Saturday, 22 September 2012

Orla and the art of gardening

As many of you know I have a delightful two year old daughter who is naturally the joyful companion of my days (and nights) though not as much as I would hope at times. Generally my gardening days start with Beanie and me getting up around seven and having between two and three hours before I have to leave for work, during which we’ll munch breakfast, share babble, roll around on the floor for a bit and try to find a balance between my tidying and her spreading toys far and wide.
Then off to lose myself in a garden for the day before heading home for the last couple of hours of her day, night time story and bedtime. As much as I love my gardening it can be a rather lonely day sometimes and even though the day generally passes quickly and enjoyably it’s always nice to find oneself on the train heading home. With this in mind I dropped down to four days a week a few months ago with one day of being a dad!
Every Thursday is now “take your child to work day” and I have to say she’s turning into a right fun gardener. I get a running commentary on what’s happening around me and it always amazes me how much I must be missing when she’s not there, a childs mind is the most amazing sponge and observer to the world. When gardening alone I never seem to notice the planes going over head or the dog barking in the distance, a point to the sky if a bird goes by, the delighted shout of CAT and the many signs for spiders, snails and bees.
Of course it’s not all pointing out the world I I’ve forgotten to acknowledge we also have games of gambolling on the lawn, carrying buckets of weeds to the compost, pushing the lawn mower and rides in the wheelbarrow.

Having a fresh mind with you is the way to rediscover a space you’ve come to know so well and therefore may not be seeing as well you once did. I think it was the child psychologist Alison Gopnik who said the difference between the adult and child mind was like a caterpillar to a butterfly only it was the adults that were the caterpillar chomping away at one thing whilst the childs mind flittered free. I’ve become so used to the garden space that I no longer notice much of the wildlife, I’ve forgotten how fun it is to just loll about on a lawn and more than anything I’ve forgotten how to explore the garden.
Follow an inquisitive child around a garden and suddenly you see the world anew, firstly there’s the obvious visual effect of being down at waist height can be a daunting perspective difference, spaces under overhanging shrubs becomes a cave to explore and trees to climb. The clever part is that by starting to garden from this toddlers view is an asset to the garden itself, the easiest job to do while also entertaining a hyperactive small human is spot weeding, and you wouldn’t believe the amount of annual weeds you’ll find under bushes. A well packed border with places for an inquiring mind to go hiding and crawling about will aid air flow between plants and give a more natural spacing, it also prompts one to look at raising canopies on large shrubs which in turn help show of the plant.
This is how I got into gardening, it wasn’t the first patch of my parents garden I got to tend that got me hooked, it was the chance to roll around and get muddy from a really early age, to find enjoyment in the honest earth and not to be frightened of the creatures I met there. Most of all it taught me that the best way to experience a garden is to get tactile with it, feel it between your fingers.

I’ll end by with this. Can it be a coincidence that a well pruned and healthy looking tree is also one of the best trees to climb? Stressed trees have too many branches and too much dead wood; a happy tree is generally open, airy and a good climbable frame. So next time you’re in the garden don’t forget to get childish, go on have a gambol.