother spent hours there, dead-heading, grafting, pruning, gathering bouquets of flowers for the house.
The largest garden I had personally worked in was our half acre garden in Williamsburg, which we intensively planted, and which always got the better of us, and earned us frowns from our neighbours, and occasional letters from the home-owner’s association!
* * *
So….we bought our house 9 summers ago, and the dream garden. But it has always overwhelmed me. England is a gardener’s paradise—the soil is fertile, but it does not have Virginia’s scorching summers or freezing winters, nor deer who feast on hostas and roses.
But we’ve done relatively little compared to the size of the garden. I get overwhelmed when everything turns muddy in winter, or feral in the summer. Then the grass in the orchard grows taller than my children; Queen Anne’s lace and cowslips take over; and I work in the garden more and more infrequently, since it makes me feel cross with myself, and with Roy for letting it go.
* * *
I feel a bit manic in my garden, I confessed. My mind races on to the next project—I want a second greenhouse, a four season one; a patio, since we removed ours for a conservatory; more fruit trees, lots of flower beds, and to replace the grass with perennial vegetables and flowers and fruit bushes. I want to convert my garden to a permaculture garden.
I used to get cross, and stressed about imperfections—weeds, plants that need pruning, and shaggy hedges.
“Why don’t you just thank God for the beauty you do have?” she suggested. “Just praise him in and for your garden.”
And so, slowly, I began gardening peacefully, seeing the beauty I have rather then the beauty I do not have. Looking at and praising each beloved plant, rather than hankering for the perfect combination and arrangement of plants. (Well, most of the time. When I see a perfect garden, I hanker!)
* * *
Being in the garden is a mystical experience for me: the sounds of the wind and birdsong, the fragrance of buddleia, and fresh-cut grass, the earth on my fingers which triggers the release of serotonin in my brain, flowers in their Solomonic glory, the taste of just-picked cherries, strawberries or asparagus.
And gardening fills my life with hope.
We’ve planted 45 hostas this year. I am looking forward to seeing them larger and luxuriant next summer, and then dividing them, as well as the other 20 hostas we have. And dividing our hellebores, and heuchera. Basically getting free plants, my gleeful soul claps. And buying new perennials. And planting more fruit trees (we have apples, cherries, mulberries, pears, plums, quinces, medlars, figs, grapes and hazelnuts which came with the orchard attached to the property). Yeah, I am still driven, (let me say purpose-driven and sound a bit more spiritual)
I feel my garden is anchoring me to the earth, filling my life with hope and anticipation. My garden is a deep joy in the centre of my life.
* * *
I know the only sure foundation for hope is the goodness of God, and the love of God.
But the hope my garden gives me, and the optimism it fills me with is somehow tied up with my faith in a good God–and so shall I shall rejoice in autumn’s blazing palette, winter’s austere one, spring’s rainbowed one, and all the mature and variegated greens of summer.
* * *
We have 10 raised vegetables bed in our vegetable garden, and grow our own asparagus, courgettes (zucchini), beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, strawberries, and armfuls of herbs.
I garden using Ruth Stout’s No Work Gardening method, using thick mulchs of grass clippings, garden shreddings, and shredded paper, so that there is no need for weeding, the soul is never exposed, and there is a minimal need for watering.
We shred all waste paper in our paper shredders (£35 each), and I have bought a £149 wood chipper to turn all overgrown shrubbery and hedges and volunteer plants into mulch. When I run out, Roy cuts the grass, and prunes, then chips the prunings. It’s a closed eco-system, all waste becoming soil.
Roy sometimes just wants to go and buy £20 bags of mulch rather than make our own with the wood-chipper, but I think it’s more cost-effective in terms of money and time to just convert all garden waste and untidiness to mulch rather than haul it to the compost heaps, where twigs and branches which can take years to break down.
I chat to God, explaining the financial and practical brilliance of my plan, and explaining to him why he should definitely endorse my ideas, and not Roy’s. (“Thus said the Lord:” it’s a great trump card!!)
* * *
The clay soil is dry. I can see fissures. But underneath, life teems. There are hundreds of flower bulbs which will flower in season, guinea hen orchids and arum italicum which will delight us.
What is essential is invisible to the eye. For nothing is as it seems.
* * *
And there’s a niggle at the back of my mind. “Oh God, will I become the writer I want to be, the blogger I want to be?”
I ask God this question in the silence of my vegetable garden.
He asks me a question in return.
“Anita, will it be okay if you never become the blogger you want to be, the writer you so want to be?”
“Hmm,” I say, suspiciously. My heart beats faster. I sort of hyperventilate.
It is better not to give pat answers when the Lord God asks you a question, “What do you mean by okay?” I ask.
“Will you be okay? Will you still be happy? Will you and I be okay?”
I think a long time, and come back to him the next day, as I work in the vegetable garden.
“Yes, if I never become a successful blogger, I will be okay. And if I never become a successful writer, I will be okay.
“I will learn to thank you for what I do have as a writer, not what I don’t have. I will be happy about all the lovely things in this world so full of richness. My heart will still be full of joy, because you will pour your Holy Spirit into it. I will still be overflowing with thanksgiving.
And yes, of course, you and I will be okay.”
And he says, “Thank you. That’s all I wanted to know.”
* * *
And somehow the niggle most writers have at the back of their heads, the yearning for a crystal ball to tell them if they’ll make it or not just lifts.
I turn the worry about my writing over to him. It’s now his worry.
We will be okay, my Lord and I.
I rather wish he’d speak lovely prophetic words about my blog or my writing into the silence of my heart and garden, but he does not. He has spoken to me about them before, and God is as economical as the closed eco-system in my garden. What he has spoken before, he will not repeat, for he knows I have hidden it in my heart–though when I am tired, I often doubt it.