Thursday, 18 December 2008

Winter work

This afternoon I'll hack the garden down. Tiger with the mumpy face is lying flat out on the sofa. Shark is fuming, and Squirrel is hiding.

This garden is the secret garden, Victorian walled on all four sides, unseen by anyone passing on the street. Before children changed everything I was in here everyday, tending plants and flowers, occupying myself with colours, shapes, growth. I would make seats and hidden places where I could retreat with a mug of morning coffee or a glass of evening wine, all year round, to watch the birds come and the garden change. To do that now would be peaceful. I would like to do that today, sit out here and watch, only the seats are covered in dead leaves and plastic spades, remnants of a children's summer.

I know Shark is feeling better. She has growled at me twice. In our ensuing argument, she ordered me out of the room. Actually she didn't quite use those words but this monitor might blush bright red if it watched Shark's actual words appearing on its face, and from an eight year old at that. All I can say is that if I were writing a school report on her, I might choose Shark uses language directly. Not always appropriately.

I would sit and calm down in my garden, even with Shark's bite still smarting. But there are not many adult spaces here now.

When children came, the garden entered the wilderness years. Nothing was tended, shaped or pruned. Only children. Slowly, as the children began to toddle and tentatively to explore the secret garden, I shaped the space for them. I left some areas wild to discourage them, and other areas I planted with wigwams, dens, a little house, a place for gravel and archaeology, a place for ribbons and streamers, a place for chimes and music. I forgot about the adults, mostly. I found a huge old office table and put it by the lawn, under an elder tree. Marching out now from the house for the space of the garden, I make straight for it, like a refugee holding out for a symbol of former civilization. I'll drink my coffee here and tell Shark that if I go, I do so of my own choosing, not her command. And when I left the room, I hope she thought she hadn't won.

Squirrel is fine today, but hiding from Shark's tongue lashings. I can't lead Squirrel to the mountains of pink ice cream and rivers of strawberry sauce at the home ed children's Christmas party, because Dig's not here to look after Tiger. She's disappointed, but it can't be helped. This is always a problem, with one adult, outnumbered by children, and each of them wanting to do different things and go to separate places, or lie on the sofa, being ill. It probably doesn't help when the one responsible adult hides in the garden tutting at the starlings.

I think the garden is changing. It is growing up, shaping into an older, wiser space. This year, worried by commerce, I dreamed of self-sufficiency and planted more vegetables than ever before. Only a few came up. Next year I want the garden to be a place where Shark, Squirrel and Tiger grow solid, stomach-filling potatoes, not try out fancy peppers that on the seed packet look like Origami pendulums with pink stitching. I want them to get grubbier hands and learn a gardener's knowledge; choose vegetables, grow flowers, prune shrubs, shape spaces.

So there we have it. I have to go inside and reason with Shark, and lay down laws about respect. Half way through she'll probably get bored and wander off. And we lose the Christmas party but I'll gain an afternoon in the garden cutting back the shrubs, preparing for next year. Winter is a good time to review what's gone and shape the garden we want.

And next year I would like to feel in control, not so overwhelmed, struggling out of my depth, submerged in chaos. Not to feel I live in disarray, to live where the house shows the sign Welcome instead of Out of order. And so this afternoon, while I am cutting back the shrubs, removing the deadwood, sweeping the leaves, I will make new paths between the borders, where we can all stop and enjoy the flowers.


Jaywalker said...

where is the fricking advent calendar grit? has the postie stolen it do you think?

sharon said...

Very deep Grit. I hope that next year meets your hopes and dreams - on all fronts ;-)

Samurai Beetle said...

I didn't realize the garden was such a wonderful escape. Maybe that's why my father disappeared to the garden for hours on end - to escape his job that is, certainly not his children because we were dragged out there for a majority of it - well actually it was probably minimal time on our part but to a child any manual labour is a century. Guess who lives in the city and dreams of a garden now!

Frog in the Field said...

Happy New Year to you Grit!
Love Frog

Grit said...

hi jaywalker! i do not know! should i kidnap the postie?

thank you sharon. i can feel some changes ahead. probably long overdue.

i would be desolate, sb, without the garden, and probably would not be able to cope. gardenless, i would nail plant pots to the window ledges.

thank you frog! happy new year!