|Published by Louise Adey Huish on Mon, 18 May 2020 13:14|
Sharing inspiration: Time and change
‘Established’ is a good word, much used in garden books,
‘The plant, when established’…
Oh, become established quickly, quickly, garden!
For I am fugitive, I am very fugitive –
Those that come after me will gather these roses,
And watch, as I do now, the white wisteria
Burst, in the sunshine, from its pale green sheath.
Planned. Planted. Established. Then neglected,
Till at last the loiterer by the gate will wonder
At the old, old cottage, the old wooden cottage,
And say, ‘One might build here, the view is glorious;
This must have been a pretty garden once.’
Mary Ursula Bethell (1874 – 1945)
I began by enjoying this poem as a joke against myself, and my ongoing attempts to rescue my garden from too many months of neglect. As there haven’t been that many plants around (other than the ones I don’t want!) I’ve been transplanting and encouraging existing seedlings, with a mixed degree of success. ‘Oh, become established quickly, quickly, garden!’ could be my mantra at present. In my mind’s eye I can see what the garden could look like when the seedlings have grown and the empty spaces have been filled in; when instead of digging I can sit on the garden bench with a book and a glass of something cold, and enjoy the beauty, the order and the sense of achievement.
And then, having begun to read with a twinkle in my eye, I started to think about the way the poem develops: how the garden which comes into its full glory of wisteria and roses doesn’t take long at all to fall into disrepair. My mother-in-law (who had the garden before me) must have felt the same in the last years of her life, as her vigour, her determination and her sense of balance deserted her, and day-to-day maintenance of the garden became just too much to manage. She was exemplary in the graciousness with which she was able to let go and hand things over, though I think she would probably have been appalled by the way in which red, orange and yellow have taken over from pinks and mauves in what was once her garden, and is now mine.
Reflecting on time and change, I’ve found myself wondering what the world as a whole will look like this time next year. What will have become of the growing recognition that we need to do things differently, once we emerge from lockdown? Will our new insights have had long enough to become established? Think of all those things we are beginning to learn – about the value to our society of the most poorly-paid, the carers, the refuse collectors, the delivery drivers, the hospital porters. About the pleasures of staying at home, of gardening, baking, reading, painting pictures. About the small things, the tiny changes in the familiar landscapes of our neighbourhood, the chats about nothing much over fence and wall, a smile given or received. About those new insights – not always welcome! – into our own characters. All these things are tiny seedlings still, and need the right circumstances to become established, to grow into strong, lovely features of our landscape, objects of delight and admiration.
As lockdown loosens will we allow these things to take us in new directions, to create a new garden, a new world? Where who we are will matter more, and what we have, or what we can afford, will matter less? Can we find within ourselves the graciousness to let go of what was, and to welcome what may come? I am not sure what the signs of the times are telling us at present. I am about to venture out to Sainsburys’s for the first time in two months – and I never thought a trip to the supermarket would fill me with apprehension (or require so much preparation in the way of face masks and antiseptic gel). But how long will it take for that to seem normal again? Once people are back to work, back to the daily commute and the school run, will we simply fall back into the same habits, the same attitudes of mind? Succumb to the same familiar pressures?
We have an opportunity at present to re-imagine the world. To confront the dilemmas of climate change, of global inequality, of social injustice. But it’s going to take more than seven or eight weeks of soft focus and starry eyes, of sharing inspirational quotes on the internet. Can we find the resolve to see this change through, to allow the garden to become established (and to maintain it afterwards)?
Or shall we look back on this time and say regretfully, ‘This must have been a pretty garden once?’