Fast Forward to Now: Mid-July 2017

Silene regia (Royal Catchfly)

This is my second summer in Glen Williams and the gardens and I have bonded. When I arrived my first thought was, “I don’t know anyone here” – and I was talking about the plants. People thought it was quite funny when I said that, but I was serious – I need to see a garden through all four seasons before I feel comfortable that I have met all the inhabitants.

Unlike the garden, I settled in as a resident of the village immediately. The wonderful humans of Glen Williams had already embraced me as their own.

The gardens have responded with gratifying enthusiasm to their new home and my ministrations. Even the shocked truckloads of plants I hauled from my last garden are recovering from the trauma of that day and are starting to approach their former glory. The conditions are quite different here from my last residence, the soil is sandy as opposed to wetland clay. The house and gardens are on a steep slope tucked into the side of the escarpment so the drainage is – shall we say – rather good. However, the same tactics apply; a deep mulch of lots and lots of shredded leaves in the fall cures all.

The gardens were already full of mature perennials and shrubs when I arrived, so it’s been a match made in heaven. The former gardeners had a keen interest in native species and I inherited an eye-popping variety of beauties. I can’t decide if the delicate Pale Coneflower (Echnicaea pallida) is my favourite, or the Royal Catchfly (Silene regia) simply because I’ve never seen one before. I can’t understand why this beauty isn’t in everyone’s garden.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about these gardens is that they are vibrant and alive. Birds of all kinds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators, a friendly toad, cheeky chipmunks, a garter snake, newts, tree frogs, turkeys… Not to mention the surviving long-tailed weasel in the barn area who keeps the rabbits under control, a raccoon, a possum… Turbo is acquainted with the resident skunk. Naturally.

The synchronicity of a small thing

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The “small thing”.

Several years ago, while living and working in Munich, I discovered that such a thing as a “Garden Museum” existed in the City of London. Naturally, I took the first opportunity to visit during a business trip to that great city.

The Garden Museum is housed in the ancient church of St. Mary-at-Lambeth in a historically tawdry area of east London called Lambeth/Southwark. Back in the 16th century this area was fertile ground for wealthy manors, gardens, and great plantsmen but by the mid-18th century it was a lawless borough known more for bear-baiting, prostitution, alehouses and bowling alleys than for horticulture and wealthy retreats.

The Church of St. Mary-at-Lambeth was bombed in WWII and a dilapidated tear-down by the mid-1970’s. A determined group of influential horticulturalists intervened and turned it into the world’s first museum dedicated to gardening.

Why?

Back in the 17th century this had been the parish church of famous historical plant hunters, the Tradescants, and they are buried in the churchyard. The Tradescants were plantsmen and explorers who introduced to cultivation many of the plants we now grow in our gardens; they also created the world’s first purpose-built museum. The churchyard also contains the graves of Captain Bligh of The Bounty, Anne Boleyn’s mother, and other characters famous but less noteworthy… to a gardener.

So what does this have to do with me and synchronicity?

The “small thing” is a clay tile, a souvenir I purchased at the museum. The first thing I did four years ago when I started the garden was to hang this tile up at the entrance to a makeshift pergola. The quote, “Change this garden then for paradise“, appealed to me. Those words are inscribed on John Tradescant’s gravestone.

Fast-forward a couple of years, when my elderly Dad anointed me keeper of his genealogical research. To make a long story shorter, I discovered that my 2nd great-grand parents were married at St. Mary-at-Lambeth in 1853. I uncovered skeletons and a tragic, sordid story that I’m sure no one has known about for over 100 years. It reminded me that I’m alive today because some very hardy ancestors were survivors.

paradiseBut seriously – what an odd coincidence. And in just over a month I really am going to change this garden for the paradise that is my new home.

Firefly fireworks and warm summer nights

The fireflies were out last night. I sat for an hour in the dark on my bench overlooking the field –  my “happy place” – and watched the light show and the aeronautic feats of bats whizzing around overhead. The sight and sounds took me right back to warm summer nights of my childhood, when I ran free in nature with a large pack of kids.

We’d catch fireflies and have big bonfires, and lie back on the grass and look at the stars. Frogs and toads trilled in the background, a big bullfrog “gallumphed” in the pond, and the breeze brought the scent of pine up from the valley. The boys tried to shoot bats that emerged from under the eaves with a BB gun but (thankfully) always had terrible aim. Clumsy big June bugs pinged us like small stones, and the tomboy next door would equally gross us out and impress us by stomping on them in her bare feet. We’d squeal and run when the skunk made his nightly appearance from under the veranda, and finally, reluctantly, go indoors and sleep off another day of fresh air and discovery.

Too many children nowadays miss out on those wonders. Parents let them waste golden days and nights in front of video games, or simply don’t have easy access to natural areas from their homes in dreary cities and suburbs.

Take them outside. Go camping. Don’t let them miss out on the joy I experienced, because every child deserves to fall in love with nature – like I did.