This is an unusual time. We’ve all heard these words a hundred times already; words we say to each other when we don’t know how else to sum it up. Scary, unsettling, disquieting, unique… unusual. Here in the Garden the atmosphere is stoic but worried; its hard to know how to plan or what is around the corner. There are no volunteers in the Garden, any risk is too much so it wasn’t a big decision to ask them all to stay at home. Staff who have symptoms are self-isolating and we’re cancelling events, courses and workshops.
It’s an unusual time; walking home from work avoiding the bus and shops, getting home and sowing seed for the allotment and the year ahead. In the evenings I like to read, I’ve just finished reading Modern Nature by Derek Jarman. I didn’t know much about him before reading the book, but I now have a greater understanding and appreciation of a good man and gardener. He was an artist filmmaker who owned Prospect cottage in Dungeness; the house is perched on the shingle of a beach overlooking a large concrete nuclear power station. On this shoreline he produced a wonderful garden from seeds and cuttings of tough plants that would survive the briny atmosphere and cobbled landscape. Poppies, santolina, sea kale, lavender, rosemary, iris, curry plants, fennel and sea pea all adorned with flotsam and jetsam found accumulated on the coastline around him, embellished with the bees and butterflies attracted to the floral theme park. The book consists of extracts from his diary at a time when the AIDS epidemic was at its height; Jarman himself was HIV positive and writes of his friends losing their lives around him. His Garden was a constant in his life and a source of joy in a dark time as his own health deteriorated; he talked of poll tax riots and mad cow disease, hurricanes and greenhouse effect, but all the while the garden at Prospect Cottage gave him an escape. As he says himself;
“The gardener digs in another time, without past or future, beginning or end. A time that does not cleave the day with rush hours, lunch breaks, the last bus home. As you walk in the garden you pass into this time – the moment of entering can never be remembered. Around you the landscape lies transfigured. Here is the Amen beyond the prayer.”
I think of this at the moment. While a safe walk in the Garden doesn’t make the news go away, it can offer a little escape into that other time, where spring is heroically fighting the gloom with petaled ammunition; where you can lose yourself for a moment in a bee collecting pollen or a fussy group of goldfinches. Nature doesn’t read the news, and it doesn’t owe us anything but is constantly giving generously. I think spring offers us a sanctuary from the unusual time, a little dip into the natural world can show that while our world is at a standstill, there are rush hours and lunch breaks happening out in the garden.