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  • Writer's pictureClaire Sandys

Garden Ramblings

My Why audio version of this blog available here.

This text is a blog version of the recorded audio I took while walking round my garden, but it is not a word-for-word transcript.

So, come out with me into my garden, and I will show you how I get lessons from nature, how I help myself, like a kind of mini garden therapy when I just need a bit of advice, or to just get some perspective on life and problems. I find there’s always something in nature that can help me.

I didn’t really think about this beforehand, I'm just gonna pick things at random and give you an insight into how my mind works if I feel like I need a bit of a boost. I've got my special fuzzy little microphone hat thing on my phone, so hopefully you won't be disturbed by the wind noises like we had in the graveyard musings episode.

The sun's shining today, so that's nice, and quite rare, and there’s actually a bit of blue sky as well, so we're very hopeful summer might eventually be on its way in the UK.

When I go out of my patio doors into the garden, there's a small patio you step onto first, one of the original features we inherited when we bought the house. We've recently done a lot of work to it over the last couple of years. It used to be just artificial grass and decking, but now we've made it into a wildlife haven.

As you might know from previous blogs, we've got a lot of plants, a pond, and hedgehogs coming in every night now, which is really exciting. As I look around I can see loads of bugs and insects and beetles and birds. We have an amazing amount of sparrows visiting us at the moment, little, fat, fluffy ones that sit on the fence while their mother goes back and forth from the bird feeder, taking them food. I regularly see them hopping in and around the wildflowers and over the gravel. There's loads going on and I love that, it's so alive.

There's all these different little worlds cohabiting. When I first go out I see the two big sleepers we've placed over the pond as a little bridge, which leads to a grassy area (this all sounds a lot more grand than it is, it's quite a small garden).

I love looking into the pond, because to me, it's like a whole new world. I just can't understand how anything survives under the cold water all year round. In the winter the water is so cold that if I put my hand in for even a few seconds it freezes right through to my bones, so I'm fascinated by animals that can stay in there and not just survive, but thrive. This speaks to me about how many different places and people there are living in such a huge variety of conditions, completely opposed to how I live. Sometimes we see people and find it hard to understand their way of life, what they've been through, the conditions they're living in, whether they’re striving or thriving in them. And it fascinates me that there are people in the world who maybe aren't from that place who want to go to those people, immerse themselves in that world and draw alongside them or help them. So when I look at the pond, I see a very different world from mine, and it isn't a world I want to dive into and be a part of! Which tells me we've all got different callings and desires and things we want to be a part of our life. Some people might look at the homeless community, or the refugee camps, or countries where there's a lot of poverty or no running water, and they just have a heart to go and help those people and dive into those really hard conditions. Life is about knowing where your place is and where you're called to be and what you're called to do, and that is usually different to what someone else is called to do next to you. And that's okay. So this pond area is not my not my area to dive into but I love looking at it. I love watching the snails going up and down the side, even though Chris is trying to eradicate most of those because they eat the lilies. I love the water boatman that float around, with their massive legs that look like oars, so I can see where they got their name.

We've called ours Walter, I'm pretty sure there's more than one but every time we see one we call out ‘There's Walter! He's still alive’. And there's some mini Walters and I’m pretty sure there’s a Mrs Walter in there too somewhere. Then there's The Boatmans, I think they're a slightly different insect creature to Walter. One of them goes down under the water and the other just kind of skates along the top. I can see Mr and Mrs Boatman sitting on top of a lily pad here now looking at each other, probably discussing what’s for lunch. And then we've got two different types of snails. We've got the ones that destroy everything with pointy shells, and we've got the good snails with circular shells called Ramshorn Snails, they eat the dying stuff so we like them, and I bought them off eBay. I'm hoping they're breeding.

Next to the pond, I've got a Fatsia Japonica, and this is an interesting one because in the winter this massive flower came out the top, although I didn’t know what it was to start with, it was a huge spike, very strange looking. Then it flowered and the flowers turned into berries. It was really weird. We'd never had it before and as we watched it started to wilt and was getting smaller and smaller and threatened to throw its berries in the pond. I had no idea what to do with it, so eventually I decided to cut it off. Not long after I did this, all of these little tiny things appeared at the top and started to sprout, and it turned out they were new leaves. And I've now got about twenty, huge tropical leaves that have come out of the top. It’s beautiful, such an amazing sight. And that was a lesson to me, sometimes pruning something back, or cutting something off, allows new growth to push through. And here, what's grown is bigger and longer lasting, because these leaves will stay here all year if not longer. Sometimes things need to be cut back to create space for new growth to come through afterwards.

Across the other side of the garden, I've got wildflowers. We put in some wildflower turf, which is pre-seeded with lots of different wildflowers. And at the moment is going mad. It's full of Oxeye Daisies, which are these massive daisies basically on real long stems, so tall they’ve started to fall over a bit in the wind.

As I look at these and I want more of their energy in my life, but I also recognise I'm not this person. Sometimes we just have to realise who we are in life. These wildflowers are big, and they're all over the place, different colours, shapes and sizes, bugs galore. And they're really showy. These guys scream fulfilling your potential, being who you are not giving two hoots about what it looks like and just going for it. I'd like to be more of that person. Sometimes I can beat myself up for not putting myself out there more, for being a bit braver, or a bit bigger, or a bit more confident, but there's wisdom in recognising who you are, and who you are not. It’s great to aim towards bigger things, and I love looking at the wildflowers and their energy, I admire them and people like them, but it's not me, it's not who I am, it’s not where my skill set is, it's not how I'm going to be helping the world. So, I love to admire the wildflowers and the big crazy life they live, but I'm different, I'm more of a ‘sitting alongside’ kind of person and if I look at them now I see that along the border edge of the wild patch I've got little pots where I've got a Petite Buddleia in one, and lavender in the others.

As I’m sat next to the lavender now there’s a bee literally about six inches from my knee on one of the lavender plants going around all the flowers, collecting things. And I know I’m more like the lavender plants, I'm happy in my pot on the side, a bit more subdued perhaps, but still pretty. There's a lovely purple coming through on the lavender and the bees are feeding off it and loving it. These plants are there to support and sustain, constant, not as entertaining maybe, not as crazy or as out there, but very important. And I think that’s my role, alongside people, supporting and providing sustenance. The wildflowers provide that too but they’re more shaken with the seasons and they come and go. And then I've got an Agapanthus that I planted in a pot a couple of years ago. During the first year nothing happened to it, then last year a few leaves came out and it stopped there. This year it has grown about ten inches maybe, but just leaves.

I have no idea if it's gonna sprout into anything more, maybe it will come through, I don't know, I'm waiting to see. And that's where some of us are right now, we don't know what's happening yet, we don't know where we are, we don't know what we're supposed to grow into, we don't even know if we're planted in the right place or how to thrive, but we're alive, and we’re safely in a pot. We might have put up some leaves to see what happens, which is the next step, because for a long while my Agapanthus was just a bulb in soil. Now it's feeling life out to see how it feels. I'm hoping it will bloom, if I give it the right conditions and care. Sometimes we just want to make sure we're in the right place first, before we feel brave enough to flower. So I'm encouraging it on, to see if it can develop further into something that's beautiful, big, and showy.

On the other side of me, I've got bamboo. Bamboo is fascinating. It shoots up its stems from the bottom, and those pointy little things are brutal, apparently they’ll grow through anything. They appear suddenly, and then they just grow like billy-o, they go mad, apparently a lot of bamboo growing preparation happens under the soil, then when it starts to shoot it grows at an alarming speed. It's phenomenal.

Lots to learn from bamboo, but sometimes we spend a lot of time under the soil and then one day it's our time and we grow and flourish and shoot up. There's no flowers on bamboo but it has beautiful lime green foliage, pale yellow leaves, and I love how they rustle when the wind blows, and how it moves and bends but never breaks.

Then I've got a couple of Acers next to the bamboo in pots. Unfortunately, one of them got caught by the frost badly, and it hasn't got a single leaf on it, and I think I’ve lost it. The other one was out at the same time, but actually seems to be doing okay and is now full of leaves, which is amazing.

Two trees, similar species, both out in the same conditions, and yet, one has died completely, and one has just gone beyond and thrived. The one that survived is slightly older and more established than the other one - another life lesson. Sometimes we need more protection in our first storms than when we have gathered a bit of resilience and maturity. The storms of life get easier to stand in when we’ve already been through a few in the past. Protecting ourselves at certain times when we’re not strong enough is important, and these young trees needed me to come alongside them at the right time to protect them. We had to cover our other, bigger, mature Acer up as well, and even with that one, I can see bits where the frost must have touched the branch ends that I missed with the frost blanket, and the leaves haven’t grown back there.

But the rest of the tree is doing really well. Isn't that just like life? Things come along, and they burn bits of us or they they kill off something in us or in our life, and it's scary, and we don't quite know what to do with it, but there are new seasons, and next year the Acers that survived will forget about the burnt bits and it will bloom again with new leaves, and I will be wiser about how to help them. Sometimes it just takes time, and a new season, and the knowledge that things will get better, there is another time for you to flourish, is another time for you to bloom.

As I move around the garden, I pulled up a weed that had been growing in the base of the Acer, because I don't want them to take up all the goodness from the soil. But it was a really spiky one stung me on the finger. He's got spines all over him, I'm just looking at it and the spikes are right up the stalk and all over the leaves. This fella does not want to be eaten. And yet, two of the leaves have been attacked by what looks like slugs, which is fascinating. A good reminder that there will always be prickly people out there, people who will sting you, and don't want you to come anywhere near, but remember they’ll be a reason people are like this, and maybe only slugs can get near them at the moment but even prickly people need a bit of love. Not that I’m going to be giving this spikey chappy any today.

As I move to put our spikey friend in my garden waste I pass my Dahlia plants in our raised bed. I got the bulbs for these out of the garage after they spent the winter wrapped in newspaper. They actually went a bit mouldy which I thought would mean they wouldn't flower, as I've never done this before, but they are starting to shoot. The main problem with my Dahlias is that they get eaten by slugs the second any green shoots appear. So I have to help protect them. I cut big soft drinks bottles or milk bottles, and put them over the top so that it prevents the slugs getting to them, which gives them a chance to grow.

Once they start to mature they seem to be able to hold their own and the slugs don’t threaten their survival so much, but they need a helping hand. That reminds me of me sometimes. I'm trying to grow and I'm trying to be who I am, but just occasionally things come along and take away the small amount of growth I've managed to put over the soil. I find that with a lot of things, but especially with the childless life. There are areas where I grow and I think I'm going to be ok with this, I can do this it'll be okay, but then something happens or I see something someone's doing, or there's something amazing that I can see in people’s families and it takes away that little bit of confidence and growth I had achieved and makes me sad again. Sometimes I just need protection, I need someone to come and put a giant milk bottle over me in the dark times. And I’ve discovered more and more this is something you need to be able to do yourself, because others can’t help you with this in the way I can for the Dahlias. Timing is crucial. I put the milk bottles on the Dahlia’s overnight because that's when the slugs come out, during the day they need the sun and rain and air. I’m learning when I need protection and when I don’t. It's okay to protect yourself until you've grown into a much stronger place and a stronger plant, then you can weather those attacks and you won’t need to put the cover on at night anymore. Not everyone will understand, and it will stop some people getting closer to you, and some people will think maybe you should be past needing that protection by now, but I'm recognising I’m not.

So there’s just a few musings from my garden, and there's so much more I could say; I've got plants I admire that grow in any conditions, I've got other ones that are spreading out and moving along the ground and creating new areas wherever they go, I've got a Euphorbia that if cut open pours out white liquid that tries to burn my skin, I've got hedgehogs that are coming in and out that I love watching at night as they noisily munch on food, I’ve even got one nesting at the bottom of the garden and she pulls the straw I give her into the nest at night, and I'm hoping for baby hedgehogs at some point. There's so much life out here.

So if you feel like you need some help in some area of your life, and you're not sure who to talk to, or you haven't got anybody, I'd always advise finding professional help, but if you can't, or if you don't know how, then just look around you in nature because there's so much wisdom to be gained, you just need to pick something nearby and look at it, ask yourself what it's been through, what it's going through, what it's doing, what conditions it's under, and I guarantee you'll find something that helps you with your life.

I'm standing in front of a Magnolia tree now that’s about three feet tall. I got it from the garden centre for about £5 because it was dying, and they said they'd give me a refund if it didn't grow at all because it was so ill. I brought it home and put in a pot of good compost and it's grown and is now full of leaves, it's just beautiful and so happy. And that is a story of redemption, a story of what happens when someone comes along and gives you the right conditions, gives you a bit of care, a bit of help, and a chance, when other people might have written you off or put you on the reduced shelf. And now there's bugs on it, I can see a creepy looking spider with long legs on its leaves, it’s become a home for other forms of life. And it brings me a lot of joy.

Have a look around you and see what you can see and learn, even a weed sprouting through a pavement has a lesson in perseverance for us all. I hope you find a way for nature to help and encourage you in the way my garden has with me.

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