I was recently asked to bring to mind a safe place. Somewhere that made me feel calm, alive and soothed. Whenever asked a question like this previously, my mind automatically pictured a tropical beach scene. This time, however, I paused and considered what was relevant for me now – I pictured myself in my back garden, sitting in the sun on the pontoon that floats over the pond, watching the birds bathe and feed. The daffodils are flowering and the cherry is coming into blossom. Not only can I see the birds, but their song fills the air. This scene uses four of my senses which I believe makes it more liveable.
I have spent many hours over the past two weeks enjoying this scene from my kitchen window – not because I needed a mental ‘safe place’ but because the birds are just so beautiful. A pair of bullfinches, song thrush, goldfinches, nuthatches, robins, blue tits, wrens, chaffinches – there are just so many beautiful birds visiting the ornamental cherry tree – feeding off the tree but also on the black sunflower seeds and the niger seeds that I provide.
I had planned to spend time this week hard pruning the dogwood that sits behind the pond. It was planted by the previous owners and, while I have attacked it every year, it’s still relatively out of control and towers almost 3 metres high. The plan was to cut a third of the stems to ground level to provide stunning new red growth for the years ahead. However – the birds love it how it is and are often perched on the high stems drying their feathers after a bath. So, for their sake, I’ve decided to continue as I have in the past – controlling very lightly. It is their garden more than it is mine.
When I last visited my parents I loved watching the birds that visited their feeders, but was struck by the stark difference between their Australian experience and mine – out there the birds were huge – king parrots, rainbow lorikeets, galahs and cockatoos – birds that are totally in-your-face with their colours and their calls. In comparison our English birds are charming and dainty, infinitely more subtle but every bit as beautiful.
As the winter chills and the grey skies descend, sending me into a whirl of homesickness for warm days and a family gathering, I’ve looked to my garden to help snap me out of it. Sure it was a blustery, cold day – but getting out into the elements and planting some of the few bulbs I hadn’t yet got to was good therapy! And I watched a kingfisher diving into my pond – absolutely amazing – and suddenly my world righted itself just a little.
Mum gave me a beautiful ceramic pendant a few years ago that now hangs on the rustic fence at the back of my garden. It reads…. “to forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves” (Ghandi). I certainly find my horticultural exploits very grounding and life affirming – and have met so many people, both personally and in the virtual world, who feel the same. We are so lucky to have discovered such a beautiful gift.
I have promised myself that in 2017 I’m not going to start another large garden project. Rather, I want to really look at what I have and make the very best of all of it. Enhanced colour combinations, extended seasonal interest, growing food that takes me through all the seasons, installing the polytunnel, sorting out the shed! It will be a year of maintenance and completion. And when possible, to encourage and include my little girl in the garden – to try and get some of this goodness into her life as well.
But for now, as the forecast is set to dip again, I’m enjoying planning the vegetable garden planting for 2017. The thousand bulbs that went into the front garden are starting to shoot – so, while trying to live as mindfully as possible, I’m also looking forward to the show of colour after all the planting work of 2016.
A ‘not so wild’ joy!
I have borrowed the title for this post from an article in the latest Derbyshire Wildlife Trust magazine. Written by Dr William Bird, it talks about ‘modern life’ – in particular society’s disengagement from the natural world. The article talks about the sedentary nature of life, driven by technology, and the increased isolation felt by many. The impact this has on our health, both physical and mental, is alarming. The article really struck a chord with me – mostly because I have found the natural world to be such a fabulous healer.
I started my blog to remind myself of lovely things. Things that I made, what I grew, meals that I prepared, nature, flowers. Reminding myself on a weekly basis helped me to see that the stressful and challenging times weren’t the only times.
I have called upon ‘my’ natural resources again in the last couple of weeks as secondary school pressures dramatically impact my little girl. We swing from being 11 to 16 to 2… and back to 16 again. It’s pressure they all face as both expectations and personal freedoms increase, though I guess most are better at managing their emotional regulation.
Facing this chaos with a balanced, compassionate approach is essential. So every day I have gardened, I have sat and watched bees, I have listened to bird call – all of this helps me to sometimes achieve this balanced state. A nice aside is the gorgeous fresh produce and the lovely flowers that fill the house. One day at a time.
As February ends and spring comes ever closer, the snowdrops, crocus and Narcissus Tete-a-Tete are in bloom. I’m desperate to get outside – not just to start working through the long list of jobs that need to be done – but to hear the birds singing, to fill up my vegetable and cutting beds and to feel the sun on my face.
The solitude of my garden in early spring is wonderful after the constant noise of the house through winter. As the repetitive tasks of mulching and cutting back and clearing fill many hours, I feel my shoulders start to fall and a general feeling of peace descends.
Through the garden, plants are sending out fresh green leaf buds. Red peony spikes appear, closely followed by the most beautiful pale green leaves. Wood ash from the stove is sprinkled around to encourage a proliferation of blooms. I regret not planting tulips in the cutting garden last autumn and have made a note to do so later this year.
And although a foot of snow fell overnight, blanketing all my emerging shoots and flowers and threatening to drag me back into winter, I have wrapped up warm to harvest Cornus branches which I will fashion into a woven framework for the shrub roses. The snow will not deter me, not this week at least!
It’s been quite an anxious start to the new year in my home. Prior to Christmas I had a relatively calm three months with our daughter, and I’d been lulled into a false sense of serenity and calm, all of which has now come crashing down!
Unfortunately children who have experienced a chaotic or traumatic start in life don’t easily accept that they are loved. Rather, when they feel very loved and very secure, they often also feel the enormous fear that things are “too good”. That these good times are sure to end. And so fear sets in.
My daughter confronts her fear head-on. She tries desperately hard to own and control her life outcomes. And the outcome she predicts, irrational driven by her fear, is that her life with us will end. As a result, I see a drastic spike in aggression, anger, rudeness, nasty and cruel behaviour – her way of pushing me away, therefore controlling her own outcomes.
As the days and then weeks pass, my resolve to parent her in a thoughtful, kind, loving way becomes more difficult. I feel the effects of her trauma personally, putting up new boundaries to keep myself safe, both physically and emotionally. But this is not the answer for children who respond to love and safety in such a fearful way.
To help myself I got out my sewing machine and started sewing some bunting to hang across the patio in my garden, especially wanted for my open-garden in July. I also jumped online and ordered my seeds, soft fruit plants and mushroom dowels for the growing season ahead. Small acts of kindness to myself so that I can breathe again and thereby help my lovely daughter.
I love new beginnings, change, the seasons renewing. I enjoy the chance to reflect and improve and also to savour what has beeen achieved.
My daughter returned to school today for her new school year. Year 6, final year of primary school, a lot of responsibility for a little girl. The desire to “grow up” is so strong in her, while I push just as strongly to keep her “little” for as long as possible. She was full of brightness this morning, wearing a new skirt and tights, new pencils packed. She went to school feeling proud and full of hope.
Unfortunately the little girl that I delivered to school was not the little girl who came home. Who was anxious and agitated in the car. Who lay on her bed quietly for 30 minutes not fully understanding what led to her day being so bad.
Attachment disorders in children who have been neglected can cause illogical, disruptive, “naughty” behaviour. Behaviour that can push adults to the edge of sanity. Slowly, month after month, year after year, attachment is built and behaviour starts to slowly ‘normalise’. Unfortunately, the school environment is not always conducive to building strong attachment in wounded children. I don’t expect children to understand “bad” behaviour, to be able to manage it, to empathise with those who are scared and angry. But I hope.
So, for this new beginning, I am going to embrace hope. I, and my daughter, will grow even when lots and lots of walls are put in our way.