It is six o’clock in the morning. July. I stand outdoors on the decking, overlooking our South facing garden at the Cherry Laurel hedge I had started to prune back a couple of days earlier. It was overhanging the fence by up to four feet in parts. Motivation prevented me from attending to it over the last couple of years. Pandemic anxieties and family health issues were priority. There remains another ten meters of the hedge where pruning is still required but I am waiting for a dry period forecasted before I continue. Half of the overall length has been completed and so I feel quite relaxed about what remains. Four blackbird nests were found in this hedge and for that reason I always use secateurs to cut back the branches. A sense of mindfulness, and an awareness of what each section contains, that using a powered hedge cutter would not allow, and maybe damage could be caused to any nesting birds. As each nest was revealed, I checked carefully for inhabitants, but they are empty, the youngsters having already fledged.
Rain is forecast. Rain is often forecast in our Pennine located town. Nestled in the foothills of this, so called backbone of the country, it is a reality of the topography which allows the flatter surrounding landscape to remain drier. The hills where we live cause a build-up of pressure on the rising clouds being blown in on the prevailing wind to release their watery cargo, picked up from the Atlantic Ocean before moving across from the West. Having a moist garden has its advantages, not least an almost endless supply of rainwater collected in the multiple water butts around our home.
Before the expected rain, over my left shoulder, the early morning sunshine has revealed itself. The air is warm. Sounds on that air are filled with those natural songs from Blackbirds, Song Thrush’s, Robin’s, and others. Regular attendees to our garden to sing a choral piece for us. Or me, alone in these early hours each morning.
The next hour is my hour. At seven o’clock the household will awake, and my attention will be drawn to attending to a variety of tasks needed to support our son. For now, I start the day as I try to start most days, by asking the smart speaker to quietly play may favourite music. So softly that it is heard as background music and does not compete with the song of the birds outside. My preferred choice of music has become very meditative with age, particularly in this special hour. Time for me to gather my thoughts about how the day will, I hope, roll out, and what I will do if circumstances allow, or indeed prevent.
As I stand looking out, holding a hot mug of tea, a gift which bares the motto ‘I Dig Gardening’ around it, I start thinking about our garden and asking myself, “does this feel like home?” As a child, my mother and father moved home frequently. More to do with my father never settling and always looking for something different, than anything else. We moved from town to town and even to a different country. Australia. Looking around at the early butterflies and bees flying around the garden, I smile as I think of stories my mother told me of when I was born in the maternity unity of Ormskirk hospital. I was an August baby. On this late July day, I celebrate yet another completed year in a few weeks’ time. The midsummer warmth all those years ago, meant the windows in the maternity unit were opened wide to allow the fresh air in. Seasonal moths of all sizes were flying in with the air and were apparently around me and my cot as I was lying there. Maybe this period was the start of my interest in nature and wildlife. Interacting with moths on my first day of life and today, sixty-four years later, I handle moths, butterflies and slugs with equal calm and fascination. The gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd wrote how we could learn to handle slugs if we wanted to. An important message I keep in mind as I spend many hours helping our son accepting how to try things that cause him great anxiety.
My family moved home many times. Around Lancashire, Merseyside, emigrating to Australia, returned to Sefton, then to Derbyshire and back to Lancashire. Even while in Australia we moved several times. For myself and my sisters, each move demanded a new school, a fresh attempt at making friends and a new community to settle into. Today, I lack that sense of having a family home, in that many people can think back to a family home where they were brought up over many years. I feel no attachment like that and for me, I do feel I am still looking to create that family home.
Many people will talk of being influenced in the garden by their parents or grandparents and having spent many hours working and learning together. My interest in the garden has been developed through seeing other aspects of gardening. My father spent his time growing and showing roses. Something we as children were not allowed to get involved with.
Even today as I look out into our garden, making mental notes for an always unwritten to-do list, I ponder on the fact that this is our eighth garden since we were married. Was I becoming like my father and never settling? I’m confident that our moves have been determined by our son’s disabilities and relocation has been due to accessing services and support which sadly are more related to postcode than society will admit. I remain unsure if we will settle here as our forever home or if mobility and support needs will demand that we create that forever home in another place, and create yet another garden.
Plants do mature over a period. There are annuals, bi-annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees, each one reaching maturity at different times. The garden I am looking out over now has been over ten years in the making so far. I think it is the first time I have seen what I have planted show some maturity and, in many cases, we are witnessing flowers and growth we never saw in previous gardens. Am I creating that family home that I have unknowingly sought after for so long?
My attention is interrupted by the smart speaker indoors announcing it is time that our son arose from his bed “It’s eight o’clock and time to get up” My hour is up. It is essential that we get our son out of bed at this time as he needs to start a course of medication which is spread across the day. It will take me about an hour, maybe more from this announcement to help him out of bed, get him washed and dressed and then encourage him to eat his breakfast before toileting and tidying him ready for the day. From this moment on, our son can not be left alone. He has seizures each day because of drug resistant epilepsy. At high risk of sudden death in epilepsy (SUDEP) we need to constantly watch over him in case he falls during one of these seizures, or chokes, or our being ready to inject him with additional medication should he not come around from a seizure.
I have become a resilient gardener over the years. Often, not being able to spend more than ten or fifteen minutes within it due to these caring demands …