Times like these
The great English author and garden designer Vita Sackville-West once wrote that the most noteworthy thing about gardeners “is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing something better than they have ever done before”. It’s true that gardening is an essentially positive act. To have a garden forces you to constantly look forward; it all but compels you to aspire and to dream. Every seed you plant, you plant in hope. Gardening gives you a (perhaps spurious) sense of control too. Even as the world outside my garden spins off in all sorts of unpredictable ways, there is an order to the events outside my window that continues unaffected. The sun shines, the rain falls. Right now the evenings have started to grow longer. There are tomato and pepper seedlings on my kitchen table because I know that summer will come. The white blossom has emerged on my plum trees, and I have faith that plums will follow. The British gardener Monty Don wrote of observing his own garden over lockdown last year, as the weather warmed and the blossom and tulips gave way to paeonies, irises, roses and poppies. “Yet, despite the sense of a garden rising to its crescendo there is always the sense of more to come, of growth and expansion and a soaring hope driving through every living cell,” he wrote. “And never have we needed or appreciated that more than now.” I am not sure what the situation will be when you read this but I live in Auckland, so I am writing it from the back bedroom of my Mt Albert home. The city is (back) under fairly severe restrictions to control the spread of coronavirus, while the rest of the country is adjusting to (yet another) new normal. So I am focusing on all the reasons I have to be grateful. I am grateful it is spring. I am grateful that I have had a chance to spend so much time in my own garden over these recent weeks. It has made me hyper alert to the everyday miracles that have occurred here recently. Indeed I realise they actually occur all the time but I often must fail to notice because I am busy at the office or rushing around doing things that seem, at least, to be important. I am grateful to have a garden. Because as I said, I think planting and growing and working with nature is a source of resilience, joy and hope for me. Probably for you too, since I fail to see how it could not be. I heard a lot from readers, friends and family during the recent national lockdown that they wished they had stockpiled seeds, plants and growing mix before they were, suddenly, confined to their homes. They were often frustrated, because they felt they didn’t have what they needed to get out and get growing. And I have thought about that a lot, because it seems to me you don’t need very much at all to enjoy all the benefits that a garden can offer. You don’t need to go to the shops and spend a lot of money on specialist gear. You don’t even need a garden, to be honest: even a plant in a pot on a balcony or a windowsill gives you something positive to focus on, something to look forward to, and – I think, at least – some perspective on the world outside. So in this issue I have collected some ideas from gardeners around the country for what you can do with what you (probably) have on hand. Things you can grow or regrow, little but ingenious ideas that let you look forward and keep growing, and indeed keep going. These are mainly small ideas. While some of them are ways you might grow a bit of food, my aim wasn’t to suggest ways you could be entirely self-sufficient at all. I just think it’s good to remember that no matter what is happening in the world, there’s almost always something you can do in the garden and that can help you feel more positive about what is to come. And I, for one, feel grateful for that.