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Continue to Part 2 of this mini-series

Gardening: Appreciating Change: (1) The Wonder of Change

The Changing Years

Eight and a half years ago we started Rochford Life and included in it these ‘Growing Stuff’ recreational pages. As we said on the Front Page of Growing Stuff, if you want detail of ‘how to grow’ you will find it in abundance in magazines and now increasingly these days, online. The amount of ‘how to’ stuff on the Internet has increased phenomenally in these recent years. For that reason on these pages we have just sought to hold an ‘encouraging of beginners’ approach at the fore of all we write here.

Preparing for a Talk

Recently I was asked whether I would like to do a talk for a local garden group of U3A (University of the Third Age) and, declining a technical subject, I said I could perhaps do something a little more philosophical, like ‘Appreciating Change’ as a gardener. When it came to it, I felt time meant a rushed presentation which is a shame because the subject does bear thinking about at some length. Some kindly ladies expressed words of appreciation afterwards in a form that simply confirms this, and so it is worth pondering on the wonder of change that we gardeners experience. I am aware, looking back, that I have previously written what I now consider a very brief summary article about change, but in the light of thinking more broadly for this talk, I believe it is worthwhile to expand on this with this article plus at least one, if not two or three, further articles, ‘about change’. In this one, because space is always limited on standard page sizes, may I just introduce the subject in a very general way. All through whatever follows, I will be drawing on our experiences and so it will have a very personal story-telling flavour to it. That should hopefully make it more interesting. The idea is that perhaps it will provoke you to think back with pleasure, on the experience you have had over the years with your own garden.  

A Strange Paradox

The fact is we have lived where we are in Rochford for just over forty years. On one side, someone might suggest that ‘stick-in-the-muds’ are not good people to talk about change.  To be fair when we moved here we thought it would just be for a couple of years, but those years stretched and stretched to cover the coming into the world of three children, them growing up, us (my wife and I) changing careers several times, and eventual retirement. In fact now the grown up children say, “Mum, Dad, you can’t move, we’ve got too many memories here,” while the grandchildren also now build their own new memories, and on reflective days we look at each other and say, “I think they’ll probably take us out of here in boxes eventually.” But the other side of this paradox is that having lived in this one place for over forty years, we have been in an ideal position to observe change. When we moved here – and we have a three hundred foot plot – the garden was under three feet of grass which hid a considerable number of old and scrubby roses. If the original owners could come back, they would not be able to identify the property by its garden. A process that started with my dad coming in with a large scythe, has gone on for forty years. Change is here to stay.

Settled or Changing

This, as we’ve said, is all about change and, as I have thought about this and listened to people, I realise that in mental outlook at least, it is very easy to settle into a stationary status-quo outlook where once the lawn is mowed and the perennials are left to their own devices, little changes from year to year. In fact one lady came up to me after the talk and confessed that I had seriously challenged her because having lived where she was for ten years, very little changed from year to year, and so she was going back home to look at it with fresh eyes. Excellent! That is what these present articles are all about.

About Change

This and the following articles are all about appreciating change. My wife and I were recently having breakfast out (a fairly unusual event for us) in a local garden centre’s café and couldn’t help noticing one of those canny-phrase ornament boards up on the wall that simply said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”. There is a simplicity about that which is endearing. Gardeners learn that whatever you put in today is not going to come to fullness until tomorrow and ‘tomorrow’ may be months away. You will have to wait for the change. Patience is an essential ingredient of a happy gardener! But as I pondered on that board and it’s little folksy wisdom, I thought about the corollary, which I would put as, “To observe a garden is to relive yesterday”.  If you have the opportunity to just sit out in the garden (and this will be a subject within a later article) and just gaze around you, I wonder if you ever let your mind wander back to earlier days, what the garden used to be like and what changes there have been?  As I have done that I have found that it has increased the sense of wonder about this whole gardening thing, and that is what I hope to help you do perhaps in these present ramblings. (I would add that I carried out a straw poll at this talk and a surprising number of people there had been in their present home from between twenty to forty plus years.)

Facets of Change

Talk of change is about time – time allows for changes in careers, families, inheritances, aging, retirement, and so much more that can be factors that can be seen in the way a garden changes over the years and the more I ponder on this, the more it increases my sense of wonder as I look back and then at what we now have. Please, this is not about creating ‘Garden Show Gardens’ but about how you and I – the non-experts – can potter through life in an enjoyable environment, making the most of the days and eventually coming up with something – no, not just something, lots of things – that give a sense of satisfaction.

I wanted a photo here of our first  garden but we obviously thought so little of it, I can’t find a single photo. Looking up Google images, I can find nothing that is so basic as that which we had. It was forty years ago and gardens have changed dramatically!

All about Attitude

But before I come to the end of this first brief introductory article, I want to go back to the beginning of our adventures with gardens. In my childhood I helped my dad clear the grass, ferns and bracken from our hillside terraced wilderness in Herefordshire. Gardening was not the issue, surviving the wilderness was. A move to a smaller house and smaller garden allowed me to be given a few square feet in which to sow seeds but that never really excited me. Many years later, getting married meant our first home was a two-bed, middle of modern terrace house, with a postage-stamp size plot out back, which had a garage at the end, a tiny shed next to the back door, mostly lawn but a massive Hydrangea under the kitchen window. Out front was filled was massive and beautifully gorgeous roses.

Apart from that I really don’t remember much about what we did with that garden but one thing our memories agree on: it was an effort to handle this postage-stamp plot. Somehow – and I don’t know why – when we bought our present home in Rochford, with its three hundred foot plot, (which is not overly large but admittedly larger than most found on new developments today) the size of the garden and what that might mean for our future fitness, didn’t seem to feature in our thinking. Decades later we are both immensely grateful for it and it is not an effort. Postage-stamp-plot that was all effort versus three hundred foot plot that is all joy: time has changed us, and the biggest change is our change in outlook.  

So whatever you’ve got, big or small, ultra-neat or wilderness, have a new look at it with fresh eyes, asking, “What can I do with this?” Expect pleasure and ‘effort’ soon takes a back seat. Yes, there will be hard work but more often than not that will create a sense of health and well-being.  I like what I am told is a Chinese Proverb: “Life begins the day you start a garden”.  Yes indeed. I don’t know who said it, but I also go along with, “Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years,” and to finish this off, a quote from ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “However many years she lived, Mary always felt that 'she should never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow'.”  There is nothing else quite like watching life appear in that patch out back, the back yard, as the Americans would say, our Garden. We’ll continue with some more in the second article in this mini-series.