I have started this week’s column many times – on beach walks collecting seaweed for composts; while endlessly chopping at hedges and overgrown brambles; as I haul great slabs of slate and make new paths; ‘ve never got past the first line. But I have to, because it is time to go. Oh, how hard farewells are when it’s something you love.
I have spent more than 12 years here sowing broad beans and beetroot with you, putting garlic down in November to be pulled in June, plucking and pruning, tending and coaxing. We’ve been through a lot: you’ve seen me come out as queer, get remarried, move house and start a new garden. I’ve seen you through some stuff too: sick houseplants, bloomless roses, overgrown and over-shaded corners, first and last harvests.
I know from experience that these things are not trivial, that they often represent far more, like the times you had to fight the black dog to get out into the garden, and found solace from whatever the world outside was throwing at you. Pandemic, you came in your droves and stayed on after you’d found true love, for the flowers, for the critters, for the whole sweet space. Places where you have tended to memories and fought for futures too.
It is no small thing to garden in this changing world. Every scrap turned into compost, every lettuce leaf picked, every bean saved for sowing next year is a vote for our place on this Earth. When politicians continue to fail us and big business laughs in the face of our futures, the act of stepping outside their nightmares and choosing to softly, carefully tend our gardens so that all the others, from the soil to songbirds, have space too. Well, that remains as radical as the day we first started to garden as humans.
Those early gardens are not always in the places you might expect. One of the earliest examples is in Kuk Swamp in Papua New Guinea and consisted of small plots to grow taro and bananas. That site dates to the Neolithic period.
That’s a lot of ancestry we hold when we step into the garden. A lot of very different ancestors are involved too, not just the dominant white westerner that history has tried to teach us owned the garden.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons gardening has taught me is that change is wonderful and necessary. In part because it provides opportunities that you can’t yet see, which is why I am going. You need to hear different voices; say different things.
This isn’t to say I won’t miss you all, but I am easy enough to find if you want me. Just holler loudly. I’ll be in the back garden.
The gardening column is taking a winter break and returns in the spring