solar futures

A little embattled with this years’ drought and weather conditions, but this is the latest little garden that I’ve been involved with. Everything is container grown given the patio space, with hastily thrown up pallet-shelves to try and add a bit of vertical gardening into the mix. We’ve got some truly monstrous Partenon Courgettes, Rainbow Chard, Kelvedon Peas, Purple Tee-Pee Beans – and this year also a host of wilder cousins; Yarrow, Vervain, Echinacea, Huauzontle ‘Aztec Broccoli’ and Orach purple salad-green. A lot for a tiny space – but not many plants of each, so requires a lot of tender (somewhat anxious!) care.

I love how particular every garden is, every year. Gardening isn’t just an exercise in optimism,  it’s also an exercise in attention. Every growing season is different; it takes on it’s own character. Despite my very best efforts to grow the things I like (which probably says more about my rather shambolic skills than it does about any intent!), some plants do better, some do worse. Some plants bolt, some produce like bunnies in spring. The garden – the earth, the seeds, the nutrients – are all working their own thing out according to a vast interplay of forces, all of which are mostly invisible to me… Climate, humidity, temperature, UV levels, this years bloom of whatever beneficial or not-so-beneficial insect populations…

It makes me think of that permaculture thing of ‘wait a year before you plant’ to get a stock of the land. I’ve always liked the idea from a distance, but always the green urgency of getting things in the soil overtakes me.

Gardens, I think, help you play with time. On one hand they ask you to focus on the particular; on this plant, on this temperature of this morning, on this little soil-relationship. But on the other hand they ask you to think in seasons, in cycles. That weird elasticity of attention; from the particular to the yearly, seems to have the effect of making people more embedded in their place, not less. Hopefully we’ve all met those sorts of people, or maybe had them as family; the person who knows everything there is to know about this or that species, who can pluck twigs from any gnarl of growth and seemingly get them to sprout in anything; the person who can take a look and a sniff at the skies and mutter that there’s going to be an early frost by week’s end…

Thinking about this, I get the strongest sense that it’s not just about a lifetime of particular observations. I get the sense of a conversation between gardener and land, between any of us and the places we live. How it takes time to learn how to speak to the Land, and to learn how to listen.


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