Letter to the garden - January 2021

Dear Garden, I write to you as the misery that was 2020 has thankfully drawn to a close.  I think back to the hopes I had for the year and despair more than a little.  2021 has not started with much joy and things look very bleak, but we have to look forward and have hope don't we?

In terms of how we have been this last year, you and I my dear garden, the year made us closer than ever.  I have been working from home for much of the year, though once the lockdown eased a little I was able to start having a working in the office routine again.  Not every day though, I think my days of a daily commute are now behind me for ever.  It was my choice to have a long commute so I would be disingenuous to imply anything other; but it turns out that whilst I did not mind the driving I am enjoying the not constant driving.  I have concerns though as I can think this as I am not blind to the cost this pandemic has had on our economy, our workforce and our society as a whole.  It is difficult to think of beneficial aspects to this year as it has been a period of huge human cost.  I have felt more isolated than I would ever have imagined and kept apart from my family and friends as have we all.  There have been so few days out, time not spent with my family and friends.  My world has shrunk to being largely within the boundaries of my house and garden.  I am not used to this and I don't want to be used to this.  I now understand the saying 'the walls pressing in on me'; as I found listening to the news particularly in the first few months as a trigger for the walls to move inwards like I was in the plot of an old B movie.  I had to stop listening to the news, not a usual thing for me to do as I care what is happening in the world, but it was too much for me to cope with.  I had to start looking after myself and wrap a layer of insulation around myself.  The news did not alter if I did not listen to it live, so waiting until I could read it (usually with a mug of tea for fortitude) was better for me.

Truth is, dear garden, at all times gardening brings me a real joy.  I like gardening any time of year, and in the winter there is a palpable quiet that seems to seep from the garden and into my soul.   This quiet has nothing to do with noise: I live close to the ring road and a motorway, this quiet is a quiet I become.  Weeding and other such garden work enables me to have a sense of achievement, I can see where I have been and hopefully that the garden has been improved by whatever I have been up to. 

 As I work along the border, stretching out my spine to reach under roses and shrubs.  I snag my woolly hat on the thorns and have to reverse carefully out of the under-story to reclaim my hat and poke the pulled threads to the back so that the knitting does not start to run.  I continue with my weeding, moving the winter detritus so that I can see what is beneath. 


“There you are” I whisper “well hello you”.   There are the tips of the snowdrops, small cones of green pushing their way upwards, just hiding under the fallen leaves of the apple tree waiting to be seen.  I clear their blanket away from them so they can breathe.   I keep weeding from around them, giving them space.  This moment, this perfect moment is when I can sit back on my heels as I have found my joy.  There in front of me are signs of hope for the new year, the much-needed signs of Spring.  Signs of hope have been few in this pandemic.  It has been a year of different shades of grey.  From the bleak misty: cannot see a way forward; to the dark, suffocating, brain-fogging horror of it all.  When I am out in the garden losing myself like this I feel guilt knowing how lucky I am that I have a garden when so many do not. 

We still have hard months ahead of us.  I am not a great fan of January and February generally as I find them dark and grey; and the year has started with the pandemic taking a tighter grip.  The hope of the vaccine is good and I embrace the hope of it.  I am rightly not high on the list of people to receive it and so I wait my turn patiently.  

It was a very rainy December.  One of my great pleasures is to walk out into the garden when the rain has barely stopped.  The rain can still be heard dropping from the trees and plants like it is its own lower-level gentle rain.  I can stand in the garden and let the sound of this wrap around me like a duvet.  The other day I was indoors having a house tidying/cleaning moment and I had the windows open whilst I did this.  It was raining outside and for once I did not have the radio on as background.  I realise that I tend to have background noise a lot to overcome the loudness of the silence in the house.  This day though I had not put the radio on and I was listening to the sound of the rain outside. Suddenly I was transported back to the bedroom of my childhood.  I remembered my habit of sitting on the window-seat under the large sash-window in my bedroom.  On rainy days I would open the bottom half of the window, which took some effort as the window was old and the sash's quite stiff.  I would shove the bottom section of the window open and sit and listen to the rain, the birds and the hum of traffic.  It was a moment of connection.  I would also smell the air, the fresh smell of rain seeping into the ground.  This smell is more than just the delicious  first hit of rain petrichor smell, this is the smell of rain on soil; it is mossy and earthy and overlaid with eau de mollusc.

Seep is such a good word and very much the word I think of often when thinking about this time of year.  The damp cold seeps into my clothing and hair, I start off weeding the garden quite chilly.  I warm up and then, suddenly, I realise how cold it is again.  If I pause for too long the cold washes over me and I have to decide whether to give in to it or keep going.  Dear garden, more often than not I keep going as each moment is precious that I spend outside.  If the last year has taught me nothing else, it has taught me how much I need this time being connected.

The turning of the year is for reflection and introspection.  I look at you my garden and think back over the weeks and months of this year.  My inclination is to want to forget how awful it has all been and yet I know that this would be a mistake.  To forget would be to learn nothing and I need to learn from this year.  I need to learn what really matters and what does not.  I have had lessons in perspective this year: I reflect on them, learn and will continue to learn.  2021 will be a different year, if nothing else changes I think I have.

So thank you dear garden, you are there, you are my constant.

Stay safe and be kind,

your loving gardener.