I’ve been reading Alice Vincent’s exploration of women’s connection to growing, Why Women Grow. I’ve been nodding along, reading about gardens being spaces that ‘hold grief and resilience’, reflecting where we are in our lives, offering us spaces to nurture ourselves as well as living things which aren’t people, about how they can represent an opportunity for us to be mothered. Gardening, the act of putting my hands into the soil, saves me time and again. During the pandemic those of us with gardens revelled in their ability to ground us, to connect us to something bigger than ourselves, something capable of renewal, offering hope for the future. But reading Why Women Grow has made me think again about how gardens are political spaces, about the inherent privilege that means that I have access to the soil and can manage it however I choose, focusing my mind on the connection between the personal and the political.
Letting the wildness in
I garden for wildlife, always with an eye on letting the wildness in, so I’ve loved hearing gardeners like Alys Fowler and Rachel de Thame come out on the side of allowing wildness into our gardens, a shift reflected in designs at the Chelsea Flower show in recent years. Ideas are changing. When we moved into our home I uncovered a shed filled with a chemist’s/torturer’s trove of chemicals, traps and devices for persecuting weeds and wildlife, a curling poster pinned to the wall of weeds to be eliminated and how to go about it. But the chemicals and traps have all gone and I’ve let the ‘weeds’ or ‘hero plants’ grow and mown paths through them. The garden feels softer, the flowers that appear, like chickweed, Fox & cubs and speedwell, joyful and buzzing with insect life. Weeds are the brain of our soil, the thing which makes it ‘work’. The idea that we have to eliminate anything that we didn’t plant or invite in directly isn’t conducive to creating a harmonious environment, or world.
In her recent article ‘Ditch your spade, forget fertiliser, listen to the weeds: Alys Fowler’s guide to laid-back gardening’, she says that most of what she’s learned as a professional gardener has been off the mark, “All that laboured effort – the weeding, the fertilising, the digging, the tending and pruning, the selecting and conforming – it’s not working. Not for the plants, the soil or the community around them, which includes you and me.” she says. In another article she outlines why we should stop weeding and learn to celebrate the dandelions.
Colonizers write about flowers
When people come into my garden for the first time the word they use most often is ‘magic’. I can’t take the credit, because mostly I let it be, not getting in its way too much. I think that the magic comes from the sense of wonder that we feel at the unfettered, the loose and wild, of letting go and trusting nature.
I used to feel apologetic that all I wrote about was nature, but in the context of the climate crisis I can see the way that I grow, and the way that I communicate about it, as a political act. Recently I came across a poem by Noor Hindi called Fuck Your Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying which shook me from any residual complacency. It opens, ‘Colonizers write about flowers’, and I burned with shame. But it was good to be shaken from comfort to really feel where my privilege lies.
This is all there is
I’ve seen justice defined before as achievable only if those not directly affected by an injustice care enough to do something about it. And I do care. And I also believe that by stewarding the natural environment in a way that recognises that we are all connected and that we are nature, that what we do to it we do to ourselves and to each other, is a stand that I can take. I don’t need to feel ashamed of writing about nature and our connection to each other.
Because this is all there is.
‘Gardening is a lot of work and these days way more than I am prepared to put in’ … Alys Fowler in her garden in Aberystwyth.
Credit: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian
Rachel de Thame said: “It’s just about being aware and accepting that we, as humans, are not the only important beings in the environment in which we live”
Credit: Russell Sach – Photographer/The Telegraph