Ysella Sims

Letting story speak

Solstice and Soil

Exploring the ecology of my world

When we moved to the village, to our funny house, with all its quirks and corners, steps and riddles, it was the garden that got me. It was a space where the wild had romped in. The hedgeline of the orchard was a bank of scented white rugosa; under the lime trees cow parsley glowed pink and gold as the sun went down. That first September, with the keys to the house in my hand, I lay on the let-loose lawn, a meadow of grasses, sorrels and fox and cubs, listening to the sounds of the village, startled by the idea that this could be ours. I sat with my back against the stone wall, watching the light play through the grass heads, noticing the blue tits balancing on the skeleton of a long dead apple tree. 

We’ve shared five springs with the garden and its wildlife now, and as we move through solstice to the summer, I can feel how we have grown around each other. It’s been a process of cutting back and letting in, watching and noticing, making mistakes and working out how to be. This year it looks more beautiful than ever, a bit wild and reckless, a bit scrappy and wilful, but true. Plants have worked out where they want to be, and I’ve let them. The oxeye daisies that began as a tight knot in a border, have drifted round and about, leaning into the lawn and making a dreamy sway of late spring evenings, a sunny shout of mornings and afternoons. The feverfew that began on the fringes of my vegetable patch has made a curtaining sweep around my writing shed, as if wrapping a protective arm around it. Teasels have marched in, spikily sculptural amongst the artichokes, towering foxgloves and feathery fennels. The roses we planted – purple, pink and white –  against an ugly wire fence two summers ago have made a scented and celebratory garland.

I’m reading Rooted – how regenerative farming can change the world by Sarah Langford and it’s making me think about our relationship to the soil, what we take from and give back to it, how knitted together our fortunes are. I’m fascinated by the idea of ecology, the relationship between us and our environment, its living organisms, plants and animals. Having a garden, and a garden big enough to house a compost heap, or now I’m getting the hang of it, a series of compost bays made from pallets tied together with string, is one of the greatest pleasures, and luxuries, of living here. Recently I heard someone say that we should recognise compost heaps as the beating hearts of our garden by positioning them proudly at their centres, an idea that I love.

Back in the lockdown days of uncertainty we started to keep hens. They helped to ground us as we fell into a pattern of early starts and egg collecting, mucking out and getting to know their personalities. We chastised them when they uncovered a slow worm or tore out newly planted seedlings, laughing at the cartoonish way they ran to the gate when they heard us call. I saw the effect that their bedding, straw and sawdust, together with their droppings, made on the compost, helping to turn grass cuttings, garden clippings and fruit and vegetable peeling into barrows of soft brown compost to feed back onto the soil like a diagram in a biology textbook. But last week we said goodbye to Alice, one of our flock of three, a vital beat in the rhythm and ecology of our garden and life, a tender thread in the story of our new life here.

I learn the term ‘social ecology’ and realise that people are a part of that ecology too. New friendships have grown since moving here, a web of connections that have developed around and beneath us like so many mycelium roots under the soil. At solstice I sat out in the garden with a friend. We watched the full moon rise bright on the horizon, talking about love and work and life; about my journey since winter, through illness and change towards summer and a place where I am poised between a holding fast or letting go, wondering if I can be brave enough to let the wild in, to reimagine my life and self. 

At the end of the evening I walked her home through the quiet road of the village. The dog ran, tail up, nose down, picking up all the night time scents. Neighbours were in their beds, but the night felt young, the year wise, perched between light and dark, and new beginnings. 

The coming weeks feel auspicious, for all kinds of reasons, and I’d love to hear what you’re balanced between, in your head and heart, in the physical world and the emotional, about what’s shifting in your ecology?

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